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Intercity Express Programme

Volume 514: debated on Thursday 22 July 2010

6. What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s policy of Sir Andrew Foster’s report on the intercity express programme. (10279)

My statement to the House of 6 July announced that a decision on the future of the intercity express programme would be made as part of the spending review announcement in October, and that the Government would use the intervening time to pause for reflection and a fresh, detailed analysis, including a review of the alternatives in line with Sir Andrew’s recommendations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response, but given that the country and indeed his Department continue to suffer from significant budgetary pressures, would it not be better to cancel the IEP programme and extend the life of our InterCity 125 trains, which have performed very well over the years, so that we can continue to invest in matters such as upgrading track infrastructure and high-speed rail, which would deliver significant economic benefits?

The previous Government commissioned a report from Sir Andrew Foster, which has now been delivered. It was a detailed piece of work containing a lot of recommendations, and one of Sir Andrew’s suggestions was that we should review the possibility of an upgrade and life extension of the existing 125 fleet. That is one option that we will consider during the pause that I mentioned.

If the intercity express programme survives the comprehensive spending review, Hitachi intends to build the trains in Newton Aycliffe in my constituency, creating hundreds of jobs there and thousands in the manufacturing supply chain. It would be one of the biggest investments in the north-east since Nissan. Would the Minister be prepared to meet me and a delegation of north-east businessmen and trade unionists so that we can get the point across about how important the scheme is to the north-east of England?

I am always happy to meet Members, and I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, but I can tell him that I met the president of Hitachi recently on his visit from Tokyo, and that I have met the Japanese ambassador, and they forcefully made the same points as him. We will of course take them into account.

I should perhaps say that Hitachi is also interested in other rail projects in the UK, and we have heard very encouraging signs that the company intends to establish a serious presence in the UK as part of our future rail infrastructure development.

The Secretary of State will be aware that as a direct result of our investment, more people are using our railways than at any time since the 1940s. That is good for the environment and for tackling congestion and all its consequences. Continuing with our programme of additional rolling stock will not only lead to more jobs but be good for British manufacturing and growth. It is also a good way to continue to encourage more people to leave their cars and use our rail network. Will he aggressively lobby the Treasury for more investment in rolling stock, rather than listen to some of his hon. Friends who want cuts in additional rolling stock?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is conflating the debate on the high-level output specification rolling stock programme with that on the intercity express programme, but once again he shows a failure to recognise the reality of the situation that we have inherited from the previous Government. We have to deal with the fiscal crisis facing this country and prioritise investment in matters that will support economic growth and the decarbonisation of the economy. We will do that job effectively, and he will hear the result once the spending review is announced in October.