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8 Dec 2009 : Column 43WH—continued

It is worth emphasising that the plan laid out by the Conservative party is more extensive than the one the Government currently propose, or any that they are likely to propose via High Speed 2, if the rumours are correct. We have continually emphasised that we see that development as the first stage of a network. I
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accept that at some stage other major cities in England, such as Newcastle, and Scotland will want to be connected. Ultimately, we, and everyone in this Chamber, want to see a full national network connecting as many UK cities as possible.

I say to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) that we, unlike other parties, have sat up and done the hard work on the detailed feasibility study, looking at the data and analysis from several expert sources in relation to finance and construction. Our modelling of projected revenue flows deploys some cautious assumptions on fares, which we have looked at with several operators, to ensure that we do not build a railway that no one can afford to use, because that would be pointless.

I have said before that high-speed rail must be neither an end in itself, nor a totem. It must be there to fulfil the key challenges. There is a desperate need for new capacity. I travelled on the west coast and east coast yesterday, and both were fabulous services-[Interruption.] The main line services, indeed. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe mentioned, the chief executive of Virgin acknowledges that there is a need for new capacity. With the west coast main line expected to be full to breaking point certainly within the next decade, but probably much earlier, we face a capacity issue. As the hon. Member for Carlisle rightly said, we will need to build new capacity. Should we build slow routes or fast routes? Surely we should build high-speed routes and concentrate initially on those routes that have capacity problems, particularly when considering the economic benefits.

There is no economic benefit in building a high-speed rail route to Birmingham, but there would be a huge economic benefit of building beyond, and I think that there is a national consensus on that point. Certainly, the economic numbers that we have had verified for our proposal show that connecting Manchester and Leeds to a high-speed network would benefit those cities by billions of pounds. We must layer on top of that the huge potential switch from air to road, as approximately 63,000 flights a year would be taken out if there were a high-speed line connecting London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

Mr. Martlew: The reality, of course, is that flights from Manchester have been devastated by the upgrade of the west coast main line. The real benefit in reducing flights will come when the line is extended to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Stephen Hammond: I can see that as part of a network, but all I am laying out now is that, with regard to domestic flights and short-haul continental flights, we could take out around 63,000 flights. Whichever party is in power after the general election-I hope that it will be a challenge for a Conservative Minister-it will face the challenge of Air France wanting capacity on our High Speed 1, and we will see a further expansion of that.

Clearly, we must continue to make the case for high-speed rail, not as an end in itself, but because of the need for new capacity, the potential for huge environmental benefits as a result of modal shift and the potential for huge economic benefits through the shrinking of our country and economic zones. We must continue to make the case for a strategic network, wherever we start.

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I readily concede that the Government have made huge strides, and Lord Adonis is to be congratulated on his desire for cross-party and national consensus on high-speed rail. That has been a huge change of attitude for the Government, and the message therefore from all parties is that we recognise the benefit to this country of high-speed rail. Sixty-eight miles of high-speed rail-0.007 per cent. of the continental European network-is something that we should be ashamed of and that we should all commit to change.

I hope that the Minister will clarify how the Government see high-speed rail developing in this country beyond whatever proposals come out of High Speed 2, and I would welcome a commitment from the Minister that he and the Government recognise that building a rail line to Birmingham should be only the start of a strategic high-speed rail network. Only if we have such a network will we get environmental, travel and economic benefits for our country.

12.21 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) on securing this important debate. High-speed rail is, without doubt, a hotly debated topic across the country, and I was grateful for the opportunity to hear all the views that have been raised today, including those from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason), the common-sense comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and the views of the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt). I shall endeavour to respond to all the issues, but, if I do not, they have been heard and will be examined.

Railways across the UK are a success story. We have seen great improvements in the areas that matter most to passengers, including punctuality and reliability. Our priorities for the railway are still capacity, safety and performance. A reliable railway is the single most important requirement of passengers, and it is also important to the wider economy.

Rail punctuality and reliability have improved by more than 10 per cent. since early 2004. The rail White Paper, "Delivering a Sustainable Railway", published in July 2007, specified further improvement during the high-level output specification period to 92.6 per cent. of trains arriving on time by March 2014, a 25 per cent. reduction in delays of more than 30 minutes and, to maintain momentum on safety, a 3 per cent. reduction in the risk of death or injury to passengers and employees by 2014.

The White Paper outlines the single biggest programme of investment for a generation. It does so without imposing new burdens on regulated fares while being able to return to historic levels the demands made of the taxpayer. More than £10 billion will be invested in enhancing capacity between 2009 and 2014, with overall Government support for the railway totalling £15 billion. Without drawing the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West into a debate on this, I can say that we will introduce a significant number of extra carriages on to the rail network in England and Wales by 2014.

