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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 25 March 2015

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

North Wales Economic Infrastructure

9.30 am

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.(Mel Stride.)

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I begin by expressing my sympathy to the family and friends of those who lost their lives in the dreadful air crash yesterday. Airbus wings are made in Broughton, and the thoughts of those at the factory will be with everyone who has been affected by the tragedy.

It is about a year and a half since we had a debate on a similar subject. In some areas, we have seen some big improvements, but in other areas, particularly rail, progress has been limited, to say the least. Despite the title of the debate, our economic region extends beyond north Wales and includes a big proportion of the north-west of England. I want to put on record my thanks to the Mersey Dee Alliance for all its work to campaign for and promote investment in our area.

Manufacturing is key to the region. North Wales and the north-west of England have a population of some 8 million and economic output of some £140 billion. It is the largest manufacturing area in the UK, with more than £25 billion of output. The area boasts some of the top manufacturers not only in the UK but in the world. In my area, for example, we have Airbus, Toyota, Tata, Raytheon, Convatec and many others. I could stand here for a long time naming all the companies that are so important to creating jobs and growth in our area. There are many more on the other side of the border, such as Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port. The patterns of travel show that workers criss-cross the border. Some Vauxhall employees live on the Welsh side of the border, and about 40% of the Airbus work force live in England but work in Wales. The border, to all intents and purposes, does not exist from an economic regional point of view.

The success of our region cannot be taken for granted. Experience has shown us that once-great industries can and do fail. Many companies are truly global, and they have a choice over where to site their operations. If circumstances dictate, as we have seen in many cases, they can up sticks and move elsewhere. We cannot ignore that reality, and it is a danger. Many years ago, Deeside was dominated by Shotton Steelworks, a maker of colour products, which remains an important employer. It is taking on apprentices, and when I visited recently I was pleased to hear about some of the investments and progress that are being made.

The steelworks holds the record for the largest number of job losses at a plant on a single day, when more than 8,000 people lost their jobs under the Thatcher Government. That devastated the whole area. I say that not to make a point about Tories destroying jobs—

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Why not?

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Mark Tami: All right, then; I will make that point. That example illustrates the fact that no matter how big a company is or how long it has been there, if events turn against it, the impact can be devastating. More recently, UPM paper mill, which I consider to be a benchmark employer—I certainly would not have put it on a list of companies in difficulty—announced that it would be cutting 120 jobs from its 370-strong work force. Why? Because the demand for newsprint worldwide has declined. When the recession hit, people stopped buying newspapers and magazines. Even as we slowly come out of recession, people’s habits have changed and they use the internet more, so demand has not picked up again.

In 2001, Corning Optical Fibre, a high-tech firm on Deeside industrial park with more than 400 employees, closed virtually overnight when world demand for optical fibre suddenly collapsed. So sudden was the collapse that I remember seeing at the factory millions of pounds-worth of equipment that was still in its wrapping and was never fitted. The lesson is that we cannot rest on our laurels.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): My hon. Friend speaks of the collapse of investment at Corning. What assessment has he made of the changes that the Conservatives made to the feed-in tariff when they came back into power in 2010? What impact did that have on Europe’s biggest solar panel factory in Wrexham?

Mark Tami: Wrexham is not in my constituency, but people who lived in my area worked at that plant, and I saw that it had a devastating impact. One of the worst aspects of the situation was that the company was, I believe, encouraged to take on a lot of employees because it saw growth, but that was cut from under it by the changes that the Government introduced. We cannot simply assume that everything will be good, and we must make sure that we give existing employers the support and encouragement that they need to invest and grow.

We must also look at what we can do to encourage new employers and companies to come to the area. I am not talking so much about financial assistance, but we can offer a high-quality, highly skilled work force and employers can look to grow their businesses. Large employers such as Airbus—with more than 6,500 employers on site, it is one of the largest manufacturing plants in western Europe—have a role in encouraging their suppliers to site themselves nearby. Airbus has been successful in doing so, and we now have about 2,000 employees who work for Airbus’s supply companies. That makes sense for the supplier and the prime, because it is much easier to sort out problems if people can walk or drive across from one company to another than it is if goods are brought in from a long way away or even from a different country.

Chris Ruane: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. He mentioned the fact that some 7,000 people work in the Airbus factory in his constituency. There is another factory in Filton, near Bristol, and 70,000 people are involved in the supply chain. What impact would withdrawal from the EU have on the 70,000 who work in the supply chain of the joint European Airbus?

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Mark Tami: That would have a massive impact. If my hon. Friend can wait a little longer—I am sure that he can—I will address that point towards the end of my remarks.

I mentioned the importance of a quality work force in attracting new companies to the area. That does not happen by accident; it happens because we train the people who are needed. Coleg Cambria has an excellent record of doing such work. It works with employers to develop training packages that meet their needs, rather than offering, and only ever having offered, an off-the-shelf programme that people can take or leave; I believe that that has been a failing of some further education colleges. Coleg Cambria is good at looking to deliver what employers want. I have talked to companies such as Raytheon, and they are pleased with the arrangement, which includes work placements. The arrangement works well.

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): The hon. Gentleman rightly praises Coleg Cambria for its engagement with industry, but is it not the case that Glyndwr university in Wrexham has a similar relationship with, for example, Airbus and that such education links across north Wales give the region added value to prospective employers?

Mark Tami: It does indeed. I was just about to mention Glyndwr university, which is important. Both further education and higher education institutions have to be adaptable and have to consider how they can deliver the skill base that employers need, rather than just offering courses that have not changed for years. We need such flexibility, which is important.

There are still many hurdles to get over in changing attitudes, particularly towards apprenticeships, and we have to be honest about that. There is still a culture in this country that apprenticeships are done by people who do not go to university, and who perhaps do not have the skills to go to university. In many people’s minds, apprenticeships are a second-class thing to do. I do not hold that view—it is totally wrong—but we have to be honest and admit that people still hold it, and that we have to counter it.

We are light years behind Germany and some other countries where apprenticeships and university are on the same level, and people have the opportunity to take up an apprenticeship that can lead to a university education. Airbus, through the higher apprenticeship scheme, is doing that, but far more employers should be going down that route. It should not be an either/or; people should be able to move seamlessly through one to the other. We are a long way from that. It is no good just talking about the importance of apprenticeships. We have to deliver apprenticeships for people across the gamut of qualifications so that they can move. We will then change the attitude towards the importance of engineering, but we are a long way off that at the moment.

The Deeside enterprise zone established by the Labour Welsh Government offers a great opportunity to create thousands of jobs, but it also creates challenges. The northern gateway project is a major opportunity, and I am pleased that the Welsh Government announced that

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they will be funding a highway through the site, which will help to speed up growth. I also welcome the £2.2 million investment for flood defences, which are long overdue and are part and parcel of that new site.

There will be other road improvements. Work on the A483-A55 intersection is still ongoing. I recognise that there are major concerns about delays but, if we are honest, the time will never be right for making road changes, which will always cause problems. If someone has a magical solution for making those road changes without causing delays, I would love to hear it. The intersection is a pinch point that needs to be addressed, and I am pleased that is happening.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, rail is the major area in which a lot of work remains to be done. Cross-party colleagues and I recently attended a meeting of the North Wales economic ambition board, in which it presented its case for the electrification of the railway line from the north-west across north Wales. The board pointed out that north Wales has not received any major investment in rail since Queen Victoria was on the throne. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) probably remembers those days, but most of us in this room do not.

The board estimates that electrification across north Wales to Holyhead would create some £400 million in economic growth, help to regenerate areas that have suffered for many years and promote inward investment. If electrification stops at Chester, the board’s evidence shows that there would be a negative impact on the economy of north Wales, and even on the economy in England, too. If the project is to go ahead, we clearly need joined-up thinking to extend electrification for the length of the route. For that to happen, the Department for Transport, the Welsh Government, local government and the train operators need to work together. Although electrification is on the list of infrastructure investment projects and priorities for Wales published by the Wales Office, there is no start date, and the status is “locally supported,” which I presume is code for there not being any money and the project not being on the blocks to go ahead—certainly not in the short or medium term.

I am sure we would all like the electrification to go ahead, but if the reality is that it will not go ahead in the short or medium term, we have to consider what we can achieve on a smaller scale, and whether we can perhaps deliver economic benefit without that massive injection; electrification would clearly be an extremely costly project. The reinstatement of the Halton curve with a more modest £10.4 million investment, which I welcome, will have a positive effect. My hobby-horse, and the hobby-horse of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), is the Wrexham-Bidston line. It would be fair to say that we have been banging on about that for many years. It could offer real benefits, including an improved service with more trains running. Longer term, the line could be electrified and have a dedicated station for the Deeside enterprise zone. The line could make a real difference, because Flintshire has one of the country’s highest rates of people travelling to work by car, which probably tells us all we need to know about how well our rail routes, and probably bus routes, work.

Broadband coverage in the area is improving, although not where I live, but that is probably my fault as much as anything else. We still have a long way to go before we

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can say that we have cracked it. A number of companies and individuals have come to see me, and they have been told that they have good coverage in their area, but when they started operations they found out that the coverage was actually very poor. It is all very well for the Government to say that 90% or so of people are covered, but that is not the same as saying that 90% or so of the country is covered. Rural areas are particularly badly affected. Broadband is not an optional extra for businesses today; it is not something they can pick and choose. If they do not have broadband, their business will suffer. The way in which we all do business has changed, which is why we have to improve broadband coverage. This is not just about rural areas, because we have not-spots in our towns, too.

Energy infrastructure is extremely important. I do not want to go on a lot about that, because my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) will have something to say on the subject, but I will mention my concern about the viability of Deeside and Connah’s Quay power stations in the longer term. They are older gas stations, but they play an important role in meeting peak demand. They can operate only if they receive the right support to make them viable.

House building is another issue, because if we are encouraging companies to site in north Wales, their employees have to live somewhere. We need more affordable housing, not just to buy but to rent. I applaud Flintshire county council for starting a council house building programme, which is an important step that will help a lot of people. Like many colleagues, I know a lot of families in which both adults are working but cannot get a first step on the ladder. Getting on that ladder is very important in encouraging people to site themselves in the area. We are moving in the right direction, but major concerns remain about our rail network. We are doing better than some areas, but there is room for improvement.

Finally—my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd has been waiting for this moment—I worry that all that good work could be undone if we put everything at risk by exiting the European Union. That would have a devastating impact on companies in our area such as Airbus and Toyota, among many others. I do not think that they would shut up shop and go the following day, but I worry that we would not see further investment, and then we would see operations starting to go back the other way. Companies such as Airbus are European partnerships, which are a great example of how Europe can and should work. Our European partners—the Germans, the French and the Spanish—would love to have that wing work. Let us not kid ourselves: if we think that they would not push harder for that work and make the case about all the difficulties of us being outside the European Union, we are naive in the extreme.

To believe that we can leave the EU and then establish trade arrangements so that we can carry on exactly as before is as ludicrous. We are not Norway, and even it has to abide by the same rules and regulations to sell its goods, but it does not have a chair at the table when those rules and regulations are being made. The think-tank Open Europe published a report this week that warned that, in one scenario, UK GDP could be 2.2% lower by 2030 if Britain leaves the EU and fails to establish liberal trading arrangements.

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Albert Owen: On Europe, it is worth pointing out that we have £200 million net going into Welsh coffers from Europe. The Welsh economy would suffer if we were to withdraw, or consider withdrawal, from the European Union.

Mark Tami: That is a good point. We hear a lot in the press about what we put into Europe, but we do not hear much about the important work done with money flowing out of Europe to Wales, and the real difference that that makes to people’s lives. That is a real threat, and we should not underestimate the damage that it could do.

