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High Speed Rail (Government Policy)

Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 30 March 2010

I am glad that you are in the Chair, Mr. Illsley. Perhaps we will not have any instances of mistaken identity today, which is something that can happen. As I am sure you are aware, a number of hon. Members who wanted to attend this debate are not here because of confusion over timing. Apparently the usual channels collapsed, and the debate was on the Whip as being at 2.30. Those who wanted to be present are probably on the west coast main line right now.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on 11 March about the high speed line. If I have become an expert on anything over the past 20 years, it is probably on the railways. I have chaired the all-party parliamentary groups on rail and on the west coast main line for about 15 years. The Secretary of State’s announcement came as a bit of a surprise, because the Railtrack proposal had been to take the line up to the west. The idea that the line should go to Birmingham and then fork up to the eastern side must have pleased you, Mr. Ilsley, because it will go to Leeds, Sheffield and on to Newcastle. The west fork, of which I am more aware, will go to Manchester and, eventually, to Glasgow. It seems a very sensible way in which to carry on.

The trains will eventually travel at about 250 mph—initially, though, speeds will be closer to 225 mph—which will bring the country closer together. Members who represent areas that will be affected by the line but may not benefit from it may want to ask why we need a high speed line. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that the number of people travelling by railway has increased over the past two decades. That may be down to privatisation or to the fact that the motorways are congested. The west coast main line, especially south of Birmingham, is now running short of capacity.

It is easy to know when we are running short of capacity on a motorway because things do not move. It is more difficult for the public to know that the railways are running short of capacity, because all they see is an empty track, which leads them to think there is plenty of room there. For safety reasons, however, the trains have to run a certain distance apart, so extra trains cannot just be added. People might say, “Why don’t you put extra carriages on?” If we did that, the trains would not fit the platforms any more. Then, of course, we have the problems at peak times. We are getting to a point—we have probably reached it in some areas of the south-east—where we are suffering from severe overcrowding, so we need to build a new line. If we are going to build a new line, we must build one for the future, not the past. A new line is needed, so we will build High Speed 2, and that is what the Government have agreed to.

My understanding is that once we get to Birmingham there may be some arguments about where the line should go, and I will come to that later. Everyone is in general agreement that the line should go from London to Birmingham; the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are agreed on that. However, will the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) clarify one point? About three years ago, I visited China with the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who was Front-Bench spokesman on the railways. He had great enthusiasm for Maglev, the magnetic train that runs from the airport to Shanghai. Has the party changed its mind about that and does it now favour going back to the traditional rails?

I am happy to clarify that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) did suggest that we should investigate the possibilities of Maglev travel, but I think he was considering it for shorter distances. People do not seriously expect that a new high speed line would be run on anything other than the high speed technologies that are available in the continent of Europe, the far east and other such places.

That clarifies matters. I was not trying to make a political point; I just wanted to know what the position was.

Let me concentrate on the classic railways for a moment. I get the feeling that because the Government want to promote the new high speed line, they have been indicating that the money spent on the upgrade of the west coast main line—they spent £9 million, as opposed to the £30 billion proposed by Railtrack—has not been well spent, and that the upgrade created a great deal of disruption and will prove to have been unnecessary if we go ahead and build a high speed line. The reality, however, is totally different. The west coast main line had been neglected for nearly three decades. Some 75 per cent. of the money spent on it was not for an upgrade, but for necessary renewal work. If we are talking about a high speed line not reaching Glasgow for 25 years, then we should be talking about not only maintaining the west coast main line but making major improvements to it. For example, there is a need for block signal systems, or in-cab signalling, which will increase the capacity on the line by allowing trains to travel closer together. Such a device would help capacity problems in the short term.

The other issue is that although the Pendolinos are restricted to 125 mph, they can travel at 140 mph. In parts of the west coast, where there has been very little investment, we could increase the speed of the Pendolinos to the maximum and reduce journey times from Glasgow to Carlisle to less than four hours.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that one of the challenges of upgrading the west coast main line has been trying to do the work at the same time as trying to maintain an increasingly busy service, which is moving towards full capacity, as he has already mentioned? The joy of being able to promote the high speed network is that that delivers capacity without disruption to the existing lines and services. As some of the traffic moves from the west coast main line to High Speed 2 in the future, my hon. Friend’s suggested upgrades should be able to take place with less disruption to passengers on the west coast main line.

I agree with the Minister. I bear the scars of many a bad journey on the west coast main line. I will come back to that point, but I am not sure whether disruption can be avoided. We need a high speed line and we need to maintain the classic lines. I am sure that the constituencies of a number of Members here will be affected by the high speed line, but will not get the benefits from it. I am sure those Members will make representations, which is only right. It is also only right that the Government should listen to those representations and do everything they can to reduce the environmental impact of the new line on those communities. However, it would be wrong if the decision to build the line were blocked because of the opposition from Members representing their constituents. I have no doubt they will be representing their constituents—I have done so myself, on other issues—but the reality is that the country needs a high speed rail line. We have one from the channel tunnel to London and we need one that goes to the north of England and to Scotland.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for having missed the first part of his speech. I agree with him entirely that the line must not be blocked, although some colleagues will of course argue, from the point of view of their constituency, against it. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a great pity if the improvements to the “classic lines” that he referred to—the provincial and regional lines—were derailed, as it were, by the high speed train? I am obviously thinking in particular of the south-west. In the Minister’s recent oral statement in the Chamber on high speed rail, he was unable to assure me that money would not be simply diverted from other rail schemes that are much needed elsewhere into high speed rail, which would obviously degrade our national rail network considerably.

I agree totally. One of the issues I will not talk about today is the financing of the high speed rail line; however, I got an indication yesterday during the continuation of the Budget debate that the Conservatives were suggesting they were going to take another £6 billion out of transport. If so, the hon. Gentleman will have great difficulty in getting any rail improvements in his area. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wimbledon makes a comment from a sedentary position. Does he wish to intervene on that point?