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The £8.9 billion spent on upgrading the west coast main line has already delivered faster journeys between London, Birmingham and Manchester and beyond, and the December 2008 timetable change has resulted in greater frequency of services to some of our greatest cities. For example, we now have more frequent and faster journeys between Manchester and London, with a train every 20 minutes during the day and average journey times of around two hours eight minutes. Liverpool and Preston to London takes only a few minutes over two hours, and Warrington and Wigan are less than two hours away. Chester is one of the big winners, having a regular hourly service for the first time, with a journey time of just two hours. Services between the north-west and Scotland have also improved as have those to the west midlands.

But it does not stop there. On 23 July, the Government announced a major £1.1 billion programme of rail electrification. The Great Western main line between London and Swansea will be electrified by 2017, the line between Liverpool and Manchester will be electrified by 2013, and we are working to identify other viable routes for electrification.

Turning to the central issue of this debate, high-speed rail in the UK, I would first like to mention that we already have our first high-speed rail line, the £5.8 billion channel tunnel rail link, known as High Speed 1. That significant project opened on time and on budget, and, from next week, HS1 will be used for the full-service Southeastern Javelin service. That timetable change will bring about the biggest change in more than 40 years and will mean an entirely new service pattern throughout parts of Kent, East Sussex and south-east London. It will provide passengers with more than 200 extra trains in the south-eastern region every day, boost capacity by 5 per cent. and dramatically speed up journey times for people using the high-speed services; for example, the journey time from St. Pancras to Ashford will be 38 minutes.

We are planning now to ensure that we are in the strongest position possible to make the right investments in future years to continue developing the rail network. However, we also recognise that the west coast main line will be operating to its maximum capacity by the end of the 2020s, and that a new route might be needed. That is why we have created High Speed Two Ltd to develop a proposal for an entirely new line between London and the west midlands, and to advise on the potential development of a new line beyond the west midlands. HS2 will also provide advice to Ministers on the potential development of a high-speed service beyond the west midlands and consider in particular the potential to extend to Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, the north-east and Scotland.

To pick up on some of the points raised in the debate, I can assure those such as the hon. Member for Aylesbury and the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who are concerned about local environment impacts, that HS2 has carried out detailed environmental analyses at a local level, and its report at the end of the year to the Government will include an assessment and mitigation measures. I can also advise that HS2 has been actively seeking the views of stakeholders from across the country and has engaged directly with interested parties as its work has progressed.

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As hon. Members will be aware, the Secretary of State is also keen to understand the benefits that high-speed rail can deliver to the country and has met a range of stakeholders, including several Members of this House, to discuss the issue. I, too, have heard views on high-speed rail, in particular during my summer trip to the north of England, where I met with Nexus, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester integrated transport authorities, all of which were keen to impress on me the value that high-speed services would bring to their economy.

To address a couple of detailed points, I can assure the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West in respect of double-deck trains that HS2 is working to a gauge minimum of UIC GB+ or similar, which will give the flexibility to run duplex high-speed trains on a new line if that is necessary. Of course, that would have freight benefits as well, which I believe addresses one of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech).

Several hon. Members said that they wanted a strategy for a wider network, and I can assure them that in our response to HS2's report early next year we will address the question of a strategic view on a wider UK network.

Let me set out why we feel that high-speed rail needs serious and informed consideration. Until recently, Governments considered rail in the UK to be in a state of inevitable and irreversible decline, and they failed to invest in new infrastructure. As a result, today we are behind most other developed countries in building a high-speed rail network. Yet over the past decade, rail has experienced a tremendous renaissance in Britain. High-speed rail has the potential to meet future inter-conurbation capacity requirements and sustainably to transform the transport connections between our major conurbations, with substantial economic, social and environmental benefits.

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International experience bears that out. Before high-speed rail, just 24 per cent. of journeys between Paris and Brussels were by train. Since the introduction of a high-speed line between those cities, the proportion of train journeys has more than doubled to 50 per cent., with a huge increase in capacity. In Germany, high-speed rail is so popular that Lufthansa has scrapped flights between Cologne and Frankfurt-little wonder, now that the high-speed line has slashed the 110-mile journey time by train from two hours 15 minutes to just under one hour. Before high-speed rail in Spain, two thirds of journeys between Madrid and Seville were by plane; just one third were by train. With the advent of a high-speed line, the railway now takes 84 per cent. of the market. A similar dramatic change is taking place on the Madrid to Barcelona route, with the opening of the high-speed line between those two cities earlier this year.

I am not sure that we can lay all the credit at the door of the west coast main line upgrade, but it is the case that not that many years ago only one third of the journeys between London and Manchester were made by train, with two thirds being made by plane. Now it is the other way around.

The question is where we in Britain go now. The Department for Transport will receive the report from HS2 at the end of the year, and it is currently envisaged that we will respond early in 2010, at which time the HS2 report will be published. Later in 2010, we intend to consult on the proposed route, with options, between at least London and the west midlands, subject to analysis of HS2's report and decisions thereafter.

We are keen to engage with colleagues in this House on high-speed rail. It is our firm belief that a project of this magnitude, with such long-term investment and planning timelines, will succeed only if we all work together, across parties, on a shared national strategy-

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order. We must move on to the next debate.

