HC Deb 21 October 2003 vol 411 cc183-207WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Gillian Merron.]

9.30 am
Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Today?s first debate is initiated by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). The subject is important, particularly for London.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise this subject in Parliament. There may be debates on Crossrail back in the archives, but I think that this is the first debate in modern times on the subject. As you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the project is enormously important to my constituency and many others. I shall speak in support of it, but I also want to open up debate on some of the issues that it presents.

I have a parochial interest in that my constituency lies on what I think is called corridor 6—one of the branches that will spin off from the spine of the Crossrail project and go through Richmond, Twickenham and Kingston. That has the potential to benefit my constituency enormously, but I am not introducing this debate in a parochial spirit: the project has major implications for the whole of London and the region. There are other major spines, running to Reading and Maidenhead, Aylesbury and Buckingham, Watford, and Brentwood in Essex. Probably most important in terms of development is the north Kent route from Dartford. The project will primarily benefit the parts of London around Whitechapel, which is one of the focal points of the project. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will get an opportunity to express their point of view on the subject.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

My hon. Friend knows that there are huge benefits to be gained across London from the Crossrail project, particularly in my constituency, as there will be much improved access to central London, the City and Heathrow from Kingston and Richmond. However, there are concerns among some of my constituents about the loss of the District line beyond Turnham Green. Does he agree that, as we go forward with the much needed Crossrail project, full consultation with all involved is essential, so that people understand the implications and can advance their point of view?

Dr. Cable

Yes, that is a sensible and helpful contribution. I note that my hon. Friend is a member of the new all-party Crossrail group, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham). My hon. Friend and I both support the project and envisage great benefits from it for our constituencies.

As is inevitable, people are beginning to look at the detailed implications of the project and discover potential problems with certain stations. I will come to the issues that my hon. Friend raised later, but her key conclusion—that there has to be proper consultation— is absolutely right. I am sure that when that consultation takes place, those residents expressing concern will be reassured that the project will be greatly to their benefit.

I enlarge that point to suggest that the project now has broad support. That is significant. The project is a joint venture between the rail industry, embodied in the Strategic Rail Authority, and Transport for London, which expresses the collective view of the Mayor and the Greater London Assembly. It has the support of important London organisations such as the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Corporation of London, which has said that the project is extremely important for the London economy. The Crossrail project has, as far as I am aware, attracted the support of all London boroughs, or at least all those potentially affected by it. In addition, as I have mentioned, it has wide support in the House. The all-party Crossrail group has just got off the ground and so far has the support of 100 MPs and peers. The project has wide support, and I expect that support to grow.

I shall not spell out the implications in great detail, but the rationale behind the project is environmental and economic. The Secretary of State for Transport broadly accepted the transport case in his statement on 14 July. When Crossrail is complete, it will take about 160,000 passengers at peak hours, diverting them from other, highly congested, routes. In a report last week, the Select Committee on Transport pointed out the massive economic cost and personal discomfort stemming from the current level of overcrowding, and said that the creation of the additional service would reduce those factors by speeding up journey times and increasing the flexibility of journeys. Considerable transport benefits will flow from the project.

Crossrail will not proceed unless those transport benefits are translated into a positive economic cost-benefit return. A study that is now with the Department for Transport and which will, I hope, be in the public domain soon—I have seen only fragments of it— suggests, based on fairly modest assumptions, that the considerable cost of the project, estimated to be between £10 billion and £15 billion, depending on the assumptions made, is considerably exceeded by the economic benefits, which will amount to £20 billion or more. Complex issues relating to discounting and the measuring of the economic benefits of big infrastructure projects remain, but Crossrail seems to be a project with considerable net economic and transport benefits.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

The hon. Gentleman might go on to cover my point, but I hope that he has also considered the possible negative impact if Crossrail is not built.

Dr. Cable

That point was implied in my previous comments. If we do not go ahead with Crossrail, the economic benefits will not be realised. One or two more modest projects have been proposed, probably to circumvent some of the inevitable practical and political difficulties that the Crossrail project faces, but there is a danger of taking the line of least resistance and forgoing the considerable economic benefits of Crossrail.

There are areas of potential controversy. First, who will provide the considerable funding needed? The promoters of the project are realistic and wise to suggest that the majority of funding must come from private sources. In their initial statements, they acknowledge that the Government will be asked to provide quite a large pump-priming contribution of about £2 billion to £3 billion. However, the bulk of funding must come from the private sector, which is right given that most of the benefits will be realised by private business and, potentially, private investors.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has made some useful suggestions about where the money might come from. A large amount might come from equity finance and from long-term bond issues in the tradition of the big Victorian infrastructure projects, which makes sense in today?s low inflation environment. There is clearly support for that from some financial institutions already.

The people who directly benefit from the appreciation of property values and developments along the line might also contribute. That is a slightly more controversial idea, which I instinctively support to some extent. A development levy or supplementary business rate charged on some of the beneficiaries has been proposed. There are practical problems with the proposal, but the London government are sensible to consider it as a supplementary source of finance. At this early stage, it would be interesting to find out how the Government see the balance of funding between charges made to beneficiaries, private finance and Government finance.

The second controversial area is the project's timing. The London Mayor is specifically committed to getting Crossrail, or its basic spine, running by 2011 or 2012, in time for the Olympic games. I am not here to argue the pros and cons of the Olympic games. The advantage of having such a timetable is that it might help to prevent the endless slippage that has affected other big projects.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the Olympic bid is not at all dependent on the Crossrail project going ahead, and that it would be doing a disservice to that bid to imply in any way that that might be the case?

Dr. Cable

I think that that argument applies in both directions: the Olympic bid is certainly not dependent on the Crossrail project, and I certainly do not want the Crossrail project to be dependent on the Olympic bid. Each stands independently on its own merits. The Crossrail project offers potentially more permanent and more substantial benefits, and we should be arguing for it on its own. None the less, it is useful to have the discipline of a time framework; otherwise deadlines slip, as they invariably have on big projects in the past.

It is more important to discuss the usefulness of the approach that the project promoters have set out. Instead of going through the traditional route of a Government White Paper, a public consultation and a long planning inquiry process, what is proposed is a Government response followed by an enabling Bill, which would enable the project to proceed with full parliamentary authority. That would foreshorten the process as well as give it democratic legitimacy. My understanding of the timetable is that if that Bill were to be put to Parliament next year, legislation would be in place by 2005, giving a five to seven-year time horizon for the project to be initiated.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us his and his party's thinking on the type of vehicle to hold the assets that should be proposed in such legislation? Would there be any state guarantee of the project, directly or indirectly, through such a vehicle?

