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High-Speed Rail

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

9. What recent progress his Department has made on its plans for high-speed rail; and if he will make a statement. (313718)

The Department for Transport is continuing its assessment of the detailed report from High Speed 2, which was received at the end of last year. If the Government decide to pursue proposals for high-speed rail, we will publish a White Paper setting out plans by the end of March 2010.

In thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, I say that there is enormous enthusiasm for a high-speed rail link across the length and breadth of this country, but can he persuade the traditionally London-centric Departments that this scheme is not about London? It is about connecting together the whole of our nation, which is what makes it exciting and viable.

It is not just a question of Departments; political parties are obsessed with London, forgetting the rest of the country. When some parties form a Government, they want to serve the whole country, not just the privileged few. The benefits of a national high-speed link will not simply be extra rail capacity, faster journey times and positive environmental impact, but economic regeneration and increased employment for those parts of the country that arguably need it the most.

I welcome the Government’s conversion to the benefits of high-speed rail for the whole country, but will the Minister now listen to sense and, on environmental grounds, abandon his plans to build a third runway at Heathrow?

I am grateful for the question, because it gives me a chance to explain to the House the inconsistency of Conservative policy. The Mayor of London wants an estuary airport on the Thames. The Bow Group and Lord Heseltine say that there is a false choice—

Order. I do not require any help from people chuntering from a sedentary position, so they are wasting their voices. I say to the Minister of State that he will want to focus his reply on Government policy and not on that of the Opposition.

Government policy was articulated last January—I know that the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) was here then—when we made clear our support for a third runway as long as the relevant planning processes are gone through. Last week’s report from the Conservative think tank and Lord Heseltine confirms that a choice between the third runway and high-speed rail is a false choice. We want intelligent debate based on evidence, not playing to the gallery.

Does the Minister agree that the best way of boosting the north-east economy and ending the north-south divide is by pressing ahead with the high-speed rail link to Newcastle? Will he put his full support behind the proposal?

Absolutely right. My hon. Friend reminds me that the benefits will be not simply to London but to the north-west, the north-east, the east midlands, Yorkshire and Scotland. We are a party that believes in governing for the whole country and not just for our chums in London.

When we finally get high-speed rail, to which all parties are apparently now committed, there is increasing speculation that one way in which the train operators will seek to minimise journey times is by reducing the number of stops. Stockport station, on the west coast main line, which serves not only my constituency but the wider Stockport area and south Manchester, is a hugely important strategic stop. Can the Minister guarantee that when we finally get the high-speed rail link on the west coast main line, it will continue to stop at Stockport?

I shall try to give a high-speed answer.

The challenge that the hon. Gentleman raises is one of those that David Rowlands and High Speed 2 had to look into. When we produce our White Paper, we will hopefully deal with some of the challenges and the balances that need to be made between stopping at more stations and the disbenefit of slowing down the trains. He makes an important point, which David Rowlands looked into.