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High-speed Rail

Volume 538: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2012

This morning, I made a written statement to the House announcing my decision to give the go-ahead to High Speed 2—a national high-speed rail network. With the exception of High Speed 1—a 68-mile stretch of line—it will be the first major national railway line to be built in Britain since the Grand Central line opened to passengers in 1899. I would like to provide Members with further detail of the substance of, and rationale for, my decisions.

I weighed up the evidence after one of the largest public consultations in our history. We wrote to more than 172,000 people living or working near the proposed line from London to the west midlands, visited communities along the 140-mile route and held 41 days of roadshows attended by almost 30,000 people over the five-month consultation period. Almost 55,000 responses were received from individuals, businesses and organisations across the country representing a wide spectrum of views. Many of those views were expressed strongly both in favour of and against high-speed rail, and I have considered them carefully in making my decisions.

Since becoming Secretary of State for Transport, I have examined all the available evidence, including the work undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) and by the previous Labour Administration in developing the consultation proposals, the evidence submitted during the consultation, and the further work undertaken by my Department and HS2 Ltd. My decision had to consider not only the full environmental impact of HS2 but its benefits to our economy, jobs and our competitiveness not just today but decades into the future.

I also had to be clear about the implications of not investing in high-speed rail—about how it would affect our leading cities, and how that would affect the road network and aviation. Generating growth, helping people back to work and supporting Britain’s companies and wealth creators so that they can compete and win in the global marketplace are at the top of the Government’s priority list, and, from day one in office, the coalition has had a laser focus on investing in and modernising our country’s transport infrastructure with unprecedented levels of investment.

When it came to HS2, I could have made the easy choice: I could have gone for the short-term option, relying on a patch-and-mend approach and leaving our rail networks overstretched, overburdened and less resilient. But let us be clear: the price for that would have been paid in lost business, lower growth, fewer jobs and more misery for passengers on a network without the capacity to cope. We would have failed future generations depending on us to create the prosperous country that they will want to live in.

Good government is about acting in the long-term national interest and about taking decisions, however difficult, to improve people’s quality of life and the country’s economic prospects not just for the next four or five years but for the next four or five decades. Our Victorian predecessors would have been immensely proud to see their railways providing massive benefit today —more than 100 years later—but as a result of today’s announcement the railway revolution that they started is happening again. We are ready for a new chapter in Britain’s transport history—one designed to boost our economy and our country just as the first coming of the railways or the motorways did for previous generations.

That is why I have given the green light to HS2. In spite of the challenges of rising demand, our railways have been a huge success since privatisation. Passenger demand is growing year on year, particularly in the inter-city market. I recognise, however, that further rounds of upgrades to our major north-south lines, even if they offer apparently good value for money, can only provide a short-term fix—one that is incapable of meeting the long-term challenge. In truth, they could add only limited further capacity; they could not offer the step change in performance that passengers wish and need to see.

What is more, upgrades would consign rail passengers and the vitally important rail freight industry to years, if not decades, of future engineering disruption, delay and unreliability—something that users of the west coast main line will remember only too well. The question, therefore, is not, “Do we build new lines?” but, “What type of line should we build?” And when we weigh up the economic and social rewards, there is only one answer: high-speed rail. A high-speed line will deliver £6.2 billion more in benefits to the country than a line running at conventional speeds, at an extra cost of only £1.4 billion. Therefore, by slashing journey times, as well as providing the step change in rail capacity that we need to keep the country moving, a high-speed line will give a return on the additional investment of more than four to one. A modern, reliable and fast service between our major cities and international gateways, as befitting the 21st century, will transform the way we travel, and promote Britain’s economic and social prosperity.

