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I urge the Minister to think long and hard about how we can bring rigour into such decisions. Mental health issues can affect any family, rich or poor, and are no respecter of intelligence, upbringing or anything like that. It is essential that there is a rigorous, accountable and transparent process before PCTs are able to decide to do away with these vital beds. I urge the Minister to consider how the Government can provide those reassurances.

5.33 pm

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on what has turned out to be a fantastically refreshing debate, which has been part debate and part group therapy.

I want to add my own personal contribution. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), I suffered from post-natal depression. It is unbelievable how awful you feel when you are sitting with your tiny baby in your arms and your baby cries and so do you. You cannot even make yourself a cup of tea. You just feel so utterly useless. Looking back on that time, I genuinely agree with my hon. Friend that going through that experience makes you a better person. It also makes you determined to do something for other people in that situation.

Post-natal depression is a key issue for women as individuals. Like many others, I got over it with the help of a good family and husband, and by going back to work. Many people do not get over it. Although the consequences are profound for those women, the consequences for their babies are often even more profound.

I want to talk briefly about the experience of a baby. When babies are born, they are about two years premature. Their brains have barely developed. They have all of the neurones but none of the neural pathways are laid down. That happens only during the first two years of life. The peak period for the growth and development of a baby’s brain is between six and 18 months, and that growth is literally stimulated by a loving relationship with an adult carer—usually their mum, of course. If a baby’s mum has a lovely, smiling face and always picks them up, cheers them up, hugs them, feeds them and changes them whenever they cry, their brain becomes hard-wired to understand that the world is a good place. They will go on to be a person who can deal with life’s ups and downs, and who retains the idea that the world will be good to them.

It is like Harry Potter. He had loving parents until he was two, but then along came Lord Voldemort and murdered them, and he had an unspeakable experience until he was into his teens and escaped to Hogwarts. What kept him on the straight and narrow, and understanding right from wrong, was his secure foundation. I put it to the Minister that that is how to secure good emotional health for our society.

If babies do not have a secure bond—usually with mum, but it can be with another parent or with adoptive parents—their brain develops in such a way that they expect to have to fight or withdraw. Those babies are the people who go on to fail to cope with what life throws at them. They struggle to make friendships, and they are the people who are bullied or become victims, or indeed become bullies themselves at school. Babies at the acute

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end, where there is real neglect and abuse, are the ones who go on to become drug addicts or violent criminals. In fact, research shows that 80% of long-term criminals have attachment problems stemming from babyhood.

A sad truth about our society is that research shows that 40% of children aged five are not securely attached. Of course, that does not mean that they all go on to become psychopaths or murderers, but it does mean that we are raising generations of babies and young children who do not have the emotional capacity to meet the ups and downs that life throws at them. They will have a much greater tendency than other people to mental illness. They will struggle to have all the things that we perhaps take for granted, such as a secure family and a decent job, and they will be less robust in their emotional make-up.

There is much that we could do to support people. We heard yesterday in the debate on early intervention about how much more could be done to support social workers and destigmatise going to children’s centres and seeking help. One very good example came from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who has talked about it for a long time. Why do we not ensure that people go to a children’s centre to register their baby’s birth, and then to get their child benefit? That would instantly mean that most people would use children’s centres, so it would destigmatise them.

Children’s centres should not just be places where people go for antenatal and post-natal check-ups; people should be able to go there for psychotherapeutic support such as that offered by the Oxford Parent Infant Project, the charity of which I was chairman for nine years. It provides psychotherapeutic support for families who are struggling to bond with their babies. Social workers, health visitors and midwives love it because it is somewhere to which they can on-refer people. We hear a lot of talk about training for health visitors, but no talk about what they should do when they spot attachment problems and what help they should provide to families to turn the situation around. OXPIP has shown how incredibly easy it is to do so, because both mother and baby are extraordinarily receptive to being supported in such a way as to develop the attunement and empathy that they need for a good relationship with each other.

Mums who adore their babies do not allow partners to stub cigarettes out on them. They do not shake them to death or neglect and ignore them when they are crying. It is all about building an early relationship. It is greatly in the interests of our society for sound relationships to have been built by the age of two so that we do not constantly have to deal with the consequences of failed attachment later in life.

5.38 pm

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I welcome this important and timely debate. As other hon. Members have said, mental health issues are often marginalised in debates about health in general. Mental health must take centre stage, because mental health problems are widespread across the social system and affect people of all ages.

As Members have pointed out, there has often been a stigma attached to mental illness, but we are beginning to tackle that stigma head-on both here and, increasingly, through other public figures talking about their mental health problems.

