Wednesday 9 June 2010
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
High Speed Rail
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Angela Watkinson.)
May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Betts, and express my pleasure at having secured an Adjournment debate on such an important matter? Colleagues who were here before the election will know that this is not the first time I have spoken about high speed rail in Westminster Hall—indeed, it is not the first time I have secured a debate on the subject. High speed rail is a matter of particular importance to my constituency and my city, as it is to many other parts of the UK, which is why I am a long-standing campaigner for it.
As the years have gone by, the case for high speed rail in the UK has become stronger. In the past five years, the number of passengers travelling on the rail lines has risen by about 40% and freight has risen by 60%. Given the urgent need to tackle climate change by encouraging travellers to shift from air and road transport to rail, the case for investment in high speed rail becomes even stronger. The case for high speed rail relates not only to the new lines that it would create, but to the capacity that it would free up on existing lines.
I was greatly encouraged by the previous Government’s announcement in March of a new line from London to Birmingham as the first phase of a network that would lead to Manchester and Leeds, and thereafter to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Members will recall that that was based on a report by High Speed 2 Ltd, which the Government established a year earlier. It was envisaged that construction would start in 2017, following the completion of Crossrail, and that the network would be opened in phases from 2026. The estimated cost of taking the line as far as Manchester and Leeds was £30 billion.
We seem to have reached a considerable degree of political consensus on the development of high speed rail in Great Britain. That will obviously be necessary because of the long time scale over which any such network will be developed. It will take many decades to build a complete network, which will obviously involve many Governments and, no doubt, many political parties. I welcome the fact that, along with the commitment from my party, there now appears to be a general political consensus on the need to develop a high speed rail network in the UK.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and commend him for his support for high speed rail. Will he acknowledge that, even in the present circumstances, he and his constituents can travel from Edinburgh to London in about four hours, whereas the shortest journey time from Aberdeen to London, only a further 110 miles, is seven and a half hours? Does he therefore agree that a high speed rail link must also ensure that there are fast links to connect to any high speed network that is developed?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I do not want to intrude on matters that are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, but one of the important aspects of the debate on high speed rail is the need for discussions and co-operation between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, to ensure that the network will benefit not only the cities that it serves directly, but places further along the line, even if those places are not part of the network from the start. I will return to that point later. In due course the network should extend to not only the UK’s largest cities, but most major cities. I am sure that Aberdeen would qualify as such.
Edinburgh is terribly important, but so are the English regions. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a real risk, rumours of which the previous trains Minister did nothing to dispel, that money will be leached from regional and provincial rail networks to fund high speed rail? High speed rail should be welcomed, of course, but we must also remember the needs of many of our constituents who depend on lesser rail networks.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I certainly did not hear those rumours, but his colleague the Minister will no doubt reassure him that she will be able to combine her commitment to high speed rail with the interests of his constituents.
I welcomed the fact that the Conservatives declared in their manifesto that
“a new government will begin work immediately to create a high speed rail line connecting London and Heathrow with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. This is the first step towards achieving our vision of creating a national high speed rail network to join up major cities across England, Scotland and Wales. Stage two will deliver two new lines bringing the North East, Scotland and Wales into the high speed rail network.”
That was an unqualified commitment to start work immediately, not just as soon as possible. I welcome the Minister to the debate and congratulate her on her appointment. I know of her commitment to high speed rail. Indeed, so unqualified was her manifesto’s promise that I am almost surprised to see her here today, as she might have been out on the building sites with a hard hat and a bulldozer, starting work on the line immediately.
The Liberal Democrats were, somewhat out of character, a little more cautious about their spending commitments on this issue. Nevertheless, they vowed to set up
“a UK Infrastructure Bank to invest in public transport like high speed rail.”
In the coalition agreement, the two parties stated:
“We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy. Our vision is of a truly national high speed rail network for the whole of Britain.”
However, the agreement then stated:
“Given financial constraints, we will have to achieve this in phases.”
The prospect of work beginning on high speed rail is not so immediate now, it would appear. By the time of the Queen’s Speech, we were promised a hybrid Bill in due course.
To be blunt, one of my purposes in securing this debate was to test the strength of the coalition Government’s commitment to high speed rail. I have no doubts about the Minister’s commitment, but we need to know whether the coalition agreement means what it says. Did the coalition parties mean what they said in their pre-election manifestos, or was it just pre-election bluster? Will they really push it with the determination and leadership needed, or will they find excuses to delay it until some long-distant date? If the Minister gives the type of commitment that she gave before the election, she will certainly have support across the House for the development of proposals to introduce such a scheme, although the details may of course lead to debate.
I therefore have several questions for the Minister, which I hope she will be able to answer today. There are quite a few, but there are none that she should be surprised to be asked, so I hope that she will have answers today or at least some time soon. When do the new Government envisage bringing forward the necessary legislation for High Speed 2? I am not suggesting that the Minister should give an exact date, but a hybrid Bill could take years to go through Parliament so we need some idea of how it will fit into the Government’s programme. Does she agree with the previous Government’s assessment, as set out in their document on High Speed 2, produced earlier this year, that
“formal public consultation on the Government’s proposals for high speed rail in the light of HS2 Ltd’s recommended route for such a line should begin in the autumn”?
Does the Minister agree that HS2 Ltd should now begin similar detailed planning work on the routes from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, to be completed by summer 2011 with a view to consulting the public early in 2012? What steps do the Government intend to take to establish a company or other mechanism to deliver the project? What is their target date, in broad terms, for work to start on a new line?
Are the Government still committed to a high speed network that will serve the whole UK, including Edinburgh and Glasgow? I certainly hope that they are. If they are committed to that, do they have any views on the route that such a line should take, and when do they envisage that the line will reach Edinburgh and Glasgow? It will be unacceptable if there is not a commitment from the start that the line will reach Scotland, because high speed rail will bring real economic benefits to the cities and regions along the route, and those cities that are either not directly linked or that have indirect links with the network would certainly lose out.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He suggested the need for a commitment that the high speed network would run to Edinburgh, but I do not recall ever hearing that commitment from the previous Labour Administration before the general election.
The previous Government made it clear from the outset that high speed train services would reach Edinburgh and Glasgow in due course. As the hon. Gentleman should know, I have been pushing for high speed rail for some time. I pushed the previous Government, and I intend to push this Government as hard as I pushed the previous one. If he wants high speed rail to go to places north of Manchester, I hope that he will put the same kind of pressure on his Government as I used to put on mine. I believe that we all want high speed rail to serve the nations and regions of the UK, so let us try to keep up the consensus and the pressure.
As I said, there are real economic benefits for all the communities and cities along the route of a high speed line. Research shows that cutting the journey time between Birmingham and London from 84 to 49 minutes would increase Birmingham’s annual economic output by £1.4 billion, or about 6%. The economic benefits of high speed rail would be more than £10 billion a year for the north-west and about £19 billion for Scotland. In total, 64,000 additional jobs would be created as a consequence.
There is an overwhelming case for extending the line to Scotland, to increase the number of business and tourist passengers travelling not just to and from London, but from the north of England to Scotland. Prosperity would spread much more than if the line were restricted to the south and south-east of England, and the UK as a whole would benefit as a result.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important subject. He will know that my predecessor John Barrett also worked tirelessly on this matter, and I intend to continue his support for it in this Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the greatest argument for extending the high speed rail line is an environmental one? For example, if we manage to drive London to Edinburgh journey times down to two hours 40 minutes, which is eminently possible, there would be a similar switch from air to rail, as happened when the Madrid to Barcelona line opened. That resulted in a 50% reduction in the number of flights between the two cities. If the same happened with Edinburgh and London, there would be 700,000 fewer air journeys between them.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. Indeed, there has been increased use of the Manchester to London service as a result of the upgrade to the west coast main line, and we have seen the same with the London to Paris and Brussels services as well.
The point that the hon. Gentleman made about the benefits from reducing journey times particularly applies in respect of cities that are further away from London. The greatest journey time reductions will allow the greatest benefits in environmental and economic terms—and, indeed, in terms of convenience to passengers. That is why I hope that the Government will give a definite commitment to extend high speed rail to the north of England and to Scotland.
As the hon. Gentleman said, environmental benefits will be particularly important. Transport currently accounts for more than 20% of UK carbon emissions, so high speed rail has a role to play in that respect as well. Reducing journey times from London to Edinburgh to just over two hours could result in 80% of the current travel market between Scotland and London being captured by high speed rail. Even at three hours, with a partial high speed rail network, 67% of the travel between Scotland and London could be captured by high speed rail, so there are certainly environmental and transport benefits as well as economic ones.
In that respect, I have two other questions that I hope the Minister will address today or at another time. First, what is the Government’s view on whether the line should run to Heathrow or a connector station at Heathrow, or simply offer a connecting service, as the previous Government advocated? I am aware that there were criticisms of that decision, and I believe that she shared them. Certainly she made such criticisms before she was a Minister, so I would be interested to hear her current view on whether the line should serve Heathrow directly.
I would also like to hear the Minister’s views on whether there should be a link from a new high speed line north of London to the existing line from London to the south-east, France, Belgium and beyond. If there were no link—I hope there will be one—passengers from Scotland and the north would be less likely to use the high speed rail line for journeys to the continent, and travellers from the continent would be less likely to use it to travel north. Clearly, if there were no direct link, there would be less use of those services as well.
I hope that today the Minister can give some indication of how the Government will take the plans forward, and to answer the questions in their entirety, or at least to a great extent. I would like to hear a reiteration of the commitments that were given before the general election. I hope that today we will not hear from the Government any excuses that, because of the financial situation they claim to have inherited—we had all those excuses yesterday in the debate on the Queen’s Speech—they cannot make any further commitment to high speed rail at this stage.
I hope that we will not get that line later this morning. It would be unacceptable for several reasons. First, it should hardly surprise the Government parties that a high speed line would require major expense. If they did not realise that, they should not have made such sweeping promises in their manifestos. Secondly, the spending on high speed rail would, of course, be some time in the future. There will be many years of preparation involving planning, legal and parliamentary approval and so on. We are talking about commitments that will last for 10, 20 or 30 years, and I do not believe that anyone—not even those in the Government parties who make the most pessimistic forecasts—would suggest that the current economic circumstances will last for 10, 20 or 30 years.
Thirdly, the commitments, although large in their totality, are not actually as substantial as many other Government commitments. The cost of a line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds is estimated at £30 billion spread over 10 years. Compared with many other Government commitments, that is not as expensive as might be thought at first. And, of course, there are the wider economic benefits that I have already set out and the fact that the costs of high speed rail do not all have to come from public subsidy. Some of the public subsidy would be recouped from commercial income from passenger and goods traffic if the traffic projections and estimates are reflected in reality.
On the extension to Scotland, there are issues around the role in linking up services and the financial commitment from the Scottish Government as part of the devolution arrangements. I would be interested in hearing from the Minister about what discussions the coalition and her Department are having with the Scottish Government on how high speed rail could be funded in Scotland, and on how it would link up with existing rail services in Scotland.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply. The economic, transport and environmental benefits of a working high speed system are well known, but the gap between transport investment in the south-east and London and that in the rest of the country has been growing. It is not just that there is a gap but that it has been growing. Does he think that there is a case for starting to invest in the system not in London but much farther north, and then building south, rather than building north from the south?
My hon. Friend makes a good case and raises valid points. He is right to point out that there has been a concentration of transport investment in the south-east of England. The Scottish Government have a role to play in developing services beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow, but, bluntly, it would be wrong for Scotland to pay for the bit from the border northward because, after all, it is part of the same UK-wide service. The same would apply to Manchester and the regions of England as well.
In this debate, I have avoided getting too involved in the exact details of routes, apart from the important exception of Heathrow, and exactly when and where they will start, because the case for high speed rail as a whole is in danger of being undermined by discussion of some of the detail. However, I accept my hon. Friend’s fundamental point: there is no reason why work should start from London and move northward, or why it cannot start from some other city at the same time. Clearly, phasing would allow benefits to be brought to other places en route, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that in due course.
