“because it is the best solution to meet the challenge of fast-growing demand on an already crowded network”.

It forecasts a growth in passenger numbers of 44% by 2016. That time is near, so I hope that it is accurate.

High-speed rail will close the gap between the south and the north of England. It will boost competitiveness, create jobs and attract international businesses. At a time when we are seeking to demonstrate to the world that Britain is open for business, actions speak louder than words. High Speed 2 is the action that the north of England has needed for many years. The economic case is clear, the public desire is overwhelming, and the benefit to the region’s economy cannot be understated. Without high-speed rail, we risk a two-speed nation. To remain internationally competitive, we cannot allow that to happen. I urge the Government to deliver for the north of England and to deliver HS2.

4.59 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I am pleased to contribute to this very important debate about the High Speed 2 programme. I suspect that I may be interrupted by a Division in the House. I congratulate Conservative Members and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on applying to the Backbench Business Committee to allocate time for the debate. We have been provided with the opportunity to listen to the views, opinions and concerns of right hon. and hon. Members from across the House.

As mentioned, Labour in government set out a vision for a high-speed rail line running from London to Birmingham and on to Leeds, Manchester and eventually Scotland. I welcome the public consultation on High Speed 2 launched by the Government in February. They boasted that it would be one of the biggest and most

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wide-ranging consultations every undertaken by a Government. We need to have a full discussion about high-speed rail, especially for the communities that will be directly affected by the construction of the line.

5 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

5.25 pm

On resuming

Andrew Gwynne: Before I was interrupted, I was about to say that it is clear that a project of this size and scale will not be without controversy, which I shall come on to later. However, I certainly recognise the importance of increasing capacity and connectivity in rail, particularly in respect of the west coast main line and the Chiltern line. The previous Labour Government rightly assessed that improved transport capacity would be needed from the 2020s between our major cities, starting with the route from London to the west midlands, two of Britain’s largest conurbations. The projections show that by then, the west coast main line will be at capacity. It is projected that, by 2033, the average long-distance west coast main line train will be 80% full, with routine severe overcrowding for much of the time.

Perhaps there will be benefits from some of the suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West and others, but I also understand the argument that the development of the 335-mile Y-shaped network would bring our major cities closer together and, as such, create the potential to boost investment and economic growth in the north. I would like to ask the Government how much extra capacity they anticipate high-speed rail will bring, and what estimates they have made of the modal shift from air travel that would result from the extension.

Labour remains committed to investing in a world-class rail system, and high-speed rail could have an important role to play in delivering it. That is why we began this process in government. As Members will know, Labour has just embarked on a fundamental review of all its policies, which is exactly what the Conservatives did after the Prime Minister became leader of that party. We will look at all areas of policy, and fundamental questions will be asked about how we can make transport more affordable and help to reduce inequality and increase social mobility.

Mr Leech: In the past, the hon. Gentleman has been supportive of the concept of high-speed rail to Manchester and beyond. Does he agree with the assessment of the new chief executive of Network Rail about capacity on the west coast main line?

Andrew Gwynne: Absolutely. As I have said, capacity on the west coast main line is of fundamental importance, and the issue must be resolved. We have to look at future capacity on rail lines and how we will deal with such issues. Clearly, everything will be on the table as part of our policy review, and we encourage as many members of the public as possible to get involved in our ongoing discussions, including those on both High Speed 2

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and Rail Package 2; we need to study alternatives for viability as well. It would be unwise for any future support for high-speed rail not to be at the heart of that policy review when it involves a £30-billion commitment for future Parliaments. Perhaps the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) will be interested in that. In the meantime, the Government will have our support as they move forward with the next stage of planning the route.

Clearly, there is concern about the hybrid Bill that the Government propose. The Opposition have real doubts about their commitment to taking the planned high-speed rail line beyond Birmingham, as Labour had planned. They have decided not to use the forthcoming legislation to do that. As I have said in previous debates, we will support the Government if they want to put powers in the Bill to extend the line to Leeds and Manchester.

I wish to turn briefly to interoperability. If we are to proceed with high-speed rail, we need to look now at ways to integrate it with the traditional rail network. We also need to look at how we can maximise the benefits for rail all over the country, including London-based projects such as Crossrail and Thameslink. How will we plan for the wider impacts of high-speed rail, to ensure that the benefits are shared in other parts of the network? For instance, can the Minister tell us how many more fast trains to London there will be from places such as Coventry, Liverpool and Sheffield as a result of released capacity from the HS2 line? In short, what will be the benefit to areas not directly connected by high-speed rail?

Kelvin Hopkins: The fundamental problem we have on many of our rail routes is old-fashioned signalling; it is 50 years out of date, or even longer. If we can get modern signalling with some of the money that could be saved, we could get many more train paths and much faster frequencies. That is the way to increase capacity on existing routes.