9.53 am

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing the debate. At the start of his remarks he made an important point when he identified north Wales as not so much a discrete region, as part of the much larger and important north-western economic region. That is extremely important, because I frequently feel that people in Whitehall and—dare I say it?—Cardiff do not understand north Wales’s relationship with the large cities of north-west England such as Liverpool and Manchester.

That is why I echo what the hon. Gentleman said in applauding the work of the Mersey Dee Alliance, an extremely important vehicle for cross-border co-operation. It should be given even more recognition and regarded as a statutory consultee by not only the Westminster Government but the Government in Cardiff on all aspects of economic development in north Wales.

I want to focus my brief remarks on rail transport in north Wales, because, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that is an important element of the north Wales economy. I am optimistic. Like him, I attended the event organised by the North Wales economic ambition board and I believe that Members of Parliament of all parties support working towards electrification of the north Wales main line.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned what he called the Wrexham to Bidston line. He is right that hon. Members have debated that old chestnut in this House for many years. The economic case for electrification of that line is probably stronger than ever, but I think that, because we are Welsh, we tend to look at that through the Welsh prism: Wrexham to Bidston rather than Bidston back towards Wrexham.

What has changed over the past few years has been the establishment of two important enterprise zones: one, as the hon. Gentleman said, is in Deeside, but the other is at Wirral Waters in Birkenhead. The Wirral Waters enterprise zone is almost immediately adjacent to the station at Bidston, and those two zones could benefit immensely from being linked by a fast, electrified line, which would put Deeside within easy commuting distance of the centre of Liverpool.

Only a few weeks ago, Network Rail announced proposals to create a new hub at Shotton, which provides an enormous opportunity for hon. Members to press Network Rail and Merseyrail to look again at the prospect of electrifying that important line. That would effectively put those two enterprise zones within a 15-minute

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commute, which would create enormous synergy. Perhaps we could then speak in terms of extending electrification down as far as Wrexham, for which the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) has pressed for many years. However, if we take an incremental approach and initially think about improving that important stretch of line, we will lay the foundations for an enormous boost to the economy not only of north-east Wales but right across the region, from the River Conwy to Ellesmere Port and beyond. The Minister could do well to put that to Network Rail; the time is right. We need to do as much as we possibly can to integrate the north Wales economy even further into the Merseyside economy.

In the next Parliament there will be considerable debate about so-called English votes for English laws. When one has regard to the extent to which not only public services such as health in north Wales but the economic considerations we are debating today are bound up with those across the border and tapped into the north-west economy, one sees that it is essential that whatever arrangements are put in place should give proper recognition to the legitimate concerns of north Wales Members.

Chris Ruane: Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that Welsh Members should be able to vote in the British Parliament on health, education and transport issues?

Mr Jones: I have already said many times and I am quite happy to repeat—that is why I started by saying that frequently I think politicians in London and Cardiff do not fully understand the north Wales element—that whenever any such issues touch and concern the interests of the people of north Wales, their representatives should have the right to speak on those issues in this Parliament.

Mark Tami: I am very pleased to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say. He makes a very strong point, and one of the best examples of what he is talking about is the Countess of Chester hospital. It was absolutely established not as an English hospital but as an English and Welsh hospital, and its catchment area is Deeside and Chester; it serves Deeside as much as it serves Chester. It would not be viable without Welsh patients, so to look at it as purely an English hospital would be wrong, and he is absolutely right that people outside our area do not understand how that dynamic works.

Mr Jones: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is entirely right. In fact, that is a point that I put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when he announced the proposed arrangements for so-called English votes for English laws.

We must have regard to the fact that people in north Wales rely on English services, not only health services but in so many other respects. Our people work across the border, and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, people from the north-west of England work in factories, such as Airbus, Toyota and so on, on the Welsh side of

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the border. It is essential that people in north Wales should have proper representation in this place whenever necessary.

Frankly, one of the other difficulties is that there has been an unfortunate tendency to equate Wales and Scotland. Wales is a very different place from Scotland. The border of north Wales is highly populated, whereas the border between England and Scotland is not. It is essential that Members from all parties should ensure that, whenever the concerns of people from Wales are debated in this place, their representatives have a full voice in those debates.

10.1 am

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Roger.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) for putting this important issue on the agenda today. Like him, I recognise that the north Wales economy is both strong in itself and linked very much to Merseyside, Cheshire and the rest of north-west England. We have businesses such as Airbus, and I echo the condolences that my hon. Friend has expressed following the tragic accident in France yesterday.

We also have Toyota and the companies in the Deeside industrial belt, including the Deeside industrial zone as a whole. Those companies are extremely important, not only for the economy of north Wales but for the economy of north-west England. Potentially as many of my constituents work at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory as work at Toyota’s factory in Deeside, with both sites producing good-quality vehicles.

Large businesses and the commuting population, as well as those engaged in tourism, depend on strong economic infrastructure. I think you will find, Sir Roger, that there will be a great deal of consensus across the House today on some of the key issues on which the next Government—whoever forms that Government—will need to focus in the next five years.

Like my hon. Friend, I will concentrate on three particular areas: rail, broadband, and housing. I will also touch briefly on energy infrastructure.

First, there is rail. There is a compelling case to improve the rail links from north Wales to Merseyside. The right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) made a very powerful speech about the need to improve the Wrexham to Bidston line, and the need for the hub at the Deeside industrial park. That is one aspect of rail and the view on it is shared across the House. It is important that we consider pressing the case for those improvements, because they would not only provide a strong commuting link but meet the objective that my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside mentioned, namely taking vehicles off the road. Currently we have congested roads going both into and out of north Wales, particularly at peak times.

It is important that we maximise the benefits to north Wales of High Speed 2 and the link to Crewe. I think that all of us in Westminster Hall today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) who is on the Labour Front Bench, but with the exception of the Minister, met the Mersey Dee Alliance and the North Wales economic ambition board to consider how the next Parliament can maximise the benefits of HS2 for north Wales. The Minister, officials and the Wales

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Office, working with the Department for Transport and the National Assembly for Wales, need to look at that strategic vision for the next five years, to ensure that we are at the table when key decisions are discussed.

Regarding the link from Crewe, at the moment the Chancellor talks about a northern powerhouse. In my view, north Wales is part of that northern powerhouse, and as north Wales MPs we have to impress upon whoever forms the next Government that they have to engage strongly with proposals to ensure that there is electrification between Crewe and Chester, that there are improvements on the line between Crewe and Chester, and, crucially, that such improvements continue to be made right the way down to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). That would improve access from Ireland through to Chester and the rest of north-west England, through to London, and across the north to Hull and the markets that access to that port would open up, which is extremely important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside touched on the issue of the Halton curve, which is a key link to Liverpool. I am pleased that the Government have invested more than £10 million in that link; we have been pressing for that investment for some months. Again, it is part of what we need to focus on. I share the view of both my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Clwyd West that we are intrinsically linked with north-west England in terms of our economy, and therefore improving the Halton curve link will improve access not only to Merseyside markets and employment but to Liverpool airport.

We also need to consider how we can maximise the links to Manchester airport. With due respect to my colleagues in the National Assembly, much play is made of Cardiff airport. However, I do not think that anybody from my constituency would ever fly from Cardiff airport, but they will fly from Manchester airport, which is only 40 miles away from where I live in north Wales, and from Liverpool airport, which is only 20 miles from where I live. Currently, the transport infrastructure—apart from my private vehicle—is extremely poor when it comes to accessing both those crucial hubs. We need to build on it. Also, with all these links we need to look not only for tourism benefits but business and commuting benefits.

Let me give one example of a proposal for further infrastructure that would be of great help in five years, on which Network Rail needs to focus. Now, for the first time in the past 12 or 13 years, Flint station has direct links to London, on the north Wales line, through Virgin Trains. Virgin Trains runs several trains an hour that stop at Flint; there is a very strong link. Currently, there are proposals to extend the length of Virgin Trains, to ensure that we can maximise the capacity, linked in to HS2. Flint station will not be big enough to take that extra capacity and in my view we need to press Virgin Trains and Network Rail to extend Flint station, which can be done on platform terms, to ensure that we do not lose out when that extra capacity comes on-stream.

There is a real agenda for rail, which I support and which I think the Government, the DFT, the Wales Office, the National Assembly for Wales, Network Rail and MPs, working on a cross-party basis, need to look at with the MDA and the North Wales economic ambition board.

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Rail infrastructure is important but one of the things that we know about the 21st century is that individual businesses, wherever they operate from, depend on good, fast broadband services, and the attendant capacity, to ensure that their businesses grow. Businesses based in north Wales can trade with the world from north Wales if they have good broadband facilities.

Recently, I have received representations from businesses in the north Flintshire part of my constituency, from businesses based in Trelogan and from businesses in Bagillt, which is in the mid-part of my constituency, and they are saying quite clearly that broadband speeds are not up to scratch and need to be faster, and that connections need to be improved. I know that both the National Assembly and the Government have invested in broadband, but it is still the case that only 56% of my constituency has access to broadband and the average download speed is still only 13.1 megabits, which is not sufficient to meet the needs of a 21st-century economy.

Although a number of hubs have been put in place and there have been plans for Caerwys, Flint, Holywell, Mold West, Mostyn, Northop and Pontybodkin, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside, to link to the southern part of my constituency, where there are live exchanges, and Halkyn exchange will come on-stream shortly, there are still issues of speed and capacity, and the Government need to focus on them as a matter of urgency. I hope that the Government respond, not just providing figures about broadband, but saying what else is going to be done to increase the capacity and speed and ensure that the businesses in my area have access as a matter of some importance.

My hon. Friend mentioned housing, which might seem to be going off at a tangent in a debate about economic infrastructure, but it is crucial to the development of jobs and prosperity in our area. I join my hon. Friend in expressing great pleasure about Flintshire county council’s investing a record £20 million in the first council housing for many years. Over the next five years it will build 200 homes. The centre of Flint, in my constituency, is currently being redeveloped—200 homes will be put on that site shortly—but there is a need for more. To add a political note, that is why I welcome the national Labour party’s commitment to invest in social housing, if elected in May, with 200,000 homes for rent, because the Assembly will then have the capacity to ensure that Flintshire county council has additional homes to rent. That is an important mechanism to ensure that we have a strong local work force.

Public sector finance going into private sector housing—into social housing for rent—is putting money into the economy through local private sector building firms in north Wales. The firms currently building the properties in Flint are not public sector firms. Private sector firms are growing the economy and building houses, and they will be using bricks, wood, plaster, mortar and equipment made in the private sector in north Wales, which will help generate our economy and add valuable housing stock to make our area attractive and alleviate long housing lists.

Energy infrastructure is equally important. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) will talk about the tidal lagoon in his constituency, which will have a great impact, potentially,

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on my constituency. I have met individuals in north Wales who want to develop that tidal lagoon off the north Wales coast as part of our investment in energy.

It is also important that we encourage and develop the offshore wind industry in north Wales, although there may be some disagreement on part of this. We have a great ability to engender manufacturing and a strong offshore wind energy industry. As part of the economic infrastructure, we should be looking at how we integrate the energy sector in north Wales. For example, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn, there are developments in nuclear; in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd, tidal lagoons are being developed; and in my constituency wind farms, both onshore and offshore, are being developed with expertise in our area. Companies such as Kingspan have great expertise in solar panels and the development of that sector. That is all part of a Government partnership to help build, support and develop the alternative energy sector as a whole.

