Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Alexander: No: for precisely the reasons that I have given, we want to ensure that Crossrail is on. We want to make sure that this scheme is affordable. We as the Government have an obligation not simply to take forward the promotion of the project through the hybrid Bill process, but to ensure, through the value-engineering that CLRL is taking forward, that
31 Oct 2006 : Column 231
we are able to find the funding for the scheme. I would have hoped that there would be cross-House consensus on that.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the position that he has taken on Woolwich station; it has given us more time to examine the costs. I ask him when he is looking at those costs not to look at them only in the context of Woolwich station. Woolwich was taken out of the scheme largely because of the original value that was put on the cost of building the station. What we need to do is go back and examine the merits of the whole scheme, and look not only at Woolwich in isolation, but at reducing the costs across the whole of Crossrail which might allow Woolwich back into the scheme.

Mr. Alexander: I fear that I might disappoint my hon. Friend. A station at Woolwich has never been part of the Crossrail Bill scheme. It is correct that it was an option considered by CLRL before it submitted its interim business case to the Department for Transport in February 2003, but by then the station had been removed from the scheme. I have an overriding obligation to ensure not only that we continue to make progress with the parliamentary passage of the Bill, but that the financing of the scheme can be secured.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): I have listened to the arguments that the Secretary of State has just deployed about Woolwich. Will he make the same arguments about Reading as a potential western terminus?

Mr. Alexander: The position in relation to Reading is fundamentally different, given that it is beyond the bounds of the Bill that was introduced. Of course, this was a matter of considerable discussion in previous debates before the House, and the Government gave an undertaking on the scope of the examination by the Select Committee, and I do not resile from the undertakings given by my predecessor in those debates. However, the position on Reading has not changed. We are awaiting the conclusion of the Select Committee’s work on the question of safeguarding of land. It would be under a transport works legislation undertaking, rather than through the hybrid Bill process, that any further progress would be made in light of the deliberations of the Committee.

The second motion allows the Committee to consider petitions against the additional provisions to the Crossrail Bill that the Government intend to introduce. The first motion allows the Bill to be carried over into the new Parliament. Additional provisions are changes to the Bill that affect some private interests differently from others. Just like the Bill itself, additional provisions must be published, advertised and assessed environmentally, and trigger their own petitioning period. People affected by additional provisions will, therefore, have the opportunity to petition against them and be heard by the Select Committee.

Members will have seen the explanatory memorandum that sets out the rationale behind each of
31 Oct 2006 : Column 232
the changes. Amendments will be introduced by the Government to give effect to them, and the Select Committee will give decisions about which proposals should be adopted in light of the evidence put before it. The additional provisions that are being introduced reflect the Committee’s interim conclusions, changes to the project in light of petitioners’ concerns and development of the project in light of discussions with stakeholders, or are a result of efforts to reduce the project cost or minor technical changes. We intend to bring forward those additional provisions next Tuesday, at which point a newspaper notice will be published to alert affected parties. That will trigger a five-week petitioning period on each additional provision, following which the petitions lodged will be considered by the Committee in the usual way.

Let me turn to the carry-over motion. Hybrid Bills are routinely carried over from one parliamentary Session to another and from one Parliament to another, given that the additional Select Committee stages add substantially to the time taken on them, compared with an ordinary public Bill. This is therefore a straightforward procedural step. It was used for the channel tunnel Bill in the 1980s, the channel tunnel rail link Bill in the 1990s, and previously for the Crossrail Bill.

Crossrail is important not only for the economic development of London but, because of London’s role, for the economic development of the wider UK economy. This is a huge project, and it deserves the support of the whole House. I commend the motions to the House.

7.56 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): As the Secretary of State said, these are fundamentally procedural motions. To a significant extent, they continue the debates that we had in the House six months ago, and those which took place between his predecessors and my predecessors in 2005. Simply continuing the Select Committee process and the debate about the detail of the Crossrail project from this Parliament to the next one is not contentious. We will certainly not do anything other than provide our support for the motions.

I wait with interest to hear the remarks of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) about Woolwich station. He has raised some legitimate concerns. I understand the Secretary of State’s perspective on costs; anyone in his position clearly has to focus on cost. But there are other issues in relation to Woolwich, and I hope that the work that he has described will be able to contribute to taking forward thinking on that part of the project.

