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I would, however, like to take this opportunity to clarify one aspect of the financing. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington talked about the three-way split between the DFT contribution, the fare payers’ contribution and, as he said, the supplementary
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business rate. The third part is in fact the supplementary business rate and contributions from the Corporation of London and other City institutions. Much of the detail of the agreements with third parties is covered by confidentiality agreements to protect their commercial interests, and I hope that hon. Members will understand that I do not want to commit to giving any more details at this stage. However, when such details become available, I will be happy to place them in the Library.

Stephen Hammond: We were seeking to discuss those matters in Committee to obtain reassurances about the robustness of the funding package, notwithstanding what the Minister has already said. I hear what he says about those matters not being part of the Bill that will be before the Committee. Will he therefore give some thought to allowing the Committee to avail itself of its facility to take independent evidence at the start, and to seeking the Committee Chairman’s approval to hear such evidence on funding? Alternatively, will he agree to have a meeting with me and the representative of the Liberal party to reassure us about the funding?

Mr. Harris: Those are productive, positive suggestions. It is not for me or for the Government to decide how the Public Bill Committee stage should be structured, but I would be more than happy to invite the hon. Gentleman and the representative of the Liberal party to hold exactly that kind of discussion. Ever since I took over this remit, I have tried to involve the hon. Gentleman and to make our deliberations as cross-party as possible. I believe that that is to the benefit of the project, and I am more than happy to place it on the record that I will try to effect the opportunity that he has proposed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) paid tribute to the Committee and welcomed the Government’s previous commitment to building a station at Woolwich. He also asked for reassurance on the south-east arm of Crossrail to Abbey Wood. He will have to learn to accept yes for an answer. The full construction of Crossrail will take place at the same time. We expect services to begin in 2007, with a steady increase over the next 12 months. Those will include services to Abbey Wood.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has expressed a great deal of interest in the project from the beginning. He has been a critical supporter of it, for obvious reasons, and has expressed particular concern for his own constituency interests, which is absolutely understandable. He also said that there were no votes in Crossrail for any Member whose constituency lay along the route. I will not pass comment on that, but whether Crossrail provides political advantage for any party is beside the point. It is the right thing to do for London and for the United Kingdom, and that is why it is going ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) is, I believe, the only member of the Select Committee present today. He is easily identifiable as a member of the Committee, as are all its members, by his pale skin. He gave us a taste of the work that the Committee had done, and suggested that that work had been carried out conscientiously, thoroughly and well. I agree with him on every point that he made.

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The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) also raised concerns about the finance package, and I hope that I have managed to address some of the points that he raised. As far as the Government are concerned, there is no uncertainty about the funding package for Crossrail; otherwise, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not have announced the go-ahead for the project on the date that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I will not pass further comment on the suggestions that he made about the timing of that announcement.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the impact of Crossrail on local communities. The work of the Select Committee over the past 21 months or so has been specifically related to dealing with such concerns, and that has been done in a very robust and effective way. Of course, there will also be an opportunity for a Select Committee in the other place to hear any outstanding concerns from communities or businesses on the Crossrail route. The hon. Gentleman finished by saying how important Crossrail was to the United Kingdom as a whole. As a Scottish MP, I believe that it is vital to our capital city and to maintaining London’s prominence in the financial market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) made some pertinent remarks before you asked him to curtail his comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would say to him and to the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) that I accept that the arguments for extending Crossrail westwards to Reading are persuasive. However, it is not the Government’s intention to redraw the Bill as it stands at the moment. After many months of hard work, we have reached the stage at which we can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, and at which the Bill will be given Royal Assent.

However, it will be up to any future Government to decide, if they so wish, to extend Crossrail. We have already safeguarded the route from Abbey Wood down to Ebbsfleet, and we are considering whether similar action should be taken with regard to the route west from Maidenhead to Reading. We will make an announcement on that shortly. It is not in the interest of the Bill substantially to alter the principle behind it by extending the route westward from Maidenhead to Reading at this stage. I understand why the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) might feel disappointed at that, but I hope that all hon. Members will understand that we need to grasp this opportunity to get a Crossrail Bill through Parliament.

Martin Salter: Members representing Maidenhead, the two Reading constituencies and other points west of London understand the Minister’s reluctance to impede the Bill’s progress, but will he tell us whether anything in the process following the passing of the legislation would allow Crossrail to terminate at a point further east than Maidenhead, with the possibility of a further review of a western terminus at a later date?

Mr. Harris: I am afraid that the answer is no. I do not want to encourage the House to believe that we could reopen this issue and readdress the principle behind the Bill following its passage through Parliament. It will be
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for a future Government and a future rail Minister to decide whether such changes should be made. I can reassure my hon. Friend, however, that, because Crossrail services will be commuter services, they will use the slow lines out of Maidenhead into Paddington. I would not therefore expect the fast services from Reading to be impeded.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me, especially as I have been present in the Chamber only for a short time. He has mentioned the benefits of Crossrail. If the service runs on the slow lines and Maidenhead becomes the end of a sort of metro, my constituents will not benefit from Crossrail. It will double the length of time that it takes them to travel from Maidenhead to Paddington. It would make sense for Maidenhead, Reading and the whole of east Berkshire if the line were to be extended to Reading.

Will the Minister also clarify his response to the point just raised by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter)? The hon. Gentleman asked whether it would be possible for the line to finish east of Maidenhead and then to be extended further to the west. He did not ask whether it could finish west of Maidenhead. I want to ensure that the Minister’s answer was in response to that question, and not to the one that he might have thought that he heard.

