I wrote an article, alongside the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), in Total Politics magazine a few months ago in which we debated these issues. I think I made it clear in that article that I respect and understand where he is coming from. Like other right

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hon. and hon. Government Members who have spoken about the issue, he wants to maintain the reputation of the House for the quality of its debates and to ensure that our debates do not descend into a simple parade of read-out speeches. I agree that it would be the death of debate in the House if that happened, but their fears are misplaced.

One can embrace and use such technology and such devices while enlivening and enhancing our debates by bringing in information—yes, from outside, but what is wrong with that? If Ministers can get in-flight refuelling from the officials’ box, why cannot Back Benchers get in-flight refuelling electronically during their speeches if a useful fact can be drawn from outside? I see nothing wrong in being able to draw on all the expertise and information that is available from outside the Chamber.

In our exchange of articles, the hon. Gentleman made some very interesting points, but I will end by simply saying that there is nothing new in political communication in trying to get a message across in a pithy, memorable way, as Twitter enables us to do. In fact, I think that it was a certain Winston Churchill who said:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”—[Official Report, 20 August 1940; Vol. 364, c. 1167.]

If that statement was issued as a tweet, it would leave 66 of the 140 characters available on Twitter still to play with. That goes to show that those who want to fight the onslaught of technology on the beaches will find that the tide is turning against them.

2.46 pm

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak and to Mr Speaker for selecting the amendment that stands in my name and those of a goodly number of right hon. and hon. Members from across the Chamber. I thank you for allowing a goodly amount of time for this important and useful debate. I do not intend to take up much of the House’s time, because a number of useful speeches have addressed most of the important arguments on both sides of the debate.

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), who started the debate by saying that this is a matter of taste, discretion and delicacy. There are not passionate arguments on either side. One side is not definitely right and the other side definitely wrong. It is a matter of how we handle such machines, what we use them for, what their purpose is and how we ensure that debate in the Chamber is as good as possible.

In fact, as is often the case when we discuss matters that affect ourselves, today’s debate on the issue has been among those of the highest quality that I have heard recently. My right hon. Friend’s Committee was split on the report; four of us have signed the amendment disagreeing with it. We go from his stance, which is that virtually any electronic device can be used for virtually any purpose either in the Chamber or in Committee, through to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), a former Deputy Speaker—he is by no means a dinosaur in this matter—whose broad view is that such devices should not be used for any purpose whatsoever.

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I received a letter from a very senior Member with which I would not necessarily agree. He said that he felt that the rules applying in the House should be precisely the same as those applying at the opera—we should not use such devices at all—and there is some sense in that, although I do not necessarily agree with it.

Chris Bryant: Give us a song!

Mr Gray: I shall not give the House a song; I fear that my voice does not rise to that.

I would not necessarily agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who focused on the use of electronic devices for Twitter. It is right that I suggested in the e-mail that I sent to all hon. Members that we should probably not use Twitter and blogging, although I will suggest how we might be able to use them. I am not necessarily totally opposed to the notion of twittering.

The main thrust of my amendment, and of my thoughts on the subject—and the thoughts of a great many hon. Members who have spoken to me—is that if we allow unfettered use of electronic devices, three things will happen. The first is that the quality of debate will decline. Let me give an example. Recently, I chaired a Public Bill Committee. Glancing round the room, I saw that some two thirds of the people on the Committee were using electronic devices for one purpose or another. That included the shadow Minister, the Minister, both Whips, and six or eight Back Benchers, one of whom, rather magically, was using two electronic devices simultaneously; how on earth he managed to do that I have simply no idea. It seemed to me that the fine technical point being made about the Pensions Bill—for that was the Bill—was not necessarily being considered carefully by the two thirds of the Committee who were using those machines at that time. Had I challenged members of the Committee to lay out precisely what the person speaking had just said, a very large percentage of them would have looked at me blankly, and would not have had the faintest idea what was going on.

I totally accept the point made by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), that we can all multi-task. Of course we can; there is no question about that. MPs do it all the time. However, I simply do not believe that the finer points of argument in a debate will necessarily be picked up if one is focusing one’s mind on something else. The purpose of debate is not just for our own voices to be heard, or to get something on the record; we could do that by handing the speech in, as they do in the United States of America. The purpose of debate is to listen carefully to what the other person is saying, to pick up the other person on fine illogicalities in their speech, to make delicate points, and hopefully to come to some kind of useful conclusion. If a person is focusing on emptying their inbox, surfing the net, tweeting or who knows what else—famously, recently a member of the Italian Parliament was spotted surfing an escort site—while theoretically listening carefully to a debate, they are not taking part in it in the way that they should.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): The crux of the issue has been touched on. In the Welsh Assembly, every Member sits in front of a computer. Earlier this year, the Conservative Assembly Member for North Wales,

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Brynle Williams, passed away at a very young age. A Labour Member, paying tribute to him on the radio, said, “When Brynle Williams spoke in the Chamber, we stopped working on our computers and listened.” Is that not the crux of the issue?

Mr Gray: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and it is useful to hear of his experience of the Welsh Assembly, where such changes have been made. Elsewhere around the world, there are examples of all kinds of Parliaments where people use the devices excessively and so are not taking proper part in the debate. [Interruption.] I am being passed a message—on paper—from the Whip, which reminds me to move my amendment; I shall indeed do so. I am most grateful to her; had she passed me that electronically, I would not have got it.

I beg move amendment (a) to motion 1, leave out from ‘used in the Chamber’ to end and add—

‘to a minimal extent, silently and with decorum, to receive and send urgent messages, as a substitute for paper speaking notes and to refer to documents for use in debates, but not for any other purpose.’.

That useful intervention from my hon. Friend the Whip leads me to the second reason why I feel uneasy about unfettered use of electronic devices. Whereas at the moment outside interests—including, dare I say it, the Whips Office—may have some influence over what we do or say, or how we vote in this place, by and large they have to exercise that influence in writing, prior to the debate. It would be particularly unhelpful if, during a speech or debate, outside interests—lobbyists, businesses and groups of all kinds—got in touch with us on our electronic devices and said, “I think you should ask the Minister such and such a question, because that is a weak point in their argument,” or “I think you should do this or that.” We should be listening carefully to the logic of the other person’s speech, and seeking to counter that argument not because a lobbying company or the Whips have asked us to do so, but because it is what we want to do.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not accept that that is possible under the rules as they stand? It is perfectly possible right now, under the rules of the House, for someone to receive a message and check it in debate.

Mr Gray: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and if that were to happen, I would decry it. The purpose of my amendment is to say that electronic devices should be used for the purposes of the matter under debate and no other purpose. If the Chamber was seen to be full of people blogging, tweeting and surfing the net, it would risk bringing the Chamber into disrepute.

Zac Goldsmith: Does my hon. Friend not agree that one of the reasons MPs exist is so that people can lobby them with a view to influencing Parliament?

Mr Gray: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, I was a professional lobbyist for a number of years and so have no difficulty with that whatever. It is of course right that all sorts of interest groups around

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the world, from journalists to lobby groups, should be able to make their views known to us, but I am not certain about the propriety of a lobby group, the Whips or anyone else getting in touch with us during the course of a debate or a Select Committee evidence session to say, “Here’s an interesting point you ought to raise.” Would it really be right for outside interest groups to get in touch with us via electronic devices during Select Committee cross-examinations, for example of the Murdochs, and say, “Here’s something you ought to say”? I think that that would be an unreasonable intervention in our internal debates by outside influences.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Gray: I will give way, but first I should say that I am absolutely sure that what the hon. Gentleman said during the Select Committee cross-examination of the Murdochs was entirely his own idea, irrespective of what outside influences might have said to him.

Chris Bryant: Well, I was not a member of that Committee, but that is just one minor factual inaccuracy of several that we are passing by. The point I was going to make is that one of the oldest rights of members of the public and constituents is the right to come to the Lobby and demand that we come out of a debate to listen to their point of view, so I do not see the difference.

Mr Gray: The difference is extremely simple. Someone outside communicating via an electronic device during a debate is not equivalent to a member of the public coming to Central Lobby, filling in a green form and asking to speak to us; it is equivalent to a member of the public coming into the Chamber and saying, “Would the hon. Gentleman please ask this question?”, which I do not believe is right. We should be debating among ourselves and not excessively involving people outside.

Most people agree that excessive use of electronic devices is not a good thing. Two or three objections have been raised with me. The first relates to the fact that we must all sit here for six or seven hours before finally being called to speak. That could be corrected in two ways: first, Members could take a greater interest in the debate; and secondly, we could perhaps move to the system enjoyed at the other end of the Palace, where peers have some indication of when they will speak. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues tend to indicate when Members will be called to speak, but the notion that we should sit here clearing our inboxes or writing articles on electronic devices for local newspapers because we are a little bored and cannot be bothered to listen to a debate seems a thin argument.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman makes his case powerfully, although I do not necessarily agree with it. Is not the key issue that Members can best engage in debate by being in the Chamber? If we are outside doing the work of clearing inboxes, the example he raised, we cannot be present listening to the arguments. I agree that Members should be present in the Chamber more often, but I believe that his amendment would prevent that.

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Mr Gray: On the contrary, my amendment encourages Members to make use of their electronic devices in the Chamber for purposes connected with the debate. That is the important point about the amendment.

The last main objections that have been raised concern the fact that the amendment’s proposals would be very difficult to police. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, sent out a letter in July stating that although any such ban on the use of hand-held devices would be difficult to police, it would none the less be down to the individual discretion and decency of hon. Members not to use them. There are all kinds of conventions and rules in this place that we observe. They do not have to be written down or policed. The fact of the matter is that there are things that we agree to do, and I believe that the amendment's proposal should be one of them.

If we allow the Procedure Committee’s report to be agreed as printed, we will end up with a Chamber full of Members staring at their electronic devices—I can see three or four doing so now. I suspect that those looking in from outside, whether from the Public Gallery or on television screens, would say, “What are those people doing? We used to object to the Chamber being too empty. It has filled up a little, but look at them all playing with their electronic devices.” I think that it brings the whole nature of debate in this place into some disrepute. I would like to see the standard of debate maintained. We are the mother of Parliaments. Let us engage with each other in detailed and logical debate and not spend an excessive amount of time on our electronic devices.

2.59 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): With the leave of the House, I should like to put on record my tribute to the work of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), who discharged her duties in the House assiduously and will be a very hard act to follow.

We on the Opposition Front Bench support the motion on explanatory statements put forward by the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight). The Committee’s recommendation marks progress from a position already established, and as I understand it, Government Front Benchers have also adopted the recommendation, so I hope that it receives support from all parts of the House today.

