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Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. We have little over an hour left for this debate, so I make a plea to all right hon. and hon. Members please to discipline themselves in respect of their speeches.

1.45 pm

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I start by welcoming the progress that has been made, and the fact that the Bill will now go to the Select Committee next week. Hopefully, that will be an important further stage in its realisation. I do not share the cynicism of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), and I sincerely hope that the Government will confirm that this project is going to go ahead, because it has a hugely important role to play in London's transport and, indeed, in the UK economy. It is essential to securing effective cross-London public transport links, to responding to 21st-century needs, and to avoiding the risk of gridlock and the consequent economic disadvantages, which impact adversely not just on London but on the wider UK economy and affect the quality of life of people in the south-east. As Members know, it is a very complex project: a major tunnelling operation through some of the most sensitive sites in the whole of London. It has a number of very complex linkages and relationships with other parts of the transport network, and with other major infrastructure investment projects such the 2012 Olympics, which has already been mentioned.

Members of the Select Committee have some months of hard work ahead of them in dealing with the many petitions presented and the issues raised. I wish them
 
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well, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), and I do so on the basis of my memory of serving on the channel tunnel Committee some 20 years ago. We had not just 350 petitions to deal with, but some 2,000. We dealt with them in approximately six months; I hope that my hon. Friend manages to make quicker progress than that. In that time we also made project recommendations on the channel tunnel, which of course is now in place.

The petitions that my hon. Friend's Committee will consider include one from the London borough of Greenwich, which has not only my support but that of my hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Clive Efford) and for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin), who are both in their place today. The main thrust of it is the case for including a station at Woolwich. The case for such a station is very strong; indeed, it was an integral part of the original Crossrail plan. Its exclusion from the latest proposal is the product not of a transport analysis, but of short-term economies that seek to reduce the project's overall cost without proper regard to the long-term transport and regeneration benefits that would flow from such a station.

Unfortunately, there are some parallels with which I am rather familiar. Both the Jubilee line project and the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham impacted on the London borough of Greenwich, and specifically on my constituency. The proposed stations at North Greenwich and Cutty Sark were at some stage in those schemes excluded for cost reasons. No one would now suggest not having a station at North Greenwich—that would be preposterous, given its huge impact on the regeneration of a formerly abandoned and derelict industrial site, which will now provide homes for some 13,000 people and approximately 3 million sq ft of office accommodation. That will be a hugely important development in the regeneration of south-east London. Nor would anyone now suggest not having a station at Cutty Sark, which is probably the most significant tourist attraction in the whole of south-east London. Yet, believe it or not, the original project proposals suggested deleting North Greenwich and Cutty Sark stations for economic purposes. That illustrates the folly of making short-term economies, rather than looking at the long-term, potentially huge economic and regeneration benefits that can flow from such important infrastructure and transport schemes.

The logic applies in just the same way to Woolwich as it does to those two stations, which, I am pleased to say, are now successfully in place and are dealing with large numbers of passengers. In neither case did the inclusion of those stations make the project "unmanageable"—to pick up the word used by the Secretary of State. I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that the case for a station at Woolwich is strong in terms of the economic, transport and regeneration benefits, and that it would not make the project in any way unmanageable.

If such a station were not included, there would be some very perverse consequences. First, Woolwich would be the only town centre on the entire Crossrail network not to have a station. That would be very odd indeed, given the importance of Woolwich to the regeneration of the Thames Gateway area and the large number of jobs and new homes that can be created there, which would be supported by a Crossrail station at Woolwich. Evidence for that has been developed by the
 
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consultants EDAW, working for the London borough of Greenwich, and more recently by the Buchanan study, which considered only the economic side and the jobs, not the housing aspect, but which recognised the substantial job creation potential of a station at Woolwich.

Even more perversely, if the station were not included there would be a huge six-mile gap on the network between Custom House and Abbey Wood, which is the only other station serving south-east London. There would be a new service with considerable benefits for London as a whole, and for east London as well as west London, but with very limited benefits for south-east London—an area of great economic and regeneration potential. I hope that the evidence that we will present to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and the members of the Select Committee will convince them of the strong case for including Woolwich station in the project.

As for the motions on the Order Paper, I am happy to support the widening of the Select Committee's remit to consider the arguments for extending the Bill to cover Reading and Ebbsfleet. I shall not comment on the case for Reading; it is not an area with which my constituency has close links. There is, however, an obvious logic in extending the project to Ebbsfleet, to allow direct linkage with the channel tunnel rail link, and it is right that that should be considered. My only comment on that idea is that if an extension to Ebbsfleet finds favour, it would in no way be an alternative to a station at Woolwich, which would serve the western end of the Thames Gateway area.

I hope that the House will give a fair wind to the three motions under consideration, but above all that it will give a fair wind to the Crossrail project, which is so important both to the long-term economic health of London and to the whole UK economy.

1.52 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I welcome this short debate on instructions Nos. 2 and 3 to the Select Committee and the motion on late petitions. I also welcome the Secretary of State's clarification of the petitions; it is perfectly acceptable for him to act as he has done.