The method of securing funding for a new line also has a bearing on another important issue in this debate, which is the environmental case to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) referred. By itself, high speed rail does not guarantee substantial carbon reductions. Certain arguments and research make that clear. Carbon reductions depend partly on the energy source providing the electricity, how the route is to be constructed and, to a great extent, on the degree to which there is a modal shift from air and road to rail as a result of high speed rail services being developed.
A modal shift can be encouraged by shifting expenditure from new roads to high speed rail, which I support, and by using transport taxation to encourage that shift and raise the funds for public investment in high speed rail. The Liberal Democrat wing of the coalition suggested in its election manifesto that it would raise an extra £9 billion a year from airline and passenger taxation, and if that is taken forward in the agreement between the coalition parties it could provide substantial funds for high speed rail. I am interested in hearing the Minister, or any Liberal Democrat colleagues, respond to that point.
I am sure that the Minister is not surprised that I have asked a lot of questions. I hope that she will respond as far as she can. I pay tribute to her commitment to high speed rail before the election. Like all Ministers, she will no doubt have battles to fight in her Department and beyond to keep high speed rail firmly at the top of the Government’s agenda, and I am sure that she expects me and other colleagues to pursue these matters vigorously if she does not. I hope that she gives us good news today—reaffirms the Government’s commitment to high speed rail and tells right hon. and hon. Members how she will bring it about.
It is good to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Transport, who will respond to the debate. I hope that she will forgive me, and that hon. and right hon. Members will do so too, if I am unable to stay for the winding-up speeches. I am standing for the chairmanship of an all-party group, the annual general meeting of which is being convened this morning at a time to suit colleagues in another place.
The comments made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) demonstrate and reinforce a point about high speed rail that Lord Adonis made to me before the general election, which was that everyone wants the stations but no one wants the track. We will all have to manage that in bringing about a commitment made by both Government parties in their manifestos at the general election and in the coalition agreement, which is in the Queen’s Speech and is expected to be delivered.
I shall not repeat any of the sensible questions asked by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to answer. I wish to ask three specific questions on various points.
First, may I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that it would help if, at some point in the near future, she wrote a “Dear colleague” letter to every colleague in the House, setting out in straightforward terms the legislative process and the timetable that the Government intend to pursue, so that we can share them with our constituents? It is a pity that the previous Government brought the project forward just before the general election. We all understand why: the previous Prime Minister wanted to make what he thought was a decent press announcement—he went to Birmingham to make it—but that meant that the process got rather confused. It would help if hon. and right hon. Members were able to share the relevant information with our constituents.
Secondly, on speed, Eurostar goes at 300 kph—186 mph —and those of us who have been on it know that that is pretty fast. High Speed 2 is due to go at 400 kph, which is 250 mph and considerably faster than Eurostar. More straight track is needed for a very fast train, which means less opportunity for mitigation or variation of the route to accommodate settlements, towns or important topographical features. I hope that, at some stage, there will be an opportunity to have an informed debate about what are the cost-benefits of a very fast train as opposed to a fast train, and what is the real benefit of 250 mph over 186 mph, so that we can consider the options between them.
Thirdly, on community engagement, my right hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), Mr Speaker, whose constituency adjoins our constituencies, and I will be working together with our local communities, which are concerned about the possible impact of the route on them. The route runs close to the sizeable town of Brackley in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire. Will the Government consider complete alternatives to the routes in the consultation, to what extent are they willing to consider mitigation or variation of the existing route, how will they engage with the communities and how can that debate be informed?
It is important to put on the record what the Campaign to Protect Rural England has made clear:
“We welcome the vision of HS2 as a low carbon backbone of a sustainable transport system. By removing fast trains from the overcrowded lines north of London, space will be created for local passenger and freight services too.”
Even campaigning groups such as the CPRE recognise that there are considerable benefits to be had from HS2. However, such organisations have long experience in engaging with Government on issues of this kind. It would help if Ministers said how they intend to engage with our constituents and communities on the impact of the track on individual communities and constituencies.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport proposes to walk the route later in the summer, which seems sensible. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister give an undertaking that, when that happens, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will engage with colleagues so that we can ensure that, in respect of each constituency or groups of constituencies, there can be positive, constructive engagement between him and local communities on comments people have to make about mitigation or variation of the route?
I would like to emphasise a point made forcefully by the CPRE. It is evident that people are keen on the stations, because those will make linkage between parts of the United Kingdom much quicker and obviate the need for a third runway at Heathrow. There are all sorts of self-evident benefits. However, the benefits are not so self-evident for those who have the track going through their parishes or back gardens.
The benefit to people of a motorway going through their county or area is that it is part of the local infrastructure, and they can join and leave it. There will not be a station between London and Birmingham, so those living in that area will have limited direct benefit from HS2. However, there may be other ways in which communities can be compensated so that damage might be mitigated—for example, undergrounding existing electricity transmission lines on the HS2 route, creating new local rail services and reducing noise from existing roads.
The CPRE suggests:
“Some of the spare capacity freed up on rail lines could be used to create new cross-country passenger services”,
such as a High Wycombe-Aylesbury-Northampton route. It is important that when my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State engage with local communities on the route of HS2 across England they consider the benefits that the initiative and project may have for local communities, so that we see not just clear mitigation, but a clear and immediate local benefit, rather than just a contribution to an initiative for the betterment of the country as a whole.
If we engage constructively and sensibly in dialogue during the coming months and if we all have a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve, that will assist the Government and substantially reduce the risk of numerous judicial reviews. As my right hon. Friend knows, nothing is more frustrating when timing a Government project than various parties feeling frustrated by the process and that they need to go to judicial review.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post and hope that, following our questioning today, she will write to us all in the not-too-distant future with a clear explanation that we can share with our constituents, who are, understandably, worried about the process.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on obtaining this timely debate on an undoubtedly important issue. Those of us who use the midland main line—I know that you do, Mr Betts—are well aware of the enormous success of High Speed 1, not least because when we arrive at St Pancras we must fight our way through the crowds disgorged from trains from Paris and Brussels.
The prospect of another high-speed line in the United Kingdom is exciting, and I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that prospect and the fact that the new Government have picked up the previous Government’s commitment to construct such a line. However, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, it will have an environmental price, and he was right to remind us that there will be a trade-off between speed and the environmental damage that that might cause. I urge the Government to examine that trade-off carefully, and to consider whether there are prospects for using existing transport corridors to achieve the same results at a lower environmental cost.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith referred to the difference between this Government’s proposals and those of the previous one for the service to Heathrow. There are serious doubts about whether it is sensible to use Heathrow as a terminus for the high-speed line instead of somewhere that is well served with a link to the high-speed line. It is unlikely that someone travelling from London to Birmingham or Manchester would want their journey to be diverted via Heathrow. That would not make much sense to them. The benefits of serving Heathrow may be achieved in another way by ensuring an adequate link to the airport instead of diverting the line.
I want to take this opportunity, when welcoming the Government’s commitment to high-speed rail, to press them for an assurance that construction of such a line in phases at some time in the future—who knows when it will be constructed?—should not be at the expense of continuing investment in the existing classic or conventional network. Parts of that network are undoubtedly under desperate strain and people who travel on it—often those who commute daily—must stand for much of their journey. Much could be done to relieve their suffering with continued investment in rolling stock, on which the previous Government had made a commitment, and in longer platforms and a generally better service.
My hon. Friend is going to the nub of the debate on future investment in the rail service. Given the time required for the development of high-speed rail, I do not believe that it is a threat to regional services. Does he agree that the real choice before the Government and the country is whether to continue with Crossrail or with regional services, and that we simply cannot afford Crossrail at the moment?
Having served for some 18 months on the Select Committee that considered the Crossrail Bill, I have a personal commitment to its completion. My hon. Friend argued earlier that investment in rail has been skewed towards London and the south-east at the expense of other parts of the country, but that is not an argument for ditching what is an important part of the transport infrastructure in our capital city.
There is concern that high-speed rail may be seen as a panacea. It should not be built at the expense of the investment that the Association of Train Operating Companies argued for to open lines that are unused or used for goods, and the opportunities that would be generated thereby for reconnecting to the rail network communities that are currently unconnected. Above all, it should not be used as a pretext for not continuing the investment in electrification of the main line network.
Like you, Mr Betts, I am keen that electrification of the midland main line should be completed as soon as possible. It is already electrified as far as Bedford, and completion of electrification through to my city of Leicester and to Derby, Nottingham and your city of Sheffield, Mr Betts, will provide considerable positive cost benefits to rail users, and to the economies of the east midlands and your area of south Yorkshire, with a boost to the economy and general environment of those areas. I am worried that even if the second high-speed link is ultimately achieved and goes to somewhere in the east midlands, it will be of little benefit to those who are currently served by the midland main line if electrification of that line has not taken place and there is no link to St Pancras International and High Speed 1.
I doubt whether anyone would oppose investment in further high-speed rail in the UK. There are doubts about whether its fares will be affordable and attract a significant proportion of air passengers who would otherwise pass through Heathrow. My real concern is that it should not draw funding that would otherwise go to the conventional network. It must not lead to postponement of electrification of the existing mainline network, it must not leave rail commuters standing in unacceptable conditions on their daily commute to work, it must not leave unconnected communities that could be connected to the network, and it must not leave passengers and the environment with the prospect of old and smelly diesel traction for many years to come when relatively environmentally friendly electrification is a real possibility.
In brief, users of the existing network are unlikely to be impressed by half-promises of high-speed rail in phases, perhaps a decade and a half away, while they continue to struggle to use an existing network that is overstretched, overused and in desperate need of continued investment.
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on an informative speech, particularly about the benefits of high-speed rail. I shall look up some of his statistics in Hansard for my own use. My constituency is in the west midlands and includes Birmingham International airport and the national exhibition centre. I shall take account of the comments made this morning, but I shall confine my remarks to the first phase of High Speed 2, for which I am a strong advocate.
Passenger numbers have risen by 40%, and freight has increased by 60% over the last five years. Clearly, there is a big appetite in this country for high-speed rail and the benefits that it can bring, which were so ably outlined by the hon. Gentleman. We need a dedicated high-speed rail line that is independent of the creaking Victorian network, although that network has served us well in the past and continues to do so. I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that any improvements or new rail services must not be made at the expense of the existing network. We must ensure that the service improves for those who currently use our creaking commuter network, which should not be neglected in favour of high-speed rail.
We have the prospect of being able to travel from Euston to Curzon Street in Birmingham in 49 minutes. According to my figures, the train speed is 225 mph, although the hon. Member for Banbury mentioned 250 mph; either way, it is fast. We hope there will be a Crossrail interchange at Old Oak Common and we support the idea that Crossrail must go ahead; it is hugely important. Funding for Crossrail and High Speed 2 can be imaginatively secured, with a large proportion of investment coming from private industry or from some form of national infrastructure bank, as recommended by the Liberal Democrats before the general election. I am sure that it can be done and that the benefits can be proved.
We expect this phase of HS2 to start in 2017, and to have passengers on the trains in 2026. That is a long time, and I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who intervened earlier to ask where we should start. If we can get the funding, perhaps we should start at both ends of the line so that it does not take such a long time to complete the network. I am sure the Government will look at that.
It is not all good news. There are many planning considerations and much of the investment in the first phase of HS2 will go on existing railway lines such as the Chiltern line, which will track the A413. I have a particular concern for parts of the Warwickshire countryside in the west midlands. People must be consulted properly, which, for me, means that there is no foregone conclusion—otherwise, it is not a consultation. There must be proper compensation for anyone who suffers as a result of these plans. When a second runway at Birmingham International airport was proposed, a terrible blight was created which in some cases still hangs over residents in the local area. It is important to avoid that blight, as it puts people’s lives on hold and creates more misery than is necessary. On the bright side, according to research by the Department for Transport, which I read this morning, every reduction of one minute to a commuter journey adds £1,000 to the value of a house in the relevant area. Somebody will benefit, although I am not sure who that will be in the west midlands.