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As we attack that stigma, we must also examine whether our approach to tackling the problem is fit and appropriate for the 21st century. Our approach to mental illness over a number of decades has been based on what I would call the psychiatric model. The model has medicalised mental illness and treated it as something to be dealt with using drug-based therapies. It is dominated by a concern for short-term relief rather than long-term cure. That approach has dominated our thinking about mental illness in mainstream health. In my view, it needs to change, which is why I broadly welcomed the recommendations in the Government’s “No Health without Mental Health” strategy, particularly its emphasis on improving access to psychological therapies. The Government are investing £400 million over the spending review period, which is a welcome development.

People who suffer from a range of mental health problems need clear access to a range of talking therapies, but it has become fashionable to be sceptical about the effectiveness of long-term approaches such as psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and we must not fall into the trap, as we do in many aspects of modern life, in focusing on therapies that have a short-term effect. I believe strongly that psychoanalytical and psychotherapeutic approaches can help to treat a range of mental health problems, from anorexia and psychosis to schizophrenia. We should not be embarrassed to advocate the use of such therapies.

At the same time, we need an integrated approach at a local level. I am impressed by the approach taken in Sandwell, part of which I represent. A GP-led approach to mental health care in Sandwell has borne results. The area has high levels of mental ill health, and high social deprivation and unemployment. Local GPs, led by Dr Ian Walton, agreed that depression should be a top priority. They developed an integrated mental health care approach emphasising greater choice, and helping to build emotional resilience and independence. The approach shifts the focus to mental well-being rather than mental illness.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, GPs are an important first gateway into NHS mental health services and the early identification of treatment for mental health problems. Big steps have been taken in Sandwell to improve GP training to deal with patients presenting complex mental health problems, and Dr Walton and his team have invested time in GP training to improve the efficacy of early diagnosis.

Improving early diagnosis of mental health problems is a fundamental part of the integrated model that has been successful in Sandwell. It frees resources in secondary care and allows people to deal with their mental health problems in community and family settings. The Sandwell model emphasises positive self-help, access to appropriate talking therapies and a focus on specialist programmes tailored to the needs of patients, which other hon. Members have mentioned. It also emphasises the importance of partnership working with schools, health, employment and other social providers.

Dr Walton and other local GPs have helped to transform mental health care in Sandwell, with consistently high recovery rates using IAPT of 63%, compared with a national average of just 44%. As we seek to tackle the major problem of mental health across our country, we need that greater emphasis on talking therapies. We need to challenge the psychiatric model of mental health

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treatment that has dominated thinking in our health system for far too long. We need an integrated approach at a local level that takes the best talking therapies and gives people access to the treatment they need. As the debate has illustrated, we also need a commitment from the Government to place mental health as a top priority within our health service as we seek to tackle the problem.

5.44 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): In the short time available, I wish to address two subjects. First, I shall consider mental health in the military and the excellent progress made since the election, and refer to the work of my friend and constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). Secondly, I want to reflect on my experiences dealing with constituents over the past two years. I think that many Members have been surprised by the sheer number of individuals who come to surgeries with mental health problems and associated issues. I want to refer to several of my experiences with constituents.

Soon after I was elected, one constituent told me about the treatment of her brother, who had recently committed suicide. She was unhappy with his experience and that of her brothers and mother during the previous 20 years, so we convened a meeting with relevant health professionals. I sat in the room for an hour and a half, as we went through the history of that poor man’s experience over 20 years. We have had an excellent discussion this afternoon about the different investments, and new policies, resources and approaches, but it struck me in that meeting that the real challenge was to join up all the different components that make for a proper solution for that family as a whole.

We were given an excellent briefing in the run-up to this debate, but one comment, in particular, from Mind and Rethink struck home. They wrote that

“whilst many people with mental health problems receive excellent care, all too often people face barriers in getting the care that they need as people’s journeys to recovery are rarely linear or straightforward.”

That is the key issue. People do not know what to expect, and because many of these conditions are unseen and the future is unknown, a great deal of fear creeps into families doing their best for a struggling relative. That leads to great tension and anxiety, so it is incredibly important that as we move to a new commissioning environment, we give local providers of appropriate support a voice and enable them to be commissioned. These decisions must be based not on numbers and spreadsheets but on the practical experience of local people.

The “Fighting Fit” report was a valuable piece of work commissioned in the first few weeks of the Government taking office. It is important to think about mental health in the armed forces in the same way as in other areas, but it is difficult to do so, given the culture in that environment. We heard some excellent statistics and useful perspectives from my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) underscoring the fact that many people in the military suffering from mental health issues do not take their first step towards accessing care until more than a decade—13 years, on average, we are told—after they leave the services.