Dr. Cable

The honest answer is that we have not yet developed a dogmatic view on what that vehicle should be and whether there should be a state guarantee. The project promoters envisage that with the combination of finance that I have already desrcibed—some state funding and some market funding—the project may well be viable in its own terms. However, I am sure that there will be pressures to provide guarantees. The right hon. Gentleman probably had long experience of the Eurostar project and all the underwriting pressures that came from that, so I understand why he poses his questions. The honest answer is that we have not defined a detailed policy response. My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who I know will want to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may want to develop the issue a little more.

As the project proceeds, we shall uncover the detailed difficulties. As groups of residents become aware of the project, they will see that the service affecting their particular town or village is not quite as they envisaged. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) has already pointed out that the highly articulate and aware residents of one district served by Kew underground station have already spotted that under the proposals they might lose their District line service, which could have the effect of making them change trains. That is a minor inconvenience that we have to take into account and on which we have to consult with them, but I do not see it as a massive problem.

I am worried that local politicians, particularly the GLA member for my area, are jumping on the bandwagon and creating a degree of unease and division that is not merited. I hope that we will all try to approach the matter responsibly and recognise that there are considerable net benefits to our respective communities from the project.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is now the Treasury spokesman for his party. Does he imagine that there will be any charge to the public purse, and if so, what that charge would be and from which budget it would come?

Dr. Cable

I am delighted that my Conservative colleague has noticed my new role. I have been in it for three days and no doubt I shall be working out the financial implications of the project during the next 18 months. To be frank, I have not yet worked out the details of how the Crossrail project will affect our general election commitments in the public finance field. I have already explained that the common understanding is that the Government will be expected to make a pump-priming commitment to the project, although most of the money will have to come from the private sector. In my new role, I am certainly not looking for expensive public expenditure commitments, nor do I think that Crossrail is one. The Crossrail project will fly on its own merits.

The key point to stress—from which I was slightly distracted by that intervention—is that there are potentially enormous benefits from Crossrail, but it will create difficulties for particular local communities, which provides all the more reason to initiate a detailed process of public consultation. Those in charge of the project have made an effort to consult individual households, but consciousness of Crossrail is only just beginning to sink in. I hope that those of us who are committed to Crossrail and think that it will have enormous benefits will begin the process of getting communities engaged and persuading them of the merits of a brave and important infrastructure project.

9.45 am
Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

I welcome this debate, and congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing it. He mentioned the formation of the all-party group on Crossrail, which I chair, and its membership of about 100. It includes Members from both Houses, and not just London Members but representatives of other parts of the country, including the hon. Gentleman himself and several other hon. Members present today. It was perhaps a coincidence, and certainly a fortunate happenstance, that the all-party group was set up literally days before the Secretary of State?s announcement on 14 July of the Government's support in principle for the project. The all-party group wants to be a focus in Parliament for support for the Crossrail project as it progresses to completion in the next decade.

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) referred to public consultation. There has already been a public awareness campaign, and full public consultation started this month. An information exhibition for the central London boroughs was held at Church house in Westminster, and one for the eastern boroughs will be held at the museum of docklands. There is a programme of dates, venues and visits covering places as far away as Heathrow in the west and Dartford and Gravesend in the east. Consultation in the hon. Lady?s constituency will take place at the end of November, so I hope that that reassures her.

As the project will have such an effect on the future of London, there is a move to involve and interest young people in the project. There is even a "Young Crossrail" newsletter. Secondary school students in my borough are being invited to take part in a competition to design a Crossrail carriage. Cross London Rail Links is obviously trying to ensure that everybody knows about the project, gets behind it and raises any problems that they have with it.

From my point of view, it is vital that Crossrail is built in north-east London. Just how important it will be to easing congestion and overcrowding became even more obvious at the beginning of the year, when we lost the Central line for three months. I have eight Central line stations in my constituency, and the only rail alternatives are the First Great Eastern via Ilford and the Jubilee line from Stratford. My borough is one of those that export the majority of their work force into the City and central London, so there is a pressing need to improve the transport infrastructure, as well as to cope with the population and economic growth that the Thames gateway regeneration plans promise to deliver.

Mr. Randall

I represent the other end of the Central line. Does the hon. Lady not think it rather sad that we are talking about this project at a time when not only the Central line but the Northern line is being disrupted? I think that she is making the point that we should get our act together to ensure that existing rail services also work properly.

Linda Perham

I agree. The London underground has been running since 1863, and some would say that it is doing rather well for such an old system. As the hon. Gentleman says, there is a need for investment in London's rail services. That would benefit not only London workers, but everyone who comes into the capital for tourism and other reasons. London needs a good rail system.

In January this year, a study of the wider benefits of Crossrail was carried out for Canary Wharf by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. It estimated that, by 2023, Crossrail could stimulate an extra 181,000 jobs in London, of which 115,000 would be diverted from outside the United Kingdom. That would provide opportunities for some of London's most deprived communities, leading to lower dependency on benefits, reductions in health problems and crime, and improvements in educational attainment and housing in seven London boroughs, with my borough, Redbridge, being one of the greatest gainers. The study concluded that failure to invest in London's rail network would slow the growth of London's gross domestic product by 2 per cent. per annum and lead to a haemorrhage of about 500,000 jobs. Crossrail is vital to all Londoners, not only those in my area, and to people who travel into London for work and leisure, or who visit the city from throughout the country and the world.

London's position as the engine of the UK economy and its future existence as an international business and financial centre will be strengthened and enhanced by Crossrail; without it, both will be threatened. Other UK regions should not regard investment in Crossrail as yet more resources being spent on the capital. People outside London and the south-east should welcome the fact that there will be an increase in the 4 million jobs that London already generates in the rest of the country and additional demand for goods and services from London, as well as benefits to the whole UK economy, including an increase in the net fiscal contribution that London makes each year to the Treasury, which is currently estimated to be about £20 billion.

As the hon. Member for Twickenham mentioned, funding is the key issue. How do we pay for this exciting project? A large investment is required—perhaps as much as £15 billion. Contacts that I, as chair of the all-party group, have pursued with the business community—in particular with London First and Canary Wharf—have confirmed that business in general is convinced of the benefits of Crossrail, but that business people need to know as soon as possible the direction the Government wish to pursue in finding the funding. I am glad that the Government have set up the expert panel under Adrian Montague, which is due to report by the turn of the year on the financing options for the project.

I congratulate the Government on taking the important step of backing the Crossrail project. One estimate dates its origin back to 1948, which would make it slightly younger than me. Investment in Crossrail is essential. I fear that if the present commitment to the project is not carried through now, it will be too late to save London from overcrowding, congestion and environmental damage. If the investment is not made, improved transport facilities, more jobs, better housing, the regeneration of the Thames gateway area, the wider benefits to the country as a whole, and London's place in the world, will all be put at risk. I urge the Minister not to lose the opportunity that was squandered by previous Governments to embrace, in co-operation with the business community, the potential presented by the exciting Crossrail project.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Many Members are rising and hoping to catch my eye. If they bear their colleagues in mind, we can get everyone in.