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us which part of the 17 per cent. of funding over three years this Government are already taking out of transport, before he makes wild speculations about “£6 billion”? Exactly how much—£9 billion, £10 billion, £12 billion, £20 billion or £25 billion—will this Government take out of transport spending?

I am afraid that that is what gives politicians a bad name—answering a question with another question.

I would like to continue before we get too deeply involved in that matter. There are issues that I do not want to get involved in today. What matters is the high speed rail link and whether it should go to Heathrow. That issue will be debated at length—will the high speed line link with Crossrail, or will it go directly to Heathrow? I am conscious that others want to speak about that, so I do not want to go into it myself. I know that I have already trod on somebody’s toes on funding, and I do not really want to go into that, either, other than to say that the money for high speed rail should not come from classic lines.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) asked a legitimate question and at the risk of offending my hon. Friend, may I answer the question from the hon. Gentleman with another question to my hon. Friend? Where does he think the majority of his constituents who would benefit from reduced journey times to London would want to go? Would they want to go to London as a city, or to Heathrow airport? Furthermore, does he think they would be put off by a diversion that added time to that journey to London by going via Heathrow airport?

The reality is that traditionally people from the north-west have come into London via Euston, without diverting to Heathrow. Of course, if someone is living in the Manchester area they will use Manchester airport for air travel and therefore they will not want to go into Heathrow at all. I think that that answers that question.

I also do not want to go down the road of considering whether high speed rail will be beneficial in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. I think that we will get people coming out of cars and on to the train, but we must also remember that the faster a train goes the more energy that it will use. So I think that those benefits of HS2 will probably be about carbon-neutral overall.

However, there are issues that I want to raise. The Minister made a comment that a new line would not create disruption. I am very pleased that the Government have decided that the high speed trains should come into Euston, because traditionally that is where the trains have come into London from the north-west. Nevertheless, there are two points to consider. The first is that I suspect that there will be disruption when we start to build the new platforms in Euston, which is something that we will look forward to particularly. I also wonder whether the scheme that the Government have chosen will provide enough new platforms. If we get things wrong and we have a bottleneck at Euston, it will be decades before we put it right.

There is a second issue about trains coming into Euston. People get off the train at Euston and they go on the tube. The tube is desperately crowded now. So, if we are going to bring the high speed trains into Euston and consequently bring more people into Euston, remodelling Euston in the process, we need to do something about the tube. That is the other issue that we need to discuss.

I would just like my hon. Friend to reflect on the benefits of the potential west London connection that is proposed as part of HS2, at Old Oak Common to the Crossrail link, which would encourage many people coming into London via high speed train to reach their final destination by changing at that point, rather than having all those people come into Euston, where we understand that there are clearly capacity limits on the interchange with some of the existing tube lines.

I accept what the Minister says and perhaps I had not taken that point into full account.

The other development that would obviously be of great benefit would be if some of the high speed trains on HS2 could go straight to St. Pancras station and then people could travel on HS1 into Europe. Hopefully, we will look at that issue; we will probably have a little time to look at it.

The other general issue that I want to discuss is the rolling stock issue. It would appear that we are going to have a high speed line to Birmingham and then classic lines to the north-east, the north-west and Scotland. I understand that the report on HS2 says that slow trains should not go on the high speed line. Therefore, the 140 mph Pendolino trains will not be allowed on the high speed line. That means that we will have to build new rolling stock—new trains—to run on both the high speed line and the classic line. However, I am not sure that it is a good match. In an ideal world, the Minister and the Government would not want to do that.

So I want to ask the Minister a question; will the trains that run on the classic lines off the high speed line be tilting trains? If they are not tilting trains, that will actually slow down the journey time on the classic lines, for example between Glasgow or Edinburgh and Preston. If they are not tilting trains, the trains will be slower than they are now, even if they will speed up when they get on the 90 or 100 miles or so of track from Birmingham down to London. So that is an issue. Then, there is the issue of what will happen to the Pendolinos. They will probably be 25 years old by the time that the new high speed line is built, but they will still have a remaining life of 15 to 20 years. Somebody needs to say something about that issue.

I want to discuss the construction of the high speed line itself. I accept the timetable. I know that the Opposition would like to do it sooner, but I do not think that we will get the Bills and the planning inquiries through and start work before Crossrail finishes in 2017, so we would have to start in 2018. I think that we are talking about 2026 before HS2 is completed—is that right? So will construction on the lines further north begin before that time, or are we going to wait until we get to Birmingham and then start construction further north?

Alternatively, if there is a bottleneck, for example, at Stafford, and if it is decided that there should be a bypass around Stafford, will that bypass be built to high speed line standard? It would make sense to do so. If we look at the motorways, the first part of the motorway system was built 50 years ago and it was the Preston bypass, which is now part of the M6. Those are the sorts of things that we need to consider.

Given these amazing time scales, my hon. Friend might be interested to know that the original Camden Town to Birmingham railway, which was then extended to Euston, was completed—that is, from the cutting of the first sod to the first train going to Birmingham—in less than three years.

I understand that and I know the reason why; it was because the vast majority of the people in this country at that time did not have a vote. [Laughter.] That was the reason why.

There is another point about building the line. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Donohoe), an hon. Member from Scotland, is in Westminster Hall today. Whose responsibility is it to fund the high speed line in Scotland? Transport is a devolved matter. It might be difficult for the Scots to find the full amount of money required, but would it be possible for them to start building their part of the line before the rest comes from the south? Such issues are probably not for today, but they must be discussed.

I am going to make the case that the train should stop in Cumbria, at Carlisle. Hon. Members will say, “Well, he would say that anyhow, as he’s the MP for Carlisle,” but there is a lot of logic in the suggestion. Network Rail’s proposals said that the train would not stop in Cumbria. The Government are silent on the matter; their proposals say that intermediate station stops will be decided later. Not stopping does not seem sensible.

I know very well what the Conservative policy is. It is not an issue in Cumbria, because it involves taking the high-speed line to Manchester, turning right, going to Leeds and continuing up the east coast. Stopping at Carlisle would not be an issue because the line would not go through Cumbria at all. It is not a case that I would like to defend to the Cumbrian electorate, but that is a matter for the Opposition.