HS2 will be built in two phases, to ensure delivery of its benefits at the earliest possible opportunity. Phase 1 will link London to the west midlands, as well as delivering a direct connection to the continent through the channel tunnel via High Speed 1. Even in the first phase, cities and towns off the HS2 network—such as Stockport, Warrington, Liverpool, Preston and Glasgow—will be served by trains able to use both HS2 and inter-city lines, saving over half an hour on journeys to London. Phase 2 will provide onward legs to Manchester and Leeds, with intermediate stations in the east midlands and South Yorkshire, plus a direct connection to our international hub, Heathrow airport. HS2 will also mean substantial time savings between Britain’s cities, reducing Birmingham-to-Leeds journeys from two hours to just 57 minutes, and Manchester-to-London journeys from two hours eight minutes to only one hour eight minutes. Edinburgh and Glasgow will benefit from a three-and-a-half hour journey time from London, encouraging modal shift from short-haul flights to high-speed rail.

In delivering HS2, I look forward to working with the Scottish Government and others to identify and evaluate options for developing the high-speed network and further reducing journey times. However, I want to emphasise to the House that in making my decisions, I have been particularly mindful of our responsibility to safeguard the countryside and its wildlife, and to protect local communities as far as possible. I have worked hard to look at more tunnelling, to lower the route into cutting to reduce visibility, and to move the route away from homes wherever viable. I have looked hard at how we can better protect our landscape, our wildlife and our heritage. For that reason, my engineers have carefully re-examined the route in the light of all the evidence. I can therefore announce a package of alterations that I believe will significantly reduce the railway’s impact.

Those improvements include a longer, continuous tunnel under the Chilterns from Little Missenden to the M25, and a new 2.75-mile bored tunnel along the Northolt corridor to avoid major works to the Chiltern line and impacts on local communities in the Ruislip area. Of the 13 miles through the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, less than 2 miles will be at or above the surface. The rest will be in deep cutting or tunnel. There will also be a longer green tunnel past Chipping Warden and Aston le Walls, and another longer green tunnel to reduce impacts around Wendover, as well as an extension to the green tunnel at South Heath. There will also be a green tunnel past Greatworth. Those are just a few examples from the suite of improvements detailed in full in the Command Paper that I presented to the House this morning.

The changes will bring significant benefits to communities and the environment. Compared with the consultation route, there will be a more than 50% increase in tunnel or green tunnel, now totalling around 22.5 miles. In addition, around 56.5 miles will be partially or totally hidden in cutting, as a key way of helping to reduce noise in neighbouring communities, and 10 miles less track along viaduct or embankment. In all, that means that around 79 miles—more than half the route—will be mitigated by tunnel or cutting. The revised tunnel alignment through the Chilterns will avoid an important water aquifier—[Hon. Members: “Aquifer.”]—aquifer—significantly reducing impacts on water. You see, Mr Speaker, I am always happy to listen to people when they see a better way of doing things.

There will also be a reduction in the impacts on ancient woodlands and heritage sites. Communities affected will benefit from the changes, with a near 50 % reduction in the number of dwellings at risk of land take, and the number of households experiencing noticeably increased noise levels reducing by a third, to just over 3,000 properties.

I have always been clear in my mind, however, that, whatever the mitigation measures, there can be little comfort to someone in knowing that the country will benefit enormously from HS2 when it is their house, or their business, that has to be knocked down to make way for it. The meeting that I had with MPs earlier last year allowed many of those representing communities along the proposed route to communicate the views of their constituents to me directly.

So, to help people, we will bring in a package of compensation measures over and above those that affected homeowners are already entitled to under law. These include: a streamlined purchase scheme to simplify the statutory blight process for property owners; a sale and rent back scheme to give homeowners within the safeguarded area more flexibility; a streamlined small claims scheme for any construction damage; and a package of measures to reinforce confidence in properties above tunnels.

Homeowners will be offered before and after surveys, a thorough assessment of the impact of similar tunnels, an explanation of the measures that will be taken to prevent perceptible vibration impacts, financial compensation for the compulsory purchase of subsoil, and a legally binding promise that HS2 will be permanently responsible for resolving any related settlement or subsidence issues. There will be also be a refreshed hardship-based property purchase scheme, and, finally, we will work constructively, and in a structured way, with local authorities along the line of route to minimise the negative consequences of HS2 and maximise the benefits.