We also support the sensible recommendation on written parliamentary questions, because there are alternatives to electronically tabled written questions, and if implemented the recommendation will not curtail the opportunities for Members to table written questions, as is their right.

We do, however, believe that the motion on a Select Committee’s right to table amendments to legislation should be sent back to the Procedure Committee for further consideration, as it has not been thoroughly thought out.

Sir Alan Beith: That recommendation was introduced by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in the previous Session; it was carefully considered by the Liaison Committee; and it has now been carefully considered and substantially modified by the Procedure Committee

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in order to meet those concerns. Do we have another case of the two Front-Bench teams conniving to stop Select Committees and Back Benchers having rights in this House?

Angela Smith: Perish the thought.

My point is that, if we give Select Committees the right to table amendments to legislation, business relating to the Floor of the House and Public Bill Committees, will it not create the danger of Select Committees taking a much less consensual approach to their work? That is the real risk with the recommendation, and for that reason it should go back for further consideration.

I turn to the recommendation on hand-held devices. I do not need to repeat the background to the debate which goes back to the decision in 2007, because the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire outlined it very clearly. Suffice it to say that technology has moved things forward at a rapid pace—to the extent that we now have smartphones, iPads and other tablets, which have completely transformed the way in which Members conduct their business.

On top of that, we have new forms of communication. According to the Procedure Committee’s report, 225 Members tweet or have Twitter accounts, but in today’s debate we have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) state that the figure now stands at 300. That demonstrates how over a six-month period 75 Members have signed up for Twitter accounts. It also shows the popularity of the device as a means of communication, and for that reason alone Members increasingly see new forms of communication such as Twitter as making it easier for us to open up a dialogue with the world outside—with the people we serve. Those new forms of communication and technology have called into question once again how we conduct our business in the Chamber.

I was elected in 2005. At that point, I never thought that I would be standing here on the Front Bench making arguments about smartphones, iPads and Twitter accounts, but that in itself demonstrates how quickly the world is moving forward and how difficult it is for the House to keep up. It would be all too easy to step backwards and pretend that the world has not changed. We could pretend that Steve Jobs never existed and say to ourselves that the business of the House should stay true to the days of paper, pen and ink. However, to do that would be to deny reality and to deny the dynamic relationship that now exists between Parliament and the world outside. Even if we deny it, the media, quite rightly, will not. We cannot, therefore, fulfil our obligations as legislators effectively if we pretend that the world outside has not got smaller and smaller in terms of how quickly news travels.

There are advantages and disadvantages in allowing a more relaxed approach to the use of hand-held devices by Members on the Floor of the House and in Committee, for it is undoubtedly the case that members of the public sometimes object to seeing Members of this House using their phones or their iPads while here in the Chamber. If the Chair of the Administration Committee were in his place, I am sure that he would testify to that fact.

Robert Halfon: I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s remarks. While it is true that some members of the public object, it is also true that many of them like the

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fact that their MPs are on Twitter and on Facebook communicating what they are doing. Does she agree that that has come about partly because of the huge shift from paper to electronic mail and in how our constituents communicate with us?

Angela Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. That is absolutely the argument that I am trying to make.

Although such behaviour is seen by some members of the public as discourteous and indicative of a lack of attention to the business of the House, and although on occasion that has proved to be true, and excessive and obtrusive use of such devices should be deplored, I would contest that excessive chatter and private conversations on the part of Members is equally to be deplored, and that it is those who persist in that kind of behaviour who bring the business of this House into disrepute. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, who pointed out that Members who fall asleep in the Chamber while business is being discussed are most to be censured for discourteous behaviour. Indeed, it has been known on occasion even for Front Benchers to fall asleep or to snooze while the business of the House is ongoing.

We need to be pragmatic in our approach. Those who would continue a stricter approach to the use of hand-held devices in the Chamber on the grounds that it constitutes interference in parliamentary proceedings ought to bear in mind that we already allow the passing of messages and envelopes containing paper-based documents in and out of the Chamber for use in debate. On that basis, why cannot we allow the electronic transfer of such information for use in the Chamber? If a Member is given statistics relating to a debate via documents passed to her or him in an envelope brought to the Chamber by a member of his or her staff, then why should not that be done independently by the MP in the Chamber using an electronic device? Moreover, as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said, given that civil servants pass a fairly constant stream of notes to the Government Front Bench during debate, why should not other Members of the House be able to access information speedily and without delay?

We support the motion laid before the House by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire and other Members, and we commend the Procedure Committee for its work. We believe that it represents a pragmatic response to the challenges raised by the development of new technology and means of communication in that it requires Members to be sensible and discreet about their use of electronic devices in this Chamber and elsewhere. We also support the recommendations in the Select Committee report relating to Twitter and to tweeting, which are, again, sensible and pragmatic. As someone who has a Twitter account—and who is about to get her 1,000th follower—but who does not generally tweet in this Chamber, I nevertheless uphold the right to do so and the inevitable pragmatic need to give way on that point.

Our view is that we should give the approach recommended by the Procedure Committee an opportunity to work. We should bear it in mind that it is always possible to review the decision if it is felt that the recommended way forward is not working.

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Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope that this is a point of order; I am still somewhat feeling my way in this place. There is another debate this afternoon, which was brought about by the Backbench Business Committee as a consequence of one of the first e-petitions. I might be wrong, but I understand that this debate can carry on until any hour. Judging by the number of colleagues who are standing to speak, it looks as though the second debate will get less time than a Westminster Hall debate. If that is the case and the second debate gets squeezed out, I hope that the Leader of the House, who is in his place, will consider giving it injury time at some point because it is an important debate that affects the constituents of a large number of Members.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House tried to protect the debate in which my hon. Friend has an interest by tabling a motion last night. Sadly, that was blocked by a member of the Backbench Business Committee.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I am very concerned about the time that this debate is taking. I will reduce the time limit on speeches and hopefully, if we have some brevity, we will get to the second debate. The high speed debate is important to this House and people will not understand why we are spending so much time on ourselves and our use of hand-held devices. As important as this is, we need to make progress as quickly as possible.

3.11 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): High-speed debates sound like a very good idea, Mr Deputy Speaker.

As I did not get to warmly welcome the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) to her new responsibilities in our cameo appearances last night, may I do so now? I echo what she said about her predecessor, the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), with whom I always enjoyed debating. I wish her well in her new responsibilities.

I congratulate the Chairman of the Procedure Committee on securing this debate on his Committee’s proposals. The one area in which I disagree with him is on whether this debate should be held in Backbench Business Committee time. The Government have implemented the Wright Committee’s report, which was explicit on this matter. We hold to the position that the House should follow what the Wright Committee said on this matter. It is therefore the responsibility of the Backbench Business Committee.

I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on the motions, which I will take in order. The first motion on electronic devices is very much a House of Commons matter. Perhaps I should indicate that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I will support the motion, although some ministerial colleagues may hold other views.

Changes in technology have been swift and the Procedure Committee has taken a sensible approach in seeking to update the 2007 resolution in a way that might not need constant updating as technologies change. The Committee

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helpfully demonstrates how its proposed change is in line with trends in other legislatures. The concept of not impairing decorum that has been adopted by the US House of Representatives is helpful. I am sure that Mr Speaker will decide, with characteristic wisdom, how this resolution will be interpreted in practice, just as he has provided general guidance about appropriate conduct in the Chamber.

I support the comparable changes for Committees, although I have one reservation in that respect, to which the Procedure Committee has referred. Tweeting about an ongoing evidence session would be discourteous and disclosing deliberations in that way could be a breach of privilege. That is an important reservation to enter at this point.

There is no Government position on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) and others, although enforcement of the resolution, if amended in that way, might pose significant challenges for the occupant of the Chair.

I noticed that in opposing the amendment the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) asked why Members should not receive facts while they are preparing to speak. The explanation, perhaps, is that facts would entirely demolish the speeches of some hon. Members. Of course, just because a Member has received a fact does not mean that they have to take any notice of it.

The second motion, on Select Committee amendments, is where the Government part company with the Procedure Committee, because we do not believe that the case for the change has been made. We are continuing the position of the previous Government, which I believe is still that of the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge and the Opposition. Interestingly, that position was expressed at the time by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I am not sure whether he still takes that view.

Currently, amendments are tabled in the name of a Member of the House—it does not matter whether they are tabled by the Government, the official Opposition or anybody else. The Procedure Committee argues that if an amendment appears simply in the names of members of a Select Committee, other Members may not realise its status, but I am not convinced by that.

The Government have taken a number of steps to strengthen the Select Committee system—arguably more than any Government since that of 1979, under whom departmental Select Committees were established. We have enabled the House to take the bold step of electing Select Committee Chairs, and the profile of the Select Committee system continues to increase. I believe that an amendment in the name of members of a Select Committee will almost invariably be recognised as such by the House without the need for additional steps.

Sir Alan Beith: I am very surprised to find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend on a House matter, because we very rarely disagree on them. However, a Select Committee amendment would have had to be approved unanimously by it. Is his real fear not that of the Whips Office—that on just one or two more occasions an amendment that was not moved by a Minister might be selected by the Chair and be debated in the House? Is he not simply echoing the traditional Front-Bench view

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that anything that allows Back Benchers to get anywhere near getting amendments selected is far too dangerous to be permitted?

Mr Heath: It is extremely rare that I disagree with my right hon. Friend, but I do on this matter. The selection of amendments is, of course, a matter for the Chair, and if the Chair feels that a Select Committee’s members are proposing an amendment that needs to be debated, it will be selected. However, it is a serious concern that under the Procedure Committee’s proposal three members of a Select Committee, who would form a quorum, could obtain a Committee’s imprimatur for an amendment. That amendment would attribute to all members of the Committee a position that was held only by those present at a meeting. I do not think that that does the House a service.

Sir Alan Beith: I want to make a further correction, because I do not want to delay the debate any further by making a speech—I want the rail debate to go ahead.

My hon. Friend must recognise that any member of a Committee who felt dissatisfied with an amendment tabled in the name of their Committee, their having been notified of a meeting but not gone to it, would make that abundantly clear. Indeed, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) made it clear at the beginning of the debate that he did not support the motion moved by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight).

Mr Heath: I am sure an hon. Member in that position would make their dissatisfaction abundantly clear, but equally it does not seem beyond the bound of reason that a Chair of a Select Committee could make it abundantly clear that he or she was presenting an amendment in the name of the Committee. The same arguments apply, and I am not persuaded by my right hon. Friend, which is why my ministerial colleagues and I will vote against the motion.

