Previous Section Index Home Page

9 Jun 2010 : Column 13WH—continued

Naturally, I agree with every word about the benefits that high speed rail will bring to those regions, but it cannot be right that Wales does not share in those benefits. At the moment, high speed rail is an England-only project that will be funded from UK money. That cannot be right.

A genuine High Speed 2 network needs to include Scotland and Wales and connect with the south-east of England and the continent, bringing us closer to major international markets and them closer to us, giving us major business opportunities and helping to tackle climate change by reducing short-haul air travel. Otherwise, the UK Government should just admit that high speed rail is really for England only and give us a Barnett consequential, so that we can get on with the job of developing our own network in Wales.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is painting a strong picture of how we need a countrywide network, including Wales and Scotland.
9 Jun 2010 : Column 14WH
Is he aware of the High Speed North proposal by the Harrogate-based engineer, Colin Elliff? That is a real vision for a nationwide network-something that the previous Government did not properly consider. I hope that the new Government will properly consider it.

Jonathan Edwards: I was not aware of those proposals, but I imagine that the UK Government should be examining them closely, because the key point is that if we are to go for a high speed rail network based on a UK Treasury spend, the benefits should apply to all the nations and regions of the state.

We would like a timetable and costings to be developed for a high speed rail link between south Wales and London, preferably as part of the current scheme but even as part of High Speed 3. Perhaps as a matter of good faith, the work on that could begin at the south Wales end. That would certainly be the far cheaper part of the development. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

10.22 am

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing this crucial debate on high speed rail. He spoke with real authority on behalf of many businesses and rail passengers in his constituency, and throughout the UK, who recognise the transformative effects that investment in high speed rail will bring: a stronger economy with the creation of new jobs in the construction and maintenance of the new high speed lines; a modern transport infrastructure to match those in the rest of Europe; improved business links between London and the other major cities in the UK; and increased tourism and environmental benefits, with many more journeys being made by rail than by short-haul aviation.

Let me also praise the contributions of the other hon. Members who participated in the debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Sir Peter Soulsby) and the hon. Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who spoke eloquently about the need for consultation. There was a passionate contribution from the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) on the need for a UK perspective on high speed rail and its extension to Wales.

This is a project of genuine national importance, and our task in the coming years will be to work across this Chamber to ensure that High Speed 2 is completed on schedule. The aim of Opposition Members is to fulfil the vision in the Command Paper published this spring-to start with construction of the high speed line between Euston and Birmingham and then to extend it to Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith said, we see great advantages in expanding the high speed rail network to Edinburgh and Glasgow in due course, subject to consultations with the Scottish Government, as it would involve significant capital expenditure from that source.

In my first appearance as Opposition transport spokesman, I welcome the Minister of State to her position in the Department for Transport. I look forward to our discussions here and in the main Chamber over the coming months. They may be robust at times, but
9 Jun 2010 : Column 15WH
they will never be intemperate. In opposition, she demonstrated a keen commitment to the principle of high speed rail and if that continues in government, she will have our support in the negotiations that she undertakes with the Treasury to secure the financing to make High Speed 2 a reality, on time and on target.

I have had an opportunity to consider "The Spending Review framework" published yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I note that all Departments will be asked to assess and justify their spending priorities against nine criteria, which include the promotion of economic value. In the Opposition's view, even when those criteria are applied, HS2 is a project of national economic necessity, which must escape the Chancellor's programme for fiscal consolidation.

I place on the record our appreciation for the work done by former Ministers Paul Clark and Chris Mole, who, sadly from our perspective, were not returned to the House to represent the constituencies of Gillingham and Rainham and of Ipswich respectively. We wish them well for the future. The shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), will hold the Government to account on their transport pledges in the coalition agreement and continue to advocate the causes that he advanced while in government.

I also pay tribute to my noble Friend Lord Adonis, who was one of the most visionary Secretaries of State for Transport that Britain has had in the past 60 years, with a powerful commitment to the role of a revived railway network in boosting economic growth, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, through his strategic support for HS2, building the modern transport infrastructure that a decent, just society requires.

In the Command Paper published in March by the previous Government, we sought to avoid some of the problems in the consultation process for the first domestic high speed link, from central London to Ashford, by consulting on a single preferred route between Euston and Birmingham, rather than the choice of five routes in the first high speed rail consultation process. No route in a project of this significance will be without controversy, which is why there must be adequate consultation of the affected communities, together with consultation on the exceptional hardship scheme for those whose properties may be affected by proximity to the preferred route. We note that the Government have slightly extended the period for consultation on the hardship scheme until 17 June and have introduced a shadow scheme for immediate introduction. We would support both those measures.