Having made the decision to press on with HS2, my intention is to drive it forward as fast as is practicable, so that we can gain from its benefits as early as possible and end the unwelcome uncertainty for those affected. A key part of this will be to engage fully and actively with organisations, communities and individuals along the whole route of the Y network. People presented legitimate concerns in the consultation and, even though we have made significant improvements, I am keen to work hard with local communities so that as many concerns as possible are properly addressed.

I have instructed HS2 Ltd to undertake a range of activities to prepare for and deliver both phases of the network. It is my intention to introduce a hybrid Bill in the House by the end of 2013, including a detailed environmental impact assessment to provide the necessary powers to construct and operate the line from London to Birmingham. I have instructed HS2 Ltd to deliver this project at pace, but within milestones that will stand the test of time and with regular reporting to me on progress. The Major Projects Authority, which this Government launched last March to improve the performance of major Government projects in delivering on time and in budget, will provide critical support and oversight.

This spring, we will consult on the draft directions for safeguarding the proposed route from London to the west midlands, as well as separately consulting on detailed compensation proposals. I aim to bring final safeguarding directions and an agreed compensation policy into effect later in the year. In March this year, HS2 Ltd will advise me on the route and station options to Manchester and Leeds, and in autumn 2012, we will start an engagement programme on a preferred route to discuss local views.

I warmly welcome the political consensus on HS2, on the basis that it will help to ensure that the planning and construction of this transformational scheme are carried through to completion. HS2 matters to the long-term success and prosperity of the whole of Britain. It will help to create jobs, support growth and regenerate our regions. It will better connect communities and improve people’s opportunities, and, with its potential to attract people and freight on to trains and away from long-distance road journeys and short-haul flying, combined with the increasing decarbonisation of the grid, HS2 will be an important part of transport’s low-carbon future.

Britain has faced such challenges before. The Victorian railway pioneers had the vision to build a rail network that has promoted growth and created jobs for more than a century. Those innovators transformed this country’s fortunes. Our industries flourished, our exports multiplied, and our economy grew wealthy. Half a century later, another generation had the vision to start building the motorway network. Post-war planners developed the motorway network, connecting major cities and transforming the capacity of our road network. Half a century on again, we now need to do for our Victorian railway what previous generations did for our road network. The time has come again to seize the moment, to be ambitious and to show the world that this is a can-do country. The lesson from history—and the lessons from our global competitors—is that no matter how hard times are, we cannot stop planning for the future or investing in our infrastructure if we want Britain to flourish. HS2 will be the backbone of a new transport system for the 21st century, offering the vital capacity that we need to compete and grow as a country. It will transform the economic shape and balance of our country, linking our major cities to a level previous generations could only dream of. By backing HS2, this Government are backing Britain, and I commend this statement to the House.

Order. I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, which was nevertheless significantly in excess of the allotted time for ministerial statements. An allowance for that will be made in the response from the shadow Secretary of State. The House can rest assured, as it can always rest assured, that I have the interests of Back Benchers at heart. They need not worry; if they want to get in, they will be heard.

May I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement? I welcome her decision today. As the right hon. Lady was generous enough to say, it was the previous Labour Government who started us on the journey that has now reached this important milestone. I pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), for having the boldness to set out a vision for a new high-speed rail line to address the capacity issues on our existing mainlines while cutting journey times across Britain. This is a vital project for the country, and I welcome the decision to give the green light to this investment in the face of considerable opposition—not least from many of the Secretary of State’s own colleagues, including from inside the Cabinet.

Labour Members believe that it is vital that the new high-speed line is built—not just between London and Birmingham, but on to Manchester and Leeds. So while I welcome the commitment given today to the whole HS2 scheme, there will be disappointment that the Government’s announcement has stopped short of committing to legislating for the entire route to Manchester and Leeds in this Parliament. That was always Labour’s intention, as confirmed by the former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis in his evidence to the Transport Select Committee—a position the Select Committee said had merit.