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It is pleasing that progress is being made on the principal recommendations in the “Fighting Fit” report—on increasing the number of mental health professionals conducting outreach work, on the establishment of an online early-intervention service and on a veterans’ information service. That progress is welcome, but much more needs to be done to educate new recruits and personnel throughout their career on the need to be open about their mental health, to admit to it and to seek support from the relevant authorities.

As everyone has said this afternoon, mental health issues do not discriminate by age, background, career or profession. That is the key message that we need to get into every aspect of life in our country. We need to continue to de-stigmatise mental health issues. We need to work for earlier diagnosis and smarter commissioning arrangements, and to invest in preventive measures to ensure that we achieve the maximum benefit to our society—that is, a lower rate of mental illness in the future.

As someone who recently endured the misery of seeing those very close to me suffer when a relative was in and out of mental hospital, I realise that this issue is very painful and difficult to talk about, and I commend those Members who have spoken so openly about their experiences and conditions this afternoon.

5.50 pm

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on securing this Backbench Business debate in the first place. Indeed, this is an historic moment, for the simple reason that it must be the first time that three former association officers of the Battersea Conservative association have found themselves speaking in the same debate.

Sir Peter Bottomley: It won’t happen again.

Oliver Colvile: I am sure my hon. Friend is quite right.

I have followed this issue very closely, because in my maiden speech I gave a pledge that I would try to raise the issue of mental health for our veterans during the course of my time in the House of Commons, however short or long that might end up being. I hope very much that I have been good to my word. Only too often when we have had debates on mental health or veterans issues in the House, we have found that it has been the Armed Forces Minister answering, and although he has always done a brilliantly good job of explaining what is going on, the debate has unfortunately never had a joined-up feel about it—for instance, by including Ministers from the Department of Health. That is why I very much welcome this debate.

I congratulate both the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne on their sheer candour in speaking about this issue. If we could capture my hon. Friend’s energy, we would sort out the national grid once and for all.

I recently had a Falklands veteran come to talk to me about how he feels he is being discriminated against in his benefits. That is something we most certainly need

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to look at as a House. My interest in this whole matter began in 2000, shortly after I was selected as the candidate in Plymouth, Sutton, when I went out with the people from one of the churches and saw them handing out soup and sandwiches to various people. Plymouth, being a major—indeed, principal—naval port, most certainly has a lot of veterans issues. There was a man on that occasion who had left the Army and was sleeping rough. He had come across real problems because he had taken to drink—he had obviously taken to drugs as well, which was also a very big issue.

Indeed, when my father served in the Navy—he went in as a boy sailor at the age of 14, serving in Dartmouth and subsequently in the second world war—he had the job of picking up the head of a man he was sharing a cabin with and throwing it over the side, into the sea. I think that would most certainly have given me the heebie-jeebies, I can tell you that, although it did not seem to affect him at all.

A number of Members have made a series of points in this debate which I fully agree with. I was going to talk a little bit about the position now, as we commemorate the Falklands war, 30 years on, but my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) has already dealt with that. However, we have to recognise that the families are the first people to get to know whether mental health issues are arising and how combat stress affects them. We need to remember that at the time when my father ended up having to deal with these issues, there were no mechanisms in place to look after his mental health or even try to take it forward. As others have said, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) has produced a very good report, which has very much formed the basis of Government policy in this area.

I ended up talking to Mind during the course of the last few days. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) and I are speaking as one, as she made the point that the amount of money devoted to mental health in Plymouth is an issue. It seems that money has been taken away from mental health to be given to those who suffer from physical ailments. I think that we most certainly need to look at that.

Last week, during the jubilee recess, I visited the Glenbourne mental health unit at the Derriford hospital. I was told that it had seen a significant rise in the number of people with mental health issues, especially from the military, and I was told how important it was to ensure that something was done about it.

We must make sure that we adopt a proactive campaign so far as stress and mental illness are concerned, and that we give our support to those organisations that are in the business of delivering it, while also ensuring that we have trained GPs to look after people. The Jesuits have a saying, do they not—“Give me the child until the age of eight, and I will show you the man”. That was very much the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) raised in her contribution, for which I was grateful.

Let me finish on a small note. We need significantly more joined-up government between Departments. We should not be talking only about the Ministry of Defence, but about the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions. If we can do that, we can make real progress.

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5.56 pm

Nicky Morgan: I am sorry that in the short time available, I will not be able to mention all the fantastic speeches we have heard this afternoon. We can definitely say that we have considered the motion fully—and we should all be very proud of that achievement.

