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19 July 2006 : Column 106WH—continued

I have rather liberally interpreted my prerogative as the person who was lucky enough to secure the debate, and I have stayed on my feet for half an hour. I know that my hon. Friends and other hon. Members want to join in, and I have perhaps taken up too much time already. However, I should emphasise that we in London have a huge opportunity because we are on the way to completing the East London line, which is one of the major transport infrastructure projects in the country. It is essential to my constituency and, indeed, to my future in it that phase 2 follows on from phase 1, although I am arguing for the project not in personal terms, but in simple, common-sense transport terms. This is an excellent project from the point of view of transport, regeneration and, indeed, social equity, and I very much look forward to hearing what my
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hon. Friend the Minister has to say in reply to the debate. I also look forward to hearing the contributions of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members.

3.1 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) for his speech. Thank goodness it was a 90-minute debate, not a 30-minute debate, otherwise no one else would have had a chance to contribute.

Given the hon. Gentleman’s insatiable desire to know more about Gospel Oak, I should perhaps tell him—my friends in the London borough of Camden would be keen to point this out—that Gospel Oak was one of the wards that went to the Conservatives in the recent local elections. Indeed, I believe that our majority there is rather bigger than the hon. Gentleman’s majority in his parliamentary seat in Battersea, but that is another matter.

This is a useful debate. The failure to invest in London’s infrastructure, especially its transport infrastructure, is regarded as the single biggest issue facing London-based businesses. The debate is also timely, given the Conservative party’s transport initiatives, particularly its rail transport initiatives, which have been announced in the past 48 hours. Our concern is that the railway transport system is too disjointed and broken up—a complaint that goes back to the privatisation that took place under the Conservative Government. However, it could also be said that transport policy making in London as a whole is too disjointed.

One reason why we, as London MPs, perhaps have a somewhat limited voice on the matter is that much of the policy making and day-to-day decision making on transport is in the hands of the Mayor, Transport for London and the Greater London authority. That makes it difficult for us, as London MPs, to have our voice heard. As I said in my brief intervention, one of the biggest issues is that London transport affects not only the 74 London constituencies, but many constituencies and constituents far beyond the capital. It is all the more important, therefore, that debates such as today’s take place.

I worry particularly about financial services and the creative industries, because we need to promote those important areas of growth in our economy. For historical and other obvious reasons, those industries are based in London, and we need to do our bit to ensure that the infrastructure, and the transport infrastructure in particular, is promoted.

I appreciate that other hon. Members have quite a lot to say, so I shall not say too much, not least because none of the orbital railway directly affects my constituency. It just outside my constituency, although it might assist parents in Hackney who happen to send their children to schools in my constituency, as well as people making other journeys. However, the City of London corporation is keen to ensure that there is proper investment in the east London link line, and it welcomes the progress that has been made so far on phase 1. I have walked through the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and seen the disruption in Hoxton and Haggerston. An enormous amount of building work is
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going on, but it will all be to good effect in the longer term. I hope that phase 2 will ensure that there is an interchange with the Victoria line, which is crucial, for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Battersea.

I do not want to speak only from a north London perspective, so let me also say something from a south London perspective. Thankfully, I have heard of Battersea and Clapham Junction, and it is important that they are linked in to the system so that we have a proper orbital railway. That will ensure that the City is well catered for and that people will be able to use the orbital railway, at least until the last available point, when they will have to take another form of transport, which might be a bus, rather than the tube or the train. That will also ensure that we take the earliest opportunity to avoid a lot of the wasted journeys that result, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, when people go into central London, only to come straight out again.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He is right to suggest that the London orbital railway may prove to be a most effective means of improving London’s train transport. I have 34 tube stations in my constituency, but, as I said, none of them is directly affected by the orbital link. However, if we can ensure that there is proper investment, we might well alleviate some of the problems that people experience when the tube is very busy, particularly on days such as this.

