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The Government are working well with British Ports to increase capacity at ports, and I was pleased that money has been given to establish links between ports and centres of population, such as linking Felixstowe and Southampton ports by improvement work on lines to the midlands. Of course, High Speed 1 is designed to carry freight as well as passenger traffic. Under legislation, the infrastructure managers are required to allow access to freight journeys. We have recently passed the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Act 2008, which is partly a prelude to the Department selling off the state’s interests in High Speed 1—the infrastructure and its land interests. Some people are nervous that the sale might lead to a lack of control over the access that freight operators have through the tunnel. As the Minister moves towards having the entire High Speed 1 operation in the private sector, I hope we do not stifle growth and competition—for either passenger or freight. A number of passenger and freight operators would like to run trains through the tunnel to routes beyond London, and new entrants certainly ought to be able to expect fair competition with Eurostar.

On top of that, High Speed 1 is proposing to charge freight trains around £12 per train mile compared with £2.50 on the rest of the Network Rail network. By law, that is supposed to represent marginal cost, as required by the EU first railway package. I hope that the Minister is keeping a close eye on what is included in the calculation of the marginal cost, because as these rates stand, the lack of affordability will deter use of the line for freight—even though High Speed 1 offers some good capacity, especially at night.

I have also been told that there is the potential for high-speed freight. The consortium called Carex, which operates out of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, is developing high-speed parcel services between major airports and is interested in using High Speed l for access to British airports. The other issue in relation to freight travel is what the level of future demand is likely to be. According to a forecast made by MDS Transmodal on behalf of the Rail Freight Group and the Freight Transport Association, there will be a shortage of around 200 train paths a day for freight on the main routes north of London by 2030. That assumes there will be no additional passenger trains, which is not a likely outcome. So, either new freight lines or routes will have to be built, or new passenger lines will have to be constructed to leave capacity on the existing ones for freight growth. Otherwise, there will be no room for the growth in freight, which will mean that the demands of customers will not be met. More importantly, the demands and legitimate expectations of the British public for as much freight to be put on rail as possible will not be met. I hope that the Minister will say that freight is important and that future growth in demand will be catered for.

The best hope for an early decision on more high-speed rail links and the improvements that I would like to see in direct rail services to the continent is contained in the announcement made by the Secretary of State on 29 October in a written statement: Official Report, column 34WS. That statement is about the new national networks strategy group, which will be chaired by my noble Friend Lord Adonis. I know that the group has
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been widely welcomed by the rail sector. The European high-speed network is set to double in size to 5,700 miles by 2015 and open access will start in 2010, so it is surely imperative that the Government outline a longer-term vision for UK railways. We must not allow ourselves to be left behind by our European competitors. I ask the Minister to pass on to the noble Lord the suggestions and comments made in this debate, and I urge him to meet the Secretary of State’s deadline for reporting his group’s conclusions in the spring of next year.

Part of the beauty of St Pancras is the new statue of John Betjeman. I have described my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, the former Deputy Prime Minister, as a hero of that line, so perhaps we could have a sculptured statue of him there eventually. I looked for a bit of support to back up my case from John Betjeman’s poetry, but I have been unsuccessful. I did, of course, find “From a Railway Carriage” by Robert Louis Stevenson:

and Auden’s “Night Mail”:

However, the best I could find for this debate from my hero John Betjeman was “Dilton Marsh Halt”, which ends:

I hope for a bit better than that from the Minister, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

3.5 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) has done a service to the House by bringing the wider debate on this issue to the attention of hon. Members. I congratulate him on the way in which he has enhanced the cultural standards of the debate with his poetic contribution. I am afraid that I will not be able to follow that.

My hon. Friend has also done us a great service by reminding us of the history of the proposals for links between the continent and those parts of Great Britain that are north of London. It is worth remembering that the issue has had an extremely chequered history. My hon. Friend reminded us that it was a promise of the previous Conservative Government to provide such through-links. That promise was not simply broken after a few years, it was broken at the start because those links were not provided when channel tunnel services started to operate.

For a while—this applies to the east coast, but it might have applied to other parts of the UK, too—there were some bizarre substitute services. I remember that shortly after 9 o’clock every day, a train left Edinburgh for London Waterloo. The train took about six hours to get there after it had meandered around the outskirts of London. Not surprisingly, many passengers found it much easier to go to King’s Cross and get the tube to Waterloo rather than use that service. The service not only took a long time to get to London, but, presumably
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because of some franchise arrangements under privatisation, it was not allowed to take passengers from intermediate stops en route. I saw people trying to get on the train who had assumed that they could perhaps go to Newcastle or York. They were turned away because the service was only allowed to be used by passengers going to Waterloo to connect with Eurostar services. As that train meandered through the east coast of Scotland and England and refused passengers en route, it was like some modern day version of the sealed train that took Lenin through Germany in 1917. Not surprisingly, it was not commercially successful and did not last long.