Andrew Gwynne: I share my hon. Friend’s assessment of that issue. I know he made that case at a recent reception with ASLEF in the House of Commons.

I recognise that a lot of right hon. and hon. Members in all parties have concerns about high-speed rail. Those living near the proposed route have understandable concerns. I understand those hon. Members whose constituencies will be directly affected by the construction. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), I do not know how sensible it is for the Secretary of State for Transport to refer to anyone who is against the scheme as a nimby, as he recently did in a newspaper article.

I also note that in The Daily Telegraph yesterday there was a letter signed by no fewer than eight northern Conservative MPs, saying:

“We urge the Government not to be blown off course by the protests of a minority in the home counties.”

It seems unfair to intrude on the private grief of the Conservatives, not least because there are differences in our party, too. However, the previous Labour Government were always mindful that, in proposals for a route, there has to be an attempt to minimise local impacts while achieving the wider objectives. We need to ensure that

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people are fully consulted about changes that will affect their area. I welcome the fact that the consultation is now under way, and will conclude in July this year. It gives those who will be directly affected by the construction route a chance to put forward their concerns and have them looked at, and I hope that their views will be taken seriously by the Government.

However, there are a number of questions that I would like to ask. What impact will the changes to the route, the additional compensation and hardship payments, and other commitments have for the £750 million allocated in this spending period? Can the Minister offer an assurance that there will not be a knock-on effect on other rail schemes already facing cuts and delays? In opposition, the Minister said:

“failing to take HSR through Heathrow would be a big mistake”.

It is reassuring that she has, I think, now confirmed a direct link in the second phase. Perhaps she can give a bit more information about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) touched on an important point. Will the Minister confirm whether the cost of the trains to run on the high-speed line has been included in the figures used for the costs of the scheme? Or, as with other schemes such as Crossrail, are they separate expenditure, yet to be identified?

One topic almost missing from the debate, although it was rightly touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), has been the likely cost of using the service. Surely if all taxpayers are to contribute so significantly to the cost of constructing the route, it cannot be a service with ticket prices outside the grasp of most people. What work has the Department done to look at anticipated ticket-pricing plans for high-speed rail? How much of the revenue raised by high-speed rail will be used on the high-speed rail line, and how much will be will be spent on conventional rail improvements?

To conclude, as I have said before, our policy review will be completely open-minded about all the transport priorities the country faces, and high-speed rail will clearly form an important part of our future discussion. In the meantime, we urge the Government to reconsider expanding the scope of the hybrid Bill to include powers to continue to Leeds and Manchester, so that preparations are in place to bring the potential benefits of high-speed rail to the whole country.

5.34 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. This has been an excellent, high-quality debate, with some great contributions from hon. Members from all parties, and I congratulate them all. I congratulate the hon. Members who secured the debate: my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), and my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles).

I welcome what seems to be qualified support from the shadow Minister; we are not quite sure where he is going on this matter. I reassure him that we are fully committed to taking high-speed rail to Leeds and Manchester. We were the first to champion that in opposition, and we continue to do so. In response to a

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number of questions, let me say that work is under way on route and station options for the route north of Birmingham. HS2 Ltd has been asked to report to the Secretary of State on those options later this year.

It is good to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Randall), and my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), here. They have all been assiduous in pressing their concerns on Government and representing their constituents fully. Their frequent representations have been much valued by the Secretary of State and continue to have an influential impact on our thinking.

Let me turn to the points raised in debate. First, on the local environmental impact, let me make it clear that I fully recognise the concerns of those whose homes and communities could be affected by the preferred line of route. Responding to the concerns of the hon. Member for Coventry North West, we are putting a huge amount of work in to mitigate and reduce the potential impact. Approximately half the length of the preferred route to the west midlands in the plans we inherited has been changed. We have added more than a mile and half of green tunnels to maintain local access and minimise noise and visual impact.

Large sections of the routes have been lowered into deeper cuttings, reducing the number of viaducts to cut down on visual intrusion. We have made several route alterations to avoid settlements and important heritage sites. Under the revised proposals, the Chilterns will be crossed predominantly in tunnels and deep cuttings, or alongside the existing A413 transport corridor. The number of properties where high noise levels will be expected has fallen from about 350 in previous versions of the plans to around 10 properties, and we will plant 2 million trees between Birmingham and London. We will continue to listen to ideas for mitigation as part of the consultation process, at the end of which we will carefully consider all representations.