Mr. Harris rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Minister responds to that last point, which I am happy for him to do, I must remind the House that we cannot open up the whole debate again. We are talking about the carry-over motion.

Mr. Harris: You took the words right out of my mouth, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

That subject has not been raised with me before, and I am more than happy to seek advice on the issue and to write to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West.

Mr. Mark Field: I speak as someone who was brought up in Reading, although I am speaking for neither Reading, East nor Reading, West on this matter. Does the Minister not realise that to halt the route at Maidenhead would be to make a mockery of all that the Government are trying to do to achieve an integrated transport system, for the very reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter)?

Mr. Harris: I shall not pass judgment on the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. The principle of the Bill was decided by the House a long time ago, and I see no advantage either to the House or to the Crossrail project in reopening the issue at this stage.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman has not been present for any part of the debate, so I hope that he will forgive me if I now conclude my remarks.

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Several hon. Members have rightly commented on the impact that Crossrail will have on their local area. It will deliver significant economic benefits, but it is simply not possible to build a major construction project in a densely populated area such as London without there being some adverse impacts, albeit mainly temporary ones, on the people living and working near the intended route. We have sought throughout this process to reduce those impacts. We have set out in detail the environmental statement deposited with the Bill. In subsequent volumes, as the Bill has progressed and changes have been made to the scheme, we have set out what we expect the significant impacts to be, as well as our strategies for minimising them. The Government intend to publish a report on the environmental impacts in advance of Third Reading, to assist in determining the desirability of the project in the light of the measures that the Government have put in place.

This has been a useful and informative debate. The contributions of colleagues on both sides of the House have not only reflected expressions of interest in the project, but made a serious contribution to knowledge of the issues. I look forward to similar debates here and, in due course, in Committee. In the meantime, I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


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House of Commons Members’ Fund

6.1 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I beg to move,

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this, it will be convenient to discuss the House of Commons Members’ Fund (Custodian Trustee) motion:

Mr. Lilley: I will not detain the House for long on these motions and I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing us to debate them together.

As hon. Members will know, the House of Commons Members’ Fund is a benevolent fund that exists to provide support for former Members and their dependants, not least those who served before the House had any statutory pensions for MPs or their widows and dependants. Similar funds exist in most professions: what is unique about this fund is that it exists under its own rather arcane, ancient and out-of-date legislation. Two things are consequently required to be done, which explains why these measures are before us today.

First, we are required annually to appropriate moneys available to the fund, which come from two sources, to the purposes for which the fund is set up. That is what the first motion does. The two sources of money are the monthly contributions of Members from their own salaries, of which they may well be largely unaware, and moneys made available from the Treasury. Under this measure, the moneys are appropriate to be used for the purposes that the fund has set up, namely to provide so-called as-of-right pensions, in particular for those who are widows or dependants of Members who served before pensions existed or widows of Members who retired before the widows’ pension was raised on a discretionary basis. It is important to match any such increase in the widows’ pension. In addition, there are discretionary funds of a modest nature made to a handful of cases brought to the fund annually. The former contributions are in the order of £2,000 a year—a very small or, to my mind, derisory amount for elderly widows. The average of discretionary contributions, which will need to be met, is about £5,000 in hardship cases of more recent retirees from the House.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I think that I have now understood the legal background. The question that posed itself when I was looking into the current facts is, given that that there
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are about 100 beneficiaries and that we are appropriating the whole of the two sources of money, is it in the discretion of the trustees, if they were so minded, to make much larger payments if that were felt necessary? One could contemplate a widow or widower or a former Member who retired many years ago being in pretty dire financial circumstances. To put it bluntly, £2,000 or even £5,000 might be helpful, but it would not solve the problem.

Mr. Lilley: Yes, we can make larger discretionary payments. The as-of-right amount of settlement is agreed with the Treasury. I would like to see it raised, but that is not what the motion deals with or what we are debating now. A review of the whole fund is being undertaken. It may be that an agreement to increased amounts for the diminishing number of elderly widows will come out of that. However, we can, in addition, help individuals if they come to us with a specific need—for example, because of disability. We look sympathetically on those cases and have discretion to help them through the appropriation of these moneys over and above the as-of-right amount that they receive semi-automatically.

Simon Hughes: Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to be saying that the trustees can provide an additional top-up for the as-of-right beneficiaries, as well as giving a discretionary amount to people who are not as-of-right beneficiaries?

Mr. Lilley: The hon. Gentleman is quite correct: we can and do act in that way in respect of specific beneficiaries who come to us with that sort of additional need. We always welcome hearing such cases where additional needs exist.

The second feature of the legislation, which gives rise to the second motion, is the reference to there being a “custodian trustee”. Up to now, the custodian trustee has been the Public Trustee office—now called the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee office. It now wishes to desist from involvement in this matter and has effectively resigned. The trustees have agreed that Capita Trustee Ltd. should replace that office as custodian trustee. The Official Solicitor and Public Trustee office has itself carried out a public tendering exercise and, by happy coincidence, reached the same conclusion—that Capital Trustee Ltd. should be the replacement body to carry out these functions. It may be some comfort to hon. Members to know that the trustees’ judgment was supported by the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee office. Its judgment, which might be thought “interested” in that it wanted to get shot of this responsibility, was supported independently by the trustees. That explains the second motion. I commend both motions to the House.

Simon Hughes rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not know whether the Minister wishes to contribute immediately or at the end of the debate. It seems that she wants to do so now.

6.7 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) has fully set out the arguments behind the two motions. I urge the House to support
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them, but I also wanted to thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for his work as chairman of the trustees and to express my gratitude for all the work that the trustees do.

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