I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of High Speed 2.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to open the debate, and I am particularly grateful to all the Members —in all parts of the House and on all sides of the debate —who have turned up to participate. It is an incredibly important debate, because it involves £32 billion of taxpayers’ money. I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is not present, because, being an eternal optimist, I believe that he is delaying his decision until December—as he certainly should—and is keen to listen to the debate as it progresses. I know that not just you, Mr Speaker, but many right hon. and hon. Members have taken a great interest in this subject. Let me mention in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright).
It is fashionable for those who oppose HS2 to be dismissed as nimbys. Let me make it clear that I am here today not just as a concerned constituency MP but as someone with 25 years of experience in finance, including project finance, and that I am determined to defend the taxpayer against what I consider to be an unjustifiable and eye-wateringly expensive project. If the route went from Truro to Paddington, or from Leeds to Edinburgh, I would still be here today defending the taxpayer.
When I first heard about HS2 I thought it was a superb idea, but 18 months later all the proposed benefits have fallen away one by one, and there is no hard evidence that spending £32 billion can truly be justified. For instance, there is no evidence that this project will solve the north-south divide. In fact, there is plenty of evidence from the experience in France and Germany, and from our own HS1, that high-speed trains can suck development out of the regions and into the major cities.
I also have an intuitive concern about the point-to-point nature of the project. The north is not a place; it is a region. Those close to the terminals will benefit of course, but it is unclear how people outside those areas can directly benefit. I recently spoke to my former constituency chairman in the Knowsley South seat, which I contested in 2005, and his view is that Knowsley South will end up paying its share of the cost of this project but will get little, if any, benefit.
The north is not a region. It is made up of three regions—the north-west, Yorkshire and Humber and the north-east—all of which have their own identities, which I hope my hon. Friend will respect.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and I certainly do respect the right of people in the north to economic regeneration. I am speaking as much for them as I am for people in Cornwall and the Isle of Wight when I say that £32 billion spent on this project is the wrong use of taxpayers’ money.
The figure is 40,000, my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, but some 73% of those jobs will be generated in and around London, not in the north. Moreover, every one of those jobs will be associated with £300,000 in costs, which is about five times more than the cost of job creation in other infrastructure projects.
I want to make one further point before giving way again.
On HS2’s green credentials, HS2 itself admits that at best the project is carbon neutral. That leaves me pondering whether £32 billion of taxpayers’ money spent on a project that essentially only cures the capacity problems on the west coast main line is good value for money. It blatantly is not. I am not alone in thinking that. Organisations including the RAC Foundation, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the TaxPayers Alliance seriously challenge the business case for HS2.
I am glad the hon. Lady raises that point, because it is ludicrous nonsense. Anybody who has any knowledge whatever of assessing such projects and making sure they offer value for money would say it is nonsense. This is not our money; it is the taxpayers’ money and it belongs to the country. We should not spend money on HS2 on the grounds that we did so for Crossrail. That is just nonsense.
I want to make a little more progress, if I may.
I hear arguments that lots of other countries have high-speed rail so we need it to be able to keep up and compete with them, but the truth is that France, Germany and China are very different from our country. They each have a far greater land mass and much longer distances between cities. Furthermore, their high-speed railways follow existing transport corridors, and their non-high speed trains are extremely slow, unlike our existing inter-city trains, which are technically high-speed, with a top speed of 125 mph.
I also hear arguments that we should replicate the fabulous experiment with HS1. Yet a wealth of evidence suggests that commuter services running parallel to the HS1 link have become more expensive, have far more stops and far fewer trains running along the line, in order to subsidise HS1. Even the chief engineer of HS2 Ltd told me that, as a Kent commuter, he has had to get used to more expensive train fares in order to subsidise those using the HS1 service.
If all else fails, we hear that killer argument, “This is about a vision for Britain. This is like the great Victorian railways. It is like the fabulous post second world war motorways.” I am sorry, but I just do not buy that argument. The Victorian railways were largely privately funded The motorways are fabulous, but they have benefited every town and village in this country, because they have junctions every few miles. By contrast, every family in Britain will pay £1,000 for HS2 but 99% of people in this country will use the service less than once a year, and the wealthiest will use it four times more often than the poorest. That is a massive skewing of scarce resources.
Does my hon. Friend agree that although £32 billion is a great deal to spend on an infrastructure project, it is probably a welcome sum to spend on the supply side of our economy? Does she further agree, however, that it could be better spent on more local projects, such as the Stourport relief road in Kidderminster?
I will give way in a moment, but first I wish to discuss the business case for HS2. HS2 Ltd claims that there is a net benefit ratio of two, which means a £2 return for every £1 spent. That is pretty much the minimum we could expect from a rail project, but even that modest claim makes some enormous assumptions. For example, a core, but ludicrous, assumption is that the time spent on a train is completely wasted, so we can attribute a value in pounds to any minute saved on travel. That would not matter so much if it were not for the fact that more than 50% of the £20 billion return claimed for this project comes from the time savings. That is simply ludicrous.
A second enormous assumption is made in the passenger forecasts. HS2’s forecasts are heroic when compared with Network Rail’s own assumptions over a similar period. Surely we should learn the lesson of history. By 2009 Eurostar had achieved only 37% of the passenger numbers forecast when the HS1 link was built. We simply cannot continue to make these massively optimistic forecasts. The Public Accounts Committee took the Department for Transport to task on this point, and the DFT agreed that it would put in far greater downside assumptions for its next infrastructure project.
If the hon. Lady represented a constituency further away from London than Northamptonshire, she would value the time savings that would allow businessmen to meet their business contacts more quickly. Has she not seen the PricewaterhouseCoopers assessment that within three years of the line being completed the Government could cover their costs and get £6 billion or £7 billion in addition by floating the railway to the private sector?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Has he seen the Mott MacDonald report showing that since the advent of wi-fi and the internet the value of time spent on a train has been increasing exponentially every year? It is ludicrous to assert that there is no value in time spent working on a train.
I wish to make some more progress. Families up and down the country are feeling the pinch desperately. We are in an economic crisis, yet this project is costing the taxpayer £1 billion even before a single piece of track is laid in 2015—that sum is just to pave the way for HS2.
I wish now to discuss the ludicrous time frame. Nothing is going to get built before 2026. When I commute between Euston and Milton Keynes in peak hours, as I often do, it is not a case of, “Can I get a seat?”; it is a case of, “Can I physically get standing room on the train?” There is a massive capacity problem right now, and it cannot wait until 2026. It certainly cannot wait for 21 years, until the full “Y” is completed. Man might not land on Mars by 2032, but it is entirely possible that there will be technological changes by then that mean that HS2 is out of date before it is even finished.
Does my hon. Friend not accept, however, that HS2 was a manifesto promise that was extremely valuable to people like me who were campaigning against a third runway at Heathrow? We were going to put people on trains, not planes, and phase 2 of this project will deliver precisely that.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. All I can say to her is that when the facts change, we should change our minds. HS2 has not fulfilled its early promise. We simply cannot say that we will spend £32 billion because we broadly scoped something out in our manifesto that looked as if it would deliver the earth.
I will not give way again. I am sorry, but lots of people want to speak.
I am no rail expert, but there are lots of people who are, and they have put forward a broad range of different options that the Government and the Department for Transport should consider as alternatives that would offer more jobs, and faster and greater capacity while improving our existing rail infrastructure. I want to mention a few. We could lengthen existing trains from nine carriages to 12, and we could convert more from first class to standard.
I will not give way again.
We could consider solving the bottlenecks and pinch points that are so frequent along routes that slow down the system and give us less capacity. We could consider reopening old branch lines, particularly those that would enable passengers to switch between the east coast and west coast main lines and the Chiltern line. That would solve part of the problem in the firewall argument. We could consider solving the artificial peaks in demand generated by our appalling fare structure. We could even consider a new line just between London Euston and Milton Keynes so that the west coast main line could be dedicated to taking passengers to the north of England far faster and on a far more frequent service.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, because it strikes me that her argument is that HS2 is a bad, bad idea, but that it is all right if we build an extra line between London and Milton Keynes. Is she then saying that those of us who live in the north, the north-west and Yorkshire and Humberside should not be allowed to travel on trains? I am bemused.
If the hon. Lady had listened, she would have heard that I said we should consider building a dedicated local line so that the west coast main line could be exclusively available to those wishing to travel fast to the north of England on the inter-city train. It is nonsense to say that we should build a dedicated £32 billion line instead of considering a proper solution to the capacity problem. The final potential solution we should be considering is giving the right spending priority to rolling out superfast broadband.
Archie Norman, the chairman of ITV, has said:
“Scrap HS2 now and announce instead £17 billion of spending…to bring about the biggest improvement in history of Britain’s existing railway.”
I am genuinely sorry to be so at odds with my Government and with many Members over this project, but we must seriously consider whether spending £32 billion of taxpayers’ money on a project that will deliver nothing until 2026 is worth while. In my view, it is not. It is monumentally expensive and the time scales are so long that they become satirical. As a result, HS2 risks being a vast white elephant that is out of date before it is even completed.
HS2 is not visionary, it is not green and it is definitely not economically sound. We can and must do better. I urge the Government, in the strongest possible terms, to reconsider this project so that it does not become a triumph of political will over economic sense.
Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), let me emphasise that in seconding the motion he should confine himself to no more than 10 minutes, although he is not obliged to speak for that length of time if he does not wish to do so. Thereafter, in light of the very large number of Members seeking to catch my eye, there will be a six-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
The purpose of asking yet again for a debate in the Chamber on high-speed rail was that, having had two very successful earlier debates in Westminster Hall, we knew that there was a great deal of interest throughout the House among Members representing virtually all the constituencies that have an interest in it. I am very pleased to see the remarkable attendance we have this afternoon, and to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who has just opened the debate.
Those who attended the demonstration in Old Palace Yard this morning will have seen that there was a good turnout and a lively response from lorry drivers and others in relation to what we still call HS2. I am pleased to say that one lot from your constituency, Mr Speaker, remarked that they were anxious to speak to your good self about it, and I carry their best wishes and thanks to you. I said that you would almost certainly be in the Chair for the debate today, so I am pleased to see that you are indeed there.
The various points that have consistently been made against this project remain, but they have not been answered in debate or by the Government. The hon. Lady covered virtually all those points in her opening remarks. I am limited for time, and I intend to stay well within the 10 minutes because I know that a lot of Members wish to speak, but let me say that although the point about people being local or nimbyish about this issue is fair, I do not think that any MP who sticks up for his constituency should be at all apologetic about it. That is what we are sent here for, and if we do not do it, why are we here?
