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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 13 July 2011

[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

High-speed Rail

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Stephen Crabb.)

9.30 am

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Before we start the first debate, may I say that it will not come as a surprise to hon. Members that a large number of people are seeking to catch my eye? While there can be no formal limit on speaking times, as there can be in the Chamber, it will be helpful, and a great courtesy to each other, if Members are able to keep their remarks to three or four minutes apiece. Anyone who speaks for 10 minutes will get dirty looks from other hon. Members.

9.31 am

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.

I am pleased that the building of a high-speed rail line, which was first proposed by the previous Labour Government, is supported by the present Government, as it is important that there is consensus on the issue. The project certainly makes sense. It is ridiculous that, by rail, I can get from London to Paris faster than I can get to Wrexham, and get to Brussels faster than to Liverpool. Should I so wish, I could get to Rotterdam a full hour faster than I could get to Glasgow. France, Germany, Italy and Spain are all enjoying their high-speed rail networks, but in the country that invented railways, we are still just talking about it, and that needs to change.

I secured the debate because although the Government are committed to the project—I welcome the fact that it appears in the coalition agreement and the Government parties’ manifestos—I fear that it may be under threat from not just outside but within the ranks of the Government. I am of course talking about the Secretary of State for Wales. I welcome the fact that the official Wales Office business plan states, as one of its aims, that it will:

“Ensure that Welsh interests and needs are reflected in the Government’s improvements to transport infrastructure”.

However, the Secretary of State for Wales opposes High Speed 2 and, as a Minister, she refuses to justify herself. The Wales Office’s annual report, which was published earlier this week, tells us that, over the past year, every one of 41 named day questions to the Wales Office were answered on the day specified, yet the answers to two questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) were over a week late. Strangely enough, they were both to do with the assessment that the Secretary of State has made of benefits that HS2 would bring to Wales. We must assume that that was because she was held up trying to find any research that does not foresee massive economic benefits to Wales from the high-speed line.

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Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this incredibly well-attended debate. Despite the Wales Office’s silence on the issue, research by Professor Stuart Cole at the university of Glamorgan points to real benefits to Wales due to speedier connections and greater capacity. Does my hon. Friend find it strange that the Secretary of State has not referred to that research in any way?

Susan Elan Jones: I do find it strange, but not when one considers the Secretary of State’s personal opposition to the project. Professor Cole has made it clear that the project would also bring great benefits through inward investment in Wales.

The Secretary of State said of her opposition:

“This project goes right through my backyard”.

If that is not nimbyism, I do not know what is. It is not even disguised nimbyism; it is self-interest pure and simple. In a debate on the issue in March, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) recounted tales of people stating:

“I am not a nimby, I just don’t want a railway line built near my house.”—[Official Report, 31 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 177WH.]

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for securing the debate. On that point about residents’ concerns, does she accept that lessons have to be learned? My constituency recently had High Speed 1, but then standard services were reduced and High Speed 1 fares went up by 30%. If we want more people to use high-speed rail, it has to be affordable, and we cannot have it at the expense of standard services.

Susan Elan Jones: I totally agree. We have to look at all those issues sensibly. However, equally, as a representative of a Welsh constituency—I know that Members from other parts of the United Kingdom feel this too—I am not prepared to see HS2 delayed on the grounds of pure and simple nimbyism. That is quite different from the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Does not the hon. Lady have any sympathy for the plight of those Members of Parliament who represent seats on the route? I represent an area where Crossrail is infuriating, angering and frustrating many of my constituents. It has done that for many years and will do so for decades to come. As it happens, I am a keen supporter of Crossrail and am willing to make the case. Perhaps the hon. Lady should be setting out the argument that MPs who are on the line should be making a robust case, particularly about capacity, which I think is one of the big issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) was pointing out, if general capacity is reduced, that undermines many of the perceived benefits of such a new scheme.

Susan Elan Jones: I have considerable sympathy for that view, but the difference is that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) does not aspire to be Secretary of State for Wales—

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Not yet.

Susan Elan Jones: Indeed.

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There is a conflict here. I understand that people are likely, as they are entitled, to complain about local developments to which they are opposed, but we need our Government to take a broader national view, and Wales certainly needs a Secretary of State who will do better. That is why I am here to make the case for high-speed rail, and specifically the Welsh case, because I fear that it is not being made by the person whose job it is to do so.

The official ministerial answers on the benefits of HS2 for Wales may be missing, but there is plenty of evidence from elsewhere in Europe with which hon. Members can form their own opinion, such as the case of Lille. In the early 1990s, the French Government chose to divert their high-speed TGV line through Lille, as opposed to using a more direct route through Amiens, because of high unemployment and post-industrial decline in that area.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): My hon. Friend says that high-speed rail and rail electrification are particularly important for economic development. Does she agree that it is important that we get that for the lines in the valleys and in other parts of Wales, and particularly for the Cardiff-Ebbw Vale line?

Susan Elan Jones: I am in total agreement with my hon. Friend’s point, both for south Wales and for north Wales.

In the case of Lille, the French Government decided that following the slightly less direct route was worth the extra €500 million that it cost because of the massive potential for regeneration and employment that the project would bring to Lille. Professor Stuart Cole of the Wales transport research centre at the university of Glamorgan, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) mentioned earlier, submitted evidence to the inquiry of the Welsh Affairs Committee on inward investment to tell us what happened next. Twenty years later, Lille is ranked as the fourth most accessible European city and has been described as a boom town. As the French Government showed that they were serious about investing in the area, private sector investment followed. A major commercial centre, a retail centre, hotels and offices all sprung up around the terminal. An elite university opened a campus in the town and tourism flourished. The expansion is continuing. A major conference centre is scheduled to be built, along with significant new office accommodation and housing. Public investment in connectivity, accessibility and profile led to private investment, jobs and growth.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): We have heard from the south and north of Wales, but in regard to economic development, the hon. Lady must not overlook mid-Wales. In the absence of a direct line from Aberystwyth to London, we would welcome reduced journey times from London to Birmingham, which is part of our journey.

Susan Elan Jones: It is no secret that the slow pace of rail journeys to parts of mid-Wales is scarcely believable. I agree totally that the London-Birmingham high-speed link would make a tremendous difference to that, or at

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least part of a difference. This is our opportunity. I want to see benefits of the kind that the TGV delivered in northern France brought to Wales, as well as to the midlands, northern England and Scotland, through HS2.

Although the planned route for HS2 does not go directly into Wales, that does not matter. Getting the journey time from London to key hubs such as Manchester or Liverpool down to an hour and 10 minutes would be a massive improvement for us. Some tube journeys take longer than that, as I am sure many hon. Members realise. Suddenly, getting business representatives from London to north Wales and back in a day would look easy.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): On that point, I travel down by train from Chester or Runcorn simply because the North Wales Coast Railway line is so poor. How does the hon. Lady think that the economic case for north Wales will be improved by making the journey time to Manchester 1 hour 10 minutes rather than 1 hour 50 minutes, when north Wales will still be three-and-a-half hours away?

Susan Elan Jones: There is work to be done in north Wales. We are talking about a link that would speed up the entire journey down here. The examples that I gave earlier show how it is much quicker to travel to parts of Europe than to parts of north Wales, which bears testimony to my argument.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): At present, many people travel by car to Manchester and hubs. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) said, if we get the high-speed rail network, there will be connectivity between Birmingham and various other cities, and north Wales. People from north Wales will travel by train, which will save the environment and save time.

Susan Elan Jones: I agree totally with my hon. Friend. When the north Wales main line is electrified, a small number of trains—one or two a day, for example—could be diverted off the main track at Crewe or another convenient point to travel along that track. A passenger would therefore be able to travel from continental Europe to Rhyl, Bangor or, indeed, my hon. Friend’s constituency. Of course, I would also argue for the inclusion of Wrexham directly. Wales, and north Wales in particular, is on the periphery of Europe, but a high-quality transport plan could bring us into real contention for business.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): My hon. Friend is ahead of me because she is talking about the benefits that HS2 will bring to north Wales passengers via Crewe. Does she agree that the Secretary of State for Wales does not need to look as far as Lille for evidence of that? She could merely talk to the Secretary of State for Transport—her colleague in the Cabinet room. In an answer to the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), he said that HS2 will bring significant benefits to north Wales rail passengers, with all the obvious economic benefits that my hon. Friend is talking about.

Susan Elan Jones: I agree totally with my hon. Friend. Technically, there is nothing to stop such a plan in the long term. High-speed trains in France make some

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journeys across regular track, such as to Cannes. If the routes of Brussels to Bangor, Rotterdam to Rhyl, or Frankfurt to Flint sound a bit far-fetched, that is evidence of how inaccessible some of our towns are perceived to be.

Mr Mark Field: A number of people are worried that the route will lead to an overheated south-east England, which many would regard as undesirable. If travel times from London to Manchester or to Liverpool are 45 or 60 minutes shorter, does not that simply make London even more attractive for people from the north-west, or indeed from north Wales, rather than necessarily bringing great benefits to Wales?

Susan Elan Jones: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I thank him for his thoughtful contributions.

Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that high-speed connectivity is vital? At a time when we are talking about rebalancing the economy, particularly for the Merseyside area, this is not just about speed. We want to develop our port and make it the port of the north. We need freight and people connectivity, so high-speed rail is vital.

Susan Elan Jones: I totally agree with the hon. Lady. If hon. Members will excuse me, I must try to make a little progress because otherwise they will not be able to make their speeches in the time available.

It is not just Wales that stands to benefit. Ninety business leaders in Yorkshire recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport to tell him that the project is vital. The Sheffield city region local enterprise partnership said that 91% of 200 firms surveyed agreed that the benefits of HS2 to the city would be huge. The Northern Way alliance of regional development agencies from the north of England said that it valued the wider economic benefits of north-south high-speed rail at £10 billion, and described the high-speed link as

“an opportunity to create a new economic geography”.

The Scottish Minister for Housing and Transport said:

“the case for high-speed rail…is compelling, robust and clear”.

Manchester council says that high-speed rail will enable local business to compete and will boost tourism, and Stoke-on-Trent council says that it will open up national and international markets. Liverpool supports it and Birmingham supports it. The message from across the UK is loud and clear. We cannot let a small group of people railroad this debate. People welcome major investment in infrastructure to bring about new jobs and new business.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend about the new economic geography. On Rotterdam to Rhyl, does she agree that if the London stop were Stratford and the trains bypassed St Pancras, the length of the journey from Rotterdam to Rhyl and the other journeys she had mentioned could be significantly reduced, which would have widespread advantages?

Susan Elan Jones: I am certainly open to that idea, which I had not previously thought about. In terms of UK-wide economic benefits, HS1 offers some concrete feedback. Despite some criticism, independent reports have put the value of investment attracted by the line at

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£20 billion, which is 40 times more than original estimates. The operation has not been sold at a loss, whatever the HS2 Tamworth Action Group says. The lease has been sold, and will be re-sold again and again on expiry. Two more sales will bring the scheme into profit, even without taking the massive wider economic benefit into account.