Whoever forms the next Government, there are real issues to consider in respect of rail, broadband and investment in housing, and regarding developing a sustainable alternative energy structure. North Wales is doing well and has a great deal to offer, but it can and should do better. Whoever forms the next Government will have the support of the area’s Members of Parliament, whom I hope will be returned after the election, to ensure that north Wales does better in the next five years.

10.13 am

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.

I want to continue talking on themes raised by hon. Members, adding a north-west Wales dimension. I am not only the most western Member here but the only Member from north-west Wales, and indeed the only Member from the centre of north Wales and north-east Wales. I bring to the debate not just north Wales matters, but will mention the important links with the Republic of Ireland.

I want to create a north Wales powerhouse, along with members of my party with whom I have been working during the past few weeks. We want north-west Wales to be not just a place that people go through on the way to Ireland but a location where manufacturing, research and development and various other activities take place. We want north Wales to be the place to visit and the place to work and live.

The creation of a north Wales powerhouse has already begun. As my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) said—I congratulate him on securing this debate—Airbus, which is based in north Wales, is one of the flagship companies, not just in north Wales and not just in Wales, but in the UK and Europe. We must be proud of that. The Horizon project on Anglesey at Wylfa Newydd, which began in 2009, is moving forward and is a business investment in north-west Wales equivalent to the London Olympics in terms of cash. We have heard about Gwynt y Môr, a successful offshore project, and the Deeside enterprise zone. All these projects are helping create what I consider to be a north Wales powerhouse.

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We have made great progress on transportation, as has been said. 1997 was a good year for Anglesey, because it was the year the dualling of the A55 across the Isle of Anglesey began. I had one disagreement with the late Sir Wyn Roberts, an Anglesey man, about whether the previous Government had completed the A55 across north Wales. It stopped in Llan- fairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, in my constituency. It is the village with the biggest name, but it is also a village with a big heart and a pioneering area of the UK, where the first Women’s Institute was established 100 years ago this year. The Women’s Institute is an institution born and raised on Anglesey. I am proud of that. The serious point about the A55 not being dualled is that the economy of Anglesey, and the west of north-west Wales, was hampered for some 10 to 15 years until that road was linked.

The link to Ireland is important. Members of Parliament would not be here, and we would not have the infrastructure, if it was not for Irish Members of Parliament lobbying for the old A5 from Dublin to London. When I talk about transportation in this country, I talk about linking the great cities of Dublin and London via the north Wales corridor.

I want to concentrate on three big issues: transport, energy and tourism. These three big sectors of industry need a big, modern 21st-century infrastructure. Anglesey is a strategic location. I will not let anybody say we are on the periphery because, looking at the map of the UK, Anglesey is the heart of the British Isles. It is an equal distance from Anglesey to Scotland, Wales, northern England and Northern Ireland. We are at the centre of it. It is, as the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) said, a Cardiff-centric and London-centric view to suggest that north Wales is on the periphery. We are at the centre. However, we have to increase the investment in that area to make the north Wales powerhouse work.

I want to talk about road-rail being fully integrated and about sea and air, which are often regarded as Cinderella modes of transport when we talk about transport, but are hugely important to the UK.

The A55, which is now complete, is a victim of its own success. It is very crowded at times and has pinch points, not least across the Britannia bridge from Anglesey to the mainland. Having been at sea, I came home when the A55 was being built across Llanfair PG. Although the dual carriageway across north Wales was extended and expanded across Anglesey, there are only single lanes across the bridge. I cannot understand why this was not thought through by the then Welsh Office and the Government. This has been a big issue for a long time in respect of north Wales transport. We need ambition regarding a new crossing from the mainland, because, as I said, it is not just for local transport but for Irish transport. One of the biggest boosts to the economy in north Wales has been the Irish economy growing again, meaning that we have greater trade with the Republic of Ireland. I want to mention that later.

We have had some good news about roads. The Welsh Government are investing in a transport hub in my constituency—a lorry park—which will create 37 jobs immediately. With the trade with Ireland increasing, that will be an excellent facility for the port and for north Wales.

On rail, we have to have a vision. I echo what other Members have said about links with Liverpool and Manchester as well as with London and Cardiff.

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My family came from Liverpool to north Wales some time ago, and in those days people could travel directly from Holyhead to Liverpool without having to change trains. There was that link with Merseyside, predominantly with the seafaring communities and the Irish communities. We need to re-establish that direct link because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said, when our constituents go on holiday, many of them do not go to Heathrow and Gatwick; they go to John Lennon airport and Manchester airport. Those are important strategic airports to the whole of north Wales, and we must work together to ensure that we get that link back.

Arriva Trains and the franchise of Wales and Borders are creaking. They are running over capacity. In north Wales, too many people are travelling on too few trains that are too small, and we need to address that. The current franchise system simply is not working. We met Arriva, and it said, “That is all we had written into the franchise.” If we will have private operators and rail infrastructure heavily subsidised by taxpayers’ money, we want to see the companies showing some initiative and investing in the rolling stock. I hope that an incoming Labour Government will look seriously at that, because the franchise system is already outdated. We saw the debacle with the west coast main line and Virgin, where an error in the refranchising cost taxpayers millions of pounds. We need to look closely at that.

Transport on the sea is important; we are an island nation, and we trade with the rest of the European Union and the rest of the world. The port of Dublin is one of the fastest growing in Europe. I had the honour of launching a new vessel, the Superfast X, which will run between the ports of Holyhead and Dublin. It is owned by Stena. The port manager of Dublin and the family of Stena indicated to me that they want to see the link between Holyhead and Dublin as the new Dover-Calais. It has that potential to transport goods and people across the European Union through the north Wales corridor in both directions.

As a former seafarer, I pay tribute to the merchant navy and the merchant fleet that we have. They are a major employer for the future. The Superfast X is registered in Cardiff and flies not just the red ensign but the red dragon. Stena has made a huge commitment to invest in Wales and the port of Holyhead. We should be proud of the seafaring traditions of this country. I pay tribute to the coastguard and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, of which I am vice president. We are a mercantile nation, and we should be investing more in cargo and passengers.

Tourism is a massive boost. A large number of people come and trade from Ireland as part of the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside is right: it would be harebrained to withdraw from the European Union when we have such established links with European nations on both sides, whether they are from Dover to France and the continent of Europe or to the Republic of Ireland.

Air links are important. We have an airport on Anglesey that is linked to the capital city of Wales, Cardiff, but we must have more ambition than that. We need the airport to be expanded. Looking not from the south-east of England or even from south Wales, but in a different direction, at the western corridor of the United Kingdom, we should have flights from Cardiff or Cornwall up to

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Belfast and tourist destinations so that people can link between the peripheral areas of this country. That is the ambition I hope we will have in the next Parliament.

I was laughed at when we talked about a link between Cardiff and Anglesey. I was told that it would not work, but it brings north-west Wales within 40 minutes of Cardiff. Fast flights to Dublin could be made in 15 minutes. That connection would mean that north-west Wales was 15 minutes from one capital and 40 minutes from another. The airport has that potential. Rather than having massive infrastructure projects and growing hubs in south Wales and the south of England, I encourage a future Government, which I hope will be of a different colour, to look at a different dimension so that we can move people through that western corridor.

In my remaining time, I want to touch on two other subjects. The first is tourism. If food and farming are included in tourism, it is one of the fastest-growing sectors of industry in the United Kingdom and the world. It is the fifth largest sector in the world, so we need to develop it. As we are talking about infrastructure, I say that we need rail, road, sea and air links to bring people to destinations. With my local authority, I have been promoting Anglesey as a destination within the United Kingdom. That is hugely important, but we need to have the infrastructure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn and my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside mentioned broadband, but we also need to improve mobile phone coverage, because there is very little in some areas. In the past three years, we have been creating the big three in telecommunications. We must be worried about them investing solely in our large towns and cities and forgetting the rural areas, which do not have the strong economic case. I turn that argument on its head: my constituents and every Member of Parliament pay the same costs for mobile phones as those in cities and towns across the United Kingdom. We need to have universal services for the 21st century so that tourists, people working in rural areas and future investors have the telecommunications in rural areas that they deserve.

The second issue is energy. In my constituency, we have a massive proposal on nuclear power with Wylfa Newydd. That will create not only 6,000 to 8,000 construction jobs but 1,000 jobs for life in energy production. The supply chain and skills are absolutely essential for the future. In my constituency, Coleg Menai is training people for the construction phase and apprentices for high-quality engineering jobs in the energy sector. With the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), I recently visited Coleg Menai and saw young people with the aspiration of working in the area.

Mr David Jones: The hon. Gentleman politically cohabits with a Plaid Cymru Assembly Member. Can he tell us what the current policy of Plaid Cymru is on the development of Wylfa Newydd?

Albert Owen: I will stay away from the policies of other parties, because they will be developing their manifestos, but since no Plaid Cymru Member is here, I know that the leader of that party is on principle opposed to nuclear power. In the new alliance of the Green party, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, all three leaders are opposed to nuclear power,

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which puts future nuclear power in this country at huge risk. I will leave it at that for the moment. I am sure I will have the opportunity to develop that argument over the next five weeks.

I do not only want to talk about nuclear power. A biomass eco park has been announced for my constituency. It will create 500 jobs and is starting next month. That is great for the area. It will bring food production and energy production together on one site. We need to move forward with the large projects. I make no apology for banging the drum for north-west Wales. It is an important area for the United Kingdom and links us with the Republic of Ireland. I am pro-Wales, pro-Anglesey, pro-British and pro-European. My party will be putting that forward at the general election, and I hope we will return a Labour Government to develop the projects.

10.28 am

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing this important debate.

My proudest moment as an MP came in 1999, when I secured access to European objective 1 funding for Denbighshire and Conwy. The map was redrawn after I lobbied my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who was a junior Minister in the Wales Office at the time. Since then, more than £200 million has been invested in economic infrastructure in my county alone. I believe that the same amount has been invested in the county of Conwy, which is represented by the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones).

That important injection of investment has helped the economies of Denbighshire, Conwy and the whole of north Wales. It has helped to fund projects such as the £10 million redevelopment of Rhyl harbour; the £4 million Drift Park development on Rhyl promenade; buildings in Prestatyn, such as the one colloquially known as Tango towers; and, 10 years ago, the best European regional development fund project in the whole European Union, the Opto-electronics Technology and Incubation Centre, or OpTIC. All that investment occurred because we are partners with Europe. It will disappear if we pull out.

We have another seven years of European funding to go; possibly another £100 million to £150 million could be pumped into my county and constituency, if we stay in the EU. We will not get that funding if we pull out. Since 2009, the economy of north Wales has benefited from £1.2 billion of European funding. That is a massive amount of money to inject into the economic infrastructure of north Wales. If we leave the EU, not only will we lose that funding, but companies such as Toyota have said that they will pull out. Airbus will not get its future investment. Seventy thousand jobs in the UK depend on Airbus—do we really want to lose them?

In north Wales, there is £800 million-worth of public procurement, what with the police, the fire service, the health authority and local authorities across the region. Public investment from the public sector, which Labour believes in, is helping to prime the north Wales economy. If public procurement is handled properly, the economic multiplier can be seven times what is put in. If public

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money goes to a local firm with local contracts, employing local people, that money stays in the local community; if it is given to a multinational company, it will disappear, or there will be no economic multiplier.

I am proud of Labour’s public investment and procurement record in Wales. I will give some examples from over the years. Labour invested in Rhyl college. In the past, people who lived in Rhyl had to travel 25 miles to and from Deeside college every day, or 20 miles to and from Llandrillo college—40 miles a day, or 200 miles a week. Labour founded the college in Rhyl, and then Denbigh college was founded, so local people could upgrade their skills locally.