There has been strong support from rail passengers, business and local government in the cities covered by the proposed new high speed rail network, because they recognise the real benefits that high speed rail will bring to their cities. For example, journey times from London to Birmingham will come down to 49 minutes, and those from Leeds to Canary Wharf will come down to 90 minutes. Even with regard to the first part of the network, my constituents in Glasgow would immediately benefit, with a reduction in the journey time from Glasgow to Euston to about 3 hours 30 minutes. That
9 Jun 2010 : Column 16WH
makes high speed rail genuinely competitive for business, passengers and tourists compared with short-haul flights from Scotland to London airports.

Some 10,000 jobs will be created in the construction of the high speed line, with a further 2,000 permanent jobs created in line maintenance and operation. There are great environmental benefits, given that high speed rail emits between eight and 11 times less carbon dioxide than air travel. There will be an increase in the freight capacity available by rail. There will be a boost to the west midlands economy to the tune of £5.3 billion a year, and to the north-west economy of £10.6 billion a year. If extension of the network to Scotland proceeds, there will be a benefit of nearly £20 billion to the economy there. As the work of HS2 Ltd made clear, every £1 spent on high speed rail yields £2 in economic benefit to the nation.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State clarified several points. Will she confirm the Government's priorities and intentions on the route set out in the previous Government's Command Paper? Will Ministers commence the consultation on that route, which the previous Government planned to start in October? Are the Government committed to the Y-shaped network that HS2 Ltd proposed in the Command Paper or is that being abandoned for an alternative structure?

Will the Minister outline the time scale that the Government envisage for the commencement of the construction of the first part of the network? My party's plans were predicated on connectivity with Crossrail and Heathrow Express, with an interchange station at Old Oak Common and fast links to Heathrow airport, Canary Wharf and beyond. The proposed connectivity between Crossrail and HS2 meant that we wanted to complete the construction of Crossrail by 2015 and to commence the construction of the London to Birmingham high speed line in 2017. Do the Government agree about the need to link Crossrail with High Speed 2? Are their plans based on the completion of Crossrail in 2015?

In opposition, the Minister was committed to plans for a high speed rail hub at Heathrow airport. Are those the Government's plans now? Does the Minister propose to alter the terms of reference or the time scale of Lord Mawhinney's review into the practicality of a high speed rail station at Heathrow airport?

Can the Minister give a pledge that none of the cities that the previous Government proposed to link through the new high speed network will be left behind or left out? Specifically, does she agree in principle that we need a network that serves the major northern English cities? Does she plan to begin talks with the Scottish Government over possible network extension to Scotland in due course?

Has the Minister's Department begun work on preparing the hybrid Bill that would need to be presented to Parliament to make the new network a reality in this Parliament? Will she give a pledge today that the Government will commit to the long-term investment required to make the project a success?

The high speed rail project is of genuine national significance, and the Opposition will not play petty or partisan politics with it. I hope that we will be able to work across the House to secure a rail link worthy of a great country entering the 21st century.

9 Jun 2010 : Column 17WH
10.32 am

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Betts. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing a debate on this important topic. For many of the reasons that he so articulately set out in opening the debate, the issue is significant for the future of our transport system, our economy and our environment,

I can assure hon. Members that high speed rail plays a core role in the new Government's vision for the future of travel in the United Kingdom. I am therefore grateful for the strong support that has been displayed across the parties in the debate, and particularly by the new shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). That support has been reflected in many speeches this morning, and I welcome the contributions from not only the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, but from the hon. Member for Leicester South (Sir Peter Soulsby), my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and the hon. Members for Solihull (Lorely Burt) and for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). I shall address a number of the issues that they raised. As well as supporting high speed rail, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury reflected on some of the issues for local communities that might be affected once a route is chosen. I will come to that later.

The Conservatives championed high speed rail in opposition. We transformed debate on the issue in October 2008, when we pledged to start the long process of building a national network. At the time, the Labour Government had dismissed high speed rail as an option, and their 30-year strategy for the railways contained no place for it. Nevertheless, I very much welcome the change of heart that occurred after our announcement and with the appointment of Lord Adonis. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow North East in welcoming and paying tribute to the work that Lord Adonis did on the issue.

The change of heart from the previous Government signalled the emergence of a broader cross-party consensus on the principle that high speed rail is essential for Britain's transport system. The new Government's support for high speed rail was clearly and explicitly included in the coalition agreement. Our programme for government includes the creation of a high speed rail network. Our ambition is the creation of a genuinely national high speed network, although we recognise that that will have to be achieved in phases over a number of years. However, in answer to the questions about that national network, let me say that a genuinely national network of course embraces destinations in the east midlands, Scotland and Wales-the areas that have been specifically highlighted this morning.

Let me take this opportunity to emphasise that the Government's ambitions for high speed rail do not stop at Birmingham. Although the previous Administration had a change of heart on high speed rail, their focus was still just on detailed plans for a route to Birmingham. It is manifestly clear that we will not reap the full benefits of high speed rail unless we go much further than the west midlands, important though a link to the west midlands obviously is. We want to make progress as
9 Jun 2010 : Column 18WH
rapidly as possible towards the creation of a national network that connects to the rest of Europe via the channel tunnel.