We have to take into account the national dimension, but I am prepared to say that I, and my Labour colleagues from Stoke and Coventry, certainly will not benefit from this project at all. I can see the arguments for Manchester, York, Leeds and other areas, which are well represented on the Opposition side, but it seems to me that we are doing things the wrong way around. I can see some benefits—although not the regional benefits that the Government claim—for Manchester, Leeds in particular, and York of being connected to a high-speed link to Birmingham and from there to London, but I think we should start the whole “Y” the other way around. We should start the line where it is most needed and most appreciated—from the north to the south. What is very clear, if we are honest about this, is that we do not desperately need the line from London to Birmingham. We are well served with trains every 20 minutes, and we are only going to get 30 minutes off the journey at best.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will in a moment if my hon. Friend will hang on just a tick. I have only got 10 minutes, and time taken now will shorten someone else’s time.
We really do not need this project. What we need is for the pinch points to be relieved and some of the capacity bottlenecks to be relieved, and we could get the whole capacity increase we need on that line. Centro, which is responsible for the west midlands portion of the line, has said that it desperately needs that to be done now. That is the way to do it, not to wait until—
I will give way in a moment, but I know what my hon. Friend is going to say because he represents a Birmingham constituency. I take those points too, but on the argument about this being a regional policy, let me say that any remotely sensible study that has been done on it says that 75% of the jobs are going to be created in the south-east, so we should forget the idea that it is a regional policy: that does not stack up. It is a convenience for certain metropolitan centres in the north, and the idea is that if ever it gets up to Edinburgh and Glasgow it could be a spinal cord that unites the country despite the tensions we feel at present—so why not start it up there? Why not start it from Leeds or York? That is what needs doing—and urgently—but of course they will not do that, because everyone knows that the subsidy for that area would be enormous and could not be justified. It can be justified only for the small London-Birmingham stretch where the subsidy will be highest, and it will not benefit ordinary travellers in any sense. It will be subsidised to a massive extent by the taxpayer and, by those businessmen, and others—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Some of his points about where the benefits would flow with high-speed rail are important, but surely what he is assuming is that people would just build the line and there would be stations but nothing else would happen. The whole point is that high-speed rail offers opportunity for much more comprehensive economic planning built around a high-speed rail network. It is not just a high-speed railway and stations on their own; it is part of a much wider approach that is required.
I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend talk about economic planning. I think that, sadly, that went out in 1966, when the Labour Government ditched the national plan. Let us be hard-headed and realistic about this. HS2 will have some benefits, and certainly it will help businesses to travel more quickly to London, but that is about all we can say. If I were a Manchester MP I am sure I would be supporting it, but below there it does not make any sense at all.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, because I want to challenge his view that there is no benefit for Birmingham. I would much prefer the track to start in the north, but the reality is that the capacity issue is on the bottom part of the line and that if we do not do something to free up capacity there—and the bodged bits that people are talking about doing would not be adequate in the future—we will not have local trains running either.
I do not accept that at all, and the hon. Lady should look at what Centro and others have said. There is a capacity problem. The Government’s capacity projections are way over the top, just as they were for HS1, which was the biggest flop ever. Their capacity projections said that the minimum would be a fifth of the maximum, but they could not even get the capacity up to that level. It lost money from day one, and it was flogged off recently to someone in Canada who has no interest in it at all, at a whopping loss of £2 billion or £3 billion. That is the truth.
I will give way in a moment—no, I will not give way, sorry.
As a prospective Coventry candidate, I was told, “You’ve got to remember one thing, Geoffrey: the only good thing that comes out of Birmingham is the Coventry road”—but I will leave that there.
In all seriousness, with £33 billion of capital expenditure, this is the largest capital project that this country will ever have engaged in. That money could be better spent elsewhere. Dealing with the capacity problems between London and Birmingham and increasing capacity by 47% can be done now. The plans are there; they are shovel ready.
It will. Taking a realistic view of capacity, of course it will solve the problem, particularly if we are set back by a 16% output gap, thanks to the recession. Even the Government have had to revise their plans. Does my hon. Friend really believe that we will have more than a 50% increase in capacity in the next 10 years before the project comes in? We need an increase now. We can get 50% by lengthening platforms, without the huge tear-up in London and elsewhere, or the cost that HS2 would involve.
I will mention a few other points that I think are relevant. I happen to agree with those who feel that HS2 would involve the unnecessary tearing up of some of the most beautiful country that we have. This morning, Mr Speaker, your constituents were waxing lyrical about their village. I feel for those who will have their houses smashed and repossessed—all for no good. If we were at war and had to move ammunition, as we probably did in those days, there would be a case for HS2. There is no case now. As I have said, it is not the best way to increase capacity. That could be done in the shorter term and much more cheaply. It will not benefit ordinary people, and it will not help the north-south divide.
Above all—I say this in all seriousness to my colleagues from Manchester, Leeds, York and others who are here today—I fear that the real danger is that the line will not get built up there. They will find that the cost of getting the line to Birmingham will be blown up beyond all the estimates. Everyone will heave a sigh of relief and say, “We don’t have to go on. This is the profitable part.” In all likelihood, that is what will happen.
As for the environment, the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire made it quite clear that even the Government, and now Greengauge and the other lobby action groups in favour—paid by the Government, of course, or by the company itself—have admitted that HS2 will not do anything for the environment. One is at a loss to know why the Government are doing this. The whole cover was blown by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), who said that the Government reached a deal to oppose the third runway at Heathrow and have HS2 instead. It was a £30 billion election bribe. Whether or not it won them any seats I do not know, but the cover was blown earlier, in that intervention on the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire.
I put it to the House that I do not think that many hon. Members are in the mood to listen the arguments today. It is perfectly legitimate for them to seek to push their constituency interests, but let us go from legitimate constituency interests to a sane, objective assessment of the problems of the capital project, and the hon. Lady exposed the myths that lie behind that project.
That was a touching cameo of the brotherly love between Birmingham and Coventry Labour Members of Parliament. I am sure that if we had the opportunity to attend parliamentary Labour party meetings, we would see it displayed every week.
Time is short, and I do not intend to repeat what I have said in previous debates on High Speed 2. If hon. Members or others are interested, they can find what I have said previously on my website—I am not one of the Twitterati, but I am catching up with websites—at www.tonybaldry.co.uk/tag/hs2. As the House will know, the Transport Committee is undertaking an inquiry on the principles of HS2. I hope that it will pay regard to two points. The first is capacity. It is unclear to me whether the purpose of HS2 is to enable more people from cities such as Manchester and Leeds to travel by rail to London and back, or to allow people to travel faster to London at greater expense. All the statistics show train use increasing. That is probably not surprising, given the ever-increasing cost of petrol. Like other Members, I frequently take long-distance inter-city trains to see family members or, increasingly, as part of my other duties in the House, to visit cathedral cities. Nowadays, irrespective of the time of day at which I travel, the trains are always full, so it strikes me that what is needed on our rail network is greater capacity.
Greater capacity may mean somewhat unglamorous improvements to services that we already use—improvements such as longer trains, extended platforms and improved signalling. Rail campaigners in my constituency argue that if we need a new railway line for capacity, we should
“make the line compatible with existing rolling stock so it can be used to ease congestion on the whole network when required. The stand-alone design, (of HS2), means that if the West Coast mainline gets blocked, for some reason, you will not be able to reroute trains down the new line”.
The second issue that I hope the Select Committee will consider with great care is the business case for HS2. This is obviously a matter of concern to everyone.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reference to the work of the Select Committee. It has not yet reported on High Speed 2, so I do not feel that I am in a position to give any conclusions—they are not there yet—but I can confirm that the issues that the Select Committee is considering very carefully have to do with capacity, impact on the economy and environment, and value for money. There are a wide variety of views on all those issues, and the Select Committee is looking at all of them in the round. We will report in due course.
Of course, and as one of those who argued strongly that the Select Committee should undertake the inquiry, I have absolutely no doubt that the Committee will deal with the issues with great diligence. I am sure that the House looks forward to debating the Committee’s report and the Government’s response to it. I hope that the debate can take place here in the main Chamber, and not in Westminster Hall, which is where such debates are often held.
As the hon. Lady says, clearly one of the issues that the Committee has to look at is the business case. A considerable sum is being spent, and of course the money spent on HS2 will not be available for investment elsewhere in rail infrastructure; £30 billion is a very substantial amount, and we all need to be confident that the business case will stack up. Conservative Members who entered the House when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, as I did, always had a very high regard for the advice of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Over the years, it has readily embraced new ideas, so it is sobering that its verdict on HS2 is that
“There is a significant risk that High Speed 2…will become the latest in a long series of government big-project disasters”.
The business case for HS2 appears to be based on a number of assertions, such as people do not work on trains. I hope that the Select Committee will investigate those assertions. I understand that there are suggestions in official documents that the effect of HS2 will be to benefit London and the south, in terms of jobs and growth, rather than cities such as Manchester and Leeds. The contribution of the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) demonstrates that many Members representing inner cities are concerned about the differential regional impacts of HS2. I hope that the Select Committee will call for and examine those papers, as it is in a better position than most of us to challenge and evaluate the evidence on HS2.
The Northern Way did a lot of work on this and pointed out that the economic benefit of HS2 would be as great for the north as it would be for London and the south east. The key point is that the economic benefit is the sum of the whole and that UK plc will be the beneficiary. The other important point about HS2 is that it will help to rebalance the economy.
It is really important, for the benefit of the whole House, that the Select Committee should consider all these issues. None of us has had the benefit of hearing all the evidence and there is a slight danger—as with liquorice allsorts—that Members will pick only the evidence they want. If we as a nation are to spend £30 billion, I am concerned that it should be money well spent. I am sure that the Committee will diligently consider all the evidence and report back to the House. The hon. Lady represents a Manchester constituency—[Interruption.] I apologise. She represents a Sheffield constituency—[Interruption.] Well, it is a Yorkshire constituency. She clearly has a preconceived view that HS2 will somehow benefit her constituents. I hope that she will reflect on all the evidence submitted to the Committee. She shakes her head. I hope that she will not dismiss it and that the whole House will have the opportunity to consider the matter in the round.