The justification for HS2 must be that it is part of a wider strategy. Like the previous Government, this Government are committed to a strong carbon reduction programme. We must show that we will shift people away from the roads and the air and on to rail. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith mentioned the Liberal Democrat plans, and part of the coalition agreement was that we will move from passenger charges on planes to a charge per plane. That will help in the reduction of carbon.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s kind comments about my opening speech. I am aware of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative policy of moving away from individual taxation. However, I think that the Liberal Democrat manifesto also suggested a potential increase in duty, which I welcome. Is that part of the coalition policy?
I am afraid that it is above my pay grade to comment further on that. The coalition Government will be working on this issue, and the Minister may wish to refer to it in her remarks.
Increasing people’s ability to travel is a bit like Boyle’s law—demand expands in relation to the existing capacity. We have seen that with the motorway network. Every time new roads are built or a motorway is enlarged, traffic increases more than would be expected under normal predictions. We must be careful about that. During the three weeks the Minister has spent in her job, I do not know whether she has given any thought to how we can make it easier for people to travel less. That must obviously be an aspiration.
I will conclude by considering some of the economic benefits that HS2 would bring to the west midlands. In terms of employment, we have probably been the hardest hit of any region. We have a strong manufacturing base, but that has also been hit hard by the recession. On behalf of people in the west midlands, I am looking forward hugely to the airport link. The extension of the single runway at Birmingham International airport will mean huge inward investment, and along with the high-speed rail link to London and the north, that will make the west midlands a central economic hub, which I welcome.
The national exhibition centre will benefit hugely from the fact that High Speed 2 will stop there before moving on to Curzon Street in Birmingham. It is important to get on with this scheme. I am sure that we can use our imagination and ability so as not to damage the existing rail network, which we must work on and improve. High Speed 2 is a wonderful thing, but it is not everything. We must look at the whole picture and ensure that the experience of the rail traveller—whether on High Speed 2 or on local railways—is a good one.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing this debate on the important subject of high speed rail. It is an issue that affects both his constituents and mine due to likelihood that under the current proposals, it will have no impact on them whatever. Historically, UK Governments have failed Wales on rail, and the refusal to provide a timetable for the development of a high speed rail link has put us on the backburner once again.
The last UK Government agreed to electrify the Great Western line to Swansea because of the hard work of the Transport Minister in the Welsh Government. When the previous UK Government announced the scheme, it was supposed to go only as far as Bristol, and only after the intervention of the Welsh Government did they agree to electrify the line as far as Swansea. I understand that the Conservatives have always been coy about sticking to that agreement. Will the new UK Government confirm that that electrification will take place?
Will the Government also confirm that the electrification will go further in Wales, as part of their commitment to support further electrification of the rail network? That would include, for example, the north Wales coast line, the valleys lines and the Severn tunnel diversionary line, as recommended by Railfuture Wales. In Europe, Wales is alongside Albania and Moldova in not having more than a mile of electrified rail track. What more proof do we need that the UK Government are leaving us behind?
More than just electrification of the railway lines, we need a concrete timetable for high speed rail in Wales. The proposal for a Wales high speed rail connection was first put forward by First Great Western in 2005, as part of the package of suggestions that it was making for improved rail services, linked to its bid for the new Great Western franchise. However, we are no closer to having such a connection now than we were then.
The former shadow Secretary of State for Transport, who is now the Minister of State, said only in March:
“Our plans to take high speed rail to the North will boost jobs and investment right across the country and bring particularly strong benefits to the regions. We believe it is essential that the North is not short changed and left out of high speed rail and the major regeneration opportunities it will generate.”
Naturally, I agree with every word about the benefits that high speed rail will bring to those regions, but it cannot be right that Wales does not share in those benefits. At the moment, high speed rail is an England-only project that will be funded from UK money. That cannot be right.
A genuine High Speed 2 network needs to include Scotland and Wales and connect with the south-east of England and the continent, bringing us closer to major international markets and them closer to us, giving us major business opportunities and helping to tackle climate change by reducing short-haul air travel. Otherwise, the UK Government should just admit that high speed rail is really for England only and give us a Barnett consequential, so that we can get on with the job of developing our own network in Wales.
The hon. Gentleman is painting a strong picture of how we need a countrywide network, including Wales and Scotland. Is he aware of the High Speed North proposal by the Harrogate-based engineer, Colin Elliff? That is a real vision for a nationwide network—something that the previous Government did not properly consider. I hope that the new Government will properly consider it.
I was not aware of those proposals, but I imagine that the UK Government should be examining them closely, because the key point is that if we are to go for a high speed rail network based on a UK Treasury spend, the benefits should apply to all the nations and regions of the state.
We would like a timetable and costings to be developed for a high speed rail link between south Wales and London, preferably as part of the current scheme but even as part of High Speed 3. Perhaps as a matter of good faith, the work on that could begin at the south Wales end. That would certainly be the far cheaper part of the development. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing this crucial debate on high speed rail. He spoke with real authority on behalf of many businesses and rail passengers in his constituency, and throughout the UK, who recognise the transformative effects that investment in high speed rail will bring: a stronger economy with the creation of new jobs in the construction and maintenance of the new high speed lines; a modern transport infrastructure to match those in the rest of Europe; improved business links between London and the other major cities in the UK; and increased tourism and environmental benefits, with many more journeys being made by rail than by short-haul aviation.
Let me also praise the contributions of the other hon. Members who participated in the debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Sir Peter Soulsby) and the hon. Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who spoke eloquently about the need for consultation. There was a passionate contribution from the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) on the need for a UK perspective on high speed rail and its extension to Wales.
This is a project of genuine national importance, and our task in the coming years will be to work across this Chamber to ensure that High Speed 2 is completed on schedule. The aim of Opposition Members is to fulfil the vision in the Command Paper published this spring—to start with construction of the high speed line between Euston and Birmingham and then to extend it to Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith said, we see great advantages in expanding the high speed rail network to Edinburgh and Glasgow in due course, subject to consultations with the Scottish Government, as it would involve significant capital expenditure from that source.
In my first appearance as Opposition transport spokesman, I welcome the Minister of State to her position in the Department for Transport. I look forward to our discussions here and in the main Chamber over the coming months. They may be robust at times, but they will never be intemperate. In opposition, she demonstrated a keen commitment to the principle of high speed rail and if that continues in government, she will have our support in the negotiations that she undertakes with the Treasury to secure the financing to make High Speed 2 a reality, on time and on target.
I have had an opportunity to consider “The Spending Review framework” published yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I note that all Departments will be asked to assess and justify their spending priorities against nine criteria, which include the promotion of economic value. In the Opposition’s view, even when those criteria are applied, HS2 is a project of national economic necessity, which must escape the Chancellor’s programme for fiscal consolidation.
I place on the record our appreciation for the work done by former Ministers Paul Clark and Chris Mole, who, sadly from our perspective, were not returned to the House to represent the constituencies of Gillingham and Rainham and of Ipswich respectively. We wish them well for the future. The shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), will hold the Government to account on their transport pledges in the coalition agreement and continue to advocate the causes that he advanced while in government.
I also pay tribute to my noble Friend Lord Adonis, who was one of the most visionary Secretaries of State for Transport that Britain has had in the past 60 years, with a powerful commitment to the role of a revived railway network in boosting economic growth, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, through his strategic support for HS2, building the modern transport infrastructure that a decent, just society requires.
In the Command Paper published in March by the previous Government, we sought to avoid some of the problems in the consultation process for the first domestic high speed link, from central London to Ashford, by consulting on a single preferred route between Euston and Birmingham, rather than the choice of five routes in the first high speed rail consultation process. No route in a project of this significance will be without controversy, which is why there must be adequate consultation of the affected communities, together with consultation on the exceptional hardship scheme for those whose properties may be affected by proximity to the preferred route. We note that the Government have slightly extended the period for consultation on the hardship scheme until 17 June and have introduced a shadow scheme for immediate introduction. We would support both those measures.
There has been strong support from rail passengers, business and local government in the cities covered by the proposed new high speed rail network, because they recognise the real benefits that high speed rail will bring to their cities. For example, journey times from London to Birmingham will come down to 49 minutes, and those from Leeds to Canary Wharf will come down to 90 minutes. Even with regard to the first part of the network, my constituents in Glasgow would immediately benefit, with a reduction in the journey time from Glasgow to Euston to about 3 hours 30 minutes. That makes high speed rail genuinely competitive for business, passengers and tourists compared with short-haul flights from Scotland to London airports.
Some 10,000 jobs will be created in the construction of the high speed line, with a further 2,000 permanent jobs created in line maintenance and operation. There are great environmental benefits, given that high speed rail emits between eight and 11 times less carbon dioxide than air travel. There will be an increase in the freight capacity available by rail. There will be a boost to the west midlands economy to the tune of £5.3 billion a year, and to the north-west economy of £10.6 billion a year. If extension of the network to Scotland proceeds, there will be a benefit of nearly £20 billion to the economy there. As the work of HS2 Ltd made clear, every £1 spent on high speed rail yields £2 in economic benefit to the nation.
I would appreciate it if the Minister of State clarified several points. Will she confirm the Government’s priorities and intentions on the route set out in the previous Government’s Command Paper? Will Ministers commence the consultation on that route, which the previous Government planned to start in October? Are the Government committed to the Y-shaped network that HS2 Ltd proposed in the Command Paper or is that being abandoned for an alternative structure?
Will the Minister outline the time scale that the Government envisage for the commencement of the construction of the first part of the network? My party’s plans were predicated on connectivity with Crossrail and Heathrow Express, with an interchange station at Old Oak Common and fast links to Heathrow airport, Canary Wharf and beyond. The proposed connectivity between Crossrail and HS2 meant that we wanted to complete the construction of Crossrail by 2015 and to commence the construction of the London to Birmingham high speed line in 2017. Do the Government agree about the need to link Crossrail with High Speed 2? Are their plans based on the completion of Crossrail in 2015?
In opposition, the Minister was committed to plans for a high speed rail hub at Heathrow airport. Are those the Government’s plans now? Does the Minister propose to alter the terms of reference or the time scale of Lord Mawhinney’s review into the practicality of a high speed rail station at Heathrow airport?
Can the Minister give a pledge that none of the cities that the previous Government proposed to link through the new high speed network will be left behind or left out? Specifically, does she agree in principle that we need a network that serves the major northern English cities? Does she plan to begin talks with the Scottish Government over possible network extension to Scotland in due course?
Has the Minister’s Department begun work on preparing the hybrid Bill that would need to be presented to Parliament to make the new network a reality in this Parliament? Will she give a pledge today that the Government will commit to the long-term investment required to make the project a success?
The high speed rail project is of genuine national significance, and the Opposition will not play petty or partisan politics with it. I hope that we will be able to work across the House to secure a rail link worthy of a great country entering the 21st century.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Betts. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing a debate on this important topic. For many of the reasons that he so articulately set out in opening the debate, the issue is significant for the future of our transport system, our economy and our environment,
I can assure hon. Members that high speed rail plays a core role in the new Government’s vision for the future of travel in the United Kingdom. I am therefore grateful for the strong support that has been displayed across the parties in the debate, and particularly by the new shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). That support has been reflected in many speeches this morning, and I welcome the contributions from not only the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, but from the hon. Member for Leicester South (Sir Peter Soulsby), my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and the hon. Members for Solihull (Lorely Burt) and for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). I shall address a number of the issues that they raised. As well as supporting high speed rail, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury reflected on some of the issues for local communities that might be affected once a route is chosen. I will come to that later.