I turn to the third motion, on explanatory statements on amendments, and the remarks of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). The crux of what she said was that the Government were being unreasonably obstructive and unhelpful in their approach. However, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is quoted in the Committee’s report as having said:

“I would certainly not oppose the continuation of explanatory statements”.

The report also quotes my comment:

“I am certainly happy, as far as the Government are concerned, for that experiment to proceed.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2011; Vol. 522, c. 384WH.]

It might be said that the barriers that we have sought to erect to prevent it from happening are rather low indeed. I repeat today the Government’s position that we will support the recommendation. However, it is important that we express caveats for the benefit of the House.

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman said that the agreement was on the voluntary introduction of explanatory statements, but we are driving towards something mandatory. In his response to the Committee’s report, words such as “significant burden”, “lukewarm support”, “inconclusive” and “disappointing” strongly suggest that the Government are not firmly behind our proposal.

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Mr Heath: The lukewarm response was not from the Government—this Government and previous Governments have been happy to table explanatory amendments—but from other Members who showed not the slightest inclination to do so. That is the concern.

Let us go back to the origins. The experiment with explanatory statements on amendments was first proposed by the Modernisation Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), in its 2006 report on the legislative process. The Committee envisaged that the main benefit would be helping Ministers and civil servants to understand the intention behind Back-Bench and Opposition amendments, so that the Minister was prepared to address the issues that the Member wanted to debate and to respond to the queries or concerns being raised. They were envisaged as a vehicle for Back Benchers to explain their amendments, rather than for the Government to explain their amendments, for which there are many other mechanisms. Despite that, and although the Government have participated fully in each pilot, the take-up by Back Benchers has been low and has declined since the first pilot.

We have to acknowledge the resource implications. The Procedure Committee was told in the previous Parliament that the general application of explanatory notes to all Committee papers would cost the House services alone more than £100,000, and the costs would be greater still if applied on Report. That takes no account of the staff resource implications for the House services and the Government. The Government agreed to provide explanatory notes to all amendments in previous pilot schemes, and the Procedure Committee envisaged a mandatory requirement for Government amendments on Report. At the same time, however, the Committee rejected imposing such a requirement on others. I take it from what the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said that she would like that to apply mandatorily to others. There is some justification for that, but there is little justification for the current asymmetrical approach.

If the motion is agreed to, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will write to the Procedure Committee with proposals for the pilot. This is the last chance to show that the voluntary approach for everyone other than the Government could work as originally envisaged by the Modernisation Committee. We will want the experiment to demonstrate clear value-for-money benefits to the House, and if it does not, we might decline to support any further proposals along the same lines.

I support the final motion on written parliamentary questions. Again, the proposal is for a pilot scheme involving an earlier cut-off point for electronically tabled questions and a daily quota of five written questions that could be so tabled for an experimental period of three months. The right to table questions belongs to hon. Members and hon. Members alone. If the experiment encourages Members to take a closer interest in questions prepared by their staff, that would surely be a good thing. The average cost to the taxpayer of tabling a question is £239. Although overall quotas are not proposed, I am sure that hon. Members will wish to be mindful of the costs of what they do. We are keen to ensure that all written questions receive timely, substantive answers. If the pilot leads to “fewer, better questions”, as the Procedure Committee hopes, I would hope also to see quicker, better answers. We will provide the statistics on the timeliness of answers in the current Session on the timetable requested by the Procedure Committee.

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To end where I began—on the theme of technological change—I can confirm that the Government are keen to work closely with the House authorities to take forward proposals for the electronic distribution of answers, which would benefit all Members.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I am reducing the time limit on speeches to five minutes.

3.24 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Much of the debate on the use of hand-held devices—I note, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you called them “held-hand devices” when introducing the debate, but I am not sure what such a device might look like—reminds me of the Russian Orthodox Church, which in November 1917, while the revolution was gathering around it, spent its time debating whether to wear black or purple vestments for funerals. The honest truth is that the horse has bolted.

We can see them all round the Chamber: @ZacGoldsmith, @CarolineLucas, @lucianaberger, @SteveBakerMP and, of course, the brilliantly named @claire4devizes. All tweet regularly—[ Interruption. ] There is also @stellacreasy and many other Members.

Steve Baker rose—

Chris Bryant: I give way to @SteveBakerMP.

Steve Baker: Even though I was named in January as the most influential MP on Twitter—ahead, even, of the hon. Gentleman—I am most concerned that we should get on to the next business before I am flayed alive by my constituents.

Chris Bryant: I understand, because the hon. Gentleman is the Member for Wycombe, and I know how such issues affect people there, but if he had not intervened, we would get on to the next business faster.

I want to correct a couple of points made by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray). He seemed to think that I was on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. I should point out that I am not @tom_watson. There are a few differences between us, although we are often seen together.

I should also say that although he has been much misquoted, John Bright, the Liberal Member of Parliament, did not say that we—the House of Commons—were the mother of Parliaments; he said that England is the mother of Parliaments. That is because he believed—this is an important point—that we had to be transformed as history is transformed. I would say that Parliament has always been bad at opening itself up to the public. Indeed, in 1376 we first decided that we would take an oath of secrecy to ensure that nobody outside this place knew what was going on here. It took many centuries to get rid of that oath of secrecy, which was why John Wilkes ended up being expelled from the House of Commons on four occasions and had to be re-elected before eventually being allowed to publish what went on this House.

13 Oct 2011 : Column 552

It is not a question of being dinosaurs or anything else; it is about opening Parliament up to the wider world around us, so that people can understand everything that goes on here. It is not for our convenience, but for our constituents’ convenience. The world has changed. When I was first elected in 2001, the vast majority of my constituents got in touch with me by coming to a constituency surgery. Now the vast majority get in touch by Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and, sometimes, text messages. We should make that more possible for our constituents, not more difficult.

Incidentally, I wholeheartedly agree with @KevinBrennanMP, who said earlier that proper wi-fi should be available in the Chamber so that people can engage properly. I disagree with the hon. Member for North Wiltshire that only urgent messages should be dealt with. Who on earth will decide what an urgent message is? It is my constituents who should decide what an urgent message is.

Mr Gray rose—

Chris Bryant: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not give way, because others want to get on to the next debate.

I have this picture in my mind of the Speaker going over to an hon. Member and demanding to see their last tweet or this place setting up “Oftwit” to ensure that Members are behaving properly. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire has only to listen toour constituents to find out what they are moreinterested in.

Members have said how inappropriate it would be if facts were brought to bear in debate, but that is what the officials Box is there for. [ Interruption. ] I see them smiling. Perhaps we should abolish the officials Box, so that Ministers have to rely on their own wit and intelligence. Would it not also be good if “Erskine May” was available online so that people could refer to it in the Chamber instead of having to buy a copy for several hundred pounds?

I want to respond to a couple of points that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made. She is absolutely sincere in wanting to make our business more intelligible to people. However, I would like to know how explanatory notes to amendments would stand legally if an amendment were carried. There is a danger in proceeding down that route. In addition, I would have thought that the whole point of a debate on an amendment was to decide what it meant and what it did; just accepting at face value what the hon. Member who tabled it had said would not assist.

Caroline Lucas rose—

Chris Bryant: I shall not give way, because I want to be circumspect.

Finally, I look forward to the day when we have on Twitter @RogerGaleMP—and, for that matter, @15thcenturyMP, or perhaps he would be called @JacobReesMoggMP. I should also point out to the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who is not in his place, that one of his constituents has begged me on Twitter this afternoon to ask him to reinstate his Twitter account so that his constituents can get in touch with him better.

13 Oct 2011 : Column 553

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Patrick McLoughlin) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 63, Noes 206.

Division No. 366]

[3.30 pm


Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Bebb, Guto

Bell, Sir Stuart

Brady, Mr Graham

Brine, Mr Steve

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Alan

Clark, Katy

Corbyn, Jeremy

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Docherty, Thomas

Dunne, Mr Philip

Eustice, George

Fallon, Michael

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Fuller, Richard

Goodman, Helen

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gray, Mr James

Hamilton, Mr David

Hart, Simon

Henderson, Gordon

Hendrick, Mark

Hinds, Damian

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hughes, rh Simon

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kawczynski, Daniel

Lewis, Dr Julian

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

Pincher, Christopher

Reevell, Simon

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Sheridan, Jim

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Soubry, Anna

Stewart, Iain

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Watkinson, Angela

Whittingdale, Mr John

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Sammy

Wood, Mike

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Charles Walker and

Mr Roger Gale


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Andrew, Stuart

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bayley, Hugh

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benn, rh Hilary

Benyon, Richard

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Bryant, Chris

Burden, Richard

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Byles, Dan

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Colvile, Oliver

Connarty, Michael

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cunningham, Alex

Dakin, Nic

Davey, Mr Edward

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, David T. C.


Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dobson, rh Frank

Dowd, Jim

Duddridge, James

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mr Mark

Fovargue, Yvonne

Freer, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gilbert, Stephen

Glass, Pat

Glen, John

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goldsmith, Zac

Graham, Richard

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Damian

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

Huhne, rh Chris

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Mr David

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Tony

Lord, Jonathan

Lucas, Caroline

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Michael, rh Alun

Miller, Andrew

Miller, Maria

Morgan, Nicky

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Ian

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Offord, Mr Matthew

Onwurah, Chi

Paisley, Ian

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Seabeck, Alison

Shapps, rh Grant

Shuker, Gavin

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Nick

Smith, Sir Robert

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stewart, Bob

Stride, Mel

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Mr Graham

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Timms, rh Stephen

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Watts, Mr Dave

Weatherley, Mike

Weir, Mr Mike

Wharton, James

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Chris

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Phil

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Woodcock, John

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr David Nuttall and

Kevin Brennan

Question accordingly negatived


13 Oct 2011 : Column 554

13 Oct 2011 : Column 555

Main Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes the Third Report from the Procedure Committee on Use of hand-held electronic devices in the Chamber and committees, HC 889; and resolves that hand-held devices (not laptops) may be used in the Chamber, provided that they are silent, and used in a way that does not impair decorum, that Members making speeches in the Chamber or in committee may refer to electronic devices in place of paper speaking notes and that electronic devices, including laptops, may be used silently in committee meetings, including select committees.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I understand that the motion on Select Committee amendments will not be moved.

Explanatory Statements on Amendments to Bills


That this House notes the recommendations relating to explanatory statements on amendments to bills contained in paragraphs 31 and 32 of the Second Report from the Procedure Committee on Improving the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny, HC 800; and invites the Leader of the House and the Procedure Committee to put in place a pilot scheme to implement these proposals in respect of one or more bills before the end of the next session.— (Mr Knight.)

