Cross-London Rail Route

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 8th November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 2:30 pm, 8th November 2005

If he will assess the merits of an alternative north-south cross-London rail route to the proposed Thameslink route through London Bridge station.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Alternative north-south cross-London rail routes have been considered at the Thameslink project public inquiry, which opened on 6 September and is expected to end in December. The inspector will subsequently write his report, which is likely be submitted to me and the Deputy Prime Minister next year.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

The Secretary of State may know that I and many other local people gave evidence against the scheme at the inquiry. When the report reaches him, will he try to ensure that we get a north-south rail scheme across London that is not out of date, as the current one will be by the time it is completed, and that does not run out of capacity, as the current one will by the time it opens? An alternative scheme could be realised due to the change of plans for Waterloo, given that the cross-channel rail link will go elsewhere. Will he look at a scheme that either goes by Elephant and Castle and Herne Hill, or tunnels under the river, to provide the capacity that the whole rail network needs?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I was aware that Simon Hughes had given evidence to the inquiry—he appears to be repeating it today for the benefit of us all.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I will decide when a question is long. I assure Mr. Duncan that that question was not as long as a supplementary that he asked.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Perhaps I can say two things. Until we get the inspector's report, I obviously cannot pass any judgment on it. However, I say to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey and the House that the project that is known as Thameslink 2000—we all know that the name is a bit of a joke—should have been completed five years ago. It fell at the last planning inquiry because it became so complicated that it eventually failed not on railway grounds, but due to the planning proposals on buildings that the then Railtrack submitted. Whatever the inspectorate comes up with, I hope that we will be able to do something quickly because a north-south link is badly needed by London and people who live to the north and south of London.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

Will my right hon. Friend also look at a London orbital network that could join the north, south, east and west London lines and enable commuters to avoid the centre of London, unlike Thameslink?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I am always willing to look at proposals, but I would not want to raise false hopes. People know that although funding for transport has expanded over many years, it is none the less constrained. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that I can fund that specific project, but if he will let me see it, I shall, of course, look at it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Transport)

Cross-London rail travel is critical, yet the Government's record, as you know, Mr. Speaker, is appalling. Dozens of projects have been cancelled or postponed, and many commuter services into London, on the Government's own figures, are at 105 per cent. capacity during the rush hour. The Government's prevarication over Crossrail is not helpful to that cause. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 27 October about this timidity, but I have not heard back from him. Of course he should assess the prospects for alternative north-south routes across London, but will he now tell the House in clear terms whether the Government are committed to the east-west route across London—namely Crossrail? Will he give the House a clear timetable and properly costed business plan for that? If he does not, we will know that the Government do not really support Crossrail.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would hesitate before being quite so critical of our record on Crossrail because many of us who were in the House during the 1990s will recall that the then Government's attempts to build Crossrail ran into the ground, partly because their plans were not very well thought out and partly because they ran us into one of the deepest recessions of the past century, which meant that the whole economic case collapsed.

Our commitment to Crossrail is demonstrated by the fact that we persuaded the House in July to give the Crossrail Bill a Second Reading. That is pretty clear evidence of our intent to build the railway. On the timetable, as I have said on many occasions, much will depend on the progress made through the House.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I think that the usual channels on both sides of the House are currently trying to conscript hon. Members to serve on the Committee. In years to come, I am sure that they will look back at what a splendid opportunity that was to demonstrate their parliamentary skills and contribute something to Britain and London's infrastructure.