9.54 am
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) has done us a great service in securing the debate. The state of the railways is lamentable; they are in financial chaos, thanks to the Government's stupid intervention and partial renationalisation of the system. We have also been done a service because the Liberal Democrats have demonstrated that, as always, they are all hot air and good intentions, with no sensible plans whatever for putting the system right. It was quite extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should have gone to the lengths of securing the debate and presumably, preparing for it and yet be quite unable to answer the most elementary questions.

What is the cost likely to be and how could it be paid for? The hon. Gentleman cannot tell us how much public subsidy or grant the Liberal Democrats would recommend the Government pay to get the project pump primed. He cannot tell us whether there needs to be an implicit or explicit Government guarantee on all or part of the other moneys, and he cannot say how much revenue subsidy there should be. He cannot explain how his suggestions would integrate with the existing Network Rail system and the London underground. He concedes that it could be embarrassing if part of the underground service were no longer available, but he does not know how he would handle that. He had nothing to say about the financial chaos on Network Rail at the moment, which is the backdrop against which we must judge the plans and ideas.

My interest is twofold. First, I am interested as a Member of Parliament from the Berkshire area. Some of the commuters from that area who currently use rail services would benefit if trains went beyond Paddington into the west end and the City; they would rather make their journey on a single train, without having to change. Many of my constituents might use such a service if it was better than their current service and available in all senses. Such a project could add to the charms of a rail service. However, I have been led to believe that the Reading area is no longer to be linked into Crossrail—there have already been cuts before there is a proper plan. My constituents and I naturally find that disappointing.

Secondly, I am interested in the financing of the project. I do not think that this country can afford to increase the amount of public subsidy for the railway network. One of the biggest financial disasters so far under the Labour Government was the decision to bankrupt Railtrack and take over responsibility for the funding of much of the railway network. There have been huge escalations in costs, guarantees and actual subsidy paid and, at the same time, a deterioration in service standards and quality.

Until the Government solve that problem it is difficult to get going on exciting new projects that could expand and improve the network. I hope that my party will state clearly that we want Crossrail, but that it will have to be a proper private sector project and there will not be public money available for large pump-priming subsidies or guarantees covering all the capital and revenue losses that could ensue if the project miscarried.

In previous debates on railways in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber, Ministers have led me to believe that under the new Network Rail regime Wokingham would get a new station, which it desperately needs. There is currently an inadequate, small set of station buildings that are in an advanced state of decay and need to be replaced. We owe it to the long-suffering commuters to offer them better facilities. The station does not live up to the general standards—it sticks out like a sore thumb in a town that is otherwise well provided for, where the private sector institutions reinvest and maintain their properties. I should like more of my constituents who want to use the railways to do so, but we need a more welcoming station if they are to do so. In addition, there must be a proper transport interchange with better links to the railway so that more people are encouraged to use it.

I want reassurance from Minister that whatever decisions are made on the public finance contribution and on other big projects, such as the west coast main line, which has a more immediate claim on the Government?s resources, there will be resources available for more modest but none the less important projects, such as the redevelopment of Wokingham station. A better service could thereby be offered to people who are currently paying for the railway.

My constituents are paying many times over for the bungled mismanagement of the railway system. Those who use the railways pay dearly through the fares levied on them, in addition to which we all have to pay substantial taxes, which are being guzzled up by the cash guzzler that is Network Rail. I hope that the Minister will comment on the current financial situation of the railways. He may be able to tell us that their management are beginning to get to grips with their cost overruns and heavy losses. It is against that background that we must examine such large projects.

if the Minister is wise he will say that it would be better to spend what money there is on improving the performance and asset base for existing service users. Crossrail is a very desirable large-scale new project, but it should be entirely privately financed because I do not think that the state can afford another big loss-maker on the scale of Network Rail. I have declared my interests in the register; I do not think that they are relevant to the debate, but I shall do so for the sake of good form.

10 am

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

Thank you for the opportunity to take part in this important debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing it.

I have been involved with Crossrail in one way or another since first hearing of it as a newly elected councillor in Reading in 1989. Little did I know when I heard about the proposal that 14 years later we would still be talking about it and there would have been no further progress, despite hundreds of millions of pounds having been spent on various reports, investigations, consultations and lobbying exercises.

Fourteen years ago people in Reading were excited about a proposal that would connect us by a cross-London rail line to east London and Essex. One can see why we were excited: such a link would provide further transport improvements to Reading, which owes its success to its transport links. So far, however, the only people in Reading to have benefited from the scheme are local councillors who at their respective local government conferences have been on the receiving end of hospitality from the proposers of previous versions of the Crossrail scheme. The fringe meetings held by the proposers of the scheme became notorious for the quality and quantity of free food and wine.

The Crossrail proposal is important to me for reasons other than past hospitality. One of the many Transport Ministers who had a role in this sorry affair in the mid-nineties was the then Member of Parliament for Slough. He sought a safer berth than Slough and was selected to fight Reading, East, which at the time was a safe Conservative seat. In April 1996, the then Secretary of State for Transport announced that the scheme would come in priority terms behind the Jubilee line extension, Thameslink 2000 and the channel tunnel rail link. I could not thank the Minister enough for providing me with a perfect local story and photo opportunity when I laid a wreath at Reading station commemorating the demise of the Crossrail scheme. Little did I know then that, seven years later, I would be pointing out that nothing has happened since.

I should not really be surprised by that—none of us should. In a previous debate in the House, I raised the history of the failure to invest in rail services west of London. That has left us without electrification, and the high-speed trains that were a stopgap before electrification are now more than 30 years old. The train companies are looking to invest in new versions of the high-speed trains. Now, however, the situation has become even worse.

Throughout the history of the Crossrail proposal it has always been intended that Reading would be at the western end of the scheme. Crossrail originally appeared in a post-war plan in the late 1940s and reappeared in the Barran plan of the 1970s. It was put forward in October 1990 by British Rail and London Transport, who envisaged a line running from Shenfield and Romford in the east to Aylesbury and Reading in the west. A report into the scheme following the 1993 Budget confirmed the financial and engineering viability of the scheme and the then Prime Minister announced that it would go forward. However, parliamentary progress was put on hold while further studies were carried out.

It was reported in January 1994 that the scheme had been approved by consultants, who had rejected alternative routes. After four years and lots of money spent on preparing plans, parliamentary activity, sumptuous lobbying, and consultants to look again at the proposals, it was confirmed that the 1990s plans were fine and should go forward. Everything should have been fine for Crossrail—but no, the four MPs who were supposed to take the Bill forward refused to do so, saying that the proposers of the scheme had failed to make their case. In particular, they said that the number of people travelling by rail had declined since the scheme was proposed in 1989. As Homer Simpson might have said, "D'oh!" It is widely understood that the number of rail journeys made reflects the level of activity in the economy, so taking a four-year period to determine whether an investment in the railways is justified is stupid, especially when those four years contain one of the worst recessions of the past century.