I shall make a few brief points to draw the issues of the debate together. First, we all agreed that the debate was somewhat overdue and that it was time that mental health was discussed more often in the Chamber. I hope that we have shown the House of Commons at its best. I certainly think we have; I think this is one of the best debates I have attended since I was elected just over two years ago. We were right to hold out for a debate in the main Chamber, which was an important issue.

Secondly, we have shown that Members of Parliament are not immune to mental health experiences. I would like to pay particular tribute to the speeches of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and of my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who should win an award for bringing the name of Harry Potter into her speech.

We have shown this afternoon why it is so important for my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) to introduce his private Member’s Bill. I am sure that we all wish him well with it and look forward to working with him on a cross-party basis—another significant achievement from today’s debate. I thank both Front-Bench teams for their support for my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill.

I think it was the Minister who said that this issue is not about them and us; it is just about us. Mental health affects everybody within society, and it is up to all of us to challenge stigma. Mention was made of media leadership, particularly of the campaign run by the Sunday Express. Mention was also rightly made of the importance of using the right language when we talk about mental health. That is certainly something that I shall take away from this debate.

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The point has been made that many different treatments work and that we should respect that. I entirely take the shadow Secretary of State’s point about moving the NHS into the 21st century. His point about the physicality and the separateness of our mental health trusts and buildings was a good one. I had not considered that point before; the right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right.

The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) talked about the many challenges faced by local mental health services and those working in them, and her speech perhaps best summed them up. We have also heard concerns about the work capability assessments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) argued that different parts of the Government needed to work more closely together in the sense that a number of different Ministers could have sat on the Front Bench to talk about this issue.

Finally, I want to thank all the speakers, the Backbench Business Committee for securing the debate, everyone who has watched it outside and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) mentioned, everyone working within the mental health system.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of mental health.

business of the House (19 June)


That, at the sitting on Tuesday 19 June the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Secretary Theresa May relating to immigration not later than four hours after their commencement; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Michael Fabricant.)

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Walsall-Rugeley Line (Electrification)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Michael Fabricant.)

6 pm

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing a debate on the electrification of the Chase line, which is the line from Walsall, just outside Birmingham, to Rugeley in my Staffordshire constituency.

The Chase line is actually a key section of a longer rail route running from Birmingham New Street up to Rugeley Trent Valley, but whereas the section from Birmingham New Street to Walsall is electrified—taking in Duddeston, Aston, Witton, Perry Bar, Hamstead, Tamebridge Parkway, Bescot Stadium and Walsall—the section from Walsall to Rugeley is diesel only. Hence the onward journey to Bloxwich, Bloxwich North, Landywood, Cannock, Hednesford, Rugeley Town and Rugeley Trent Valley is considerably slower, with poorer passenger service and fewer, older trains.

It goes without saying that this is the key rail route for my constituents. Thousands of them use the line daily to commute to and from work—usually in the city of Birmingham—and many commute to Walsall for work as well. At weekends, it is the main route into Birmingham for shopping, leisure and social life. Birmingham is the second city of this country, and fast, frequent and reliable services to and from that vital economic hub are essential to the economic growth of towns such as Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley, just 15 miles away.

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to Keith Fitch and the members of the Cannock Chase rail promotion group, who have campaigned tirelessly over many years for the reintroduction and, now, for the development of passenger services on the Chase line. I also thank John Morgan, the principal planning officer at Cannock Chase district council, who is responsible for the railways and is a long-time campaigner for the electrification of the Chase line. It is a cliché nowadays to say that people have worked tirelessly for a cause, but the work that John has done over the years with successive council administrations and Members of Parliament has been far above and beyond the call of duty. It can really only be described as a labour of love, stemming from his passion for the railways. John is watching in the Gallery tonight. After some 35 years of commitment to the railways and the electrification of the Chase line, it would be a fitting end to his career for him to see his goal finally realised.

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that people have been campaigning for the electrification of the Chase line because they know that it will bring massive economic benefits to his constituency as well as mine and many others?

Mr Burley: The short answer is absolutely, and I shall say more about that later. One of the startling facts that I discovered when researching for my speech was that the electrification of the line has been a project for various council administrations and Members of Parliament

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of all colours since the early 1960s—20 years before I was even born. It really is a project whose time has come.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I must declare an interest, as not only do a good many of my constituents use the line, but I myself use the section between Birmingham New Street and Bloxwich North. I therefore understand perfectly the position that the hon. Gentleman is describing.

This is, of course, an all-party effort, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not wish to make any party propaganda points. I certainly have no wish to do so, and nor does my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). For the reasons that have been given, the project has all-party support. However, is it not also the case that electrification could create well over 1,000 jobs? As the hon. Gentleman knows, jobs are urgently needed in our part of the world.