That is in the past, but the Welsh Labour Government are currently investing £35 million in the refurbishment, redevelopment and rebuilding of schools in Denbighshire. Denbighshire county council is also investing £35 million, so that is £70 million overall. The £35 million that Denbighshire is investing is the result of excellent funding over the past 10 or 15 years. In my patch, local Conservatives have criticised that investment in their own local authority. In 1997, investment in Denbighshire local authority was £63 million; today it is £163 million. They have criticised Labour for the investment that is allowing us to build schools.

I recently visited Rhyl high school, which is under construction and set to cost £23 million. The builders, Willmott Dixon, told me that of that £23 million, 60% will be spent within a 30-mile radius of Rhyl. That will localise procurement and maximise jobs, skills and investment in our local economy. I congratulate Huw Lewis, the Education Minister in Wales, for going ahead with that excellent £70 million investment in our local economy.

Energy has been mentioned, and it is key in north Wales. The £20 billion investment in Wylfa is fantastic news—it will mean 8,000 jobs. The tidal lagoon going from Penrhyn bay to Prestatyn will be 28 km long and 11 times bigger than the Swansea bay lagoon. It is set for £5 billion of investment, of which 56% will be spent in Wales.

Mr David Jones: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman on the attractiveness of the tidal lagoon project. It is, of course, a private sector proposal, as he will know.

Chris Ruane: Absolutely. It is a private sector proposal, and that is good. I am not saying that private sector investment is bad; I am saying that to castigate the public sector, day in, day out, decade in, decade out, is wrong. The public sector has a vital part to play in providing essential services and priming our economy. If it goes ahead, the tidal lagoon project will bring £5 billion of investment, which will help to transform the economy of north Wales, especially alongside the £20 billion investment in Wylfa.

About 10 years ago, I switched on 30 turbines at North Hoyle off the coast of Rhyl. When he was at the Conservative party conference in Llandudno as Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister referred to those turbines as “giant bird blenders”; he then went back to Notting Hill and stuck a bird blender on his house. That shows the Conservative party’s lack of belief in renewable energy. Another indicator of that, from a

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north Wales perspective, was the changing of the feed-in tariff in 2010 so that the biggest solar panel factory in western Europe, in Wrexham, had to close down.

On transport, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) that we have to see transport connections in north Wales not from a north Wales perspective but from a European perspective, linking Dublin, Holyhead, Manchester, Hull, the Baltic states, Crewe, London and the rest of Europe. We must invest in a strategic trans-European network. We cannot be left as a branch line when billions of pounds are being pumped into HS2, HS3, HS4 and whatever. We need to be a main artery linking Dublin to the rest of Europe via north Wales and Holyhead.

That is so important because £53 billion in trade flows each year back and forth between Ireland and the UK. The principal port is Holyhead, and we want to keep it that way. More trade is conducted between Britain and Ireland than between Britain and Russia and Britain and China put together. That is how important it is. That is how important the transport links are. We must also have electrification, and connections to Manchester and Liverpool airports are really valued—we need a connection right into those airports.

In this very Chamber about 18 months ago, I mentioned a hovercraft connection between Liverpool and Rhyl. We had one more than 50 years ago—the first hovercraft passenger connection in the whole world—and we want to see the project taken up again. We have had some support from a Conservative Transport Minister, and we are looking to the Welsh Government to support the project. A hovercraft connection could bring 200,000 visitors to north Wales each year.

The right hon. Member for Clwyd West mentioned private sector investment. I welcome the excellent work done by councillors and officers in Denbighshire to attract Neptune Developments from Liverpool to Rhyl to develop £30 million or £40 million-worth of tourism infrastructure. The news was reported in the Daily Post some six or seven weeks ago, and it is a fantastic development. We must ensure that the hovercraft lands exactly where the development is going to take place.

I have discussed hard infrastructure, but there is also soft infrastructure: people, and how we treat them. Under Labour, the future jobs fund put 420 young people back to work in my constituency. The first malicious and malign act of this Conservative Government in June 2010 was to end the future jobs fund. The Welsh Government took up the baton and developed Jobs Growth Wales, which has an 80% success rate at getting young people back to work or into training. That is excellent work.

In 2007, I established the Rhyl City Strategy, which has helped to put thousands of people back to work or into training. We need decent housing for local workers. The Welsh Government are pumping £28 billion into west Rhyl to create housing for people to buy. This is fantastic investment from the Welsh Labour Government, but it will all be put under threat if the Tories get in on 7 May.

10.39 am

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Sir Roger. Also, given the north Wales connections with the

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aircraft industry, I add my words of condolence to those of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this sad day after the air crash in France.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing his second debate on the economic infrastructure of north Wales. I also congratulate all right hon. and hon. Friends on their contributions to the debate—a measure of their continued determination, as it is of all north Wales Members, to see north Wales prosper. We have heard excellent contributions from everyone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) said it was a shame that he is the only representative of north-west Wales present; no other parties from the north-west are represented in the Chamber. It is a shame that Plaid Cymru Members are not here—perhaps they have something else on of rather more importance.

That, however, is one of the lone party political points that I want to make today, because the debate has not been party political; it has been a constructive debate with an enormous amount of consensus—

Chris Ruane: I did try!

Owen Smith: For all my hon. Friend’s attempts, we were largely consensual.

There was a huge amount of agreement in the Chamber about the challenges that face north Wales on the economy and its infrastructural links and what we need to do about energy, transport, rail, road, schools building, housing and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside summed things up when he talked about north Wales as an industrial powerhouse. We have terrific, world-beating companies in all the constituencies represented in the Chamber today. We need to ensure that those companies are nurtured and grow, and that the certainty required in terms of investment is maintained by whoever wins the election in May. Any uncertainties such as those about the future involvement of the UK in Europe need to be eradicated.

Another point made with great force and vigour by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside was the need for investment in education and apprenticeships in north Wales and throughout the UK. The connections that have already been made between companies such as Toyota and Airbus and the local colleges, Coleg Cambria and Glyndwr university, are exemplars for the whole of the UK. We need to ensure that we maintain those connections.

The former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), made an extremely positive contribution on two key points, first, on the vital cross-border links. I agree that too often in all parties our public dialogue on Wales concentrates on the border. We need to get past that. The next phases of devolution must be about greater partnership and integration, acknowledging the fact that companies do not recognise the border in the way in which public policy often does.

The right hon. Gentleman’s points about connecting the two enterprise zones through the Wrexham to Bidston line, making it a 15-minute journey, and about the benefits that can be derived from thinking more holistically about the whole of Deeside and north-west England as

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an economic powerhouse and zone were extremely well made, as was his contribution about English votes for English laws. I agree with him wholeheartedly that we must carefully guard against short-term political expediency for some parties getting in the way of the vital need for our constituents, in particular in north Wales, to have a say on services and decisions that affect them as much as they affect people in England.

Those points were well made by the right hon. Gentleman and were reflected in the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson). He, too, highlighted the interconnection of our north Wales economy with that of the north-west. For example, on HS2, my right hon. Friend made it clear that in order to derive the full benefits for north Wales we need the Crewe interchange to be delivered and real investment in and understanding of the benefits. Crucially, he made a point about the recent rhetoric from the Chancellor about the northern powerhouse—welcome rhetoric and welcome emphasis on the north of England from a Tory Chancellor.

However, recent comments by Ministers in the Wales Office about creating a north Wales powerhouse are perhaps a bit muddleheaded. We need to think more along the lines of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn said, that north Wales is in many respects connected inextricably to the north-west and the north of England. When we talk about the northern powerhouse, as I suggest whoever succeeds in May must continue to do, we should be thinking about north Wales as an integral part of it; we should not talk simply about something within Wales, of north Wales versus the south.

My right hon. Friend also made some excellent practical suggestions about the need for better transport links between his constituency and north Wales generally and the airports that serve north Wales—not Cardiff Wales airport, but Liverpool and Manchester. Such points of connection are vital. Other practical suggestions included extending Flint train station in order to allow the new trains to continue stopping there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn made a characteristically ebullient and passionate defence of his island, describing it as being at the heart of the whole of the British isles. I would not dare contradict him. He also challenged the Hansard reporters with his excellent pronunciation of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn- drobwllllantysiliogogogoch—they can do it twice now, if they would, please. He, too, spoke about the three key challenges: energy, transport—rail and road—and tourism. The Horizon project on Anglesey is supported throughout the House and it will be an enormous benefit to Wales, with 6,000 to 8,000 jobs in construction, as he said, and a further 1,000 jobs to maintain it. Cross-party consensus in support of nuclear energy in Britain is vital, to the benefit of not only north Wales but the whole of the UK and our energy security in insecure times.

My hon. Friend made two unique points in his contribution, one about our ports, and Holyhead to Dublin becoming as important a connection as Dover to Calais. That is a vision to which we should all subscribe. Cross-party consensus on devolving power over ports to the Welsh Assembly Government is important. I anticipate and hope that his suggestion will be picked

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up. He was also the only one to mention mobile phone coverage, which is enormously important to modern business. Coverage remains far too patchy in Wales, and north Wales is one of the areas in which we must do more.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) made an excellent contribution. In particular I highlight his description of the benefits to Wales of our continued membership of the European Union. He mentioned Rhyl harbour, Rhyl promenade and the OpTIC research and incubation unit, which are only three examples of the £1.2 billion of investment in Wales as a result of our membership of the EU. He emphasised the risk to the great companies in north Wales—I have mentioned some, such as Toyota and Airbus. As my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside said, they would not leave overnight were we to leave the EU, but their continued investment in north Wales and in Britain would inevitably be in jeopardy. The risks to our constituents in north Wales in respect of their security and to the long-term prospects for the economic health of north Wales should be clear to all of us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd also highlighted the excellent work of the Welsh Government in recent years in the teeth of big cuts to their budget— £1.5 billion less and 30% of the capital budget removed. That is part of the picture under the UK Government: according to the National Audit Office, there has been a £15 billion reduction in infrastructure investment. However, despite such problems, as my hon. Friend said, £70 million has been invested in schools in Denbighshire. He could also have mentioned the £64 million invested by the Welsh Government and local government in schools in Flintshire or the £30 million invested in schools on Ynys Môn by the Welsh Government. Such schools are also a vital piece of economic infrastructure investment for our future—perhaps more vital than some of the road and rail projects that we have discussed. The schools projects are a testament to the continued dedication of the Welsh Labour Government to investing in the future of our children in Wales, in contrast to—a final party political point—how the Building Schools for the Future programme was cancelled in England.

I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion with a brief reminder that we have an election just 40-odd days away now; in case Members had not noticed, this Parliament is coming to an end. There is a vast amount of agreement that north Wales requires further investment. Whoever wins on 7 May, Welsh Members across the House should put their shoulders to the wheel. I am confident that if, as I hope and believe, we have a Labour Government, we will see proper partnership once more between Wales and Westminster—in contrast to the war on Wales over the past few years under this Tory Government—and a proper contribution to delivering economic success and prosperity for the people of north Wales.

10.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing this debate. I echo the sympathies expressed by him and others towards those involved in the tragic accident in Europe yesterday.

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This has been an excellent debate, which has demonstrated cross-party ambition, hope and optimism for north Wales and its people, public services and economic prosperity. By and large, as the shadow Minister mentioned, it has not been party political; I am pleased about that, because the issue is how to secure the right outcomes for north Wales.