Mrs Siân C. James (Swansea East) (Lab): The economic benefit is well known in rail terms: it is known as the spark effect. As my hon. Friend knows, we in Swansea are fighting hard for electrification of the whole rail system to Swansea. We want that economic development. The spark effect is happening across Europe and we would like it in Britain, please.

Susan Elan Jones: My hon. Friend speaks with considerable expertise in this area and I am grateful for her intervention.

Indirectly, HSl enabled the delivery of three major development schemes, in Ebbsfleet, Stratford and King’s Cross, which are all areas in need of regeneration. Some 15,000 homes and 70,000 jobs were created. The project delivered £3.8 billion of transport benefits, which, combined with the operating surplus, offsets the whole project cost.

Independent reports found, in conclusion, the following:

“it is clear that overall the scheme represents high value for money”.

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that the project will provide wider access to Birmingham airport, with a journey time of just 49 minutes? That will ease congestion in the London area and make Birmingham and the west midlands more attractive.

Susan Elan Jones: I certainly agree with the hon. Lady. The project will also make her journeys to Wrexham quicker, which I believe is her old home.

Chris Ruane: The interventions we have had across the piece seem to show that there is a national consensus for this 21st-century rail project to go ahead. Why does my hon. Friend think there is a delay? Is the reason political?

Susan Elan Jones: I would hope not. On HS2, the 2008 Atkins report concluded that a high-speed rail network would deliver more than £60 billion-worth of benefit to the UK economy in its first 60 years. In 2009, the British Chambers of Commerce calculated revenues and benefits to the economy worth £55 billion. The Government’s consultation paper puts the benefits at around £71 billion in revenue and benefits.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): On the subject of benefits and the point about delay, it might be worth putting on the record that the business case for High Speed 2 puts the net benefit ratio of the project at 2.6, which is higher than Crossrail, Thameslink or HS1.

Susan Elan Jones: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but not with the Taxpayers Alliance, which suggests that the business case is unproven. I confess that that is not the only thing I disagree with the Taxpayers Alliance on.

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Wendover Action Against Chilterns HS2 Routes claims that passenger demand forecasts have been overestimated. It ignores the fact that, after 10 years of 5% annual rises in passenger numbers, HS2 envisages just 1.4% annual growth. Again, it does not offer its own projected profit figures. The RAC has offered the following gem of a critique:

“the analysis so far has been largely uni-modal and future analysis will need to be multi modal so as to assess HSR against rival and complimentary investments, particularly in the air and road sectors, whilst further work may also be required to analyse the inter-relationships with the classic rail sector and to test the robustness of modelling results”.

Perhaps we can pass that on to the Plain English Campaign, so that it can translate it for the rest of us. Ultimately, it is clear that the experts all agree on one thing: there will be economic benefits and, even if we cannot agree on every penny, we know they will be hefty. Whether someone lives in the Chilterns or not, they cannot escape the economics. If it is done properly, high-speed rail works. Once we accept that, it only remains for us to consider whether those benefits are outweighed by any overriding negatives. As we have heard, the Secretary of State for Wales believes that one such negative is the fact that the line will pass through her backyard. Putting the right hon. Lady’s begonias aside, what are the real facts on environmental impact?

I totally agree that areas of outstanding natural beauty must be protected. Indeed, a new such area is on its way in my constituency. I believe that they must be protected and preserved wherever possible; I do not accept, however, that HS2 will cause unacceptable blight in the Chilterns. In fact, all but 1.2 miles of the route through the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty will be in tunnels, and one cannot get much less obtrusive than that. We will not be able to see it—it will be under the ground. Other parts of the route will be hidden in deep cuttings, or run alongside motorways. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that the line will cause minimum disruption. In fact, route changes mean that only 340 properties will be affected by noise, of which 210 are in central London, itself hardly a haven of peace. Just 10 properties will be affected by high noise levels. That does not add up to irreparable damage to the countryside. The fact that it will be possible to see and hear this rail line in the distance does not outweigh the very real economic and social benefits it will bring.

I have one point to add, regarding the residents in Holborn and St Pancras whose homes may be demolished. That may be classed as irreparable damage and I would not want to see that outcome; I hope very much that a solution can be found to avoid that demolition. I would back any amendment to the plan that could avoid the destruction of homes.

Mr Mark Field: So, doing that in Labour-held seats is acceptable, but not in Conservative-held seats?

Chris Ruane: They are not knocking them down in Tory seats.

Susan Elan Jones: It is a shame. The hon. Gentleman should have known that I would have said exactly the same had it been in his seat. I am reluctant to take back my earlier compliments for his interventions.

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Having overcome the environmental argument, what about the costs of building during the recession? Let us look at the figures. HS2 will cost £2 billion a year during the building phase, which I believe is roughly the same as Crossrail. Construction will start at roughly the same time as Crossrail finishes, meaning that the overall transport budget will stay quite steady, but HS2 will spread jobs and benefits much more widely than Crossrail. Initial estimates predict the creation of 40,000 jobs. Some of those jobs will be in London and the south-east, but many will be spread along the line. Several thousand will be non-permanent construction jobs, but many will be permanent. At a time when the construction industry is struggling, I, for one, would welcome that.

Even if the budget has to stretch to pay for the build, which I do not believe it will, the figures all show that we can expect a return of £2 for every £1 invested in the project. If we think long term, and we should, that is an attractive proposition. If aliens from Mars turned up and heard about a project set to create 40,000 jobs, to link north and south, and to boost our national profile, they might well guess that the Government had decided to subsidise such a project for the public good. I am sure they would be shocked to hear that it was being opposed, despite being set to earn double the original investment. The cost is not a barrier to HS2; the investment is sound. Only the most blinkered, short-term thinking can conclude anything else—the costs add up.

What about the suitability of the UK for a high-speed line? Detractors say that the UK is too small to benefit from high speed, that our country is densely populated and already well-served by lots of railways. However, the distances between our major cities are very similar to those with successful high-speed rail abroad. Frankfurt and Cologne are 110 miles apart, which is the same distance as London to Birmingham. Tokyo and Osaka are 325 miles apart—roughly the same distance as London to Edinburgh.

While it is true that we already have railways, our lines are full. On capacity, fares are going up and up as demand increases, a point raised earlier by the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti). The cost of some season tickets in the south-east rose by almost 13% this year. Anyone who says that HS2 fares will be too high should consider the situation with our existing network. Sir Roy McNulty’s review of fares, published in May, suggested that off-peak fares should rise by 30% “to manage capacity”, as thousands of people pack on to trains with cheaper fares. We are actually having to price people off our trains to prevent them from bursting. That cannot be the right approach. We want to encourage public transport use, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) said earlier, not suppress it.

We need more trains, and our existing network cannot provide them. For example, management at the west coast main line, which has recently had a major £10 billion upgrade that caused huge disruption to passengers, has announced that it will be at full capacity again within six to 10 years, even if extra carriages are added. It is not possible just to run more trains: there simply is not enough space. Even though there is the demand for more fast, direct trains up the west coast, the local commuter services and freight trains that use the lines do not leave extra space for the extra trains. We need more capacity. Network Rail has acknowledged that, and it spells it out very simply:

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“HS2 solves the capacity problem”.

HS2 not only allows the existing network to operate at full capacity during its construction; it is the only option that will release real, significant extra capacity when in operation. Current services would continue to run on the existing lines, but the high-speed routes would no longer be hemmed in by them. Instead, they would have a free run on the new lines. Towns without HS2 stations will benefit as space for more trains is freed up on existing lines, with less crowding and more services. It is a win-win situation.

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that for towns such as Northampton, which are not directly on the route but feed into it at Milton Keynes, the issue of capacity is vital, specifically when we recognise that population will increase by 120,000 by 2026? If HS2 does not happen, we will have serious problems, and I thank her for making that point.

Susan Elan Jones: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful contribution—many thanks.

Finally, let me deal with the so-called Rail Plan 2, which could apparently solve our capacity problems for a fraction of the price of HS2. That plan contains such major flaws that even its supporters are having to modify it as they go along. I have already heard of Rail Plan 2a, for example, which is supposed to be more “sympathetic”. RP2 basically involves doing almost nothing, maintaining and improving our existing tracks in a hotch-potch manner, and improving capacity a little bit here and a little bit there. Of course it is cheaper—it has not achieved anything that we would not have done as a matter of routine upkeep. Of course, it is quicker as well. It will have to be quick, because rebuilding a line that is still in use as the main line route will cause massive disruption. I wonder whether the cost of that massive disruption has been taken into account in these very low cost estimates for RP2, let alone that the horrible experience of using a line which is half dug up may put a lot of people off rail travel for life.

If we want a top-class railway system, it is not enough just to fiddle around little by little. High-speed rail is the way forward. It has worked in other countries and is backed by all the key figures around the UK. Of course, we can and should improve our existing network as well. I have already said that I hope that the north Wales main line, referred to by the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), will be electrified soon. However, such a piecemeal investment project will have no wider economic benefits and create no draw for inward investors, and it will create such chaos on the railways while being built that it could make the whole idea of inter-city travel less attractive altogether. If we never begin a long-term project, we will never finish it, either.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab) rose—

Chris Ruane: On the issue of crowding on the north Wales line, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), I am a weekly user of the line. It is already at capacity. Everybody has to stand up on the Arriva trains between 4 pm and 5 pm. We need that investment and we need it soon.

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Susan Elan Jones: I agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside wished to intervene.

Mark Tami: As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) mentioned, I am not a regular user of the train. There are connection problems. I used the train last week, only to find that I waited for a connection for nearly 40 minutes. That is an issue. It is all very well having high-speed rail, but if the connection time is so out, we will not get the benefit.

Susan Elan Jones: I agree with my hon. Friend on that point.

As I was saying, if we never begin a long-term project, we will never finish it, either. Even if HS2 takes many decades to build, the benefits it will bring will make it worth it many times over in the long-run. RP2 may work for a while but, ultimately, it will leave us continually plugging leaks, while the rest of the world races away with new technologies and coherently planned schemes.

In conclusion, we need more capacity, faster journey times, jobs, investment and better access. HS2 can give us all that, and it is heartening to see so much support among hon. Members this morning. I call on the Government to face down the saboteurs and stick to their promises. Only a small number of people oppose the scheme—regrettably, they include the Secretary of State for Wales and the Chilterns—but everyone else backs it, and so do I.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I point out that I intend to call the Front Benchers no earlier than 20 minutes to 11, although I might seek a little bit of a squeeze on that at a later stage, because 14 people have written to Mr Speaker asking to catch my eye. In my estimation, that gives two and a half minutes a piece, and anyone who speaks for longer will be squeezing out someone else.

10 am

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): I will try to be quick, Mr Gray, and I am most grateful to serve under your direction.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on a comprehensive and wide-ranging explanation of the need for High Speed 2, which, to my mind, is absolutely clear. The hon. Lady made the point that high-speed rail is increasingly a feature of advanced economies. It is vital for business purposes, because it is about not only individuals going up and down an important line, but the well-being of economies in many areas of the country and Britain’s future. As the hon. Lady has said, the experience of high-speed rail has been immensely positive for so many areas in France and for Lille and Lyons in particular. Many nations and towns are desperately trying to promote the concept of high-speed rail in Europe and, frankly, throughout Asia.