Written parliamentary questions


That this House approves the recommendations relating to written parliamentary questions contained in paragraphs 50 and 51 of the Second Report from the Procedure Committee on Improving the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny, HC 800.— (Mr Knight.)

13 Oct 2011 : Column 556

High Speed 2

3.43 pm

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of High Speed 2.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to open the debate, and I am particularly grateful to all the Members —in all parts of the House and on all sides of the debate —who have turned up to participate. It is an incredibly important debate, because it involves £32 billion of taxpayers’ money. I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is not present, because, being an eternal optimist, I believe that he is delaying his decision until December—as he certainly should—and is keen to listen to the debate as it progresses. I know that not just you, Mr Speaker, but many right hon. and hon. Members have taken a great interest in this subject. Let me mention in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright).

It is fashionable for those who oppose HS2 to be dismissed as nimbys. Let me make it clear that I am here today not just as a concerned constituency MP but as someone with 25 years of experience in finance, including project finance, and that I am determined to defend the taxpayer against what I consider to be an unjustifiable and eye-wateringly expensive project. If the route went from Truro to Paddington, or from Leeds to Edinburgh, I would still be here today defending the taxpayer.

When I first heard about HS2 I thought it was a superb idea, but 18 months later all the proposed benefits have fallen away one by one, and there is no hard evidence that spending £32 billion can truly be justified. For instance, there is no evidence that this project will solve the north-south divide. In fact, there is plenty of evidence from the experience in France and Germany, and from our own HS1, that high-speed trains can suck development out of the regions and into the major cities.

I also have an intuitive concern about the point-to-point nature of the project. The north is not a place; it is a region. Those close to the terminals will benefit of course, but it is unclear how people outside those areas can directly benefit. I recently spoke to my former constituency chairman in the Knowsley South seat, which I contested in 2005, and his view is that Knowsley South will end up paying its share of the cost of this project but will get little, if any, benefit.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): The north is not a region. It is made up of three regions—the north-west, Yorkshire and Humber and the north-east—all of which have their own identities, which I hope my hon. Friend will respect.

Andrea Leadsom: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and I certainly do respect the right of people in the north to economic regeneration. I am speaking as much for them as I am for people in Cornwall and the Isle of Wight when I say that £32 billion spent on this project is the wrong use of taxpayers’ money.

Several hon. Members rose

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Andrea Leadsom: I would like to make some progress, if I may.

There is no hard evidence that this project will reduce unemployment in the north. HS2’s own estimate of 30,000 new jobs—

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): The estimate is 40,000.

Andrea Leadsom: The figure is 40,000, my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, but some 73% of those jobs will be generated in and around London, not in the north. Moreover, every one of those jobs will be associated with £300,000 in costs, which is about five times more than the cost of job creation in other infrastructure projects.

Several hon. Members rose

Andrea Leadsom: I want to make one further point before giving way again.

On HS2’s green credentials, HS2 itself admits that at best the project is carbon neutral. That leaves me pondering whether £32 billion of taxpayers’ money spent on a project that essentially only cures the capacity problems on the west coast main line is good value for money. It blatantly is not. I am not alone in thinking that. Organisations including the RAC Foundation, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the TaxPayers Alliance seriously challenge the business case for HS2.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): London’s Crossrail was given the go-ahead by this House on a consensual basis. Surely what is good enough for London is good enough for the rest of the country?

Andrea Leadsom: I am glad the hon. Lady raises that point, because it is ludicrous nonsense. Anybody who has any knowledge whatever of assessing such projects and making sure they offer value for money would say it is nonsense. This is not our money; it is the taxpayers’ money and it belongs to the country. We should not spend money on HS2 on the grounds that we did so for Crossrail. That is just nonsense.

Several hon. Members rose

Andrea Leadsom: I want to make a little more progress, if I may.

I hear arguments that lots of other countries have high-speed rail so we need it to be able to keep up and compete with them, but the truth is that France, Germany and China are very different from our country. They each have a far greater land mass and much longer distances between cities. Furthermore, their high-speed railways follow existing transport corridors, and their non-high speed trains are extremely slow, unlike our existing inter-city trains, which are technically high-speed, with a top speed of 125 mph.

I also hear arguments that we should replicate the fabulous experiment with HS1. Yet a wealth of evidence suggests that commuter services running parallel to the HS1 link have become more expensive, have far more stops and far fewer trains running along the line, in order to subsidise HS1. Even the chief engineer of

13 Oct 2011 : Column 558

HS2 Ltd told me that, as a Kent commuter, he has had to get used to more expensive train fares in order to subsidise those using the HS1 service.

If all else fails, we hear that killer argument, “This is about a vision for Britain. This is like the great Victorian railways. It is like the fabulous post second world war motorways.” I am sorry, but I just do not buy that argument. The Victorian railways were largely privately funded The motorways are fabulous, but they have benefited every town and village in this country, because they have junctions every few miles. By contrast, every family in Britain will pay £1,000 for HS2 but 99% of people in this country will use the service less than once a year, and the wealthiest will use it four times more often than the poorest. That is a massive skewing of scarce resources.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that although £32 billion is a great deal to spend on an infrastructure project, it is probably a welcome sum to spend on the supply side of our economy? Does she further agree, however, that it could be better spent on more local projects, such as the Stourport relief road in Kidderminster?

Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we could have a fabulous relief road for £32 billion. He makes the serious point that there is a huge opportunity cost to spending this amount of money on HS2.

Several hon. Members rose

Andrea Leadsom: I will give way in a moment, but first I wish to discuss the business case for HS2. HS2 Ltd claims that there is a net benefit ratio of two, which means a £2 return for every £1 spent. That is pretty much the minimum we could expect from a rail project, but even that modest claim makes some enormous assumptions. For example, a core, but ludicrous, assumption is that the time spent on a train is completely wasted, so we can attribute a value in pounds to any minute saved on travel. That would not matter so much if it were not for the fact that more than 50% of the £20 billion return claimed for this project comes from the time savings. That is simply ludicrous.

A second enormous assumption is made in the passenger forecasts. HS2’s forecasts are heroic when compared with Network Rail’s own assumptions over a similar period. Surely we should learn the lesson of history. By 2009 Eurostar had achieved only 37% of the passenger numbers forecast when the HS1 link was built. We simply cannot continue to make these massively optimistic forecasts. The Public Accounts Committee took the Department for Transport to task on this point, and the DFT agreed that it would put in far greater downside assumptions for its next infrastructure project.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): If the hon. Lady represented a constituency further away from London than Northamptonshire, she would value the time savings that would allow businessmen to meet their business contacts more quickly. Has she not seen the PricewaterhouseCoopers assessment that within three years of the line being completed the Government could cover their costs and get £6 billion or £7 billion in addition by floating the railway to the private sector?

13 Oct 2011 : Column 559

Andrea Leadsom: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Has he seen the Mott MacDonald report showing that since the advent of wi-fi and the internet the value of time spent on a train has been increasing exponentially every year? It is ludicrous to assert that there is no value in time spent working on a train.

Several hon. Members rose

Andrea Leadsom: I wish to make some more progress. Families up and down the country are feeling the pinch desperately. We are in an economic crisis, yet this project is costing the taxpayer £1 billion even before a single piece of track is laid in 2015—that sum is just to pave the way for HS2.

I wish now to discuss the ludicrous time frame. Nothing is going to get built before 2026. When I commute between Euston and Milton Keynes in peak hours, as I often do, it is not a case of, “Can I get a seat?”; it is a case of, “Can I physically get standing room on the train?” There is a massive capacity problem right now, and it cannot wait until 2026. It certainly cannot wait for 21 years, until the full “Y” is completed. Man might not land on Mars by 2032, but it is entirely possible that there will be technological changes by then that mean that HS2 is out of date before it is even finished.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not accept, however, that HS2 was a manifesto promise that was extremely valuable to people like me who were campaigning against a third runway at Heathrow? We were going to put people on trains, not planes, and phase 2 of this project will deliver precisely that.

Andrea Leadsom: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. All I can say to her is that when the facts change, we should change our minds. HS2 has not fulfilled its early promise. We simply cannot say that we will spend £32 billion because we broadly scoped something out in our manifesto that looked as if it would deliver the earth.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Andrea Leadsom: I will not give way again. I am sorry, but lots of people want to speak.

I am no rail expert, but there are lots of people who are, and they have put forward a broad range of different options that the Government and the Department for Transport should consider as alternatives that would offer more jobs, and faster and greater capacity while improving our existing rail infrastructure. I want to mention a few. We could lengthen existing trains from nine carriages to 12, and we could convert more from first class to standard.

Stephen Hammond rose

Andrea Leadsom: I will not give way again.

We could consider solving the bottlenecks and pinch points that are so frequent along routes that slow down the system and give us less capacity. We could consider reopening old branch lines, particularly those that would

13 Oct 2011 : Column 560

enable passengers to switch between the east coast and west coast main lines and the Chiltern line. That would solve part of the problem in the firewall argument. We could consider solving the artificial peaks in demand generated by our appalling fare structure. We could even consider a new line just between London Euston and Milton Keynes so that the west coast main line could be dedicated to taking passengers to the north of England far faster and on a far more frequent service.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, because it strikes me that her argument is that HS2 is a bad, bad idea, but that it is all right if we build an extra line between London and Milton Keynes. Is she then saying that those of us who live in the north, the north-west and Yorkshire and Humberside should not be allowed to travel on trains? I am bemused.

Andrea Leadsom: If the hon. Lady had listened, she would have heard that I said we should consider building a dedicated local line so that the west coast main line could be exclusively available to those wishing to travel fast to the north of England on the inter-city train. It is nonsense to say that we should build a dedicated £32 billion line instead of considering a proper solution to the capacity problem. The final potential solution we should be considering is giving the right spending priority to rolling out superfast broadband.

Archie Norman, the chairman of ITV, has said:

“Scrap HS2 now and announce instead £17 billion of spending…to bring about the biggest improvement in history of Britain’s existing railway.”

I am genuinely sorry to be so at odds with my Government and with many Members over this project, but we must seriously consider whether spending £32 billion of taxpayers’ money on a project that will deliver nothing until 2026 is worth while. In my view, it is not. It is monumentally expensive and the time scales are so long that they become satirical. As a result, HS2 risks being a vast white elephant that is out of date before it is even completed.