The story of north Wales over the past five years has been quite remarkable. We all know that the UK has the fastest growing economy in the G7, and Wales is the fastest growing part of the United Kingdom. Since 2010—I hope that everyone will recognise this—gross value added growth for the UK has been 6.8%. In Wales, the figure is 8.4%, but it has been remarkably strong in north Wales, at 13.3%. That is a fantastic demonstration of the efforts of everyone in north Wales—the individuals, the private sector, the public sector and the entrepreneurs who are delivering growth have all achieved that quite remarkable figure of 13.3%.

Chris Ruane: Is the Minister including the Welsh Government in his list of people to congratulate?

Alun Cairns: Of course—I said the public sector. Everyone has played a part in delivering that 13.3% growth in north Wales. Of course, it needed a stable financial settlement and stable economic platform from which to build it. North Wales has prospered remarkably from those conditions.

The debate has focused on a range of issues, but without question there is absolute agreement among all Members on the interdependence of north Wales and the north of England in general and the north-west in particular. That is key to the area’s future prosperity. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside picked up on that idea at the outset and focused on the Mersey Dee Alliance. I pay tribute to that organisation; I have met its representatives in my role as Minister and have been hugely impressed with its case. I also pay tribute to the local authorities in north Wales, whichever party runs them; their relationship with the Wales Office is probably stronger than that of the local authorities in south Wales because of their co-ordinated activity and determination to forge a relationship with Whitehall.

Coleg Cambria has been mentioned, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) mentioned Glyndwr university. Those are both excellent examples of using the strength of the private sector in north-east Wales to deliver skills.

Albert Owen: And Coleg Menai!

Alun Cairns: Yes, Coleg Menai as well, although the particular focus was on Coleg Cambria and on Glyndwr university. The university has been through some difficult times over the past year or so. I pay tribute to Mike Scott for his role during that period. He has moved on now, but I recognise his efforts.

Several hon. Members mentioned rail, an issue to which I will return, along with broadband, housing, on which the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) reflected, and energy. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) mentioned the importance of tourism, referring to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn- drobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a place famous not only for

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having the longest place name in Britain but for the founding of the Women’s Institute, an important reason to celebrate it. I will also return to mobile communication.

The common theme, on which I will focus, has been our relationship with Europe. Members have presented doubts and questions about the future of many companies and organisations, and so the continuing prosperity of north Wales, because of the commitment to a referendum on the UK’s future membership of the European Union.

I simply do not accept the Opposition’s arguments on that issue. The evidence is strong and pretty overwhelming. In February, the British Chambers of Commerce said:

“A new settlement for Britain in Europe is essential to achieving our economic ambitions—helping our businesses succeed here at home, and across the world.”

Inward investment to the UK is quite remarkable. According to the World Investment Report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the UK is the No. 1 country for foreign direct investment stock in Europe and is second only to the United States in the world.

Albert Owen: I am sure it is not intentional, but the Minister has misunderstood our case. The case is for staying in the European Union. Businesses are telling me that they invested here—Hitachi is one example; its headquarters are here in the UK—because we are part of the European Union. There is a net benefit for us from being in the EU. We want that to continue and are proud to beat the drum for it.

Alun Cairns: That is a respectable point, but the argument was being made that businesses were not investing because of the EU question. The hon. Gentleman will be able to make his point in the campaign when we have the referendum in 2017, and then people will have the choice.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (James Duddridge): Let the people decide!

Alun Cairns: Absolutely, let the people decide. Industries and businesses invest for the long term and would not be investing now if, as the Opposition say, the position of the UK Government was undermining their future plans. That clearly is not the case. Britain is getting 50% more inward investment than either France or Germany, the next two biggest recipients of foreign direct investment. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) specifically mentioned Airbus, but Tom Enders has said:

“Regardless of which decision the UK will make, we are strongly committed to our operations in the UK, which are key to the long-term future of our group.”

The evidence is quite clear, from statements from the chief executive of Airbus to the record amount of inward investment coming to north Wales. Putting doubt about the UK’s role in Europe in the minds of potential investors does not support the economic growth of the area.

Mark Tami: Does the Minister not accept that many companies, big and small, will not speak publicly about or get involved in politics—probably rightly—but will have concerns that they raise in private? My hon. Friend

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the Member for Ynys Môn has mentioned some of those concerns this morning. It is incredibly naive to dismiss this issue as if it is not a fear or a threat when it is. It is a serious problem that we have to address.

Alun Cairns: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but even if I accepted it, quite obviously businesses would not be spending and investing sums of money if they had the doubts that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn has shared.

I am sorry that the time has gone in which I could have focused on rail investment. Important points have been made about the Halton curve, the Wrexham to Bidston line and the Deeside and Wirral Waters relationship, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West. Those are really important issues. We must focus on the economic value released by railway investments rather than purely on passenger numbers or environmental benefits. Economic benefits are important, and I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) focused on releasing economic potential in the report to the Department for Transport by the North of England Electrification Task Force.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo (Human Rights)

11 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am pleased that we are having this half-hour debate on the situation facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is an interest of mine as the vice-chair of the all-party group on human rights and as a member of the all-party group on the African great lakes region, to which I pay tribute for the work it has done over many years to increase many Members’ interest in the DRC. In particular, I pay tribute to our excellent worker, Carole Velasquez, who does a great deal to support the group and to ensure that we are effective in raising issues in the House.

I also have a constituency interest, because a considerable number of people from all parts of the DRC have made their home in my constituency. They make a great contribution to the local community and the local economy. They have family connections to the DRC, and they have real-life experience of not only its joys and cultural wonders but the horrors of war and conflict, which have so disfigured the country for so long.

Sadly, the horrors of the Congo are not new. From the time of slavery and occupation, when the Congo was the personal fiefdom of King Leopold of the Belgians, the abuse of human rights and the environment, and the exploitation of the place, have been second to none in the litany of one human’s abuse of another. The European’s sheer racism towards the Congo throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the slavery that went with it, are legendary. If anyone has any doubts about that, I urge them to read the wonderful work by American writer Adam Hochschild on the Congo.

However, we should also recognise the wonderful work done by many people. E.D. Morel exposed the slave trade in the Congo while working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool. The British consul in the area, Roger Casement, was later executed for his part in the Easter rising, but he nevertheless did a great deal to expose what was going on in the Congo.

When independence came in 1961, and Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister, the break-up of the Congo was threatened and military coups took place. Patrice Lumumba was assassinated shortly after taking office, and there has been political instability ever since, with coups and military Governments. However, a great deal of wealth has also been made out of the Congo by international mining companies and timber companies and by some of the world’s biggest agribusinesses. The country has therefore enriched the rest of the world, providing uranium, gold, diamonds and many other minerals; indeed, every one of us who has a mobile phone will, at some point, probably have had one with coltan in it from the DRC. This is a place where the world has made wealth, but that wealth has not, unfortunately, been extended to the people of the DRC. It is important to put these things in a slightly historical context.

I want now to raise four related issues: the conflict in the east of the country; political violence and instability; governance; and what the international community, the UN and particularly the UK can do to improve the situation.

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To give an example of how awful the situation is, let me quote Amnesty International’s 2014 annual report on the DRC:

“The security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo…remained dire and an upsurge in violence by armed groups claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and forced more than a million people to leave their homes. Human rights abuses, including killings and mass rapes, were committed by both government security forces and armed groups. Violence against women and girls was prevalent throughout the country. Plans to amend the Constitution to allow President Kabila to stay in office beyond 2016 prompted protests. Human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition were threatened, harassed and arbitrarily arrested by armed groups and by government security forces…More than 170,000 DRC nationals were expelled from the Republic of Congo”—

Congo-Brazzaville, as it was formerly called—

“to the DRC between 4 April and early September. Among them were refugees and asylum-seekers. Some of the expelled were allegedly arrested and detained incommunicado in Kinshasa.

Little assistance was provided by the DRC government, and as of September, more than 100 families were living on the streets of Kinshasa without tents, health care, food or any assistance.”

The situation and the way people are having to survive are terrible by any stretch of the imagination.

The violence is awful, and we have to look at what the international community is doing. MONUSCO—the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—is one of the UN’s biggest, most expensive missions, and its performance, activity and governance are extremely controversial. I have visited the DRC twice, I have spent time with MONUSCO officials and officers and I have heard what people think of MONUSCO. At its best, it can be very helpful and effective. When I was in Goma there was a plane crash, and the MONUSCO officials from India and Pakistan were extremely helpful, effective and good at assisting the victims. At other levels, however, the complaints about harassment and abuse by UN soldiers and about the lack of control over them are very damaging to the UN’s image and to ordinary people’s confidence in the UN.

As time has gone on, MONUSCO’s mandate has changed. The mission has become much more assertive militarily, and many people in the Congo find it a bit hard to distinguish between the UN and anybody else taking on rebel and guerrilla forces such as the March 23 movement. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some indication of the direction in which MONUSCO is moving. I do not underestimate the security difficulties and problems, but there must be an understanding that the UN’s role is not to fight wars on behalf of other people but to bring about peace, security and above all development, so that people can live reasonable and decent lives.

The Catholic Fund for Overseas Development is very active in the Congo and very knowledgeable about it. In a research paper, it recommends that the new MONUSCO mandate should include

“the need to prioritize civilian approaches to protection of civilians”


“improved communication between the civilian and military sections of the mission”;


“the need for improved contingency planning which focuses on the prevention of civilian harm in both the immediate and the longer term”;

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“that the Secretary General’s…reporting on the mission includes key indicators against which the impact of protection efforts can be evaluated”;


“that any military operation is accompanied by concrete actions addressing security sector reform…and demobilization, disarmament and reintegration”;


“mechanisms for holding the DRC Government to account for human rights abuses committed by their personnel”,


“additional resources to this end”;

and stress

“that consolidation of state authority in eastern DRC must deliver effective protection”.

Those are all sensible, reasonable proposals, and the Minister is well aware of the situation.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for outlining the issues so clearly. It is said that 4 million people died in the civil war, of whom 20% were targeted for their Christian beliefs. The hon. Gentleman has outlined the situation as it affects everyone, but does he agree that the DRC Government and the UN should take every action necessary to protect the Christians in the country, and their religious freedom, and is he aware of what discussions our Government have had on their behalf?

Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. Religious freedom is, to me, a basis of normal, decent civilian life, which I think is what my hon. Friend, if I may call him that, was saying. That must be correct. On one of my visits to the DRC I stayed in a Catholic mission, and was impressed with what the people there were doing, and with its ecumenical nature. They extended their hand to other faiths and groups. There is a huge variety of religious persuasions in the DRC, including evangelical Christians as well as the perhaps more traditional Catholic Church and very big Churches such as the Simon Kimbangu foundation. It is an interesting place, and the hon. Gentleman has made an important and valid point.

I had a useful meeting and discussion last week with a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Markus Geisser. He helpfully sent some information about what it is doing. The ICRC first went to the Congo in 1960 and had a permanent mission from 1978 onwards. It has a great deal of experience and is well respected. Because it is the ICRC it manages effectively to reach all parts. Its budget is 63 million Swiss francs, of which 13 million Swiss francs are spent on protection, 41 million Swiss francs on assistance, 5 million Swiss francs on prevention and 2 million Swiss francs on co-operation with civil society. It has a considerable local staff and has issued an emergency appeal for 2015 to help fund its activities in the DRC. I hope that the British Government will respond positively.

I want to draw attention to the question of violence against the individual. I have talked about the number of people killed and forced into exile, and the horrors that go with that. There is a disproportionate impact on women and girls, and to quote again from the Amnesty International report:

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“Rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls remained endemic, not only in areas of conflict, but also in parts of the country not affected by armed hostilities. Acts of sexual violence were committed by armed groups, by members of the security forces and by unarmed civilians. The perpetrators of rape and other sexual violence enjoyed virtually total impunity.