Mr Burley: Indeed. I believe that the exact figure is 1,386, and that is part of the economic case that I hope to put to the Minister this evening.

Since the general election, the upgrading of the Chase line has been one of my key priorities. I have been working closely with all the key players, including the councils, Centro, Network Rail and London Midland, the operator of the trains on the line. I have already hosted two successful stakeholder meetings, bringing together all the key players to discuss how we can proceed with the development of the line.

It is fair to say that there has been massive historical frustration as to why this line has not been electrified at some point in the past 20 years, and why the scheme is still not included as a named scheme for control period 5—CP5—as part of the high-level output statement, or HLOS, due to be published by the Department in July this year. I am aware that reference was made to Rugeley-Walsall electrification in the initial industry plan in September 2011, but only as a “candidate scheme” rather than as a commitment. That was extremely disappointing as we had hoped that the strategic importance of the project would have been recognised and there would have been a firm commitment in the Government’s HLOS announcement for CP5.

I am pleased, however, that since the election we have managed to persuade Network Rail to fund the west midlands line speed improvement scheme for the Chase line. This speed upgrade from 45 mph to 75 mph, announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement, will not only help support our efforts to bring business to the area, but it will reinforce the message that Cannock Chase is the place to come to in south Staffordshire. However, Network Rail has not set any time scale for the line speed upgrade, and it may not happen until after the current Walsall to Rugeley re-signalling programme is completed. Options are being drawn up over the next six months, but the funding does not have to be spent until March 2014. This means it could take a further two years before my constituents see any improvements.

The line speed improvement is, however, only a sticking plaster on the wound; the real fix that has long been needed is the electrification of the Chase line itself, and I would like to take this opportunity to explain to the Minister why that is the case. Over recent years, the Rugeley-Cannock-Walsall-Birmingham line—the Chase

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line—has continued to go from strength to strength. Increased passenger growth of 10% per annum or more has been achieved in recent years. Over half a million passenger journeys a year are now made just from the three stations in my constituency. The Chase line now has the second highest levels of passenger growth in the Centro area. Yet despite that, the route has seen a reduction in services and shorter trains, most recently last December through the service level commitment changes, as a direct result of a shortage of diesel trains. That is because the Chase line is the only Centro route operating out of Birmingham New Street where diesel trains have to operate. That has resulted in an inefficient mix of diesel and electric services between Birmingham and Walsall, in order for diesel trains to operate north of Walsall on the non-electrified section to Rugeley. Therefore, in spite of having one of the highest annual passenger growth figures in the west midlands, passenger services on the route had to be reduced from December 2011 as a direct result of it not being possible to operate the whole Birmingham-Walsall-Rugeley service with electric trains and the need to transfer scarce diesel rolling stock to provide capacity on other routes.

The situation is predicted to get even worse. From 2013, the Chase line will have the lowest service frequency of any suburban route radiating from Birmingham and yet still have one of the highest passenger growths. So I say to the Minister that we urgently need to address this contradiction of passenger growth and reduced services, and the only solution is the electrification of the Chase line. That must be included in CP5.

Mr Winnick: On the point about last December’s reduction in service, many of my constituents have pointed out to me that people took to the roads instead. There is already a lot of congestion on the roads from Birmingham to my constituency and that of the hon. Gentleman, and it would get even worse.

Mr Burley: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the railways have undergone a renaissance in recent times and it seems perverse that at a time when more and more people wish to use the railways we are in effect forcing them on to roads that are already heavily congested. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman is a regular driver on the M6 and surrounding roads, so he will know that traffic congestion is a major problem on them. We need more people on the trains, not fewer. It is therefore perverse to force them on to the wrong mode of transport.

Mr Winnick: I rely entirely on public transport.

Mr Burley: Excellent.

Given the history of this scheme, it is astonishing that this small 15-mile section of track has not already been electrified. The scheme originally had a high-profile inclusion in the former Railtrack network management statement in 1999, including a detailed pre-feasibility study showing it was deliverable. It was again identified in Network Rail’s electrification strategy 2009, and in its west midlands route utilisation strategy in 2011, as a scheme that should be fully considered in more detail as part of the west midlands and Chilterns route utilisation strategy.

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Although Centro and other local stakeholders feel that the west midlands and Chilterns route utilisation strategy process did not consider the case for electrifying the route as effectively as it could have, recent work by Network Rail demonstrates that the electrification scheme has a positive business case and a benefit-cost ratio of 1:2, even without the inclusion of the wider strategic benefits that will arise from creating an alternative electrified rail connection between the west midlands and the west coast main line, which links the region to the north-west and Scotland.