Of course it is right that a single Bill would need to await completion of preparatory work for the second phase of the route. However, by introducing it later in this Parliament and carrying it over to the next, as we did with the legislation for Crossrail, we would secure Parliament’s approval for the whole route at an earlier date than under the Government’s plans. That would, of course, open up the possibility, if it proved feasible, of beginning construction in the north as well as the south—something that the Transport Select Committee urged the Government to consider. The Secretary of State should do so and the Government should think again on the issue of using a single piece of legislation to make HS2 possible all the way to the top of the Y route. At the very least, will the Secretary of State agree, as a minimum, to follow the Transport Select Committee’s recommendation to include a “purpose clause” in the hybrid Bill that she plans, providing statutory force to the commitment to continue the scheme to Manchester and Leeds?

Turning to other issues in the statement, the Secretary of State says that there will be “direct links to Heathrow airport and the continent via the HS1 line”. There will be disappointment that the Government have not accepted the case—not least in her own team—to build a transport hub at Heathrow, enabling a direct connection between the airport, HS2, Crossrail and the Great Western mainline at one site. The Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) is on record as saying that

“failing to take high speed rail through Heathrow…would be a big mistake”.

This is a failure to learn the lessons of successful high-speed rail schemes across the world. When the Government claim this route would cost more, they fail to include the cost of building the spur; and when the Government claim it would increase journey times, they fail to make clear that this hub would be instead of Old Oak Common and would allow for non-stopping services.

Can the Secretary of State confirm the cost of building the separate spur to Heathrow? Can she confirm that the Government’s intention is to enable at least the possibility of direct services between Heathrow and the continent at the end of phase 2? Can the right hon. Lady tell the House what discussions she has had with the European Commission over the potential for EU funding towards the costs of HS2? Is it correct that the decision not to take the route via Heathrow and the concerns over the planned link to HSl mean that such support is less likely to be forthcoming?

In respect of Scotland, the Secretary of State has said that HS2

“will form a foundation for a potentially wider high speed network in years to come.”

Can she confirm that the Government still intend to begin discussions with the Scottish Government on the future development of the network to Scotland during the next Parliament? When do they expect to start work on the business case for further extensions beyond the Y?

As for what the Secretary of State said about mitigation and costs, I welcome the steps that she has taken to address some of the concerns that led the Labour party to propose its alternative route, although none of these measures addresses the impact on the Chilterns as effectively as would a route via Heathrow. It is the Government’s own stubbornness that has forced them to commit themselves to significant additional spending to prevent a Cabinet resignation.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what the extra cost of each of the new mitigation proposals that she has announced today will be, and whether those costs will be met within the existing cost envelope for HS2? What assessment of value for money has she made in respect of the costs of these measures, compared with those of offering greater protection to the Chilterns through a different alignment? I welcome the mitigation measures proposed for London, although there remains a significant impact on the area around Euston station. Will the Secretary of State assure the local community in Camden that she will listen to their concerns, and will take appropriate steps to mitigate the impact of the redevelopment of Euston station? What discussions has she had with Transport for London on how best to address the concerns that have been raised about the impact of the very large increase in the numbers arriving at Euston on HS2?

There has been considerable debate about the affordability of building the line, but not about the affordability of using it once it opens. I note that the Secretary of State had nothing to say about that in her statement. Does she agree with us that now is the time to move the debate from whether we should build to discussing the type of high-speed rail network that we want to see in this country? Her predecessor as Secretary of State—I am pleased to see that he is present—told the Transport Committee:

“If you are working in a factory in Manchester you might never get on HS2, but you will certainly be benefiting from it if the salesman and sales director of your company is routinely hopping on it to go and meet customers, to jet around the world from Heathrow in a way that brings in orders that keep you employed.”