Mass rapes, in which dozens of women and girls were sexually assaulted with extreme brutality, were committed by armed groups and by members of the security forces during attacks on villages in remote areas, particularly in North Kivu and Katanga. Such attacks often also involved other forms of torture, killings and looting.”

What can the UK and the Department for International Development do? The DFID programme is welcome; it is £162 million for 2013-14, and I hope it will rise in the future. Our programme includes support for such things as the political framework at a national level; key reform processes; work on tangible peace dividends and benefits to communities, particularly in the east; and progress in addressing grievances, perceptions and community tensions. Much of that is valuable and it is important to pursue it. Without the development of civil society, little can be achieved.

I was once on a visit with a delegation in Goma; we had travelled for a long time from Rwanda. When we arrived we visited a women’s centre. It was humbling, to say the least, to be asked to address—in the dark, because we arrived after nightfall, but they wanted to see us anyway—a meeting of 300 to 400 women, every one of whom had been a victim of rape, or multiple rape, and violence. They were doing their best to rebuild their lives. They were trying to get to a place of security and were at least in the centre in Goma. I also visited refugee camps and spoke to a lot of women about what had happened to them there. The violence that had happened to them was indeed rape as a weapon of war.

The former Foreign Secretary, now the Leader of the House, took the issue up at an international summit, and I was pleased that he did and that far more publicity has been given to the fact that rape is used as a weapon of war. I support any funding that we can give to women’s organisations and centres in Goma and other parts of Congo—particularly if that is used to support women to go back to villages and develop economic life, recognising that women are crucial to the peace process. They are, essentially, the builders of communities, and they have a special place in Africa because of their huge contribution to agriculture.

Education is the key—and that includes the education of boys. In Kinshasa I visited what euphemistically passed for children’s homes but were really houses where boys slept at night; they went off in the day to do whatever they wanted, because they had nothing else to do. They had little education or support and hardly any role models. If we do not give the next generation of boys, and the one after that, education and opportunity, the horrors of the abuse of women, and the arrogance of male behaviour in the Congo, will simply continue and get worse. Investment in education is key.

As I said when I began, Britain has made a big contribution through DFID. We have sent support and election observers, and I hope that we will send observers to the forthcoming elections. However, I hope that we will take action in this country as well. Coltan does not come from nowhere. Okay, it is a conflict mineral and it

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is not supposed to be imported because of that. I have deep suspicions that it gets in through Rwanda and possibly Uganda. I have deep suspicions about the export of many minerals from conflict zones, particularly in the DRC. The Congo is theoretically signed up to the extractive industries transparency initiative. It should be held to account on that because mining companies based in Switzerland and London make a great deal of money out of the resources of the Congo, which should go to its people. Oxfam, the ICRC and many others have made enormous contributions to the effort to bring about some sort of peace and justice. CAFOD has made some valuable contributions as to the way MONUSCO should develop in future. It is up to us to take political action.

Finally, I ask the Minister to give what support he can in the case of the imprisonment of one Member of Parliament—not just because he is a Member of Parliament but because he represents something about democracy and freedom in the country. The MP is the hon. Vano Kiboko, who has now been in prison for nearly 100 days. His crime was apparently to raise criticisms of President Kabila, which many journalists and others have done. If we want a free and democratic Congo to develop, it is not up to us to occupy and invade; it is up to us to recognise the appalling loss of life, the horror of many individuals’ lives, and the contribution that the rest of the world could make if instead of taking the profits of the Congo it tried to ensure that they were invested in the people of the DRC.

11.19 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (James Duddridge): This is my first time serving under your chairmanship as a Minister, Sir Roger, and it is a pleasure to do so, just as it was when I was a Back Bencher.

I thank the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for securing the debate and setting out some of the challenges that the Democratic Republic of the Congo faces. He clearly has a deep-rooted understanding of that country through his constituents, his visits and his ongoing, passionate work on its geography and human rights. He rightly emphasised the historical conflicts and the country’s great riches and opportunities, which have not been fairly used, and have certainly not been used universally for the benefit of all citizens of the DRC. I commend him for his work on the all-party group on the African great lakes region, and the secretariat which, as he mentioned, does a great job in working with Members of Parliament in the Commons and the Lords to ensure that the issues it highlights are at the forefront of what we do.

By virtue of its size, population, geography and economic potential, the DRC is important not only as an individual country; it is important to the entire great lakes region and to Africa overall. If it succeeds, it will have a positive impact on the region. Conversely, if it fails, its tragic problems will infect the surrounding areas. Today’s debate covers a number of issues, which I will address, including the political violence in eastern DRC, governance and what the UK and the international community can do. I will also try to address the issue of educating young boys and men on the issue of rape, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the issue of the Member of Parliament who has been imprisoned for an unacceptable time.

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The hon. Gentleman spoke about the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo— MONUSCO—which is the UN’s largest and most expensive mission, and one of its longest-standing missions. We hold UN soldiers to the same high standards as British soldiers—standards that are applied by international law. Unfortunately, soldiers sometimes do not meet those high standards, so the British Government should be firm in insisting that they are met. There are education, training and, ultimately, courts of law to enforce them.

It is particularly important that the DRC’s neighbours play a constructive role in the DRC. We continue to urge the region to work towards a full implementation of the peace, security and co-operation framework that was established in 2011. It has been useful in enabling us to see the DRC through the prism of the region, rather than simply through the bilateral relationships with countries such as Rwanda, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Central to security in eastern DRC—and, indeed, the whole region—is the disarmament of the FDLR, following the work with the M23. We are disappointed that the vast majority of the FDLR has chosen not to disarm voluntarily. The international community estimates that 1,200 members of the FDLR still exist in eastern DRC. Those members have chosen not to surrender, renounce violence or submit to disarmament or demobilisation, and at the moment they are not involved in the reintegration process. We must push the Congolese army and MONUSCO to encourage them in whatever way is needed.

The hon. Gentleman asked to what degree the UN forces should be proactive. Some of the threats of proactive activity against the M23 and the FDLR have been effective. It is right that MONUSCO carries out proactive, kinetic activity, rather than just sitting in camp and reacting to situations; that is in line with its mandate to neutralise armed groups, as set out in Security Council resolution 2147.

In January, the Government of the DRC announced that they had started military action against the FDLR. However, the British Government’s assessment is that comprehensive operations are yet to commence. We have reiterated to the Government of the DRC that international expectations remain high. The threat posed to civilians is high, and the threat to the security and stability of the region simply must be tackled. We have emphasised that the FARDC—the DRC army—and MONUSCO must ensure that efforts are made to minimise any impact on civilians; that should be at the forefront of military planning.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the political space and governance. Elections and the democratic transition of power are integral parts of our efforts to build a secure and prosperous DRC. President Kabila has an opportunity to leave a significant and positive legacy. Presidential and parliamentary elections need to be credible, inclusive and peaceful. Crucially, they must respect the will of all the Congolese people. The constitution and the African Union charter on democracy, elections and governance must form a key part of that legacy. The Prime Minister has been keen to put governance at the centre of everything we do through the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, the UN, the golden thread, the high-level partnership,

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and the open working group on the sustainable development goals, which will lead to a successor to the millennium development goals.

On the issue of governance, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) rightly highlighted the issue of Christian groups. Our work on human rights includes the protection of everyone’s right to hold their beliefs. We strongly condemn any violence or attacks on Christian groups in the DRC. As and when evidence of those attacks is brought forward, I will be happy to raise that in the strongest possible terms, as the hon. Gentleman would want me to.

Our human rights objectives in the DRC focus on preventing sexual and gender-based violence and protecting children caught up in violence. The global summit to end sexual violence, held in London in June, showcased the steps made in the DRC to date. I welcome the comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) and his leadership on that issue. He has led on that issue not only in the UK but internationally. When I was at the UN General Assembly last year, people were disappointed that he was moving on from the post of Foreign Secretary, but glad that he retains responsibility for those issues. He has passed the baton, and, from a Foreign Office perspective, I continue to monitor those issues. I am sure they will remain central, whatever Government we have after the general election.

The hon. Member for Islington North spoke about rape. We often talk of rape as a weapon of war, but sadly in the DRC it is also a political weapon. Women who are politically active are often raped multiple times over a period of time and gang-raped as punishment for their involvement in politics. Clearly, that is unacceptable. He talked about the longer term. It is a challenge to look at the long term when so many things are happening in the short term. However, social change and changing social attitudes towards rape and sexual violence is the right way forward. We cannot just respond to crimes. The UK has therefore funded the campaign “Silent No More”—if the hon. Gentleman is not familiar with it, I can send him details of it—which is a very good project and a good example of what the UK is doing to address that issue. It focuses on working with community leaders to help change perceptions and challenge attitudes about sexual violence. It particularly focuses on men and boys. There are a number of other programmes, such as those run by War Child, to help child soldiers who may have been perpetrators of rape in the past to reintegrate into the community and adopt new norms.

There are still accusations that the army, police and security agencies are complicit in killings, rapes and the ill-treatment of detainees. That is clearly unacceptable, and it is one of the key reasons why the DRC is in the formal “country of concern” category, and why a whole chapter in the FCO’s human rights and democracy report, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has seen, is focused on the DRC.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate how seriously the Government take the region. More than 5 million people have been killed there over the past 20 years and, although the DRC has the potential for economic prosperity and opportunity, its GDP is little more than $1 a day. In my few remaining seconds, I want to return to the issue of political detainees, particularly those detained after the January problems. I am very concerned about the

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narrowing of the political space in the DRC, and about the fact that a number of Opposition MPs have been detained and harassed. I am happy to take up individual cases, if I can co-ordinate with the hon. Gentleman, in addition to what we are already doing. We must do all we can to protect the DRC’s political space, particularly in the run-up to the election, when the constitution must be protected. We must continue to do what we can to end poverty in that area and improve human rights. The DRC should be a strong and prosperous country.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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High Speed 2

[Relevant documents: Thirteenth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2013-14, on HS2 and the environment, HC 1076, and the Government response, HC (2014-15) 216.]

[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. You may have liked to have been down in this part of the Chamber to speak not exactly in favour of High Speed 2, but I welcome you to the Chair. I also welcome all my colleagues, and I am delighted that so many of them, particularly my Buckinghamshire colleagues and ministerial colleagues, have turned up to listen and contribute to today’s debate on behalf of their constituents, particularly in light of the achievement of having secured this debate. I think I am the last person to secure a debate on HS2 in this Parliament, although I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) is also in the room, as he was the first person in this Parliament to do so.

Tomorrow, the Commons will prorogue, after all Bills have received Royal Assent. However, one Bill will not have received Royal Assent and, uniquely, will be carried over to the next Parliament—the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. This project is so large—so gargantuan—that it is being carried over into the next Parliament. It is the largest peacetime infrastructure project that we have seen in this country, and it cannot be dealt with in just one Parliament. Unless an incoming Government think again, it will continue very much as it is currently planned. However, I want the Government to think again, no matter what political complexion inherits the government of this country after the election on 7 May.

After six years of opposing this project, the comment I hear most is, “Surely HS2 cannot be going ahead.” That is always followed by a Victor Meldrew moment for constituents, or anybody who learns about HS2, and they say, “I don’t believe it!” What they cannot believe are the justifications claimed by Government and officials for spending such a large sum on a project with such doubtful merits for most of the population and in the vested interests of the few who stand to benefit, particularly those who stand to benefit financially.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing a debate on this very thorny issue for many of our constituents. Does she agree with my assessment that if whoever forms the next Government wish to carry on with this white elephant project, they will have to come back to this House of Parliament and ask for another huge increase in the budget for HS2?