Let me say a quick word about Crossrail, which is a central issue for most London Members. I am pretty realistic about its prospects: notwithstanding the enormous time and effort being expended in this place on the hybrid Bill, it is highly unlikely that Crossrail, at least under the current plans, will ever be built. I do not think that the finances will be there, given that the cost is projected to be £13 billion, £14 billion or £15 billion and is rising fast. However, I hope that serious thought will be given, whatever the colour of the Government, to ensuring that at least part of the projected Crossrail infrastructure is built. In particular, I hope that we shall have a line that links the City of London with Canary Wharf and perhaps the Thames Gateway, which will be necessary if that redevelopment area is to be viable in any meaningful way.

All of us as London MPs irrespective of our party have an important message that we would like to get across to the Minister. Our voice is inevitably somewhat silenced by the fact that we have a Mayor and Transport for London, but that arrangement should enhance London’s transport, not diminish it. It is greatly to be regretted that the Department for Transport has taken its eye off the ball in respect of London’s great needs, although, to be brutally honest, the same would be true if we had a Conservative Government. How we deal with London’s substantial needs will affect its standing as a financial and tourist centre and whether we have a viable and thriving economy in the years ahead, all of which will have an enormous impact on the 560-odd MPs who do not represent London seats. I hope that the Minister will take due note of what has been said and of what other hon. Members will say, because we need to invest. In so far as the enormous sums required for Crossrail cannot
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be promised, please can the Government ensure that they put money towards getting the orbital railway up and running?

3.7 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): It was only at the end of 2003 that I was talking with a Hackney resident who summed up the frustrations about the east London line that people have felt for years by sighing and saying, “You know, ever since I’ve lived in Hackney, the east London line’s been about seven years away.” Now, only a few years later, we know that phase 1 of the east London line will be delivered by 2010. It is long overdue, but very welcome in Hackney.

We now have the building blocks in place for the London orbital railway, on which many of us have campaigned for many years, but we need the final links. I differ slightly from the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) in saying this, but it is worth acknowledging that having a London Mayor and a transport body for London has transformed the prospects for an orbital railway. I should underline for the Minister that Transport for London has a track record on delivery, and London’s civic and political leadership is also keen to champion the interests of Londoners. In addition, the Government have trusted Transport for London and the Mayor to deliver on several such projects, and Ministers should continue to support the long-fought campaign for London’s outer circle line.

As well as regenerating the area concerned, as my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Martin Linton) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, the orbital railway will relieve congestion on the most central London routes. We have a crazy system now, with many people having to travel into London to get anywhere quickly. Those who use the north London line, for example, find it an invaluable link, but it is also frustrating.

Hackney is an anomaly in London transport terms: it is an inner-London borough with no tube. That is reportedly because a large Victorian landowner refused to have tunnelling under his land, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea suggested, it might have been linked to the geology and the clay that is prevalent in Hackney. However, we have suffered long as a result of that accident of history. Hackney can, arguably, claim one staircase of Old Street station and perhaps one staircase of Manor House station, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington,. We like to claim the little that we can for each of our constituencies, but it is a poor show for a constituency that reaches as far as Broadgate and Liverpool street in the heart of London to have nothing on the tube map. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea and I therefore form an alliance, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, in our unfortunate distinction as MPs for central London boroughs with no tube.

In Hackney we have long campaigned for better transport links. As the hon. Member for Cities of
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London and Westminster said, it is great to see the bridge-strengthening works under way down the route in Hackney, where the track bed has been sitting there for years, frustratingly under-used. Those works may cause some local temporary inconvenience, but people are not sad to see it. Although there may be local day-to-day problems, we are delighted to see the work on the East London line.

From November 2007, Transport for London will take control of the North London line in my constituency. That will be another crucial link on London’s outer circle line. When Transport for London takes over and lets the franchise, the service will increase to eight trains an hour.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of Hackney, who look forward to the completion of the East London line and the orbital line, still look forward with optimism to proper funding for both Crossrail 1 and Crossrail 2, so that the residents of Chelsea can come to Hackney and explore all our cultural and gastronomic delights?

