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Crossrail Bill

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 22 July 2008

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Crossrail Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Perhaps before we move to approve the Crossrail Bill, it would be worth me saying a few words about it and offering some very well deserved words of thanks.

Hybrid Bills are rarely used procedures; indeed, the last one considered by Parliament was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, 12 years ago. Following the introduction of the Crossrail Bill in the other place in February 2005, some three and a half years ago, the Bill received a Second Reading by a majority of 370. After a period of gentle persuasion, the Select Committee in the other place was appointed in December 2005 and first met in January 2006. There were four batches of additional provisions to improve the project, which is one reason why the committee took nearly two years to conclude its hearings. It heard in excess of 200 of the 400 or so petitions lodged; its special report was published on 23 October 2007.

The Public Bill Committee, Report and Third Reading in the other place followed expeditiously and the Bill was introduced into this House on 14 December 2007. The Second Reading was secured without a Division and, by the time the petitioning period for this House’s Select Committee had closed, 113 petitions had been deposited. The Select Committee of this House did a sterling job; it sat for 29 days and listened to many of the same petitioners. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the skill and rigour with which the committee was chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. The Select Committee published its excellent special report in May, so we could consider it alongside the Committee proceedings.

This is the last time that the House debates the Bill, so I take the opportunity of once again paying tribute to the work of both the Select Committees and all noble Lords who have played an important part in shaping the future of what is probably one of the most exciting engineering and rail projects that this country has on the stocks and in the immediate and near future—a project that will very much influence how London continues to generate and regenerate itself in the next two decades.

There are one or two noble Lords who deserve special mention: the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who sadly is not with us today, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for his sterling work and constructive views and comments, as well as my noble friend Lord Berkeley for the role that he has played, not only in your Lordships' House but also for his appearances representing the Rail Freight Group during the Select Committee proceedings. Finally, I mention the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, for her unwavering support for the project.

Outside the House, I thank my colleagues at the Department for Transport, the CLRL team led by Keith Berryman, our parliamentary agent Winckworth Sherwood and our counsel team, led by David Elvin QC. I thank the House greatly for its interest and support in this project.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Hanningfield, it falls to me to complete the last stage of this important Bill on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. I begin by thanking the Minister for the manner in which he accepted our scrutiny and listened to our concerns and amendments. He has covered the points about the hybrid Bill very well already. Although he rarely agreed with our position, the debate has provided your Lordships and the public with valuable information about some of the finer details of this complex legislation.

A legal framework to facilitate the funding and construction of Crossrail has been long in coming. I remember when this project was first conceived, nearly 20 years ago; since then, its progress has been stalled by a plethora of reviews and seen many false dawns. I think that a dairy farmer would be impressed by the number of times that this Government have announced that Crossrail was to go ahead. Since finally obtaining a finance package last year, there has been a high level of scrutiny which benefits this Bill, but that has not been too protracted in this House.

I pay my own tribute to the work of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and his committee, the noble Lords, Lord Snape, Lord James of Blackheath, Lord Young of Norwood Green and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe.

It has been clear from the start that we on these Benches have always supported the Crossrail project in principle, but throughout the progress of the Bill in this House and in another place we have raised concerns relating to transparency and disruption. We would have liked to have seen the Government go further on some issues such as ensuring that disruption is kept to a minimum through earlier notification and being more open in taking a transparent and consistent approach to reporting.

As expected, funding has always been a major worry. We are concerned about the cost of the Government’s delay in getting Crossrail to this stage, which has been estimated at £1.5 billion per annum. We are also concerned about whether the current £16 billion funding package is sufficient and that taxpayers have already spent £400 million without a single track being laid. The main reason for that apprehension is that mega-projects such as this often span the life of more than one Government. Who knows; by the time of completion we may have a Liberal Democrat Government. Therefore, it is imperative that we get the legislation right now in order to avoid problems in the future.

In closing, the benefits that Crossrail will bring are undoubted; it could add £20 billion to the UK economy and support an expected 30,000 new high-value jobs. Crossrail will also provide greater capacity and speed to the city's transport network, enabling a further 1.5 million people to be within 60 minutes of our capital and key business areas. I look forward to visiting the construction sites of this great project and I am glad we have been able to progress this Bill so quickly through this House on its way to Royal Assent.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his gracious words of thanks to people in this House, the department and elsewhere. I assure him of our continued support. Although it may sometimes sound like criticism, we support the Bill and I wish it well.

My Lords, I just wanted to say one word to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. One of the objectives of the Select Committee in producing what appears to be rather a fat report was to include in the appendices a lot of information that ought to make things a great deal more transparent for those who might be affected by the Bill. Therefore, I hope that we have added to the general knowledge about what will happen, the remedies that people have and the sort of conditions that they might expect. I hope that that will be of help and assistance to everyone who lives along the route of the track.

My Lords, I believe that Crossrail will be successful—it would be operating successfully today if we had legislated for it earlier. One of the lessons of the success of the Alloa railway, where the loadings proved to be three times greater than forecast, was that we should have got on with it earlier. I would like to carry that forward and say, please introduce a high-speed line railway Bill, because we are about to need it now, not after we have legislated for it, which will probably be in about 20 years’ time. I wish the Crossrail Bill well.

On Question, Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.