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Greg Mulholland: Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman from that point of view, and we must accept that we have a very poorly integrated public transport system in this country. The rail network has never recovered from the disaster of the Beeching cuts. Perhaps we must consider high-speed rail as an opportunity to rectify that. I hope for an improvement in regional railways, stemming from high-speed rail.

The benefits of high-speed rail are many and well documented, and include improved inter-city links with the capital and the great cities of the rest of the United Kingdom. It reduces congestion by encouraging people, as the hon. Gentleman said, to move from the roads on to the railway, and it also reduces the demand for domestic flights. Most of the right hon. and hon. Members present for the debate represent areas outside London, and there are clear benefits of high-speed rail for areas such as Yorkshire, the north-east and the north of England. Overall what has happened on the continent has proved the possibility that high-speed rail in this country would do something to redress the historic economic tilt of the United Kingdom towards London and the south-east.

We have today had an extraordinary announcement on Heathrow, about the third runway apparently ticking the boxes for emissions targets-either that is wrong or the emissions targets are not worth the paper they are written on-but there is nevertheless a real environmental benefit to high-speed rail. That is particularly on people's minds at the moment because of the Copenhagen summit.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I agree that high-speed rail offers the possibility of environmental benefits for the entire country, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that one issue that will need to be faced is that its impact locally may involve serious environmental detriments. A challenge will be how to minimise those, if, indeed, the benefits that the hon. Gentleman identifies are to be perceived widely and shared by everyone.

Greg Mulholland: I was aware from speaking to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) that that important point was to be made this morning, and I am pleased that it has been. I hope that the views in my conclusions will be good news for both hon. Gentlemen.

The Northern Way's evidence has shown that high-speed rail could create £13 billion in wider economic benefits. We have fallen behind our continental neighbours in that respect, and we need to take it seriously and make progress as quickly as possible.

I want to try to throw some light on the various proposals that are on the table, because there is some confusion about them. Four serious proposals are being considered. One is from Greengauge 21. The Government's High Speed 2 quango, of course, has not yet reported, but we have indications of what it thinks. Network Rail came out with a report, and there is also the High Speed North proposal. I want to take the debate forward this morning by briefly outlining those options, and to focus on where high-speed rail should go. The Government have said they are committed to high-speed rail to Birmingham. That might be accepted as the starting point-although for some people it seems to be Heathrow airport, rather than central London, which I consider a
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grave error. High-speed rail will work if it connects London as a city with other capitals. I shall present more evidence about how important that is.

Greengauge 21 has an estimated cost of £25 million per route mile for the first network. The proposal is for, first, a route from London to Birmingham and Manchester, then to Glasgow and Edinburgh, with a dedicated branch into Heathrow airport. Greengauge 21 is an organisation that is very much interested in the project, and proposes a second line going up the east side of the country. There would then be connectivity between the two. However, the problem is that realistically, at the moment, it is a west coast high-speed rail proposal. There are other problems with it, not least that of ploughing straight through the Chilterns. That has already been commented on, and it needs to be taken seriously.

The Network Rail proposals are disappointingly similar. The cost estimate is about £32 billion, again to go from London to Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. That was in its publication "The case for new lines", which was published earlier this year.

David Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way a final time?

Greg Mulholland: I will.

Christopher Fraser (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire puts his point, I remind him that many hon. Members would like to contribute to the debate. He has already made one rather long intervention and as a member of the Chairmen's Panel knows how to go about the business.

David Taylor: I will be very brief. Network Rail does not have a brilliant track record in that regard. It has deferred some rail renewal projects and laid off 1,000 skilled engineers, and from April next year it intends to reduce maintenance and cut a further 1,500 jobs. Will the skills be available to support the new high-speed lines once they are built?

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Network Rail's report was odd in that it did not make a strong case for its proposals apart from saying that the high-speed lines will deal with the greatest need-current capacity-rather than giving genuine economic benefits.

One interesting thing about the Network Rail report is that, like other studies, it firmly states that is not realistic or cost-effective to have an S shape. It seems that the Department for Transport and High Speed 2 are leaning towards going from Manchester to Leeds. However, the time that it would take to get from London to Leeds via Manchester would make it economically unviable. I challenge the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who speaks for the Opposition. Conservative party policy seems to be for high-speed rail to Manchester and then to Leeds, yet the engineers say that that would not make economic sense.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): One group of engineers has said that; other groups have said different things.

