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As has been pointed out, the initial Government estimates on the Woolwich station project suggested that it would cost something in the region of £300 million. The Government have accepted tonight that the cost could be as low as £186 million. When estimates shift by such a magnitude, it is difficult to know how we can have any confidence in the Government’s view on the matter at all. The Government have said repeatedly that we have Crossrail without Woolwich, or nothing at all. That is
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an unworthy position for the Government to take. They should tackle the arguments head-on in a more straightforward, transparent and honest way, and engage in a proper debate in a way in which I have not seen so far today.

8.35 pm

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab): I pay tribute to the offer that has been made by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris). Both of them have worked extremely diligently and honestly to try to find a brokered solution that will be acceptable to all. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who speaks for Her Majesty’s Opposition. The Committee will have heard his kind remarks, as well as those made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford).

First, I wish to deal with the offer that has been made. The Committee has already had the chance to talk about it and we accept it willingly. The offer is thoroughly genuine and gives us the opportunity to take the situation forward.

For the record, I add my thanks to the members of the Committee of all political persuasions. They have worked very hard on an extremely complex Bill and the process has been tortuous for them. The Committee has sat on scores of occasions over many months, so it has been difficult for its members to keep their attention on their duties as Members of Parliament and to stick with the endeavours that they have taken on as honourable brokers and representatives of the Committee.

Mr. Douglas Alexander: Amid the welter of interventions that I took, I fear that I inadvertently failed to echo the sentiments towards the Committee and the efforts of its Chairman. May I take this opportunity to place on record my gratitude to the work of the Committee and my hon. Friend?

Mr. Meale: I am grateful to the Secretary of State.

The Committee has sat not only while the House of Commons has been sitting, but outside those times. On one occasion, we actually worked during a recess. I thus pay tribute to the Committee’s members, who have been thorough and honest brokers for the work that they have been given.

During the Committee’s evidence sessions, we have heard from a plethora of sources, including hundreds of petitioners from a wide variety of organisations. Weighty corporations, businesses, charities, community groups, and individual tenants and homeowners have taken the opportunity to make their views and concerns known to the Committee. I have no doubt that some are quite cynical about this whole operation; indeed, there have been indications of that view this evening. We on the Committee, as a united force, do not agree with that. We are all committed to the work that we have undertaken. We believe that this Bill can be genuinely good for Britain, not only for London.

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We should not underestimate the contribution that has been made by Members, who have not only sat in Committee but bothered to go out and visit many of the sites concerned. Not for them the leafy suburbs of Buenos Aires or the sunny beaches of Antigua; their destinations were Tottenham Court road, Paddington station, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel and, inevitably, Woolwich. One can get sunny days in those places, but it certainly was not sunny when we made our visits.

I turn now to the Committee’s powers, a matter that has been raised by the Secretary of State and will no doubt be mentioned by other Members during the debate. For the record, the Crossrail Bill Committee is, as the Secretary of State pointed out, quasi-judicial. Like a court, it has cases put to it. It acts as a judge, taking a view on the evidence and opinions put before it and then reporting to the House. When the House sets out the role of such a Committee, it can, and usually does, use its powers to say what the Committee should and should not cover. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich is quite right to say that if the Government did not want Woolwich to be discussed, they could have taken the opportunity to exclude it when the powers were laid down. The fact that they did not left us no option but to examine the case being put forward, which was a valid petition. That we did with great endeavour. As the Opposition spokesman pointed out, the Secretary of State has been handed the short bat, facing problems that began under those who preceded him in his role. The problem is that we had little option but to listen to the soundings and report our opinions. The Committee is nevertheless extremely grateful to the Secretary of State, and we accept without reservation the offers that he has made, which we believe to be genuine. However, I have to report to the House that we, as a Committee, want to reiterate our view that a Crossrail station should be built at Woolwich. That is not a whim; it is the result of careful and lengthy consideration.

The Committee heard three days of evidence on the matter from the London borough of Greenwich and, of course, from the Government’s own promoters, Crossrail. This was not simply a question of who performed well; the Committee took the time to visit the area, see the site and talk to the representatives of both the local authority and Crossrail. We have also read the Hansard reports of previous debates on this matter, and I have no doubt that other Members will refer to them. Last but not least, we listened to the arguments of the Government’s counsel. Greenwich made an excellent, compelling case.

The Committee was initially informed that a station at Woolwich would, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said, cost about £306 million. That was later revised to less than £200 million. The original Crossrail scheme had a station at Woolwich, but it was mysteriously deleted just before the Bill reappeared in this place. The economic development opportunity has been much talked about by members of the Committee. We believe that it would offer one of the poorest areas of London an opportunity to redevelop which would greatly benefit the people who live there. That is especially true of the Woolwich arsenal site, which is badly contaminated.

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Mr. Walker: Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that if the total cost of Crossrail has been estimated at £16 billion, adding another station at £200 million does not seem like a deal breaker; it seems like an eminently sensible way of maximising the value of the project?