Meg Hillier: How can I fail to agree completely with my hon. Friend? Hackney will be on the map in so many ways—as it is already for those of us who know and love it. We are prepared to share that secret, or the best bits of it, with the many visitors we expect to receive.

When Transport for London takes over the North London line, there will be real-time information and better facilities. Staffing has been promised for stations, as well as longer and better trains, which are on the way to being ordered. That will transform a line that is very well used, but which, as the Transport Committee of the London assembly recently acknowledged, lets down many residents. Despite increases in the number of rush-hour trains, the crush at rush hour is worse even than on parts of the tube system. It is, however, a vital link to central London, so we look forward to its getting better, and to the arrival of the East London line in 2010.

All that is welcome, but we benefit from every extension that creates the full Orbirail—the full outer circle line. People in Hackney want to go places, and, as has already been touched on, we want to welcome people to Hackney, including Haggerston and Hoxton. I look forward to entertaining my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea in some of the restaurants there. Although I do not want to suggest that they are better than those in Battersea, I think that we can equal if not improve on his gastronomic and cultural experiences in our exciting and historic area of London.

Transport is important for Hackney, but it should be considered in the London context as well. The population of London is set to grow by 1 million by 2025—a number greater than the populations of many cities in this country—and we must manage that in a sustainable way. We need to transport Londoners around London in a way that is sustainable and continue to get Londoners out of cars. There has been a drop in car use as well as an increase in bus use, but we need to improve the links that we have. The improvements we are discussing will contribute to that process.

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London also contributes £9 billion to £15 billion to central Government. I point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that that is significantly more than it receives in spending. It is high time that London residents got their due. Of course, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster pointed out, not only London residents will benefit, but the many people from around the country who travel on London’s train system.

The capital also has the highest poverty rate in England and some of the worst housing, public health and homelessness in the UK. I have highlighted those issues as they affect Hackney on other occasions, so I shall not repeat them in this short debate, but I want to point out one issue. The number of incapacity benefit claimants in my constituency is the second highest in London: there are 7,400 people claiming, 63 per cent. of whom are under 50. Yet the constituency goes right down to Broadgate in the City. Unemployment in the area is still too high—higher than the national average. The transport links will do a great deal to get people more easily into different types of work in different parts of London.

I conclude with some key points for my hon. Friend the Minister to take up. First, I hope that the Government can work with Transport for London to produce a funding package to reinstate the western curve at Dalston. That is critical to the linking of the North London and East London lines at that very important junction for all of us in Hackney, which will become even more important as it is improved for Londoners in general. It is not yet clear whether that can be done in time for the Olympics, but Transport for London is working on it in detail at the moment. I fully support its aim to get the link built and opened in time for the 2012 Olympics. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can comment on what the Government are doing to support Transport for London, which, I repeat, has a track record of delivering projects on time and to budget. It is, in financial terms, one of the best managed public authorities in the country.

Secondly, I hope that we can secure a better station than is currently planned at the Geffrye museum, the Haggerston station. I am taking up that matter with Transport for London. Thirdly, we want all the routes to be well marked on all maps. Often, people who do not know our area of Hackney and parts of London that the outer circle line will benefit get confused about where they are. We have had big improvements in signage since we have had a transport body for London and I hope that that will continue, particularly for the outer circle line.

Finally, to reiterate points that other hon. Members have made, funding for phase 2 of the East London line needs to be forthcoming. It is great to have it for Hackney, but we want to go places and have people come to us, as well has having our own little bit of railway line on the East London line, and we would like a commitment from the Minister—today, if possible—about phase 2.

3.16 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing this
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important debate. Whenever people talk about investing in London’s infrastructure, MPs who do not represent constituencies inside the M25 are often a little sceptical. It is important to use this debate to state that investment in London infrastructure is not just for the benefit of Londoners; it benefits the entire national economy and should be seen in that light. I also congratulate my friend and comrade the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for the leadership that he has shown throughout. People in Hackney are very relieved that he has now taken over the North London line and that the improvements in frequency and in investment that he has planned will happen.

