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19 Nov 2008 : Column 98WH—continued

The biggest difference from 11 years ago is that today there is growing public concern about climate change. People wonder about the best way to travel. Clearly,
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Eurostar now has a good story to tell: all journeys are carbon-neutral, and a journey between London and Paris or Brussels generates 10 times less carbon dioxide than an equivalent air flight. To celebrate the first anniversary of the move to St. Pancras, Eurostar issued a news release to announce that passenger numbers from the regions north of London have increased by as much as 150 per cent. in some cases, thanks to the introduction of through fares from more than 130 towns and cities. It is instructive to look at developments in different regions. There is a 100 per cent. increase in passenger numbers from the east midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, whereas from Manchester and the west midlands, the growth is 50 per cent. The number of travellers from Scotland is up as well, but this time by one third.

Overall, those growth figures demonstrate that travellers are taking advantage of easier rail connections between domestic train operators and Eurostar services, with higher frequencies and better punctuality than regional air services. Again, to complete the Eurostar advert, with through fares booked on starting a journey, many of the train operating companies can offer return through fares from, for example, as little as £67 from Luton and £89 from Glasgow. Hon. Members can see the increased attraction for people of making those journeys. I should like to mention to the Minister a point of detail about making the journey from Stafford to the continent by train and ask what he can do to make it better than it is at present. Although I will focus on Stafford I am, hopefully, speaking for every passenger who wants to take a train from the west or north of London to the continent.

In October 1994, the then Secretary of State for Transport, John MacGregor, told Railtrack to put the infrastructure in place to allow rail services to operate from the regions to continental capitals:

We know that none of that happened. For many years, the sleeper trains sat on a siding and they were eventually flogged off. Of course, we do not have regional Eurostar services at all. Mr. MacGregor’s Department asked the first operators of the Eurostar services, which were called InterCapital and Regional Rail Ltd, to produce a report about developing regional Eurostar services. After the end of the Conservative Government, the Department produced a report called “Review of regional Eurostar services” on 13 December 1998, which stated that

Parliament was outraged and, on its behalf, the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee expressed rage in its report on that review dated 20 January 1999:

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, the then Deputy Prime Minister, was also unhappy with the operator deciding whether the services should go ahead and asked for an independent review.
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A company called Arthur D. Little Ltd was set up and was asked to report back. Its report in February 2000 concluded:

There is a clue there that the priority at that time was affordability, rather than the broader issues, including environmental ones.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for the excellent contribution that he is making to this debate.

Even if we were to judge these services only on a financial or commercial basis, is it not the case that these projections were made at a time when people were expecting an era of cheap air travel, which is certainly relevant in respect of competition on routes from the regions and nations of the United Kingdom? Is that era not coming to an end? Does that not indicate that, even on a commercial basis, the case for direct services to the continent of Europe from various points north of London is stronger than ever?

Mr. Kidney: I agree with my hon. Friend that the finances have changed completely in the past decade. In respect of climate change issues, the price of carbon will inevitably drive up the cost of flying and will make rail, by comparison, more competitive. My description of the increase in passenger numbers is the same across the country. The problem today is one of capacity, not of declining services. The finances are changing for rail and the position is different, which brings me neatly on to my next point.

On high-speed links in the UK, as I have said, the channel tunnel rail link was rather provocatively renamed High Speed 1, heralding the age of more high-speed links in this country. In 2004, the Strategic Rail Authority commissioned a report from Atkins about high-speed rail, which concluded that it was an attractive and viable project but that in order for it to go forward it would need strong support from the Government. I cannot help thinking that that phrase gives a clue about why the Little report in 2000 was not more positive. The Atkins report said that, depending on the route option, a high speed line

It continued:

That just shows the change by then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) mentioned. The report continued that

Finally, it states:

That is quite an eye-opening conclusion.

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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Until the past few hours, there was political consensus on the need for high-speed rail. I am not sure whether that consensus still stands as far as the Official Opposition is concerned, given their reluctance to spend any money now. Perhaps we will get some clarification on that at the end of the debate.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that substantial investment is needed and that there is a need to identify additional sources of funding? Has he considered a flight surcharge for domestic flights to fund a transport infrastructure fund that could be used to build the high-speed rail links that I think he is about to say we need everywhere and as soon as possible?