Our economy needs high-speed rail. The issue is to do with business, because the existing network will not be able to cope with the anticipated growth and the pressure it inevitably faces now and in the coming decades. There is a blockage at Birmingham coming down from the

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north-west; freight is having great difficulty getting through to the south-east; and passengers are finding journeys immensely difficult. The construction of HS2 will increase the corridor capacity of the west coast main line threefold, which is massive, in return for a sizeable investment.

The southern part of the west coast main line is set to be running at full capacity within 15 years—that bit unblocks the whole problem in Birmingham and impacts on my town, Northampton. We are on the growth agenda of both the previous Government and this one. We are expected to build 59,000 homes by 2026, which is an additional 120,000 people, creating a town of 350,000. Already, 5,000 people a day commute to London, and we will have at least another 12,000 who want to do so; we will fail without high-speed rail and releasing capacity on the west coast main line. We need to create 85,000 new jobs, and we will fail without high-speed rail. Consequently, I support the plea of the hon. Member for Clwyd South and add the voice of the people of Northampton: without high-speed rail, we will have the population growth but we will not have the jobs growth; it is that simple.

10.3 am

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing the debate and on the case that she has made for High Speed 2. There is no need to repeat the benefits for the business environment and the economy or the point about capacity constraints, because those points have been well made.

I want to touch on a couple of issues relating to Scotland and to my constituency and neighbouring constituencies. The Minister is aware of the group High Speed 2 Scotland, which has published papers looking at the benefits of high-speed rail for Scotland. I want to reiterate some of its key points on the environmental benefits in particular. Currently, some 7 million journeys to London from Glasgow and/or Edinburgh are undertaken every year, but 6 million of those are by air. I freely admit that I do the same more often than I would like to, which is the case for many people I have spoken to who must travel to London for business purposes. They would rather not do the journey by air but, unfortunately, the time taken by rail at the moment is too long. There is an issue to do with the opportunities for business in Scotland as well.

In the past, the Minister’s predecessors had discussions with Scottish Ministers about HS2 in Scotland. She will be under pressure to respond to many points, but I hope that she will touch on whether such discussions have continued and when she last met Scottish Ministers. I also hope that she will touch on the feasibility of, if we eventually reach consideration of an extension beyond the initial phase of HS2, and potential for building from north to south, rather than from south to north, because that might be useful.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman is discussing Scotland. Other hon. Members have spoken eloquently about other parts of the country, and as a Northern Ireland MP my request concerns the HS2 opportunities for Stranraer, where the Northern Ireland

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traffic goes. Something should be done there, because all parts of the United Kingdom should benefit from HS2.

Tom Greatrex: I agree that all parts of the United Kingdom should benefit from HS2, which is why it is important that we look beyond the initial stage and start some of the planning discussion now, and why I want an assurance on looking at the feasibility of building from north to south.

Chris Ruane: The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has mentioned Northern Ireland, but it is important to connect the whole island of Ireland. Holyhead to Dublin is part of a trans-European network route connecting Ireland to the centre of Europe. We ought to be good Europeans and support that route, ensuring that the link is put all the way through to Holyhead.

Tom Greatrex: I am sure we all support the benefits of greater connectivity. Every Member who has made a contribution, and those who will subsequently do so, would attest to that. I hope therefore that the Minister will respond favourably to my points, which I made in particular about Scotland.

10.7 am

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing the debate.

I am a member of the Select Committee on Transport, and we are midway through our inquiry into high-speed rail, which is one of the most fascinating subjects that I have had to consider in my time as a Member. In the interests of time, I will not rehearse all the arguments for and against. I want to do two things in my contribution. First I make a plea to all sides in the debate to keep their remarks objective and evidence-based, and not to indulge in unhelpful and insulting point scoring; I say that to everyone. To those who support high-speed rail, it is incredibly unhelpful and insulting to polarise the debate as jobs in the north against lawns in the south, which is insulting to lots of people who have real and passionate objections to the concept of high-speed rail.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. The problem is that little evidence is available in this country. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) has asked the Wales Office for a detailed analysis and to collate the data, so that we can have an evidence-based argument and put forward stronger cases.

Iain Stewart: That is one of the things that the Transport Committee is digging into, to ensure that we make a decision based on fact.

To those who oppose high-speed rail, I have seen evidence of threatening letters to some proponents of high-speed rail and some exaggerated claims. My plea to everyone is to stop it. This is the most significant strategic, long-term transport decision we will take for a generation, and it has got to be right. The project will outlive several Governments, of goodness knows what colour and composition, so the decision has got to be right and we must have agreement on it.

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Secondly, I would like some reassurance from the Minister about the scope of the Department for Transport inquiry and that that inquiry is not a simple choice between the current High Speed 2 proposals and doing nothing, but that a range of other options can be considered. The Transport Committee has just returned from a visit to France and Germany to look at their high-speed networks. One conclusion that I came to is that what matters is not just building a line, but how it is connected into the existing rail network, the connectivity to the termini on the line, and how it fits in with the wider transport strategy involving freight and aviation. That is what makes high-speed rail a success or failure. We must look at it in the round.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South has mentioned Lille. Yes, it has been successful, but we found that that has often been at the expense of neighbouring towns. The French have recognised belatedly that better connectivity is needed to Lille, and that that is what drives the benefits.

Time precludes me from going into many of the other issues that I wanted to raise, but one is the operating speed of the route. High Speed 2 has been designed for an operating speed of 250 mph, but all the evidence from Europe, China and elsewhere is that although the trains can technically run at that speed, for all sorts of practical reasons they are limited to about 200 mph. That opens up the possibility of other route options. We can build High Speed 2, but not necessarily along the proposed route. The latest generation of Shinkansen bullet trains, which tilt, opens up the possibility of building lines alongside an existing transport corridor, such as the M1 or M40, which would mitigate much of the concern about environmental intrusion. That is what the Germans have done.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the M1 stops just north of Leeds?

Iain Stewart: It does indeed, and the current proposal is to go only as far as Leeds. There may be a further development alongside the A1 in future, but I will not argue for that.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South has mentioned the Frankfurt to Cologne line, which was built largely alongside the autobahn, and there has been no concern in Germany about the noise and visual intrusion of that line, which has been welcomed. My request to the Minister is that we examine all the options, because it is vital to get the details right. If we do, we will have a transport system that we can be proud of; if we get it wrong, we may have an expensive white elephant.

10.12 am

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want to make a brief point with a constituency interest. I have supported the principle of high-speed rail for several years as part of the campaign to avoid the need for a third runway at Heathrow, so I was extremely pleased when the Government ruled out that runway and came out in favour of high-speed rail. However, the way in which the consultation is taking place is undermining support for high-speed rail in my constituency, because it is focusing on high-speed rail throughout the London borough of Hillingdon without commencing the consultation about links with Heathrow, which will take

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place after the consultation on the main High Speed 2 link. We have been told that we will have information on that at the end of the year, or perhaps in 2012 or later.

The Minister knows that I have raised the matter before, and my view is that if there is to be consultation on the various routes, it should be comprehensive and include the whole route. I agree with the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who has said that there are other options that need to be thoroughly investigated, but to consult on High Speed 2 without consulting on the Heathrow link at the same time undermines the consultation process.

My constituents have successfully fought off the blight of the third runway, despite BAA buying up half of Sipson village and not selling off the houses, but they are now affected by the blight from high-speed rail, because we do not know the exact route into the airport. If we could at least have had the full consultation at the same time, my constituents would have more certainty about their future and would be able to reach a view. Staggering the consultation is breeding suspicion—unnecessarily, I hope—that their homes will again be affected.

The Government have gone about the matter in completely the wrong way, and I urge the Minister to ensure that information on the Heathrow link is published no later than the autumn, and that the consultation starts no later than the autumn. We would then have an accurate view of what Hillingdon residents think about the concept of high-speed rail.

10.15 am

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing this debate. I am an enthusiastic supporter of railways in general and of high-speed rail in particular. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) has said, time does not permit development of too many of the economic and environmental arguments, but they are generally proven.

My constituency has much to thank the railways for. When the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway eventually arrived at the coast, it effectively created the resort of Cleethorpes, and the neighbouring port of Immingham. The MSL railway was known as mucky, slow and late, but I am not sure whether that description was affectionate. The key route from Cleethorpes to Manchester is still the main rail route into the resort, but I have a few caveats on which the Minister could perhaps provide some reassurance.

Mr MacShane: I am often on that train, although I do not go as far as Cleethorpes, but I know the line well. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in a fine campaign by the Yorkshire Post, which should be sent to all hon. Members, the whole of Yorkshire articulated that it wants high-speed rail to happen? I hate to play the north against the south, but there is a real feeling that this is a golden opportunity for the north of England, particularly Yorkshire. I hope that opposition to the scheme, even if the scheme has to be modified—the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) has made some perfectly good points—does not derail this important initiative.

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Martin Vickers: I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point. Anything that can advance economic regeneration of the Yorkshire and Humber region is obviously welcome, and anything that we can do to get visitors from his area to Cleethorpes, is also welcome.

Cleethorpes and the area more generally is desperate for a direct route to London, and one worry is that HS2 will suck up all investment resources. The minor infrastructure changes that would improve capacity on the east coast main line, and therefore provide capacity for a direct service to the Cleethorpes area, may be lost. Perhaps the Minister will reassure me on that.

The other brief point that I want to make in my allotted two and a half minutes concerns the supply chain. I am encouraged by what the Secretary of State said after the Bombardier announcement about how we must ensure that the supply chain involves British manufacturers, if possible. Many of my constituents who work at the steel works in the neighbouring constituency of Scunthorpe are under threat of redundancy. Tata Steel in Scunthorpe has benefited greatly in recent years from the worldwide renaissance of railways, and I would like some reassurance. Perhaps the Minister can build on what the Secretary of State said about ensuring that the benefits of production are retained in this country.

10.18 am

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on initiating this debate, and on her contribution, which set the right tone. I agree with the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who said that we need an evidence-based debate. We also need a debate that is led by hon. Members from throughout the United Kingdom, and this debate has provided that opportunity. It is hugely important to include peripheral areas such as the Isle of Anglesey, which I represent.

I will heed your advice, Mr Gray, and limit my contribution. I will not go into the full details of the history of the Irish mail from Euston to Kingstown via Holyhead, which started, as you will know, in 1848, when it took some 10 hours to get the mail from the centre of London to the centre of Holyhead, and then on fast ferries to the Republic of Ireland, which took two days.

Over the past 10 years, we have seen a huge reduction in the journey time between my constituency and London. When I was first elected some 10 years ago, it took more than five hours to get from Holyhead to Euston. It now takes three hours and 40 minutes, which is the result of investment in the west coast main line. We have more frequent—indeed hourly—trains to Chester, and although that is the wrong side of Offa’s Dyke, it provides a connection to north Wales, linking it with the major cities of Manchester and Birmingham via Crewe, and getting people and trade—which is vital—from the south-east to periphery areas. That is a sort of evidence base. I do not have the data, but when I make that journey of three hours and 40 minutes, I often speak with business people—many of them travel in first class and I travel in standard class, but we have the opportunity to speak. Organisations such as the CBI and others

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mention the benefits that investment in the west coast main line has brought to periphery areas such as north-west Wales. It is important to use that evidence and collate more data for the future to make a stronger case for high-speed rail, which I greatly support in principle.

