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9.3 pm

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) who spoke kindly about the Committee. His good wishes are well received, as it has been a long trial.

It has been a privilege to serve on the Committee. When I was appointed to it, I did not think that it would be a privilege. Rumours abounded that the Whips were using it to hide away those rebels whom they needed to chastise and bring to some form of order. I cannot believe that that would have been the case. We have been a happy Committee, which is in many respects due to the work of our Chairman, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). On behalf of the members of the Committee, I pay tribute to his chairmanship. The Committee took its responsibilities seriously, and it dealt with many petitions that sought to protect the interests of people who cannot speak for themselves and who are often not heard. We listened to those people, and I am proud to have served on a Committee that made decisions not on the basis of emotion, but to enhance the interests of such people.
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That is one of the ways in which the Committee carried out its duties to serve the people of London.

A number of petitions dealt with the issue of building a station at Woolwich. Indeed, we have heard contributions from several Members who are much more knowledgeable about the area than I am. I pay particular tribute to both the fervour and the content of the presentation by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford). The subject is a connecting bridge between us, as is the fact that he is a Northampton boy. It is a particular pleasure to see him operate with so much efficiency in the House, and I wish his cause well, as does the Committee.

The Committee was told that, in 2004, Woolwich was the 41st most deprived borough in the country; parts of Woolwich were among the 10 per cent. most deprived areas of the country. The area lies at the heart of the Thames Gateway, but right hon. and hon. Members may not know that, under the Bill, the route of Crossrail is set to pass by Woolwich. If our proposals are not accepted, it will be the largest town centre on the whole route not served by a station. If we add that fact to the deprivation statistics, it gives us a good reason for including Woolwich on the Crossrail route, and the case for a station at Woolwich has been made most eloquently.

Woolwich is undergoing positive regeneration, but more regeneration is desperately needed. There is no doubt that a station would boost employment. We have already heard the figures: 2,500 jobs would be directly related to Crossrail. It would attract families to the area, and we heard the figures relating to the housing development that is already planned. Some 4,500 of the 19,000 houses that are to be built will be directly linked to Crossrail. A station would encourage investment, too. I need not tell hon. Members about the self-sustaining cycle that such investment creates in an area, and a decent rail link will enhance that enormously.

Given all those points, the petitioners’ calculated costs for the station represent exceptional value for money, but Crossrail is not just about money—it is about the impact on the area that it serves, and its regeneration capacity. Woolwich is an ideal site on which to achieve that objective.

Andrew Rosindell: I accept everything that my hon. Friend says about the importance of the regeneration that Crossrail will bring, but does he agree that it is important to consider the impact on people’s lives of issues such as the places where the tracks, depot and other facilities are to be sited? Crossrail certainly would have had a huge impact on my constituency, and it still will, in certain parts. Is it not vital that such issues are fully considered throughout our deliberations on the Bill?

Mr. Binley: Crossrail’s impact on London—and the costs of the disruption that it will cause, too—have not been properly taken into account, but now is not the time to do so. I imagine that debate on those issues will flow later, on Report and Third Reading.

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I return to the point about the cost of the station at Woolwich. We were told that the cost was prohibitive, at £350 million. Indeed, we were told that that was too much. Nevertheless, at that stage we felt that the benefits a station would bring to Woolwich far outweighed those costs, and we produced an interim report announcing some of the provisional decisions, including the addition of a new station at Woolwich. We were surprised—I think that that is a good enough word—when the promoters came back and said that they would not accept our proposal. Surprised? No, we were amazed, because we felt it was not the responsibility of the promoters to come back to us at that time.

It is interesting to note what the promoters said in their response to us. They said:

Indeed, they came up with a new cost of £200 million. I must say that those sort of figures in this sort of exercise suggest, to a business man, that we have not seen the sort of thinking that we would usually expect, particularly when a project of such importance is ruled out on the basis of cost. It simply is not good enough to say £350 million one minute and then the next minute to come up with £200 million. I hear from the Minister tonight that it has now gone down to £186 million. The truth of the matter is that the costings for Woolwich station do not make any sense at all, so I am delighted that the Minister has decided to have another look at the issue.

If we accept the £200 million figure—I believe that it will come down, as it has in the past—we note that it equates to just over 1 per cent. of the total cost of the project as it stands. Many people might argue that the overall costs of the project will rise, yet the promoters argued that affordability was a key issue and that, presumably on the basis that affordability would be threatened, they could not accept the Committee’s decision. I am a business man—or I was before I came to the House—and I can say that if any project put before my board was not viable on the basis of 1 per cent. of its total overall cost, I would not even consider it. I would throw the project out, because it clearly could not wipe its own face.