Is that not precisely the wrong approach to high-speed rail? Does the Secretary of State agree that we need a high-speed rail network that is affordable for the many and not the few—a network that is not a “rich man’s toy” or simply a business class service?

Today we have reached an important stage in the development of high-speed rail in this country, a process begun by Labour. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the issues that we have raised. This is a major scheme which deserves proper scrutiny. We have raised questions with the clear intention of ensuring that we have the best possible high-speed rail network, one that the country needs and deserves. We strongly support the building of HS2. [Hon. Members: “Hurray!”] I said that in the first sentence of my reply. I look forward to working on a cross-party basis with the Secretary of State and her colleagues to ensure that parliamentary approval is secured, and that this vital project can move ahead and become a reality.

I am delighted to hear that the Labour party supports our high-speed rail proposals. As I think even Labour Members would have to admit, the original proposal did indeed come from my party. I must point out that high-speed rail did not feature in the Labour Government’s 2007 White Paper setting out the 30-year vision for the railways. However, we are pleased that Labour has belatedly seen the real potential of a high-speed rail network in Britain.

The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) asked about legislation for the full Y network. I am considering whether it is possible for us to build that into the hybrid Bill, but I can give a categorical assurance that I have decided that we should go ahead with the full Y network. I have also announced today the final decision on the route of phase 1 of that network.

The hon. Lady asked about Heathrow, which has clearly been an important aspect of the issue. HS2 will go directly to Heathrow. That will happen as part of phase 2. People will be able to get on a high-speed train in Birmingham that goes direct to Heathrow. The hon. Lady raised the question of whether HS2 should go directly via Heathrow. The last Labour Transport Secretary of State, Lord Adonis, looked at that, and he concluded— as did I and my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) —that that is not the most cost-effective or line-effective route for the line to take. It would be a longer line, and it would be more expensive.

The hon. Lady asked whether we will seek EU funding. The business case we have presented to the House today is based on a working assumption that the £32 billion cost of this railway will come from the rail budget—that it will be taxpayer-funded. The business case would improve if we were able to get private sector and EU funding. We believe that this is a high-value project and we will look to see whether we can secure such contributions, especially from the private sector, and they would make that business case even stronger than it already is.

I am keen to talk with the Scottish Government about their aspirations for high-speed rail further north. Their desire to see this project go ahead underlines its strategic value to the entire UK, not just the London-to-Birmingham part of our country.

On mitigation, the hon. Lady raised the important question of how we tackled the issue of the line going through an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Chilterns. I want to emphasise that I looked very hard along the entire line. I understood the specific concerns people had in respect of this AONB, and I took them very seriously, but I looked at the whole line to see how we could mitigate its impact on local communities wherever possible, because that is important and the right thing to do. The changes in the Chilterns that we have made will result in that stretch of the line costing in the region of £250 million to £300 million less, because the engineering solutions we have found will involve less use of deep cutting. That will mean that we have less spoil, and the removal of spoil is often what causes huge expense. I hope that provides some reassurance to the hon. Lady. For some parts of this route, improving the line is good not only for local communities but for the business case for the line.

The hon. Lady also raised the question of the redevelopment of Euston station that will happen as part of HS2’s phase 1 proposal. We believe the line coming into Euston can be part and parcel of the regeneration of the Euston area. We must ensure that Euston makes the most of the investment that will go into Euston station. I fully understand that two-thirds of the homes that will be demolished will be next to Euston station, and we will work very closely with Camden council. A number of statutory processes are already in place to provide safeguards for tenants who will be affected, but I can assure the House that I will work very closely with Camden council in considering how we can minimise the impact of the redevelopment of Euston station on current residents. I will, of course, also be delighted to work with the Mayor in considering traffic flows on the tube and how high-speed rail will interact with our tube network.