The Conservatives championed high speed rail in opposition. We transformed debate on the issue in October 2008, when we pledged to start the long process of building a national network. At the time, the Labour Government had dismissed high speed rail as an option, and their 30-year strategy for the railways contained no place for it. Nevertheless, I very much welcome the change of heart that occurred after our announcement and with the appointment of Lord Adonis. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow North East in welcoming and paying tribute to the work that Lord Adonis did on the issue.
The change of heart from the previous Government signalled the emergence of a broader cross-party consensus on the principle that high speed rail is essential for Britain’s transport system. The new Government’s support for high speed rail was clearly and explicitly included in the coalition agreement. Our programme for government includes the creation of a high speed rail network. Our ambition is the creation of a genuinely national high speed network, although we recognise that that will have to be achieved in phases over a number of years. However, in answer to the questions about that national network, let me say that a genuinely national network of course embraces destinations in the east midlands, Scotland and Wales—the areas that have been specifically highlighted this morning.
Let me take this opportunity to emphasise that the Government’s ambitions for high speed rail do not stop at Birmingham. Although the previous Administration had a change of heart on high speed rail, their focus was still just on detailed plans for a route to Birmingham. It is manifestly clear that we will not reap the full benefits of high speed rail unless we go much further than the west midlands, important though a link to the west midlands obviously is. We want to make progress as rapidly as possible towards the creation of a national network that connects to the rest of Europe via the channel tunnel.
In opposition, both coalition partners emphasised the importance of taking high speed rail to Scotland. It is clear in the devolution settlement that the Scottish Government are responsible for rail infrastructure north of the border. Delivering cross-border high speed rail services and a cross-border high speed rail line would therefore obviously require close co-operation and careful joint working between Holyrood and Westminster on a range of issues, including, of course, funding. That is why, in my role in opposition, I visited Scotland for constructive talks with John Swinney on how that co-operation might go forward. There are extensive and close contacts between the Department for Transport and its counterparts in Scotland. The Secretary of State also looks forward to working with his Scottish counterpart in developing a high speed rail strategy that incorporates Scotland.
Issues relating to the timetable were at the heart of the questions from the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. The Secretary of State is considering the timetable set out by HS2 Ltd. He is also considering questions relating to the integration of Heathrow into the high speed rail network, which I will come to in due course. He will report to Parliament in due course on the timetable and on how things will be taken forward. However, the intention is to go forward with the consultation as promptly as possible, after that statement to Parliament.
The Government intend to present a hybrid Bill during this Parliament. We also intend to start enabling work by 2015. That is a somewhat more aggressive timetable than that set by the previous Government, but we are determined—the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith questioned me on this—to take the process forward promptly. Further work is already under way on lines beyond Birmingham. We will also continue to assess the appropriate delivery vehicles.
I thank the Minister for her answers so far, but may I be clear about one point? She said that she envisaged work starting in 2015, but what kind of work does she mean? Such work would be welcome, but 2015 is quite soon, so perhaps she will elucidate.
As I said, the intention is for enabling work to start in 2015. Given that there will be a detailed and expansive consultation process before decisions are made on a route, it would not be appropriate or realistic for me to say exactly what type of work we would intend to start by 2015 and in what locations.
The previous Government talked about a line north of Birmingham, but had no clear commitment. It was the Conservatives who championed a national network that would bring the benefits of high speed rail to a wider range of areas than was envisaged in the core part of the previous Government’s proposals.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned fares, and it is important that the high speed rail line should be affordable for ordinary families. The analysis done by the Conservative party in opposition and by HS2 Ltd under the previous Government makes it clear that the line will be affordable and deliverable with a contribution from future fares revenue, even with fares that are reasonable and broadly in line with existing levels on existing services. We can deliver the line without necessarily assuming that the fares will be unreasonable and out of the reach of ordinary families.
As I have made clear, our ambition is a national network, and we believe that it is vital to make progress promptly and to ensure that we achieve the benefits of high speed rail as widely as possible. We have also made it clear that merely going to Birmingham is not enough. We need to ensure that other parts of the country share in the benefits of high speed rail. We shall publish details of the timetable in due course.
I welcome the Minister to her new job. She is aware that I have been heavily involved in the lobbying campaign for a direct high speed link to Yorkshire, working with you, Mr Betts, and with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), in a cross-party campaign with the Yorkshire Post—its “Fast Track to Yorkshire” campaign. The Y shape is not the only way to create a direct link to Yorkshire and the important cities of Sheffield and Leeds, which are the economic hubs of their areas. The High Speed North proposal merits further consideration. May we be clear, and have a commitment that the Government will, when the relevant phase happens, create a direct link to Yorkshire—not a link via Manchester, which does not make sense?
I have made it clear that the ambition is to create a national network, and it is of course vital that the north of England, Manchester and Yorkshire should be included in that network. In due course, decisions will be taken about the exact route to be selected. However, as I have emphasised, there is a long process to be undertaken before final decisions are made on the route for new high speed rail lines.
The case for high speed rail is undeniable. It has the potential to make a huge contribution to the long-term prosperity of the country and the efficiency of its transport system, and it can play a crucial role in achieving the goal of a lower-carbon economy. In the next 20 to 30 years, key inter-urban routes are likely to become increasingly congested, with negative consequences for our economy and quality of life. High speed rail could provide a massive uplift in capacity, as well as dramatically reduced journey times.
We have been discussing the areas to be served directly by high speed rail, but we must not lose sight of the fact that a high speed network also relieves pressure and overcrowding on existing railways. It allows more space for commuting and freight services, so it produces significant benefits for passengers and the economy even in areas that are not directly served by a line or station. It will create huge benefits in growth, regeneration and jobs, which will be felt far more widely than in the destinations directly served by new lines and services. I believe that it will provide valuable help in addressing long-standing prosperity differences between the south-east and the rest of the country, and thus create a more stable and balanced economy.
To return to some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Leicester South, of course it is vital, in parallel with taking high speed rail forward, to continue a programme of work on upgrading and improving the existing rail network.
I would rather make a little progress. I have been very generous in giving way, so I will proceed with my remarks for a moment.
We all acknowledge that there is a downside to the proposals—the impact on the environment of the localities through which new lines could go. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury explained, hon. Members have understandable concerns about the potential impact of high speed rail on their constituents. The Government of course recognise the gravity of those concerns. There will be a detailed and inclusive process before final decisions are made about our approach to high speed rail overall, and the route it should follow. I am happy to engage with colleagues and hon. Members during the process. It goes without saying that reducing and mitigating the local environmental impact of high speed rail will always be a high priority for the Government in advancing the project. It will inform our decisions on the selection of the route.
I am happy to take on board my hon. Friend’s ideas on benefiting the communities that may be subject to the environmental impact of high speed rail lines. Ideas are already under discussion about the possibility of burying power lines, and the new Government’s commitment to high speed rail has already brought about a benefit, because it has enabled us to say with confidence that we strongly oppose a third runway at Heathrow. The fact that it will not go ahead provides significant benefits for some communities that may be affected by high speed rail, because there will not be the massive uplift in aircraft noise to which many of them might have been subjected had the election gone a different way and if a Labour Government had been elected and proceeded with their plans. As to existing transport corridors, in assessing the route, the potential benefits of their use will be fully considered. However, that approach is not a panacea. It cannot provide the answer in all cases, but it is worth considering.
We made it plain before the election that we reserved our position on the route that HS2 has recommended. The process of formal consultation on the hybrid Bill will provide extensive opportunities for people to make their voice heard and have their point of view properly and fairly considered before a route is finalised. We also recognise that concerns in that respect are not confined to fears about the future. In some places, the impact is being felt today in the instability of local property markets.
A key goal for the new Government is to press ahead expeditiously, taking on board the continuing consultation, with the finalising of arrangements for an exceptional hardship scheme, so that we can swiftly and equitably give assistance to those who most need it. The consultation is due to end in a week, and we shall look with great care at the respondents’ suggestions in deciding how to proceed.
As part of the work that we are doing to reconsider and review the HS2 proposals on the route, we need to find the right option for connecting Heathrow to the new network. As we made clear in opposition, we believe that it is vital to integrate the country’s only major long-haul hub airport to the high-speed rail network that we propose to build. Lord Mawhinney was asked by the previous Government to assess the alternatives. His review was established against the background of Labour’s policy of supporting a third runway at Heathrow.
In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, one of the first acts of the new Secretary of State was to agree with Lord Mawhinney an amendment to his remit, to reflect the approach of the coalition. The new Government strongly oppose a new runway at Heathrow, as the Prime Minister confirmed and reiterated in one of his first actions on taking office. Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger. A key part of our programme for improving it is to integrate the airport into the proposed new high speed rail network. That would improve public transport links to the airport, and help to relieve the problems with air quality and congestion in the area by encouraging people to switch from road to rail when travelling to Heathrow.
In response to questions on the subject, we are obviously carefully considering whether high speed rail could be integrated with Crossrail. As a number of colleagues said, integrating Heathrow should also facilitate a major shift from air to rail. Experience in Europe shows that high speed rail provides an attractive alternative to short-haul flights. For example, Air France has completely stopped flights between Paris and Brussels, choosing instead to charter carriages on the TGV rail link.
Maximising the scope for switching from air to rail is an important goal in environmental terms, as high speed trains emit significantly less carbon than aviation. Indeed, the gap between the train and the plane is likely to widen as we proceed with the vital task of cleaning up our electricity generation sources. A further benefit of the air-to-rail switch would be to free up space at Heathrow by providing an alternative to the thousands of short-haul flights going in and out of the airport. That is how we plan to relieve capacity pressure.
We believe also that it is essential to have a direct link between the new domestic line and existing international services on HS1, and we have asked HS2 Ltd urgently to assess the best way to deliver that. It would be a mistake to consider rail only in relation to domestic aviation when it is clearly a viable alternative for travelling to a number of important near European destinations such as Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
I am sorry, but I am going to conclude. There is a huge task ahead of us as we contemplate delivering an infrastructure project as big as any since the 19th century, when the Victorians revolutionised our economy and our society with the nation’s first railway network. It is worth remembering that Britain’s first, and so far only, 68 miles of high-speed track owed much to the unlikely combination of John Prescott and Michael Heseltine. As we press forward with realising this great ambition, I hope that we can continue to count on cross-party support.
I have no doubt that there will be difficult times ahead, not least in relation to decisions about the route and how we mitigate and reduce its impact on surrounding communities and the landscape. However, I firmly believe that future generations will thank us for displaying determination and persistence in delivering this crucial upgrade to our transport system. We need to inject some of the long-term thinking that transport policy has so often lacked in the past. The new Government are determined to rise to that challenge and deliver the high speed vision for Britain’s rail network—one that could have a transformative impact on our transport system, our economy and our quality of life.
Transport (South Devon)
There are many reasons why the people of south Devon, and of Torbay in particular, need better transport links. Coach, rail, sea, cycle and road vehicle transport all suffer from under-investment. Our main transport link with the motorway network is the A380, which is dualled between Telegraph Hill and the Penn Inn roundabout, and is then single lane between Newton Abbot and Torbay.
Torbay is the 40th largest urban conurbation in the country, and the only settlement of such a size with a single carriageway link road to the trunk road system. The resident population increases by 50% during the summer peak with the influx of holidaymakers. Many arrive in the area frustrated and angry as their inward journey is marred by congestion and delay between Newton Abbot and Torbay, and many leave early as a result. Torbay relies heavily on tourism for its livelihood and future prosperity. Its economy is one of the most difficult in the country, with the widest gulf between average earnings and house prices and some of the worst wards in the country in relation to indices of social deprivation. A recent shocking statistic is that 40% of Torbay’s children are now brought up in households living below the official poverty line. Reviving Torbay’s economy, therefore, needs to be at the centre of everything that the Government and the local authority do.