HS2 is not visionary, it is not green and it is definitely not economically sound. We can and must do better. I urge the Government, in the strongest possible terms, to reconsider this project so that it does not become a triumph of political will over economic sense.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), let me emphasise that in seconding the motion he should confine himself to no more than 10 minutes, although he is not obliged to speak for that length of time if he does not wish to do so. Thereafter, in light of the very large number of Members seeking to catch my eye, there will be a six-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

3.59 pm

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): The purpose of asking yet again for a debate in the Chamber on high-speed rail was that, having had two very successful earlier debates in Westminster Hall, we knew that there was a great deal of interest throughout the House among Members representing virtually all

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the constituencies that have an interest in it. I am very pleased to see the remarkable attendance we have this afternoon, and to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who has just opened the debate.

Those who attended the demonstration in Old Palace Yard this morning will have seen that there was a good turnout and a lively response from lorry drivers and others in relation to what we still call HS2. I am pleased to say that one lot from your constituency, Mr Speaker, remarked that they were anxious to speak to your good self about it, and I carry their best wishes and thanks to you. I said that you would almost certainly be in the Chair for the debate today, so I am pleased to see that you are indeed there.

The various points that have consistently been made against this project remain, but they have not been answered in debate or by the Government. The hon. Lady covered virtually all those points in her opening remarks. I am limited for time, and I intend to stay well within the 10 minutes because I know that a lot of Members wish to speak, but let me say that although the point about people being local or nimbyish about this issue is fair, I do not think that any MP who sticks up for his constituency should be at all apologetic about it. That is what we are sent here for, and if we do not do it, why are we here?

We have to take into account the national dimension, but I am prepared to say that I, and my Labour colleagues from Stoke and Coventry, certainly will not benefit from this project at all. I can see the arguments for Manchester, York, Leeds and other areas, which are well represented on the Opposition side, but it seems to me that we are doing things the wrong way around. I can see some benefits—although not the regional benefits that the Government claim—for Manchester, Leeds in particular, and York of being connected to a high-speed link to Birmingham and from there to London, but I think we should start the whole “Y” the other way around. We should start the line where it is most needed and most appreciated—from the north to the south. What is very clear, if we are honest about this, is that we do not desperately need the line from London to Birmingham. We are well served with trains every 20 minutes, and we are only going to get 30 minutes off the journey at best.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Robinson: I will in a moment if my hon. Friend will hang on just a tick. I have only got 10 minutes, and time taken now will shorten someone else’s time.

We really do not need this project. What we need is for the pinch points to be relieved and some of the capacity bottlenecks to be relieved, and we could get the whole capacity increase we need on that line. Centro, which is responsible for the west midlands portion of the line, has said that it desperately needs that to be done now. That is the way to do it, not to wait until—

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Robinson: I will give way in a moment, but I know what my hon. Friend is going to say because he represents a Birmingham constituency. I take those points too, but

13 Oct 2011 : Column 562

on the argument about this being a regional policy, let me say that any remotely sensible study that has been done on it says that 75% of the jobs are going to be created in the south-east, so we should forget the idea that it is a regional policy: that does not stack up. It is a convenience for certain metropolitan centres in the north, and the idea is that if ever it gets up to Edinburgh and Glasgow it could be a spinal cord that unites the country despite the tensions we feel at present—so why not start it up there? Why not start it from Leeds or York? That is what needs doing—and urgently—but of course they will not do that, because everyone knows that the subsidy for that area would be enormous and could not be justified. It can be justified only for the small London-Birmingham stretch where the subsidy will be highest, and it will not benefit ordinary travellers in any sense. It will be subsidised to a massive extent by the taxpayer and, by those businessmen, and others—

Mark Lazarowicz: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Robinson: I know that my hon. Friend has been trying to get in, so I will give way just this once and then I will make progress.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Some of his points about where the benefits would flow with high-speed rail are important, but surely what he is assuming is that people would just build the line and there would be stations but nothing else would happen. The whole point is that high-speed rail offers opportunity for much more comprehensive economic planning built around a high-speed rail network. It is not just a high-speed railway and stations on their own; it is part of a much wider approach that is required.

Mr Robinson: I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend talk about economic planning. I think that, sadly, that went out in 1966, when the Labour Government ditched the national plan. Let us be hard-headed and realistic about this. HS2 will have some benefits, and certainly it will help businesses to travel more quickly to London, but that is about all we can say. If I were a Manchester MP I am sure I would be supporting it, but below there it does not make any sense at all.

Julie Hilling: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Robinson: I am running out of time, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend once.

Julie Hilling: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, because I want to challenge his view that there is no benefit for Birmingham. I would much prefer the track to start in the north, but the reality is that the capacity issue is on the bottom part of the line and that if we do not do something to free up capacity there—and the bodged bits that people are talking about doing would not be adequate in the future—we will not have local trains running either.

Mr Robinson: I do not accept that at all, and the hon. Lady should look at what Centro and others have said. There is a capacity problem. The Government’s capacity projections are way over the top, just as they were for HS1, which was the biggest flop ever. Their capacity projections said that the minimum would be a fifth of

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the maximum, but they could not even get the capacity up to that level. It lost money from day one, and it was flogged off recently to someone in Canada who has no interest in it at all, at a whopping loss of £2 billion or £3 billion. That is the truth.

Richard Burden: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Robinson: No, I will not give way any more.

Richard Burden: You are talking about Birmingham.

Mr Robinson: I live next door to Birmingham; I know all about Birmingham.

Richard Burden: Would you like to hear from Birmingham at all?

Mr Robinson: I just mention in passing that when I was being selected—those few years ago—

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Robinson: I will give way in a moment—no, I will not give way, sorry.

As a prospective Coventry candidate, I was told, “You’ve got to remember one thing, Geoffrey: the only good thing that comes out of Birmingham is the Coventry road”—but I will leave that there.

In all seriousness, with £33 billion of capital expenditure, this is the largest capital project that this country will ever have engaged in. That money could be better spent elsewhere. Dealing with the capacity problems between London and Birmingham and increasing capacity by 47% can be done now. The plans are there; they are shovel ready.

Julie Hilling: That will not solve the problem.

Mr Robinson: It will. Taking a realistic view of capacity, of course it will solve the problem, particularly if we are set back by a 16% output gap, thanks to the recession. Even the Government have had to revise their plans. Does my hon. Friend really believe that we will have more than a 50% increase in capacity in the next 10 years before the project comes in? We need an increase now. We can get 50% by lengthening platforms, without the huge tear-up in London and elsewhere, or the cost that HS2 would involve.

I will mention a few other points that I think are relevant. I happen to agree with those who feel that HS2 would involve the unnecessary tearing up of some of the most beautiful country that we have. This morning, Mr Speaker, your constituents were waxing lyrical about their village. I feel for those who will have their houses smashed and repossessed—all for no good. If we were at war and had to move ammunition, as we probably did in those days, there would be a case for HS2. There is no case now. As I have said, it is not the best way to increase capacity. That could be done in the shorter term and much more cheaply. It will not benefit ordinary people, and it will not help the north-south divide.

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Above all—I say this in all seriousness to my colleagues from Manchester, Leeds, York and others who are here today—I fear that the real danger is that the line will not get built up there. They will find that the cost of getting the line to Birmingham will be blown up beyond all the estimates. Everyone will heave a sigh of relief and say, “We don’t have to go on. This is the profitable part.” In all likelihood, that is what will happen.

As for the environment, the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire made it quite clear that even the Government, and now Greengauge and the other lobby action groups in favour—paid by the Government, of course, or by the company itself—have admitted that HS2 will not do anything for the environment. One is at a loss to know why the Government are doing this. The whole cover was blown by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), who said that the Government reached a deal to oppose the third runway at Heathrow and have HS2 instead. It was a £30 billion election bribe. Whether or not it won them any seats I do not know, but the cover was blown earlier, in that intervention on the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire.

I put it to the House that I do not think that many hon. Members are in the mood to listen the arguments today. It is perfectly legitimate for them to seek to push their constituency interests, but let us go from legitimate constituency interests to a sane, objective assessment of the problems of the capital project, and the hon. Lady exposed the myths that lie behind that project.

4.9 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): That was a touching cameo of the brotherly love between Birmingham and Coventry Labour Members of Parliament. I am sure that if we had the opportunity to attend parliamentary Labour party meetings, we would see it displayed every week.

Time is short, and I do not intend to repeat what I have said in previous debates on High Speed 2. If hon. Members or others are interested, they can find what I have said previously on my website—I am not one of the Twitterati, but I am catching up with websites—at www.tonybaldry.co.uk/tag/hs2. As the House will know, the Transport Committee is undertaking an inquiry on the principles of HS2. I hope that it will pay regard to two points. The first is capacity. It is unclear to me whether the purpose of HS2 is to enable more people from cities such as Manchester and Leeds to travel by rail to London and back, or to allow people to travel faster to London at greater expense. All the statistics show train use increasing. That is probably not surprising, given the ever-increasing cost of petrol. Like other Members, I frequently take long-distance inter-city trains to see family members or, increasingly, as part of my other duties in the House, to visit cathedral cities. Nowadays, irrespective of the time of day at which I travel, the trains are always full, so it strikes me that what is needed on our rail network is greater capacity.

Greater capacity may mean somewhat unglamorous improvements to services that we already use—improvements such as longer trains, extended platforms and improved signalling. Rail campaigners in my constituency argue that if we need a new railway line for capacity, we should

“make the line compatible with existing rolling stock so it can be used to ease congestion on the whole network when required. The stand-alone design, (of HS2), means that if the West Coast

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mainline gets blocked, for some reason, you will not be able to reroute trains down the new line”.

The second issue that I hope the Select Committee will consider with great care is the business case for HS2. This is obviously a matter of concern to everyone.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reference to the work of the Select Committee. It has not yet reported on High Speed 2, so I do not feel that I am in a position to give any conclusions—they are not there yet—but I can confirm that the issues that the Select Committee is considering very carefully have to do with capacity, impact on the economy and environment, and value for money. There are a wide variety of views on all those issues, and the Select Committee is looking at all of them in the round. We will report in due course.

Tony Baldry: Of course, and as one of those who argued strongly that the Select Committee should undertake the inquiry, I have absolutely no doubt that the Committee will deal with the issues with great diligence. I am sure that the House looks forward to debating the Committee’s report and the Government’s response to it. I hope that the debate can take place here in the main Chamber, and not in Westminster Hall, which is where such debates are often held.

As the hon. Lady says, clearly one of the issues that the Committee has to look at is the business case. A considerable sum is being spent, and of course the money spent on HS2 will not be available for investment elsewhere in rail infrastructure; £30 billion is a very substantial amount, and we all need to be confident that the business case will stack up. Conservative Members who entered the House when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, as I did, always had a very high regard for the advice of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Over the years, it has readily embraced new ideas, so it is sobering that its verdict on HS2 is that

“There is a significant risk that High Speed 2…will become the latest in a long series of government big-project disasters”.