Justine Greening: Speaking as an accountant, I think my hon. Friend is making a very interesting point, but does he agree that there is a danger of not fully factoring in the indirect knock-on costs? We have already mentioned the sewerage system in London, which is straining and overloaded. Quite frankly, we have a 19th-century system in a 21st-century city. Of course we need to regenerate parts of London, but does my hon. Friend agree that extra costs—knock-on investments—also need to be factored in?

Mr. Binley: Of course I accept that point. The only thing I would object to is being called an accountant—but never mind. I will forgive my hon. Friend. Yes, I accept the point, but I am saying that we do not have a genuine cost basis that we can feel confident about if 1 per cent. undermines the affordability of the project.

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In any case, the Committee rejected the promoters’ objections to our recommendation and we thought that that was the end of the matter. Much to our surprise, the Minister intervened. The Committee was therefore disappointed—I think that that is a fair word—that its opinion was not reflected in the action of the Secretary of State. Indeed, he flatly refused the proposal at the time. That left us not only disappointed but confused. I echo the comments of the Select Committee Chairman, who said that he was astonished by the Secretary of State’s decision to dismiss for a second time the Committee’s view after many days of taking evidence. The Chairman described that as “unprecedented”.

I examined our debate on Second Reading on 19 July 2005. I want to quote the words of the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling). He said that

He left the Committee in no doubt about its autonomy. He said of Select Committees:

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Select Committee went to the trouble of visiting Woolwich and investigating in depth the case put by the London borough. Does my hon. Friend agree that, before the Secretary of State comes back to the Committee with his view, he and his officials should also take the trouble to visit the Woolwich site and fully apprise themselves of the position?

Mr. Binley: That is a good suggestion and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich would be delighted to escort the Secretary of State around the constituency so that the latter understands fully the needs of the people whom the former represents. The case is unarguable.

The Chairman of the Select Committee was right to describe the Secretary of State’s rejection of the Committee’s proposals as “unprecedented”. The Committee presented a positive cost-benefit analysis of the proposal. I hope that the Secretary of State acknowledges that the Committee’s position was not reached quickly but after many days of deliberation, as the Chairman stated.

I hope that the Secretary of State also acknowledges that a parliamentary principle is at stake. The House appointed a Committee to look into the matter. The then Secretary of State made it clear that we could decide whether there should be stations elsewhere. I therefore hope that the current Secretary of State will uphold that view. His comments today suggest that he will do that.

Parliamentary democracy is a tender plant and we must all be aware of the need to protect it. Over the
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years, we have listened to the cries of many who feel that parliamentary democracy is being eroded and that the power of the Executive has been increased. The Secretary of State has tonight played his part in enhancing democracy by simply recognising the right of the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill to make proposals and by allowing at least in-depth consideration of them. I hope that the proposals will come before the House so that it can make the decision. The House set up the Select Committee; surely the House must receive the report and make the final decision. That is my final plea to the Secretary of State.

9.19 pm

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I came here at the beginning of the debate with the intention of dividing the House where that was possible. Although I realise that the motions are essentially procedural, I had concerns that I felt could be addressed only by that means. However, in view of some of what has happened during the debate, I have decided not to divide the House.

First, I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was robust and firm in his contention that both the scheme as a whole and the Woolwich station development must be affordable. I found that reassuring. Secondly, while I hesitate to give even more praise to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale)—I know what a modest chap he is—I agree with all that has been said about the work of his Committee and the leadership that he has given. In deference to him, I would like the Committee to continue the work that it started. Finally, I felt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), in the spirit of building some sort of consensus, was generous in not moving his amendment. In that context, I see no merit in forcing any Divisions.

That does not mean, however, that my concerns have gone away. We are told that the scheme will cost between £13 billion and £16 billion, and some estimates I have read speculate that it could amount to more than £20 billion. Regardless of how the funds are raised and whatever mix of finance is eventually chosen, those are huge sums, and somewhere along the line a substantial part of the money will come from the public purse. I was intrigued by the contention of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), repeated by others, that because the sum involved was only 1 per cent. or so of the total cost of the scheme, it did not constitute a large amount of money. I can think of alternative schemes—one or two of which I shall mention shortly—that could be funded substantially from that 1 per cent. I am talking about major infrastructure projects outside London.