We are building a line—or, to be emotional, putting a scar—through 90 miles of Cumbria that will run through parts of the Lake district and the Eden valley, some of the most beautiful countryside in England, without stopping. The Cumbrian west coast is a centre for the nuclear industry; it is an issue that I know well. It has Sellafield, and there are plans for three or four new nuclear power stations. If there is to be a deep nuclear repository, it is likely to be in Cumbria. Because the people of Cumbria are used to working in the nuclear industry and understand it, they are likely to be the only people in this country who will accept it. We are saying to them, “By the way, we’re going to build a line through 90 miles of Cumbria, but we’re not going to stop.” That is not a good argument.

The county is united on the matter. I wrote to the six district councils, and they all agreed; it is the first time that they have ever agreed. The county council agreed with them. I wrote to all the MPs for Cumbria—four Labour, one Conservative and one Liberal Democrat—and they all agreed. I wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown), who is sorry that he could not be here today. He is totally supportive. I wrote to the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), and he is supportive. I wrote to the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), whose constituency will be affected, but he did not reply; I suspect that he is a bit embarrassed by his party’s policy.

The politics of not stopping in Cumbria are daft, and the economic case is even dafter. It is proposed to run a train 200 miles from Manchester to Glasgow, through an area that has traditionally been a railway centre, without picking people up, dropping them off or collecting a fare. At the moment, only one train a day goes through Carlisle without stopping. It is a major transport centre, because of the geography of the area. Ignoring the south of the county, which will not use the Carlisle train, there are probably 350,000 people in the north, west Cumbria, Penrith and Carlisle who would be served. In the east, there are probably another 40,000 for Northumberland. In Scotland, there are probably another 150,000. Although Carlisle is the last city in England, it is the first main line stop in Scotland, because people get off there to go to Scotland. There is an economic case for stopping in Carlisle; I am sure that the people in south-west Scotland are in favour of it.

The other thing that people forget is that the shortest route from Northern Ireland is via Carlisle. People coming across either catch the train from Stranraer or drive to Carlisle and get on the main line. Carlisle serves more than 500,000 people and three countries. It is nonsense not to stop there. However, I am pleased that the Government have not said that they will not.

In conclusion, for many years, we will have a classic line down to Birmingham and Manchester. During that time, the trains will stop at Carlisle. After the high-speed line is in place, it will not make sense not to stop there. It is politically unacceptable and economically daft. I look forward to seeing the high-speed train stop at Carlisle, as it will mean that I am 86.

I suspect that this will be my last speech in Parliament. I hope that the Minister hears it. I suspect that he will not be in the same job by the time the train stops in Carlisle, but I am sure that he can speed it on its way.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) put his case well, highlighting the point that although everyone wants a high-speed rail station, no one is particularly keen on the track. It is a classic example of the conflict between local concerns and the national interest. That is not unusual in infrastructure projects.

It is slightly ironic that we are debating high-speed rail at a time when the first major rail strike and disruption for a considerable time is about to start. I am sure that I am not alone in hoping that even at this stage, through the good services of ACAS or in some other way, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers will call off its strike, because it will be disruptive to huge numbers of people. It is very unfair that such things always happen on bank holidays, when many people go to see their families by rail. Every time it happens, it undermines confidence in rail as a means of travel. It is extremely frustrating.

Will the Minister flesh out the exceptional hardship scheme? Perfectly understandably, Ministers arranged for the publication of only one preferred route. That obviously makes some sense. Clearly, if a number of alternative routes were published, it would simply increase the number of properties blighted along the various routes. However, I am sure that he will understand that for the householders and landowners who woke the other day to discover that the high-speed route would go through their property, it is a matter of concern. It is also of concern for those whose properties are next door to the route. Such circumstances occur. One property in my constituency is a disused railway station that has been next to a disused railway line for a long time. The prospect of a high-speed rail link going immediately past the house will blight such properties.

The Government have clearly assessed how many properties will be blighted in that way, because the White Paper uses the number 600. I suspect that a significant number of those are in London, where a new path will have to be created for the high-speed rail link to leave the city. The number of properties likely to come within the ambit of the exceptional hardship scheme elsewhere along the proposed route cannot be very great. I put that point to the Minister of State at Transport Question Time the other day.

It cannot be beyond the wit of man and woman for officials in the Department to get in touch directly with each household on the route and ensure that they know about the exceptional hardship scheme. It must be known which properties will be affected. I find it strange that details of the scheme have been advertised in local newspapers in Buckinghamshire, but not, as far as I can see, in Oxfordshire, even though a chunk of the route goes through my constituency, which definitely is and always has been in Oxfordshire. It must be possible to explain to the householders exactly what is being proposed, especially as construction on the high speed link is unlikely to start until 2017. Between now and then, many people may understandably want to sell their properties at the proper market value under the exceptional hardship or statutory blight schemes.

It would be extremely helpful if the Minister and the Government set out the proposed timetable and the various mechanisms that will be used. There will clearly be a lengthy consultation process, which is sensible. The Government have learned that it is sensible to make such processes as judicial review-proof as possible. On the comments of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), when the railways were built originally, lawyers were not so quick to rush to the courts for judicial review. Ministers in the Department will have realised only last week that if they cut corners, as they sought to do with the third runway at Heathrow, judges will tell them to go back and start again. There must be more haste and less speed. It is sensible to ensure that there is plenty of time for the consultation process.

I suspect that two things are likely to emerge from the consultation. First, there will be a number of suggestions about how the existing preferred route might be mitigated to avoid certain towns and properties through tunnelling or other mitigating features. Secondly, there will be suggestions for different lines of route, perhaps going towards Milton Keynes. As we are coming up to an election and are likely to be asked about these matters on the doorstep, perhaps the Minister could explain how the Department envisages such matters being dealt with. Will the final preferred route be decided on by Ministers or by a planning inquiry? What statutory procedures will ultimately be used to take the project forward? A balance must be struck between protecting the legitimate interests of people whose properties and communities might be affected and ensuring that Britain gets the high speed rail link that it needs in a timely fashion.