I also commend Committee members of all parties for the work that they are doing on the project. Membership of the Crossrail Committee is certainly one of the most arduous parliamentary tasks of this year, and they ought to be commended for the diligence and patience with which they have done their work, the care with which they have brought forward proposals to amend the Bill, and the time that they have committed to the substantial number of petitioners who have rightly wanted to have the opportunity to have their say about the detail of the Crossrail project.

31 Oct 2006 : Column 233

Although we are not in dispute over the motion, which is a procedural matter passing debate on from one parliamentary session to the next, that means, of course, yet more time passing for a project that, the Secretary of State will know from looking back at the work of his predecessors, was supposed to be happening already. If he looks back to the famous 10-year plan for transport published five years ago by his predecessor with responsibility for such matters, the Deputy Prime Minister, he will see that this project was due to be finished by 2010.

As was said at the time:

by 2010. There is then a list of what could be delivered, including

The big unanswered question that lies behind this debate is: what is going to happen? We are taking through a debate about the detail of the project. We are securing the rights in law to make that project come to fruition. There is no doubt that the underlying issue as it affects London transport is very substantial. Capacity on all rail links into central London is a major problem. There is increased congestion on the rail network in and around London—including the underground, but not only that. I came in from St. John’s Wood this morning at about 10.30 and the train was absolutely packed. Anyone who is a regular commuter into one of London’s main termini knows just how full the trains are and how often they exceed the “passengers in excess of capacity” limits. Somewhat bizarrely, in the past few weeks one major rail company operating in London has said that it is going to increase capacity by ripping out seats in order to create more room for people to stand. This is the reality of transport in London today.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Given that Crossrail is going to provide 40 per cent. of the additional new capacity for London’s transport system in the next decade, does the hon. Gentleman agree, and will he state categorically now, that there should be no delay on this project, and that his party does support it?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The fortunes of the City of London, of Canary Wharf and of the west end as a business centre—

Mr. Douglas Alexander: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given the assurance that he has just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), will he take this opportunity to deny the Evening Standard story of 2 June in which his aide, Campbell Storey, was quoted as saying the following in an e-mail to the office of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne):

31 Oct 2006 : Column 234

So which is it? Does the hon. Gentleman support his aide, or does he support Crossrail?

Chris Grayling: First, I am very disappointed to hear the Secretary of State quoting from an e-mail that was stolen from my office. May I ask him not to make use of such material in future, because in doing so we offer a route for people to take advantage of illegal methods of obtaining information? Let me be clear about this issue, which I will address later. There are problems with the route and with the costings. Is the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) saying to me that by the time that my party can take office—2009 or 2010—we will not be inheriting a project that is under way? Is he saying that I will find it in my in-tray, as the new Secretary of State, after the next general election, and that I will take a decision on that project myself?

Mike Gapes: As Chairman of the all-party group on Crossrail, I am urging all parties in this House—I hope that the hon. Gentleman can speak for his party on this matter—to support Crossrail, now and in future.

Chris Grayling: There is an interesting question, which I will throw back at the Secretary of State. It may be that the hon. Gentleman is right and that this decision will be waiting for me in 2009 or 2010, but if so, some significant damage will have been done to the project, and I shall explain why to the Secretary of State in a moment.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am afraid that I am not very bright—is the hon. Gentleman saying that he is committing to this amount of expenditure, irrespective of what it does to the rest of the transport budget, or not?

Chris Grayling: I was about to come to the question of cost. The hon. Lady is absolutely right, in that we do not actually know how much the project is going to cost—

Mrs. Dunwoody: I may be right—but what is the answer?

Chris Grayling: I do not know what the cost of the project is, and I am waiting with interest to find out. The Secretary of State cannot tell us today what the cost is, and he cannot commit the budget to it—I would be grateful if he would correct me if I am wrong. Do the Government know exactly what the cost of the project is, and can they commit to funding it? No. So how can I, in opposition, without the teams of civil servants that the Secretary of State has access to, judge what cost I would be committing to?

Mrs. Dunwoody: Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I will not hold him to figures, because that is embarrassing. Can he just give us a simple undertaking that it is his intention, irrespective of cost, to support the project? That is a very simple question, and a yes or no will do.

31 Oct 2006 : Column 235

Chris Grayling: May I remind the hon. Lady that her party is in government and mine is not?