The hon. Lady asked about affordability and pricing, and I agree that that is very important. The business case we have done assumes a pricing level that is the same as the standard pricing on the current network. That has been the presumption. As we get closer to the finalisation of the route and its development, I am sure we will look at the pricing, but I can assure the hon. Lady that the success of this high-speed railway network will be based on its being used by many people, not a few. I have no doubt that the pricing of the tickets will be set in order to achieve that.

Order. Given the intense interest, I appeal for brevity, led by one of its exemplars, Mr John Redwood.

Will the Secretary of State tell us how much the Government propose to spend on the project during this Parliament, and will she confirm that no construction contracts will be let during this Parliament?

No construction contracts will be let during this Parliament, and my understanding is that the spend over the course of this Parliament will be in the region of a couple of hundred million pounds.

As the city closest to the first non-London station, the potential investment benefits to Coventry are considerable. Is the Secretary of State prepared to meet a delegation to discuss the links between the city and that first station, so that Coventry maximises the benefits from HS2?

The Liberal Democrats were the first party to push for high-speed rail, back in 2004—[Interruption.] I realise that the Opposition may not appreciate the fact. I am delighted that the coalition is going ahead with this, and I congratulate the Transport Secretary on that decision. Phases 1 and 2 will bring great benefits, and the news about phase 2 going to Manchester and Leeds is very welcome. Can she say something about her future aspirations for the connection through to Scotland?

As I said, we are very keen to ensure that we progress phases 1 and 2 as quickly as possible, and I will be in discussions with the Scottish Government about the future development of the line that they have aspirations for, as well.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, if I break into this aura of unanimity. I represent people living around Euston, 350 of whom will lose their homes, and up to now they have received no guarantees whatever from Ministers, the Department or the HS2 project team. The area has already seen the abandonment of the intended rebuilding of a Roman Catholic convent school, part of the site of which will be taken, and a large number of small businesses will be put out of business as a result of this. Also, Euston will be even more overcrowded when the new line comes in, and there are no proposals whatever to improve the connections, by tube or bus, to Euston station to take the extra traffic.

The right hon. Gentleman raises the wider point that we will need a broad-based strategy if HS2 is to come into Euston—the broader regeneration of Euston that I believe can take place alongside HS2 and the redevelopment of Euston station. I am absolutely committed to doing whatever I can: to work with Camden council, and to meet the right hon. Gentleman separately to talk about what we can do to minimise the disruption to local residents while HS2 is being built and in the years beforehand. There are statutory processes that I am very happy to talk through with him in detail, and I look forward to doing that.

My right hon. Friend has been very patient in hearing from me many times about the concerns of my constituents, many of whose communities will be blighted by this high-speed rail line. She is also well aware of my concerns about the economics of the project. How sure is she that the actual costs in their entirety will be kept to the amounts we have been talking about, and how realistic is it for Britain to afford this project at this very difficult time economically?

I would argue that we cannot afford not to do this. The cost to the taxpayer will start once Crossrail has finished. On the overall costs, High Speed 1 was brought in on time and to budget, and our costing includes a substantial allowance for so-called optimism bias, because we know that such projects tend to grow in cost. If anything, I would aim to bring it in under the amount we have budgeted for, but we have allowed for some optimism bias, as we do for these projects.

While thanking the right hon. Lady for switching on the green light, I note that she referred in her statement to “a package of measures to reinforce confidence in properties above tunnels”. That issue affects many of my constituents. When and to whom should my constituents make representations to have their concerns calmed?

I will be writing today to all the people affected directly by HS2, and that will include making sure that people in areas that will have tunnels underneath them will receive all the details they need to understand how this process will work.

Will my right hon. Friend say a few words about the massive capacity that is going to be added to freight lines, so that we can encourage greater use of the railway in transporting freight around the country?

One of the things we have seen in recent years is freight switching from road to rail. HS2 will have the advantage of freeing up the capacity on the conventional railway network, which will see that renaissance continue. We hope that it will have even more force behind it than it has had already.