In opposition, both coalition partners emphasised the importance of taking high speed rail to Scotland. It is clear in the devolution settlement that the Scottish Government are responsible for rail infrastructure north of the border. Delivering cross-border high speed rail services and a cross-border high speed rail line would therefore obviously require close co-operation and careful joint working between Holyrood and Westminster on a range of issues, including, of course, funding. That is why, in my role in opposition, I visited Scotland for constructive talks with John Swinney on how that co-operation might go forward. There are extensive and close contacts between the Department for Transport and its counterparts in Scotland. The Secretary of State also looks forward to working with his Scottish counterpart in developing a high speed rail strategy that incorporates Scotland.

Issues relating to the timetable were at the heart of the questions from the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. The Secretary of State is considering the timetable set out by HS2 Ltd. He is also considering questions relating to the integration of Heathrow into the high speed rail network, which I will come to in due course. He will report to Parliament in due course on the timetable and on how things will be taken forward. However, the intention is to go forward with the consultation as promptly as possible, after that statement to Parliament.

The Government intend to present a hybrid Bill during this Parliament. We also intend to start enabling work by 2015. That is a somewhat more aggressive timetable than that set by the previous Government, but we are determined-the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith questioned me on this-to take the process forward promptly. Further work is already under way on lines beyond Birmingham. We will also continue to assess the appropriate delivery vehicles.

Mark Lazarowicz: I thank the Minister for her answers so far, but may I be clear about one point? She said that she envisaged work starting in 2015, but what kind of work does she mean? Such work would be welcome, but 2015 is quite soon, so perhaps she will elucidate.

Mrs Villiers: As I said, the intention is for enabling work to start in 2015. Given that there will be a detailed and expansive consultation process before decisions are made on a route, it would not be appropriate or realistic for me to say exactly what type of work we would intend to start by 2015 and in what locations.

Sir Peter Soulsby: The Minister has talked about a route going beyond Birmingham, and about Scotland. Do the Government remain committed to the Y-shaped link that was part of the previous Government's proposals?

Mrs Villiers: The previous Government talked about a line north of Birmingham, but had no clear commitment. It was the Conservatives who championed a national network that would bring the benefits of high speed rail to a wider range of areas than was envisaged in the core part of the previous Government's proposals.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned fares, and it is important that the high speed rail line should be affordable for ordinary families. The analysis done by the Conservative party in opposition and by HS2 Ltd under the previous
9 Jun 2010 : Column 19WH
Government makes it clear that the line will be affordable and deliverable with a contribution from future fares revenue, even with fares that are reasonable and broadly in line with existing levels on existing services. We can deliver the line without necessarily assuming that the fares will be unreasonable and out of the reach of ordinary families.

Sir Peter Soulsby: I thank the Minister for her response on fares, but she did not respond to my question about the Y-shaped link. I am interested in the link not north but east of Birmingham, serving the east midlands, south Yorkshire and, of course, the north-east.

Mrs Villiers: As I have made clear, our ambition is a national network, and we believe that it is vital to make progress promptly and to ensure that we achieve the benefits of high speed rail as widely as possible. We have also made it clear that merely going to Birmingham is not enough. We need to ensure that other parts of the country share in the benefits of high speed rail. We shall publish details of the timetable in due course.

Greg Mulholland: I welcome the Minister to her new job. She is aware that I have been heavily involved in the lobbying campaign for a direct high speed link to Yorkshire, working with you, Mr Betts, and with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), in a cross-party campaign with the Yorkshire Post-its "Fast Track to Yorkshire" campaign. The Y shape is not the only way to create a direct link to Yorkshire and the important cities of Sheffield and Leeds, which are the economic hubs of their areas. The High Speed North proposal merits further consideration. May we be clear, and have a commitment that the Government will, when the relevant phase happens, create a direct link to Yorkshire-not a link via Manchester, which does not make sense?

Mrs Villiers: I have made it clear that the ambition is to create a national network, and it is of course vital that the north of England, Manchester and Yorkshire should be included in that network. In due course, decisions will be taken about the exact route to be selected. However, as I have emphasised, there is a long process to be undertaken before final decisions are made on the route for new high speed rail lines.

The case for high speed rail is undeniable. It has the potential to make a huge contribution to the long-term prosperity of the country and the efficiency of its transport system, and it can play a crucial role in achieving the goal of a lower-carbon economy. In the next 20 to 30 years, key inter-urban routes are likely to become increasingly congested, with negative consequences for our economy and quality of life. High speed rail could provide a massive uplift in capacity, as well as dramatically reduced journey times.

Next Section Index Home Page