I want to raise two issues with the Minister. I had the opportunity to speak to her about these matters a couple of weeks ago, but I would like her to respond on the record. In her opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South pointed to the position of the Secretary of State for Wales. I do not want to personalise the issue, but we need a strong voice at the Cabinet table to represent Wales and to set out the benefits that a high-speed network throughout the United Kingdom would bring to Wales. I hope that the Minister will ask her colleagues in government whether an analysis has been made of those benefits by the Wales Office, because that is its role. We are talking about strategic rail travel in the United Kingdom, and it is important that the people of Wales have a voice at the Cabinet table.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Perhaps I have not followed the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but it is not clear why the proposed Y-shape route will benefit Wales. Will he recap his point?

Albert Owen: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not listening; I was providing evidence that investment in the west coast main line has benefited the peripheries. Joining up periphery areas with main lines and having faster trains will get people and trade to those areas. I thought that the Government were in favour of that; I have supported them in that and in the idea of spreading wealth and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom. The idea is not new—it happened in Victorian times, which is why I gave the example of the Irish mail. The Victorians recognised the importance of Dublin. This Government have bailed out the Irish Government because they understand the importance of trade links with Ireland. It is important to have full integration between all parts of the United Kingdom and our near neighbours.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree, as he seems to suggest, that there is not enough evidence to prove the benefits of regeneration outside the areas at the two ends of the proposed initial line, and that far more work needs to be done to provide evidence of those benefits? If the issue is about curing the north-south divide, the case is simply not proven.

Albert Owen: The hon. Lady is coming at the matter from the wrong angle. I am saying that the huge investment over the past 10 years has brought benefits to periphery areas but that the data have not been put into one package to make the case.

Andrea Leadsom rose—

Albert Owen: I am not going to give way again, because of the time restraint. We need to look thoroughly at the benefits to the whole United Kingdom, but there is no doubt that connecting periphery areas with main line stations works. We have seen that in Europe and in other areas.

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Andrea Leadsom rose—

Albert Owen: I am not going to give way again. I appreciate that the hon. Lady has her opinion, but I am trying to make my views heard. I hope that she and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) have understood my argument. I will move on, but I believe that the Minister should press the Secretary of State for Wales and the Wales Office to make a proper analysis of the benefits of high-speed rail for Wales.

My second point is more negative, because we should also look at the disadvantages of the scheme. Will the Minister look at the issue in the context of Euston station, where the redevelopment for the high-speed rail link would take place? I know that the Transport Committee heard evidence about that yesterday, but the case for high-speed rail would be slightly undermined if there were to be a long period of redevelopment at Euston. As was said yesterday, it would take up to eight years to redevelop that station, and services to the north-west and north Wales would be cut during that period. I know that the Minister will look at all the options, but perhaps she could look at undergrounding or some other way to alleviate the problem with main line stations such as Euston in the future. I know that the Minister is keen for the project to proceed; she has listened and is in tune with what hon. Members are saying throughout the United Kingdom. I ask her, however, to look at the issue of Euston and put pressure on her colleague, the Secretary of State for Wales, to make the case for Wales.

10.25 am

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I will try to be brief because I have taken part in debates about this issue in the past.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing this debate. I like the fact that the debate’s title as set out on the Order Paper is positive, and I will resist joining in the accusations against the Secretary of State for Wales—I will wait for her performance this afternoon before the Welsh Affairs Committee.

I want to keep the debate positive because it is important that those of us in favour of High Speed 2 galvanise a campaign in support of it. I have seen the comments of business leaders in the Yorkshire Postin support of the scheme, but that is not enough and we need to bang the drum much louder. A high-speed rail link will not solve the north-south divide, but it will go a long way to remedy some of the problems. It will help us to rebalance the economy so that growth is moved across the country and is not only in the south-east of England. As has been mentioned, we must start dealing with problems of capacity. The west coast main line is already creaking; passenger numbers have doubled over the past six years, with 28 million passengers a year on that line alone. From a personal point of view, it is predicted that 40% more passengers will travel through Leeds station. We must start planning now, and it is time to start looking at high-speed rail. I believe that faster journey times will increase the prospect of investment in other parts of the country.

Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend and I have had many discussions about this issue. The most recent Government papers suggest that up to 73% of the line’s

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usage will be for leisure travel. How will that contribute to curing the north-south divide?

Stuart Andrew: I think that the Government are being conservative in their estimates of passenger numbers and who will use the high-speed network. I was about to say that even with our current creaking transport network, Leeds enjoys the second largest financial sector in the country. If we have a high-speed route to Leeds, the prospect of increasing and expanding that financial sector could become a reality.

Figures suggest that current proposals for a line between London and Birmingham will generate 40,000 jobs. When we move to the Y-shape, there will be greater prosperity and more jobs. Globalisation means that we need to start meeting the demands of a much smaller world so that those of us on the periphery, as the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) said, can also enjoy the benefits of that.

Let me refer to some of the criticisms of the scheme. Too often we hear people referring only to the line to Birmingham. The whole point about HS2 is that it will go beyond that. The Y-shaped route was the best decision made by the Government. If they had chosen only the line that went to Manchester and then Leeds, I, too, would be a critic, but the fact is that the Y-shape will bring benefits to the whole country, as was confirmed by the Prime Minister on 22 June. I have heard critics say that the line will never get that far north, but the Prime Minister has been clear on the issue.

David Mowat: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the consultation being for only the leg between London and Birmingham, which is the hardest part to achieve and the part with the weakest business case. The business case for the entire project is much better, because the line becomes easier to build as we go north. Does he agree that even though the business case for the initial part is stronger than those for Crossrail and Thameslink, it is a problem that there is consideration of only that first part?

Stuart Andrew: I completely agree. That is why I say that we must consider the project in its entirety and think about going beyond what is currently proposed and on to Scotland. We must think of the very long term, not just the short term. On the one hand, people say, “Oh, this is too many years in advance. It’s not worth doing,” but there is no excuse for doing nothing and we have to plan now to deal with the problem. On the other hand, however, people say, “We shouldn’t be spending this amount of money when times are hard,” but construction will not happen until 2017 and it will take place over two decades. I believe that the cost will be about £2 billion a year, which is similar to the cost for Crossrail, and if that was good enough for London, it is good enough for the rest of the country.

Yesterday, I sat for a short while at the back of the room in which the sitting of the Transport Committee was taking place and I heard the arguments against HS2. They seemed to centre on the claim that existing infrastructure would miss out. In fairness to the Department for Transport, it has invested lots of extra money for projects. When the people appearing before the Committee were asked what they wanted instead, they said, “Roads.” Well, we have seen what has happened before in that

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respect. They said that the M25 junctions could be improved, which would be very helpful to those of us in the north—thanks very much.

HS2 is not a panacea, but it will dovetail into the northern hub so that we can get people to the north and around the north, and so that business can thrive. That is something that we cannot wait for and Britain needs to catch up.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. We have nine minutes for six speakers.

10.31 am

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this high-speed debate, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing it and on her excellent speech.

My party has long supported high-speed rail as an essential part of the development of Britain’s public transport infrastructure. Such investment is vital to create a society in which people are free to pursue their ambitions. Economic growth has been too concentrated in London and the south-east. If the rate of growth in that area had been replicated in other areas in the past decade, the UK would have been £38 billion better off. High-speed rail is a vital investment to ensure that we manage to rebalance the economy along more equal regional lines.

One of the other arguments for high-speed rail is that it represents the type of sustainable, environmentally conscious economic growth that we need. High-speed rail is not in itself a low-carbon form of transport, as should be obvious, because machines that run at very high speeds need more power than machines that run at low speeds. However, the modal shift to which many hon. Members have referred makes it much more environmentally sustainable. In fact, that makes it vital for the long-term sustainability of our country’s infrastructure. We have heard about the likely effects for Scotland of a move from air to rail. We have also heard that long-distance services on the high-speed line would free up capacity on other major rail routes. In addition, it is important to remember that the carbon benefits of rail over aviation are likely to improve, and to continue improving, as we develop new ways of decarbonising the electricity supply.

Andrea Leadsom: I have to take issue with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because the Government’s own figures suggest that the shift from air to rail is likely to be only about 7% and a number of airlines have said that that would give them the capacity to put on more long-haul flights, so it is not at all clear that there is any modal shift from air to rail. In addition, traffic flow on the M1 is expected to reduce by only 2%. Not even the Government are trying to advance the green argument.

Dr Huppert: I agree, in that I wish that the Government would advance environmental arguments more often. I do not have all the figures available, but we have heard the figures on links with Scotland. With a full Y-shaped network, about half the 7 million passenger trips that are currently made would be captured by High Speed 2 and I think that we would continue to make greater progress on that.

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The nature of the route is not the only thing that matters. When we talk to people about the state of our public transport, a number of themes crop up. People find it hard to get the right information, to get the right connection at the right time and to buy the ticket that best suits their needs. I want the Government to make doubly sure that this new venture is not what some have said that it will be—a costly train for the well-off. The Liberal Democrats have long called for rail fares to be reviewed and, if possible, cut or refunded in the case of delays or bus replacement services. We must ensure that the same principles apply to High Speed 2. It is essential that, alongside the planning of the route, the Government adopt an approach that is designed to ensure a gradual improvement in terms and conditions for passengers on both bus and rail.

I want to see more commitment from the Government on what will happen in the longer term with regard to Scotland. I want to know whether they have a vision to ensure that the Y-shaped route will eventually run all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh. We have the prospect of an exciting scheme that will be very good for the economy and for the environment. I look forward to working closely with the Department for Transport, the Minister and other stakeholders as we try to ensure that the project provides value for money, environmental and economic benefits and a public transport infrastructure that works and is in the best interests of passengers.

10.35 am

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): For the benefit of hon. Members, I will try not to repeat points that have already been made. I will also try to obey the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) about the north-south divide, although I do want to say something about that.

Like others, I will avoid references to long history, although I shall mention the original high-speed line—the west coast main line in the 19th century. It went from Euston station in London to the Euston hotel in Fleetwood. We also had at one time a ferry to Scotland and to Northern Ireland, so the Scots and the Northern Irish had the benefits of coming to Fleetwood. Unfortunately, we have no ferry now. We still have a railway line in Fleetwood, but we have no trains on it. Nevertheless, we are supporters of High Speed 2, and that is despite the fact that most of my constituency is 50 miles away from Greater Manchester. For the benefit of those who are not north-west MPs, I should point out that the north-west is not just Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

For us, the issue is the capacity that the project will release on the west coast main line. According to the figures that I have seen, the only increase in capacity that we are going to get in the next 10 years is one of 12%. However, the passenger load has already hit that figure, as anyone who travels on the line will know. We need capacity to be released.

There is a solution to all our problems and the debate about where the line should go in the south: we should start the other way round by building now from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and then slowly build downwards while there is a discussion in the south about where the line should end up. However, I am not sure whether civil servants could cope with that thinking.

