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I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts that. As the House will appreciate, it is our job as Members of Parliament to determine matters of public interest. When private interests are at stake, it is right to establish a separate procedure to deal with them. That is why the hon. Gentleman's instruction is unnecessary.
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Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I speak as a Member who served on the Select Committee that considered the original Channel Tunnel Billnot the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill19 years ago. That Select Committee sat for almost six months and had to deal with an enormous quantity of petitions and it clearly lacked the sort of detailed instruction that is being proposed today, which should make it possible to decide what priority to give to a range of petitions. Given the risk of so many petitions clogging up the Committee's work and diverting it from its priorities, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not give the impression that anyone can petition and that all those petitions will be considered. It is precisely the need for clarity about priorities that Select Committees faced with a deluge of petitions require. I hope that I am not being unhelpful to my right hon. Friend, but I want to be helpful to the Select Committee that will have to consider the petitions.
Mr. Darling: Actually, my right hon. Friend's comments are helpful, as he speaks from experience. It is open to anyone who wants to do so to petition Parliament; people have a constitutional right to do that and we cannot turn them away. However, the point that I was making, with which I think my right hon. Friend agrees, is that unless the Committee has some instruction and guidance from the House on what it is supposed to be deciding, someone could, at the extreme, argue passionately for the inclusion of a Crossrail station at Georgetown, near Thursothe Select Committee might take the view that that would be a station too farso it is important that we give some clarity. As my right hon. Friend was so helpful, it pains me to say that I do not think that I can accept his instruction, although I shall deal with the question of Woolwich later on.
I hope that the House can accept that we are trying to balance people's right and need to be heard with the fact that if we do not give the Committee some clarity it will be difficult, as my right hon. Friend has just said, for it to make progress in anything like a sensible period of time.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his explanations and clarification. He will appreciate that there are great concerns, especially in central London, about the precise nature of the route. For the avoidance of doubt, may I take it that his comments of the past 10 minutes ensure that the route through central London is by no means set in stone, even though it has been set out, and that it will be open to full debate in the Committee?
Mr. Darling: As I said earlier, it is open to the Select Committee, after listening to petitions and representations, to come up with proposals. I also said that if the House gives the Bill a Second ReadingI hope that it will receive cross-party supportthe Select Committee will bear in mind that the one thing that would kill the Bill would be amendments that hugely add to its expense or so change it that the whole of its economics change.
I am sure that not every aspect of the Bill is perfect, and it will need changes, so we have to achieve a balance in the amendments. All members of the Select Committee should bear in mind that without too much
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difficulty we could end up creating a railway line that was completely different, vastly more expensive and would thus almost certainly never be built. For the sake of London, in particular, that would be an absolute tragedy. However, the hon. Gentleman is rightif Members and the public want to make representations about stations and the route, they can do so to the Select Committee.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way. His distinction of the roles of Select and Standing Committees was genuinely helpful, although I suspect that paragraph (c)(i) in both my instruction and that of the official Opposition touches on private interests and should thus be a matter for the Select Committee.
May we have clarification on the nature of an instruction? In my reading of the Government's instruction, paragraph (b)(i) says in effect, "You may not look beyond Maidenhead" and that was my central objection. However, the Secretary of State seems to be telling the House that it is not really an instruction but a piece of advice, and that if the Select Committee wants to look at issues relating to Maidenhead and Reading, it may do so. In that case, what is the purpose of the instruction? That is not a hostile question; it is genuine intellectual curiosity. Why?
Mr. Darling: Because, as I have said on a number of occasions, we deliberately took a light touch. Select Committees must have a certain amount of leeway if they are to work effectively, but I think that the Select Committee will want some guidance from the House on what it should be considering, precisely to avoid the difficulties that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) raised. That is why the Government's instruction puts to the House the proposition that an instruction be given to the Select Committee to look at a specific proposition. However, as I said earlier, if someone comes along with a petition on something different, such as varying the line of the route, no Government or, indeed, the House, would say that the Select Committee should not consider it. At the end of the day, when the House is invited to consider the report of the Select Committee, a judgment will have to be reached. I shall say something about Reading later in my remarks, which I should get back to in the not-too-distant future.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The House is in some difficulty, because while hon. Members want all the evidence to be available, there are a number of parallel issues that will not actually be involved. Will my right hon. Friend make it very clear that he will be discussing the way that this scheme meshes in with Olympic developments and other overall railway issues, which would divide off in people's minds the problems that we are facing this afternoon and the need to have an overall clear railway policy?
I intend to come to that matter. Having probably been too generous in terms of the usual convention of the House, I will now come to some of these matters later. My hon. Friend is quite rightthere
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are matters of general policy that will get debated, especially in the Standing Committee, although inevitably because of the nature of petitioning I suspect that one or two will come up in the Select Committee as well. My hon. Friend is right that it is important that we ask ourselves how Crossrail fits into the national picture. I can deal with the Olympic points very quickly
For the avoidance of doubt, the Government have always made it clear that Crossrail was never, ever going to be ready for the Olympics, although there are other issues, such as the planning and initial construction of Crossrail at the same time
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Secretary of State is being very helpful. Will he clarify two final things on the instruction process? Will he explain the implication of the first bit of his instruction? What are the environmental matters that cannot be considered by the Select Committee? I think the phrase is,
Do we all understand the Secretary of State to say that the three matters that were in the additional instruction, but not in his, are actually all public policy matters that he believes it is perfectly proper for the Committee and the whole House to consider as and when they want to?
Mr. Darling: Inasmuch as I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, the policy matters that he touched onsuch as rail freight, the services out of Paddington to the west and the integration, to which I shall comeare not really Select Committee matters, although the Select Committee may touch on them if it wants. However, they are certainly Standing Committee and Third Reading matters and they will be discussed then.
The first instruction is common to all the instructions. It is basically saying to the Select Committee that if someone comes in with an environmental objection and says, "I am against it on principle", the Committee can tell us about it but it cannot take it on board, because there is no point in our having an "in principle" Second Reading debate if the Committee then says, "We do not think there is a need for Crossrail"which is what happened in 1994. Who knows? If that had not happened in 1994, Crossrail might have been open. It might not, but it might have been.
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