Even if the nation’s finances start to improve substantially after 2015, as we all hope they will, £30 billion is still a very substantial sum. We have a collective duty to ensure that such a significant sum is spent in the best possible way. My concern is that the project started very much as a vanity project. The previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), went up to Birmingham before the general election to announce the project in the hope that it would win him a few votes there. I simply do not think that that is a good way to start such a massive project.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the Select Committee looks at all aspects of this and follows the evidence—that is what Select Committees are for. He mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) who used the word “we” rather liberally when referring to the west midlands. I should point out for the benefit of the House that my hon. Friend’s views are not universally shared in the west midlands, in Birmingham, or even in Coventry.
Many people are using public transport more these days, particularly the railways, despite the extortionate fares that train operating companies extract from customers for the cheap but not very cheerful service they usually get, particularly on commuter lines. I very much welcome the increased use of public transport, because it reduces carbon emissions and is generally better for the environment.
Two acts of monumental folly have affected the railway industry in the past 50 years. The first was the decision in the early 1960s by the Conservative Government of the day to let Dr Beeching butcher Britain’s network of branch lines, which had linked communities across the country. The second was the decision by another Conservative Government to privatise the railways in the early ’90s, a decision that even the arch-privatiser, Mrs Thatcher, had the good sense not to pursue. Of course, this has meant that the taxpayer has been paying vastly more in subsidy to train operating companies and to the network than was ever paid pro rata to British Rail. I hope that the coalition and the Minister will not, over this decision, make it three monumental follies in a row.
The coalition proposes that we spend £32 billion by 2026 on a new rail project from London to Birmingham, which then goes on to Leeds and Manchester by 2032, allegedly saving 30 minutes’ travelling time from Birmingham and 50 minutes from Manchester. The fact that business people invariably travel first class and can use their computers and communications networks while travelling, while others will remain in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester and hold meetings using video conferencing facilities, is dismissed by the vested interest groups, which see a massive tranche of public money that they would like to access.
At a time when ordinary people are facing massive reductions in their living standards, living under threat of losing their jobs and watching their community services such as libraries, Sure Start centres and centres for elderly people being axed, we are prepared to commit £17 billion, the estimated cost of the line from London to Birmingham, in order to get business people from Birmingham to London 30 minutes sooner—always assuming that there are no high-speed leaves on the line and the high-speed signalling equipment actually works.
Time is limited, so my hon. Friend must forgive me.
No wonder an online survey by the Birmingham Post showed that 75% of respondents were against the project.
What other inflated claims are made for the project? It is said that it will help to diminish regional inequalities and promote growth, but there is no evidence of that. If we look at what has happened in Japan, Spain and France, we find that the high-speed connections there have benefited the hub much more than the outer communities.
What about the effect of the project on towns and cities that High Speed 2 will bypass? The deputy leader of Coventry city council says that the plans for High Speed 2 send a clear message that
“Coventry is not a place to stop.”
Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said about Birmingham, I suggest that that might not be a bad idea.
Where high-speed trains do work is in countries with large land mass, but in other, smaller countries they take resources from humbler but more needed schemes, such as the upgrading of existing networks, signalling and infrastructure. Unfortunately, however, we all know as politicians that unveiling a new signal box tends to appeal less than inaugurating a futuristic new service. The project’s other exaggerated claims have already been dealt with.
Does my hon. Friend realise that the project is not a zero-sum game? As in any business, if one invests in a new product, one gets new customers and generates economic growth. We need investment in the current network, for sure, but that is no reason not to go ahead with High Speed 2.
I am all in favour of infrastructure investment, but I can think of a whole host of infrastructure investment on which £32 billion could be spent in my constituency, my hon. Friend’s constituency and many other constituencies. This project is not good value for money, and it has not been thought through.
Surely it is a zero-sum game, as was said earlier, because, at a time when we in constituencies that are not directly affected by this railway project are nevertheless having to fight, for example, to save hospitals from closure due to cuts, it seems sheer madness to look at this level of investment instead of at saving our services.
I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, because I agree.
Putting aside my views on the subject, I shall share with the House the views of a Manchester-based businessman who came to London on Tuesday for a meeting of the Surface Engineering Association, an excellent organisation that looks after the interests of companies operating in that segment of manufacturing industry. I asked him how long it had taken to travel down to London that day, and he said “Two hours, eight minutes.” He asked why I wanted to know and I told him about the upcoming debate on High Speed 2. He responded that getting to London from Manchester 50 minutes quicker did not really bother him because he used train time to work on his computer and to make calls. He ventured the opinion that if the Government had that sort of money to spend, they should do something about the bottlenecks on the M6, as well as improving the transport infrastructure in many of our cities.
Those views are similar to the majority of those expressed to me by business people in my constituency. Not one business person has come to me and said, “Thirty minutes is going to make the difference between my company succeeding or not.” It is a fallacy to believe otherwise. However, over the years, plenty of constituents have come to me and said that there should be better public transport facilities within Birmingham—an underground system such as the one in London, a tram system such as those that operate in European cites, improved bus services, or new or reopened train lines and stations within and around the city. Those are the types of improvements that the people of Birmingham want, not a vastly expensive link between London and Birmingham.
People have expressed a great deal of concern about the damage that this will cause in the Chilterns and Warwickshire. The impression has been given that only people who live there are concerned about those areas. In fact, many people living in Birmingham travel to the countryside, especially elderly people in my constituency who have enjoyed the benefits of the free or concessionary fares introduced by the Labour Government. They enjoy the countryside; they are certainly not part of the “carpet the countryside with concrete” brigade, and neither am I.
We have had many vanity projects in this country that have been a disaster. I hope the Minister will think again about this project, because I believe that if she goes ahead, it will be a disaster.
The temperature of this debate is running high. In a densely populated country such as England, it will never be easy to come to a decision about transport infrastructure going right the way through the country. That said, just because a decision is hard and opposition is loud does not mean we should shy away from hearing the points made and coming to that decision.
I have listened to a lot of what has been said about the differences between the north and the south, with Members saying that High Speed 2 will not help—but it will. I come to this debate as an MP from the north-west and, in particular, as an MP from Merseyside. This, to us, is infrastructure we need. We are not going to develop because of this infrastructure, but without it our growth will be stymied. As Government Members, we have all voted for a redistribution of wealth—a change from dependence on the public sector to the private sector. We in the north-west need this infrastructure to allow our private sector to grow so that we stop being overly reliant on the public sector. To all intents and purposes, High Speed 2 was meant to aid the decentralisation of that economic power base.
Let me turn to the figures. Yes, the cost of High Speed 2 at £30 billion is a huge amount of money. However, the fare revenue will bring down that cost to £17 billion. Private sector investment is expected to cover a lot of the cost on key parts of the network such as station developments. In response to a recent question of mine, the Secretary of State said that High Speed 2 in its entirety will bring in £44 billion. The latest review from KPMG puts tax receipts alone at between £6 billion and £10 billion per year. That means that High Speed 2 will easily pay for itself. We have not heard about any of that today.
The previous three speakers said that one of the disadvantages of the project is that it has come out of a political agreement among the three parties. I think that that is a massive advantage. It is because we do not have political agreement that we have the lowest motorway density in western Europe, a lack of airport capacity where we need it, and in the north-west a railway system running on timetables worse than in Gladstonian times. The country will benefit from this project because the three parties agree with it. Does the hon. Lady agree?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We need cross-party support and we also need cross-country support.
I appreciate that infrastructure is not an end in itself, but it is a means to an end. It opens up areas to opportunity and it is for those areas to seize upon that opportunity and capitalise on it. In considering the High Speed 2 development, we must look at the northern hub and connectivity across the north. We must look at the Y shape of the line and link in not just Manchester and Leeds, but Liverpool.
I fully support high-speed rail, as does my hon. Friend. However, in the context of connectivity, does she accept that the forgotten English region is the south-west? Although one can support this project, it must be accepted that any available funds elsewhere need to be funnelled in that direction and to the west of England to ensure that we have the connectivity that she is describing.
I do not disagree at all. I believe that we need greater connectivity across the board. Equally, this project is not starting until 2017 and will go on for two decades. I would like that to be brought forward, not just for the north-west but for the south.
I want to look at where Merseyside needs to develop and what development we are stopping. Official figures for 2009 recorded that 48 million UK day visitors went to Liverpool. It was the sixth most popular destination in the UK. The number of visitors is projected to grow to 55 million by 2013. With overcapacity on the trains, that will not happen. This is not just about speed; it is fundamentally about capacity.
There is also the Liverpool super-port freight development, which is being led by the private investors, Peel. It is set to develop a £300 million in-river berth, which will increase port capacity from 700,000 containers a year to 3 million, creating more than 4,000 new jobs. We need connectivity, warehouse storage and logistics. We want to grow all of those things. This is about rebalancing the economy. Of course there will be jobs in building the infrastructure, but there will also be key jobs in freight and movement. Liverpool should be positioning itself as the port of the north. I have always said that without our ports—whether the cruise terminal or the freight port—we are only a 180° city or half a city. We need to open up links to our waterways to ensure that we are a 360° city.
No, there will be increased freight capacity, and that is key. There has been a 56% increase in the amount of freight over the past eight years. We have to accommodate that and develop the capacity that we have.
In conclusion, High Speed 2 is vital, as are the northern hub, the connection with Liverpool, our ports and opening up the UK as a whole. There is a financial argument, which people have made. I have given the latest statistics from KPMG. High Speed 2 is about uniting the country, and about spreading wealth and opportunity to areas that desperately need them. My only concern is that it should happen sooner rather than later.
Besides being the Member for Holborn and St Pancras, I am the Member for King’s Cross and Euston. I feel like I have been here before. About 20 years ago, the sort of people who are now proposing HS2 were proposing that the channel tunnel link should come into a vast concrete cavern to be excavated under King’s Cross station. Many local people opposed it, and when the project team asked what I suggested, I said, “You could use St Pancras, it would be a much better idea.” That was denounced as ridiculous for a time, but in due course St Pancras International was opened and is probably the most magnificent station in the whole world.
Now we have the proposition of HS2. I say to those who are in favour of it that to bring it in to Euston is just about as stupid as the King’s Cross concrete box idea. Euston is already overcrowded, and getting to and from it by either bus or tube is extremely difficult. There are no proposals to improve that. Also, Euston is not on the Heathrow Express line and is not going to be on Crossrail. In recognition of that, the people behind HS2 are proposing the parkway station at Wormwood Scrubs, hereinafter to be known as Old Oak Common, which is on the Heathrow Express and will be on Crossrail. That suggests that they accept that it would be a good idea to have that station as the terminus if HS2 is built. I say that from a strategic and passenger point of view, but I do not pretend that it is my basic point of view. I try to represent the people in the constituency that I have represented for 30-odd years, which I am proud to do.