It is well known that the Opposition believe that the high speed rail link should be extended. It should run not just between London and Birmingham, but should link up to other major cities such as Manchester and Leeds, and to Heathrow. One of the most important benefits that the high speed rail link could bring people in the west midlands would be a link to the UK’s main airport hub. Without that, they do not feel that it will be of the same value because it will just go between Birmingham and London.

It would be extremely helpful if Ministers did two things this side of the election. First, they could ensure that officials or the company concerned get in touch with householders who might be directly affected by the exceptional hardship scheme and discuss with them how it will operate. I understand that there has to be a consultation on the exceptional hardship scheme to make sure that it is judicial review-proof as well. However, it would be helpful to give householders an indication of the likely timetable for the exceptional hardship scheme so they know when it will kick in. Inevitably, some families would have been in the process of selling their homes when they found themselves caught up in this scheme. I know of one such family in my constituency, who are now finding it difficult to sell their home. Such households are anxious to know when they will be able to sell their homes and benefit from the exceptional hardship scheme. It cannot be beyond the wit of the Department to carry out the straightforward exercise of telling those who will be most directly affected how their interests can be protected.

Once that is done, everyone else can sensibly engage in the consultation process about whether the existing preferred route or possible alternative routes would be best. It would also be helpful if the Minister set out clearly for the House the timetable he envisages for between now and when it is hoped work will start in 2017, including the various steps of consultations, inquiries and statutory measures such as legislation.

I will start by being extremely parochial. I believe that Britain needs a high speed train network, if only to bring about a massive reduction in the harmful number of short-haul flights. I am pleased that High Speed 1, the channel tunnel rail link, comes into St. Pancras. It is greatly to the credit of this Government that they spotted that it made no sense to have the channel tunnel with no rail link and built that link. I welcome the Government’s grasp of the need for a high speed network. However, to be parochial, I cannot support the scale of the work proposed at Euston.

That area, which I represent, is densely built-up and populated. The railway engineers are treating it like a greenfield site. The proposals will involve massive demolition that will affect various office blocks, a couple of hotels, a couple of warehouses and, more importantly, the homes of about 350 people. They will also involve concreting over about two thirds of a local park. It is clear from looking at a map of Euston station or from going there that there is a huge amount of wasted space in its curtilage. The railway engineers therefore need to take a much more imaginative approach and not think that they can just draw a line on the map and decide that they will get the necessary land.

There is a wider concern. A group of railway engineers believes that Euston is the wrong station and that it would be better to bring the proposed link into Paddington. That would involve far less tunnelling, which is an expensive item, would remove the need to build a new station at Old Oak and would automatically connect the high speed link with Heathrow via the Heathrow Express and Crossrail, neither of which run through Euston.

I believe that the Government should take a wider look. It is not reasonable for them to say that they have looked at the matter secretly and that the idea they have come up with is the only thing anybody can consider. The first thoughts are not always the best. I remember when probably the self same engineers proposed that the channel tunnel rail link should come into a huge cavern to be excavated under King’s Cross station. Local people denounced that as barmy, which was eventually accepted. I can reasonably claim to be the first person who suggested that High Speed 1 should be brought into St. Pancras station instead, which has been a great success.

However, there is an even wider consideration. Personally, the more I consider the concept, the more dubious I am about a Y-shaped network, with a single stem or leg proceeding from one station in London up to Birmingham, before rightly branching out and dividing, with one arm of the Y going to the north-west and the other through the east midlands to the north-east. Is having just one leg coming into London—only one route in and out—sensible? If anything were to block that route, the whole high speed network would, in effect, cease to exist. That could be the result of a major accident or, sadly, of terrorist activity blowing up part of the stem. If that were to happen, the network would cease to function.

I accept that connections between east and west are a good idea, so that people coming from the north-east can get to the west midlands and, similarly, people coming from the north-west can get to the east midlands. That is a sound idea. However, the letter X has a lot more merit than Y—two connections into London stations, rather than a singular, monopoly connection into Euston. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) mentioned, facilitating a direct connection with High Speed 1 would then be possible, which would be another merit of the system.

On the shape, would my right hon. Friend agree that the difficulty with a Y-shaped link is the potential for downgrading the midland main line to little more than a commuter line? Such a case would significantly disadvantage people in the east midlands.

I accept my hon. Friend’s point. However, a new high speed link could have that effect on various parts of the existing system—which my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle mentioned—particularly if there were not the investment.

I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the proposals for Euston are not satisfactory, but are grotesquely in excess of what is necessary. The Government should at least give us the case for rejecting the Paddington idea, which I believe was considered. More fundamentally, they need to take a serious look at whether the concept of having the only connection to the high speed network coming into one station in London is sound, safe and secure. The Victorians were bad at some things, but they were good at building railways—although they always went broke afterwards.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing the debate, which is on an important subject. I agree with a great deal of what he said and, somewhat disturbingly, with quite a lot of what the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) said.

Quite a lot of the constituency that I represent—even more after the boundary changes, I hope—would be cut through by the proposed route for High Speed 2, so I have a direct interest in the subject. None the less, I support the principle of a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham for the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman. We will have capacity problems on our existing railway lines, whether the west coast main line or the Chiltern line, by 2026 when we hope the new line will be operational. I also agree with him that it is sensible, therefore, to plan for a railway line for the future, rather than one for the past, with a high speed railway line.