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Heavy Goods Vehicles (Seat Belts)

12.30 pm

Mr. Alan Milburn (Darlington) (Lab): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for the opportunity to have this debate on what may seem a small and somewhat arcane issue of fitting seat belts to heavy goods vehicles. However, on occasion small issues have large consequences and, in this case, it can be a matter of life or death. Normally, discussions about road safety and heavy goods vehicles focus on their role in accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians, cyclists or other motorists. Clearly, there are issues to be addressed in that respect and the Minister is well seized of those. But today I am focusing on a different matter: the dangers posed to the drivers of HGVs whose lorries have not been fitted with a seat belt.

I have called this debate because in July 2007 a constituent of mine, Peter Williams, was killed when the 7-tonne lorry that he was driving crashed near the village of Wolsingham in County Durham. Peter was just 23 years old. According to evidence heard at the inquest into his death, the injuries that Peter sustained were mainly above the legs and on his chest, probably indicating that he had been thrown against the steering wheel before being thrown out of the cab as the lorry plunged down a bank and on to a railway line. The Calor Gas tanker that he was driving dated from 1995. It had not been fitted with seat belts.

After Peter died his mum and dad, Jan and Mark Williams, who are also my constituents, came to see me as their local Member of Parliament. Understandably, they were deeply upset by Peter's death, but what impressed me then and what has continued to impress me over the two years that I have known them is their shared determination and their calm resolve to see some good come out of their family's terrible personal tragedy. At no point have they displayed any rancour or bitterness about what happened to their son. They are a quite remarkable family and I want to pay tribute to them today.

Mr. and Mrs. Williams have worked tirelessly over the last two years campaigning to highlight the need for every HGV on Britain's roads to be fitted with seat belts so that no other family has to endure what they have endured or suffer the loss that they have suffered. I hope that this debate helps the Williams family and helps their campaign; I hope that it raises awareness about the lack of seat belt protection in too many lorries; and above all else I hope that it prompts the Government and the road haulage industry to take action together to save lives.

After Mr. and Mrs. Williams first came to see me, I started looking into this issue and I was genuinely shocked to find that Peter Williams's lorry is not the only one on Britain's roads lacking that most basic safety protection-a seat belt. I had assumed, obviously naively, that every lorry on the roads had seat belts fitted. I guess that most Members of Parliament and members of the public would make the same assumption. By law all HGVs weighing more than 3,500 kg and registered for use after 1 October 2001 have to be fitted with a seat belt. That followed European legislation that we introduced in this place. The problem is with lorries that were registered before 1 October 2001.

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I tabled questions to my right hon. Friend the Minister's predecessor as a Transport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), to gauge the extent of this problem, which is pretty big. My hon. Friend estimated that more than 250,000 vehicles were registered before 2001 and are still in use. Since that number includes many older vehicles, those are precisely the ones that are probably most prone to having safety problems. Of course, it is true that their numbers are falling year on year as they are scrapped and new lorries are introduced: the Road Haulage Association and the Department for Transport estimate that some 40,000 of these older lorries are disappearing year by year. Although there was no statutory requirement for manufacturers to fit seat belts in lorries registered prior to 2001, some manufacturers, such as Scania and Volvo, did so voluntarily because they were concerned about the safety implications if their cabs did not have them. So not every one of the 250,000 older lorries will be without seat belts, but many will. It is time to close that loophole.

I know from helpful conversations with Ministers and officials in the Department for Transport, and from helpful communication that I have had with the RHA, that there are no reliable data to allow us to judge just how many lorries there are currently on the road and in daily use that do not have seat belts appropriately fitted. But it is highly likely that their numbers run into many thousands-perhaps tens of thousands. DFT figures suggest that in 1997 alone more than 400,000 lorries in use had been registered prior to that date. Of course, I understand that the cabs of those old lorries may be difficult to adapt to enable a seat belt to be fitted, but that will not be so in all of them. Indeed, when my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town kindly agreed to meet the Williams family and myself in this place more than a year ago, he informed us that he had discovered that more than 150,000 HGVs registered before 2001 have the necessary anchorage points already fitted in their cabs to enable seat belts to be easily installed. So the fittings are there, but the seat belts are not. I can see no excuse for that, and I believe it has to change. I am not alone in that presumption.

In a letter to me dated 2 June last year, the chief executive of the RHA said that

The DFT estimates the cost of installation to be some £110 per vehicle. The RHA said that the cost could be between £200 and £300. I have every sympathy for road hauliers, particularly in the current difficult economic circumstances, who are finding it difficult sometimes to make ends meet. But this will not cost the earth. A few hundred pounds seems an incredibly small price to pay for something that is potentially life-saving. We know from the experience of the last few decades that seat belts save lives. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that in all vehicles-lorries, vans, cars, buses, etc.-over the last 25 years some 50,000 lives will have been saved as a result of people wearing seat belts.

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