The proposal involves the demolition of the houses and homes of more than 350 of my constituents. Their attitude, and mine, is not nimby—“not in my back yard”—but “not through my front room”, because that is what is being proposed. If HS2 is to be built, it would be totally unacceptable from a local point of view, and silly from a national point of view, to bring it into Euston.
No, I shall not, because I want other people to get their speeches in.
I am particularly concerned to end the planning blight that now afflicts the people who live in the area affected and those in the area behind it, Primrose Hill, who may also be disturbed by the developments. I therefore wrote to the Secretary of State asking what guarantees he was willing to give about suitable alternative accommodation for the people affected. I asked whether it would be in the neighbourhood; whether they would remain tenants of the council; how soon such alternative accommodation would be provided; whether people would have to live in temporary accommodation while permanent accommodation was built; what security of tenure they would have; and what the effect would be on their rents and service charges. I got a letter back from him saying, “Oh, all that will need to be looked into in the fullness of time.” As far as I am concerned, that leaves 350 of my constituents on planning blight death row, and we have to do something about that. There is absolutely no reason why the Minister could not say today that she can offer all the guarantees that those people want, and that those guarantees will be one of the conditions of any agreement if the mad proposal finally goes ahead and HS2 comes into Euston.
No, I want to sit down as quickly as I can so that other people can get in.
I believe that Euston is a stupid place to use as the terminus, even from the point of view of those who favour High Speed 2, and that it is a disastrous proposition from the point of view of the people I represent.
It is a great honour and pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing it. She has allowed everybody who has a point of view the chance to make their case, expose the arguments of the other side and put forward their own.
In the last Parliament I was fortunate enough, along with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), who is in her place, to be part of the shadow transport team who were the first authors of a major high-speed rail debate, and indeed of a high-speed rail policy.
The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) is absolutely right that there is a principled case for opposition to the scheme. My constituents are affected, as are those of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson). What is not a principled position, however, is to say that there is no economic, environmental, financial or travel case for high-speed rail. There clearly is a case, although its merits might differ according to differing points of view.
I have read both the rail package 2 study and the “A Better Railway for Britain” study, the proposals in which are often referred to as an alternative to high-speed rail. I shall briefly examine—because I want to move on to the positives, rather than the negatives—the proposals in the latter study for overcoming the capacity issues on the west coast main line. It proposes to introduce 12 car trains, grade-separated junctions and an additional track south of Nuneaton. It claims that the costs, at best, would be £2.06 billion, but it takes that figure from another, flawed document. I do not know whether those who produced the study have ever spoken to any of the rail operators, but it will be extremely difficult to integrate 12 cars into 11-car sets.
Absolutely. However, so much in “A Better Railway for Britain” is mere assertion. The good points, though, are like that television programme from so long ago, “Not Only… But Also”. Not only do we need to do the things mentioned in RP2, but also we need high-speed rail. The case for high-speed rail is clear. It revolves primarily around capacity. Official sources say that the west coast main line will be full by 2020, although some say 2026, while unofficial sources say 2015. The question, then, is about how we add capacity. We either build a classic new line or we build one that uses some of the new techniques and signalling. The latter is called high-speed rail.
Does my hon. Friend accept that if we are going to make the case for “not only but also”, as he described it, the case for HS2 needs be made after the “not only”? In other words, if we are trying to make an economic argument, we have to add on the incremental improvements to be made and then justify HS2 expense on top of that.
There is one fallacy with my hon. Friend’s argument. Simply speeding up the current network and alleviating some minor problems is no substitution for high-speed rail. It is clear that high-speed rail would at least double capacity, and on certain parts of the route, the capacity increase would be significantly more than that.
The Y-shaped high-speed network across the UK would bring a benefit-cost ratio of about 2:6. For the London to Birmingham section, the ratio would be 2:0. That shows that the case for going further north becomes more compelling and adds to the economic benefit. The proposals in “A Better Railway for Britain” would have a benefit-cost ratio of 1:4. Those ratios prove that high-speed rail is significantly better than some of these hotch-potch alternatives in “A Better Railway for Britain”.
Does my hon. Friend accept that between the two iterations of the business case in March 2010 and February 2011, the Government had to slash their estimate of the benefit-cost ratio by 40%? That was the first time that the business case was prodded. If another 40% comes off it when it is prodded again, it will be proven to have been economically unviable.
When the business case is re-examined, the key thing will be: what happens if it improves? The more important point is that the benefit-cost ratio for HS2 is overwhelmingly ahead of any of the other proposals. That is true.
The economic case is overwhelming. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) eloquently set out some of the issues in the north, but the point is that in the construction phase alone, high-speed rail will generate 40,000 jobs along the route. That does not include any calculation of the ripple supply-chain effect, which will certainly be felt. More than that, the combination of HS2 and the northern hub, which has already been referred to, will create a new economic conurbation in the north and allow much quicker access between the north and London. That connectivity is hugely important.
When the business community criticises politicians, it says that all too often one of the reasons why it does not invest and why there are barriers to growth is that we, the politicians, have not put in place the appropriate infrastructure. This scheme is the appropriate infrastructure for the 21st century.
The environmental impact cannot be understated. The Department for Transport currently estimates that the project is carbon-neutral, and I absolutely accept that. However, I am aware that the Campaign for Better Transport is doing some new research into the impact of taking extra freight by rail, which, when combined with the transference effect from railways, I am led to believe points to the conclusion that the carbon footprint will be significantly reduced.
No, I am sorry; I have only a minute and a half left.
There is a myth that local services will suffer as a result of High Speed 2. That is not true: local services are already at capacity. We need to do other things, but high-speed rail is not part of that argument. That is a diversionary tactic. There is also a myth, which has been brought up time after time today, that there is a £30 billion cost. Yes, of course the scheme will cost £30 billion, but Crossrail is currently costing us £2 billion a year. Crossrail will have a huge impact on London and create huge benefits for the commuting area of London and the south-east. If we look at the cost of Crossrail against the annual cost of High Speed 2, we see that they are actually a substitution for one another. It is quite clear that we can invest the £2 billion a year in rail infrastructure that the Government have costed for without affecting other investment.
The case is a good one and there are overwhelming reasons for it. The network is at capacity, the economy will benefit, the scheme will be at least carbon-neutral and, given that it does not start until after 2017, High Speed 2 is affordable.
I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak in this debate and congratulate the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on introducing it. We have had debates on the subject before in Westminster Hall, and I shall have to make some of the points that I made in those debates again, because they are significant.
I am a passionate believer in railways and have been for decades. Even when railways were unfashionable, I believed that they were the transport mode of the future, and so they have proved to be. Indeed, there is absolutely no doubt that we will have more railways in future. I believe that we should invest heavily in railways and in additional routes, but I remain a sceptic about HS2. I applaud in particular the speeches by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry)—who has just left the Chamber—and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff), who made many important points that I will not necessarily repeat.
The scheme is expensive, but if it was worth while I would support that expense. It also has an opportunity cost: we should be doing things now, not in decades to come. As the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire said, even getting on a train to Milton Keynes is a problem now, let alone finding a seat, and the same is true elsewhere. We need heavy investment in all sorts of railway schemes, but not necessarily this one, which will come a long time in the future, not now. However, it will not be necessary even in the future. The point has been made about Britain being a densely populated country, and many towns that need to be served by high-speed trains would not be. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) is quite right that he would not benefit at all from HS2. Indeed, getting to and from the station is a much more significant problem for those living even on the outskirts of Birmingham than getting from Birmingham to London.
We need more capacity, but for that we need to upgrade existing routes. For example, there is no question but that the east coast main line needs to be upgraded; indeed, I had a long talk about that with the chief executive at our recent conference. However, all we need is an additional viaduct to quadruple the track at Welwyn, a passing loop at Peterborough and a crossover at Newark, and then we will have no problem at all with 140 mph trains running from London to Edinburgh. To build a high-speed line carrying no more than two or three trains a day that far would be nonsense. We have the capacity now, provided we upgrade the route a little.
I completely concur with the hon. Gentleman. The same train line goes through our constituencies. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) that we should be looking at many other areas in which to invest. We could move many more passengers around the country. The hon. Gentleman is making a perfect argument for looking at this matter again.
I thank the hon. Lady for her support. We have neighbouring constituencies and share the rail route that runs through our towns.
In the end, the problem comes down to the west coast main line, which needs the signalling to be upgraded to the most modern standard, more train paths, and to get the freight off the line. Freight and passengers do not mix. Freight trains move more slowly, and they damage the track more than the lighter passenger trains, so we need to invest in a dedicated freight line running up the backbone of Britain, from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, linking all the major conurbations. I have supported that scheme for a long time, and it would take 5 million lorries a year off the roads, as well as removing all the freight traffic from the east and west coast main lines. The passenger routes need to be separated from the freight routes and upgraded to improve capacity. I believe that that is what we need, and that is why I am sceptical about the HS2 scheme.
That freight route could be built in four years for as little as £6 billion, and it would cause no environmental difficulty because it could use existing under-utilised routes and old track bed could be brought back into use. That, and a couple of tunnels, would make the whole thing work. I have made this case time and again in the Chamber over the past 14 years, and I have mentioned it to the Minister of State. I have presented a paper on it to the Transport Select Committee. I also know engineers who have worked on the scheme and worked the details out. It just needs to be done. Fifteen of us had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport in the previous Government to put our case for the scheme, but the Department was so hostile because a small section of our proposed route overlapped the route it wanted to use for HS2. Even if HS2 is built, the lines could be paralleled at that point. There would not be a problem.
We need a freight route that is capable of taking full-scale lorry trailers on trains. That could never be done on existing routes without incurring the prohibitive cost of raising all the tunnels and bridges throughout the network. We need a track that has the capacity to take double-stack containers. Most of our existing routes cannot even take standard 9 feet 6 inch containers. We also need a track that has the capacity to take continental trains, which currently cannot get through our platforms because they are too wide, the gauge is too big. We need to be able to accommodate trains travelling from, say, Rome to Birmingham carrying San Pellegrino water.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument for a major extension of the rail network. Given that one of his reasons for opposing HS2 is its cost, will he give us an estimate of the cost of all the various improvements and new lines that he has just described?