It has already been said that the importance of an orbital route in London, going through Hackney and all the way to south London, cannot be overstated. It is beneficial in terms of regeneration and employment—we have serious unemployment and underemployment problems in east London—and it is beneficial for London as a city. I was amazed to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea had never heard of Haggerston. I live in Haggerston, which should be reason enough for it to be imprinted on his memory. I look forward to having a new East London line station a few steps from where I live. Although all the stations will be in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) the East London line is vital to my constituency for travel into central London.

I congratulate Transport for London on the work on the East London line that it has quietly gone ahead with. I hope that the funding for the next stage will be made available. I stress to the Minister that this is not just a London issue, but a national one. Investing in the London infrastructure benefits the national economy. I remind the Minister of something that people may forget: we have in London some of the most severe poverty in the country. Politicians from outside London can often be heard to say, “London is so wealthy, and has so many jobs,” but we have pockets of tremendous poverty and deprivation. Infrastructure investment is key to tackling those problems. I urge the Minister, in spite of the tiny bit of scepticism that one hears from MPs outside the M25, to bear in mind the importance of the progress of the infrastructure investment, not just for Londoners but for the country as a whole.

I congratulate the Mayor and Transport for London, who, in a difficult climate, have established themselves as people who deliver. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch has said, they should get the funding for the other spur. If the Government are serious about dealing with social exclusion and child poverty, and if they are serious about engaging with all of our diverse communities, they should be serious about investing in London’s infrastructure.

3.20 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing this debate and on putting forward, in a sensible, calm and collected manner, the advantages of the Orbirail scheme. I hope that the Minister of State will respond in a similarly positive vein.

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The hon. Member for Battersea was worried that his lack of awareness of Haggerston and Hoxton would be echoed by other hon. Members. There are hon. Members present who represent Hackney; indeed, I served as a councillor on Hackney borough council, representing De Beauvoir ward, so Haggerston, Hoxton and Dalston are areas that are very familiar to me. Back then, in 1988, we were talking about the need to bring the tube to Dalston and I am pleased that, a number of years later, it finally looks as if it will arrive.

Martin Linton: To avoid a joke turning into an historical fact, what I actually said was that few people have heard of Hoxton and Haggerston because they are not on the tube map and that is one reason why I think it is important that the East London line should appear on that map. Although I am not as familiar with Hoxton or Haggerston as my hon. Friends who represent that area, I have heard of those areas and, along with the people of Battersea, I look forward to their taking their place on the map of the London tube.

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I am sure that the residents of Haggerston and Hoxton will be pleased to hear that he is familiar with those quarters of London.

I think it is true to say that transport in London has improved; whether it is the lengthening of the Jubilee line trains or the new rolling stock on suburban railway lines, there is some good news. Some local authorities, including my own, are beginning to consider the serious issues of congestion, traffic and so on. My local authority was successful in securing funding for turning Sutton into a sustainable town centre and I look forward to seeing how it will tackle issues relating to car use.

However, progress is a bit patchy, and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) referred to Crossrail. Although I support that project, like him, I have serious doubts about whether the project will eventually emerge. The link that was made with the Lyons report was very unfortunate, especially as Sir Michael Lyons was not specifically asked to look at Crossrail as part of his inquiry. It seems to have been kicked into the long grass to delay a decision on the subject until a future date when perhaps in a quiet media time there might be an opportunity to make a not terribly positive announcement on Crossrail. I hope that that is not the case, but we will see.

This debate rightly focuses on another missing piece of the transport jigsaw: orbital rail, or Orbirail. As any commuter, traveller or tourist in London knows, it is very easy to make journeys into London and back out again, but it is much harder to make an orbital journey around London by rail. There are a limited number of valued bus services that provide orbital transport links such as the X26 bus route that goes from south-east London through a number of constituencies and on to Heathrow. When such services are threatened there is, rightly, a vigorous reaction and response.

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