Mr. Kidney: There is a lot in that intervention.

Stephen Hammond rose—

Mr. Kidney: Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes on me to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I should like to say that I will wait and see what he says about the Conservatives’ position. I have seen the Conservative party inch towards being a supporter of new high-speed lines and I agree that we need to know that its commitment is not affected by its announcement yesterday not to continue even with Labour’s public spending plans.

Stephen Hammond: I am delighted to tell the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who secured this debate, and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, that there is only one party in the House that is not committed to high-speed rail—the governing party.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): Nonsense.

Stephen Hammond: Well, I should be interested to hear if the Minister is going to change the view, because the then Secretary of State last year ruled it out explicitly. Perhaps the Minister will change the Government’s view today.

The governing party is the only party in the House that is not committed to high-speed rail. I am happy to make the commitment that the announcement made by the Conservative party in September—that it is committed to high-speed rail and to building it—remains.

Mr. Kidney: As a Labour Member, I keenly support high-speed lines. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s contribution.

On the intervention by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, it is really a question of having an identified fund of money to pay for a particular project. He will know that the Treasury has, from time immemorial, never been keen on hypothecation, and it is difficult to get it to move. Personally, I think that there should be a lot of movement, particularly in the environmental scene, because a lot of the public would like to see another environmental project benefiting when they pay extra money for something. Although I do not
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accept the detail of the hon. Gentleman’s policy, I see the case for and the merit in some kind of ring-fencing of funds.

I have mentioned the Atkins report. Just to bring hon. Members up to date, the Eddington transport study was published in December 2006. At page 213, paragraph 4.194, it states:

Some people read the Eddington report, overall, as being negative about high-speed rail. The Transport Select Committee wanted to ask Sir Rod Eddington about this. It interviewed him on 16 April 2007, when he explained that he thought that high-speed rail using established technology had a key role to play in Britain and that planning should start now. He is unequivocal in his support.

That challenge was taken up in June 2007 by Greengauge 21, a not-for-profit group, with its well-worked proposition for a High Speed 2. It proposed a high-speed line along the north-west corridor, which I would be pleased about because it would benefit Stafford, but I hasten to point out that there are other proposals, including one for a high-speed line paralleling the M1 motorway. The point is that workable proposals for more high-speed lines are already in existence. To pick up on the point made by the Conservative spokesman, the Government, in comparison, are still at an investigatory stage.

On solutions to the growing capacity challenge on the rail network, Network Rail is conducting a strategic review of the case for building new rail lines. It is considering five of Network Rail’s strategic routes north and west of London: Chiltern, east coast, west coast, Great Western and Midland main lines.

Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman said that the Government are at the investigative stage and went on to quote Network Rail’s investigations. Is he suggesting that Network Rail is an arm of the Government, or are the Government’s investigations separate?

Mr. Kidney: I am working my way towards the Government’s position, and it is coming soon, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman will contain himself for one more minute.

The Network Rail study recognises that by 2025 many lines will be full, especially those running to and from the north and west of London. The study will examine how we can meet the capacity challenge and find solutions, including possible new lines and high-speed rail links that are deliverable and affordable. The report will be complete next summer.

Network Rail has told me that it is sensible that, if we are to build new lines, they may as well be high speed. Network Rail is also part of the recently established national networks strategic group, chaired by my noble Friend and Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Lord Adonis. Among other things, that group is looking into high-speed rail links, and is due to report back next spring.