Some two or three years ago, we had lunch with some people from Bechtel, one of the train manufacturing companies. We were talking about a cost of £4 billion or £5 billion at that time. We talked about an outside figure of £6 billion, but the Bechtel representative looked at the scheme and said he could do it for £3 billion. That would be a fraction of the cost even of Crossrail, which I support. This is not about cost, however; it is about whether HS2 is necessary. I think that we could achieve the desired result by doing it differently. We could upgrade existing routes to serve all the intervening towns, and we could provide the necessary capacity by getting all the freight off those lines and on to a new freight route. I ask the Department for Transport to take our scheme seriously, because that is what we need for the future.
We in the Liberal Democrats have long supported high-speed rail, and we are delighted that the Government of whom we are part are going to deliver on that commitment. A sustainable transport system fit for the 21st century was at the heart of our 2008 policy paper, “Fast track Britain”, our 2010 election manifesto and now the coalition agreement. We need increased capacity on our railways. Over the past 50 years, the length of our rail network has roughly halved, but since 1980 the number of passenger journeys has doubled. Quite predictably, that has fuelled overcrowding and led to eye-watering price hikes.
The extra capacity that the HS2 project will provide is not a luxury; it is a cold, hard necessity that we cannot afford to ignore. Network Rail estimates that by 2024 the existing line to Birmingham and the north-west will be full. Serious congestion on commuter services at the southern end of the line is already harming passenger welfare. Unfortunately, the key issue of capacity crisis has been obscured by an obsession with journey times. Yes, speed is important, but capacity and the number of trains is as important, if not more so.
High-speed rail will release huge amounts of capacity on existing lines: demand will no longer outstrip supply on parallel train routes. We need that capacity. The only alternative to building the high-speed railway line would be to build the same line, but for trains to run at slow speed. That would save us a small amount—about 9% of the construction costs—but we would not get the benefits of high speed.
We have heard that there is no need for a new line, that the few shortfalls can be tweaked and that we can cope with the inevitable increase in traffic. That is simply not the case. These proposals do not take proper account of the decades of upgrade work that would be required, with no alternative train line that could be fully used, or of the huge impact on reliability. If every possible train path is used on a line, there will be no capacity to cope if a single train is delayed: it throws everything out of whack. We need that capacity. Having massive infrastructure works on an already overcrowded line is not an option. It is not even a quick fix; it is completely unrealistic.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on that point. Would not the undoubtedly massive disruption be a major negative economic factor to be included in the business case on the consequences of a high-speed line or of trying to upgrade existing lines?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point; indeed, those consequences should be taken into account.
Hon. Members who oppose High Speed 2 should be aware that they are arguing for increased overcrowding on the west coast main line, increasing the chances of delayed commuter services, committing themselves to a disruptive and ineffective infrastructure programme, and delaying by only a matter of years the inevitable construction of a second line through the country.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I feel that I should declare an interest as a regular user of the west coast main line who hopes to get home before midnight tonight. Does my hon. Friend agree with my constituents who strongly support this scheme, because although it does not extend to Scotland it will bring significant benefits to Scotland? Ultimately, we will need to go further; once this Y-shaped network is in place, we must have high-speed rail to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
As ever, I am delighted to agree with everything my hon. Friend says. Her constituents will benefit and the scheme will eventually need to continue, and I hope that it will be sooner rather than later.
There have been debates about the economics of High Speed 2, and I think we all agree that it is absolutely right that we scrutinise them. The solution to our chronic capacity problem must deliver value for money. We have heard debate about the exact facts and figures. The ones I have seen place some reliance on or about the generation of 40,000 jobs and £44 billion for the economy, but the real economic impact of high-speed rail lies in changes that are harder to quantify. For far too long we have focused on London and the south-east, and it is key that high-speed rail helps to address that problem. High-speed rail will enable businesses in our major cities to compete with those in the capital and south-east. It will provide larger talent pools and more potential clients, improve domestic tourism and help us to rebalance our economy away from the City.
We also need to look at the issue raised by the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey)—rail freight.
I am afraid not; I do not have enough time.
The number of container freights on a north-south axis has grown by 56% in the past eight years, leaving freight services, particularly around Liverpool, in a complete bottleneck. There are companies that would like to use rail freight much more, but simply cannot find the space to put the containers on the railway. We constantly have this tricky balance between keeping commuter services for those travelling to London and ensuring that businesses in the north have access to the freight services they need. We need both. In an advanced country that cares about sustainable growth in every region, this is not the trade-off we need.
I wish I had more time to talk about the environmental consequences, but I would hope that all hon. Members agree that decarbonising domestic transport is a crucial measure that needs to be taken and that modal shift is important in achieving that. A shift of 6 million air trips and 9 million road trips on to rail is definitely a significant step forwards.
High-speed rail is not some idealistic dream based on shaky, long-term assumptions; it is a logistical imperative. High-speed rail is vital for the long-term sustainability of our country’s infrastructure. The arguments for it heavily outweigh those against it, and I am delighted that the Government are taking it forward. I look forward to working closely with the Department for Transport, the Minister and other stakeholders to ensure that this project goes ahead and provides value for money for taxpayers and passengers alike, as well as providing the sustainable and efficient transport infrastructure that Britain is desperately lacking.
I support the extension of high-speed rail north of London, not just because I believe that it is in the best interests of my constituency and of Scotland but because I believe that it will benefit the whole United Kingdom in economic, transport and environmental terms. It makes sense for many reasons, including the need to increase capacity, which other Members have mentioned. Incidentally, the idea that the only people who use long-distance trains are rich businessmen will come as something of a shock to those who regularly use east-coast and west-coast lines. The development will, in fact, benefit many people throughout the country.
The existing network needs to be modernised in various ways, but it is ridiculous to suggest that it is possible to solve the capacity problem throughout Britain simply by modernising and upgrading it. As I said in an intervention, trying to replicate high-speed lines on the routes of existing lines would lead to decades of disruption and economic disbenefits. It is cheaper to build new lines, and, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) pointed out, if new lines are to be built anyway, they might as well be high-speed lines if possible.
I do not support high-speed rail just for the sake of it—just because I want trains to travel as fast as they can. I accept that, in some localities, lower speeds may be acceptable for environmental reasons on the wider network. The fact remains, however, that reducing travel time between parts of the United Kingdom will create a number of benefits. Moreover, extending the line not just to Birmingham, Manchester and other parts of what, to me, constitutes southern England, but further north to Edinburgh and Glasgow, will produce the maximum economic and environmental benefits. The longer the journeys involved, the greater the possibility that passengers will travel by rail rather than air, and the more will be saved through high-speed rail. It will be possible to make significant cuts in air travel from Scotland to London if journey times can be reduced to less than three hours, and the same applies to road travel between Scotland and the north of England.
I think that that makes my point about capacity. Obviously, the line could not operate like that every day, because a fair number of trains would be running at the same time.
Many of the business cases for the extension of the line to the midlands and the north of England do not take account of the economic benefits in business and tourist travel that would result if it were extended to Glasgow and Edinburgh. The increase in passengers would generate economic benefits, and the best business and economic case will be produced if there is agreement that the line should extend to Scotland, ensuring that we are not excluded from the system.
My only worry about the current proposal is that we in Scotland, and indeed those in the north of England, would be at risk if the line extended no further than Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester. Trains cannot start at every part of the country at the same time, but we certainly do not want them to arrive at Birmingham at 2026, at Manchester or Leeds at 2033, and then—if we are lucky—at Edinburgh or Glasgow at 2050. That would be extremely damaging to our relative economic prosperity in the UK.
Would it not be useful if Transport Scotland conducted a feasibility study on a third phase of HS2, working from north to south?
I see no reason for not doing that. The Scottish Government have already expressed their willingness to make some contribution to such work. I think it would be sensible to start the planning now and to include in the development phase the idea that the line should start from Scotland as well as from the south of England. High-speed rail is not a panacea for all our ills, but it does provide opportunities to create economic and environmental boosts. It will also provide jobs, not in the next five or so years, but nevertheless for a long period, and it will provide a major boost to our economy. In the long run, it will help the economies of many parts of the UK.
If this high-speed rail line is built but nothing is done around the stations—if there is no integrated transport or planning development around these rail hubs—we will not get the full benefits from the project. However, if local and central Government, and regions and cities, plan, they can make sure that high-speed rail brings major economic benefits, especially if it extends beyond Birmingham to the north of England and beyond. I support this project, therefore, and hope that we move ahead as quickly as possible, but Scotland must not be left at the end of the line.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing the first debate on high-speed rail to be held in the Chamber. This is, however, the fourth debate that we have had on the subject since the election. We debated it in Westminster Hall on 23 November, 31 March and 13 July, so we have discussed it every four months or so. I notice that the period between debates is becoming ever shorter, so by the time HS2 delivers any value, we might be debating it every day.
Contrary to certain assumptions, I am the only Buckinghamshire MP whose constituency is not affected by the high-speed rail proposal. I know that your constituency is affected by it, Mr Speaker, and that your constituents have very strong views and that you submitted a substantial response to the consultation. The Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), responded robustly to the consultation on behalf of her constituents, delivering seven files of objections and evidence against HS2, which will cut a deep scar through the middle of the area of outstanding natural beauty in which her constituency sits. The Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), and the Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), were present earlier, and I know that their constituents are implacably opposed to HS2. Many other members of the Government also have objections, including the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who also has strong views.
Although my constituents are not directly affected, they oppose HS2 on a number of grounds, but before I go on to explain my opposition, I wish to welcome the Government’s noble intentions. Whether in seeking the rejuvenation of the economy, the revitalisation of the north or the protection of the environment, or in trying to attract international inward investment, their intentions are indeed noble, but I regret to say that I do not support the means by which they seek to meet those ends.
The Secretary of State reflected on capacity, carbon and international competition in his evidence to the Transport Committee. On the question of the economics, as we have already learned in this debate, it is possible to refer to the titles and authors of reports both for and against the proposal. I am afraid that for every economist who comes down on one side of the debate, there will always be another economist on the other side. The Economist magazine came out against HS2, and when I put that to the Secretary of State, he was quick to rebut it and explain that he was about to write a letter.
The truth is that this project is awash with entrepreneurial risk. It is impossible to get hold of any hard facts showing whether it is a good idea. There is certainly an economic case, but I am afraid that it is ethereal: the moment we grasp it, it seems to disappear.
I enjoy serving on the Transport Committee with my hon. Friend, but I am not saying there is no economic case; rather, I am saying that we cannot nail down that case because of the entrepreneurial risk. In my view, when very large sums of capital are being allocated in an environment of entrepreneurial risk, entrepreneurs should bear that entrepreneurial risk.