Support for the principle of a high speed rail line, however, must be conditional on certain things. First, having a line simply between London and Birmingham is not adequate—it must go further north than Birmingham, whether as a Y-shaped or an X-shaped structure. The new line must connect to Heathrow, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has already made clear, it would not be a choice of either central London or Heathrow but would include both. In the same way, current plans make no choice between Birmingham city centre and Birmingham international airport, but include both.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the High Speed 2 line must connect directly to the High Speed 1 line because—again as I think the right hon. Gentleman said—one of the primary arguments that I find persuasive in favour of a high speed rail link in principle is the opportunity for us to use that railway line instead of getting on a plane for a short-haul flight. It seems unlikely that we would succeed in persuading potential short-haul air passengers to use a high speed rail link instead unless they can travel directly from Manchester or Birmingham through London and the channel tunnel to Paris, Brussels or wherever their eventual destination might be. The link between the points at which High Speed 2 enters London and High Speed 1 leaves London would be crucial in persuading potential air passengers to use the train instead. For me, and for most Members of the House and indeed most of the Government, that is one of the best arguments for a high speed rail link. I note from the document and the Government’s Command Paper that they have asked High Speed 2 to look at the possibility of linking the two directly. I hope that the Government will go further than that or, if they will not, that the next Government will go further than that, and make it clear that the project does not stack up or give us all the benefits it ought to unless we make that direct link.

My second point is about the route. I am interested in the route laid out by the Government, for the reasons I set out at the beginning. The first question of my constituents, certainly those directly affected by the Government’s proposed route, is why on earth the high speed rail line cannot go along an existing transport corridor. It has already been said that there will be considerable damage done to open areas of the British countryside, through Buckinghamshire, through Oxfordshire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, and through Warwickshire—most importantly from my perspective. If such a case can be made, part of the case must be to explain clearly why the railway line cannot follow either a motorway corridor—for example, the M1, which would be the Milton Keynes link mentioned, or the M4 corridor—or follow an existing railway line such as the Chiltern line. A number of existing transport corridors could be followed predominantly. The advantages are obvious: we would not be cutting through virgin territory, as it were, but through areas already affected by a major transport link and, therefore, the environmental damage would be less.

The answer to why an existing corridor cannot be used may very well be that, from a technical perspective, we cannot get a straight enough railway line to carry trains at the required speed unless we build a brand-new railway line across a completely different part of the country. I am in favour of a separate set of tracks, for the reasons of future congestion given by the hon. Gentleman. However, we shall have to explain clearly to my constituents and others why we cannot use an existing transport corridor.

If the Minister’s answer is, “Ah, yes, but you cannot run a train at 250 mph along a very winding piece of track and, if you put it alongside an existing transport corridor, that’s what would happen,” the next question would have to be why 250 mph was the magic number. Exactly how do we work out what time savings are involved in a train going at 250 mph? However, I note from the Command Paper that a train travelling at 225 mph is far more likely, even though the capacity of the line is for 250 mph. If that is the argument, I hope that the Minister can assure me about the technical information required to match up the straightness of the line with the speed at which a train can travel along it, and whether time savings would be inadequate if the trains did not travel quite as fast.

I hope all that information can be made available to us, so that we can understand exactly what the argument is. Many of my constituents accept the logic of a high speed rail line in principle, but do not follow why we are cutting a scar through a great deal of virgin countryside to achieve it, as the hon. Member for Carlisle said. How do we persuade those people—I have to say that, at this stage, I am one of them—that although we might slightly reduce the speed by having a few more curves, we could not still gain a significant time saving, which I accept is important? If we cannot do that, we need to know why. I hope that the technical information to support the Government’s argument, if that is what it is, will be made available to us.

A further point is, again, about the existing route. I understand the Government’s argument that they have not produced four or five potential routes for fear of blighting half of southern England in the process. However, it seems that if only one proposed route is produced, it suggests to those who live along that route that although the Government might not quite be concrete in their choice of route, they will certainly take a lot of persuading to move away from it. I find that concerning. I want to be reassured that if that is the case, the route has been proposed as a result of the Government having done their homework properly.

Having read the document—the Command Paper—very carefully, it seems that there remains a bit of undone work here. We still do not know exactly where all the listed buildings are. I know that because several constituents have come to me with a map and have shown me where the listed buildings are, and they are certainly not appearing along the route in the Government’s documents. Conservation areas are also not comprehensively listed in the documents. It seems that we do not yet know where the oil and gas pipelines in the ground match up to where the proposed High Speed 2 route will go.

If there is more homework for the Government to do on the matter, is there not a danger that route 3 will be proposed and perhaps settled on, but we will discover later that it cannot be followed in its current form because of other factors that have not yet been considered? I want reassurances for my constituents that the consultation process allows for the possibility that the route can move substantially to follow a completely different corridor. If that is not possible and we can be persuaded that it is not possible, I want a reassurance that the route can move in various different ways throughout various parts of the country. Those different ways must be made clear, so that we know exactly why the Government have proposed the current part of the route to which we are referring.

In relation to changing the route, it might be useful to consider Stoneleigh. That is a good example because, as the Minister will know, Stoneleigh is specifically referred to in the Command Paper, as it is one of the places where the Government are not quite confident they have got the route right. That strikes fear into the hearts of my other constituents, because if the places they are concerned about are not mentioned specifically, the suggestion is that the Government are confident they have got the route right there. If we have not got all the information I referred to on the map and marked route already, how do I know that the Government have that part of the route clear in their own minds and can persuade us it is the right one? I also want reassurance that if we can make a decent argument for doing so, we can move the route so it goes the other side of the village or 100 yards this way or that way. I am assuming that that part of the argument will only be relevant if the Government can persuade us that their chosen route, rather than an existing transport corridor, is the right one.

I know that the Minister will accept there is a great deal of work yet to be done both by the Government and by my constituents to defend their interests in response to what the Government propose. We need absolute clarity from the start, first, that the Government have done their homework; secondly, if they have done so, that they are open to persuasion that they may have got it wrong and there might be a better route; thirdly, if there is no better route and this is the route that must be followed, we must be clear why they have chosen, for example, embankments not viaducts and cuttings not tunnels to reduce the environmental impact to the maximum effect.

Although I understand that there is a great deal more work to do and that more effort needs to be put in not just by the Government and High Speed 2, but by those who wish to change the route, it is important at this stage that we have absolute and clear undertakings from the Government that the route is capable of being moved if the arguments are powerful enough for that to happen. We also need confirmation that, within very short order, we will have all the technical information we require from the Government in order to mount a serious and sensible argument against the proposed route.