I have another concern. When we examine the amount of public expenditure on transport by region, we realise that London is already doing very nicely, thank you very much. According to figures from the Library, in 2005-06 expenditure per head in London was £631. In the north-west, where my constituency is, it was £278. Similar cases can be made in relation to other per capita spending headings. In London, more than twice as much is being spent as is being spent in my constituency, and the difference between London and some other regions is even greater.

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I am sorry to break up the cosy consensus that seems to have been established this evening, but we are already confronted with a London that is a transport subsidy junkie, and I should be very reluctant in future to go along with massive amounts of additional expenditure from the public purse. I accept that a capital city needs certain things that provincial cities do not, and I accept that the Olympics provided a case at one stage—although the development will now take place after the Olympics. However, the amounts of money being spent in London far outweigh the amounts that we would expect to be spent there purely because it is a capital city.

Mr. Walker: I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but London is the economic engine-room of this country. If London and the east cannot get to work, the country will not work. Surely there is merit in investing in the infrastructure that generates the wealth that funds the regions.

Mr. Howarth: I accept that what the hon. Gentleman says has an implication, and I accept that there is a price to be paid for that, but is he seriously arguing that spending in London should be more than twice as much as spending in any comparable region in England?

Mr. Walker: Absolutely.

Mr. Howarth: That only confirms my view that we are living in cloud cuckoo land with this Crossrail scheme. At an appropriate time, many hon. Members from other parts of the country will make a judgment on the scheme, and it may be not the one that the hon. Gentleman expects. As I have said, London is becoming a junkie for public expenditure on transport.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said that 1 per cent. was only £186 million, so it did not matter. However, the Department for Transport turned down Mersey tramline 1, which would have benefited my constituency at a total cost of £310 million, or less than 2 per cent. of the cost of this project. On that basis, the Department should have funded our project. I do not wish to emphasise that point, because I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the matter will consider how we can get that scheme moving again. However, the point is that equally important schemes all over the country will not be funded because Crossrail is likely to suck in massive amounts of public expenditure, with no appreciable benefit elsewhere in the country.

I will not oppose the motions tonight, but a time will come when those of us who represent other areas with transport problems that are not being adequately addressed will start to ask questions about the priorities behind the scheme. When the time comes, we may well oppose it.

9.26 pm

Bob Russell: Any transport scheme that will encourage greater public use should, in principle, be supported, but I have reservations and concerns; I seek
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clarification and—I hope—reassurance, tonight or subsequently, from the Select Committee.

The second motion refers to

Those of us who use the line into Liverpool Street from East Anglia and Essex know that it is already exceptionally busy. That wording suggests that the promoter anticipates a massive increase in passenger usage of that station.

Track time is already scarce for journeys into Liverpool Street. I am concerned that an increase in inner London rail traffic into the station may be achieved by using the fast line service that comes from Norwich through East Anglia, into Suffolk and North Essex, and then through Colchester, Chelmsford and Shenfield. The crowding on the existing track into Liverpool Street is already like putting a quart into a pint pot. If another pint is added, it may be at the expense of the fast line service from East Anglia.

Members who represent constituencies across the east of England may not yet have cottoned on to the problem. If the additional inner London rail traffic is put on the current fast line, it can only be to the detriment of the fast train services. I raise my concerns on behalf of my constituents and I hope that they will be considered carefully by other hon. Members. I hope that the Minister, when he winds up, will explain how an already exceptionally busy and congested London terminus can take the additional trains that Crossrail will produce, without detrimental effect on the fast service from the east.

9.30 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I want to express my gratitude, and that of my constituents, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. His announcement leaves the door ajar for us to strengthen our case for a station at Woolwich. In addition, I want to pay tribute to the members of the Select Committee. They listened closely to the people who represented our case, and responded accordingly.

However, my right hon. Friend told me earlier that the idea of a station at Woolwich was not included in the original Crossrail plans.

Mr. Alexander: To clarify the matter for my hon. Friend, I can tell him that I was referring to the original Crossrail Bill. I hope that that explains any confusion that may have arisen.

Clive Efford: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but that Bill is still fairly recent in the entire history of the project. We took part in consultations about having a station at Woolwich for a very long time. The original cost of the station was put at more than £300 million. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) has explained that those plans included freight, which meant that the tunnel gradient had to be reduced. The station was to be underground, and the cost of digging it out was excessive.

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