That exemplifies the problems that we have had to put up with in investment in public transport schemes. Far too often, the time scale over which the return has been sought has not been long enough for public transport. We will not emerge from our transport problems until it is understood that it takes 30 years to make a significant difference to any situation. There will always be short-term schemes that give a payback, and no one says that they should not happen, but schemes that take longer to earn a return should not be refused solely for that reason. Crossrail is a prime example. As we have seen in investments in other public transport infrastructure schemes, if they go ahead they generally prove the economic modellers wrong and generate much better returns than had been predicted. Another problem with the 30-year period needed to make a serious difference in transport is that the people involved in the scheme at the beginning are usually not around at the end to say, "I told you so."

The Crossrail scheme was killed off because we were in the middle of a recession. Commendably, the Government of the time continued to seek ways to take the scheme forward, so in January 1995 there was another study by a different set of consultants to see if there could be progress with smaller-scale alternatives. Yet again, it was concluded that there were no cheap alternatives to Crossrail. Not happy with that report, Government officials carried out another review, taking account of financing levels and funding post-privatisation of British Rail. That concluded that the project had a good cost-benefit ratio, that it was resilient to pessimistic levels of demand and cost, that the level of central London employment was not critical, that powers to proceed with the scheme would have to be obtained before private finance was sought and that private finance could not meet the whole cost. The Government of the time made no response to that report—the Montague report—but said that Crossrail came after the Jubilee line extension, Thameslink 2000 and the channel tunnel rail link in priority terms.

Railtrack was asked to consider the project further once it was in the private sector, but an answer to a parliamentary question in January 1999 revealed that, three years later, Railtrack had not even considered the scheme. The Corporation of London did not forget about it. It could see the benefits brought by the Jubilee line, and realised that Crossrail could deliver equally for residents and companies in London. I worked with the corporation after 1997 to try to keep the scheme alive. It published a report in February 2001 that showed that there had been a 50 per cent. increase in the direct economic benefits over cost in the five years since the Montague report, and that had Crossrail been built, it would have been carrying 12 per cent. more passengers than even the most optimistic of the original forecasts had suggested. Many other reports—in 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2001—all showed that the proposed route was the best and that the scheme would deliver a return.

The Government called for another report in May 2001. Just before the 2001 general election, some of us were otherwise occupied, but it was hoped that the scheme would begin in 2005–06, so yet another study was undertaken and £154 million set aside for it. That produced a report that included the options of a tunnel below London and a route to Reading in the west, with a number of new route options, some of which hon. Members have already mentioned. In February 2003, a business case was presented to the Secretary of State and it was decided that an expert team had to be set up to assess the proposals. I suggest that Crossrail be used at the Civil Service college as an example for training mandarins in how to kill off an idea by review. Future Sir Humphreys could learn a great deal from the example of Crossrail about how not to make a decision on a matter that involves a large amount of money.

Until recently, Reading was one of the fixed points of the Crossrail scheme, and the proposal would have brought electrification to Reading. We had been told that electrification at Paddington would cause too much disruption to that important station, so Crossrail was a big problem—but then came the Heathrow express, which someone else was willing to pay for, so electrification at Paddington was suddenly not a problem. Any sensible person would think that electrifying a further section of the Great Western route would be seen as a benefit, but no such luck.

I pay tribute to the current issue of Railfuture's magazine for a cogent analysis of the current position. It refers to the madness of trying to remove other services to Richmond and replace them with Crossrail, delivering no new services at all, and the barmy mission growth that has occurred, with other tunnels and schemes being thrown in. More sensibly, there is the suggestion of getting back to basics—another old favourite from the 1990s—and returning to the original east-west proposal involving Shenfield, ideally Stansted, and probably Ebbsfleet in the east, and Heathrow and Reading in the west.

Crossrail has shown all that is wrong with project planning and implementation in this country. A simple scheme, which has been around for decades, and which offers excellent value for money, has been killed off by report after report. It has now been taken over by those who have vested interests, who have come up with a barmy version that does not serve the best interests of the travelling public. Other schemes, which offer less value for money, have been developed because someone will pay for them rather than because they represent real value for money.

We now have a chance for the Government and the civil service to redeem themselves. Dump the scheme proposed by Cross London Rail Links, return to the original proposal and get on and implement Crossrail. The message is simple: let us have Crossrail and let us have it soon.

10.10 am
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing this timely debate. As a central London Member, I am clearly going to be affected by whatever route it is finally agreed Crossrail should take. Within the multitude of proposals for Crossrail, there has never been a suggestion that central London should be missed out.

To touch on some constituency interests, Hanover square residents have expressed grave concerns about the lack of consultation on the current proposal for a route through Mayfair. Notwithstanding the catalogue of disasters iterated by the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), the residents feel that there has not been enough information about potential disruption and the ongoing blight that would affect that part of my constituency.

One of the key issues is the eventual route of Crossrail. Understandably, colleagues have argued in favour of their own, perhaps narrow, political corridors and proposals that would affect their constituencies. My view is that it is of key importance to link in the east London gateway corridor, as well as places such as Dartford, Shenfield and Grays.

The spectre of the Olympic bid has been raised. I did not entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) when he said that the two issues had to be kept entirely apart. Crossrail investment will, in practical terms, be of key importance to any sensible and successful Olympic bid. Clearly, time is running out if the Olympic bid is to be made by July 2005.

I am also worried about the rather high barrier that the Government have erected in their most recent thinking on Crossrail. They have said that it

needs to be feasible from both operational and engineering points of view, environmentally acceptable and value for money. It has been rightly pointed out by all right hon. and hon. Members that the key consideration is how Crossrail will be funded. The hon. Member for Reading, East was absolutely right to point out that the Crossrail project was first mooted in 1948—it might have been her colleague the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) who pointed that out. The catalogue of delays since the project was shelved during the recession of the early 1990s has also rightly been mentioned.

It now seems clear that the Treasury will not be willing to provide funding up front, and the Secretary of State for Transport has given a fairly clear indication that Crossrail is pretty low on his list of priorities, especially in view of his task of clearing up the mess created by his predecessor during the botched renationalisation of Railtrack in October 2001—rightly mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—which will apparently take up an additional £1.5 billion per year of public money. It is therefore difficult to see how Crossrail will be in any way a priority for the Government in considering their rail projects.

Londoners seem to receive a poor return, as a number of London Members have pointed out. London is a massive contributor to the public purse. How can Britain?s only globally competitive city continue to shine internationally if the infrastructure investment that is demanded of such a global city cannot be taken for granted? The Government's anti-London bias is damaging the UK economy, and we will see the results of that in the coming decade.