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing this important and timely debate, and on putting the case, as he has done on a number of occasions, for having services on the high speed line stop at and serve his constituency and surrounding areas. It is a powerful case, and he has again made it forcefully today.

Like other hon. Members, I very much welcome the Government’s announcement of the High Speed 2 proposal. The Minister will perhaps not be surprised to hear that I wish to make the case for the classic network, and wish to press him to give an assurance again today that the very welcome investment in High Speed 2 will not be at the expense of much-needed investment in the classic network. Again, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that there is a particular part of the classic network that I want to ensure is not neglected as a result of investment in High Speed 2; I refer to the completion of the electrification of the midland main line.

As the Minister knows, the midland main line is already electrified as far as Bedford, but it is not yet included in the firm proposals for further electrification—proposals that are very welcome, particularly those for the electrification of the Great Western. It would be most unfortunate if, as a result of waiting for investment in High Speed 2, we were to lose out on that much-needed investment, which will bring faster journey times and considerable economic benefit to the east midlands and beyond, up to Sheffield.

As the Minister will be aware, the cost-benefit analysis of the investment in the electrification of that line is very positive. We need electrification of that line to be completed, not least because the High Speed 2 proposals—the Y-shaped link to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) referred—include a link across the east midlands, with a single station in the east midlands. That station will probably not be capable of serving the whole area. Of course, as I suggested in my intervention, that could lead to the downgrading of parts of the midland main line, so that they provide little more than a commuter service, rather than the main line service currently provided. That would be most unfortunate, and would be to the considerable disadvantage of the cities of Derby, Nottingham and Leicester, which might have only one single high speed station serving them all. The midland main line would no longer provide the high-quality service that it does.

For that reason, it is vital that the electrification of the midland main line is completed in advance of any High Speed 2 construction, so that interoperability is ensured, where it is appropriate, between the new high speed trains and parts of the midland main line. That would ensure that the midland main line does not ultimately lose out. It is equally important that a commitment is made to the electrification of that line at an early date, because much of the existing rolling stock on the midland main line, and particularly the high speed trains, are coming to the end of their useful life. It would be most unfortunate if they were replaced by diesel rolling stock that was not suitable, or appropriately interoperable with the new high speed line. I hope that the Minister will give some reassurance, as he has done in the past, to people in the east midlands that we will not lose out in the short term as a result of the longer-term commitment to investment in High Speed 2.

Finally, I put on the record my concerns about the parliamentary process that High Speed 2 will need to go through if it is to be completed. The process is, of course, that of a hybrid Bill. I speak with some experience of hybrid Bills, having served my time—it felt like serving one’s time—as a member of the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill.

There was some speculation about what particular crime I and others on the Committee had committed. I want to put on the record that, before that procedure is used again for the High Speed 2 line, Parliament ought to consider whether it is not over-cumbersome for modern needs and whether it is, indeed, entirely fit for purpose. I put that on the record in the hope that others need not suffer quite as much as did those of us who were interred during that Bill’s progress.

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing the debate. Given that there now appears to be widespread support across the House for high speed rail, I will start with a few comments on its potential economic impact, and will explain the background and context of the debate.

The construction of high speed rail could create as many as 10,000 jobs over seven years, according to the High Speed 2 proposals. A study by KPMG published earlier this year showed that high speed rail could create between 25,000 and 42,000 extra jobs and boost the UK economy by 2 per cent. by 2040. The greatest economic gains and potential growth in jobs would be in Yorkshire and Humber, Scotland, the north-east, the north-west and the west midlands, a point that has already been made today. That is important. Along with the hon. Gentleman, I am among a minority of Members who have participated in the debate, in that I have regular direct experience of the west coast main line, as I use it to commute back and forth between my constituency and the House each week.

Also of great significance is the business support for high speed rail. A survey of 500 businesses of various sizes carried out in December 2008 showed that businesses believe that high speed rail would benefit them more than would a third runway at Heathrow. When asked specifically which development would help them more, almost four in 10 businesses chose high speed rail links, and fewer than one in 10 chose the third runway at Heathrow.

High speed rail will benefit the regions, which is important, not least because spending per head on transport is far lower in the north than it is in London. That is an established fact. According to the July 2009 report from the Transport Committee, both the north-east and Yorkshire receive 72 per cent. of the UK average of funding per head of population, whereas London receives 195 per cent. per head and Scotland, perhaps more surprisingly, receives 162 per cent. per head. There is a similar gulf in capital investment. In the five years to 2008, investment in rail rose by 35 per cent. in the north-east and 37 per cent. in Yorkshire, but in London it rose by more than 80 per cent. in the same period.

The environmental benefits are absolutely key to the debate. Transport, as most Members know, is responsible for 28 per cent. of all UK carbon emissions. Emissions from transport have increased since 1990, which is against the trend for other major sectors. Estimates show that in 1990, transport emitted 140.8 million tonnes of CO2, but by 2007 that had risen to 153.2 million tonnes, an increase of almost 9 per cent. In aviation alone, emissions have increased by 119 per cent. That should be contrasted with the 16 per cent. reduction from business and the 9 per cent. reduction from households. The message is clear—transport needs to catch up.

A passenger taking the Eurostar from London to Paris emits 10.9 kg of CO2, compared with 122 kg of CO2 if the passenger takes a flight. Similarly, a passenger travelling from London to Brussels by train emits 18.3 kg of CO2, compared with a massive 160 kg of CO2 if they take a flight. High Speed 2 has concluded that, even allowing for additional demand for travel, high speed rail’s carbon impact is likely to be broadly neutral, and the change in average annual emissions is estimated to be in the range of 0.41 million tonnes to 0.44 million tonnes, which is equivalent to just plus or minus 0.3 per cent. of current annual transport emissions.

There is also a great potential for modal shift, a point referred to earlier by other hon. Members. According to Eurostar, 34 million air journeys between the UK and the continent could be switched to rail using existing capacity. As we know, flights from Brussels to Paris have virtually been eliminated as a result of high speed rail links, and rail now holds 91 per cent. of the market share on journeys between Paris and Lyon. In future years, people at Manchester airport, which is on the doorstep of my constituency, will look back in wonderment at the notion that people used to fly regularly, and even daily in some cases, between Manchester and London, especially as such an effective rail service on the west coast main line is already available.