Research has shown that our biggest single drawback is our lack of connectivity, which is a serious disincentive to inward investment and a blight on regeneration. The south Devon link road, or Kingskerswell bypass, is vital to overcoming that problem. It will overcome many local problems of congestion, pollution and rat-running, thus creating a more sustainable quality of environment.
Torbay council and Devon county council have worked together to promote the scheme, and have so far committed some £6 million to achieve the necessary consents and funding. Both councils see the road as one of their highest priorities. The scheme is ready to proceed as soon as the funding is made available by the Department for Transport: there is a valid planning consent, the land acquisition and side-road orders have been served, and a public inquiry was held in October 2009 to hear objections. The inspectors’ report should have been, or will shortly be, presented to the Minister for confirmation.
The two councils have put the project out to tender and agreed on one bidder who has met all the quality criteria and, importantly, is within budget. Subject to funding and confirmation of orders, we are ready to start in the autumn. The cost of the scheme is £130 million, and the first spend of £8 million is anticipated in 2010-11 in accordance with the regional funding allocation. The road remains a top priority in the region. The application for full funding approval has been submitted to the DFT, and discussions with officials indicate there are no technical shortcomings in the submission. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that.
The history of the project has been fraught with delays and can be traced back to the early 1950s—to well before I was born. I cannot imagine any area the size of Torbay that has had to wait as long for a proper link to the country’s main road network. In 1951-52, a dualled carriageway was first included in the Devon country development plan. By 1959, a public inquiry had determined the actual line of the proposed road, but then Devon county council sought to change the proposed line and suggested an alternative route. In 1974, a revised three-lane dualled carriageway plan was suggested by the outgoing Devon county council. By 1976, having completed stage 1 of the Torbay ring road, the highways authority made a submission to the Department for Transport for the trunking of the A380 road in its entirety.
In 1976, at the end of another public consultation, Devon county council announced its preferred route. In 1981-82, the county council submitted its preferred route to the Department for Transport, with an application for 100% grant aid funding. In 1987, a public exhibition was held, following which an updated submission for grant aid was made together with a revised submission for the trunking of the A380 from Exeter through to Torquay.
In 1989, a Government White Paper entitled “Roads for Prosperity” included the trunking of the A380 between Exeter and Torquay together with the proposed £26 million scheme to dual a new two-lane carriageway. In 1990, a traffic survey on best value and an audit had to be carried out before the proposed scheme could go forward to draft order stage. In 1994, another national report, entitled “Trunk Roads in England Review”, was issued by the Department for Transport. It still included a proposed Kingskerswell bypass as a priority scheme in the national list.
In 1995, the Government announced that they would not be able to keep their commitment to the trunk road programme, and in a report entitled “Managing the Trunk Road Programme” the A380 was dropped from the priority list and transferred to the longer-term programme for the trunking of roads. In 1996, the Government de-trunked the A380 and transferred responsibility to Devon county council. In 1997, Labour won the general election, all road building was put on hold and it was decreed that existing infrastructure had to be exhausted before a new road could be considered. Two years later, the no-roads policy statement was reversed with an announcement by the then Deputy Prime Minister.
There have been at least three significant historical changes determining the decision-making process and the financing of roads since then. There have also been a couple of self-inflicted delays resulting from local government reorganisation: in 2003, Torbay left Devon to become a unitary authority, and in 2005 Torbay voted to have an elected mayor. None the less, most of the delay has been well beyond our local control. The road should have been built by now and should be playing its part as our route out of recession. At worst, it should be under construction, with the prospect locally of better times ahead; but it is not and now we hear there may be yet another review. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me how many projects are being reviewed and what their total value is? How much will the Department want to cut from this total, and will priority be given to schemes that are more advanced?
I should like to add my support to this scheme, because the road in question, the A380, passes through my constituency of Newton Abbot. Indeed, Kingskerswell bypass is in my constituency. Having this road would significantly improve the lives of my constituents in economic terms. Moreover, it is a key road and a key artery between Torbay hospital and my constituency, and many of the plans the primary care trust has made are predicated on the existence of that bypass.
The hon. Lady makes a very powerful point on behalf of her constituents and those across south Devon.
Let me turn to other forms of transport that impact on south Devon’s economy and quality of life. Three years ago, the last Labour Government promised an additional 1,300 carriages across the country, of which 647 have already been brought in or are on order. The remainder have now been put on ice, after the Department for Transport was told to slash £683 million from its budget as part of a raft of in-year savings totalling £6.2 billion. Of the 1,300 carriages, First Great Western was due to receive 52, but only 12 of those were destined for services in the south-west. Their future was threatened when the Transport Secretary said that each project must be rigorously re-assessed to ensure that it offers value for money for taxpayers. Under the previous Government, the plans for new carriages had been delayed and mired in review following the announcement of the electrification of the main line between London and Swansea. There is uncertainty over the allocation of new rolling stock. What is the status of the carriages promised to First Great Western in the south-west, and where should representations be made to argue the case in favour of providing extra rolling stock? What is the Government’s overall strategy for railways in the south-west, and do they still consider Torquay and Paignton to be mainline train stations?
Finally on rail, the introduction of fast train services from Paddington to Paignton via Westbury rather than Bristol is good, but will more services be forthcoming?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and I am grateful to him for giving way, because in fact there are three constituencies that would benefit very greatly from this proposal. My own constituency, which covers Brixham and much of Paignton, lies downstream from his, at the other end of the A380, and as he has mentioned we have very high levels of deprivation in our constituencies.
I would also like my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the great problem that we have with housing. Time and again, the objection made to further housing development in our area is that there is insufficient infrastructure to support it. The roads have reached complete gridlock. Given that lack of adequate transport is one of the greatest obstacles to reconstruction and investment, what mechanism is being used to assess which projects should receive funding, and are these very important factors of reconstruction and investment being taken into account?
I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, and I am sure the Minister will respond to that very important question. She is absolutely right. I often think of my constituency as being the “end-of-the-line” town, but the Brixham area of her constituency, which I think is the largest urban area in Totnes, is very much the end of the line and does not even have a railway line. Road transport is therefore particularly important in getting from Brixham, Paignton and Torquay to the rest of the country.
I should also mention the poor coach services from Torbay to the main centres of population. The journey times are off-putting and often, the slowest part of any coach journey is the first or last seven miles between Torbay and the dual carriageway at Newton Abbot. In the past, we have enjoyed ferry services between south Devon and the Channel Islands, and beyond. Even our cyclists in Torbay are poorly served, its having fewer miles of cycle lanes than most urban areas of a similar size.
We have been waiting for six decades to enjoy the transport links that the rest of the country takes for granted. My constituency records the lowest household incomes and highest household debt in the United Kingdom. We have been, and remain, the unemployment blackspot of the south-west region.
Better transport links are our road to recovery. Two Select Committee reports—the Communities and Local Government Committee report on seaside resorts, and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on tourism—support that view. Both concluded that better transport links are essential if such seaside areas are to improve their economic well-being. As for those who oppose such road improvements, I simply ask them why there are no campaign groups asking for the removal of existing bypasses.
There is a huge opportunity here for the new Government to demonstrate their commitment to the south-west region with immediate delivery of a fantastic scheme that would be a huge credit to all involved, and would fundamentally regenerate Torbay and the surrounding area for years to come. There is political unity on this issue among all parties in south Devon: Torbay council, Devon county council, Teignbridge council, and South Hams district council. All the key players, including small and larger businesses, know that this project is critical to our future success, be it the tourism industry, manufacturing or services.
In my 13 years as a Member of Parliament, I have observed business after business trying to grow locally, but in order to expand they have had to leave the area, citing the lack of transport links as the reason. Inward investors who are prepared to invest in jobs and in improving the area are being put off by the very real barrier that is the final seven miles into my constituency.
It was in 1951-52 that people started to talk about this project, for which there were plans by the end of that decade. Surely we will not have to wait another decade for another decision that will allow the project to go ahead.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) on securing a debate on the important topic of transport in the south Devon area. I am aware that he has campaigned tirelessly for transport improvements in Torbay and the surrounding area since his election to Parliament in 1997. If I may make a partisan point, it is good to see him back in the House.
I also very much welcome the hon. Members for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) to their places in this House. I note that all three Members spoke with one voice today, which I suppose is a demonstration of coalition politics in action.
As the coalition agreement makes clear, we believe that a modern transport infrastructure is important for a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy. We are determined to make the transport sector greener and more sustainable, with tougher emissions standards and support for new transport technologies. The coalition agreement also makes clear that tackling climate change is one of the biggest challenges that we face and that a wide range of levers will need to be used to cut carbon emissions. Transport policy will clearly have a major role to play, given that carbon emissions from transport are still rising.
With that in mind, the Department for Transport is committed to reforming how decisions are made on which transport schemes to prioritise around the country, not least so that the benefits of low-carbon proposals are fully recognised. Of course, particularly given the current fiscal constraints, we need to ensure that any new transport infrastructure is affordable and offers value for money. Those two issues—the reform of how decisions are made and the review of all planned Government expenditure—mean that today I will not be able to be as helpful to my hon. Friend as I would like to be.
I turn specifically to the issues affecting south Devon. As my hon. Friend will know, the area is currently served by two main roads running south-west from Exeter: the A38, for which the Highways Agency is mainly responsible, and the A380, which is the responsibility of Devon county council. The area is also served by the railway line that he referred to, which runs between Exeter, Newton Abbot and Paignton, and between Newton Abbot and Plymouth. Both the lines to Paignton and Plymouth have daily services running to London, Bristol, the midlands and the north, as well as local services to Exeter and beyond, which also stop at a number of other smaller stations.
My hon. Friend asked me about the status of Torquay and Paignton rail stations. The Department for Transport does not classify stations as “mainline” or otherwise. However, Network Rail classes both Torquay and Paignton as category C stations—that is, they are important feeder stations—and further definition is included in the station champions’ “Better Rail Stations” report.
I know that my hon. Friend has been very active in campaigning for more through trains between Torbay and London Paddington, and I am delighted to confirm that, from December 2010, one additional through service each way will be provided on that route. The current service provides for a 7.30 am train to arrive at Exeter at 10.12 am. The new service will provide an earlier fast train service to Exeter and Torbay, with arrival at Exeter at 9.30 am and at Paignton at 10.6 am. The aim of this new early train service is to strengthen business links between the west country and London. It will also help to boost tourism, which I know is an issue that my hon. Friend takes very seriously indeed.
Although speed is clearly crucial for my constituents, through whose area this railway passes as it runs down the coast, we absolutely need this railway for tourism. There has been a lot of concern in the constituency that the money to support the line, which I know is one of the most expensive lines in the country to maintain, will not be forthcoming. I would be grateful if the Minister considered the issue of tourism, and therefore the impact on the local economy, when he makes decisions about money being invested in that particular railway line.
I should say that decisions on rail investment are not for me to make in my particular portfolio. However, I can say that the Government are entirely seized of the importance of tourism to the south-west and that that factor will be taken into account in making any decisions about transport infrastructure and any other issues relating to Government investment.
The new train service that I referred to will allow business passengers to travel from London and do a full day’s business in Torbay, as well as cater for people on holiday who prefer not to change trains, which was the point that the hon. Member for Newton Abbot made.
Rolling stock was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay. As far as that is concerned, the Department for Transport has recently signed a deed of amendment with First Great Western. That ensures that there will be ongoing funding for 30 vehicles that would otherwise cease to be funded by First Great Western itself. I hope that he will accept that that is good news for the rolling stock for the area.
The Government want to see rail prosper and we certainly value the rail links to the south-west. We do not have individual strategies for each part of the country, but the strategy for the network as a whole is set out in the Department for Transport’s high level output specification document. It is focused on improvements in safety and performance, and, crucially, on providing more capacity.
We made it clear in the coalition agreement that we will grant longer rail franchises, giving train operators more incentive to invest in better services, rolling stock, stations and perhaps even enhancements to the network. We want a better deal for passengers, with fair pricing for rail travel and the rail regulator as a powerful passenger champion. We also want to see Network Rail being made more accountable to its customers, both the train companies and—frankly—ultimately the public at large.