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Let us consider the figures and the real issue about the north-south divide with reference to my own county of Lancashire. If we look at gross value added in terms of what we contribute to the national economy, we see that it has been going down for the past 10 years. In 1995, the gross value added figure for Lancashire was about 88.7% of the average. By 2008, we had gone down by 10 points—that is the real issue. When the average transport spend per head in London is £802 yet it is £333 in the north-west, people rightly ask questions. For me, the key is capacity and maintaining what the coalition Government promised, which was to try to rebalance the growth in the regions, which were clearly failed by the previous Government in the past 10 years.

I want to finish by putting a technicality to the Minister. I understand that the hybrid Bill—I am not an expert on such measures—will deal with only the route from London to Birmingham. We desperately need to maintain support for the project. Somewhere in the Bill, there needs to be a mention that that is a first step that will lead to a second step to Manchester and Leeds and then, we hope, a third step to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

10.38 am

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing the debate. I have not hidden my full backing for the proposed high-speed rail link, and I certainly cannot be accused of hiding my disdain for some of the bogus arguments made by its opponents, who have now given up even pretending that they are not nimbys. Take the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), for example, who just this week said:

“There’s nothing wrong with being a Nimby, openly and absolutely.”

However, I do not intend to waste any more time on them.

The last time that we had a debate on this issue in Westminster Hall, I focused on busting the myths of the opponents. In this debate, I shall explain how my constituents and the constituents of the hon. Member for Coventry North West—indeed, all our constituents—will massively benefit from a high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. When I say “our constituents”, I really mean our constituents’ children and grandchildren, because this is a long-term decision, not an election gimmick or a vanity project. Most of us in the Chamber will not be around to take the credit when the first high-speed trains arrive in Manchester. This is about taking the right decision now to ensure that our economy can compete in the decades ahead so that the next generation, which has already been saddled with huge levels of debt thanks to the previous Government, is not also stuck with a jammed-up rail network, which would have crippling effects on our international competitiveness. After all, we would not want to run a 21st-century economy on A and B roads when we could build motorways.

All our major global competitors already have high-speed rail lines or are investing in them right now. If we do not go ahead with High Speed 2, we will be left behind. Network Rail estimates that London-Manchester passenger demand will grow by 61% by 2024. It is clear that “upgrading is not enough” and that

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“incremental improvements in the existing network are unlikely to be able to keep up with rapidly growing passenger demand”.

That should be a warning to opponents.

David Mowat: I want to touch on one quick point that my hon. Friend and others have made in error. They suggest that this is all about Manchester to London, Leeds to London or Edinburgh to London, but it is not—it is about getting to Europe as well. The links to High Speed 1 are fundamental to our communities, and we must not let the debate become polarised so that it focuses only on London.

Graham Evans: I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention and I take his point.

Network Rail is clear about what the solution should be. It says that High Speed 2 “solves the capacity challenge” and that the proposed line would

“deliver a very large increase in capacity, including freeing up capacity on the existing network for freight, more frequent services for cities not served by the high-speed line and increased commuter services.”

That means that the constituents of the most earnest opponents of High Speed 2 will benefit directly from the plans. The point about freight is also crucial. If we are to rebalance our economy, with more northern-based manufacturing—figures show the Government are already making strong progress on that—that will involve demands for additional freight capacity.

High Speed 2 therefore directly benefits a wide range of people, from commuters in Cheshire to manufacturers in Coventry. A lot of flim-flam will be spoken about the business case for high-speed rail by its opponents, but the business case is strong. The estimated benefit to the economy is more than £40 billion pounds.

Andrea Leadsom: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Graham Evans: No, I need to finish.

More than 40,000 new jobs will be created, with an additional 30,000 jobs created at the ends of the line and around the new stations. The taxpayer will enjoy benefits worth more than double what the project will cost. However, hon. Members should not just take it from me or the Government that the business case is strong. Hundreds of leading businesses across the country back the plans, and Network Rail, having carefully examined all the different options, said that it

“found the business case for a new high speed network was robust.”

Steve Baker: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Graham Evans: No, I need to finish.

Hon. Members will forgive me if put more stock in the words of Network Rail and Britain’s business leaders than in those of, say, the South Northants Action Group Against HS2. High Speed 2 will help to deliver economic growth.

Andrea Leadsom: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Graham Evans: No; I am sorry, but I need to finish. My hon. Friend should have come earlier.

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High Speed 2 will deliver low-carbon economic growth, dramatically reducing the demand for domestic flights and shifting 6 million journeys from aviation to rail. Finally, let me try to humanise the benefits. In the previous debate, I talked about how High Speed 2 will give businesses and families—

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. I call Andrew Gwynne.

10.42 am

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing the debate and on putting her case. She added a distinctively Welsh dimension to the debate on high-speed rail. As someone who studied at college in north-east Wales, and who travelled weekly from the Shotton and Wrexham stations to Manchester for a good three years, I fully understand the issues she raised about connectivity, particularly with north-west England.

Across the world, our major competitors are investing in high-speed rail, and it is important that Britain is not left behind in the race for faster connectivity. As my hon. Friend said, the prospect of bringing our major cities closer together brings with it the potential to boost investment and economic growth in the regions of England—and particularly in the north of England—Scotland and Wales.

During its period in government, the Labour party began the process of moving Britain into the high-speed age. Through electrification, more advanced trains and investment in new technology, we cut journey times on our major inter-city routes. Where there was a need for a new line, we delivered it, constructing the first major new railway for more than 100 years, between London and the channel tunnel.

Before we left office, we began to plan the next stages of the process of moving our rail network into its high-speed future. We prepared for the next phase of electrification and the procurement of the new generation of more advanced inter-city trains. We began to work with Network Rail to identify the next priorities for investment to increase capacity and reduce journey times, such as the northern hub proposal.

We therefore welcome the Government’s decision to take forward much of the electrification that we planned, although we are disappointed at the decision not to stick to our commitment to electrify the final part of the great western main line between Cardiff and Swansea. A commitment should also have been made to ensuring that the midland main line is the next important priority for electrification. We also welcome the decision to proceed with the inter-city express programme following the further review carried out by the Secretary of State, although we still have to hear an adequate explanation of why the number of new trains has been scaled back so considerably.

Of course, Labour Members also welcome the Government’s decision to continue to plan for the new high-speed line that is proposed to address the capacity issues on the west coast main line, which will get worse

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in later years, as we have heard from the hon. Members for Northampton South (Mr Binley), for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans). Within the next 20 years, the average long-distance west coast main line train is projected to be 80% full and routinely to have very severe overcrowding for much of the time. The new line will also bring reductions in journey times.

We welcome the Government’s decision to drop their pre-election insistence that passengers should have to go via Manchester to get to Leeds, which the hon. Member for Pudsey mentioned. We also welcome the alterations that have been made to the route to do more to mitigate the scheme’s impact on local communities and the environment, although there is still concern about the impact of the new line, and that needs to be addressed.

Thanks to the decision to take only the powers needed for the route from London to Birmingham, there is considerable scepticism about the Government’s commitment to take a new line further north. Labour’s plan was always to have one hybrid Bill for the entire new Y-shaped line. Of course, that would have meant that the Bill was delayed—perhaps by a year—but it would have saved considerable parliamentary time across the project. I therefore urge the Minister, as I did in a previous contribution, to think again about that.

The Minister cannot be surprised at the scepticism that exists, when even her own MPs are giving the game away about the true reason for the Government’s conversion to high speed. Only yesterday, writing on ConservativeHome, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field), who was here for the debate earlier, said:

“Indeed, the genesis of the project was a response to relentless business criticism of the Party’s decision to oppose a third runway at Heathrow. HS2 allowed the Conservatives in Opposition to cloak itself in a visionary, environmentally friendly, long-term transport policy.”

That suggests that, for the Government, the policy is not necessarily about narrowing the north-south divide, but a fig leaf for their lack of an aviation policy and, I might even add, a growth policy.

In contrast, the Labour party’s support for increasing speed and capacity is something we delivered on in government and is rooted in our genuine commitment to the rail network. It is vital that we think it terms of a single high-speed rail network across Britain, and that we achieve reduced journey times and increased capacity through a programme of electrification, new advanced trains and new lines, where that is the best way to address capacity issues.

In the policy review we are carrying out, we are looking at what the future strategy should be for rail in Britain as a whole. It makes no sense to look at proposed new lines in isolation or to preclude them from our review. A number of issues are being raised with us as part of our review, and the same is no doubt true of the Government’s consultation. I would therefore welcome the Minister’s response to a number of those issues.

First, there is considerable concern that any new lines should be fully integrated into the existing rail network. We must ensure that we can maximise the benefits of the proposed new lines, with rail all over the country and with major London projects such as Crossrail and Thameslink.

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There is a view that the precise alignment of the route the Government have chosen is driven very much by the very high top speeds proposed for the new line. That speed is considerably above that on high-speed lines in use across the world, and some countries—notably China—are even slowing down their high-speed trains to address cost, energy use, safety and environmental concerns. Some believe that the need for the route to go through a sensitive part of the Chilterns is entirely down to the speed calculations that have been made. It would be helpful if we had some clarity on that.

Andrea Leadsom: Do the Opposition intend to respond to the consultation by 29 July?

Andrew Gwynne: The Opposition will take full part in all these debates, I assure the hon. Lady of that.

There is widespread incredulity at the fact that the cost of actually using the new lines does not feature at all in the current consultation, when, surely, that is a critical factor. If the whole point is that passengers will make the switch from the existing lines to reduce overcrowding on them, how can any assessment have been made of the likelihood of that happening without any knowledge of the likely difference in ticket price between the two lines? We know that it costs more to travel on High Speed 1 than on other services along that route, and there is no reason to believe that the proposed new line will be any different. Speaking of HS1, the Secretary of State for Transport announced in an interview in the Financial Times a few days ago that, just as with HS1, he proposes to sell the new line even before it has been built—something I would have hoped he might announce to Parliament.

A further issue that comes up frequently in our policy review is the decision not to join up the new line to Heathrow from the start, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) suggested. That is of course our only major hub airport. In opposition the Minister said that

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

Instead, what is proposed is an expensive further spur to be built at a later date.

Not surprisingly, the cost of the scheme continues to cause concern. It has previously been acknowledged that the construction costs for major projects in the UK are significantly higher than for comparable projects elsewhere in Europe. It is vital that the Government work with Infrastructure UK to find ways to ensure that the cost to the taxpayer of the scheme is kept under control.

Finally, I repeat the concern already raised that the proposed hybrid Bill includes only part of the new line. Surely one hybrid Bill on high speed is enough.

Rail is thriving in Britain. More people are travelling than at any time since the 1920s. There are 1.3 billion journeys by train every year, and predictions of a doubling of that figure in 30 years. Increased capacity and continuing reductions in journey times are essential to the continuation of such success. That is why we made great strides towards high-speed rail in government, and why the debate about how any new lines that are needed are delivered is so important.

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10.52 am

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones)on securing a debate on this important issue, and I welcome the widespread support for the Government’s plans, expressed from both sides of the House by a clear majority of the hon. Members present. I hope that all colleagues who attended, including those who did not choose to stay to the end, will encourage all their constituents to take part in the consultation, which closes on 29 July, and make their support for the Government’s proposals clear.