High speed rail will also free up space on the classic, established network. That, too, is important because rail travellers have increased by 50 per cent. in the past 26 years, and by 36 per cent. in the past decade. Those figures are impressive, but the figures for individual stations in our constituencies are often even more so. Rail passenger journeys at Gatley railway station in my constituency, which is a small commuter station but a key link to Manchester, have increased by 130 per cent. in the past 10 years, according to figures provided by the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority.

In 2008-09, 18.8 per cent. of trains on the east coast main line were late, as were 26.6 per cent. of all Virgin trains, so there is still much room for improvement in existing services. That is why it is good that high speed rail will free up space on the established network. That would also bring benefits for freight. That market has grown by 66 per cent. in the past decade, and there is increasing demand for space. Consequently, we currently have shortfalls on many routes, including an estimated shortage of around 150 trains a day between London and Crewe.

The trains that will be introduced with high speed rail will be capable of travelling at up to 250 mph. Journey times between London and Birmingham could be as short as 49 minutes, down from the current time of one hour and 24 minutes. The journey between London and Manchester could be one hour and 20 minutes, down from the current two hours and eight minutes. The journey from London to Edinburgh could be three and a half hours, down from four and a half hours. The proposed Y-shaped network would cover around 335 miles and, as we have heard, run up both coasts, but it would not include a link to Heathrow. High Speed 2 estimates that every £1 spent will deliver more than £2 of benefits, and that the overall cost will be around £30 billion.

Let me make it clear that the Liberal Democrats welcome the proposals and the proposed route. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) has accepted an invitation to look at the plans with the Minister and his team, and we are grateful that he will have the opportunity to do so. That does not mean, however, that we are absolutely committed to every single detail of the proposed route. It is right and proper that that is a matter for public consultation. As far as delays to the start of the scheme are concerned, Lord Adonis’s original statement indicated that construction would not begin until after the completion of Crossrail in 2017.

The hon. Gentleman said that he welcomes the route but that the Liberal Democrats are not committed to every aspect of it. Would he clarify whether that means that they have ruled out the prospect of an alternative transport corridor being used for High Speed 2?

No, it means precisely what I said. It is sensible to take the opportunity to look at the details of the route, and it is right that that should go out for public consultation, but what is proposed is not set in tablets of stone.

A detailed timetable from the Department for Transport referred to 2019 as the date by which construction could start. It would then take until 2026 for the line to be built to Birmingham, and a further six years, as we have heard, for the twin lines to reach Leeds and Manchester. That looks suspiciously like an excuse to delay spending, and is against a background of just 27 miles of new rail since 1997, excluding the channel tunnel, compared with more than 1,000 miles of new road since then.

I am not excluding the channel tunnel per se. If the hon. Gentleman will listen to the wider point, I am pointing out that, within the confines of the UK, only 27 miles of new railway have been built since 1997, compared with 1,000 miles of new road. Even if we were to include the channel tunnel, it would still be a poor comparison.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I share some concerns about stops on the proposed new routes. Stockport is an important stop on the established west coast main line, and I very much hope and intend that it should remain so. Frankly, it would not be acceptable if any future proposals to speed up journey times were to mean a reduction in the current number of stops at Stockport.

Finally, high speed rail should not come at the expense of other improvements to the rail network. Electrification is important—virtually the entire network needs to be completed by 2050. At present, only 39 per cent. is electrified, whereas in France, some 90 per cent. of passenger traffic travels on electrified lines.

We also want to look in more detail at the reopening of existing lines, particularly those that have already been identified: Bletchley to Oxford, Lewes to Uckfield, Galashiels to Carlisle and others. There are benefits to the established rail network, and we need those improvements as well. Ultimately, our proposition is simple: there is not a case for a third runway at Heathrow, but there is definitely a case for high speed rail, and the sooner, the better.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing this debate, which he said may be his last in Parliament. I have been an Opposition spokesman for about four and a half years, and I know that he has been a faithful follower of a number of transport debates, in particular those on rail. This is an important debate because, as several Members have said, it can set out a huge number of opportunities for our country in the following decades.

We have heard some powerful contributions today. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) raised issues about the extent of the consultation so far, in particular with his constituents and the whole of Oxfordshire. He discussed the exceptional hardship scheme, about which several Members have already seen the Minister and the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) got to the core of a matter on which there is some disagreement between our party and the Government: the publication of a route without some of the real issues being decided, and the commitment to a route in the febrile atmosphere of a general election. He made several good points about historic monuments, conservation areas, oil and gas pipes and so on. Those of us who have noted some of the information in the public domain about the potential costs of the station at Birmingham will be concerned about whether we might have done better to discuss some of the principles, corridors and specifics of the route outside the period of a general election.

The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) mentioned Paddington. His contribution was interesting, and he made the case for his constituents. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) made a point about the classic network. I wonder whether we ought to start calling it the standard, or the established network, on the basis that calling it the classic network implies that it might be something like a classic car. We all want the railways preserved, enhanced and continued, but I think that “classic” has a connotation in transport that we would do well to pull away from.

The high speed train is the 21st century version of Stephenson’s Rocket.

At my party’s conference in 2007, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) announced our policy of linking in airports. There is a regeneration argument. The Minister dismissed the comments about a direct link to Heathrow, but let me tell him what one of the experts, Greengauge 21, said in its report of 2009, “Fast Forward: A High-Speed Rail Strategy for Britain”, in which it discussed not only environmental but economic arguments. It said that

“fast direct links to the nation’s dominant international airport at Heathrow will help businesses located outside the south east to compete in world markets.”

The argument about taking both domestic and short-haul flights out of the air by connecting to Heathrow is overwhelming and powerful. The case for high speed rail stands: it is better for the economy, the environment and the travelling public.