Given the upcoming spending review, we are unable to commit today to any further immediate improvements to rail services elsewhere in the south Devon area. However, we will monitor the current usage of rail services and re-evaluate them in the light of the emerging financial situation.
My hon. Friend is also concerned about the road network. I acknowledge the importance that he and others attach to the A380 Kingskerswell bypass scheme, also known as the south Devon link road, and his strong view that it is key to supporting the regeneration of Torbay and the surrounding area. I also note the scheme’s long history; it goes back to 1951, which is, I think, before either of us was born.
The scheme’s promoters—Devon and Torbay county councils, with the support of the other councils to which hon. Members have referred—have made the case for the bypass to the Department. As my hon. Friend acknowledged, progress is well advanced. The view expressed is that the A380 is an important link to south Devon and that the congestion between Penn Inn and Kerswell Gardens affects the business and commercial needs of Torbay throughout the year, as well as the tourist trade in summer.
I understand that the promoters have developed the scheme in recent years on the strength of the priority given to it by the previous Government within their regional funding allocation process. However, any new Government will naturally have their own views on which major schemes should be supported by Government funding, and I am afraid that we will need to consider the scheme in the light of the tough spending review to come. After the public inquiry in July 2009, as my hon. Friend knows, an inspector’s report on the scheme orders was submitted to the Secretary of State for a decision. Given the current uncertainty about funding, we must consider such decisions carefully and will be making a statement on the subject shortly.
It should also be acknowledged that considerable opposition exists alongside the local and regional support for the scheme, as my hon. Friend acknowledged. I am sure that he is aware that several well-organised campaign groups have expressed opposition, including the Campaign for Better Transport, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Kingskerswell Alliance, which is made up of residents of Newton Abbot and Kingskerswell. Those groups believe that Devon and Torbay should be considering more sustainable alternatives that have less impact on the environment.
I am not aware of any, but it is only fair in a debate of this nature to reflect the comments both for and against the scheme received by the Department, as I hope I am doing. There are strong views on the scheme, and it is important to listen to both sides of the argument, as I am sure my hon. Friend, as a fair man, would acknowledge.
In addition to those issues, we must also consider the wider funding position and what it means for the affordability of a £130 million road scheme. As we are all aware, the current fiscal situation means that we must consider carefully future funding decisions on all transport schemes across England and Wales.
My hon. Friend asked what mechanism is being used to assess which projects should receive funding. As I mentioned, the Government have committed in the coalition agreement to review how decisions are made on which transport projects will be prioritised. We are at the start of that process. Until that is complete and the spending review is concluded, we will not be making any funding approval decisions. I made that point clear in a recent letter to Nick Bye, mayor of Torbay, who wrote to me about the Kingskerswell bypass.
The hon. Member for Totnes asked how many projects are being reviewed and what their total value is. The Government are reviewing all funding approvals made by the previous Government from 1 January 2010, and we hope to conclude that review soon. Additionally, all schemes granted conditional approval or programme entry by the previous Government will be reviewed as part of the spending review. There are 42 such schemes, and the total requested Department for Transport contribution is about £1.5 billion. However, those schemes will not necessarily be given priority over schemes that have not received any previous funding approval. Pending further discussions with our Treasury colleagues, we are not in a position to say how much the Department will want to cut from the total. That is what the spending review is for. However, no one should assume that schemes prioritised under the previous Government’s regional funding allocation process will be funded to the previous published levels.
Finally, in response to my hon. Friend’s question about prioritising schemes that are more advanced, as is this particular road scheme, I am afraid that, for the reasons that I have given, the Department can offer no guarantees. However, I can confirm that priority will be given to projects that align with the Government’s priorities and are affordable.
I understand fully my hon. Friend’s desire for a positive decision on the funding for the Kingskerswell bypass, not least because of how much time has passed since 1951. However, the sad fact is that many other local authorities around the country are in a similar position, wondering what the future holds for their planned transport schemes. I hope that he will acknowledge that the Government need to consider all funding commitments carefully.
As with all other major local transport schemes, the Department can offer no particular assurances at this point regarding future funding, but I give my hon. Friend my personal assurance that, as part of our wider spending review, I will consider carefully the case for the funding of the Kingskerswell bypass and take into account the comments made today by him and hon. Members from nearby constituencies.
Despite the current economic uncertainty, Britain remains one of the wealthiest nations on earth. It is therefore to the lasting shame of successive Governments that our country has one of the worst levels of child poverty in the developed world and one of the worst in Europe, with poverty rates worse even than those of the former communist countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—a point I have already made in an intervention on the Prime Minister.
According to the charity Barnardo’s, in the UK there are 2.8 million children living in poverty before housing costs are taken into account, which I gather is the previous Government’s preferred measure. However, Barnardo’s tells me that that figure soars to 3.9 million after housing costs are taken into account, according to the 2007-08 “Households Below Average Income” report, published last year by the Department for Work and Pensions. I was shocked by the following disturbing extract from the “Hard Times” report published by Save the Children in 2006:
“One third of British children are forced to go without at least one of the things they need, such as three meals a day or adequate clothing.”
What should the new Government do now? Well, here is one thought that Barnardo’s has put to me:
“The poorest families in the UK are struggling during the recent economic crisis and are very likely to bear the brunt of forthcoming spending cuts. Barnardo’s proposes pragmatic, cost-effective solutions to redistribute money to the poorest families without the Government spending a single penny extra.”
Save the Children told me:
“It makes financial sense to end child poverty—the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates it costs the taxpayer £25 billion a year.”
Putting to one side the obvious reasons why a civilised society should not tolerate child poverty, Save the Children then makes the financial case for ending it:
“In the long-term, huge amounts would be saved from not having to pick up the pieces of child poverty and associated social ills.”
I therefore invite the Minister to have a meeting with Save the Children, Barnardo’s and the other charities that do so much work to help children, to discuss what needs to be done. Working together, as a big coalition of people with shared interests, makes sense. It would make further sense if there were a permanent standing committee, for example, involving Government and those organisations, to help with formulating policies and strategies, in the spirit of joined-up government across all Departments. I also seek a pledge from the Minister this afternoon that there will be no delay and no dilution of the provisions set out in the Child Poverty Act 2010, including measures on the poverty reduction target and setting up the child poverty commission, which are a matter of urgency.
Child poverty issues are usually even worse for households with one or more children with a disability, and for single-parent families. Today, I shall combine strong criticism primarily of the last Labour Government with a reminder to the Conservative party that the situation has not arisen in the past 13 years but was inherited from when it was last in office. Successive Governments should hang their heads in shame. Generations of young people have been let down.
My message to the new coalition Government is this: quite simply, we must do better. Abolition of child poverty in the lifetime of the present Government must be the target. Whatever the economic issues facing the country, it simply cannot be right in a civilised society to have children living in conditions that are deemed to be below the official poverty line.
I recognise that this is all relative. What is described as poverty in the UK is not the poverty that can be found in third-world countries or in the slums of some overseas cities, where obscene wealth and grinding poverty are physically close to each other but worlds apart in terms of quality of life and life expectancy.
That said, I was deeply shocked by a poster I saw in a church in Colchester last month. It prompted me to table early-day motion 39, which states:
“That this House is deeply concerned at the content of posters issued by The Children’s Society and displayed on church premises which state ‘A vital project that is helping feed, clothe and assist in finding destitute children somewhere safe to live will close on 30th September due to a lack of funds; when it does, hundreds of poverty-stricken families will be left to fend for themselves’; and calls on the Government to hold urgent talks with The Children’s Society to avoid the closure.”
And this is Britain in the second decade of the third millennium.
Much was expected of new Labour in tackling child poverty. I do not doubt for a minute that it had sincere intentions, but the stark reality is that it failed, and failed big-time. I cannot speak of child poverty at first hand. I grew up in a family environment in which I did not want for food, clothing or housing. My wife and I were able to provide for our four children. I am now a grandfather and grateful that my two grandsons and my infant granddaughter do not experience the child poverty that so many children experience. However, I have been involved in political life in my home town for 40 years or so, and have experience of working on a local newspaper; and as every MP can vouch through work in his or her advice bureau, we know child poverty when we see it.
As word spread that I had secured the debate, I received considerable background briefing from different organisations concerned with tackling child poverty. That so many exist is proof of the seriousness of the situation. I cannot possibly in 15 minutes do justice to what they told me, but I hope I will be able to convey the importance of their concerns. I place on the record my thanks to those that have contacted me: Barnardo’s, Save the Children, the Children’s Society, the National Childminding Association and the Child Poverty Action Group.
The Children’s Society told me about the good childhood inquiry, the report of which was published last year. I shall quote one telling comment from its briefing to me:
“One of the most striking things about the evidence received from children was how frequently they mentioned their basic needs. Over 5,000 children filled in postcards about their lives and the three topics they talked most about were ‘friends’, ‘family’ and what was termed their ‘material needs’.
Their comments on this subject were mostly about the importance of having a home, a bed, clothes, warmth, food and water. Interestingly, far more children talked about material ‘needs’ such as these than mentioned material ‘wants’ such as money and possessions.”
I look at life as though it is a jigsaw—lots of pieces need to come together to complete the picture. It is not enough to talk in isolation about education, health, employment and so on. We must look at the whole picture, and if any of the pieces are missing, which tragically is the case for children living in poverty, that young individual will struggle throughout their life, with the guarantee that their life chances will be considerably less than those for a child from a household that is not lacking in the necessities of life; and they will have a shorter life expectancy as well. Why should nearly 4 million children be so grossly disadvantaged? It is not their fault.
As we know with a jigsaw, the first pieces that need to be put in place are the corners and the edges. For our children, the corners and the edges of their jigsaw of life are a decent home. Successive Governments have also failed to deliver that over the past 25 years, with the ending of the building of council houses for families. Oh for the return of the days when local councils built family houses—houses fit for purpose, built to Parker Morris standards—not today’s cramped dwellings with paper-thin dividing walls, which in any event are inadequate in number to deal with the worsening housing crisis. If we addressed the shortage of truly affordable family houses to rent by the resumption of the building of public housing, as was the ambition of successive Labour and Tory Governments for broadly the middle 50 years of the 20th century, excluding the war years of 1939 to 1945, that would help us dramatically on the road to the abolition of child poverty.
It is interesting that post-war Conservative Governments built more council houses than Labour Governments. Indeed, the Thatcher Government built more council houses than the Blair and Brown Governments combined. I contrast the last 13 years with the inspirational Labour Government of Clement Attlee, who in 1945 set about tackling the housing crisis after six years of war. If it can be done in those circumstances, why can it not be done today? After all, if new Labour could fund an illegal war in Iraq, then housing British families should have been affordable.
As a nation, we would do well to revisit the Education Act 1944. It was not about education only; it put forward an holistic approach to the health, welfare and general well-being of the child, of which the universal provision of school meals was an important part; its authors were determined that the child poverty of the 1930s should be a thing of the past. It is perhaps an indication of Britain’s divided society—the gap between rich and poor has widened since 1997—that even in a relatively prosperous town such as Colchester at least two primary schools have breakfast clubs, so that children who would otherwise start the day without a meal have one.
I hope that my debate will encourage the new coalition Government not to let their planned cuts in public spending further damage the life chances of another generation of children. Even in a recession and an era of cuts, expecting children from less well-off backgrounds to experience a further lowering in their living conditions is simply not acceptable.
I observe in passing what I consider to be the silence of the Church on child poverty. I sense that churches collectively, with notable exceptions, are too comfortable, and that the missionary zeal for tackling inequalities in society—and not only child poverty—is something they do not want to get involved in.
