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Mr Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


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Crossrail Bill (Carry Over)

[Relevant document: First Special Report from the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill, Session 2005-06, on the Crossrail Bill: Woolwich Station, HC 1597.]

Mr. Speaker: Motions 3 and 4 on the Crossrail Bill will be debated together. I should also inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford).

7.35 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I beg to move,

Of the two motions before the House, one allows the Select Committee to consider petitions against the
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additional provisions to the Crossrail Bill that the Government intend to bring forward, and the other allows the Crossrail Bill to be carried over into the new Parliament. Explanatory memorandums on both motions are available in the Vote Office.

I am conscious of the fact that, in addition to the motions, several issues have arisen as a result of the Select Committee’s deliberations that have given rise to questions of procedure, specifically on the affordability of Woolwich station. The House will be aware that the Crossrail Bill Committee produced a special report on Woolwich last night. I propose to address all those issues in this debate and I shall begin by setting out briefly the purpose of the Bill. I shall then discuss the procedures that have been followed on Crossrail to date and address the issue of the affordability of Woolwich station, before turning finally to the detail of the two motions.

It may assist the House if I rehearse the purpose of the Bill and the procedures that have been followed so far. The Second Reading, on 19 July 2005, agreed the principle of the Bill, which is to construct Crossrail—a railway that will run between the termini at Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east and Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west. The main new intermediate stations will be at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, the Isle of Dogs and Custom House. The Bill enables Crossrail to be constructed and puts in place the necessary powers to allow the Crossrail services to run.

I remind the House that this is a hybrid Bill—a form used for projects of national importance—in which the Government take the lead in strategic development, but crucially, because the Bill affects specific private interests, it is dealt with differently in both Houses of Parliament. Hybrid Bills are rare; the last one concerned the channel tunnel rail link a decade ago. The Bill has aspects of both a public and a private Bill. It is brought forward by Government and, like any other public Bill, contains provisions that affect everyone or particular classes of people. However, the Bill also contains provisions that have an impact on particular individuals, notably in relation to the powers to acquire particular land. That is why the House requires such a Bill to incorporate an extra Select Committee stage in each House.

Within the process of the hybrid Bill, it is open to the Select Committee, after listening to petitions and representations, to make recommendations. However, it is equally clear that only the Government, as promoter, can reach decisions about affordability, as my predecessor as Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, made clear in the previous instructions debate on 12 January. When we get the Select Committee’s report, the Government will have to take a view about how much we can accommodate. Only the House can grant an instruction.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the new Minister with responsibility for Crossrail is right when he says that the case for it has to be financially robust? The Minister also said that the choice is Crossrail without
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Woolwich or no Crossrail. Is the financial case so delicate that Woolwich would push it over the edge? If so, why not examine other stations?

Mr. Alexander: I will come on to the specific issue of the affordability of Woolwich. I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in the passage of the Bill, both on Second Reading and in the instructions debate. I will certainly address the point that he raises in the course of my remarks.

As I say, the hybrid Bill process allows the Select Committee, after listening to petitions and representations, to make its own representations. However, the Government believe that it is equally clear that only the Government, as the scheme’s promoter, can reach decisions about affordability.

Only the House can grant an instruction to enable a Select Committee to consider an additional provision. Therefore, with this and every previous hybrid Bill, the Select Committee involved has requested the Government to table an instruction for the House to consider. The Government, as promoter, must consider the expenditure implications of any proposal, including its impact on the scheme’s overall affordability.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The next round of the comprehensive spending review will take place next summer, and that will have implications for the public finances. Does the Secretary of State anticipate that the Government will have decided by then about committing money to the scheme? Whatever happens tonight, will the financial green light be given by next July, all other things being equal?

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) has alluded already to the size of the sums involved, and it is appropriate for the Government to consider how the project can be funded. We have made it clear that the decisions about the next stages of the funding process should await the outcome of the Lyons review, which is due by the end of the year. The hon. Gentleman is right to acknowledge that the Crossrail project’s scale and significance means that those decisions should be made in the context of the broader discussions of the spending review.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The question goes beyond affordability and how much the project will cost. Who is doing the paying? London is already taking an extra hit to pay for the 2012 Olympics, so does the Secretary of State agree that this very necessary project should be funded by the national taxpayer rather than the London taxpayer?

Mr. Alexander: That is an intriguing idea. The Government have always made it clear that the principal users of Crossrail, and the communities to which it will contribute, should make a contribution. That is why consideration is being given to an
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alternative funding mechanism, which will be considered in light of the Lyons review. As I said, that is due to report towards the end of the year.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Secretary of State mentioned the communities that will benefit. Will there be additional track capacity between Shenfield and London? If not, how will the project affect the fast train service from East Anglia, which goes through north and mid-Essex and into London? Will the people who use that service lose out?

Mr. Alexander: This question has been raised before, in connection with the great western line out of Paddington rather than the great eastern line through Shenfield. There have been extensive discussions with industry, initially through a timetable working group and then in an industry forum that we have established. Inevitably, the construction of such a large project will affect services, but we are working towards finding an access option to enable us to ensure that normal services, to both east and west, will be accommodated comfortably. A great deal of work is being done to that end.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Secretary of State has said that he wants this hybrid Bill to go through Parliament before a funding mechanism is decided. If that happens, and no money is forthcoming, tens of thousands of people in Mayfair, the Barbican, Bayswater and elsewhere will suffer housing blight, possibly for decades to come, with no sense that the work is making progress. Is he not concerned about that?