The talk is of a private sector consortium for Crossrail, which is the only realistic game in town. Several consortiums, comprising for the most part property and construction businesses, have discussed the matter and put forward innovative plans, but there are two key flaws. First, they anticipate that the Government will ultimately be the guarantors of last resort. Secondly, there is no proper risk-transfer test for public-private partnership projects. Conservative Members have consistently pointed out that that makes a mockery of the Government?s prestige projects, for which we will all pay in higher taxes during the next decade and a half. The risk is that private consortiums will cherry-pick the most economically desirable routes. They might discuss stage B development but will shelve it later, probably for good. Prior to world war two, for example, there were great plans, all of which have been permanently shelved, to build tube lines to places such as Cranleigh Gardens and Muswell Hill.

One of the ways forward on funding is to examine the notion of value capture, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Twickenham. I cannot do justice to the concept in this brief speech, but the proposal by the Conservative mayoral candidate, Steve Norris, to add a 2 per cent. levy to the business rate in the vicinity of the new line over the next 20 years to allow the cash flow to be securitised and to ensure that the capital works come into play has at least some merit.

When I first read Don Riley's book "Taken for a Ride", I found it persuasive. He is one of my constituents, and he gave me a proof copy of the book a few weeks before the general election when I was out canvassing in Morton place, where he lives. His thesis is simple: when taxpayers invest in a new transport system, many landowners are given accidental windfall fortunes. He argues that the leakage of publicly created income into private hands explains why railways have not been self-financing. The thesis is fairly, but not entirely, persuasive.

Various bandwagons have jumped on to value capture. Some people—particularly left-of-centre politicians—think that it will be an enormous property tax. With the fast-deteriorating public finances, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got his eyes on a range of property taxes—as predicted 18 months ago by many hon. Members who worked on the then Finance Bill. I am concerned that great injustices will by done by taxing windfall gains. The great worry is that if the sums are not properly ring-fenced, there will simply be more money in the Exchequer's pocket. There is also a large question mark about the practicality of taxing windfall gains. It is not clear how far away from a railway line the benefits would extend. There would clearly be losers, and a sense of injustice on the part of those located right on the edge of affected areas.

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend touches on an important point. It is easy to see that there is a gain if a property owner realises an asset that has gone up in value or decides that he can enhance his business because a new line is coming or has arrived. However, an existing property owner who wants to use his property for the same purposes or whose business is not enhanced will simply suffer higher taxation. That problem must be sorted out when we implement such schemes.

Mr. Field

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that there is a great worry that such a levy would simply be a stealth tax.

Although I appreciate that he is not a Treasury Minister, I hope that the Minister here today can indicate the Treasury's intentions. If we look upon new property taxes as a means of clobbering landowners rather than as a specifically ring-fenced way to finance projects such as Crossrail, we will see some of the conspicuous disadvantages that arose in the 1990s during the construction of the Jubilee line extension. Clearly, one has to follow the money, which is the great problem with Crossrail.

I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to the comments of the hon. Member for Reading, East, because there is a worry that we are being inundated with yet more reports as a way of kicking the issue into the long grass. From where will the funding come? Understandably, given the problems with Network Rail, the Treasury may feel that insufficient funding is available in its coffers in the short term for the Crossrail project. If so, can we at least get some indication of the preferred route forward, so that we can ensure that in 14 or 15 years' time we are not still debating the issue, without any further progress having been made?

I appreciate that at least one other speaker wants to get in. I look forward to sharing a platform with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) tonight in Covent Garden, although I cannot imagine why he wants to come to my constituency to discuss these matters. It may have something to do with an election in the middle of next year. I look forward to hearing his comments and those of the Minister.

10.20 am
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take advantage of the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). As a London MP for 20 years, I have had an interest in Crossrail for some time, like the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths). It has been on the agenda all the time that I have been involved in London politics. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) referred to other reasons for my interest: I now share with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham responsibility in my parliamentary party for London issues, and I expect to be the Liberal Democrat candidate when London has a mayoral election next year.

From all the evidence, the Crossrail proposal has unprecedented general support not just from all the local authorities and residents in the capital but from the business community. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of British Industry and London First have not just supported it but have persuasively, strongly, regularly and consistently lobbied for it. They understand the economic importance of a new west-east cross-London line. Without exception, the project is now the number one business issue for those groups. That is what they tell me, and I sense it from talking with their members as well. Surveys of businesses in London indicate that half of all businesses think that it will benefit them and that they are positive about it. There is hardly a single voice expressing concern about the project.

Obviously, there are strategic Government and regional government reasons to support Crossrail, not least the development of the Thames gateway, which will create new investment in the jobs and housing that that area of London needs and that I hope it will get. We in London argue that the country works better if London works better. I believe that the rest of the country understands that, if London is more efficient, the country of which London is the capital will be more efficient and prosperous as well.

I welcome the Minister and have some questions for him. I look forward to further conversations on the issue with him and his colleagues in the months ahead. There has been a considerable amount of commentary on the nature of the statement given by the Secretary of State for Transport in July. Was it a statement of conditional support or of clear, unequivocal support? In the words of one commentator, was it a statement with lots of ifs and buts, or was it a statement of Government support? It would be helpful if the Minister put on the record whether the Government support the Crossrail project.

Can the Minister update us on the likely date of the report of the expert panel that was set up this autumn to carry our specific work? The report was intended to be published at about the turn of the year, but it would be useful if he gave the date for the conclusion of that work. In that context, to pick up a point made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), the details of the route outside the core route should be properly worked out as a result of the consultation that is now taking place. My colleagues believe in that consultation process, which should deal with precisely such matters. The consultation is being carried out enthusiastically and well and is receiving responses. I hope that it will produce the best result for areas such as south-west London, where there are clearly important issues.

Mr. Redwood

Surely, before any of that, the important questions that need answering are how will the deal be structured and who will pay for it? Will the hon. Gentleman spell out his and his party's policy on how much public money will be used, how many guarantees are needed, and how it will be paid for?

Simon Hughes

I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would expect me to deal with those matters, and I will answer him in a moment.

I have dealt with the question of Government support. The second question relates to the project's timetable. The opportunity in the Queen's Speech to announce a Bill in the forthcoming Session has been missed. A hybrid Bill is needed, but the window of opportunity has gone. Will the Minister confirm without qualification that the Government are willing to provide the time for a Bill, even if there is no time in the forthcoming Session, and to support a Bill in the Session after next? If that is the case, do the Government agree that the core project from Paddington to Liverpool Street or to Stratford could be completed before 2012?