I asked an international investor, “What do you think of HS2?” The answer was, “It would be wonderful to arrive fresh and relaxed in no time at all.” I then asked, “Would you invest in it?” The response now was, “That’s unfair. Of course I wouldn’t invest in it.” The market would not deliver high-speed rail, and that would be a market success, because to do so would be a misallocation of capital.
I put it to the Secretary of State that this project would socialise risk and privatise profit. He explained that that was to be expected, and we had to be realistic about it. I do not share that sense of “realism” on that point; I think that in reality this will be loss-making, in any commercial sense of the term. The whole point of loss is that it directs entrepreneurs to do something else with their capital, because if they are making a loss they are destroying value, not creating it.
I shall now deal with the carbon implications of this line. Something profound is going on in relation to carbon. The Secretary of State talked about the need to keep going until we were absolutely sure that we would decarbonise the roads. There is a vision at the heart of HS2 that we have not yet fully grasped. Given that I have 30 seconds available to me, and others wish to speak, I shall just refer to a letter that I sent shortly after I arrived in this place. I said that the Government could not afford high-speed rail, that they would not be able to afford it, that it would be a disaster if they did this—my basis for saying that was David Myddelton’s book “They Meant Well: Government Project Disasters” —and that the Government should not do it in any event, because it should be left to entrepreneurs. Nothing that I heard during the Select Committee on Transport inquiry has changed my mind.
It is a pleasure to be able to contribute briefly to this debate. A number of points have been made by other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), and I will not repeat those. However, I wanted to have the opportunity to make a couple of other points, particularly about Scotland.
First, I want to make the point clearly that better transport links have many and varied benefits for business and the wider economy, and that is as true in Scotland as it is in other parts of the United Kingdom. Sectors of the economy that are particularly important in Scotland—finance, tourism and the food and drink industries—respond positively to improvements in transport links. That is part of the case being made by business organisations, trade unions, Glasgow city council and Edinburgh city council, and a range of bodies in Scotland that very much support HS2. The hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) is no longer in her place, but I accept her point that a high-speed network alone does not draw business to the UK, and is not the complete answer. However, it is an important part of the answer, for Scotland as well as for the rest of the UK.
I wish to discuss the points made by the hon. Members for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about the 40,000 jobs that would be created across the UK during the construction phase. I think I am right in saying that they both intimated that those jobs would be in the south-east of England. I say to both of them that that is not my experience of the jobs associated with other projects. For example, London 2012 work has gone to construction firms based in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Carlisle, Manchester, Newcastle—and, no doubt, many other places.
It is not just the route and its construction that are important; the rolling stock is important too. Hitachi, which is going to build a rolling stock factory in Newton Aycliffe, in my patch, has already said that it will bid to make the rolling stock for this route. That means that the north-east would benefit even before the route actually got to the north-east of England and created thousands of jobs.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I thank him for his intervention. What he says is also true of other firms—for example, those in my constituency that make the toughened glass for the windows of the rolling stock. A range of other supply chain benefits will accrue to a number of industries and companies, and will help to increase employability and skills in the economy.
Secondly, I wish to discuss the environmental impact. I do not want to talk about the number of trees that will be planted along the line, but there is an environmental impact and benefit through getting people to shift from air to rail. From my constituency it is about a 90-minute flight between Glasgow and London, and I have to admit that I fly more often than I probably should. Even when we take into account the time taken getting to and from airports, flying is still quicker than using the fastest of the trains on the west coast.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that reducing the number of short-haul flights will somehow result in a carbon saving. Does he agree that it does not take the brains of an archbishop to work out that if those slots are freed up at the airports, they will be filled by long-haul flights, which will produce higher CO2 emissions?
The point I was about to make is that the number of people who fly from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London—they then perhaps stay in or work from London—is many more than those who then fly on somewhere else. The important point is that we may be able to move me, and some of the people I see every week—or on the weeks that I use the plane—because we would use the train more often if it was quicker. That is one of the benefits of extending high-speed rail into Scotland that we should not miss out on, although that may happen long after I have gone from this place. We should also remember that, as others have said, this is not necessarily just about business travel. Tourism and leisure, particularly in Scotland, will also be impacted on beneficially if we can get more people using rail instead of air.
Obviously, my constituency concern is in Scotland, but I am also concerned about how it relates to the UK as a whole. The Minister for Housing and Transport in the devolved Scottish Government gave evidence to the Transport Committee—some members of the Committee are in the Chamber this afternoon—and he intimated that he had some commitment from the Government that in the event of there being a separate Scottish state, the English Government would build up to the border. I am not sure where that statement came from, and I wonder whether the Minister will be able to inform the House when she responds.
The project could benefit the whole country, and the benefits for Edinburgh and Glasgow from the eventual extension of HS2 are tied up with the existence of the United Kingdom as one entity. It is interesting to suggest that a separate Scotland would need to build only from the border northwards, with the remaining English Government building up to the border. I am not sure how the economics of that would add up. I would be interested if the Minister could respond on that point or, if she is unable to do so today, if she could do so in writing.
HS2 is an important project with potential for economic development, environmental benefit and economic advantage for the central belt of Scotland. I accept completely that there are many questions about some aspects of it, but I do not think that those objections are strong enough to derail the whole project. It is important for the whole country, and extending it so that it brings real benefits to Scotland is very important. That is why I support HS2.
As a north-west MP, I wish to represent the concerns that my constituents have expressed to me both in correspondence and at meetings. The area of Cheshire that my constituency covers lies some 25 miles south of Manchester. Over recent years, journey times to London by rail have improved and the area is now well served, with a journey time of less than two hours from Euston. On the basis that stops reduce journey times, a new HS2 track is likely to run through or near my constituency but with no HS2 stops or links. An area that is currently well served might find not only that HS2 bypasses it, but that existing services become fewer and slower. Services from Crewe and Stoke-on-Trent, both of which serve my constituency, could suffer considerable disadvantage. Passengers from London using a new HS2 line could have to travel north to Manchester, then make a connection and return south on a local line. It is difficult to see how there would be much, if any, time saving on a journey from London.
Let me turn now to the economic regeneration argument. The north-west is a wide area, and although HS2 might benefit the area immediately around Manchester—assuming that is the key north-west HS2 stop—it is questionable whether such benefits would radiate across the north-west region so as to benefit constituencies, such as my own, that are further afield. There is the additional concern that the flow of economic regeneration could be towards London and away from the north-west, so a project designed to bridge the north-south divide could have the opposite effect.
The cost, some £32 billion, is perceived by many of my constituents as an inordinate amount of money at a time of severe economic pressure for the questionable benefits they will gain, particularly the many who do not use train travel at all. Several transport pressure points in my constituency are of far greater concern to them, and attention to those would immediately bring clear economic benefits to the area and the region, including freeing up not just local traffic but the M6 traffic flow from Birmingham up to the north-west.
Notably, those would include opening up to passengers the Middlewich rail link, which is currently used only for freight, improvements to junction 17 of the M6 at Sandbach, and action to protect the Holmes Chapel community from the excessive speed and volume of vehicles that they constantly endure. All those issues could be resolved at a fraction of the £51 million that I understand would be the cost of HS2 to my constituency.
When it comes to international travel, it is unlikely that an HS2 line north of Birmingham to Manchester would make much material difference to residents in my constituency, living as they do half an hour from Manchester and only a little further from Liverpool airport.
May I clarify something? On the one hand, my hon. Friend is saying that living near Manchester airport is a good thing for her constituents—but is she also saying that living near the Manchester hub for high-speed rail would not be a good thing for them? I do not see how the two ideas run together.
I am saying that to travel from London to the north-west by HS2 would not benefit my constituents materially. Nor would it benefit them to travel by HS2 down to the continent, because it is quicker, and certainly more economical with the current fares, to go from Manchester or Liverpool airport.
I agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity of our inter-city rail network, including the west coast main line, but there are a number of solutions that could be achieved at a fraction of the cost of HS2 to my constituents. Many of those solutions have already been mentioned, such as improving provision for freight transportation or signalling. Others include improving the integrated regional network to take communities out of their cars in the north-west, increasing the number of platforms at Manchester Piccadilly to improve the commuter trains that are available, and increasing track numbers between Crewe and Manchester. I accept that the route of the extension from Birmingham to Manchester has not yet been specified, but I want to assure my constituents that if it runs through any part of my constituency, with the attendant environmental and other damage to farmland, residential areas and communities, they can be assured of my vigorous opposition to any such plan on their behalf.
I am worried that some Members on both sides will not have time to speak, so I shall be as brief as I can. I should be a prime advocate of this high-speed rail scheme, because I have in my constituency a railway estate that was constructed by the railway companies and then taken over by British Rail, which houses railway workers, and also because I have worked with the rail industry and its unions—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, ASLEF and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association—for nearly 40 years to promote rail and every railway scheme.
As was mentioned earlier, as part of our campaign against the third runway we used the argument that we should invest in rail as an alternative. However, I have been absolutely alienated by the way in which the Government have handled this issue. Every other Member in the House is able to calculate the effect of the scheme on their constituency one way or the other—the advantages or disadvantages—but my constituents cannot, because of the way in which the Government are consulting on it. They are consulting on the route, except for the route into Heathrow, so my constituents and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) are living in a no man’s land of blight, because we do not yet know that route. We have had various indications and options but no direct consultation by the Government. Things are being done in two stages, and the second stage is meant to start in December, or any time now, but I believe that may be delayed as well.
What my constituents do know is that they face a continuing life of blight until this decision is made, because the vague options put forward by Arup impact on their homes and on a large amount of the social capital in the area, in terms of parks and open spaces. They also have relatives in the north of the London borough of Hillingdon who are losing their homes, and losing social facilities such as the excellent Hillingdon outdoor activities centre. There are also further threats to green belt land in the north of the borough. My two colleagues in Hillingdon who are members of the Government are unable to speak today, but they have worked hard behind the scenes as best they can to relay to the Government the uncertainties, the blight and the threat to people’s lives that the proposals are forming.
I urge the Government to publish the proposals on the links to Heathrow as rapidly as possible, so that my constituents can know where the future lies for them and so that we can have a proper consultation. I also urge the Government to start looking at some of the details of the route, and at the blight and damage it is causing, to see how they can obviate some of the threats that it brings.