Mr. Alexander: I do not want properties in Mayfair or anywhere else to be blighted unnecessarily. We want this hybrid Bill to make expeditious progress through both Houses, and we also want to continue to make progress on the question of financing. However, given the scale of the project, it is appropriate that we adopt an approach that recognises the broader local government financing issues addressed in the Lyons review. After that, we intend to discuss an alternative funding mechanism, and it has been suggested that the London business community might be prepared to make a contribution. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will consider all factors.

The Committee announced a set of interim conclusions on 25 July that covered a range of issues, including the idea of a station at Woolwich. The Committee took the view that the Government, as the promoter of the scheme, should bring forward an additional provision to add to the project a station at Woolwich. The House needs to be clear about the nature of that particular conclusion. It does not involve protecting private rights, or trying to remove or mitigate adverse effects that the project might cause. Instead, the conclusion is designed to increase the already substantial public benefits that the project will deliver. I am not aware of the Select Committee on any previous hybrid Bill ever seeking an additional station, or something comparable. Therefore, in forming a view on the Select Committee’s report on Woolwich station, the promoter is inevitably drawn into new territory.

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Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I sought advice from the Library on this matter and was told that the hybrid Bill on the channel tunnel rail link proposed the addition of the station at Ebbsfleet. Does not that mean that his argument against the Select Committee’s recommendation in respect of Woolwich should be looked at again?

Mr. Alexander: I shall certainly consider the point that my right hon. Friend raises. I do not want to disappoint him, but in the rest of my remarks I shall seek to deploy various other arguments in defence of the Government’s position in respect of Woolwich station.

In light of the terms of the special report from the Select Committee, the Government believe that it is entirely reasonable for the Committee to express a view on the merits of Woolwich station and to invite the Government to consider whether to add that to the Bill. That consideration took place over the summer. However, private rights are not at stake in this case, so there is no obligation on the promoter to attach a special weight to the Select Committee’s conclusion when considering whether to accept it in the Bill. The Committee’s conclusion that the Crossrail project needs a station at Woolwich must be considered on its merits. The cost of such an addition would be high, so the Government must give particular consideration to whether it is affordable.

The Government’s view of the matter has always been clear. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport at the time—my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), who is now Under-Secretary of State for Defence—wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) on 5 May this year, explaining that the high cost of a station at Woolwich was not affordable. To ensure that there was no doubt about our views, the letter was made formally available to the Select Committee before it took evidence about Woolwich. A copy is in the Library of the House.

The key principle—that the Government, as scheme promoter, must retain the right to judge what is affordable—is not one on which any Government could yield. Following the Select Committee’s interim report, with its advocacy of Woolwich station, the company Cross London Rail Links was asked to determine whether there could be a cheaper alternative. Potential savings have been identified, but the estimated cost remains very high. The work done by CLRL suggests that the cost could be reduced to around £186 million—still a huge sum of money.

I have had to reach a view on whether the likely cost reduction would allow us to change the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Halton put to the Select Committee in May. After much consideration, my judgment is that we simply cannot add such a large cost to the project, which already represents a huge funding challenge. However, in a letter to the Select Committee Chairman, I indicated that, in light of the strength of feeling in the Committee on the matter, I was prepared to let CLRL undertake further work to see whether there was a way to reduce significantly the cost of the Woolwich station from the present £186 million.

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That work will involve more detailed analysis of the station’s design and construction to establish that the proposal is feasible. It will then have to assess the scope for further cost-reduction options. The construction of such a station under ground would, under all circumstances, require a radical change well beyond the limits of deviation from the existing alignment of associated tunnels. That work will take some time to complete, but I hope to give some of my views to the Select Committee as soon as is practicable. I shall also ensure that the further work is completed before the Select Committee concludes its own work.

Mr. Mark Field: I am not here to make an argument in favour of or against Woolwich station, but we are talking about £186 million out of a total budget of £13 billion to £16 billion. That is barely 1 per cent. of the whole cost. For the entire issue to hinge on such a relatively small amount of money seems absolutely perverse. I would be interested to know on what basis the Secretary of State thinks that that £186 million somehow tips the whole costing entirely over the edge.

Mr. Alexander: With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, only the Member representing Mayfair could suggest that £186 million is not a very considerable sum. To give a sense of proportion, that is approximately the same sum as that identified as savings during the progress of the hybrid Bill. It is a considerable sum by any measure, notwithstanding the fact that we already have a major work stream under way to drive down the costs of the Crossrail scheme to ensure that it is affordable. My decision was reached on the basis that we have an obligation to ensure not only that the hybrid Bill concludes its passage through this House and another place, but that we are able to get the financing and funding of the scheme in place. In his earlier intervention, the hon. Gentleman made the case for making real progress on financing. I struggle to see how the addition of £186 million now would assist the endeavour of making sure that we have an affordable scheme.

Mr. Pickles: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way for the second time. Will he answer the question that I asked? Is the Minister with responsibility for Crossrail right that the choice that might be open to the Government is Crossrail without Woolwich or no Crossrail at all? Is money really that tight?

Mr. Alexander: I stand by all the comments that I have made. The scheme needs to be affordable. We made a considered judgment that the addition of not simply a station, but £186 million, was not affordable. That is why I wrote to the Committee in the terms that I did.

Mr. Pickles: So Crossrail is off?

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