There is no inevitable link between an Olympic bid and the project, but if an Olympic bid were successful in 2005, there would be huge advantage in getting the core of the project in place before the Olympic games. I am meeting Crossrail representatives today—I have met them before—and I want to ensure that we can deliver a core Crossrail link before 2012, because it must enhance the prospects of our Olympic bid. Even if we do not win the bid, the Government should not resile from either a commitment or a timetable. None of us knows whether we can win the bid, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham and others say that the bid and Crossrail stand separate, but there will be an additional benefit if we win. It would be helpful if the Government were willing to countenance support for a proposal that delivers the core project before 2011. I believe that technically it can be delivered; I remain to be persuaded about some of the details but I hope and believe that it can be delivered.

Funding is a central issue and I accept the questions from the right hon. Member for Wokingham. I also accept the importance of the two background elements that he described, which are the funding of the rail system across the United Kingdom and, as alluded to by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, the regional take and spend across the UK. I have secured an undertaking from my party to re-examine the Barnett formula and regional allocation. The issue is public sector spend ability in all regions. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham—just appointed to his new brief leading our Treasury team—and I will discuss it and come up with some answers. He has been in his new post for about a week, as have I, but we have started conversations and I undertake to the House and beyond that we will answer those questions.

The direct answer to the funding question is that we already have one small element of Government-guaranteed funding, which is £154 million for the initial work. It would be helpful if the Minister were to guarantee that that money at least is ring-fenced, as we need it to be. It should not be subject to any cuts, bearing in mind that the Strategic Rail Authority has stated that it must reduce its budget. Beyond that, I accept that the best proposition is for the private sector to finance the rest of the spending on Crossrail. That is my starting point, and the business community believes that it is achievable. There are questions about the Government's guarantees, and they need to be ironed out. I must consider that before next year's mayoral election, and my hon. Friend and I will work it out.

We are left with some private sector mechanism options. There is a perfectly honest debate within the business community, which has considered four options. They include a bonds option, which is reasonable and viable, and the option referred to by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, which was proposed by his constituent, Mr. Riley, who runs businesses in my constituency and has also given me a copy of his book, "Taken for a Ride". Those who benefit from the windfall increase in land value because they are next to the line should make a contribution. There are questions about boundary definition, which I understand, but as the Member of Parliament with the largest section of the Jubilee line going through his constituency, I have seen the accidental benefit that accrues to some people. In that end, the project had a good outcome, but it may well have been possible for those who benefited from the line to have partially funded it.

I would like the Minister to address my next point specifically: am I right in saying that the Local Government Bill allows Transport for London to borrow in the private sector? My understanding of the Government's view is that local government should be able to borrow from the private sector. That applies to the London government and the GLA. I would be grateful for a reassurance that TFL and the GLA can borrow as much as they want in order to put the money in the system. The most recent proposal, floated by the Conservative candidate for the London mayoralty, is that there should be a levy on particular businesses. That idea is less popular than some others but the argument is on the table none the less.

My hon. Friends and I will make clear our preferred proposal in good time for the election, once we have had the consultations with colleagues. The Government must guarantee that the current money is ring-fenced, and tell us that TFL can borrow from the private sector and that the Government have advanced work on the idea of a levy on those who gain windfall profits. If we had answers on those points, we would know that the Government were serious. If we had an unconditional response on their support for the project, we would go away from the debate much happier.

10.31 am
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) for securing this important debate. I congratulate him on the way in which he set out the important issues, particularly the many implications that the Crossrail project has for redevelopment, and on mentioning the support given by all the boroughs and the Corporation of London.

I also thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to have my first outing on transport matters since I, like some other colleagues, assumed new responsibilities a week ago. Coming as I do from the far north of Scotland, I almost feel as though I am intruding on something private in discussing this very London-centred project. A mere 10 days ago, I was blissfully unaware of most matters to do with transport. I was, as are so many people, a simple, straightforward user of public transport—sometimes a very frustrated one, when using public transport in London.

Since then, I have had an opportunity to meet a great many people and have done a considerable amount of reading. Having done my homework as best I could, I found that the Crossrail project shines out as a scheme that deserves to succeed and has clear benefits, including cost: benefits. It is also an example of what should be right in transport policy but is often marred by the vacillation and delay of successive Governments. In that regard, I must say that the Conservative Administrations deserve just as much blame as anyone else.

The project in its current guise was first proposed in January 1989 by the central London rail study. The reasons then advanced for it were the increase in central London employment in the 1980s and the pressure on rail links; those reasons are just as valid today. The cost in 1993 was estimated at £1.8 billion, but afterward there was much to-ing and fro-ing—we have heard about some of that this morning. The project was supported by the then Prime Minister, but thrown out by the then Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. MacGregor, who made it subject to the Transport and Works Act 1992 procedure.

Two reports were made. What was known as the Montague report was produced in 1996, and it said that the project had a good cost-benefit ratio, that it was resilient to pessimistic assumptions about demand and cost, and that private finance could not meet the whole cost. As the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) said, the project has been dogged by too many reports. Another, undertaken for the Corporation of London by the technology strategy centre at Imperial college, estimated in 2001, first, that there had been a 50 per cent. increase in direct economic benefits over cost in the five years since the Montague report and, secondly, that if Crossrail had been built by 1999, as originally envisaged, it would already be carrying 12 per cent. more passengers than the most optimistic original assessments. It is clear that there is a strong and growing case for Crossrail and the reasons for it have stood the test of time.

Transport is the critical lubricant that allows the cogs of commerce to grind smoothly. It is the duty of Government not simply to maintain the status quo, but to have a clear vision for future development and make those happen. Crossrail is such a vision and it should happen. It is up to the Government to lead. The Liberal Democrats stand strongly behind Crossrail. We back it because it is vital to the redevelopment of east London, especially its economically deprived communities. I urge the Government—particularly the Treasury—to give full support and grant the powers that are necessary for Crossrail to raise its own finance through bonds, if that is required.

I know a little bit about the Olympic bid, having served on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. In January this year the Committee undertook a report into the bid and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport used Ove Arup & Partners to study its feasibility. On transport,

Arup said that London could cope with the 125,000 extra 'Games' commuters, even without Crossrail, if the network was managed to 'an unprecedented degree'. Although Crossrail is not essential to the Olympic bid, it would at least be extremely helpful to it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham said, neither project should depend on the other. There is, however, much synergy between them. When researching that report, I came across a memorandum submitted in evidence by Crossrail that stated that it: expects the application for statutory consent for Crossrail Line 1 to be ready in November. It is hoped that this is the beginning of a programme and timetable that will lead to a construction completion date that is in time for 2001, subject to obtaining powers, finance and procurement. The Line 1 train service itself would be in place by May 2012. Even in the early part of this year Crossrail anticipated that it could ready in time for the Olympics. Perhaps the Minister can say why there has been such slippage on that programme and whether it is retrievable. The Olympic bid is an engine of regeneration for the Thames gateway. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister estimated that by 2016 there would be some 295,000 new jobs and 95,000 new houses in the area. If the Olympics go ahead they will help to accelerate and underpin that. Both Crossrail and the Olympics could help regeneration.