In answer to the questions, there is no delay; the timetable that we are taking forward is the same as the one proposed by the previous Government. On the allegation of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), repeated yet again, that we are not serious about going to the north of England, we supported a link to the north of England before Labour did. We supported a national network while Labour’s 30-year strategy for the railways ruled out high-speed rail at all. They are the people who are late to the party on high-speed rail, so the hon. Gentleman is in no position to criticise us. Nor is he in any position to criticise our approach to international connections. Labour had no connection to Heathrow in its plans, and nor did it put forward proposals to connect HS2 to HS1. Both those facts show that Labour was not serious about international connections. In response to questions on this point, and the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), I repeat my support for taking high-speed rail to the north of England.

Questions were asked about a hybrid Bill and yes, the first hybrid Bill will cover the first phase, but we hope to go on in due course to an informal consultation next year on phase 2 to the north of England, with a hybrid Bill in due course in the next Parliament. I emphasise that the Government entirely recognise the concerns of communities about the preferred route and the potential impact on their local environment. We are listening to all those concerns. We have already made changes to about half the route that we inherited from our predecessors. As has already been mentioned, while our preferred route passes through the sensitive Chilterns area, all but 1.2 miles of it is in either a tunnel or a cutting, or alongside a main transport corridor—the A413 being a particular example. I am convinced that the result of the extensive process of consultation on the hybrid Bill will not be nearly as negative for communities as they fear. I am confident that with careful mitigation we can address the most serious local impacts, as happened so successfully with HS1. Intense controversy surrounded that first stretch of high-speed rail for the UK. Because of the hard work that went into getting the right route and the right mitigation, HS1 has not had the disruptive impact that communities feared it would. We can do the same with the route for HS2.

On what my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said about HS1 somehow pushing up fares on the conventional service, the fares decisions taken by the previous Government were related to capacity enhancements and improvements on the conventional existing line, and not to HS1. The hon. Members for Clwyd South and for Ynys Môn

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(Albert Owen) made points about Euston, and of course there is more work to be done in relation to Euston—and the rest of the route. That is why HS2 Ltd is working with Camden residents, and why it is entirely legitimate for Members of the House to make representations about the Government’s preferred route.

As to points that were made about the Secretary of State for Wales, we are, as I have said, undertaking an extensive consultation on a preferred route for high-speed rail. No decision has been taken about the right route. All we have is a preferred option. It is entirely appropriate for MPs, including members of the Government, to take part in a debate about what final route should be chosen and make representations on behalf of their constituents.

Andrea Leadsom: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Villiers: No.

Several points were made—

Albert Owen: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Villiers: I am afraid I really do not have time. We have had a good debate.

Albert Owen: On the Welsh Office.

Mrs Villiers: I am sorry; I have many points to respond to, and only about another seven minutes—[Hon. Members: “Four minutes.”]—four minutes.

There was strong support from my hon. Friends the Members for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), for Warrington South (David Mowat), and for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). I also note the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). A fundamental reason for our need for high-speed rail is to deliver the capacity we need to meet the growing demand for inter-city travel. Despite significant capacity upgrades in recent years, with more to come on the west coast, Network Rail predicts that the line will be pretty much full by 2024. That saturation point could come earlier. If we fail to provide the capacity we need, we will significantly hinder economic growth and worsen the north-south divide. No Government can afford to sit back and ignore that. High-speed rail can provide the

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capacity we need, as well as shrinking journey times between our major population centres, spreading prosperity and creating jobs, without a net increase in carbon emissions. As the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) said, that is just the sort of sustainable growth we need.

High-speed rail will reshape our economic geography and start to tackle and reduce the economic divide between north and south, as my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood and for Pudsey pointed out. The full Y-shaped network is expected to generate about £44 billion for the economy. We are convinced that high-speed rail will do a tremendous amount to integrate the economies of Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, and to spread prosperity well beyond the cities that are directly served by the line, including destinations in north Wales. As the hon. Member for Clwyd South pointed out, examples such as Lille show that those regeneration benefits are felt well beyond the cities that are directly served by the stations. We believe that the country should aspire for the future to a genuinely national network, which we hope, of course, will include Wales and Scotland. However, long before that point, passengers in Scotland are expected to benefit significantly from shorter journey times resulting from the Y-shaped network, with journeys of 3.5 hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London providing an attractive alternative to flights, as highlighted by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex).

North Wales is also likely to benefit as a result of the project we are considering today, because of a GDP boost resulting from taking high-speed rail to Birmingham and then on to the north-west, with benefits in inward investment and tourism. We are determined to do as much as we can to respond to the points that have been made today about the importance of ensuring good connections from the conventional network into new HS2 services. That is one way in which we will succeed in spreading the benefits as widely as possible. Such good connections should enable north Wales passengers to benefit from faster journey times. HS2 would also release capacity on the existing network, benefiting north Wales and destinations in the west and east midlands and the north of England, including Northampton—

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister. I congratulate hon. Members on the fact that 14 of them have been able to speak in the debate, which is a pretty reasonable number.

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Youth Unemployment (Mitcham and Morden)

11 am

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I am delighted to have been given the chance to speak in Westminster Hall, but I am sorry about the circumstances that led to my asking for this debate.

In my constituency of Mitcham and Morden, which the Minister will know well, the number of unemployed jobseeker’s allowance claimants has reached 2,776. From the moment when I was elected in 1997, it looked as though unemployment had slipped off the agenda, because it fell during my first 12 years as a Member. In April 1997, weeks before I was elected, the unemployment rate in Mitcham and Morden was 5.4%. Even in April 2009, at the height of the recession, it was only 3.7%. However, it is now back up to 5.2%.

The effect of unemployment is perhaps greatest on our young people. If they cannot get work early in life and learn the discipline of the workplace, it becomes harder to find work. For older people, gaps in a CV can make life difficult when applying for jobs, but for young people it is much worse. After a decade during which we invested enormously in education, exam grades have risen and young people’s aspirations are high, but their aspirations cannot be met.

Nationally, unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds has risen to 895,000. In Mitcham and Morden, the unemployment rate for the under-24s has shot up to 11.6% in the past year. Today, only 39 constituencies have a worse ratio of vacancies to JSA claimants than in my constituency. In May, our local jobcentre had only 124 jobs.

The scarcity of jobs has made life more difficult for young people looking for work. They have the disadvantage of lacking experience. We must not allow a return to the 1980s, when a whole generation of young people lost out and many drifted into a life of benefit dependency, which affected not only them but their children. We still feel the social effects of that period of long-term unemployment.

For many communities, the jobs have returned, but on some estates a culture of worklessness has taken hold. A generation on, we are still dealing with the consequences of young people having been unemployed in the 1980s—I say, never again. In the 1980s, youth unemployment continued to rise for four years after the recession was over. I want to stop another generation of young people in Mitcham and Morden having to go through that.

When the coalition Government were elected, their first steps were like a war against young people: they increased student fees; they abolished the education maintenance allowance; and they slashed the future jobs fund. It is true that youth unemployment across the country rose as a direct consequence of the recession, but a year ago it started to fall, and many believed that the future jobs fund was helping unemployed young people to gain opportunities that would help them into work.

Just over a year ago, however, the Prime Minister described the future jobs fund as a “good scheme”, and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson said that

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“more help is needed for young people, not less.”

It is baffling that the fund has been scrapped. Last summer, I met a group of young people who had enrolled through the future jobs fund and who were getting good work experience at a local charity, the Commonside community development trust. I wanted to hear about their experience.

There were nine youngsters on the scheme—one dropped out, but the others had a better time. They were given a range of things to do, from helping to run a community centre to dealing with older people in the lunch club and undertaking basic admin duties. I am told that, a year on, four are now in work, and three have gone back into education. I see one of those young people regularly at my advice surgery every Friday—not, I hasten to add, because he needs to see me about problems, but because he has a full-time job on the ground floor of the same council building. His name is Kyle Bryant, and he believes that the future jobs fund helped him to get his current job. It certainly showed that he was willing, and his experience there gave him a better CV.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Kyle and his fellow graduates of Commonside’s future jobs fund programme. They did the right thing by helping out a worthwhile local charity, and getting some good experience, and many are now reaping the rewards. I am sure that other hon. Members have similar tales, but for me, meeting young people like Kyle brought home just how difficult it is for young people who cannot find work to get the necessary experience without extra help. Now that the future jobs fund has been scrapped, the opportunity to gain good experience is even harder to come by.

Internships have been seen as a way to get ahead. However, the Deputy Prime Minister rightly criticised the way in which internships often favour those who already have good connections. Indeed, he has used privileged access, through his family, to secure top-notch work experience. However, that is not an option for many in Mitcham and Morden. We tend not to have many people with connections to top jobs in the public sector, let alone to senior bankers or business people. I therefore wondered what sort of role I might play.

In some respects, Members of Parliament are the hub of their community. We have no real power on our own and we do not have access to public funds, but we know our constituencies and the people and businesses that make them tick. I therefore decided to facilitate a work experience programme in Mitcham and Morden for our unemployed young people. The idea came after chatting with the Stranks of Strank Roofing, a successful local firm that I know through the charities that it supports and through its sponsorship of our local football team, AFC Wimbledon. I hope, Mr Gray, that you will not stop me congratulating the team on getting into the Football League after only nine years.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): They are no longer unemployed.

Siobhain McDonagh: They were not unemployed before, but they are now in the full-time league.

Irene and Paul Strank told me that they wanted to help young people who could not find work, but that they found Government schemes a little too prescriptive and bureaucratic. For instance, the new Government work experience scheme that began in January requires

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employers to sign service level agreements, complete health and safety questionnaires, and to receive visits from the jobcentre. Those requirements often put off people such as the Stranks.

Anyone who has offered work experience to schoolchildren—many Members do so, including me—will know what a hassle it can be. I perfectly understand why employers are reluctant to participate in Government schemes. However, the Stranks were sure that other firms would feel the same as they did and would want to train young people—if they were any good, there might be a job at the end of it—but without the hassle, the form-filling or the sense of being monitored by the authorities.

I therefore decided to contact every local business and voluntary group in Mitcham and Morden, and a few others just outside our borders, to see whether they would offer work experience for a couple of months to unemployed youngsters from my constituency. Thanks to Anna in my office and some amazing volunteers from my local Labour party, particularly Ross Garrod, who has been trying to build up a new set of skills after leaving university, I have been able to convince nearly 40 organisations to take on at least one young person.

These organisations cover a wide spectrum, and include many organisations that I thought would not have wanted to become involved. Indeed, the Minister will know some of the organisations at first hand; they include the premium hotel Cannizaro House and Cosmopolitan, the women’s magazine—although he probably knows less about the latter. The youngsters have opportunities from retail to tyre fitting, and from schools to legal firms. The Elective Orthopaedic Centre has offered two placements for people thinking about applying to medical school, but who have no medical contacts in their families. That is extremely exciting for the people in my constituency. Shelley Engineering, a local architectural metal work company, is a family firm that employs 20 people. It said that it is desperately looking for the right young person, and if it finds one it will happily award an apprenticeship. In short, there is something for a wide range of abilities and interests.

