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Cross-London Rail Route

7. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If he will assess the merits of an alternative north-south cross-London rail route to the proposed Thameslink route through London Bridge station. [25400]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): Alternative north-south cross-London rail routes have been considered at the Thameslink project public inquiry, which opened on 6 September and is   expected to end in December. The inspector will subsequently write his report, which is likely be submitted to me and the Deputy Prime Minister next year.

Simon Hughes: The Secretary of State may know that I and many other local people gave evidence against the scheme at the inquiry. When the report reaches him, will he try to ensure that we get a north-south rail scheme across London that is not out of date, as the current one   will be by the time it is completed, and that does not   run out of capacity, as the current one will by the time it opens? An alternative scheme could be realised due to the change of plans for Waterloo, given that the cross-channel rail link will go elsewhere. Will he look at a scheme that either goes by Elephant and Castle and Herne Hill, or tunnels under the river, to provide the capacity that the whole rail network needs?

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Too long.

Mr. Darling: I was aware that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) had given evidence to the inquiry—he appears to be repeating it today for the benefit of us all.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will decide when a question is long. I assure the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) that that question was not as long as a supplementary that he asked.

Mr. Darling: Perhaps I can say two things. Until we get the inspector's report, I obviously cannot pass any judgment on it. However, I say to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey and the House that the project that is known as Thameslink 2000—we all know that the name is a bit of a joke—should have been completed five years ago. It fell at the last planning inquiry because it became so complicated that it eventually failed not on railway grounds, but due to the planning proposals on buildings that the then Railtrack submitted. Whatever the inspectorate comes up with, I   hope that we will be able to do something quickly because a north-south link is badly needed by London and people who live to the north and south of London.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend also look at a London orbital network that could join the north, south, east and west London lines and enable commuters to avoid the centre of London, unlike Thameslink?

Mr. Darling: I am always willing to look at proposals, but I would not want to raise false hopes. People know
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that although funding for transport has expanded over many years, it is none the less constrained. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that I can fund that specific project, but if he will let me see it, I shall, of course, look at it.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Cross-London rail travel is critical, yet the Government's record, as you know, Mr. Speaker, is appalling. Dozens of projects have been cancelled or postponed, and many commuter services into London, on the Government's own figures, are at 105 per cent. capacity during the rush hour. The Government's prevarication over Crossrail is not helpful to that cause. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 27 October about this timidity, but I have not heard back from him. Of course he should assess the prospects for alternative north-south routes across London, but will he now tell the House in clear terms whether the Government are committed to the east-west route across London—namely Crossrail? Will he give the House a clear timetable and properly costed business plan for that? If he does not, we will know that the Government do not really support Crossrail.

Mr. Darling: If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would hesitate before being quite so critical of our record on Crossrail because many of us who were in the House during the 1990s will recall that the then Government's attempts to build Crossrail ran into the ground, partly because their plans were not very well thought out and partly because they ran us into one of the deepest recessions of the past century, which meant that the whole economic case collapsed.

Our commitment to Crossrail is demonstrated by the   fact that we persuaded the House in July to give the Crossrail Bill a Second Reading. That is pretty clear evidence of our intent to build the railway. On the timetable, as I have said on many occasions, much will depend on the progress made through the House.

Mr. Hayes: Where is the Committee?

Mr. Darling: I think that the usual channels on both sides of the House are currently trying to conscript hon. Members to serve on the Committee. In years to come,   I am sure that they will look back at what a splendid opportunity that was to demonstrate their parliamentary skills and contribute something to Britain and London's infrastructure.

Overcrowded Trains

8. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on levels of overcrowding on rail services from England to Wales. [25401]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): I am not aware of a general pattern of overcrowding on these services, although there will inevitably be occasions when, for any one of a variety of reasons, demand may outstrip the number of seats available.
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Julie Morgan: I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he look into restrictions on people standing on trains and the health and safety implications of overcrowding, especially on Arriva trains from Manchester to Cardiff, so that my constituent, Rev. Thorn, does not have another experience such as that which he had when travelling from Manchester to Cardiff on a two-carriage train that was very overcrowded?