The business case for HS2 appears to be based on a number of assertions, such as people do not work on trains. I hope that the Select Committee will investigate those assertions. I understand that there are suggestions in official documents that the effect of HS2 will be to benefit London and the south, in terms of jobs and growth, rather than cities such as Manchester and Leeds. The contribution of the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) demonstrates that many Members representing inner cities are concerned about the differential regional impacts of HS2. I hope that the Select Committee will call for and examine those papers, as it is in a better position than most of us to challenge and evaluate the evidence on HS2.

Angela Smith: The Northern Way did a lot of work on this and pointed out that the economic benefit of HS2 would be as great for the north as it would be for London and the south east. The key point is that the economic benefit is the sum of the whole and that UK plc will be the beneficiary. The other important point about HS2 is that it will help to rebalance the economy.

Tony Baldry: It is really important, for the benefit of the whole House, that the Select Committee should consider all these issues. None of us has had the benefit

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of hearing all the evidence and there is a slight danger—as with liquorice allsorts—that Members will pick only the evidence they want. If we as a nation are to spend £30 billion, I am concerned that it should be money well spent. I am sure that the Committee will diligently consider all the evidence and report back to the House. The hon. Lady represents a Manchester constituency—




I apologise. She represents a Sheffield constituency—


Well, it is a Yorkshire constituency. She clearly has a preconceived view that HS2 will somehow benefit her constituents. I hope that she will reflect on all the evidence submitted to the Committee. She shakes her head. I hope that she will not dismiss it and that the whole House will have the opportunity to consider the matter in the round.

Even if the nation’s finances start to improve substantially after 2015, as we all hope they will, £30 billion is still a very substantial sum. We have a collective duty to ensure that such a significant sum is spent in the best possible way. My concern is that the project started very much as a vanity project. The previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), went up to Birmingham before the general election to announce the project in the hope that it would win him a few votes there. I simply do not think that that is a good way to start such a massive project.

Richard Burden: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the Select Committee looks at all aspects of this and follows the evidence—that is what Select Committees are for. He mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) who used the word “we” rather liberally when referring to the west midlands. I should point out for the benefit of the House that my hon. Friend’s views are not universally shared in the west midlands, in Birmingham, or even in Coventry.

Tony Baldry: That demonstrates the divisions in the Labour party in the west midlands, but I think we all agree that the House should listen carefully to all the evidence.

4.18 pm

Mr Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): Many people are using public transport more these days, particularly the railways, despite the extortionate fares that train operating companies extract from customers for the cheap but not very cheerful service they usually get, particularly on commuter lines. I very much welcome the increased use of public transport, because it reduces carbon emissions and is generally better for the environment.

Two acts of monumental folly have affected the railway industry in the past 50 years. The first was the decision in the early 1960s by the Conservative Government of the day to let Dr Beeching butcher Britain’s network of branch lines, which had linked communities across the country. The second was the decision by another Conservative Government to privatise the railways in the early ’90s, a decision that even the arch-privatiser, Mrs Thatcher, had the good sense not to pursue. Of course, this has meant that the taxpayer has been paying vastly more in subsidy to train operating companies and to the network than was ever paid pro rata to British Rail. I hope that the coalition and the Minister will not, over this decision, make it three monumental follies in a row.

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The coalition proposes that we spend £32 billion by 2026 on a new rail project from London to Birmingham, which then goes on to Leeds and Manchester by 2032, allegedly saving 30 minutes’ travelling time from Birmingham and 50 minutes from Manchester. The fact that business people invariably travel first class and can use their computers and communications networks while travelling, while others will remain in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester and hold meetings using video conferencing facilities, is dismissed by the vested interest groups, which see a massive tranche of public money that they would like to access.

At a time when ordinary people are facing massive reductions in their living standards, living under threat of losing their jobs and watching their community services such as libraries, Sure Start centres and centres for elderly people being axed, we are prepared to commit £17 billion, the estimated cost of the line from London to Birmingham, in order to get business people from Birmingham to London 30 minutes sooner—always assuming that there are no high-speed leaves on the line and the high-speed signalling equipment actually works.

Mark Lazarowicz: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Godsiff: Time is limited, so my hon. Friend must forgive me.

No wonder an online survey by the Birmingham Post showedthat 75% of respondents were against the project.

What other inflated claims are made for the project? It is said that it will help to diminish regional inequalities and promote growth, but there is no evidence of that. If we look at what has happened in Japan, Spain and France, we find that the high-speed connections there have benefited the hub much more than the outer communities.

What about the effect of the project on towns and cities that High Speed 2 will bypass? The deputy leader of Coventry city council says that the plans for High Speed 2 send a clear message that

“Coventry is not a place to stop.”

Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said about Birmingham, I suggest that that might not be a bad idea.

Where high-speed trains do work is in countries with large land mass, but in other, smaller countries they take resources from humbler but more needed schemes, such as the upgrading of existing networks, signalling and infrastructure. Unfortunately, however, we all know as politicians that unveiling a new signal box tends to appeal less than inaugurating a futuristic new service. The project’s other exaggerated claims have already been dealt with.

Hugh Bayley: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Godsiff: Time is very limited.

Hugh Bayley: It gives you extra time.

Mr Godsiff: All right.

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Hugh Bayley: Does my hon. Friend realise that the project is not a zero-sum game? As in any business, if one invests in a new product, one gets new customers and generates economic growth. We need investment in the current network, for sure, but that is no reason not to go ahead with High Speed 2.

Mr Godsiff: I am all in favour of infrastructure investment, but I can think of a whole host of infrastructure investment on which £32 billion could be spent in my constituency, my hon. Friend’s constituency and many other constituencies. This project is not good value for money, and it has not been thought through.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Surely it is a zero-sum game, as was said earlier, because, at a time when we in constituencies that are not directly affected by this railway project are nevertheless having to fight, for example, to save hospitals from closure due to cuts, it seems sheer madness to look at this level of investment instead of at saving our services.

Mr Godsiff: I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, because I agree.

Putting aside my views on the subject, I shall share with the House the views of a Manchester-based businessman who came to London on Tuesday for a meeting of the Surface Engineering Association, an excellent organisation that looks after the interests of companies operating in that segment of manufacturing industry. I asked him how long it had taken to travel down to London that day, and he said “Two hours, eight minutes.” He asked why I wanted to know and I told him about the upcoming debate on High Speed 2. He responded that getting to London from Manchester 50 minutes quicker did not really bother him because he used train time to work on his computer and to make calls. He ventured the opinion that if the Government had that sort of money to spend, they should do something about the bottlenecks on the M6, as well as improving the transport infrastructure in many of our cities.

Those views are similar to the majority of those expressed to me by business people in my constituency. Not one business person has come to me and said, “Thirty minutes is going to make the difference between my company succeeding or not.” It is a fallacy to believe otherwise. However, over the years, plenty of constituents have come to me and said that there should be better public transport facilities within Birmingham—an underground system such as the one in London, a tram system such as those that operate in European cites, improved bus services, or new or reopened train lines and stations within and around the city. Those are the types of improvements that the people of Birmingham want, not a vastly expensive link between London and Birmingham.

People have expressed a great deal of concern about the damage that this will cause in the Chilterns and Warwickshire. The impression has been given that only people who live there are concerned about those areas. In fact, many people living in Birmingham travel to the countryside, especially elderly people in my constituency who have enjoyed the benefits of the free or concessionary fares introduced by the Labour Government. They

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enjoy the countryside; they are certainly not part of the “carpet the countryside with concrete” brigade, and neither am I.

We have had many vanity projects in this country that have been a disaster. I hope the Minister will think again about this project, because I believe that if she goes ahead, it will be a disaster.

4.26 pm

Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): The temperature of this debate is running high. In a densely populated country such as England, it will never be easy to come to a decision about transport infrastructure going right the way through the country. That said, just because a decision is hard and opposition is loud does not mean we should shy away from hearing the points made and coming to that decision.

I have listened to a lot of what has been said about the differences between the north and the south, with Members saying that High Speed 2 will not help—but it will. I come to this debate as an MP from the north-west and, in particular, as an MP from Merseyside. This, to us, is infrastructure we need. We are not going to develop because of this infrastructure, but without it our growth will be stymied. As Government Members, we have all voted for a redistribution of wealth—a change from dependence on the public sector to the private sector. We in the north-west need this infrastructure to allow our private sector to grow so that we stop being overly reliant on the public sector. To all intents and purposes, High Speed 2 was meant to aid the decentralisation of that economic power base.

Let me turn to the figures. Yes, the cost of High Speed 2 at £30 billion is a huge amount of money. However, the fare revenue will bring down that cost to £17 billion. Private sector investment is expected to cover a lot of the cost on key parts of the network such as station developments. In response to a recent question of mine, the Secretary of State said that High Speed 2 in its entirety will bring in £44 billion. The latest review from KPMG puts tax receipts alone at between £6 billion and £10 billion per year. That means that High Speed 2 will easily pay for itself. We have not heard about any of that today.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): The previous three speakers said that one of the disadvantages of the project is that it has come out of a political agreement among the three parties. I think that that is a massive advantage. It is because we do not have political agreement that we have the lowest motorway density in western Europe, a lack of airport capacity where we need it, and in the north-west a railway system running on timetables worse than in Gladstonian times. The country will benefit from this project because the three parties agree with it. Does the hon. Lady agree?

Esther McVey: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We need cross-party support and we also need cross-country support.

I appreciate that infrastructure is not an end in itself, but it is a means to an end. It opens up areas to opportunity and it is for those areas to seize upon that opportunity and capitalise on it. In considering the High Speed 2 development, we must look at the northern

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hub and connectivity across the north. We must look at the Y shape of the line and link in not just Manchester and Leeds, but Liverpool.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I fully support high-speed rail, as does my hon. Friend. However, in the context of connectivity, does she accept that the forgotten English region is the south-west? Although one can support this project, it must be accepted that any available funds elsewhere need to be funnelled in that direction and to the west of England to ensure that we have the connectivity that she is describing.

Esther McVey: I do not disagree at all. I believe that we need greater connectivity across the board. Equally, this project is not starting until 2017 and will go on for two decades. I would like that to be brought forward, not just for the north-west but for the south.

I want to look at where Merseyside needs to develop and what development we are stopping. Official figures for 2009 recorded that 48 million UK day visitors went to Liverpool. It was the sixth most popular destination in the UK. The number of visitors is projected to grow to 55 million by 2013. With overcapacity on the trains, that will not happen. This is not just about speed; it is fundamentally about capacity.