The Minister may not be aware that recent work undertaken by KPMG for Centro has also identified significant further regional economic benefits from the electrification of this route, which, again, are not included in Network Rail’s business case. KPMG’s analysis indicated that electrification would generate an additional £113 million of gross value added benefit per annum and support the creation of 1,370 additional jobs, as has been mentioned. That is why Centro and others locally are so passionate about seeing the Government confirm the Walsall to Rugeley electrification as a high priority scheme for 2014 to 2019 in the Secretary of State’s forthcoming high-level output statement on rail investment. That is also why both Centro and the West Midlands Regional Rail Forum have now identified the scheme as the No.1 electrification priority for the whole of the west midlands region.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. It may seem to be a bit geeky and for train-spotters, but this subject is very important for our constituents. I am pleased that Walsall is not being ignored, because it usually is. Will he say whether any of this is part of the High Speed 2 bid? Will we be able to have a bit of slippage in that bid in order to see this scheme come to fruition?

Mr Burley: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I will come on to deal with HS2 and the way it connects up a little later in my speech, when I believe I will address her question. I also thank her for signing the letter to the Secretary of State, which I should also mention, from just about all the MPs along the line in support of the scheme; as has been said, this is a cross-party effort, as we all want to see this happen.

Although Centro and other regional stakeholders strongly support the electrification of the Walsall to Rugeley route, the train operator, London Midland, also believes that electrification would deliver ongoing operational cost savings, improved journey times and reduced crowding. Electrification work will make it easier to create a larger loading gauge, allowing the increasingly common W10 containers to be transported. In the longer term, electrification could allow services such as the Birmingham to Liverpool service to run via Walsall, significantly improving Walsall’s connectivity to Stafford and the north-west, and giving new commercial opportunities to serve a town that is now larger than Wolverhampton, as I learned yesterday.

The Minister will be aware that the electrification strategy as part of the network route utilisation strategy identified the following gaps as driving whether a route should be considered for electrification:

“Type A—Electrification to enable efficient operation of passenger services…Type B—Electrification to enable efficient operation of

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freight services…Type C— Electrification to increase the availability of diversionary routes…Type D—Electrification to enable new patterns of service to operate”.

The Minister can take comfort that the Walsall to Rugeley line electrification would cover all those gap types.

The Minister will also be aware that Network Rail has identified a number of criteria to be considered when looking at whether to develop a project for CP5. Again, we in the west midlands strongly believe that all these criteria, as set down by Network Rail, are met. Tonight, I just want to highlight three key criteria, the first of which is affordability. Railtrack commissioned Atkins in 1999 to undertake a pre-feasibility study into the electrification of the route, and, with the exception of clearance issues in the Walsall station area, the route appears to be straightforward to electrify. It must be remembered that the line was earmarked for electrification in the 1960s as part of the west coast electrification scheme, and that all the bridges and other structures were rebuilt with electrification clearances. Atkins assessed the cost of electrification as approximately £32.6 million, plus an extra £6 million to achieve W10 gauge clearance. However, it is worth noting that the recent work by Centro reduces that to just £30 million, or £1 million per mile of track—15 miles in each direction.

The second criterion I want to draw to the Minister’s attention is value for money. There should be a financially positive benefit-cost ratio of more than two. We believe that the multiple benefits that the route drives have already resulted in a positive BCR of 1:2. That will be further enhanced by the KPMG work, which will push it over two. Network Rail’s business case assessment is narrowly defined and has been superseded by the Centro-commissioned KPMG work that takes into account the wider benefits such as job creation and economic development. As has been mentioned, it would mean more than 1,300 new jobs and a gross value added of £113 million, which are not reflected in Network Rail’s more tightly defined business case, which still gives a positive BCR. We therefore urge the Minister to take that into account as part of her decision process for named schemes in CP5 as part of the HLOS next month. This is a capital scheme that will trigger economic development and job creation across the west midlands.

The third criterion for Network Rail that I want to draw to the Minister’s attention is the extent to which economic growth is driven. As I hope we are showing tonight, the service improvements arising from the scheme would drive significant economic growth in the Walsall and Cannock areas, which are badly affected by the economic downturn. The freed-up capacity elsewhere on the network would also support wider economic growth in the west midlands. There would also be the ability to redeploy diesel capacity on the busy Snow Hill network, which would help the economy of Birmingham city centre to develop further. Without the electrification the current service on the line could worsen, leading to economic growth constraint.