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Greg Mulholland: It is rather concerning if that is the best answer that the hon. Gentleman can give to a serious point. I worry that Conservative party policy has been drawn up for its populist appeal rather than as a sensible way of moving the debate forward.

Then we come to High Speed 2, at a cost of £34 billion. Although High Speed Two Ltd has not reported, Government information acquired through freedom of information requests suggests that the line will simply go from Birmingham to Manchester and possibly on to Scotland, ignoring the east side of the country. I have read the studies and spoken to experts, transport policy planners and engineers about them, and the fundamental question that should be asked is not being asked. It is that wherever high-speed rail goes after the initial link with Birmingham, it should be planned on the basis of the greatest economic benefit.

We are dealing with a large amount of taxpayers' money, and we all acknowledge that is a very expensive project that will take some time to deliver. It is vital that what is finally built delivers the greatest value for money, the biggest bang for your buck, the greatest economic benefit, but some of the proposals now on the table do not provide that. Indeed, the information acquired through freedom of information requests suggests a laziness, with people saying that the biggest cities are Birmingham and Manchester and that the line should simply go from one to the other.

I would ask all Members, including the Minister, to imagine a large map of the island of Britain with a red circle around the main centres of population and the key economic drivers. They will see that there is little between London and Birmingham; but there is nothing in the way of an economic driver or a large centre of population between Birmingham and Manchester. Conversely, on the other side of the Pennines there will be a red circle around Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle. Suddenly the lazy assumption that the line should go from Birmingham to Manchester is shattered. The debate has not focused sufficiently on the key question of ensuring that, wherever high-speed lines are built, they should indeed deliver the most economic benefit.

Lord Adonis wrote an article in the Yorkshire Post a couple of months ago in which he said that people must have their say on the matter. However, many on the east of the Pennines have the strong perception that that is not really the case and that the Government have followed the lazy assumption, taking the route of suggesting that the line should go to Manchester. If that is not the case, I ask the Minister to clarify the matter. The city regions that would be served in the west would include Manchester and Birmingham, and possibly Liverpool. As I said earlier, those served in the east would include Nottingham, Leicester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle if they were linked.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government have not followed any lazy assumptions. We have not followed anything yet, and will not do so until the publication of the HS2 report at the end of the year.

Greg Mulholland: That is a relief. The Minister will understand the worries that resulted from information acquired as a result of FOI requests.

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I do not say that we do not get a fair deal in Yorkshire, but I must point out that our region continues to have the lowest transport spending-a lowly £234 per head in Yorkshire against a UK average of £326 and £641 in London. Capital spending in Yorkshire and the Humber is £668 million and in the north-west it is £979 million. Current spending in Yorkshire and Humber is £595 million; in the north-west it is £1,036 million.

The west cost main line has been upgraded at a cost of nearly £9 billion, and that was money well spent. I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech); it is right that the people of the north-west should have good transport links, but we too should have them, as should the people of Leicester, Nottingham and all regions.

I was delighted when the Yorkshire Post took up my suggestion of a campaign, specifically for a high-speed rail link to Yorkshire. The paper's excellent "Fast Track to Yorkshire" campaign has had real resonance with the region's business community, the public and elected representatives.

We need to move the debate on a little further from saying that the economic case is not sufficiently at the heart of discussions about high-speed rail. We need to go one step further. This is where I may disagree with some Members. Having considered the various high-speed rail proposals, the enormous costs and the huge engineering challenges, as well as the transport policy challenges, I have come to the conclusion that it is not realistic-not in the medium term and possibly not in the long term-to have two lines running between the north and the south.

In an ideal world, it would be wonderful to have high-speed rail throughout the country. As I said earlier, we are unlike France; our country is much smaller. The island of Britain has a smaller landmass. Could there ever be two north-south lines? Some of the debate is focused on that question. I am 40 next year, but-[Interruption.] I thank those who think I look younger. According to current predictions, we will not be discussing a second line until I am 70 and there is no real chance of one being built until I am 80. Not only is that a sad indictment of the overly cumbersome way in which we make transport policy, but I have come to the conclusion that those on the east side of the country-I see colleagues here today from the east-are being led up the garden path with the idea that we may get a second line. We hear it said: "Don't worry about it; you may get a second line at some time in the future. There, there; don't worry about it when we make the rather lazy assumption to take the line from Birmingham to Manchester because they are the two biggest cities, even if we ignore the fact that that is not the strongest economic case."