Mrs. Dunwoody: I know that.

Chris Grayling: Much as I would like to, I cannot become Secretary of State for another three years. If the Secretary of State wants to leave office tomorrow, I will take the decision, but the person to whom the hon. Lady should be addressing her question is the Secretary of State.

If the Bill goes through in 2007, are the Government going to start construction of Crossrail in 2008? If not, the project team will have to be disbanded and the project’s future will be uncertain. Are we going to hear in next summer’s spending review a commitment from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—if he is still Chancellor at that point—to finding the money to build Crossrail? As of today, I have heard no evidence whatever to suggest that the Government are poised to announce funding, so I am looking forward to 2009-10 uncertain as to what I am going to inherit. I could inherit a Bill that has been passed into law but for which there is no funding, or a project that is under way. But right now, I turn the question back to the Secretary of State. In the next 12 months, when this Bill is passed, is he going to fund it or not? Is he prepared to stand up and give a commitment today that he will fund it?

Mr. Alexander: Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that, as I said earlier, project costs were discussed when the Bill was deposited, and value- engineering work has been taken forward? Following the conclusion of the Lyons review at the turn of this year, there will be further discussions on the alternative funding mechanism, which is the appropriate and sensible way to take forward the project’s funding.

Chris Grayling: I take it that that is a “maybe”, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We do not know what the Government’s funding intentions really are. As of today, there is no money set aside in the Department for Transport’s budget to pay for Crossrail, so we are debating a Bill to set up powers for which, at the moment, no resources are available to bring to fruition.

There is talk in the City—

Mr. Pickles: I am puzzled, as I am sure that my hon. Friend is, by all this talk of Sir Michael Lyons. At a meeting that I attended with Sir Michael a few months ago, he expressed genuine bemusement at these references to the Lyons report. He does not intend to make any substantive recommendations about Crossrail. So this is just a delaying mechanism: nothing is going to happen after December.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right. I have said all along that I fear that the Crossrail Bill is a confidence trick on the part of this Government. They are seeing this process through and putting the Bill into law, for whatever political reasons; but unless and until I see from them a funding commitment—a clear statement of intent—or an indication as to where from within the budget the money is going to come, I will not take this project seriously.

31 Oct 2006 : Column 236

The Secretary of State asked me about routes. There are some significant drawbacks to the chosen route, and the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) made the point clearly. It is not logical to terminate Crossrail at Maidenhead. Equally, it is not logical to have separate projects to build a new terminus at Maidenhead and a new station at Reading, which is desperately needed to create a better through-way for east-west and north-south rail routes. Is the Secretary of State saying to the House tonight that his Department is giving no consideration whatever to bringing those two projects together? Again, I will happily give way if he wants to tell the House that some joined-up thinking has taken place. [Interruption.] No.

Mr. Mark Field: Does my hon. Friend think that there might be some connection here with the fact that the Secretary of State represents not one of his own Paisley and Renfrewshire, South constituents on a single transport matter, as is the case with every other Scottish MP? I should also point out that the overwhelming majority of complaints that I have received from my Mayfair residents, of whom the Secretary of State was so dismissive earlier, are in fact from people living in social housing. I will ensure that in the run-up to the next general election, they will not be allowed to forget that a Labour Cabinet Minister was so dismissive of their rights, particularly given that, unlike him, I do represent my constituents on transport issues.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. However, I hold nothing against the Secretary of State. He is doing his best and has been in the job only a few months, and he has inherited projects that have been passed to him.

However, the Secretary of State will have to do better than simply talk about things that might happen with this project in future and possible sources of funding. He referred earlier to mixed messages, but his own Department is giving them out. He quoted the Evening Standard earlier, so let me point out that during the summer, that newspaper ran a public statement from his Department. One of his press officers told it that the Department was not expecting services on Crossrail to start until 2019. By definition, that means that construction will not start in 2008, which is when, according to the project team, construction has to start to avoid the disbanding of existing expertise—expertise that is needed to keep the project going for the future. So again, there is uncertainty. We are not sure about the funding or the Department’s planned construction timetable, and there are some questions about the route.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Is my hon. Friend not concerned that by 2008 a major infrastructure project for the Olympics will also be under way? Has any consideration been given to where the resources will come from to start Crossrail in 2008?

Next Section Index Home Page