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Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con) rose—

Mr. Darling: I know about the hon. Gentleman's specific concern, and he can rest assured that I will give way to him later and deal with his points—although this debate is limited to two hours, I shall endeavour to let in all concerned hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman and I have had a discussion behind the Speaker's Chair, so I know what he is going to say and will address his specific concern.

As I said on 19 July, Official Report, column 1125, the principle of the Bill is established on Second Reading, but the Select Committee must be given instructions to enable it to deal with the matter in a manageable way. As I have said, we have accepted instructions on environmental matters and that the principle of the Bill establishes the termini and principal stations.

We are considering three motions today. The first permits the Committee to consider a number of late petitions that were outside the deadline, and I can deal with that matter quickly. One petitioner was apparently involved in an accident and taken to casualty, which prevented him from lodging his petition, and five others sent their petitions to the Department for Transport rather than to the House of Commons. I think that most hon. Members would agree that it is fair to let those petitions go forward.

The second motion allows the Committee to consider petitions in relation to Reading and Ebbsfleet, which took up a lot of time in July, and I shall return to that matter in a moment.

The third motion allows the Committee to consider petitions on the additional provisions that the Government intend to introduce—the additional provisions change the detail of the project and have been identified in discussions with interested parties since the Bill's introduction early last year. I have placed in the Vote Office copies of the instructions on the extensions to Reading and Ebbsfleet, the instructions on additional provisions and the motion on petitions lodged after the deadline, as well as an explanatory memorandum on each motion.

I shall now deal with the two main instructions before the House today, which concern the extensions to Reading and Ebbsfleet and the additional provisions. On the extensions to Reading and Ebbsfleet, the Government want to see Crossrail built and therefore came to the House of Commons with a specific proposition, which involves an economic case that stacks up, which will be operationally effective and
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which can be delivered. As I said to the House in July, if we were not to nail down the proposition, this Crossrail Bill would meet exactly the same fate as the previous Crossrail Bill, which collapsed under its own weight in the early 1990s.

First, on the western terminus, we decided that Crossrail will end at Maidenhead. On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) argued with some force that Crossrail should not stop in Maidenhead, and, possibly for different reasons, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) argued that it should continue to Reading. Much was made of the question whether the Select Committee would be competent to examine the matter, and my best advice at the time was that it would. On my instruction, however, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), said at the close of the debate that if that is not the case, we would introduce an amendment after further discussion with the Clerks to make sure that it is possible to discuss such things.

If the House agrees the motion today, the Committee will be able to hear petitions in relation to an extension to Reading and make recommendations to this House. If the Government were to accept such representations, the matter would be taken forward by a Transport and Works Act 1992 order, which, as those who are familiar with such matters know, is a well-established way of building projects such as railway lines.

Because the matter concerns the end of the line—the same point applies to Ebbsfleet—we are not discussing a lot of property acquisition and interference with individuals' rights. The key issues are signalling and the capacity of Reading station.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Darling: Perhaps my hon. Friend wants to say how pleased he is that the Government have made that decision—I expect that he is composing an intervention to say just that. If we pass the motion, it will allow the Select Committee to hear petitions in relation to the extension. The procedure will be different from the Crossrail Bill. I repeat that the Government are not persuaded that we should extend Crossrail at this stage for reasons that I do not think it necessary to set out again, although I will happily do so. The motion allows the debate that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West are anxious to hold.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Assuming that the House passes the motion, I welcome the fact that the Select Committee will be given an instruction to examine the extension from Maidenhead to Reading. One issue is the cost of the necessary works, some of which relate to existing capacity problems at Reading station. Changes to that capacity have been on Network Rail's list of works to do for some time, but sadly there is little prospect of their being undertaken immediately. I want to clarify that the Select Committee will not get hung up on that aspect of the extension and will be able to examine the benefits to Crossrail of an extension from Maidenhead to Reading, rather than rejecting the
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extension simply because Network Rail is not doing the work that it should to increase capacity at Reading station.

Mr. Darling: That is the precise area in which I cannot be hard and fast. I cannot tell members of the Select Committee exactly what they should or should not consider, subject to the general parameters that we are setting out. I hope that the Select Committee will address itself to the merits or otherwise of extending Crossrail to Reading at some stage. I would like to think that some of the capacity problems at Reading station will have been resolved when Crossrail is constructed. What the right hon. Lady said is right, and it is a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West will undoubtedly make in his intervention. There are problems at Reading, and I have had many discussions with Network Rail about trying to sort them out. If Crossrail were extended, new considerations would arise, but it would be wrong to say that the Select Committee could not consider them. The Select Committee might say, "Until those things have been sorted out, it would be daft to extend the line." All and sundry have advised me that today's motion will allow the discussion that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West want, which is as good an assurance as I can give.

Martin Salter: The Secretary of State will be relieved to know that I support the motion and welcome its tabling, but some key points need to be teased out. If the 1992 Act were used to authorise the extension of Crossrail to Reading, who would be the applicant? Does the Secretary of State envisage that Crossrail would be the applicant if the 1992 Act were triggered, or would it be the petitioners themselves?

Mr. Darling: That matter would have to be decided. Under the 1992 Act, the applicant would be the operators of the railway, which could be Cross London Rail Links or Network Rail. Whatever Government are around at that time would have to be involved, because I do not suppose that the operation would be cost-free. All I am promising the House is that if the motion is passed, the Select Committee will have an opportunity to hear the petitions. We are nowhere near saying, "This is the next project, and this is what we might do." Crossrail would be by far the biggest single engineering project anywhere in Europe, and I am anxious to get something manageable. I have told the House many times, and especially in July, that we must ensure that the project is manageable. I hope, in that context, that I will satisfy hon. Members that we can discuss the possibility of an extension to Reading and apply the same consideration to Ebbsfleet.

We decided not to go to Ebbsfleet largely for operational reasons because of the complexity of the lines in north Kent. However, representations are being made about that.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The people of Hackney are glad that the Government are making progress on the Crossrail
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project. There is no objection in principle to the Select Committee taking petitions about the extension from Maidenhead to Reading. However, the people of Hackney and the east end would be concerned if the project became so unmanageable that it ran into the sand. Will the Secretary of State assure the people of Hackney that the Government will give it good speed, that we will guard against its becoming unmanageable, that the finance will be available for the railway, for which my constituents have waited so long, and that, when we have built Crossrail, we can move on to Crossrail 2—the Chelsea to Hackney line?

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