I welcome the cross-party consensus on the principle, but it is absolutely clear that the specifics of the high speed proposals need to be judged on their merits. We have already made it clear that the Conservative party will reserve its position on the route that has been chosen. We will listen carefully to the points of view of those who are affected by it, but I do not believe that a report being published this close to a general election should close down the options for any incoming Government to reconsider both the remit and the route when elected. There are some good reasons for that. The remit that the Government set for High Speed 2 did not include clear plans beyond Birmingham, so much of the economic benefit of regeneration to the north has not been outlined in the report because it was never part of the remit at stage 1. There are some huge arguments about that.

On the failure to link Heathrow, we all accept that Old Oak Common will be a necessary stop because of the dispersal arguments, which the Minister raised. However, he failed to say that on the 20 and 25 per cent. dispersal, there are some real arguments. Without the connectivity to Heathrow, it is not the airport. Changing trains and getting to and from Old Oak Common are all issues that need considering. High speed rail also provides a huge alternative to short-haul flights. Being wedded to not allowing a remit to assess potential modal shift from air to rail by high speed rail will clearly frustrate and restrain the argument for a direct link to Heathrow. That is a huge flaw in the plans.

Many of the High Speed 2 proposals have merit, and I hope that the cross-party consensus on the principle of high speed rail will survive the general election, and that it can be built earlier. There will be a chance to go through the planning and legal phases by 2015 and I hope that the first sod can be cut two years earlier than the Government propose. I hope that high speed rail will be built in phases, and that the first phase—London-Birmingham-Manchester-Leeds—

The hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the official Opposition, has raised again the prospect of an earlier start. The Government were commended by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) for their inclusive and all-encompassing consultation approach. Does the hon. Gentleman seriously believe that the legal mechanisms and appropriate consultation could take place and that work could start by the earlier date that he suggests when much of the necessary expertise will be transferred from the Crossrail project, which does not finish until after that date?

I thank the Minister for his question. We have carefully examined and set out the plans that will be required, including extensive consultation and the need for a hybrid Bill. I believe that that could be done during the lifetime of a full Parliament.

I have a limited amount of time to respond to a range of excellent contributions from hon. Members. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing this debate, and I welcome all the points that have been made. It might be helpful if I first explain that the Government believe that high speed rail is the best way of enhancing our inter-urban transport networks. It is clear that over the next 20 to 30 years, key inter-urban routes linking our major cities will become increasingly congested.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) said that the original railways were built in just three years. The history of the railways shows that routes were often designed specifically to circumnavigate the opposition—usually landowners who had corporate interests in the canal system. The routes were dictated by political factors in the first instance, which is why we have inherited such a higgledy-piggledy network of railways from those Victorian entrepreneurs. We are the first Government to break that mould, to move away from that inheritance, and to start to deliver a new high speed network that links London with Birmingham, Manchester, the east midlands, Sheffield and Leeds. That could more than treble capacity on the congested west coast corridor, improve journey times between our major cities and, as many hon. Members have said, release capacity on existing lines for additional commuter services and freight.

In addition, linking the proposed core high speed rail network to the existing west coast and east coast main lines will make it possible to provide high speed services to other destinations, such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh—I might also add, Carlisle—from the outset. For example, the proposed network could reduce journey times from Glasgow to London to around 3.5 hours, creating significant scope for a modal shift from aviation to rail. It also has the potential radically to improve regional connectivity, drawing together the major conurbations of the midlands and the north.

My hon. Friend asked about the first generation of high speed trains that will have to be able to run on the classic network. I assure him that the speeds at which they run will be similar. They will not tilt, but the journey time savings on the London to Birmingham section will more than outweigh any restraint on speed on the network, which he has often made the case for upgrading.

My hon. Friend also asked about the future of Pendolinos. The subject will be up for discussion and further work. Some rolling stock and services will continue to operate on the classic network, but detailed planning of service patterns, rolling stock, timetables and distribution will take place later in the process.

On the benefits to the UK economy, the modelling carried out by HS2 suggests that a high speed line from London to Birmingham alone could provide benefits totalling some £29 billion, and up to £32 billion if wider economic benefits such as agglomeration effects are taken into account. The more extensive network in the Government’s proposed Y-shaped core would bring still more significant benefits. It would shrink journey times further, and enable the UK’s city economies to function more effectively together. At long last, we would start to tackle the problems inherent in our Victorian rail heritage.

My right hon. Friend referred to multiple connections to London, and that aspect of the consultation will start in the autumn, but there will be questions about the cost and provision of a second London station site. The Government have rejected that at this stage, on the advice of HS2 Ltd. We are confident that a single stem will provide sufficient capacity. Resilience issues are important, but they have been thoroughly considered. The Command Paper published on 11 March, as well as supporting an initial core high speed network going as far north as Manchester and Leeds, also supports two further elements of high speed rail policy.

The first is the through-running of high speed services to destinations further north. Through-running will be possible when the line to Birmingham has been constructed and when it has been extended to Manchester and Leeds. Journey time savings to Scotland, Newcastle and elsewhere will be dramatic, and I encourage hon. Members to inspect the helpful journey time schematics that are available in the Command Paper.

The second element in the Command Paper is extensions to the core network, which would run to Newcastle on the eastern branch and to Edinburgh and Glasgow on the western branch. Intermediate stations on those lines will continue to be discussed, and I note that my hon. Friend staked a claim today for a station there. That, and proposals for stations elsewhere, will receive careful attention.

Let me put it on record early in my response that the Government have no intention of allowing the existing rail network to wither on the vine. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) made a case for electrification of the midland main line, to which the Government are committed. We continue to examine the business case in the context of the existing rolling stock.

I am running out of time, but this is a national cause, which the Secretary of State has driven forward with his usual energy and passion. Much work remains to be done, and all interested parties have a chance to register their views. I am sure that they will do so through the consultation, whether on the extended hardship scheme or the route. High speed rail has the potential to rewrite the geography of our country, to conquer the north-south divide at last, and to ensure that all the UK’s regions are open to the opportunities of our globalised economy.