I believe the scheme meets all the key criteria for electrification set down by Network Rail and that is why all our local stakeholders believe that Walsall to Rugeley electrification strongly meets Network Rail’s criteria for CP5 named schemes for 2014 to 2019. As a result of all this, on 18 May I sent a letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport signed

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by 20 key stakeholders, including the chairs of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Black Country and Staffordshire, and Stoke local enterprise partnerships, the leaders of all the metropolitan, county and district local authorities on the route, private sector business leaders, the chamber of commerce and six MPs with constituencies along the route, some of whom are in their places tonight, all giving their unequivocal support for Walsall to Rugeley Chase line electrification. As can be seen from the number of MPs from both sides of the House who signed the letter to the Secretary of State and who are here tonight, this scheme has the support of the region.

The scheme has the strong support of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who has already written to the Minister about this matter but cannot take part in this debate because he is a Whip, even though he is sitting in front of me on the Treasury Bench tonight. It also has the strong support of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who has publicly given his firm support, saying:

“Electrification of this line is a vital, not simply for local and regional transport, but for the national network as it provides alternative routes for electric only trains.”

It also has the support my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth), who was the former Member for Cannock and Burntwood and is now the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, He cannot speak in the debate as he is a Defence Minister, but he wanted me to inform the house that when he was the Member for Cannock and Burntwood in 1983 to 1992, he tried to get the line to be upgraded, saying then:

“It would provide an invaluable alternative for occasions when the West Coast mainline between Rugeley and Birmingham International is out of action for repairs.”

It is even supported by the Government Chief Whip, himself a user of the Chase line in his former life as a councillor on Cannock Chase district council and as a coal miner in my own constituency. It also has the cross-party support of all the MPs along the route, including the hon. Members for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd), for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson), for Stafford and for Lichfield.

I know that the Minister, quite rightly, will not be persuaded simply by pleas from MPs. I am aware that such schemes require more than just special pleading; they require cold hard facts and benefit-cost ratios, and that is what I have tried to convey to the Minister tonight. As I have said, recent work by Network Rail this year has already established that this £30 million scheme has a positive business case with a BCR of 1:2 and the further research by KPMG commissioned by Centro shows that that can easily increase to more than two when the wider economic benefits are taken into account. An investment of £30 million will give the west midlands a regional gross value added benefit of £113 million and the regional employment impact will create nearly 1,400 jobs. That seems like a good return to me and one that meets the Network Rail investment criteria.

I am conscious that this bid would be in competition with other bids for electrification and must therefore be competitive. Before this debate, I listened to a recent Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the

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Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) to ask for electrification of the midland main line at a capital cost of a rather whopping £530 million, with more than 50 bridges needing to be rebuilt. The Minister, who is also replying to this debate, said then that

“we will need to strike a balance”

between different types of project and that what gets funding depends on a

“fair assessment of competing priorities elsewhere on the rail network.”—[Official Report, 16 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 148-49.]

Given that this project would cost only £30 million and would need only two bridges to be slightly modified, I hope the Minister can recognise it as an easy win—a piece of low-hanging fruit that she can grasp. It is one of those different types of project that should be considered on its own merits next to the big boys.

In conclusion, if ever there were a time for this scheme to be delivered by the “greenest Government ever”, it is now. It has been in the planning stage since the early 1960s—20 years before I was born—and it has been pursued by former MPs for Cannock Chase of both political colours as well as by local councils and regional authorities. The local enterprise partnerships see it as essential to the commercial interests along the routes. They also think it essential to connecting the benefits of HS2 to the area and driving job creation and economic growth. KPMG’s analysis has demonstrated that this electrification and consequent passenger service improvements would dramatically improve accessibility to labour and goods markets, stimulating economic growth and job creation and increasing productivity for the west midlands as a whole.

The electrification of this 15-mile strategic missing link in the electrified rail network of the west midlands would create an alternative route to the north-west for passenger and freight services, relieving the existing congested Birmingham to Stafford main line, so this is not just a local rail scheme. It would offer regional and national benefits, but it is essential, if those benefits are to be realised, that these outputs form a key part of the Government’s July announcement on the high-level output specification. I therefore ask the Minister to reflect positively on the strong business case for this project. When she does, I hope she will reach the same conclusion as we have—that the electrification of the Walsall to Rugeley Chase line should be included as a named scheme for CP5 as part of the high-level output specification due to be published by her Department next month.

6.22 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) on securing this debate on such an important issue. It is very timely because decisions on the Government’s high-level output specification are imminent. I have been impressed by the determination of the coalition of different organisations campaigning for full electrification of the Chase line, and I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend, who has this evening put the case for that improvement to the House with passion, clarity and detail. I also note the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who is in his place, and the work done by many others, such as the Cannock Chase rail

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promotion group. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase, I think it is right to single out for praise John Morgan of Cannock Chase district council. As we have heard from my hon. Friend, Mr Morgan’s knowledge of the Chase line is unsurpassed. I am told that he has shown huge dedication over many years in seeking the upgrade he wants to see.