To rub salt into the wound, the rolling stock that has been purchased to allow through services from Scotland and Wales and the regions to the continent was eventually disposed of and used by Great North Eastern Railway for enhanced services to Leeds. That was obviously welcome for Leeds, but it certainly was not what was intended when the stock was first provided. This subject has had a chequered history and we now have the opportunities to try to set the record straight and repair the damage done by the neglect of the provision of these services for so long.

Clearly, the new channel tunnel terminus at St Pancras has increased the possibilities for people who are north of London to use services from St Pancras to the continent. As my hon. Friend pointed out, despite the extra inconvenience of changing trains, more and more people are using those services from places north of London. Certainly, great improvements in journey times are possible. I have travelled from Paris to London by train in under seven hours and from Brussels in under six and a half hours. That makes rail journeys to destinations on the continent much more competitive with air travel.

If we had direct services from the continent to destinations north of London, we could clearly do much more. We certainly now have the time and the opportunity to consider how those services could be introduced. Things could be done about that now. My hon. Friend quoted the previous Conservative Secretary of State for Transport’s comments on sleeper trains going from the north to the west and across to the continent of Europe. That is certainly something that could be introduced now. Because of the timings of journey start and finish points, people are now quite used to somewhat circuitous journeys to get to their destinations. There is no reason why sleeper trains could not run from Edinburgh and Glasgow, or points further north or south, to Brussels or Paris. That could be thought about now, and I hope that the Department is doing so.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, it was expected that there would be a link from the new channel tunnel link that would allow services to run further north along the west coast main line. That could provide services to Stafford, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh and possibly further north. My hon. Friend the Minister might find great support for the suggestion that channel tunnel direct services could even run as far as Kirkcaldy! I am sure that that would find great approval at least in high levels of government. The potential exists for through services even now, and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, at a time when there is greater awareness of the environmental consequences of flying, when, bluntly, flying and going through airports
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is becoming a less and less pleasant experience, and when air fares are clearly going to go up, the potential for such direct rail services, even with existing lines, should be seized on by the Government and transport industry.

The full potential of through services from points north of London to the continent will be realised at the point when we get high-speed services and lines running north of London. Various alternatives have been put forward, as my hon. Friend explained, and I do not want to go into all of them today. However, if there is a consensus and high-speed rail lines are on the agenda, I welcome that. I have been attending debates on the subject in Westminster Hall, and have been initiating them myself, for five or six years, as have other hon. Members, including some who are present today. If the mood is shifting in the direction of favouring a high-speed line, I welcome that, and I urge the Government to recognise the potential that that gives us not just to improve travel times and capacity in Great Britain, but to improve links to the continent of Europe.

As my hon. Friend pointed out when he quoted the Transport Secretary of the time when the channel tunnel link was being developed, there are strong economic, environmental and social reasons for direct services to be provided not just to London but to as many parts of Great Britain as possible. Those economic, environmental and social reasons are as strong as, perhaps stronger than, they were then. I urge the Government to listen to my hon. Friend’s call and to give us an indication that the Government will take the opportunities that exist to progress towards high-speed and direct rail links from north of London to the continent as soon as possible. We have seen what can be done about increasing customer numbers, even with the move to St. Pancras. How much more could we do with those direct links, and how much more again could we do if there were high-speed direct links?

3.13 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): I had not intended to take part in the debate, but the sheer style, verve and literary merit of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who opened the debate, prompted me to make a brief contribution. I do not think that he spoke just for his constituent Mr. D’Arcy, or just for Stafford. As he often does, he was speaking for England and indeed the entire United Kingdom in some of his remarks.

I want to follow up on something that was implicit in my hon. Friend’s opening remarks, when he stressed that high-speed rail, if properly developed in this country, could be a replacement for some air services. We must face that debate. He included Eurostar as an example, and 70 per cent. of the market between London and Paris is now high-speed trains, which have replaced many of the flights there. The airline market between Paris and Brussels has been completely eliminated because of the success of high-speed trains. Now it is not just Eurostar that has the potential to provide services between London and Paris, and so on; a consortium of Air France and KLM is looking to run train services on the High Speed 1 rail line between London and Paris. When airlines are thinking of getting into the rail market, that shows the potential for substitution. Some people have even suggested that of the 450,000 flights a year from Heathrow—I think that is the right figure—perhaps
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100,000 could eventually have high-speed rail alternatives. If that is only half right, and it is a question not just of flights between London and Leeds and London and Manchester, but flights from the English regions to the continent, there is a real chance of rail replacement.