Let me turn to the points on the business case. On the criticisms made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire in relation to our passenger growth figures, the consultation document forecasts that passenger demand will roughly double for long-distance services on the west coast main line. That projection covers 30 years and is based on modest growth rates of just under 2% a year; that compares to a 5% growth rate between 1994 and 2009. If anything, the numbers are cautious. For example, demand between London and Manchester rose by almost 60% over the four years to 2008.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) expressed concern about the methodology in relation to other industry practices. There is widespread industry consensus, as highlighted by the both the shadow Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech), that the west coast main line will be full within around a decade; some people think sooner, some later, but there is consensus that the line is filling up fast.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire also expressed the concern, in her eloquent and well-argued contribution, that our analysis does not take account of the fact that time can be used productively on a train. We have listened, and we have carried out sensitivity testing on our numbers, and the

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results we have had indicate that factoring in productive time would have a broadly neutral impact on the business case for HS2, because failing to deliver a new line would leave trains more and more overcrowded, making it less and less feasible to do any productive work on the trains currently on our network.

As for the allegation made by one or two hon. Members that we are proposing a rich man’s railway, and the concerns expressed about fares by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and the shadow Minister, our research indicates that 70% of passengers would be travelling for reasons other than business, with leisure trips particularly important. All our modelling is based on fares that are in line with existing services. Our assumptions about the expected fare-box do not factor in or depend on any premium for high-speed services.

The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and other hon. Members expressed concern that the project would see the rest of our railways starved of funds. There is simply no evidence to back that allegation. On the contrary, despite a crisis in the public finances as grave as any that this country has faced in its peacetime history, the coalition is investing more than £30 billion in road, rail and local transport schemes throughout Britain over the next four years, and that includes the most extensive programme of rail upgrades in modern history, to which was recently added the Ordsall Chord scheme, which was welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington.

Budgets have not been set beyond 2015, but we expect the case for investment in transport to continue to be strong in the years ahead, as evidenced by the commitments that we have made on Thameslink, Crossrail, electrification, the intercity express programme, and road improvements that stretch beyond the current spending review period.

A key element in the crux of the arguments by opponents of HS2 is the question of whether journey time savings delivered by high-speed rail will be worth the cost of building the new line. The Government’s proposals, as hon. Members have pointed out this afternoon, are about more than just speed. One of the biggest advantages of our plans is that a new line would release additional capacity on our existing railways, benefiting places such as Coventry and Milton Keynes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) pointed out. That would help to address crowding problems for long-distance passengers, and provide more space for commuter services and the freight services that the hon. Member for Luton North championed so well, and it would also improve network resilience and reliability.

Mr Ainsworth: I recognise what the Minister says about Coventry. The city is split, and the council is opposed, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), but I cannot understand how it would be damaged by being only eight miles to the east of what would be the country’s major transport spine. The benefits are clear for anyone who wants to see them.

Mrs Villiers: The right hon. Gentleman puts the case very well. Coventry stands to benefit hugely from the plans under consideration this afternoon. Journey time savings matter. For example, the Y network would enable people living in Manchester and Leeds to get to

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Canary Wharf in roughly one hour and 40 minutes, and Heathrow in 75 minutes or less. I assure the shadow Minister that the plans for phase 2 include the direct link to Heathrow that we called for in opposition.

I believe that bringing the capital within 49 minutes of Birmingham and 80 minutes of Manchester and Leeds would spread the massive benefits of London’s global pull. It would do more to bridge the north-south divide than virtually all previous efforts to address a problem that has defied solution for decades, which is probably one reason why so many people north of Birmingham support the project so strongly.

Mr Robinson: The Minister spoke about regional benefits, and we increasingly see the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister emphasising in person the north-south divide. First, how does she explain the fact that of the jobs created—about 30,000—seven in 10 will be in London, not the regions? Secondly, does she really believe that £600,000 a job is good regional investment policy?

Mrs Villiers: The project will create jobs throughout the country. The suggestion that all the cities that are calling for high-speed rail will see their economic growth sucked away by London just does not hold water. Look around Europe, where cities such as Lille and Lyons have been transformed. In Europe and Asia, cities are fighting hard to be on the high-speed rail networks that other countries have the courage and determination to deliver.

Andrea Leadsom: Does my right hon. Friend accept that unemployment in Lille rose after high-speed rail went there?

Mrs Villiers: What I know is that Lille’s prospects were transformed by high-speed rail, and its unemployment level fell to much closer to the French average. If people in Lille were asked whether high-speed rail was bad for them, or whether they would like it to be shut down, I suspect that they would say no.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) said, shrinking journeys between cities in the north will have a hugely beneficial impact, enabling them increasingly to merge into a single economic area. I emphasise that with its potential to regenerate regional economies, create thousands of jobs, and boost our national economy by about £44 billion, the project is about much more than shaving half an hour off the journey time to Birmingham.