Just to reassure other colleagues I will make it clear again that I absolutely agree that Birmingham should be included; that is an obvious assumption. Manchester, too, should be included. It is a hugely important city, and the economic driver for much of the north-west region. Let me also say to my colleagues in Scotland that we cannot conceive of a genuine high-speed future without Scotland and both the great Scottish cities-the capital and the biggest city, Glasgow-being connected. My point is that it must not, and need not, be an either/or situation.

The one proposal that has not had sufficient consideration so far is the High Speed North proposal, which was the first serious one to come out. It was put
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together in conjunction with the 2M Group, which opposes the third runway, in July 2008. The proposal is a single line solution that runs through Leicester, Nottingham, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. It includes Manchester by way of a spur, in much the same way that Birmingham would be a short spur off the main line. The High Speed North proposal uses the M1 corridor, and, although there are huge engineering challenges in delivering that project, there is a real possibility of it happening.

The good news for the hon. Member for Aylesbury and the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who represent areas in or close to the Chilterns, is that because there has been a skewing effect of the Heathrow idea, which threatens part of the area of outstanding natural beauty, it would be more sensible to look at starting and finishing the line in London. Such a suggestion would hugely reduce the impact on those areas and see the line moving across to form realistic corridors through Greater London and into the north. Additional tracks would be required, but I am told that that would not be a problem. After that, we could introduce European-style double-decked trains, which are needed on any high-speed network, to deliver the kind of passenger numbers that are needed.

The overall high-speed rail network could be completed within about 15 years, which is a further reduction in the delivery time of the project, at an estimated cost-all of the costs are estimated-of £33 billion. It is strange that such a project has not been seriously considered. If we considered it, we would conclude that it is realistic to have one line with spurs off it to deliver benefits north and south. If we had a single line going from Birmingham to Manchester, the next step would be to go to Scotland, and not the north-east. After that, what would we then do? It is not necessarily lazy to assume that we would then have one in the east. What about Bristol, Cardiff and other areas of the country? We could open up the south-west. Given the size of the country and the huge investment that would be required, it is simply not realistic to have two lines that run no more than 50 miles apart. I ask the Minister to consider again the proposal and see whether there is a way in which we can have one line delivering benefits to all the regions that could be served by high-speed rail.

Some of us have been stuck in debates about east versus west, north-west versus Yorkshire and so on. My message to all hon. Members is that we should be arguing for one line with spurs that serves all the main economic drivers on both sides of the country-the west and east midlands, the north-west, Yorkshire, the north-east and Scotland. Only that option would justify the vast investment that high-speed rail clearly needs. To plough ahead with one line, serving only Birmingham and Manchester-especially from Heathrow-simply does not make sense. It does not add up or deliver the kind of benefits that we need from such a project.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his thoughtful and well-informed speech. Before he concludes, does he agree that there is a fundamental issue here that high-speed rail, as exciting as it is, must not detract from the very badly needed investment in the classic rail network, particularly the completion of the electrification of the main lines and the improvement in rolling stock that the Government are already committed to?

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Greg Mulholland: As the Minister knows, I probably should not get started on discussions about rolling stock in Yorkshire. The hon. Gentleman has a real interest in railways and the rail network, which is not surprising given the area that he represents. Of course he is right, and that matter is absolutely fundamental. Again, this is not an either/or matter. We need real improvements. Clearly my time is limited today. My purpose has been to take on the high-speed rail debate and make it a more realistic one that will deliver real benefits, including to the hon. Gentleman's constituency and city.

I would be very pleased to work with hon. Members from across the House, in particular with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), who is here, and the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is not, to show that there is real cross-party consensus in taking forward the matter. We have an interest in wanting high-speed rail links to Yorkshire and the Humber, and we will continue to campaign for that. All of us who are passionate about high-speed rail should now change the focus of our debate.

I ask one question of the Minister. Will he and, hopefully, Lord Adonis meet those involved in the High Speed North proposal, including the engineer Colin Elliff, who has done a wonderful job in bringing forward the matter, to get the proposal firmly on the agenda? We all want to see one thing, which is a genuine high-speed rail network that serves as much of the country as possible. A single line, running from north to south, delivering as much as possible, should be the very first step forward.

Several hon. Members rose-

Christopher Fraser (in the Chair): Before I call the next person to contribute, I remind right hon. and hon. Members that six people have indicated that they would like to make a contribution, and I intend to start the wind-ups at noon.

11.27 am

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