The critical issue, as hon. Members said, is funding. When considering funding, two things become clear. First, the longer the project is held in abeyance, the more it will cost—the cost has risen from £1.8 billion in 1993 to some £10 or £11 billion today. Secondly, there will be a benefit to business if the project goes ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham said that the London economy would benefit by some £20 billion. That is important.

We must consider how the project could be financed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said, I hope that the majority of the finance, if not all of it, could come from the private sector. We must consider bonds and the securitisation of revenue streams, which is a straightforward way of securing finance. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) said, we must also consider whether it is possible to use taxation and employ the increase in value arising from development to produce revenue streams for the project.

The Crossrail scheme merits such support. If it requires an amount of Government funding to make it happen, whether seed money or a small percentage of the overall cost, we should not shy away from committing that money to it. When he conducts his spending review, I shall press my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham to permit inclusion of that in our plans.

If we are looking for reasons for Crossrail to go ahead, we need look no further than the fact that the current cross-London links are at saturation point. The District line can take no more trains, and without a new artery London will begin to clog up. It is time that the Government came clean and were honest with Londoners. They should accept the compelling case, say yes and get on with it, or admit that the Treasury is trying to block the project and kick it into the long grass. I hope that the Government will answer in the affirmative and do so with dispatch.

10.40 am
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing the debate. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in declaring an interest, but unfortunately it is not worthy of register. I am a one-time shareholder in Railtrack, Eurotunnel, British Airways, BAA, BAE Systems and First Group.

I recently heard that a new definition of "cross rail" is a passenger who travels with Virgin Rail on its new Voyager train and arrives in Penzance, but his luggage arrives by road several hours or days later.

Almost an hour and a half into this debate we are still no clearer about the Liberal Democrats' policy on the Crossrail project, even though we have heard three speakers from that party. Their answer seems to be, watch this space. Furthermore, it is clear that one proposal has secured all-party support over and above the competing proposals, but we seem to be no clearer about what the total cost or the start date will be. The Secretary of State for Transport enjoys one thing in common with the newly appointed Liberal Democrat transport spokesman: both believe that transport is so unimportant that it should be a part-time responsibility, held alongside responsibility for Scotland.

During Transport questions on 15 July, the Secretary of State said: 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."—[Official Report , 15 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 141.] As the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) said, we are still no further forward—from either 14 or 40 years ago, depending on which historical account one accepts—in knowing the total cost.

I agree that Crossrail will bring huge benefits to London, as my hon. Friends have said. It will cut overcrowding on existing services and will provide a more rapid and efficient method of transport across London. The perceived £10 billion cost is, however, too heavy a charge to put on the taxpayer. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), the Conservatives will be creative about transport solutions in the big cities—we'll explore entirely private sector means to build London's Crossrail. Indeed, our mayoral candidate, Steve Norris, has suggested several imaginative ways for funding based on projected increases in property values.

Whichever project is chosen, once the many reviews have been conducted and have reached their conclusions, it must be technically and economically viable and the Government must in the meantime allay fears among the public about existing rail infrastructure, in particular those about the London underground and responsibility for the track post-privatisation. It is clearly unacceptable to have two potentially major disasters within three days, and so soon after that track has been privatised.

Confidence in the railways collapsed when the then Secretary of State forced Railtrack into administration. The Minister need not take my words for it, but those of their own appointed rail regulator, Tom Winsor. On a number of occasions, he has put on record his personal regret that the move into administration of Railtrack led to a lack of accountability of Network Rail and has removed the shareholder discipline, replacing it with a loose group representing 100 disparate rail interests. That is a hopeless situation—yet is the backdrop against which Crossrail is being considered. Does the Minister accept that the 10-year transport plan is in tatters, especially as we have heard that railway performance is no longer expected to improve before 2010?

The debate raises a number of questions, and I would be grateful if the Minister addressed them. Will any public funds be attached to the project? If they will, what will be their nature—will they be national, or does the Minister think that European Union funds would be attracted to a potential trans-European network? Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, I was astonished that the hon. Member for Twickenham had not given that any thought, even though he was fortunate enough to secure the debate. Are the Government confident that private sector support will be sufficient to pick up the whole cost of Crossrail? Will the Government be prepared to guarantee any of the debts that may flow from its construction? Following construction, who will be responsible for maintaining the line?

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) and the hon. Members for Reading, East and for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) spoke about connections across London, most notably the connection to Heathrow. It has been put to me that the Heathrow express—a recent and very successful project, which was privately financed—might be jeopardised by Crossrail. Can the Minister give an assurance that whichever Crossrail project is secured, it will have no implications for the Heathrow express—that people who access that airport from central London will continue to enjoy the Heathrow express? Will the Minister take this opportunity to put our minds at rest on these matters? In addition, will he give a date when the review team appointed by the Secretary of State will reach its conclusions?

All Opposition Members are determined that Crossrail will take shape. I would hate this country's bid for the Olympics to be dependent on the Crossrail project, but it would be ideal if they could be linked. Can sufficient private funding be secured? Will any public funds be attracted to this project and, if so, will they be national or European?

10.47 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)

Underneath all the sound and fury and the usual Liberal Democrat opportunism, this has been a serious debate. The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) just touched on what I was going to refer to—with no unkindness intended—as the dog that didn't bark. We dwelt on one Montague—Nick—who was responsible for the earlier report. The Montague that matters is Adrian, along with the review that the hon. Lady alluded to at the end of her comments.

I was going to start by making a laboured joke about the fact that I am going to the informal Transport Council in Verona on Thursday—although I will not see much of the city—and that this debate was more Montague versus Montague than Montague versus Capulet. I am glad that I did not do so.

Serious matters have been mentioned. However, the context that we must be clear about is receipt of final business case from Crossrail in June or July, the response from the Secretary of State in July, and the subsequent appointment of the Montague team, with it being given a clear undertaking to report by the turn of the year—probably in the new year, but as close to the end of this year as possible. Does that mean that the scheme or any discussions or preparations for the scheme, should be held in abeyance, as one or two hon. Members have suggested? No, it does not. There were extensive talks with Crossrail prior to the appointment of the Montague review team.

I have learned from previous debates not to try to say CLRL too often, for fear of being accused of a lack of sobriety early in the day. I shall refer to it as the Crossrail team—people will know who I mean. There has been constructive engagement with the team and a host of questions has been asked on an array of fronts. One would think from the way that some hon. Members were referring to the important Crossrail project that all we had to do was go to Hamley's and buy a train set. The scheme encompasses substantial infrastructure projects and they should be accorded due importance.