Mrs Gillan: That certainly is a possibility, which I shall refer to later, because this morning we had another adverse report, this time from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. If this project goes ahead as proposed, I think many people will have to suspend disbelief, and the Government’s pockets will have to be even deeper.

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Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way so early in the debate, and I congratulate her on her long-standing campaign on this issue. Does she agree that the £50 billion so far earmarked for HS2 could be spent on infrastructure projects right across the country to everyone’s benefit—to the nation’s benefit—and not solely on HS2, which as she says, has again been scrutinised unfavourably this week?

Mrs Gillan: That is absolutely right. Many of our local organisations got together in Buckinghamshire and named their organisation 51m, because had the money been spent in another way, it could have resulted in £51 million being available in each and everybody’s constituency to spend on our constituents. I believe that on current pricing, it should be renamed 87m, because it is looking more like £87 million per constituency, but I will come to that later.

Thanks to the brilliant economic management of a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has rescued our economy, we have—it is no joke—a solid, long-term economic plan, which is providing the foundations for continuous growth. We need investment in infrastructure and public services, and economic stability against which our private sector can develop and our public services improve.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I hope my right hon. Friend will join me in congratulating the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who has joined us in the Chamber and has created these excellent conditions. Will my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) join me in recognising that things will be very difficult for a number of colleagues in government when they face this project going ahead at great cost to their constituents, with cross-party support? It has a distinctly anti-democratic flavour at times.

Mrs Gillan: I am proud of my colleagues who are in government—and should remain in government—who have spoken up and pointed out the failings of this project from within Government, as I did when I was part of the Government. I have had the good fortune of being liberated on the Back Benches, and am able to speak out freely in public. That is not always possible. However, I always observed Cabinet collective responsibility and only spoke on platforms in my constituency. I wish the same could be said of the Liberal Democrats, who seem to have cast Cabinet collective responsibility, and that sort of responsibility for being in government, to the wind. The politics of convenience are not my politics, so I am proud of the part that my colleagues have played. They have been stalwart compatriots in a very difficult subject area for all of us. None of us here is really naturally a rebel, and this is a difficult issue to grasp, as I hope people will appreciate.

By default, HS2 has been part of that long-term economic plan. As the doubts have been growing about it, I think we need to ask ourselves whether this is the best way forward for the honestly held ambitions of Conservatives for this country—or indeed, of any other party. There is only a small chance that the incoming Government will totally abandon the plans, and if they do, it may now only be because they are being held to

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ransom by a smaller party. Alex Salmond declared that one of his demands as the price for propping up a Labour Government would be to start the high-speed rail link from Scotland to England, before connecting Birmingham to London.

I like and admire many of my Labour colleagues. No prisoners are ever taken by them, and I am second to none in my admiration for the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who has trodden this path with me over five years, but surely even the Labour party, should it be successful, would not want that sort of political blackmail as the hallmark of its term in government.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Gillan: I will, but my next sentence is that I do not want a Labour, or Labour-led, Government.

Kelvin Hopkins: I just say that if the Scottish National party is so keen, perhaps the Scottish Parliament could pay for it.

Mrs Gillan: There is a lot of support for that on this side of the House. I do not want a Labour-led Government, and certainly not one that will be blackmailed by a smaller party. I want an incoming Conservative Government with a healthy majority to rethink, refine and re-engineer this project before we are locked into the most expensive Procrustean bed in history.

I turn to some of the detail and the increasing problems. On the current plans for HS2 phase 1, there is still no confirmed connection to central London. The Euston proposals have gone back to the drawing board and Old Oak Common just might be the final terminus. That will connect with nowhere meaningful for many years.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend has been a good friend since 1992 and a doughty fighter on this particular campaign. On the point that she just made, is she also aware that many people in the midlands, while having to put up with HS2 crashing through their constituencies and countryside, were at least offered the chance of going to a railway station, say, in Birmingham in the morning and waking up in the afternoon in Paris or Lille? However, not only does it not connect with London in the way in which we thought, but it does not even connect with the channel tunnel.

Mrs Gillan: That is absolutely correct. There is no direct connection to the channel tunnel, and people, particularly up in the north, have been sold a pup; they were told that they could get to Brussels or the continent much more easily, but that is not going to happen. Also, until we know the outcome of the Davies commission on airports, no connection to any future hub airport in the south-east will exist, and even the Heathrow link or spur has been cancelled. That might gladden the heart of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for

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Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), for whom I have a great deal of sympathy, but the fact is that the project is being developed in isolation.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend understand the disappointment at not having the regional high-speed trains through to the continent that were promised for Birmingham airport in my constituency? The concept was presented of clearing customs at Birmingham and being able to travel through to the continent, which is now not a possibility.

Mrs Gillan: I know. So many people have been marched up the garden path and marched down again. It is appalling that such deception could have gone on for so long and then gradually fallen away, yet the project still survives as currently envisaged. HS2 has been developed in isolation, with no reference to any strategic and integrated transport plan for future passenger and freight transport across all modes of transport. That is confirmed in the House of Lords report released today.

To derive many of HS2’s claimed benefits, large investments will have to be made even to connect it to the cities that it is supposed to serve. As you well know, Mr Betts, that is the case in Sheffield. The capacity problems that it is supposed to cure have been challenged repeatedly, with Government insisting that we are already full to capacity on the west coast main line, despite their own figures showing differently. I refer to page 46 of “The Economics of High Speed 2”, the report released today, which shows that quite clearly.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for calling the debate. As a regular traveller on the west coast main line, I can confirm that outside peak hours, most trains have many carriages, particularly first-class carriages, that are almost empty. Despite the welcome reduction in first-class carriages on the Pendolinos from four to three, that is still too much capacity that is unused and completely wasted.

Mrs Gillan: I know. A member of my team uses those trains, so I get regular reports and what I am hearing is not surprising. The House of Lords Committee finds the situation incredible, and so do I; and my hon. Friend has just confirmed the position to me, for which I am grateful. The business case has not been updated since 2013, and the cost-benefit analysis, now described by the Economic Affairs Committee as “unconvincing”, is based on an old, outdated set of facts and information.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because it seems to me that that goes to the heart of what this debate should be all about. I have some sympathy for the Government and, indeed, with the reasons that underpinned the launching of this project, because very often one can say that projects of this kind may be long term and one has to look beyond a basic economic case. However, the more it goes on, the more the evidence mounts up that there is in fact no economic case, yet we do not get a proper response.

Mrs Gillan: The economic case was dodgy in the first place and has been challenged by many economists and outside commentators. One of the basic problems was

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that it was assumed that no one did any meaningful work on a train. That was extraordinary to me. The argument has been fraught with holes since the beginning. I think that even at the current estimate, the Treasury will not be impressed, and in the final analysis it will be the Treasury that holds the purse strings.

Andrew Bridgen: Is not the single argument, the single fact, that repeatedly holes the Government’s economic case for HS2 below the waterline that if there were a genuine business case for HS2, we would not need to put in £50 billion of taxpayers’ money, because the City of London would be more than happy to fund it?

Mrs Gillan: The Government always go on about the Victorian railways, but they forget that it was private investors who built the Victorian railways. It will not be private investors that build HS2 or even HS3, as far as I can see. Also, the costings that are still being cited are at 2011 prices. The Department refused to update those figures for me or even for the Economic Affairs Committee in the other place, so the Economic Affairs Committee has recalculated the costs, using the movement in public sector construction contracts since 2011, and its new estimate is £56.6 billion at 2014 prices, because that is the year for which figures are available in order to make the calculation.

There is evidence that the Government did not give equal consideration to alternatives to HS2. The opportunity costs of spending £56.6 billion on one project have also escaped evaluation by the Government. As I said, 51m, so called because that is what each of us would have had to spend in our constituencies if HS2 had not gone ahead, should now be called 87m—£87 million for the constituency of each and every Member in this place. I am sure that if we gave that money to all our constituents, the first project that they came up with would not be HS2.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): One thing that is noticeable to my constituents is that they live on an island and they have no benefit whatever from HS2.

Mrs Gillan: I suppose I could say that they are lucky they have no disbenefit from HS2, but that is one of the pertinent points. This railway is being built for the few, certainly not the many.

Even the claims of rebalancing the economy between the north and the south do not stack up. There is clear evidence pointing to London being the real gainer from the project as currently configured, and we are all forgetting the ill fated KPMG report that revealed that many parts of the country would lose millions of pounds from their local economies, because those economies would be hollowed out as businesses were attracted, like a bee to a honeypot, to the line of route.

I am sad to say this to my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I consider to be a friend and of whom I am very fond, but—[Laughter.] There is always a “but” with me. This project has been guilty of unsatisfactory and often callous public engagement with the people and communities affected, disrespect for opposing viewpoints, including those of elected representatives, failure to observe the basic rules of consultation, often perceived

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indifference towards the environment, and suppression of the reports on the deliverability of and risks posed by the project.

Michael Fabricant rose—

Mrs Gillan: That is not a great track record, if hon. Members will forgive the pun. I will certainly give way now that I have delivered my punchline.

Michael Fabricant: My right hon. Friend is very kind and very generous; she knows me of old. Is it not interesting that one reason why the present Government decided not to go with the original Arup proposal and follow the route, which would have been much cheaper, of an existing transport corridor was that they wanted to go at ultra-high speed, and ultra-high speed trains need to travel in straight lines? However, because of the work of the Department for Transport and the ongoing work of the parliamentary Committee, which has caused a number of changes in the route, we now know that in fact the trains will not be able to go at ultra-high speed, because there are so many changes to the route. They could have followed an existing transport corridor, saving money and the environment.

Mrs Gillan: That is a very valid point, but I have to say that, following the publication of a recent document, we know that HS2 will at least be well designed. The latest document from HS2 is “HS2 Design Vision”. It is not a very weighty document, but there is a long list of contributors, and I learn in it that we will be

“Celebrating the local within a coherent national narrative”.

It continues:

“Each place and space that is created as part of the system will contribute to HS2’s own identity.

The design challenge will be to develop a coherent approach, establishing uniformity where it is essential while encouraging one-off expression based on local context where appropriate. HS2 seeks to enhance national and civic pride, while also supporting its own brand to support its operational and commercial objectives. It will therefore include many local design stories within one compelling national narrative.”

I am a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and an old marketing director, and that takes even my breath away. I have to say that it is not worth the paper it is written on. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is quite right. The design of the project is coming into question, because there were alternatives that have not, in my view, been properly considered. After six years of the project, since Andrew Adonis first announced it, we were supposed to have a fully integrated, connected railway smoothing northern access to the continent, whisking non-train-working businessmen along at speeds hitherto only dreamed of on a British railway and reducing air travel demand. We learn from recent press coverage that those passengers will be whisked along on luxury leather-upholstered seating in child and family-free carriages. The design vision has, for me, really put the icing on the cake. Is this really what people want? Certainly not the people who have contacted me, not only from my constituency but from up and down the country.

The list of detractors grows daily. In addition to the Lords report published today, we can count the Environmental Audit Committee, the National Audit

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Office, the Public Accounts Committee, the Institute of Directors, and numerous local authorities and outside commentators. Last week, I wrote to the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility to ask him, as part of his remit to assess the long-term sustainability of the public finances, to carry out a review of the impact of HS2 on budgeted capital expenditure and Department for Transport expenditure. Should I be fortunate enough to be returned to the House by the electors of Chesham and Amersham after 7 May, I hope that I will receive a detailed response from Mr Chote that may enlighten us more.