Subject to affordability, the Government support the progressive electrification of the rail network as a way of reducing the cost of running the railways, improving services for passengers and reducing carbon emissions from transport. Electric trains are more reliable, quieter and more comfortable than their diesel equivalents. They are also better for the environment and cheaper to operate. The Government believe it is essential that the cost of running the railways should come down. In March we published plans for achieving major efficiency savings in our Command Paper. We believe that further electrification can assist us in delivering our goal of a more efficient rail network. That is one reason why we are going ahead with significant electrification programmes in the north-west and on the Great Western line.

We accept that there is a positive business case for proposals to extend electrification on the Chase line. I also note the strong local support and the long-running nature of the campaign, as well as the regional support that has been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase. I agree with him that considerable benefits could be delivered if it were possible to fund electrification of the line. That would allow more energy-efficient electric services to operate and would remove the existing inefficient and resource-intensive mix of diesel and electric services between Walsall and Birmingham. That could reduce the cost of running the service, which is always an important factor. An added advantage would be the release of the diesel rolling stock used between Birmingham and Rugeley Trent Valley for use elsewhere on the network. Electrifying the Chase line could also provide wider economic benefits, as my hon. Friend rightly identified—for example, by broadening access to labour and goods markets, and by boosting productivity and job creation in the area.

A key factor in considering the case for the further electrification that my hon. Friend wants is the fact that the Chase line is an entry point for trains to the nation’s second city. In recent years the line has become an increasingly important commuter service in and out of Birmingham. The electrification between Walsall and Rugeley could therefore be a way to strengthen peak capacity into Birmingham. Currently, as we have heard, the only electrified route from the west coast main line to Birmingham from the north is the Wolverhampton line. Electrification of the Chase line could offer a second electric route via Walsall from those destinations in the north.

That provides an opportunity for the development of services through Birmingham, Walsall, Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Liverpool and elsewhere in the north. It would deliver an electric diversionary route from the west midlands to the north for passenger services from Birmingham New Street and for freight services, relieving the line through Wolverhampton. As well as improving local and regional services, electrification could have a strategic national value.

The benefits of electrification could be considerable and I am clear that this project is a serious contender for funding. The Government are considering how much

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funding will be available for rail investment in the five-year CP5 period up to 2019 and how it should be allocated between competing priorities. We will announce our decisions on the HLOS 2—high-level output specification 2—statement by the end of July. The case for electrification of the Chase line will be considered as part of that process. I shall ensure that the deliberations and points made in this debate are fed into that process.

The project has been chosen by Centro and the west midlands regional rail forum as their No. 1 electrification priority for the west midlands, and it is supported by the business community and the local enterprise partnership. That local support is something that we shall take into account in our forthcoming decisions on what can go into the next HLOS. As we have heard, reference is made to the project in Network Rail’s initial industry plan, which sets out the options for funding in CP5. I note my hon. Friend’s concerns about the approach to the scheme by Network Rail in the industry plan but, like him, I am pleased that additional work has been undertaken since the plan’s publication further to develop the business case and respond to comments from stakeholders in the west midlands and achieve a clearer understanding of the underlying evidence and facts on what electrification would mean and what it would cost.

Mr Winnick: The Minister mentioned stakeholders. I am sure she will bear in mind the point that I made earlier that this has the support of all the Members of Parliament, and there is absolutely no political controversy whatsoever.

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Mrs Villiers: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s restatement and, yes, I am very much aware of that.

We recognise that there is a business case for a number of the schemes identified in the industry plan that are supported by Centro, including greater peak capacity into Birmingham and extra capacity between Birmingham and Tamworth and in the Worcester area. Whether we can give the go-ahead to Chase line electrification and Centro’s other aspirations depends on what is affordable within available budgets. We also have to weigh up competing priorities elsewhere on the rail network. Decisions on HLOS 2 have not yet been taken, but this debate will provide very useful input into the Government’s thinking on this important matter. It is worth remembering that Chase line passengers are in line to receive improved services with a £5.4 million package of improvements announced by Network Rail in 2011 to increase line speed on the Chase line from 45 mph to 75 mph, reducing journey times for passengers travelling from all stations on the line.

We fully understand that the aspiration is to go further, and we recognise the strength of support for electrification, which is something that we will consider with great seriousness in the weeks between this debate and the announcement that we shall make in the summer on which projects can receive funding in the CP5 control period between 2014 and 2019.

Question put and agreed to.

6.30 pm

House adjourned.