One opportunistic speaker, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), asked, in his finest mayoral voice, whether he could have an assurance that the Government support his party on the matter. He should read paragraph 8 of the original statement: it says that the Government remain wedded in principle to the notion of a cross-London link. The statement could not have been any clearer in its support. We were then asked whether we could give an assurance that there will be a hybrid Bill in November. I would like to give such an assurance, but I cannot. Why not? Because the review has not reported yet. To deal with such serious matters in such a shallow fashion ill becomes the House and is an insult to it.

Montague needs to determine whether the proposals are likely to deliver to time, scope and budget, whether the business case proposals will offer value for money, the extent of Government funding that can be justified in the context of value for money, the proportion of the funding required from non-Government sources and a range of other matters

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

May I press my hon. Friend on funding? He will not be surprised to hear that only 7 per cent. of businesses back a property tax. Some 24 per cent. back a tax-based solution, 33 per cent. back a bond and 36 per cent. back a share issue. What is the Government thinking on the matter and when will it be announced?

Mr. McNulty

The Government's thinking will be announced when we have seen the Montague review. Adrian Montague himself has said that he is pleased to announce the detailed terms of reference … Crossrail has the potential to improve journeys on public transport across a wide area of London and the South East"— we completely concur with that. He continues: But the costs are very high: the scheme put forward by CLRL is forecast to cost up to £10 billion, and that's before any finance costs. Alistair"— that is, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport— has asked me to look closely at CLRL's proposals to see whether they are deliverable and, if so, whether they are likely to provide proper value for money. As part of the review, I have been asked to explore how much of the very large cost of this scheme might be justified from the taxpayer and how much might be raised from non-Government sources. I shall also consider whether there are any other ways of delivering a Crossrail project that would offer better performance than the proposals set out in CLRL's Business Case. Adrian Montague has been asked to report as soon as is practicable. We hope that he will do so by the end of the year.

We are told that there has been a great deal of slippage on the scheme. In fact, there has been none. The Crossrail business plan submitted in July talked about 2013 and rolling out for 18 months as the start of the process, so the siren voices suggesting that there has already been slippage are fundamentally wrong. If the Montague report stacks every thing up in terms of funding and the nature of the line and all is well, I would hope that we would be on schedule for a hybrid Bill in November. I cannot say that for sure, because I do not know what the review will report, nor does anyone else in this Chamber—certainly not aspiring third, fourth or fifth-placed mayoral candidates. CLRL has always intended to open over 18 months.

I am astonished to discover that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is now an engineer, among other things, but the central core going under the Cities of London and Westminster was always the most difficult of the engineering feats. We are told that we could pop back to Hamley's and buy one and get it in place for the Olympics—absolute, unremitting twaddle. Barbara Cassini has said that the Crossrail project has nothing to do with the Olympics and does not fit in with the Olympics. I ask all those suggesting that it does, or that somehow one project will fail without the other, to mind their words. To talk down London's Olympic bid and the success or otherwise of the Crossrail project does no one in London any service. I ask people to reflect before they make such remarks simply for cheap, opportunistic gain, even though that is not unnatural for the third party.

I am delighted—I think that that is a first—that we have here the Liberal Democrat parliamentary version of the three tenors. We have three third party minor spokespersons representing various portfolios, and it is nice to see them. I especially look forward to working with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) on the transport brief. However, there was some confusion. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) has gone to open a sure start scheme in her constituency—I hope that she thanks the Government for that and that it is there when she arrives, as she once went to open a hospital but found that it was not yet built, although that is by the by. The hon. Lady said that there are many concerns about the loss of the District line beyond Turnham Green. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) also made various points. I know that there are concerns there, but let us see what the final model will be, so that we can see whether all those concerns stack up.

Typically for a Liberal Democrat, the hon. Member for Richmond Park demanded consultation. Well, there has already been a roadshow and the formal consultation on the business case will start next Monday. I do not know whether she will put out a press release saying that she demanded consultation on Tuesday and that on the following Monday, Crossrail buckled and there was consultation.

I know that Reading, Wokingham and other places outside London are being examined in the context of the Montague review to see what will be best for London. I assume, although I shall discuss this with him, that when the hon. Member for Twickenham mentioned a study in the Department of which he has seen fragments, he meant the fuller business case, not the summary, in which case I urge him to look in detail at the summary and report.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) on the establishment of the all-party Crossrail group. Everyone—but everyone—is signed up and wedded to the notion that the scheme should happen, so the opportunistic point of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was ill made. We are now collectively looking at the details of how to get the scheme off the ground. Today is part of that.

I found the funding issues raised very interesting. All and none of those suggestions are on the table. There was some confusion over whether it is to be 100 per cent. public sector or 100 per cent. private sector. I know that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) is on record as saying that he wants to explore a fully private sector-funded scheme. In the context of the Montague review, we shall examine how that could happen. Without getting a brick thrown at me by my Department, I can say that the only certainty is that we can rule out a 100 per cent. public sector-funded scheme. I think that I can do that—touch wood—with some degree of certainty. All the elements suggested by hon. Members are on the table.

Rather than waste precious time now, I shall write to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) about a new station for Wokingham and a proper interchange there. I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) about why Reading and a western expansion outside London fell off the agenda. I think that that had fallen off the agenda by February 2003, in the interim business plan for the current proposals, so that really is a matter for others. She should blame not me, but people who were responsible for the scheme prior to that date. If she wants some comfort, very early in this round of the game there was a plan for a lovely line through to Amersham and Watford. One option took it through Harrow and Wealdstone and one through Harrow on the Hill, both plumb in the middle of my constituency, so I, too, do not gain under the current business case, and I share her concerns.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) should not dwell on supposedly novel ideas. Last year when I was in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, I was told that betterment levies and value capture were all brand, spanking-new civil service ideas. To my certain knowledge, they are at least 40 years old, if not considerably older. When I was a Minister responsible for housing, I thought that it might be useful to read the first chapter of Dick Crossman's diaries, on when he held a similar post. By page 3, he was discussing the betterment levy and capture, when there was a windfall gain. All those elements must be in play if we are collectively, across the parties, serious about securing a very substantial contribution from the private sector, which will be needed if the scheme is to prevail.

It is not fair to use the Jubilee line as an example to suggest that Crossrail will somehow dribble into the sand because it is a public sector-private sector mix. The channel tunnel rail link was completed on time, on budget and is a paragon of British engineering success. All of us—in the public and private sector—should be very proud of it.

We want Crossrail to happen, and we want to do all that we can to assist. There are a number of things going on with the team that mean that the project is not being held in abeyance, and I urge all those present, and all those who have London's welfare at heart, to examine the Montague review carefully when it is published in all its glory in January or February next year.

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