There is also the Liverpool super-port freight development, which is being led by the private investors, Peel. It is set to develop a £300 million in-river berth, which will increase port capacity from 700,000 containers a year to 3 million, creating more than 4,000 new jobs. We need connectivity, warehouse storage and logistics. We want to grow all of those things. This is about rebalancing the economy. Of course there will be jobs in building the infrastructure, but there will also be key jobs in freight and movement. Liverpool should be positioning itself as the port of the north. I have always said that without our ports—whether the cruise terminal or the freight port—we are only a 180° city or half a city. We need to open up links to our waterways to ensure that we are a 360° city.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I just make the tiny point that HS2 will not carry freight, because freight would make the trains too heavy to stop from high speeds. I just wanted to check that my hon. Friend was aware of that.

Esther McVey: No, there will be increased freight capacity, and that is key. There has been a 56% increase in the amount of freight over the past eight years. We have to accommodate that and develop the capacity that we have.

In conclusion, High Speed 2 is vital, as are the northern hub, the connection with Liverpool, our ports and opening up the UK as a whole. There is a financial argument, which people have made. I have given the latest statistics from KPMG. High Speed 2 is about uniting the country, and about spreading wealth and opportunity to areas that desperately need them. My only concern is that it should happen sooner rather than later.

4.33 pm

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): Besides being the Member for Holborn and St Pancras, I am the Member for King’s Cross and Euston. I feel like I have

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been here before. About 20 years ago, the sort of people who are now proposing HS2 were proposing that the channel tunnel link should come into a vast concrete cavern to be excavated under King’s Cross station. Many local people opposed it, and when the project team asked what I suggested, I said, “You could use St Pancras, it would be a much better idea.” That was denounced as ridiculous for a time, but in due course St Pancras International was opened and is probably the most magnificent station in the whole world.

Now we have the proposition of HS2. I say to those who are in favour of it that to bring it in to Euston is just about as stupid as the King’s Cross concrete box idea. Euston is already overcrowded, and getting to and from it by either bus or tube is extremely difficult. There are no proposals to improve that. Also, Euston is not on the Heathrow Express line and is not going to be on Crossrail. In recognition of that, the people behind HS2 are proposing the parkway station at Wormwood Scrubs, hereinafter to be known as Old Oak Common, which is on the Heathrow Express and will be on Crossrail. That suggests that they accept that it would be a good idea to have that station as the terminus if HS2 is built. I say that from a strategic and passenger point of view, but I do not pretend that it is my basic point of view. I try to represent the people in the constituency that I have represented for 30-odd years, which I am proud to do.

The proposal involves the demolition of the houses and homes of more than 350 of my constituents. Their attitude, and mine, is not nimby—“not in my back yard”—but “not through my front room”, because that is what is being proposed. If HS2 is to be built, it would be totally unacceptable from a local point of view, and silly from a national point of view, to bring it into Euston.

Graham Stringer: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Frank Dobson: No, I shall not, because I want other people to get their speeches in.

I am particularly concerned to end the planning blight that now afflicts the people who live in the area affected and those in the area behind it, Primrose Hill, who may also be disturbed by the developments. I therefore wrote to the Secretary of State asking what guarantees he was willing to give about suitable alternative accommodation for the people affected. I asked whether it would be in the neighbourhood; whether they would remain tenants of the council; how soon such alternative accommodation would be provided; whether people would have to live in temporary accommodation while permanent accommodation was built; what security of tenure they would have; and what the effect would be on their rents and service charges. I got a letter back from him saying, “Oh, all that will need to be looked into in the fullness of time.” As far as I am concerned, that leaves 350 of my constituents on planning blight death row, and we have to do something about that. There is absolutely no reason why the Minister could not say today that she can offer all the guarantees that those people want, and that those guarantees will be one of the conditions of any agreement if the mad proposal finally goes ahead and HS2 comes into Euston.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Frank Dobson: No, I want to sit down as quickly as I can so that other people can get in.

I believe that Euston is a stupid place to use as the terminus, even from the point of view of those who favour High Speed 2, and that it is a disastrous proposition from the point of view of the people I represent.

4.38 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): It is a great honour and pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing it. She has allowed everybody who has a point of view the chance to make their case, expose the arguments of the other side and put forward their own.

In the last Parliament I was fortunate enough, along with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), who is in her place, to be part of the shadow transport team who were the first authors of a major high-speed rail debate, and indeed of a high-speed rail policy.

The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) is absolutely right that there is a principled case for opposition to the scheme. My constituents are affected, as are those of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson). What is not a principled position, however, is to say that there is no economic, environmental, financial or travel case for high-speed rail. There clearly is a case, although its merits might differ according to differing points of view.

I have read both the rail package 2 study and the “A Better Railway for Britain” study, the proposals in which are often referred to as an alternative to high-speed rail. I shall briefly examine—because I want to move on to the positives, rather than the negatives—the proposals in the latter study for overcoming the capacity issues on the west coast main line. It proposes to introduce 12 car trains, grade-separated junctions and an additional track south of Nuneaton. It claims that the costs, at best, would be £2.06 billion, but it takes that figure from another, flawed document. I do not know whether those who produced the study have ever spoken to any of the rail operators, but it will be extremely difficult to integrate 12 cars into 11-car sets.

Paul Maynard: Does my hon. Friend agree that rail package 2 plus and RP2 both admit that they do not tackle the peak-hour demand, which is the crucial concern of many of us travelling on the west coast main line?

Stephen Hammond: Absolutely. However, so much in “A Better Railway for Britain” is mere assertion. The good points, though, are like that television programme from so long ago, “Not Only… But Also”. Not only do we need to do the things mentioned in RP2, but also we need high-speed rail. The case for high-speed rail is clear. It revolves primarily around capacity. Official sources say that the west coast main line will be full by 2020, although some say 2026, while unofficial sources say 2015. The question, then, is about how we add capacity. We either build a classic new line or we build one that uses some of the new techniques and signalling. The latter is called high-speed rail.

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Andrea Leadsom: Does my hon. Friend accept that if we are going to make the case for “not only but also”, as he described it, the case for HS2 needs be made after the “not only”? In other words, if we are trying to make an economic argument, we have to add on the incremental improvements to be made and then justify HS2 expense on top of that.

Stephen Hammond: There is one fallacy with my hon. Friend’s argument. Simply speeding up the current network and alleviating some minor problems is no substitution for high-speed rail. It is clear that high-speed rail would at least double capacity, and on certain parts of the route, the capacity increase would be significantly more than that.

The Y-shaped high-speed network across the UK would bring a benefit-cost ratio of about 2:6. For the London to Birmingham section, the ratio would be 2:0. That shows that the case for going further north becomes more compelling and adds to the economic benefit. The proposals in “A Better Railway for Britain” would have a benefit-cost ratio of 1:4. Those ratios prove that high-speed rail is significantly better than some of these hotch-potch alternatives in “A Better Railway for Britain”.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that between the two iterations of the business case in March 2010 and February 2011, the Government had to slash their estimate of the benefit-cost ratio by 40%? That was the first time that the business case was prodded. If another 40% comes off it when it is prodded again, it will be proven to have been economically unviable.

Stephen Hammond: When the business case is re-examined, the key thing will be: what happens if it improves? The more important point is that the benefit-cost ratio for HS2 is overwhelmingly ahead of any of the other proposals. That is true.

The economic case is overwhelming. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) eloquently set out some of the issues in the north, but the point is that in the construction phase alone, high-speed rail will generate 40,000 jobs along the route. That does not include any calculation of the ripple supply-chain effect, which will certainly be felt. More than that, the combination of HS2 and the northern hub, which has already been referred to, will create a new economic conurbation in the north and allow much quicker access between the north and London. That connectivity is hugely important.

When the business community criticises politicians, it says that all too often one of the reasons why it does not invest and why there are barriers to growth is that we, the politicians, have not put in place the appropriate infrastructure. This scheme is the appropriate infrastructure for the 21st century.

The environmental impact cannot be understated. The Department for Transport currently estimates that the project is carbon-neutral, and I absolutely accept that. However, I am aware that the Campaign for Better Transport is doing some new research into the impact of taking extra freight by rail, which, when combined with the transference effect from railways, I am led to believe points to the conclusion that the carbon footprint will be significantly reduced.

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Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Stephen Hammond: No, I am sorry; I have only a minute and a half left.

There is a myth that local services will suffer as a result of High Speed 2. That is not true: local services are already at capacity. We need to do other things, but high-speed rail is not part of that argument. That is a diversionary tactic. There is also a myth, which has been brought up time after time today, that there is a £30 billion cost. Yes, of course the scheme will cost £30 billion, but Crossrail is currently costing us £2 billion a year. Crossrail will have a huge impact on London and create huge benefits for the commuting area of London and the south-east. If we look at the cost of Crossrail against the annual cost of High Speed 2, we see that they are actually a substitution for one another. It is quite clear that we can invest the £2 billion a year in rail infrastructure that the Government have costed for without affecting other investment.

The case is a good one and there are overwhelming reasons for it. The network is at capacity, the economy will benefit, the scheme will be at least carbon-neutral and, given that it does not start until after 2017, High Speed 2 is affordable.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. In view of the level of interest in this debate, I must inform the House that after the next speech the time limit for Back-Bench speeches will be reduced to four minutes in order to accommodate as many contributing colleagues as possible.

4.47 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak in this debate and congratulate the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on introducing it. We have had debates on the subject before in Westminster Hall, and I shall have to make some of the points that I made in those debates again, because they are significant.

I am a passionate believer in railways and have been for decades. Even when railways were unfashionable, I believed that they were the transport mode of the future, and so they have proved to be. Indeed, there is absolutely no doubt that we will have more railways in future. I believe that we should invest heavily in railways and in additional routes, but I remain a sceptic about HS2. I applaud in particular the speeches by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry)—who has just left the Chamber—and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff), who made many important points that I will not necessarily repeat.

The scheme is expensive, but if it was worth while I would support that expense. It also has an opportunity cost: we should be doing things now, not in decades to come. As the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire said, even getting on a train to Milton Keynes is a problem now, let alone finding a seat, and the same is true elsewhere. We need heavy investment in all sorts of railway schemes, but not necessarily this one, which will come a long time in the future, not now. However, it will not be necessary even in the future. The point has been

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made about Britain being a densely populated country, and many towns that need to be served by high-speed trains would not be. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) is quite right that he would not benefit at all from HS2. Indeed, getting to and from the station is a much more significant problem for those living even on the outskirts of Birmingham than getting from Birmingham to London.