Derek Twigg: Obviously, I understand people's concern about crowded trains, but health and safety officials keep the policy under the review and at present they see no need to introduce new legislation to deal with the issue. There are many options available to help deal with overcrowding, such as better timetabling, ensuring that maintenance is completed properly and on time and, where possible, the provision of extra rolling stock.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Alongside short-term measures to reduce overcrowding, will the long-term investment review to which the Secretary of State referred consider measures to improve future services between Wales and England?

Derek Twigg: I believe that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the high-level export specification. Of course, we are looking at future capacity and affordability. It is important to reiterate that we spend   £87 million a week on the railways. We have the fastest-growing railway system in Europe, and 1 billion passenger journeys were made last year. There is record investment in new rolling stock and the refurbishment of rolling stock.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the work undertaken by Merseytravel on the Bidston to Wrexham line that crosses from England to Wales through my constituency? If that work is completed it will have a radical impact on our overcrowded roads and bring many more passengers to the railway, so it could be a hugely beneficial project for the entire travel-to-work area.

Derek Twigg: We are willing to look at the merits of any business case that my hon. Friend wishes to make. We are happy to consider affordable opportunities and options, but there are other priorities on the railway that we must take into account.

Transport Infrastructure

9. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the economic impact of investing in transport infrastructure. [25402]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr.   Stephen Ladyman): Transport makes a significant contribution to the effectiveness and growth of a healthy economy. Well-targeted investment in infrastructure plays a key part, but we also need to make the most of existing capacity and take proper account of the needs of the environment. The Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport have asked Sir Rod Eddington to   work with the Department for Transport and
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HM   Treasury to advise on the long-term impact of transport decisions on the UK's productivity, stability and growth.

Mr. Crabb: I agree that there is a link between economic performance and investment in transport infrastructure, but is the Minister not concerned that only last month the Institution of Civil Engineers, in its assessment of UK infrastructure, said that there has been little if any improvement in the state of the nation's transport systems since the quiet demise of the 10-year transport plan? It said that

Can the Minister reassure the House and stakeholders such as the ICE that progress has been made and that investment is delivering genuine results?

Dr. Ladyman: With the greatest respect to the ICE, it is entirely wrong, as we are spending about £260 million a week on our transport infrastructure. However, I   agree that we had a long way to travel after 18 years of Conservative under-investment in our transport infrastructure. There are a lot of holes to fill, and a great deal of money has been spent catching up, but major improvements have been made, and they can be seen all round the country.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that there is support for "The Northern Way", but to turn that concept into reality we need excellent communications between the major urban centres in the north. Does he therefore accept that we should revisit the need for plans for significant investment in rail infrastructure between Sheffield and London, Sheffield and Leeds, and Sheffield and Manchester? Such investment is badly needed if we are to make "The Northern Way" a success.

Dr. Ladyman: "The Northern Way" is an important initiative that will help us to plan the changes needed to   maximise the economic benefit of transport infrastructure in the north. I have noted the schemes mentioned by my hon. Friend, and I am sure that my colleagues who deal with these matters will take them on   board. I can confirm, however, that the principle that he espoused is entirely accurate: without good infrastructure in the north there will not be a good,   strong economy there.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): In deciding where to focus investment in the transport infrastructure, does the Minister believe that investment in the road and rail networks that link our cities, airports and seaports should be used as a tool to encourage economic growth in underdeveloped regions, or does he think it a case of predict, provide and, when there is some money in the kitty, spend? Is there a planned limit to the bulldozing in the north and the concreting of the south?

Dr. Ladyman: "The concreting of the south" is one of those concepts much beloved of Conservative Members, who seem to forget that those of us who represent constituencies in the south have constituents who find it   difficult to buy houses because of the growth in prices
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or to maintain their businesses because important investment is needed. Equally, we have a duty to make sure that the economies of the north grow, which is why we are making massive investments not only in the north, where it is appropriate, but in the south.


The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

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