I also contacted all the companies that infamously auctioned internships to raise funds for the Conservative party. I explained that not everyone in Mitcham and Morden could afford to bid thousands of pounds for the sorts of privileged opportunities that seemed to be available to Conservative sponsors. I said that, as work experience with them was so prestigious, it would be nice if they were to spread the opportunities around. Unfortunately—perhaps it was not a great surprise—those firms would not join in. I imagine that the kind of people who would auction their best openings to raise money for the Tories would want to restrict them to privileged people like themselves. That only served to convince me more of the need to press ahead with creating opportunities for my young constituents.

After I received promises of up to 50 placements, I put together a brochure and sent it to every household in Mitcham and Morden that included someone under the age of 25. I would like to thank Rob Geleit, a Labour party member from Epsom with design skills, for laying out the brochure, the Communication Workers Union for agreeing to print it and Asda for agreeing to

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post it. I would also like to thank Liz Sherwood, a local Labour party member, who has taken early retirement from Camden council, for agreeing to act as mentor for both the young people and the businesses. A couple of weekends ago, she met more than 23 potential applicants and helped them write letters and e-mails to potential employers. It was a heart-warming experience to see the mums who came in with children who had learning difficulties and the women in their 40s who came for a hand to get a work experience job.

I also thank my local jobcentre for its advice and its willingness to give this project a go. I must confess that a couple of years ago I called a debate here to complain about how unhelpful it was, so I was nervous about how it would respond to me this time. I was concerned that it would insist on a level of bureaucracy that would put off potential providers, or that it would tell our young people that if they went on a placement they would lose their benefits. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and the jobcentre has been amazingly accommodating—perhaps that is because our work experience scheme is so much more flexible than the Government’s. Obviously, even while young people are on their placements, they can still be looking for work and be available to start at a moment’s notice, and no organisation wants to be seen as a bad boss.

The jobcentre has not had the reputation for being the most enterprising organisation. However, any such criticism could not have been further from the truth. Ailsa Evans, in particular, was both helpful and flexible. Each work experience placement can last anything from eight to 12 weeks and cover a range of hours. In essence, I have been a facilitator between organisations and young people, but they come to their own arrangements, and Ms Evans has been happy with that.

The brochures have now been delivered and there have been hundreds of applications. Most organisations have told me that they have had a positive response. Merton chamber of commerce, for instance, has had more than 40 applications. Several placements have already begun, and later this year I plan to host a party for everyone who has taken part—host organisations and young people.

There has been a buzz about the scheme that has taken me by surprise. One potential applicant, Sambavi, applied for one of the medical positions. It is not the sort of opportunity that often arises for people from places such as Mitcham, where he lives. He said:

“Thank you for your Work Experience booklet. I have been spending the past 4 weeks trying to find work experience that is suitable for Medicine...I received your letter and booklet, earlier today, and I am very thankful.”

On the whole, the potential employers have also found the process worthwhile. Jeffrey Ward, the General Manager at Cannizaro House hotel said, “It’s great.” Nilmini Roelens of Roelens Solicitors said:

“We hope to accommodate at least two or three applicants over the summer and to provide the young people concerned with what I hope will be valuable insight into the work at a firm of solicitors. It may be that, from the two or three people we will have met, we can consider at least one for a longer term position at some point in the future.”

We have also had positive e-mails from Merton adult college, St Mark’s family centre, the Vine furniture project and the Ursuline high school.

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The reason why I asked for this debate today is that I want to encourage more MPs to take a similar approach, especially in areas such as Mitcham and Morden, where youth unemployment is high and where there are few people who can find opportunities through their daddies or who can afford to enter auctions to support political parties. I recognise that many Members will need help on this, and I hope that the Department for Work and Pensions will be able to offer it.

It is a terrible mistake to have ended the future jobs fund and to have taken away opportunities for people like Kyle in Mitcham and Morden and elsewhere. I am concerned that any new scheme will be so bureaucratic and inflexible that few organisations will want to participate. I understand that Jobcentre Plus will run the scheme. Rather than being hands-off facilitators as I am, jobcentres will hold lists of potential employers and send work experience people to them.

From this summer, it will be mandatory for jobseekers to take placements, so even those who do not want a placement will be placed. I do not think that many people will want to take on an unwilling conscript for work experience. Moreover, as the work experience that is being foisted upon jobseekers could be for as little as just two weeks on the new Government programme, it is hard to see what anyone will get out of it.

In my own experience, such short placements often create more work than they save. An employer spends two weeks showing someone how to do a job, but by the time the jobseeker has learned how to do it, they have left. Then the employer themselves has all their own work to catch up on. Worst of all, though, the new Government programme suffers from exactly the same pitfalls of bureaucracy and inflexibility that the Stranks complained about. Participating employers will have to fill out service level agreements and health and safety questionnaires, and there will be visits from Jobcentre Plus-appointed employer advisers. Firms also have to provide a dedicated mentor or supervisor. As a result, small firms, which make up the majority of employers in my constituency, are unlikely to want to participate, and the quality of work is also likely to be compromised. Those that want to participate will very much be in a minority. We need high quality organisations, big and small, offering a variety of opportunities to young people who want to find an internship, but who cannot afford it or do not have the right connections.

I am not saying that my scheme is perfect. It is not an alternative to investment in jobs or to the economic growth that we need to create jobs. Of course my party believes the coalition’s cuts are too soon and too hard, and that that will endanger jobs and growth. None the less, I hope that my model of flexibility, with MPs or other community leaders acting as a hub for local organisations and local people, will be looked at and learned from. I hope that this debate has been helpful for the Minister.

11.16 am

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Gray. It has been a frequent occurrence in recent times. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on securing this debate.

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I will divide my remarks into two halves. First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on a project that is very big society, and exactly the kind of thing local MPs should be doing. She is right to describe our ability to open doors in constituencies, to secure involvement in community projects and to go places other individuals and groups perhaps cannot go. She has clearly done that in her constituency and I praise her for it. I will talk a bit more about that in a moment.

Much of the rest of what the hon. Lady said was complete hokum. She is rewriting history and misrepresenting some of the realities of our work. None the less, I praise her for her sincerity in calling this debate and for the work she is doing; it is absolutely right. I am delighted that Jobcentre Plus is working well with her, but that is no accident. It has specific instructions to do just that. In particular, she talks about the issue of two weeks versus eight. Under the previous Government, a jobseeker lost their benefits if they did work experience for more than two weeks. It was a crazy situation.

One of the first things I received on becoming a Minister was an e-mail from the mother of a young woman who said that her daughter had arranged a month’s work experience for herself with a local firm, but the Jobcentre Plus office had told her that if she did it she would lose her benefits. That is clearly a crazy situation, and one that we moved quickly to change. A jobseeker can now do work experience for up to eight weeks while on benefits. If they are moving from that eight weeks into employment or an apprenticeship, that programme can be extended to 12 weeks. Therefore, it is down to the policies of this Government that the hon. Lady can deliver her scheme. Under the previous Government, that would not have been the case. Those young people would have lost their benefits after two weeks.

Siobhain McDonagh: My scheme came about because the future jobs fund had been scrapped. The future jobs fund, for me, was the way forward. I was looking for an alternative and I came up with this idea; it does not replace the future jobs fund.

Chris Grayling: I will come back to that in a moment. The hon. Lady is right to say that it does not replace the future jobs fund; it is part of a package very different from what we had before. My point is that it would have been impossible for her to put together a scheme under the rules that operated under the previous Government. Her scheme is worth while and valuable and I commend her for it.

Let me give some context to the youth unemployment challenge. Youth unemployment today is lower than it was at the general election. The picture of youth unemployment has been building up over a decade. One of the myths is that it is a problem simply linked to recession. If we look at the trends in youth unemployment, we see that it began to rise in 2003 and the problem became more and more significant as the years went by. It was becoming a problem through good times as well as bad.

Siobhain McDonagh: Since the general election, youth unemployment in my constituency has risen, not fallen. The problems are greater now than they were before the general election.

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Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady is right to say that; there are now 95 more young people on jobseeker’s allowance in her constituency than at the time of the general election. I accept that point and I accept that she has challenges in her constituency, but I am making a more general point. A number of her colleagues have said—although she has not—that they see youth unemployment as a crisis of the current Government. I am simply making the point that, happily, youth unemployment today is lower—not by a lot, but it is still lower—than at the time of the general election. It is a big challenge for us to bring youth unemployment down, and I regard it as a big problem that we must address, deal with and solve.

Of course, there are different challenges within the overall headline figure of 895,000 young unemployed people that the hon. Lady referred to. Some 300,000 are actually in full-time education, and they show up in the unemployment figures simply because they are looking for a part-time job. The actual figure for young people who are not in education or employment is around 650,000 at the moment. That figure is much too high, but the reality is that within it is a core of young people who represent a real challenge, and I suspect that among them are the young people in the hon. Lady’s constituency whom she described. To me, that core represents one of our biggest employment challenges.

The approach we have taken to tackling youth unemployment has three dimensions. I will walk the hon. Lady through them, step by step. To begin with, however, let me address head-on the issue of the future jobs fund. The future jobs fund was an extremely expensive scheme that provided work placement opportunities in the public and voluntary sectors, not in the private sector. It had virtually no private sector involvement at all. All of the jobs created in this country in the last 12 months—all of the increase in employment—have come in the private sector. The future jobs fund is some three or four times more expensive per job outcome than even the new deal for young people under the previous Government. So, the future jobs fund was an extremely expensive scheme that steered young people towards what I believe is the wrong part of the economy in terms of building experience. We took a view very early on that it was not the right solution for the future. The key step that we have taken to replace the future jobs fund is not work experience; it is a dramatic increase in the number of apprenticeships. That is the first part of our three-legged response to the youth unemployment challenge.

During the past 12 months, we have increased the number of apprenticeships available by the best part of 100,000. We introduced an extra 50,000 apprenticeships in the first year, we announced an additional 25,000 apprenticeships to follow, and we topped that up still further in this spring’s Budget with an extra block of 20,000 apprenticeships that specifically target young unemployed people. We think that increased numbers of apprenticeships are a better option than the future jobs fund. We have looked at the nature of the challenge in the labour market, and we believe that finding young people opportunities in private sector businesses over an extended period—an apprenticeship lasts one, two or three years—and where there is an ongoing training opportunity alongside that apprenticeship, provides a better foundation for a lasting career than a short-term

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placement of the kind that the future jobs fund offered. Of course, the future jobs fund was also massively more expensive than apprenticeships.

We have taken that decision. I know that Opposition Members do not agree with it, but it is a clear strategy that says, “We think apprenticeships are better than the placements the future jobs fund offered, and they are also much more affordable, given the very straitened financial circumstances we inherited.”

I am very pleased that my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have been as successful as they have in securing employer participation in the apprenticeship programme, and that they have met their goals for getting employers to provide apprenticeship places, which did not happen under the previous Government. Apprenticeships are a really powerful tool that will make a big difference in the years ahead.