Most Members present for the 19 July Second Reading debate, which also covered the committal and the instructions, would agree that it was not a model of clarity. The responsibility of the Select Committee and the Standing Committees are now much clearer, and I thank the Secretary of State for that. The Select Committee can consider the detail but not the principle. My understanding is that although instruction No. 3 extends the scope of the matters that the Select Committee can consider, it does not, as the Secretary of State made clear, extend that scope enough to cover the principle.

The Secretary of State's view on the extension to Reading has not changed. He said on Second Reading much the same as he has said now. On 19 July he said:


 
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Presumably at that time the right hon. Gentleman held the same view about Ebbsfleet.

The Secretary of State has said that he does not want Crossrail to suffer the same fate as its predecessors. I do not have time to run through a full timeline of the action that has been taken on Crossrail since 1989, but the list runs to just over three pages. We are somewhat closer to Crossrail being completed now than we were in 1989, but, as the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the Conservative spokesman, said, in practice we have yet to see a spade go into the ground. There has been a lot of preliminary work, it is true, but there is no real action and no real digging.

I am still somewhat perplexed that although the Secretary of State has said that the Select Committee can consider petitions about Reading and Ebbsfleet, he has, as the Conservative spokesman also said, made it very clear that in his view the sums do not stack up. Yes, the Select Committee can consider the petitions, but in practice, whatever the petitioners say, the Government are unlikely to take any action on Reading or Ebbsfleet. One wonders what the purpose of hearing the petitions is. It will be satisfying for the petitioners to know that their petitions will be heard, but it will not be so satisfying when they read the Hansard report of today's debate and see that the Secretary of State says that he still does not think that these sums stack up for Reading—or, presumably, for Ebbsfleet.

The debate is simply about the instructions, so we cannot have a detailed debate about the funding aspects. However, I hoped that the Secretary of State would have dropped something in about those, even if it was just a single sentence saying that the £16 billion was in the bank so that the project could proceed. He did not do that, and he will be aware that in the business community there is a lot of disquiet on that subject.

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the article in the Financial Times on 21 July, immediately after the Second Reading, in which, for instance, Michael Snyder, the policy chairman of the Corporation of London, was quoted as saying:

That was the view of the business community in July. I am not aware of any change in those views, or of that disquiet having disappeared. Perhaps when the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), replies to the debate he will be able to confirm that discussions with the business community have taken place, it is now confident that the project will progress, and there is no risk that it will withdraw the £2 billion funding that it has offered as part of the process.

The Secretary of State has said that Sir Michael Lyons' review will consider this—or at least that the decision about the funding has been put back until the review reports. According to the Lyons website, that review will be complete by December 2006. I assume that there is the possibility of slippage, so we may not see a report before the end of this year. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will be able to say that the idea of there being no decision until the end of this year, at the earliest, is a time scale acceptable to the business community, and there is no risk that it will withdraw its offer of a temporary one-off 3 per cent. increase in the business rate between now and then.
 
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As the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said, the business community will take into account the decisions that the Secretary of State is now taking on other large transport projects, such as those involving trams. The Mersey tram has been mentioned in the debate, and one could also mention other tram projects, such as those in Leeds, Nottingham and Manchester. All the signals that the business community is receiving are negative rather than positive, and that must be having an impact on the business community in London.

Instruction No. 2 lists many new scoping requirements that have emerged, presumably in discussions over the summer and more recently. After Parliament went into recess, a document was published explaining in some detail what that instruction covered. I hope that the Minister will comment on whether, in relation to paragraph (1)(a), relating to amendments avoiding the duplication of planning authorities when it comes to assessing diversions, there have been representations from local authorities on that proposal and whether they are content with it. Will he also comment on the fact that there will be an extension of rights of way over land, which will allow third parties to acquire any form of rights of way? I should be particularly interested to hear what legislation on compensation might be applicable. Finally, the instruction says that a number of additional buildings would previously have required consent for alteration or demolition, and will he say whether there is a readily available list of the buildings that will be affected?

The debate on 19 July and the clarification provided by the Secretary of State on the roles of the Select and Standing Committees notwithstanding, many Members may still question why he has not used the opportunity provided today to confirm that freight services will not be affected by Crossrail and to strengthen the role of the rail regulator to leave nobody in any doubt that Crossrail services will not have priority over others. On 19 July, he said that those were matters of public, not private, interest, and therefore matters to be picked up by the Standing Committee, rather than the Select Committee. Surely, however, in relation to freight, if those services could be squeezed off rail and on to the roads in west London, that would be a matter of the greatest private interest. Our concerns have not gone away in spite of the Secretary of State's reassurances before the summer recess. Perhaps the Minister will use this opportunity to say whether, following discussions with the rail industry, he is now comfortable on freight services and the office of the rail regulator.

The instructions before us at least confirm that some limited progress is being made on Crossrail, and for that reason we will support them. However, they do not answer the £16 billion question, which will be answered, at the very earliest, at the end of this year when the Lyons report is published. Until that question is answered, we shall continue, in the words of Michael Snyder, to have rhetoric and not action.

2.3 pm


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