We need more capacity, but for that we need to upgrade existing routes. For example, there is no question but that the east coast main line needs to be upgraded; indeed, I had a long talk about that with the chief executive at our recent conference. However, all we need is an additional viaduct to quadruple the track at Welwyn, a passing loop at Peterborough and a crossover at Newark, and then we will have no problem at all with 140 mph trains running from London to Edinburgh. To build a high-speed line carrying no more than two or three trains a day that far would be nonsense. We have the capacity now, provided we upgrade the route a little.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I completely concur with the hon. Gentleman. The same train line goes through our constituencies. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) that we should be looking at many other areas in which to invest. We could move many more passengers around the country. The hon. Gentleman is making a perfect argument for looking at this matter again.

Kelvin Hopkins: I thank the hon. Lady for her support. We have neighbouring constituencies and share the rail route that runs through our towns.

In the end, the problem comes down to the west coast main line, which needs the signalling to be upgraded to the most modern standard, more train paths, and to get the freight off the line. Freight and passengers do not mix. Freight trains move more slowly, and they damage the track more than the lighter passenger trains, so we need to invest in a dedicated freight line running up the backbone of Britain, from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, linking all the major conurbations. I have supported that scheme for a long time, and it would take 5 million lorries a year off the roads, as well as removing all the freight traffic from the east and west coast main lines. The passenger routes need to be separated from the freight routes and upgraded to improve capacity. I believe that that is what we need, and that is why I am sceptical about the HS2 scheme.

That freight route could be built in four years for as little as £6 billion, and it would cause no environmental difficulty because it could use existing under-utilised routes and old track bed could be brought back into use. That, and a couple of tunnels, would make the whole thing work. I have made this case time and again in the Chamber over the past 14 years, and I have mentioned it to the Minister of State. I have presented a paper on it to the Transport Select Committee. I also know engineers who have worked on the scheme and worked the details out. It just needs to be done. Fifteen of us had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport in the previous Government to put our case

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for the scheme, but the Department was so hostile because a small section of our proposed route overlapped the route it wanted to use for HS2. Even if HS2 is built, the lines could be paralleled at that point. There would not be a problem.

We need a freight route that is capable of taking full-scale lorry trailers on trains. That could never be done on existing routes without incurring the prohibitive cost of raising all the tunnels and bridges throughout the network. We need a track that has the capacity to take double-stack containers. Most of our existing routes cannot even take standard 9 feet 6 inch containers. We also need a track that has the capacity to take continental trains, which currently cannot get through our platforms because they are too wide, the gauge is too big. We need to be able to accommodate trains travelling from, say, Rome to Birmingham carrying San Pellegrino water.

Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument for a major extension of the rail network. Given that one of his reasons for opposing HS2 is its cost, will he give us an estimate of the cost of all the various improvements and new lines that he has just described?

Kelvin Hopkins: Some two or three years ago, we had lunch with some people from Bechtel, one of the train manufacturing companies. We were talking about a cost of £4 billion or £5 billion at that time. We talked about an outside figure of £6 billion, but the Bechtel representative looked at the scheme and said he could do it for £3 billion. That would be a fraction of the cost even of Crossrail, which I support. This is not about cost, however; it is about whether HS2 is necessary. I think that we could achieve the desired result by doing it differently. We could upgrade existing routes to serve all the intervening towns, and we could provide the necessary capacity by getting all the freight off those lines and on to a new freight route. I ask the Department for Transport to take our scheme seriously, because that is what we need for the future.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I remind hon. Members that the four-minute limit on each Back-Bench contribution now applies.

4.54 pm

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): We in the Liberal Democrats have long supported high-speed rail, and we are delighted that the Government of whom we are part are going to deliver on that commitment. A sustainable transport system fit for the 21st century was at the heart of our 2008 policy paper, “Fast track Britain”, our 2010 election manifesto and now the coalition agreement. We need increased capacity on our railways. Over the past 50 years, the length of our rail network has roughly halved, but since 1980 the number of passenger journeys has doubled. Quite predictably, that has fuelled overcrowding and led to eye-watering price hikes.

The extra capacity that the HS2 project will provide is not a luxury; it is a cold, hard necessity that we cannot afford to ignore. Network Rail estimates that by 2024 the existing line to Birmingham and the north-west will

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be full. Serious congestion on commuter services at the southern end of the line is already harming passenger welfare. Unfortunately, the key issue of capacity crisis has been obscured by an obsession with journey times. Yes, speed is important, but capacity and the number of trains is as important, if not more so.

High-speed rail will release huge amounts of capacity on existing lines: demand will no longer outstrip supply on parallel train routes. We need that capacity. The only alternative to building the high-speed railway line would be to build the same line, but for trains to run at slow speed. That would save us a small amount—about 9% of the construction costs—but we would not get the benefits of high speed.

We have heard that there is no need for a new line, that the few shortfalls can be tweaked and that we can cope with the inevitable increase in traffic. That is simply not the case. These proposals do not take proper account of the decades of upgrade work that would be required, with no alternative train line that could be fully used, or of the huge impact on reliability. If every possible train path is used on a line, there will be no capacity to cope if a single train is delayed: it throws everything out of whack. We need that capacity. Having massive infrastructure works on an already overcrowded line is not an option. It is not even a quick fix; it is completely unrealistic.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on that point. Would not the undoubtedly massive disruption be a major negative economic factor to be included in the business case on the consequences of a high-speed line or of trying to upgrade existing lines?

Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point; indeed, those consequences should be taken into account.

Hon. Members who oppose High Speed 2 should be aware that they are arguing for increased overcrowding on the west coast main line, increasing the chances of delayed commuter services, committing themselves to a disruptive and ineffective infrastructure programme, and delaying by only a matter of years the inevitable construction of a second line through the country.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Huppert: One last time, yes.

Jo Swinson: I thank my hon. Friend, and I feel that I should declare an interest as a regular user of the west coast main line who hopes to get home before midnight tonight. Does my hon. Friend agree with my constituents who strongly support this scheme, because although it does not extend to Scotland it will bring significant benefits to Scotland? Ultimately, we will need to go further; once this Y-shaped network is in place, we must have high-speed rail to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Dr Huppert: As ever, I am delighted to agree with everything my hon. Friend says. Her constituents will benefit and the scheme will eventually need to continue, and I hope that it will be sooner rather than later.

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There have been debates about the economics of High Speed 2, and I think we all agree that it is absolutely right that we scrutinise them. The solution to our chronic capacity problem must deliver value for money. We have heard debate about the exact facts and figures. The ones I have seen place some reliance on or about the generation of 40,000 jobs and £44 billion for the economy, but the real economic impact of high-speed rail lies in changes that are harder to quantify. For far too long we have focused on London and the south-east, and it is key that high-speed rail helps to address that problem. High-speed rail will enable businesses in our major cities to compete with those in the capital and south-east. It will provide larger talent pools and more potential clients, improve domestic tourism and help us to rebalance our economy away from the City.

We also need to look at the issue raised by the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey)—rail freight.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Huppert: I am afraid not; I do not have enough time.

The number of container freights on a north-south axis has grown by 56% in the past eight years, leaving freight services, particularly around Liverpool, in a complete bottleneck. There are companies that would like to use rail freight much more, but simply cannot find the space to put the containers on the railway. We constantly have this tricky balance between keeping commuter services for those travelling to London and ensuring that businesses in the north have access to the freight services they need. We need both. In an advanced country that cares about sustainable growth in every region, this is not the trade-off we need.

I wish I had more time to talk about the environmental consequences, but I would hope that all hon. Members agree that decarbonising domestic transport is a crucial measure that needs to be taken and that modal shift is important in achieving that. A shift of 6 million air trips and 9 million road trips on to rail is definitely a significant step forwards.

High-speed rail is not some idealistic dream based on shaky, long-term assumptions; it is a logistical imperative. High-speed rail is vital for the long-term sustainability of our country’s infrastructure. The arguments for it heavily outweigh those against it, and I am delighted that the Government are taking it forward. I look forward to working closely with the Department for Transport, the Minister and other stakeholders to ensure that this project goes ahead and provides value for money for taxpayers and passengers alike, as well as providing the sustainable and efficient transport infrastructure that Britain is desperately lacking.

4.59 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I support the extension of high-speed rail north of London, not just because I believe that it is in the best interests of my constituency and of Scotland but because I believe that it will benefit the whole United Kingdom in economic, transport and environmental terms. It makes sense for many reasons, including the need to increase capacity, which other Members have

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mentioned. Incidentally, the idea that the only people who use long-distance trains are rich businessmen will come as something of a shock to those who regularly use east-coast and west-coast lines. The development will, in fact, benefit many people throughout the country.

The existing network needs to be modernised in various ways, but it is ridiculous to suggest that it is possible to solve the capacity problem throughout Britain simply by modernising and upgrading it. As I said in an intervention, trying to replicate high-speed lines on the routes of existing lines would lead to decades of disruption and economic disbenefits. It is cheaper to build new lines, and, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) pointed out, if new lines are to be built anyway, they might as well be high-speed lines if possible.

I do not support high-speed rail just for the sake of it—just because I want trains to travel as fast as they can. I accept that, in some localities, lower speeds may be acceptable for environmental reasons on the wider network. The fact remains, however, that reducing travel time between parts of the United Kingdom will create a number of benefits. Moreover, extending the line not just to Birmingham, Manchester and other parts of what, to me, constitutes southern England, but further north to Edinburgh and Glasgow, will produce the maximum economic and environmental benefits. The longer the journeys involved, the greater the possibility that passengers will travel by rail rather than air, and the more will be saved through high-speed rail. It will be possible to make significant cuts in air travel from Scotland to London if journey times can be reduced to less than three hours, and the same applies to road travel between Scotland and the north of England.

Kelvin Hopkins: In 1992, having freed up the line, British Rail ran a test train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh at 140 mph, and did it in the same time as HS2 is proposing for its trains.

Mark Lazarowicz: I think that that makes my point about capacity. Obviously, the line could not operate like that every day, because a fair number of trains would be running at the same time.

Many of the business cases for the extension of the line to the midlands and the north of England do not take account of the economic benefits in business and tourist travel that would result if it were extended to Glasgow and Edinburgh. The increase in passengers would generate economic benefits, and the best business and economic case will be produced if there is agreement that the line should extend to Scotland, ensuring that we are not excluded from the system.

My only worry about the current proposal is that we in Scotland, and indeed those in the north of England, would be at risk if the line extended no further than Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester. Trains cannot start at every part of the country at the same time, but we certainly do not want them to arrive at Birmingham at 2026, at Manchester or Leeds at 2033, and then—if we are lucky—at Edinburgh or Glasgow at 2050. That would be extremely damaging to our relative economic prosperity in the UK.