As a penultimate point, I pay tribute to the late Professor Peter Townsend, the joint founder of the Child Poverty Action Group, whose work over more than 40 years did so much to highlight the plight of children in this country. I knew him when he was at the university of Essex; from its inception in 1964, he was one of its first professors. Indeed, for a time he lived in the same part of Colchester as me. A tribute to him was published in June last year by the university of Bristol, where his name lives on in the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research. That tribute included this observation:
“He had brief hopes when New Labour arrived, and especially after Tony Blair pledged to eliminate child poverty in 1999. In the end, however, he was left bitterly disillusioned”.
In conclusion, I trust that all Members will accept an open invitation from the Child Poverty Action Group to attend the launch of the group’s handbook on Tuesday 6 July at 10.30 am in the Jubilee Room. MPs will have an opportunity to discuss with folk from CPAG how to help end child poverty in every constituency in the land. Surely, ending child poverty is not asking too much of the new Government.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on making so many valid points about the poverty of children. Does he agree that the Government’s commitment to providing an additional 4,000 health visitors through the Sure Start scheme would be a significant step in the right direction?
May I say what a pleasure it is, Mr Betts, to serve under your chairmanship? This is the first of two debates this week on child poverty and poverty in general. In securing this debate, the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) continues with a subject that has been of interest to him for a number of years, and I thank him for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important matter today.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we must do better. Poverty is the most important factor in predicting a child’s life chances. Effectively tackling the causes of poverty and inequality in Britain is at the heart of our coalition Government’s agenda, and I welcome the opportunity to reiterate to him and the other Members here today our clear commitment to helping the millions of children who still live in poverty. I give the clear and I hope unambiguous assurance that there will be no delay and no dilution in our commitment, and I refer him to section 14 of the document issued by the coalition that pledged to end child poverty by 2020.
I know that this is an emotive subject. The hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions and I shall attempt to cover them in my response; however, if there is anything that he feels has not been dealt with properly, perhaps we can discuss it separately.
Over the past 13 years, we have seen ever more being spent on the benefits system, even outstripping inflation, in an attempt to move people above the poverty threshold. The Labour Government were nothing other than well intentioned; there is no question about what they were trying to achieve, but their policies simply did not work and did not deliver what was needed to deal with child poverty. As the hon. Gentleman said, many people felt disillusioned as a result.
The figures speak for themselves. The previous Government’s approach did not work because they did not do what the hon. Gentleman has suggested, which is tackling the root causes of poverty. The gap between the richest and the poorest is at its highest since records began. At best, the previous Government’s attempts to tackle poverty stalled, despite their spending some £85 billion a year on benefits and tax credits.
The simple truth is that there are 800,000 more adults in poverty now than there were in 1998-99. Instead of the number of children in poverty having been reduced, it has increased by 100,000 over the past five years, and 2.8 million children are now living in poverty. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the definition of poverty and asked whether it should include housing costs. The Prime Minister has asked the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) to consider that matter in his independent review, which will report before the end of the year.
It is clear that the old way is failing. We need a new vision, a new approach to tackling poverty and giving children a better start in life. I am sure that that was one of the hon. Gentleman’s main passions when he first came to this place, as it was one of mine. That new approach is what I intend to set out today.
It is not enough to tackle the symptoms of poverty; we must tackle the underlying factors that make it a seemingly intractable problem. They include entrenched worklessness and economic dependency, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction and debt. Those are the drivers of poverty—finance is only one aspect. If we are to deal with the persistent poverty and multiple disadvantages of some of the UK’s most vulnerable families, we need to fight poverty in its broadest sense, and I suspect, judging by the feeling that I got from the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, that such a view lies behind his call for this debate.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of joined-up government, and I could not agree with him more. If we are to take on this complex and multi-faceted problem, we need to ensure that we tackle all the different facets of poverty so that we break the cycle of disadvantage and deprivation and give all children the same opportunity to flourish and excel.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) mentioned Sure Start. We have clear coalition policies on taking Sure Start back to its roots to increase the effectiveness of its outreach services, and to uphold our commitment to early intervention. We know that Sure Start has a critical role to play, and we want to make it work harder.
We want to ensure that more children have the advantages of a good education, which is critical to improving stalled social mobility, and that is where the pupil premium comes into play. By making some £3,000 available to each pupil who falls into that sector, we will be making a significant financial contribution to schools. We will also give schools the autonomy to use that money in the way they think is best. We will end the couple penalty in the tax system that jeopardises the future of too many children, because we know that stable family life is an important way of addressing child poverty.
We will also introduce wide-ranging welfare reform, as was set out in the Gracious Speech, through the work programme, which will be more effective in helping people into work and so out of poverty. At all points, we will ensure that work pays. All parts of the House now accept that helping people back into work is a basic principle of tackling poverty.
The hon. Member for Colchester talked about the importance of a holistic approach, and I could not agree with him more. We are on the same page of the book in that respect. Clearly, such a programme to address child poverty needs to work across the board, which is why the Prime Minister, working in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has announced the establishment of the Social Justice Cabinet Committee. Such a group gives us the opportunity to bring together people from across government to tackle these seemingly intractable problems. Its one mission will be to consider social justice in this country.
The organisations the hon. Gentleman mentioned will have a critical role to play in pulling together the strategy on child poverty that we need to develop by March 2011. With regard to the constitution of the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, it is early days yet. Certainly, I will take the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts back to our team and put forward his suggestion, because it has great merit.
The Social Justice Cabinet Committee will consider the causes of poverty and how we can make a difference to the lives of thousands of children. The hon. Gentleman mentioned housing—an issue in which he has a passionate interest—and particularly the role of councils in ensuring that good-quality housing is available for families, thus giving children the stability and good accommodation that can make such a difference to their lives. A Cabinet Committee such as the one that will be constituted can tackle an issue such as that, as part of a holistic strategy for dealing with child poverty. I hope the hon. Gentleman is reassured that we share his view that that is the only way to make a real difference.
Let me turn to how we plan to go forward in practical terms. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have sat in this Chamber many times, hearing Ministers talk in abstract terms about what they may or may not do, so I should like to tell him about some concrete things that we will be doing. We will set up the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, which will provide a holistic, cross-government approach on this issue. Under the Child Poverty Act 2010, the Government will publish a strategy to show how we will meet the goal of ending child poverty by 2020. The first such strategy will be published in March 2011. I know that the organisations the hon. Gentleman mentioned—Barnardo’s, Joseph Rowntree and Save the Children—will be making important contributions to the development of that strategy. I look forward to meeting those organisations in the coming months to ensure that we have the full value of their experience and expertise in this area, because only by doing that will we come to the right answer.
The simple truth is that the previous Government fell short on the progress that was needed on child poverty. That is why our new approach needs to be implemented quickly, if we are to reach the ambitious targets set out in the 2010 Act. Over the next nine months, I shall work with colleagues across government to ensure that we have a robust child poverty strategy in place. We want to tackle not just the symptoms of poverty but the root causes, so that we can say that we have the strategy on child poverty that both the hon. Gentleman and I know this country needs.
Royal Liverpool University Hospital
Let me explain the protocol to new Members in the Chamber. If a Member wants to intervene, it is up to the Member who is speaking to give way. If a Member wants to speak, they have to get prior permission from the Member whose debate it is and the Minister; I hope that they would let me know as well.
Thank you, Mr Betts, and let me say that I am glad to serve under your chairmanship. I am pleased to have this opportunity to raise a key concern facing the people of Liverpool—namely, the urgent need to build a new Royal Liverpool University hospital. The Royal is an excellent university teaching hospital and a leading regional centre for diagnosis and treatment, deploying cutting-edge technologies such as digital histopathology, interventionist radiology and PET-CT—positron emission tomography-computed tomography—advanced scanning.
The problem is that the existing hospital, which was built in 1972, has major structural defects. Its mechanical and electrical infrastructure has major faults, it has design flaws and its internal and external fabric is failing. The trust is rated excellent for clinical services and for financial management. It has a gifted and committed staff, but that cannot overcome the problems of a deteriorating building.
In March, following years of intensive scrutiny, the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) visited the Royal to announce a new £45 million replacement hospital, a private finance initiative, to be built on the same site. The possibilities of refurbishment had been costed and rejected on the grounds that they offered poor value for money. The approval was confirmed in writing by the Treasury and by the Department of Health, which issued an approval letter. The trust is to fund £130 million of the £451 million capital cost, so it is planned that most of the funding should come from the private sector.
The proposal has been assessed for many years. The outlined strategic case was approved in 2006. It has been subjected to intensive scrutiny again and again locally, regionally and nationally, including by the Department of Health and the Treasury. It has met stringent tests for affordability and for value for money. That process has indeed cut costs, by about 32%, and the current proposal for 637 beds constitutes a 34% reduction in the number of beds outlined in earlier plans. Construction at the hospital, which will lessen both the hospital’s energy use and its carbon footprint, is due to start in 2012 and be completed by 2016. A competitive process to identify a suitable private sector partner is now under way. All that planning has now been thrown into doubt by this Government’s current spending review and their threatened draconian cuts.
I want to make it very clear that replacing the Royal is about providing front-line health care for the people of Liverpool and the region.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she agree with me that many people from south Liverpool also rely on the Royal Liverpool University hospital for acute health services and that a failure, at this late stage, to agree to rebuild the Royal and to let that project go forward will leave the entire city—not just the north of the city—having to obtain its health services in a deteriorating building that is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century?
I agree with my hon. Friend and her intervention shows why this issue is so very important.
The city has taken major steps forward in recent years, yet Liverpool remains the poorest local authority; in total, 67% of its population live in the top 10% most deprived localities in the country. Ill health is related to poverty. Industrial diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, which are connected with the shipping industry of the past, cause deaths and incapacity today.
Although health standards have improved significantly during recent years, there is still an unacceptable gap in life expectancy between Liverpool people and those in the rest of the country. Women in Liverpool, Warrington and Hull have the lowest life expectancy for women in the country, at 78.8 years. Women in England as a whole can expect to live until they are 81.9 years old. The longest-living women in England are to be found in Kensington and Chelsea, reaching 88.9 years—a disparity of 10 years with women in Liverpool. Liverpool men have the fourth lowest life expectancy in the country, at 74.3 years, compared with a life expectancy of 84 years for men in Kensington and Chelsea and of 77 years for men in England as a whole.
Mortality rates are too high. The number of deaths from heart disease in Liverpool is 31% higher than the national average; the number of deaths from cancer-related diseases in Liverpool is 36% higher than the national average; deaths from causes that are amenable to health care in Liverpool are 42% higher than the national average, and deaths from conditions attributable to smoking in Liverpool are 57% higher than the national average. It is a chilling fact that for every 100 new cancers diagnosed in the rest of England, 130 new cancers are diagnosed in Liverpool.
Although that situation is related to long-term poverty, deprivation, the city’s industrial legacy and individual lifestyles, the new hospital, with its proposed high-tech facilities and single rooms, which would help to reduce the spread of infection, is essential to improving people’s health.
Despite its high incidence of cancer, Liverpool is the only major UK city without a comprehensive cancer centre. Following the Cannon and Baker report, a cancer centre linked to Liverpool university’s department of cancer studies should be built at the Royal and that project should be progressed with urgency.
The new hospital will contribute to the alleviation of disease by building on Liverpool’s strengths in the biochemical sector, already a major contributor to the local economy, by adding £1 billion gross value added and employing 6,000 people. In doing so, the new hospital will help regenerate the city. It will enhance important diagnostic research and life sciences, with increased collaboration between the university’s leading medical school, the internationally renowned Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the biomedical industry.
Companies such as Eli Lilly, Novartis, MedImmune and Bristol-Myers Squibb already work with the Royal. A new biomedical campus is planned on site and it will be integrated with similar facilities, expanding research, improving diagnosis and developing new health-related products. That campus will create additional jobs in Liverpool, as Liverpool increasingly becomes a global leader in this sector. The new hospital will also make a major economic impact. Building the hospital itself will create 1,600 jobs, with the local economic benefits reaching £240 million.