I come now to the experience of Mr. D’Arcy—not the character in Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice”, but my constituent, Mr. Gerald D’Arcy, who regularly
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travels by rail between Stafford and the continent using Eurostar services, which have been from St. Pancras for the past year. He readily accepts that his experience has been better this year than in the past, when his train from Stafford arrived at Euston and he had to haul his suitcase and hand luggage across London to Waterloo. Now, he just has to get to St. Pancras, which is also on the north side of London, as is Euston. He has tried the tube, but it is crowded and difficult with luggage, and there is still quite a lot of walking, especially at the King’s Cross-St. Pancras end, but at least he can buy an Oyster card in advance. He has tried taxis, but they are dearer and sometimes the wait has been longer than the walk would have taken. He has tried the bus, and there is a regular service from outside the front of Euston station, but there are no signs to indicate which bus to catch. He likes to pay all his travel costs in advance at Stafford railway station, but his plusbus ticket is valid in London only for a day ticket and not a return journey, and there are no railcard discounts or child fares available, although the latter point is not relevant to him. He has often tried walking, but the pavements, if not better or worse than in the rest of London, are uneven, and there are five junctions to cross with no special help for passengers walking from Euston to St. Pancras. I have done that walk, and I thoroughly agree with all that my constituent says about the journey. I wonder whether the Minister has walked that route. If not, will he consider doing so?

Will the Minister consider everything that I have said about the practical problems of making that short link between Euston and St. Pancras, and pull together the people who can make a difference—the rail companies obviously, the local authority, Transport for London, and his Department—to see whether they could make some modest improvements that would make a big difference to people who make regular journeys, so that they can cover their travels costs in advance and that there is a decent welcome at Euston with signs showing where to go, and make that walk a pleasurable experience instead of a slightly dangerous one? Perhaps a yellow-brick-road approach could guide people in their journey, so that it is a pleasant experience rather than an unpleasant one. That would be extremely easy, and could be done straight away.

Tom Brake: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that would also be a huge benefit for people coming to the UK as part of the Olympics? Clearly, they will use St. Pancras station, and may want to do a short walk or easy journey to Euston to go up north, or in other directions to appreciate the whole UK, not just London and the Olympics.

Mr. Kidney: I agree, and I have made some short-term suggestions. Euston-St. Pancras is so near and yet so far for travellers. It is different for people from different parts of the country. For people from the east coast, the trains at least come into St. Pancras, so what I have said is not so relevant for them, although my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) referred earlier to problems with congestion, timing and so on, which also need to be addressed. There are things that could be done in the medium and long term that would be improvements.

In the medium term, we would like passengers from Stafford to have direct access to St. Pancras or perhaps
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Stratford International. I have pursued that matter for quite a long time, and back on February 2007 the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) said the following in reply to my written question about a physical link between the west coast main line and what is now High Speed 1:

channel tunnel rail link

A House of Commons note on the channel tunnel rail link dated 30 June 2008 confirms that London and Continental Railways was contractually obliged at the outset to provide a physical link between the west coast main line and the channel tunnel rail link to be used by regional services, but, curiously, was not obliged to provide any services other than those between London and the channel tunnel. There could be a physical link, but at the moment there are no commitments that anyone will use it. Surely, with a stroke of the pen, the Minister could make a difference. Will he consider whether we can, at a reasonably early stage, have physical access by train to High Speed 1 for our journeys?

In the longer term, surely it is time to examine high speed rail across the country. I am particularly keen on the Greengauge 21 scheme. It would offer a connection between St. Pancras and Stratford International with the centre of Birmingham by high speed operation, which Greengauge 21 proposes should be High Speed 2. Both High Speed 1 and High Speed 2 would have direct contact with Heathrow airport, and there would be an extension of Eurostar services as a result to Birmingham and Manchester. All that would release capacity on the existing west coast main line for more commuter and freight services.

The Minister should be enthusiastic about such an approach, and I want to hear him say that that is what the Government are working towards. Is the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) barracking from a sedentary position?

Stephen Hammond: I am just smiling.

Mr. Kidney: I have taken a bit of time, but I think that other hon. Members are not here to make speeches. My last point is about freight. It tends at the moment not to go by high-speed rail, and quite a lot of continental freight goes by sea. However, if we built new lines, that would free up capacity on the existing network, so that freight could step in and use it, which would bring significant benefits to the rail freight industry.

I have some praise for the Government’s support in helping to link rail from the south of the country to the north. For example, from an early stage I have watched the development of the Terra Marique multi-purpose pontoon project, which is a seaborne link from the continent to the inland parts of Britain by the north sea and the channel and inland waterways. The Department promoted that from the start, and significantly funded it. In fact, anyone who was out on the Terrace three years ago would have seen the maiden voyage of the Terra Marique, because it came past to show itself off to us.

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