Mr. Meale: As I said, the Committee has already accepted the Secretary of State’s offer on that. The figures given to the Committee range from £10 billion to £16 billion, and we are not sure what the actual cost would be. The Committee agrees that the issue of Woolwich needs to be considered, and we are grateful to the Secretary of State for his offer to beef up the economic case and bring it back to the Committee so that we can consider it and give our opinion.

The other factor that made the case even more compelling was the probability of huge growth in the Woolwich area. The Government’s own figures show that by 2031 there will be more than 100,000 people living within a 20-minute journey of where the station would be. That is phenomenal growth. Having spoken to the London borough of Greenwich, we know that it has given planning permission for up to 15,000 properties to be built in the next five years. That growth can be met only if a Crossrail station is built there. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, 180 buses an hour already serve the centre of Woolwich. If the transport infrastructure network is to be integrated and co-ordinated, Crossrail is vital.

The Committee has met for months. We have had scores of sittings. We have debated the matter time and again. We have visited the sites in question. We have all worked hard, and we represent various political persuasions in the House. Every vote that we have had on the Bill has been unanimous. That is extremely rare. I repeat that we are grateful to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for the work that they have put in and the new opportunity that has been offered. We will work diligently until we can complete the task and present a full Bill to the House.

8.46 pm

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) has a reputation in the House as a courteous and modest man. I want to spare his blushes, but I should like to pay tribute to him. The Committee saw quite a number of petitioners from Shenfield and I had the opportunity to speak to several of them and to sit in on some meetings. The one theme that emerged was that Members seemed genuinely interested in what they said, and they were treated with enormous courtesy. On behalf of my electors, I thank the hon. Gentleman for that courtesy.

Mr. Meale: It was remiss of me not to mention that a number of Members of Parliament came forward to help their constituents in the tortuous process of appearing before a Select Committee, staying with them during the process and advising them before and afterwards. We were extremely grateful for their work in that respect.

Mr. Pickles: Now it is my turn to feel embarrassed—

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Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Not for long.

Mr. Pickles: Indeed. I shall deal briefly with one or two matters, starting with the report by Sir Michael Lyons. Since the Second Reading debate, we have been told that his report on the future of local government was awaited and would be taken into consideration in deciding the future of Crossrail.

Not long after that undertaking was given, a number of us had an opportunity to have a discussion with Sir Michael in a Committee upstairs. I asked him a gentle question, which was meant as an ice-breaker. It was not meant to elicit any particular information. I asked how he was going about forming his views on Crossrail. He replied that that was an interesting question. He said that he was bemused by the references to Crossrail, which he had read about in a newspaper, and that he had not been approached by the Government or given any terms of reference with regard to Crossrail and did not intend to deal with it.

That was an extraordinary response, given that we were speaking about the single most important infrastructure project that any of us are likely to see in our career in Parliament, and it has been left to a chap who does not intend to say much about it. Because of the way in which local government finance operates and because Sir Michael Lyons is a reasonable and obliging man, I suspect that in the end he may have something to say about major infrastructure projects, but even if he does, nothing will quite fit the enormity of Crossrail. There may well be schemes concerning roads, old persons’ homes or other infrastructure questions, but the question of how they are financed is nothing by comparison with the billions of pounds that must be raised. We need an explanation of why we are waiting. Sir Michael Lyons, eminent though he is, will not add an awful lot to what we know must come.

Ultimately, the issue concerns who pays. How big will the Treasury contribution be? Will a substantial sum of money from the public purse be put aside in the next financial round? And what contribution will come from the London taxpayer and, in particular, from the London business rate? Ministers have said that it is only reasonable that those who will benefit from Crossrail should contribute, but if the business rate is to remain capped and linked to inflation, it will not pay for Crossrail. If one third or one half of the funds are needed, there will be savage increases in local taxation in London close to the time when Londoners will be shelling out for the Olympics.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the uncertainty about Crossrail funding is particularly bad for London businesses? For example, businesses in my constituency, Putney, will undoubtedly fork out more in business rates, but they are south of the river and will not get an awful lot back in return.

Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend has made a good local point. The good people of London will be expected to pay an awful lot for a major piece of infrastructure. We know that the Mayor—I am not making a particular comment about the Mayor of London—has suggested including a combination of business rates and
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Government money, with the rest being funded by way of bonds financed in the City, I suppose. The Committee would like to know about that matter.

The Committee is likely to finish its deliberations and produce a report in about February. Sir Michael Lyons is due to give his report to the Government in December, but there is no commitment to publish that report immediately. That report could come out in February, March or, perhaps, after the next local elections.