Alongside that approach, we are dealing with what I have described as shorter-term youth unemployment. The reality is that the vast majority of young people who are unemployed move off JSA within nine months; there is a pretty steady off-flow and after nine months there is a much smaller core of young people who are struggling to get into employment. First and foremost, I want to see that shorter-term group move into employment more quickly, because even a few months without employment is too long in my view. So we designed the work experience scheme to provide a bridge for young people who did not have previous experience in the labour market or the workplace, to get them into the workplace and give them an extended period of working opportunity of up to eight weeks. The hon. Lady and I are absolutely of like mind about the need to give people an extended opportunity in the workplace and a chance to demonstrate to employers what they can do, so that hopefully—at least in some cases—those employers can offer them jobs. That has certainly happened in many parts of the country.

The hon. Lady is not right about the nature of the rules for the work experience scheme. The scheme is voluntary. The “bureaucracy” that she described is on one sheet of A4 paper. It simply involves signing a piece of paper that says, “I will treat this person responsibly, in the way that I treat my own employees”. That is important, because we do not want excessive bureaucracy. I have been through those forms personally and I can assure her that that is the case.

There will be contact between a Jobcentre Plus employment team member and the employer because that is what the team member is there to do. We have tasked Jobcentre Plus staff not only with changing the rules about the number of weeks someone can do work experience without losing benefits, but with finding work experience opportunities. That is why I am really pleased that the Jobcentre Plus staff in Mitcham and Morden are working in partnership with the hon. Lady. I expect and want our Jobcentre Plus staff to continue to provide her with every support they can provide, because having an engaged local MP working with local employers to increase the number of work experience opportunities is hugely valuable. I commend her for the work she is doing, and I hope it continues and that the Jobcentre Plus staff will be there to work with her to help ensure that the work experience scheme is happening.

Around the country, Jobcentre Plus staff are looking for opportunities. There are now some 35,000 committed work experience places for young people, and thousands

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of young people are in work experience placements as we speak. Many have succeeded in going into apprenticeships or full-time employment, and I hope that the number doing so will increase as the months go by. We hope to build the work experience scheme over the next two years, so that we provide 100,000 places to deliver the kind of benefits the hon. Lady has rightly described today.

Then, there is the third leg of our stool. The hon. Lady rightly mentioned the challenges that some young people face. There are many young people who have grown up in difficult circumstances and have been on benefits for a long time, and for whom getting into the workplace is a bigger challenge than for other young people. Perhaps they also lack the right qualifications, motivation and experience, and the knowledge of how to get into the workplace. That is where the work programme comes in. It is designed to deliver much more specialised, personalised and tailored support than has been provided in the past.

Young people who do not have significant issues in their lives will enter the work programme after nine months, which is sooner than under the previous, and much less substantial, new deal programmes. However, young people with particular challenges will enter the work programme after three months and will receive personalised support to help them identify the right opportunities: providers who will secure placements for them, work trials, work experience, training courses and other things that will better equip them to enter the workplace.

Of course, the great benefit of the work programme is that we do not seek to design it from the centre. The hon. Lady talked about bureaucracy earlier, but the whole point about the work programme is that bureaucracy is not there. We are saying to the providers, “You do what you think is best. You develop the right programmes to support these young people and others into the workplace. We’ll pay you when you’re successful.” In each area up and down the country, there are teams of specialists led by prime contractors, including organisations that have real expertise in working with young people, such as the Prince’s Trust.

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Siobhain McDonagh: From my experience of my own constituency and of London as a whole, those contracts are so large that many of the small local organisations, such as the Commonside Community Development Trust, have been unable to get involved in the work programme, and yet they have the experience on the ground. What can the Minister do to ensure that those small local organisations get a look-in with that programme?

Chris Grayling: Of course, the whole structure of the work programme is designed to reward excellence. Any organisation that is really good at its job of getting people into work will find a willing entrée with the providers. A whole mix of organisations is involved—from the largest voluntary sector organisations, such as the Prince’s Trust, through to a walled garden project in Yorkshire. We have a whole mix of different organisations providing the support. What matters is what works and that we have solutions that deliver real options for young people, getting those who are unemployed—particularly the long-term unemployed—into the workplace. For me, that is the challenge.

I accept the hon. Lady’s analysis: that we have a problem, in that many young people are stranded and struggling and need to be given a helping hand into the workplace. I hope and believe that the mix of programmes we have put in place—increased numbers of apprenticeships and the work experience scheme, helped by big society projects such as hers, and the intense support provided through the work programme—will start to make a difference, and in a way that I must say is much more affordable to Government than the future jobs fund was. In addition, those programmes will steer young people to where the jobs really are: in the private sector businesses that represent our employment hope for the future.

I believe that that is the right approach. The hon. Lady and I share a commitment to tackling the problem of youth unemployment. We may not agree on all the solutions, but she should know that the Government are committed to solving that problem.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Gypsy and Traveller Planning

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Weir. I am delighted that Mr Speaker has granted this debate, and I am thrilled to see so many colleagues here who clearly have a similar interest in the subject. That demonstrates the extent of the significant problems with the issue across the country.

It has been seven months since the debate on 7 December about Gypsy and Traveller sites. Given the Government’s decision to extend until August the consultation on the proposed new planning circulars on Traveller sites, this is an opportune moment to discuss the matter directly with the Minister—I am grateful for his time.

The issue has taken on additional importance in the county of Essex after the decision to evict the occupants of Dale farm, a large site in Basildon. The decision could have a knock-on effect as those evicted seek places to live in other parts of Essex, and probably across the east of England. This is likely to be the last opportunity to debate the matter in Parliament before the consultation period ends, so I know that the Minister will listen closely to the views expressed and the representations made today.

I have a constituency interest in the subject. During the past 14 months, I have heard about several cases of significant concern about the planning system for Gypsy and Traveller sites. Those cases have involved the Planning Inspectorate overturning the decisions of local authorities and granting permission for unauthorised sites. Although I appreciate that those incidents were caused by the inadequate planning system that was inherited from the previous Labour Government—a system that epitomised their culture of top-down targets, particularly through the infamous planning circulars 01/06 and 04/07—this is an opportunity to get it right. People throughout the country have put their faith in the Government to rebalance the planning system through the localism agenda, and it is imperative that the Government do not let them down, so they must take prompt and significant action.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. On her point about the top-down culture, the Medway local authority was faced with a regional body saying that we had to take an extortionate quota of Gypsy and Traveller sites, which was completely wrong. I urge the Minister to take on board the fact that it is absolutely right and proper for residents and local authorities to be able to determine need where it arises, rather than having a quota imposed on them.

Priti Patel: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. I will mention some local examples before I move to the substantial points to which I would like to draw the Minister’s attention.

The Minister will be aware from a vast amount of correspondence that I have several such sites in my constituency, including Pattiswick. A few weeks ago, the Planning Inspectorate decided to impose a Gypsy

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site on Pattiswick retrospectively. The site has been an unauthorised development since last autumn, when the occupants arrived—this might sound familiar to colleagues—over a weekend, which is the time when local authorities are least able to respond. The local community in Pattiswick then came together to press Braintree district council to take action. I pay tribute to the local residents of Pattiswick, who worked hard and rallied a lot of resources to start a good campaign. Dozens of letters were sent by members of the community and a petition was started opposing the development. That petition received widespread support, and in the absence of a planning application, Braintree district council began enforcement proceedings against the occupants of the site.

The case went to the High Court. The council had some success in the Court, but the occupants of the site appealed to the Planning Inspectorate against the original enforcement action. A subsequent hearing with the Planning Inspectorate took place in Braintree during the Whitsun recess. I attended it, and I must say that it was quite an eye opener and an education. Although the occupants had shown absolutely no regard for the planning process, the inspectorate gave them planning permission.

Two reasons were given for the decision. First, the inspectorate claimed that permission had to be granted due to a lack of any suitable alternative sites. It then concluded that unless the occupants continued to live on the site, their human rights would be violated. The inspectorate wrote that the

“dismissal of the appeal would have a disproportionate effect upon the rights of the appellants under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights”,

which deals with the right to a private and family life. According to the inspectorate, requiring the appellants to vacate the site

“would represent a significant interference with their home and family life which…outweighs the limited harm caused by the development in terms of its effect upon the public interest.”

However, it is clear to me that any disruption caused to the occupants by requiring them to leave would be no more than the disruption that they caused themselves when they came and occupied the site in the first place. Such a use of the European convention on human rights is clearly misplaced and wrong.

It is wholly unjust to local residents of Pattiswick that although the Planning Inspectorate gave significant weight to what it felt were the human rights of the occupants, it failed—colleagues will not be surprised to hear this—adequately to consider the rights of the local settled community and the disruption that the incident caused them. Although the council did the right thing in supporting the community through an enforcement action, the planning system ultimately failed the community by favouring people who refused to go through the correct planning process to occupy and develop the site, and who then chose deliberately to play the system and cause maximum cost and disruption to the council and community.

Braintree district council contacted me yesterday, because I asked for the figures on how much the incident cost. The council has racked up considerable costs. Including VAT, the fees for counsel for the High Court injunction came to just under £10,000. The cost of getting the injunction was £20,000, and fees relating to

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obtaining the breach of stop notice were £14,000. We should not forget that that is hard-pressed taxpayers’ money. Not only did the decision run roughshod over local people’s views, but the costs involved will deter local councils from taking action when other unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller sites appear.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I agree fully with everything that my hon. Friend has said, but does she agree that one thing that causes lots of problems is the fact that the system—whether it is the local authority’s planning system or the Government’s—never seems to be even-handed? If anybody else were to create an illegal development, it would be taken down in five minutes flat, whereas Gypsies appear to get away with anything they like. Does my hon. Friend agree that the system should treat everybody equally in the face of the law?

Priti Patel: Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. What is lacking is fairness, transparency and a level playing field.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): The hon. Lady makes a strong case for the unacceptability of unauthorised development, whether that is a shop, a factory, a house or anything else, including an encampment of the type that she is discussing. Planning law clearly needs to be enforced. However, if Gypsies or Travellers had the opportunity to live on authorised sites, there would be no need for such developments. Does she not agree that the Government and local authorities must concentrate their minds on ensuring that we increase the number of authorised sites available for Gypsies and Travellers throughout the country?

Priti Patel: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The fact that that there are not enough authorised sites is a significant challenge to local authorities.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Does not my hon. Friend agree that the point being made about Travellers and Gypsies also applies to settled organisations? In one area of my constituency, it is difficult to find land to build on, let alone to put caravans on. We need a balanced approach.

Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. There is no doubt that this is about balance across all our communities. I shall refer to two other cases before I talk about the consultation.

My constituency has had endless cases. In Tolleshunt Knights, a planning application was made for a site for travelling show people in a wholly unsuitable location, but again Maldon district council’s decision was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate on the basis of the requirements in the current planning circulars. The council rightly pursued a localist agenda while the Planning Inspectorate remained wedded to the paradigm of centralist command and control. As the Minister will know from the substantive correspondence I sent to the Secretary of State about the case, it was badly handled by the Planning Inspectorate, which clearly showed no regard for the Government’s planning policies as laid down in the coalition programme for government. There is a problem with the Planning Inspectorate.