I speak as a proud Yorkshireman and have often had correspondence from businesses in Yorkshire saying that we must maintain the link to Heathrow. I have duly written off supporting the retention of an air link between Leeds Bradford airport and Heathrow. However, as time has gone on, I have reflected on whether that is the best that God’s own county can hope for—three flights a day to Heathrow, often circling Heathrow for many minutes, often late and often missing their onward connections. It would be far better if we had that high speed spur to Heathrow. Parts of Yorkshire would be 90 minutes or less away. Perhaps there could be an hourly service, or a 90-minute one. That would be a much better link for God’s own county to our major international airport.

It is disingenuous to say that there is no potential, or very little, for rail replacement of Heathrow air services. That, on all sorts of environmental as well as economic grounds, is the potential that we have before us. Also, if places in Yorkshire such as Robin Hood airport just outside Doncaster can be linked to London in less than 90 minutes, or perhaps 75 minutes, that will make them nearly as close to parts of London as Stansted is now. It could help. The high-speed network could mean that more long-haul destinations could be served from Birmingham, which would be just 45 minutes away from London on high-speed rail, from Yorkshire and potentially from Manchester, too. So there is a lot to be said for high-speed rail from the point of view of the regions—as a matter of both direct air links to the world and faster rail links to Heathrow and London.

In Yorkshire, we have looked on as a great deal of expenditure has been committed, rightly in my view, to Crossrail and the Olympics. High-speed rail is the project that the entire north of England looks to Parliament and the Government to back—and there is definitely a case for extending it to Scotland as well. It is the big capital project, equivalent to the Olympics or Crossrail, that could completely change the dynamics of our economies.

My hon. Friend talked about a statue at St. Pancras station. I think that he suggested such a statue should be of our former Deputy Prime Minister. I do not think that we should put aside the prospects of the Minister who is present today, who is a rising star and one of life’s political healers. The Government have a problem at the moment with the debate about Heathrow and the third runway. I am pleased that they have now begun—after, it must be admitted, a slow start in this Parliament, given that we had a manifesto commitment to high-speed rail—at least to begin to fulfil their commitment, and examine it. I, with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, hope that they will do that speedily.

We have also passed a new, faster and more efficient planning system. It seems to me that there is some merit in the early-day motion that bears my name, which has attracted support from across the House, and that we should use the opportunity of the next few months—I am not talking about years of delay—to examine airline
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policy and high-speed rail policy together, rationally and sensibly. I think that my hon. Friend the Minister is one of those people who could begin to forge a national consensus on the issue.

We are talking about our long-term transport strategy. We cannot afford to be divided in the House on this matter and make the possibility of changes to high-speed rail or airport policy dependent on the result of an election. We should get rid of the shackles of all the lobbying that has been going on for a third runway at Heathrow; those tactics remind me of the tactics used by those who lobbied for super-casinos, who thought that they just had to infiltrate the Department, get a few City lobbyists on board and persuade a few people at No. 10, and all would be well. Now we are seeing the beginnings of a debate in Parliament and there is a sense that all is not well. Members of Parliament, like the public, want the Government to reflect on their transport policy and the potential of high-speed rail, to consider high-speed rail together with airports and to use the time between now and the next general election to come up with a policy that can command the support of the House, and ensure that the statue at St. Pancras will be of the Minister.

3.19 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on securing the debate? He highlighted, among other things, past commitments to ensuring that Eurostar went a little further north than, first, Waterloo and then St. Pancras. He also highlighted the importance of improving freight facilities, to ensure that more, rather than less, of our freight is carried by rail. I shall not reflect on the matter of whom the statue might be—we will have to wait and see. Unfortunately, anything to do with rail infrastructure in this country takes a minimum of 10 to 15 years, so I do not think that any of us can second-guess of whom that statue might be.

I had time to reflect on the subject of our debate as I was standing on the overcrowded, delayed 08.10 train from Wallington to London Bridge this morning. I had further time to reflect as I was standing with about 500 other people, trying to get on to the tube at London Bridge. I happened to be standing next to a foreigner who turned around and said to me, “Is this normal?” I said “Look at the LED display board.” That board said that there was a good service on the Jubilee and Northern lines, so I had to reassure him: “Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. This is how we travel in London.” He was, I am pleased to say, reassured by that information.

I would like to start by commenting on what various hon. Members have started with—the environmental benefits of high-speed rail. Hon. Members will be aware that Eurostar has commissioned some research. Clearly, it is not entirely independent on this matter and it has a certain interest, but that research showed that flying between London and Brussels, or between London and Paris generates 10 times more CO2 emissions than taking the Eurostar. We have heard that Eurostar is already carbon neutral, but it is seeking to reduce its emissions further, with a programme that it hopes will lead to a 25 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2012. It also highlights the fact that the load factor on its services is very good, at about 60 per cent., which compares favourably with the load factor on some airlines at certain times of the day.

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