I am warming to the new Minister with responsibility for Crossrail, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), who has been refreshingly honest and straightforward about what is necessary. I pointed out to him that we know that the Olympics will take place and have a rough idea of the funding mechanism, and then asked him why we cannot know about Crossrail. He made the right and proper distinction that the Olympics are going ahead, whereas we have not made a commitment on Crossrail. He went on to say—I commend him for saying this, because it is absolutely right—that there must be a robust case for Crossrail. I am not convinced that without quite heavy taxation—perhaps almost penal levels of taxation—in London, we will be able to pay for Crossrail. If other hon. Members were to assure me that more money can be raised voluntarily from the private sector through bonds or other instruments, it would go some way to relieving my concerns. I want to return to the question of what is robust. When the Government put together a scheme, one naturally assumes that it will be rigorously enforced and the best deal possible, so why add the word “robust”?

There has been an attempt to dampen expectations about Woolwich. The Minister has said:

Now we have got the sum of money down to a little under £200 million, or about 1 per cent. As the late Ronald Reagan said, “A million here, a million there, and you’re soon talking about serious money.” Is the margin on Crossrail really so great that 1 per cent. could tip it from having not a robust case but a financial case of some kind or another?

I am reluctant to tread on the toes of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), but to somebody who knows the area reasonably well, it is screamingly obvious that it makes sense to have a hub there, given what the Government want to achieve strategically with regard to the Thames corridor, and given that the light railway is going across to Woolwich. A proper integrated transport strategy must be based on setting up strategic hubs. In relation to south London, where more obvious place to do so than in Woolwich? If the Minister is really scraping around for the odd £200 million or so, I would happily put up Shenfield station to be sacrificed for Woolwich, because the good folk of Shenfield will derive practically nothing from Crossrail; indeed, it will make their journey into work more difficult. At this late moment, and in the spirit of compromise and bipartisanship, I offer the Minister that opportunity.

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8.56 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I am glad that you called me at this moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it enables me to respond directly to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who is clearly trying to sabotage the line that runs from Liverpool Street through Ilford. The Crossrail project involves people being able to travel from Essex into and across London more quickly. It will not only lead to a regeneration effect on areas such as Woolwich in the centre but create great potential for London’s continuation as a global city, thereby attracting people to this city from all over the world. It will link together Heathrow, the west end, Canary Wharf and areas out to the east, including the line from Liverpool Street through my constituency and on to Shenfield.

Mr. Pickles: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I am delighted that the line is going to Ilford, but I have a problem with the bit that goes to Shenfield.

Mike Gapes: I hope that when this process is finally concluded we will all be satisfied in our aspirations. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is almost total unanimity in Ilford and Redbridge, among my constituents and in the council, in strongly supporting Crossrail.

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Crossrail going to his constituency will also benefit my constituency, and that without Crossrail the regeneration agenda of the London borough of Redbridge could be put in severe jeopardy?

Mike Gapes: That is absolutely right. The council has a scheme called “Progressive Ilford”, which is a 30-year plan for regeneration, jobs, transport links, shopping, and affordable and good quality housing in the centre of Ilford. That will very much depend on improved transport links, the reconfiguration of Ilford station, and bringing buses into that new station, as is already the case at Stratford station. That will be vital for the regeneration of Ilford town centre. As for financing, many of the shops and other businesses will thrive as a result.

One of the interesting projections relating to the impact of Crossrail in London is that, over 60 years, it will add an estimated £30 billion to UK gross domestic product, half of which will be in London and half elsewhere in the country. According to London First, that successful regeneration and additional business will result in £12 billion in tax revenues. That is a win-win situation—earlier, someone used the phrase “no-brainer”. That applies to the benefits of Crossrail for my constituents and for others, and to the future of London as a global city.

My constituency will also have extended platform lengths at three stations. We will have the freight loop. We will have a lot of engineering work. We will now have a cleaning facility, as a result of the decision to get rid of Romford— [Interruption.] I am just talking about the Crossrail connection; I am not saying that we should get rid of Romford.

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Mr. Raynsford: Why not?

Mike Gapes: I am not going to get into that.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for referring to Romford. My constituents are delighted that the proposed depot, which was going to cost £400 million, is being ditched. Even though that was the right decision, does not it highlight the amount of money wasted on preparatory work?

Mike Gapes: I think that it shows that the new Crossrail project management team, under Doug Oakervee and others, has done a good job in paring down costs and considering where savings can be made. At last, after all the years of false hopes and dreams, the Government are making positive remarks about Crossrail. The hon. Gentleman may not recall this, but when I was first elected in 1992, the then Transport Minister, Mr. Steven Norris, was talking about Crossrail. After 14 years, and so many Transport Ministers that I cannot remember all of them, let alone list them, at last we seem to be on the edge of something important. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and his Committee, who have done a fantastic job. It is vital that the House continues to make progress in the next Session.

The scheme has cross-party support in this House, and I hope that it will have cross-party support in the other place. I hope that those on the Opposition Front Benches will give it more explicit support, and that the Government will support the project through the important phase of the comprehensive spending review next year and give it the funding that we need. Whatever the formula—whether the Mayor of London’s formula or some variation—we need a decision on the funding of the project as soon as possible. We will need the support of Members from all parties to make sure that the project is delivered and that, at last, Crossrail can benefit London and the UK as a whole.

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