HC Deb 15 July 2003 vol 409 cc140-3
6. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

If he will make a statement on Crossrail. [125439]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

As I announced yesterday, I have now received from Cross London Rail Link its updated business case for Crossrail. The Government will need to evaluate the proposals thoroughly to ensure that they are feasible. At the same time, I have asked CLRL to press ahead with its development of detailed project proposals, including advising on updating the safeguarding of the route and undertaking a public consultation exercise on the route in the autumn.

Mike Gapes

I have been pressing Ministers for Crossrail for 11 years, so I am pleased that the Government yesterday gave their support in principle. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that, but can he assure me, and millions of Londoners and visitors to this city, that there will be no further unnecessary delays in the project, that early legislation will be introduced in the hybrid Bill and that trains will be running from Shenfield through Ilford and Stratford, and from Paddington to Heathrow, on Crossrail within a decade?

Mr. Darling

As I have told the House on a number of occasions, I believe that the Crossrail project is very important for the future of London. It is equally important, however, to ensure that we get it right. The last attempt to build Crossrail in the 1980s and 1990s foundered because not enough attention was given to the detail involved in the project. That is why it is important that the public consultation, which will be carried out this autumn, should deal with the route and all the proposals in some detail to ensure that the business case stacks up.

On any view, this is an extremely expensive project. It is very important now that all the people in London who said that they were willing in principle to pay for the project should realise that we are now at a stage where we need from them not only support, but cash. As the report recognised, the project must be a joint venture between the Government and the private sector, so it is time for people who say that they support it to reach for their wallets and come up with very firm proposals.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

What does the Secretary of State expect the precise cost of the project to be, and are he and the Treasury absolutely committed to guaranteeing its delivery?

Mr. Darling

That is a bit rich coming from someone who is committed to wholesale cuts in public expenditure. We did not get Crossrail under the last Tory Government and we will not get it under the next Tory Government. As the business case makes clear, the cost will be in excess of £10 billion. Clearly, the precise cost will depend on the route and the construction of the service. As I made clear in my statement yesterday, the Chancellor and I intend to consult London businesses and others to ensure that we secure the best and most effective way of funding the project. Before the hon. Gentleman next gets to his feet, I remind him that for as long as he is committed to 20 per cent. cuts in public spending, anything that he says about funding has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Mr. Collins

Yesterday, as a result of an exclusive interview with the Secretary of State, the Evening Standard ran, uncorrected by his Department, the headline: "Crossrail gets £10bn go-ahead". It now turns out that it might not be £10 billion and that it did not really get a go-ahead at all. Will the Secretary of State confirm that under his plans, trains will not be remotely punctual before 2010, most of the roads that he announced last week will not be completed before 2012, and Crossrail may still never happen? How much longer do the long-suffering travelling public have to wait before he and his colleagues get their act together?

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman, all too typically, is shifting his ground away from the point that I made about Crossrail. The one thing that all transport, whether road or rail, has lacked in the past is high levels of sustained investment. I concede that the problem bedevilled successive Governments of both major parties, but the Conservatives, in the 10 years prior to their losing the 1997 general election, cut the amount of money going into road and rail. That lack of investment is one reason why the public are now suffering. We are putting that right by investing in the railways and roads. The Conservative party remains committed to a 20 per cent. reduction in public expenditure, much of which will come out of spending on roads. If Conservative Members are worried about my saying that, they should just look at the results of what they did in office.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend's support in principle for Crossrail, for which I have pressed for several years on behalf of my constituents in Reading. I welcome the opportunity that it provides for better rail links to Heathrow, thus reducing congestion on the roads. Will he consider using the opportunity of Crossrail to ensure that there is a western rail link to Heathrow with its end at Reading?

Mr. Darling

I am afraid that I must caution my hon. Friend and others that if Crossrail is to get the final go-ahead and be built, it is important to have a manageable project. One of the reasons why it sank under the Conservative Government was that not enough attention was paid to its detail, feasibility and deliverability. I am all in favour of improved links between Reading and Paddington—indeed, last week I referred to a proposal that will allow better links between the Thames valley and Heathrow airport, which will help my hon. Friend's constituents—but, in relation to Crossrail, let us concentrate on having a project that is manageable and deliverable. If that happens, there is every chance that London will actually get it, rather than its being the mere pipedream that it was under the Conservative Government.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

Can the Secretary of State confirm that, as is the case with expenditure on the London underground, any proposed public spending on the London Crossrail initiative will result in consequential increases for the devolved Administrations, which will allow us to get on with the Glasgow and Aberdeen crossrail proposals and the proposal to rebuild the north-south rail link in Wales? Will he make such representations to himself as Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Darling

If the hon. Gentleman had spent more time practising his question, it might have had better effect. We are spending money on the railways throughout the United Kingdom. That would not be possible were Wales ever to become a separate state, in which case it would not have that money. The fact is that money is being spent on the railways throughout the United Kingdom, which will benefit the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read the report of the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, entitled "Reducing Regional Disparities in Prosperity"? Given his announcement last week on road improvements, out of which the north-east did very badly, his recent scepticism about policies such as expanding the Tyneside metro system and his apparent enthusiasm for Crossrail, does he believe that the Department is entering fully into the spirit of the Government's policies on reducing regional disparity?

Mr. Darling

Yes, I do. If my hon. Friend examines identifiable public spending by region, he will realise that although a great deal of money is undoubtedly spent in London for clear reasons, the north-east is the next most obvious beneficiary. A case can be made for spending more on transport and other matters in every area of the country. We are trying to ensure that our approach is fair for the whole country. I understand my hon. Friend's point about last week's announcement in Which I was able to give the go-ahead to some projects but not others, but if he examines the figures for identifiable public expenditure, he will find that the Government are spending substantial sums of money in the north-east, as they are entitled to do.

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