It is very sad that, with the Government’s draconian spending axe hanging over us, we still await a decision on the Royal’s future. What is at stake? Primarily, the new hospital is about the well-being of the people of Liverpool and the region, too many of whom experience unacceptably poor health. Everyone, irrespective of wealth, is entitled to good health care. There has been a great deal of investment in health services in Liverpool in recent years, which is why we have seen improvements in people’s health. But the key issue of the need to replace this major hospital remains outstanding and it is acutely important. The developmental hospital is important for Liverpool’s ongoing regeneration. Liverpool is a city transformed, but too many of its citizens have not yet reaped the benefits. And now, in this fraught economic climate, new challenges have emerged.
A rebuilt Royal will bring all the people of Liverpool essential state-of-the-art health care, fit for the 21st century. Linked with primary care, it will make a real difference. The current proposal is mainly private finance initiative-funded. It does not lean heavily on the public purse. It has been subject to stringent scrutiny, ensuring value for money, and that process is continuing.
The city council has already made strong representations and I want to praise Councillor Joe Anderson, the leader of the council, and Councillor Paul Brant, an executive member of the council, who have taken the lead in speaking up for the health needs of the city. Any delays, cutbacks or cancellation would deal a major blow to the people of Liverpool, with consequences for the whole region.
On 31 March 2010, the Liverpool Daily Post reported statements made by the then shadow Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley). Following some general comments that he made about the proposed scheme at the Royal, the Liverpool Daily Post said:
“And he turned the tables on Labour, by insisting the Tories were committed to protecting NHS budgets, while the Government”—
that is, the Government at that time—
“was plotting to slash capital spending by half.”
Asked about the Royal development, the right hon. Gentleman, now the Secretary of State, replied:
“The Conservatives have been clear about the need to protect NHS budgets, including capital spending, so we can support this project.”
I ask the Minister to confirm that that pledge remains real. I also ask him to implement it without delay, give this front-line service the green light and enable the people of Liverpool to benefit from the first-class health facilities that are so important for their future.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) on securing this debate on the future of the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust. I know of her long-standing support for the rebuilding of the Royal Liverpool hospital and it is apparent, just from looking at the number of Labour Members from Liverpool who are here today, that they are showing their interest in and concern about the provision of health care services in their constituencies and in the broader area of Liverpool and the Wirral.
I also pay tribute to the NHS staff across the whole of Liverpool, who do such an incredible job of caring for hon. Members’ constituents throughout the city and the surrounding area. Those members of staff do a fantastic job, day in and day out, with little recognition or thanks from people. I want to place on record my gratitude for their tremendous work and that of NHS staff in the rest of the country.
Before I come to the specifics about the Royal Liverpool hospital, I would like to set out the Government’s approach to the reconfiguration of local NHS services mentioned by the hon. Lady as part of her argument. I believe passionately that local decision making is essential to improving outcomes for patients and driving up quality. This Government will do more than just talk about pushing power to the local level; we will actually do it.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has identified four crucial tests that all reconfigurations must pass. First, they must have the support of GP commissioners. Secondly, arrangements for engaging patients and the public, including local authorities, must be further strengthened. Thirdly, there must be greater clarity about the clinical evidence base underpinning any proposals. Fourthly, any proposals must take into account the need to develop and support patient choice. To be clear, that means that forced hospital closures that do not have the support of GPs, local clinicians, patients and the local community should not occur.
The hon. Lady can rest assured that I will come to that in due course, during the latter part of my speech. In light of some of her comments, particularly about cancer services, I wanted to show the setting for reconfiguration in so far as it might affect that site and other parts of Liverpool’s health care provision.
Where local NHS organisations have already started to consider changing services, they will need to consider again whether their plans meet the criteria before continuing. It will be an opportunity for patients, local GPs and clinicians, and local councils to play a far greater role in how services are shaped and to ensure that the changes will lead to the best outcomes for patients.
The hon. Lady mentioned in an intervention the rebuilding of the Royal Liverpool. That will be reviewed in the light of the Secretary of State’s four tests. As she said in her speech, it is widely recognised that the hospital has a number of issues. Most significantly, the fabric of the building is deteriorating due to a serious case of concrete rot. The building’s condition contributes to high maintenance costs and a significantly poorer patient experience. The building is also inflexible, making it increasingly difficult for the trust to deliver modern, high-quality services.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his role. He is a reasonable man, and I am happy to see him in this job. Can he give all the Liverpool MPs here today some time scale within which the Government will take the decision on the review? We would be grateful for an approximate date.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind comments, which are greatly appreciated. I return the compliment by saying that when our roles were reversed, I found her an extremely helpful and sympathetic Minister when I brought problems to her concerning Chelmsford prison. She has anticipated me in her direct question. I assure her—I am choosing my words carefully, as she will discover—that I will answer her question later in my speech.
The programme to address the issues within the trust has been ongoing for some time, as all hon. Members present will know and appreciate. For the benefit of those hon. Members not present who will read the report of the debate, I shall set out the timeline of events.
Due to the sorry state of the buildings and the high cost of refurbishment, the trust decided fully to rebuild the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust while refurbishing the site at Broadgreen. In July 2004, the Department of Health agreed the project’s strategic business case, enabling work to start on the outline business case and the process of obtaining planning permission from Liverpool city council. In March 2008, planning permission was granted. In September 2009, the strategic health authority, NHS North West, approved the outline business case. Then, in March this year, the project was approved by the Department of Health and the Treasury. On 14 April, an advertisement to tender for the project was placed in the Official Journal of the European Union. That is the scheme’s current position.
However, it is important to understand the changed context within which we now find ourselves. The most urgent task facing the Government is to tackle our record debt. As part of that, the Treasury is reviewing every significant spending decision made between 1 January 2010 and the general election on 6 May. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside herself said, the final approvals were given on 29 March—two weeks to the day before the general election was announced. As a result, the project has been included in the Treasury review of public spending commitments made by the previous Government.
I hasten to add, as delicately as I can, that we, as a nation, face tremendous difficulties due to the staggering debt left to this Government. My right hon. Friends have rightly decided that we must get to grips with the economic situation that we inherited, and the primary problem that we face in the immediate future is the debt.
We all understand the problems of debt, but, as the Minister himself said, the replacement of this particular hospital has a long history. It has been scrutinised many times at many different levels—locally, regionally and nationally. It is a majority private finance initiative scheme funded mainly by the private sector. Is he suggesting either that the scrutiny has not been proper or that the hospital is not needed to meet the health needs of the people of Liverpool?
I am not quite sure how the hon. Lady could reach either of those conclusions, and I can tell her with all clarity that my answer to both questions is no. I do not think either of those things—that is, that proper scrutiny has not been carried out or that changes to the existing system are not needed. I can reassure her on those points, but the problem is that the final decision was taken after 1 January—very close to the calling of the general election. Because the review commences from 1 January, the project falls within its scope and must be reviewed, in these changed circumstances, to help to meet our pressing economic problems and deal with the debt that we have inherited. The project received Treasury approval only in March. As a result, it is caught up in the review, as are many other projects.
The issue comes down to the simple fact that this country faces crippling debts. A huge amount of work is involved in the Treasury review. As I hope hon. Members will appreciate, I cannot give an exact timetable for the decision, but to be as helpful as I can and, I hope, live up to the kind words of the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood, I anticipate a decision being taken by the spending review in the autumn. I appreciate that that might be frustrating for hon. Members and their constituents, but it is the best I can do. I hope that that answer moves towards their concept of helpfulness. I am afraid that, until then, I cannot comment further on the future of the development. If hon. Members were in the position in which my Government and I find ourselves, I am sure that they would do the same.
Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, I and everyone in the country share a vision of and want a high-quality NHS—accountable to patients, led by GPs and controlled locally. As a party, we were elected on a platform of real-terms increases in the NHS budget for every year of this five-year Parliament. It is a protected budget, so there will be no cuts, but there will be real-terms increases year after year, as long as this Parliament remains, which I anticipate will be five years. In that respect, there is stability and commitment, and an understanding of the financial commitments to the NHS. That, I hope, will give some stability to the overall decision-making process and the decisions that the NHS will have to take beyond simple capital projects.
Does the Minister agree that our city and its citizens deserve not only a new hospital built on the Royal Liverpool site, but the state-of-the-art facilities outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman)? Does he also agree that the jobs created during the construction phase, similar to those that the Prime Minister spoke of in the Chamber this afternoon, would boost the local economy at a time of economic uncertainty? From what the Minister has said, the project appears to meet the Chancellor’s tests under the Treasury review because it is primarily financed under the private finance initiative.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but everything has to be taken in the context of the changed circumstances—a change of Government and our overriding need to get the debt and the deficit under control. The context for that and the engine driving it is the review of all public spending commitments across the board. We are talking about not simply the health service, but commitments made across Government since 1 January. I cannot anticipate the outcome of any review, and I am sure that hon. Members would not expect me to. I can tell them that decisions will be taken by the spending review in the autumn, and I hope that hon. Members consider that helpful.
The Minister is being extremely generous in giving way and I am grateful. I understand the position that he is in—believe me. He gave an endpoint to the deliberative process, but the time scale he suggested might put the development at risk. Uncertainty can create difficulties with the funding arrangements for a PFI project, such that it is no longer workable or cannot be put together properly if the delay is too extensive because the private sector needs to raise money through the markets and in other ways.
Will the Minister undertake to do the usual thing that Ministers do, which is talk behind the scenes to his Treasury colleagues, as he will have to do anyway? Will he ensure, as far as he can, that the project is at the front rather than the back of the queue? The delay he indicated—through to the spending review in the autumn—could put the viability of the scheme at risk, whether or not the Government reaffirm the commitment made by the previous Government. For that reason, I urge him to do us a favour and discuss with the Treasury behind the scenes, as Ministers do, the urgent need to deal with this scheme as soon as possible.
I respect the hon. Lady’s ingenuity and I can see where she is hoping I will go. I do not want to disappoint, but I understand the situation and all I can do is reiterate that the project will be reviewed, as a lot of other projects across Government will be reviewed, in line with the Treasury guidelines for the review of projects from 1 January.
A decision will be taken by or at the time of the spending review in the autumn. I cannot go further than that. However frustrating it is for the hon. Lady, I know that in her heart of hearts she understands what I am saying. If the roles were reversed, she would probably say the same thing. It would be wrong and irresponsible, and potentially misleading, to go any further.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I join in the congratulations to him on his well deserved appointment to the Department of Health. I understand that he cannot go further on timing, but can he tell us more about the nature of the review? Is it likely that his Department will say that certain projects will go ahead as planned and others will not, or will it ask projects to look again at the cost, to achieve more projects at the lowest cost to the taxpayer?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind and gracious comments, which I greatly appreciate. I also pay tribute to his experience in coming at the question from a different angle. I do not want to, but I am afraid that I must disappoint him. I will not go down the route he suggests because it could be open to misinterpretation. I can only repeat what will happen: all spending projects from 1 January are being reviewed. Decisions will be taken by the time of the spending review.
I return to the reconfiguration of cancer treatments in the area, which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside raised, to give her a brief explanation of the current position, because that will put it in context and, I hope, be of help to her. Local health organisations in Cheshire and Merseyside are working together to ensure better cancer facilities for the local population. However, I am advised that the primary care trusts plan to review the first facility at the University Hospitals Aintree site before committing to further facilities at the Royal Liverpool. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, that is a local decision and it would not be appropriate for Ministers, at this stage, to compromise the processes, intervene or comment. There are local procedures to be gone through before final decisions are taken.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the future of Liverpool Royal University hospital and fully appreciate how important it is to all hon. Members present and their constituents. We will have to wait until the spending review is concluded in the autumn for a decision. In the nicest possible way, I urge hon. Members, however difficult it is, to be patient and wait. If I were a constituency MP in Liverpool, I would be in the same position as them.
Question put and agreed to.