We should consider not just the link into Euston, but HS2’s impact on north London overall. There is a wider debate to be had about whether the route is the most appropriate one, because the concerns about environmental damage are mounting up to such an extent that I am becoming increasingly convinced that the economic arguments do not outweigh the environmental damage threatened by the route.
I welcome the Transport Committee’s examination of the proposal, but I find it difficult to know how it will examine the proposal when the Government still have not told us what their proposals are for the links to Heathrow. The Government should learn the lesson that it is not the right way to handle a scheme or a consultation when one of the prime elements of the scheme is not published or consulted on comprehensively in a way that links the whole scheme together. The Government have completely mishandled the scheme—and I speak as one who would be a natural advocate of the advancement of rail in this country.
Given the time constraints, I do not know about high-speed rail, but this will be a high-speed speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on initiating the debate. We have had numerous debates on this issue. Although we do not agree, we always end up with a smile at the end. I suppose that there is a danger of repeating what other hon. Members have said, so I will try to keep my speech as brief as possible, but I want to give a Yorkshire perspective, as hon. Members from many regions around the country have spoken.
I am 100% in favour of High Speed 2. Not only is it needed, but it is inevitable and crucial if we are to be ready to compete in the future. Furthermore, if we do not face the realities of our transport infrastructure now, we will simply grind to a halt. We need to think about where we are now. It is worth reflecting that the railway industry’s success has been unprecedented in recent years, with a doubling of passenger numbers, as has been mentioned. Pressure on the west coast main line is so severe that it is expected to be restricted at the very latest by 2025, despite huge upgrades already having taken place in recent years.
There are two routes to the north, not just one, and the problem at Leeds is equally bad. The capacity pressure at Leeds station is predicted to increase by another 40% in the coming years. Obviously, I travel from London to Leeds every week, and I am lucky if I find a seat between here and Peterborough in rush times. I have not got the luxury of switching on my laptop, because I have nowhere to sit.
I hear from those who oppose the scheme that the money could be spent on other things. Frankly, we have to take those measures anyway. That is why the Government have announced a raft of measures, including the lengthening of trains and extra carriages, to help us build up the capacity that we need. Frankly, just to do that alone would be like trying to fix a broken leg with a sticking plaster. This is not an either/or. As the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) said, we have to do both.
The west coast main line took years to be upgraded, causing massive disruption, and is already creaking at the seams. The problem is much bigger and requires us to think bigger and prepare for the future. We have heard lots about business. I was delighted when I heard the Government go for the Y route, which recognises that the north is an important part of our economic prosperity, and not to do so would stifle the prospect of growth.
Does my hon. Friend agree that HS2 will bring many more jobs to the midlands, because it will relieve air congestion in London and make Birmingham international, which is under capacity at the moment and an amazing airport to travel from, accessible for a lot more people to use?
Absolutely. The benefits for the whole country are evident. The north-south divide is a problem that has faced successive Governments. Clearly, we are not arguing that HS2 will solve that alone—of course, it will not—but greater connectivity between our cities, such as Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, to the rest of Europe can only help.
I want businesses in my constituency to enjoy having access to markets across Europe and the rest of the world. Transport links are crucial to making that happen. Too often, today’s network cannot cope. I recently went to Airedale International in my constituency. It is a high-tech industry that has just created a training centre. It is begging for high-speed rail, because it has a lot of business down here, but it has the skills up in the north. Why cannot we help it to expand to have both?
We often hear that High Speed 2 is a white elephant, but studies have shown that it will bring about £44 billion of economic benefit and 40,000 jobs, which is not to be sniffed at. I did not see that white elephant when the Thameslink benefit-cost ratio came in at 2.2:1, or when Crossrail came in at 1.92:1.
I would have to get the exact figures from my right hon. Friend the Minister. My point is that what we get back from HS2 will be far greater. If we look at the Jubilee line, the original benefit-cost ratio was 0.95:1. When it opened, that became 1.75:1, which shows that Governments are usually conservative in their estimates of the benefits that we can get from infrastructure. I did not hear about the white elephant when all the infrastructure projects I mentioned—southern infrastructure projects, funnily enough—were suggested.
I understand why Members are supporting and standing up for their constituents—of course they will do that—but they have sent confused messages. They say that they are against HS2 on environmental grounds, yet some of them say, “Build more roads instead.” They say that they are against it on business grounds, yet they never opposed Crossrail or the Jubilee line. They say that they are against it because no one will use it, yet huge investment is needed in Euston station because it will not cope. We need to plan ahead and be bold, or in 10 years’ time Members of Parliament will complain in the Chamber that we did not make the decisions now to bring about the modernisation of Britain’s railways.
I warmly welcomed the proposal for the High Speed 2 Y route when it was first introduced by Lord Adonis, and I congratulate the coalition Government on committing to the project. To be frank, today we have heard a lot of “economic” arguments presented by people who are really making political points about their constituency.
I say to the Government that some economic studies, such as that by PricewaterhouseCoopers, suggest that within three years of completion, the Government will be able to recoup their entire investment plus an extra £6 billion or £7 billion by passing the railway on to the private sector, but there are other economic cases that say exactly the opposite. Instead of clutching at straws, the Government have an obligation to come up with some sensible costings that are convincing.
I grew up in the Chilterns, and I understand the arguments that people from that region are making, but as someone who has not lived there for decades—I live in Yorkshire in the north of England—I have to say that the argument going on within the Conservative party about its heart and soul will be read as a debate between, on the one hand, one-nation Tories who want to invest in the future of the whole country and link it through new, modern, infrastructure, and, on the other, short-sighted southerners who frankly could not care less whether a railway goes beyond their county.
I am still traumatised about having been described as a Manchester MP, because of course I represent a seat on the right side of the Pennines. The important point that my hon. Friend makes is that HS2 will help to bring the economies of the UK closer together. It will bring labour markets and businesses closer, and in that sense it is a catalyst for economic change and development. The points about economic cost are completely erroneous, and rather short-sighted and conservative.
My hon. Friend has been a great champion of improving the rail infrastructure in Yorkshire and the north of England, and for connecting the north to jobs and markets in the south of England. We as British citizens have every bit as much right to be connected to our country’s capital—and, through the capital, to Europe—as people living in the south of the country.
That is a really good question, which I ask the hon. Lady to think about. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) made the same point, suggesting that the only test for whether there is an economic case is whether private investors would undertake a project on their own without substantial Government investment. Had that argument been applied to the building of the M40, the connection between his constituents in Wycombe and London, Birmingham and Oxford, it would never have been built. Exactly the same could be said with regard to the link between the hon. Lady’s constituency and London via the M1.
Big public transport infrastructure projects need political backing and leadership from Governments, and this project had it from the previous Government and has it from the current Government, which will give investors confidence. However, it will not get that investor confidence without Government cash. Had we not had the public investment in motorways in the ’60s and ’70s, just think out of the box about the economic state that our country would be in now. There are some local interests to be protected, which I understand, but the real test for the Conservatives now is whether or not they are going to speak for the whole country. I remind hon. Members that the Conservative manifesto stated:
“A Conservative 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.”
I wish to make several points in the short time remaining. First, it is important that the high-speed wing of the “Y” that goes to Yorkshire and the north east leaves the line south of Birmingham, so that it can connect the three great east midlands cities of Leicester, Derby and Nottingham, through the Sheffield city region, to Leeds.
Secondly, it is essential that that line joins the existing east coast main line, which for some time will remain the link from Yorkshire to Scotland, south of York. The reason for that is partly self-interest—I am speaking as a York Member—and partly because York is a rail hub and the most interconnected station in the north of England, at least east of the Pennines. If we are to get feeder services, good connectivity with York is important.
Thirdly, the link to Scotland is extremely important, and the most viable first link should be from Leeds to Edinburgh and on to Glasgow, because that would provide connectivity with Tyneside and Teesside on the way, whereas pushing the line north from Manchester faces the environmental barrier of two national parks, and there are very few people, but many sheep, between Lancaster and Motherwell. I ask the Government to plan for the connection first to go through the east coast corridor.
Finally, it is not a case of investing in either the current infrastructure or High Speed 2. The country needs both and the Government must commit to both.
I understand that I must sit down promptly at 5:40 pm, so this will be a super-fast contribution. I should make it clear that, although I serve on the Transport Committee, the comments I am about to make are entirely my own, as the Committee is yet to conclude its inquiry and produce its report.
I have looked at a huge amount of evidence on high-speed rail, from the UK and overseas. My conclusion is that I am in favour of high-speed rail but not yet convinced of the specifics of High Speed 2. I agree that there is a case for a new strategic north-south railway line in this country. As other Members have mentioned, the capacity on the west coast main line and other strategic routes will run out at some point, even with upgrades. It is a false choice between upgrading those lines, which we need to do anyway to address the immediate capacity problems, and building a new high-speed line. Both are required. I do not think that we can defer a decision for another 10 years, because we will be having exactly the same debate then and enduring severe overcrowding for passengers and freight.
I would argue against just upgrading the existing line, which could be done effectively only at the exclusion of those intermediate stops on the line for commuter services to places such as Milton Keynes. Both are necessary; we cannot just look at upgrading.
I am not going to get through anything like what I wanted to say, but there are a number of areas where High Speed 2 has not been looked at in the round. At the weekend, we saw the proposal for a new “Heathwick” high-speed line to connect Heathrow and Gatwick, but that has not been appraised in the overall—[Interruption.] My Whip tells me that I must sit down now, so I shall conclude my remarks.
This has been a lively debate. We have had excellent contributions, with both sides of the argument coming from both sides of the House, and with opposite ends of the country making different cases.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing this debate and on the tenacity with which she contributed and intervened. She has crystallised one part of the “anti” argument, and on both sides a range of arguments has been played out throughout the debate, which has gone on for a number of years and will continue to rumble on. The hon. Lady crystallises the arguments of those on the “anti” side who simply do not accept the economic case and, if I may say so, will probably not accept any economic case that is made. Indeed, economic facts and figures are simply being talked past each other, and that is one of the problems that we have got ourselves into.
We have heard from Members, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who have expressed a genuinely held fear about the impact that the development may have on their communities, and we have heard from others, such as the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker), who raised fears for the natural environment, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said, they are not nimbys: if they stand up for their own areas, they do so because that is absolutely what they have been sent to Parliament to do.
On the other side of the argument, however, we have people making a compelling case and stressing the overwhelming benefit that the project may bring to UK plc. Scottish Members, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), stressed the importance of the project to Scotland, even on the existing proposals, and it was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) make the case for the manufacturing opportunities that the project will bring at a parlous time for train manufacturing in the UK.
The hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) crystallised the vital argument about capacity, and my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) pointed to the studies that dispel the fear that the project will benefit primarily the south of England, stating absolutely rightly that it can bring the local economies of this great country closer together.
Labour in government delivered the country’s first high-speed railway. The Y-shaped route of High Speed 2, which would link our cities, is a Labour initiative, and I can state clearly today that that vital lifeline of economic growth will be built by a future Labour Government and backed by Labour in opposition. Provided that the Government’s nerve holds, we will work across the Floor of the House to secure parliamentary approval for the legislation needed to deliver the scheme, and if their resolve fails, we will be on hand to bring them to their senses.
We looked at our commitment afresh in opposition, and we were right to do so. This project will require sustained and substantial investment at a time when public finances will unquestionably be tight. We looked at the business case again, examined the counter-proposals, and listened to the sincere and heart-felt objections expressed alongside the views of passionate advocates of the scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), the shadow Secretary of State, has travelled the proposed route talking to and listening to the communities that will be affected. Our conclusion is that the business case stacks up.
Of course we should debate the relative benefits of reducing journey time, though we believe they are clear, and of course we must continue to scrutinise the precise route. However, the capacity issues on the existing main lines are so great that we believe there is no credible alternative to building a new line. Closing existing lines to carry out improvements would bring chaos to millions of journeys and could be a real economic drag throughout the long and costly process. It is vital that we learn the lesson of the west coast main line modernisation programme. We will be failing future generations if we pass up the opportunity to employ the most advanced technology available.
It is because we have looked afresh at the programme that we can reaffirm our commitment to it as one that we began in government and will follow through. I look forward to the day in 2018 when—under a Labour Government, of course—we cut the first sod of earth on the project.
A consensus across the House is important to boost confidence, but we will continue to press the Government on serious concerns. First, of course, there is the route. The Government must listen carefully to concerns about the exact nature of the route and treat with respect the genuine objections raised, making accommodations where feasible and adequate compensation where not. Secondly, we must address the problems of connecting to the line, many of which have been raised today. I hope that the Minister will explain, for example, why the potential need for extra capacity at Euston has not been acknowledged. There are many issues on which I do not necessarily agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but he was right to question why Heathrow is being dealt with in a second stage and to raise the unsatisfactory nature of that approach for his constituents and for people wanting to know how these things will connect up.
Thirdly, there is a need for certainty about the line going all the way up to Leeds and Manchester. If the Government are genuine about extending it beyond Birmingham, they should not delay legislating on Leeds and Manchester until the next Parliament. We need one hybrid Bill covering both phases of the line. Yes, that Bill will be larger, but construction need not be delayed by a single day. We need certainty for investors and for the travelling public, and a single Bill would give greater certainty, not less.
Fourthly, we must ensure that the whole country benefits from high-speed rail. I have been encouraged by how businesses right across the north, including Barrow shipyard in my own patch, have been lobbying for this investment to happen. Finally, we must make this a high-speed line for the many, not the few. The Government need to put their cards on the table. What sort of railway do they want High Speed 2 to be? Labour Members are clear: we cannot have a railway for the wealthy few where sky-high fares deter the majority from being able to travel.
I thank hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire for securing it. I have been pleased to restate Labour’s deeply held, unequivocal commitment to this project, and we look forward to working across the House to make it happen.
I welcome the extensive support across the House for the Government’s proposals and in particular the clear expression of support from Her Majesty’s official Opposition. My time is too short to refer specifically to everyone, but I would like to make special mention of my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who are in their places. Their exacting scrutiny of the Government’s proposals has been effective and I welcome their robust input into the debate. I also mention my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), who is also in his place and who strongly supports this scheme.
I first emphasise that the Government fully recognise the legitimate concerns of communities along the preferred route about the potential impact on their local environment. That has been raised by Members such as the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson). About half of the preferred route that we inherited has been changed. In the sensitive Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, all but two miles of the preferred route is in a tunnel or deep cutting, or follows an existing transport corridor. I am confident that we can and will make further improvements as a result of the consultation responses that are under consideration as we speak.
I am also conscious of the enormous importance of getting the right answer at Euston. We will, of course, scrutinise carefully all the representations made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson).
I will not just yet, because my time is short.
HS1 is an example of how high-speed rail can be designed in a way that mitigates and minimises the impact on local communities. Equal care will be needed in phase 2 with the link to Heathrow. Again, we will be careful to listen to the concerns of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and his constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) spoke about the predictions of passenger growth for HS2. The consultation document forecasts that passenger demand will roughly double for long-distance services on the west coast main line, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). That projection is over 30 years and is based on modest growth rates of about 2% a year. If anything, those numbers are cautious when one takes into account the fact that demand between London and Manchester rose by almost 60% over the four years to 2008 and that overall long-distance demand has grown every year since 1997 at an average of 5% a year. There is a wide-ranging consensus, which has been echoed by many Members today, that the southern end of the west coast route will be completely full within 10 to 15 years, or possibly sooner as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond).
Will the Minister say why she persists in using version 4.1 of the “Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook”, which Sir Rod Eddington says offers wildly inaccurate demand predictions? Why does she not use version 5.0, which is waiting on her desk for her to sign off? It offers much more reasonable demand projections and would allow her to pursue options other than HS2.
We believe that version 4.1 gives a more robust analysis of passenger demand forecasts. I am confident that whichever methodology one uses to predict passenger demand, we face a capacity time bomb on the west coast main line. Even our efforts in undertaking the biggest programme of rail capacity improvement for 100 years will not be enough to meet our long-term capacity needs.
We desperately need additional inter-city transport capacity, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). No responsible Government can afford to sit back and ignore this problem. High-speed rail provides the best way to meet that pressing economic need. Contrary to the allegations of its detractors, HS2 is not and has never been a project designed to shave a few minutes off the journey time to Birmingham; it is about delivering the inter-city transport links that are crucial for the future success of our economy in this country, in both the north and the south.
No, I will not.
No upgrade of the existing railways is capable of matching the increase in capacity that HS2 will deliver. A fundamental problem with the alternative schemes is that they rely on upgrades of the existing line. By definition, they cannot release any capacity on the existing network. The release of capacity is a fundamental part of the benefit that can be provided by HS2. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey pointed out, the alternatives are simply sticking-plaster solutions. Of the alternatives formally considered, only one had a positive benefit-to-cost ratio. The solution put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire of tinkering with first and second class is simply not credible; nor are the 51m proposals, which have not been adequately costed, do not take into account the massive cost of signalling remodelling and cannot deal with a peak-time crisis. Furthermore, trying to defuse the capacity time bomb with any kind of work on the existing line would involve extensive disruption, as was pointed out by the shadow Minister, and that would come not long after the people on this route had to put up with a decade of disruption for the last upgrade of the west coast line.
Concern has been expressed that our analysis does not take account of the fact that time on a train can be used productively. However, stress-testing our business case figures shows that factoring in productive time on trains actually slightly strengthens the case for high-speed rail. The additional capacity provided by HS2 would enable more people to get a seat and get some productive work done on a train. What is more, failing to deliver a new line would lead to ever more serious overcrowding problems, making it even more difficult to work on a train. The fact that Stop HS2 keeps making the point about work demonstrates the overall weakness of its argument.
A fundamentally weak point put by the opponents of HS2 is the claim that it will disadvantage the regions that it will serve. That is startling when one thinks of the vigorous campaigns fought around the world by towns and cities desperate to connect to the high-speed rail networks that their countries are building. It is no surprise to hear of those campaigns when one takes on board the fact that Euralille has the third largest office complex in France, beaten into second place by Lyon’s Part-Dieu TGV station with its 5.3 million square feet of office space—economic development that would have been entirely impossible without the high-speed rail network in France. Survey work undertaken in relation to the TGV network clearly showed that the regions it served, rather than Paris, had experienced the greatest boost in their economies. It is simply not credible to claim that the north and the west midlands will be disadvantaged by high-speed rail, as evidenced by the strong support for the project in those areas.
If we need evidence of the startling benefits that transport links can bring, we have only to walk 30 yards from the Chamber to Westminster tube station and get on the Jubilee line extension. Now one of the biggest financial centres in the world, Canary Wharf simply would not exist without the Jubilee line extension. The benefits of high-speed rail will be felt right across the north and midlands, with a boost to the whole country’s economy.
I reiterate that our assumptions about the viability of HS2 and the expected fare box do not factor in or depend on a premium for high-speed services. Our appraisal is based on fares in line with the existing services. In response to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, the level of fares on Southeastern has absolutely nothing to do with HS1; neither do the performance issues on that route.
It is clear that in the longer term, the benefits of high-speed rail will exceed its construction costs, but the reality is that if we examine the scale of the project and average out the cost over the years it will take to deliver it, we see that it is by no means out of line with projects such as Crossrail. The claim that the rest of the rail network would be starved of funds if HS2 went ahead is undermined by the fact that the Government are committed to delivering the largest and most extensive package of rail capacity upgrades since the Victorian era, a number of which will carry on into the period during which HS2 is expected to be under construction.
Finally, I refer to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker), who rather let the cat out of the bag. If arguments such as his had been accepted, we would never have built the channel tunnel, HS1, the Jubilee line extension or the motorway network. Not even the Victorian railways on which we still depend would have been built, because although they were built by the private sector, the people who built them lost their shirts and largely went out of business.
The Government’s two most important goals are to address the deficit and to secure economic growth. Improving our transport infrastructure has a central part to play in delivering those goals, and we believe that high-speed rail can and should have a central role in our transport plans for the future.
I congratulate the many colleagues who have spoken in this debate, and I am sorry for those who wanted to speak and did not. In particular, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles), who was instrumental in securing the debate. I am sorry that we did not get to hear from him.
I reiterate that I think we can all agree that there is a massive capacity problem not just on the west coast main line but across our entire rail network, and it is absolutely right that the Government should consider ways to improve capacity, rail infrastructure and economic development across the UK. However, I go back to the fact that HS2 is not a “build it and they will come” project. We should not look at a £32 billion expenditure as something that we can just do on the hoof and expect the return to come. There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence today—so-and-so says this, and so-and-so says that—but I have heard no hard evidence that HS2 will be good value for money. This is not our money; it is the taxpayers’ money. As my right hon. Friend the Minister so eloquently said, let us hope that we, like the Victorian railway owners, do not go bust and lose our shirts over it.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).