That brings me to the next allegation—that the project is not affordable. In practice, most of the spending will not kick in for at least five years, so it is not competing directly with other priorities in the current period of austerity. Spending will then be phased in over the period of construction, which we all know is, sadly, a long one. The annual average cost will not be out of line with projects such as Crossrail, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale pointed out. The figures in the consultation document also make no allowance for possible private sector contributions, which could be considerable, as hon. Members have pointed out, particularly in relation to the expected benefits of station redevelopment.

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Perhaps most important is that delivering a major uplift in inter-urban transport capacity is not some nice-to-have luxury. It is absolutely essential if we are to prevent a capacity crisis on the west coast line and other key transport corridors in the years to come. No Government can afford to sit back, ignore the problem, and pretend that it does not exist.

Despite the valiant efforts of my hon. Friends the Members for South Northamptonshire, and for North Warwickshire, and the hon. Member for Coventry North West, the opponents of HS2 have not made a convincing case that there is a better way of dealing with the expected growth in demand for inter-city travel. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) suggested that information technology will provide the answer. I certainly hope that future advances in technology will make video-conferencing an alternative to more journeys, but I am afraid that after in-depth research, the Committee on Climate Change concluded that the net impact of such technology on travel is likely to be minimal, and I am afraid that improvements to the existing network just cannot provide the capacity that HS2 would. The Government are already committed to delivering a 30% uplift in capacity on the west coast line, with new carriages being introduced from April 2012, but that will simply not be enough to meet the demand for inter-city travel in the decades to come.

In response to the shadow Minister’s question about the capacity to deliver, HS2 would deliver 14 trains an hour, each of which would have about 1,100 seats. RP2 simply will not meet the future needs of this country’s transport system. The practical realities of further work on the existing line have a serious downside. As the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) said, passengers were subjected to a decade of disruption with the improvements to the west coast line, which have just been completed.

For the information of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, the work required at Euston for RP2 would be considerably more disruptive than those required there for HS2, because they would have to be carried out within Euston’s current footprint, making it much more difficult to keep current services going. Disruption would be much worse this time, because the west coast line is twice as busy as it was seven years ago.

The most viable journey time savings that could be achieved using the existing line would involve cutting out intermediate stops, which we all know would be deeply upsetting for the affected communities. Moreover, line upgrades cannot deliver any released capacity benefits, and squeezing even more into the current timetable to allow more intense use of the line would compromise resilience, and is virtually guaranteed to lead to a serious deterioration in reliability. In contrast, infrastructure-related delays on HS1 average just 6.8 seconds. The simple truth is that whatever is done to the existing line, it could never match the economic benefits of faster journey times, capacity uplift, and regeneration that HS2 would deliver.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) called for leadership in delivering the project, and we intend to provide that. He asked whether appropriate rolling-stock designs were available. Our research and analysis is based on rolling stock that

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is already in use in the many countries that have embarked on high-speed rail. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale pointed out that the high-speed rail link is a manifesto promise, and it is one that we intend to keep. My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth expressed concern about the current status of compensation, and I assure him that the exceptional hardship scheme is already in operation.

Lastly, I will address the allegation that high-speed rail is not green and offers no environmental benefits. Our analysis shows that the shift from road and aviation that would come with delivering the west midlands section of the line would broadly offset any increase in carbon emissions from the new line, despite the significant increase in passenger journeys that it would accommodate. We would get a major economic boost without increasing carbon emissions, which is just the sort of sustainable growth most people in the country say we should have. The modal shift resulting from the Y-shaped network to the north of England would be greater still, with as many as 6 million journeys by air and 9 million by road expected to migrate to rail. The carbon benefits of rail over aviation are set to grow as we make progress on decarbonising the electricity supply.

The consultation under way is one of the most wide-ranging ever undertaken. We will listen to and consider all responses with care, including those that will help us

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further mitigate potential local impact, which I know hon. Members are concerned about. I genuinely believe that with care, effort and high-quality engineering, we can address the worst local impacts and provide much-needed reassurance to the constituents of hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. Similar things were done for HS1.

Today, we still rely almost entirely on railways built by the Victorians, and I think it is time we started catching up with the high-speed rail revolution on which our European partners embarked more than a generation ago. I believe that we can—and should—aspire to the sort of high-quality long-distance travel network that other countries take for granted. Our high-speed rail plans provide a once-in-a-generation chance to address the transport capacity needs of our economy in the future, transform our economic geography, and generate a boost for jobs and growth worth billions of pounds. We know that it will not be an easy process, but we should not let this opportunity slip through our fingers. I have welcomed the opportunity to set some of our plans before the House this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.

5.52 pm

Sitting adjourned.