Many detailed questions are posed in the Lords report, all of which need to be answered before the project goes any further. I think that the Minister should consider some specifics, particularly if he is willing to rethink the project. The rebalancing of wealth between north and south is an admirable objective. With a family who came from a steel firm in Sheffield, I know that better than most, as do you, Mr Betts. However, would it not yield faster and more effective results, as I have often said, if cross-Pennine connections were prioritised before any London-Birmingham link? Before starting on any link from Birmingham southwards, should we not wait for the Davies report on airport capacity in the south-east and plan accordingly? More importantly, should we not commission a major strategic transport plan across all modes of transport, with particular reference to the modern and emerging technologies of smart motorways, driverless cars, driverless trains, super-Maglev and vacuum tube trains, to say nothing of the increasing power and use of high-speed broadband and satellite communications, which were raised by the Prime Minister today in a tremendous Prime Minister’s Question Time?

We in the line of the route have always had to make other plans. We could not simply oppose the project; we had to make contingency plans in case it went ahead. In this day and age of politicians outbidding each other to be greener than green, how can we plan for HS2 to destroy parts of 41 ancient woods and damage a further 42 that lie near the construction boundary, to say nothing of the destruction of the area of outstanding natural beauty and the historic sites that lie in the path of the monster?

Convinced, if the project goes ahead, that the destruction of the area of outstanding natural beauty in the Chilterns can be avoided—and with my support, and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), the right hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe—Chiltern district council, Buckinghamshire county council, the Chilterns conservation board and Aylesbury Vale district council commissioned a new, independent report to consider a better and viable alternative to the Government’s route through Buckinghamshire. The report will be published tomorrow and presented here, in Committee Room 19, at 4 o’clock, and I invite the Minister and other hon. Members to attend.

The main conclusion of that study is that a long tunnel for the transit of the Chilterns by HS2 is technically feasible and would protect the designated landscape of the Chilterns AONB and the green belt. The second conclusion is that that would offer a better alignment. The details have already been shared with HS2 Ltd to give it time to consider the study before the local

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authorities appear before the Select Committee, and I commend the report to the House. Accepting that option would save time and money, because such environmental protection would reduce the number of petitioners, lawyers’ fees and the time that people spend scrutinising the legislation. It would avoid some of the last-minute, knife-edge decisions that are being forced on people before they give evidence to the Select Committee. Giving evidence to a Select Committee is a daunting prospect even for a politician. It is really daunting for a layman who has an emotional investment in the proceedings, and who risks losing their home and habitat.

We should also question whether we should let HS2 Ltd continue to spend and enter long and expensive contracts when the project has not yet cleared all its parliamentary and political hurdles. The questions that I have had answered recently leave no doubt about the fact that HS2 Ltd is recruiting more and more people on higher and higher salaries. According to reports in the press, some 18 executives are paid more than the Prime Minister. I do not know whether that is true; I do not believe everything that I read in the press. However, it is alarming to think that such highly paid people are contracting on a regular basis—I have a list of the contracts—when they have not been given the clear say-so by this House or the other place.

I believe more than ever that a pause and a re-evaluation are necessary before the die is cast and we have no option but to plough ahead. I will conclude shortly, because I know that many other people want to speak. I hope that the Members who are allowed to speak will be those along the route who have a real interest in the matter because their constituencies will be particularly affected. I hope that the speakers will not simply be, as always seems to be the case, those who habitually support the project from afar. Before I conclude, I want to raise some compensation matters, because we have all had to make plans on the basis that the project would go ahead. As many hon. Members know, the lives, properties, businesses and futures of many of our constituents have been blighted by this project. They have lived through five years of sheer hell, or, as I have dubbed it, shire hell. Some—the lucky ones—have sold, and they have usually accepted offers of less than their properties are actually worth. Some have moved on. Some have had their health severely affected. Some have died. Some have taken the compensation on offer.

It was only this year, after five years, that the compensation for my constituents and “the need to sell” scheme were finally settled. People are still battling with complex bureaucracy, form-filling and unacceptable questioning. I have the distinct impression that lifestyle judgments are being made about people who apply for compensation. It should be none of the Department’s business what lifestyle anyone chooses to pursue. The decision should not really depend on what other assets they have, because it is the asset in question—usually their home—that is affected. The Department should accept the need to sell without making onerous demands for personal details.

Mr Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con): I wholly endorse what my right hon. Friend is saying about the “need to sell” scheme. Do her constituents feel the frustration that is felt deeply in Ickenham and

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Harefield about the fact that the current compensation proposals take no account of blight associated with construction? When we are dealing with huge construction sites that will be in operation 24/7 for up to 10 years, that is a very real problem.

Mrs Gillan: I agree entirely. I have been talking for too long. I was hoping to finish earlier than this, but I have been generous in giving way, so I have not been able to cover all the points that I hope others will cover. When I did the fly-through, which is a bird’s-eye view of the whole line of the route, it showed clearly what would happen after the line had been built, but it failed to take into account what would happen in the wider swathe of agony that would be cut through our countryside. That has to be explored in far more detail.

I hope that the Minister will confirm when he responds that absolutely no lifestyle judgments will be made, and that no such extra hurdles will be placed in front of people who are quite rightly applying for compensation. We have a residents’ commissioner, Deborah Fazan, who has sat since 2011 on the exceptional hardship scheme committee. I have tried to meet her twice, but she has resisted. She says that she needs to play in on the wicket, talk to HS2 and so on. I would have thought that she probably knows enough about it, having sat for so many years on the exceptional hardship scheme. She is supposed to be independent, and I hope the Minister will clarify her role because she is paid by HS2 Ltd and has not yet met me. I do not know how my residents access her or bring their points to her, and I certainly do not know how to access her, so will the Minister help? There is an old expression, “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and I hope that her being paid through HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport does not compromise her independence. I have argued for an independent ombudsman, which should have been put in place and would have provided a better service.

HS2 has taken over many lives, and none more so than those of our colleagues who serve on the Select Committee. I praise the Committee’s work. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) and all members of the Committee have worked assiduously and, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), I am keen that the Committee’s recommendations are upheld. If there is an unsatisfactory response from HS2 Ltd to the Committee’s assurances and recommendations, they should be followed up, with the possibility of petitioners reappearing before the Committee, if necessary. I do not want the Minister to pass the buck to the Committee, because that is not correct. The Department for Transport should retain a deep and detailed involvement in all matters.

As I am thanking people, I want to mention the Clerk, Neil Caulfield, and all the officials of the House who work with him and have given sterling service to us all. Without doubt, it is a difficult job at the best of times, and it is a terrible job when dealing with people who are so anxious, angry, aggressive and upset and who feel threatened. Those officials have done a fantastic job in liaising and perhaps repairing some of the damage done during the early contact between officials and people in our constituencies.

My Conservative district council, Chiltern district council, and my Conservative county council, Buckinghamshire county council, have been absolutely superb. I want every Conservative district councillor who has stood

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shoulder to shoulder with me on this to be re-elected on 7 May, rather than those Johnny-come-latelies who suddenly decided, after their manifesto contained three high-speed rail plans, that they were against this one. We are not falling for that, I am afraid.

As many hon. Members know, I also want to thank HS2 Action Alliance, including Emma Crane—she has provided me with valuable and excellent legal advice—Hilary Wharf and Bruce Weston, who are well known to everyone here. I also thank the Chiltern Ridges Action Group, the Residents’ Environmental Protection Association and, particularly, the Woodland Trust, which I first worked with in 1992 to save Penn wood in my constituency. Penn wood was the first substantial woodland bought by the Woodland Trust, which has stood full square with us on the environmental case throughout. I thank Conserve the Chilterns and Countryside and the Chilterns Conservation Board. I particularly pay tribute to Steve Rodrick, who has just left the Chilterns Conservation Board, but I hope he will come back to give evidence to the Select Committee on our behalf. I also thank the Chiltern Society, the Wildlife Trusts and, particularly, the Country Land and Business Association, which helped on some complex matters.

I pay particular tribute to my parliamentary colleagues, starting with the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras. He will be a great loss to this House. He may not be of my political persuasion, but I have found him easy to work with. He has not veered from a difficult path, and he has been a steadfast companion on this route. I, for one, wish him and his wife very well. I hope we will see him again. I hope that he will not completely depart these buildings and that he has a further contribution to make.

I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, who, with the right hon. Member for Buckingham, has been the mainstay of trying to get some changes to this project. Having ministerial colleagues here today is important because it means they are as one with what is being said here and would like to see changes. I hope they will work again from inside the Government to get the changes to this project that we want—their working from outside the Government would serve no purpose whatever.

Any fool can spend money, and there is great appetite for what the Department proposes to spend on HS2, but as Conservatives we know that spending money wisely is what matters. On the penultimate day of this Parliament, in which the Conservative-led Government have shown that they have governed the country responsibly, restored our reputation for good governance and been the architect of our economic renaissance, will the Minister please listen to the many voices raised in good faith to question HS2? Will he not only fully publish all the information available to him but undertake a re-evaluation of the worth of this project? Saying, “We might not have got this absolutely right,” is the hardest thing to ask any Minister to do, but it would be the right thing to do before spending a king’s ransom on a white elephant.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Before I call the first speaker, I will set a time limit of four minutes. Hopefully, most people who have indicated that they want to speak will be able to do so.

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3.5 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on securing this debate. In the short time available to me, I will focus on an issue of great concern to my constituents. The Hoo Green to Bamfurlong spur would be the whitest of white elephants. Building it would destroy two villages in my constituency, Culcheth and Hollins Green, and inflict serious environemtnal damage.

The case for the spur has now been seriously undermined. The spur results from a perverse decision to join the west coast main line north of Warrington, rather than north of Crewe. The original cost of the spur was estimated to be £800 million, which has now risen to £1 billion. HS2 justified that cost, as opposed to the £750 million original estimate for joining the west coast main line south of Warrington, on the grounds that it would otherwise have to do a great deal of work to Crewe station. That has now fallen apart because, after the Government accepted the recommendations of the Higgins report, Crewe will now be the main transport hub for the area.

There is no justification for not joining the main line near Crewe. The costings given for that were, to say the very least, dubious. The average cost works out at £22.9 million a kilometre. That sounds a lot, but it is only 28.6% of the cost of building the line elsewhere, which includes building a huge viaduct over the Manchester ship canal, bridges over the motorways and big embankments running through the village of Hollins Green. The costings simply do not stack up.

The second part of the case against the spur is the economic damage that would be caused to the villages of Hollins Green and Culcheth. The line would destroy a business park just outside Culcheth, with the loss of 500 jobs. The knock-on effect would mean that the village of Culcheth and all its businesses not only lose business from those people but lose outside trade because three of the four main routes into the village would be closed during construction, possibly causing many businesses to fold. Culcheth is a large village that relies on trade from outside coming into its shops and restaurants.

Similarly, a viaduct on Hollins Green would bisect the ancient parish of Rixton-with-Glazebrook and destroy businesses in the area, and the prospect has blighted homes, yet the Government cannot give us the figures. In other words, the economic case is being made without making the case for the damage caused to the economy elsewhere. Warrington will not benefit from this part of the line because it will not get a station. Nor is there a knock-on effect elsewhere in the constituency, which, as one gentleman said to me, might have justified what is happening. We have the pain, but we do not have the gain. In fact, we would probably end up with a worse service from Warrington than we have now, given that we already have one train an hour to London and one train an hour to Glasgow. We can get to London in just under two hours on a direct train.

I say to the Minister that the case does not stack up. The Government have not looked at the whole economic benefit, and they need to save £1 billion of public money by abandoning the spur.