Today’s announcement is very good news for Birmingham. May I say to the right hon. Lady that two things are just as important as our connectivity to London? The first is connectivity to the north, so I ask her to act on the optimistic noises she has made about possibly changing the hybrid Bill to include the second phase. The second is to ensure, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) said, that HS2 unlocks potential in the local transport network in and around Birmingham and the wider west midlands. Will she take that on board? Those are the things that will really maximise the benefits of HS2 to the midlands.

I will take both those things on board, and indeed I will be in Birmingham tomorrow. When we look at high-speed rail in other countries, we see that the countries that have had the most success with it are those that have looked at projects more broadly, so we must ensure that HS2 provides broader connectivity than just to the areas it drops in at.

It is fair to recognise that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) makes a valid point about Euston station and the rail capacity of that particular area. Has the Secretary of State given any particular thought to the idea that there should be a nodal link at Old Oak Common, which would link up Crossrail and HS2, thereby ensuring that a large amount of the traffic that would otherwise get caught up in Euston is enabled to go through central London via a different route?

It is essential that the UK has a high-speed rail network, and I welcome today’s statement as it helps to achieve that. The Secretary of State said that she was considering how to include in the hybrid Bill a commitment to the whole of the Y network. Will she tell us more about that? Will she assure us that the money that goes to funding the very important high-speed rail network will not be at the expense of essential investment in the existing classic line to develop both passenger and freight services?

I am actively examining how we can provide more legal assurance in relation to the full Y network. However, we ultimately have to recognise that if this high-speed rail line is going to happen, it will need political will above all else. What I am saying is that the Government have the political will to go ahead with this Y network and that is the thing that matters most. I can assure the hon. Lady that I intend to make sure that we continue to see that level of investment that our current railways so badly need.

I was delighted to hear that additional protections for the Chilterns will reduce costs. Will the Secretary of State consider tunnelling the entire width of the Chilterns?

Because the Heathrow link will be in phase 2 of the project, my constituents will not know their futures until late 2014. Will the Secretary of State ensure that HS2 Ltd opens up its books and shares the information about the range of options it is considering for the link at the earliest stage?

One of the things that we have always tried to balance is getting assurance about what our lead proposals are so as not to cause unnecessary blight and trying to share information with residents as soon as possible. I believe that we will be able to start informally consulting local groups later this year and in 2013. We will do the formal consultation—the sort that the hon. Gentleman has seen on the first phase of this route—in 2014.

I commend my right hon. Friend on her statement. Will she assure me that she was aware that the chief executive of Manchester city council said last week that this was a most significant decision for the north of England’s economy? Will she confirm that she still expects the monetised value of the scheme overall to be in the order of £50 billion?

I can confirm that when we look at the key people pushing for this scheme, we notice that the key economies and great cities in the north will see the benefits. The monetised total value is upwards of £40 billion, even £50 billion. Ultimately, however, we must recognise that that calculation takes place over a 60-year time frame. Anybody building the railways back in Victorian times would never have counted the benefit we get from them today, which is very real, and the potential benefit of HS2 is significant.

Does the Secretary of State really think that people will believe the costings she has set out, given the past history of building railways and Government schemes? Will she give an assurance that the route will be extended to the north-west as, frankly, most people believe that they have more chance of travelling in the Tardis than on HS2?

In terms of costs, there is safety in two things. High Speed 1 was delivered on time and on budget by the last Conservative Government. I aim to have a much better performance than we saw from the Labour Government on the west coast main line, where a £2 billion planned upgrade mushroomed to £9 billion. Finally, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that his constituents will see the benefit of phase 1 from day one. In many cases, the HS2 trains will be through-running trains that, having saved that time on the high-speed network, will continue their journey further north on conventional lines. I think that will benefit far more cities than just London and Birmingham.

May I advise the Secretary of State that today’s announcement will be heard with concern in Rugby? We currently have an excellent service to London on the recently upgraded west coast main line, but we will be completely bypassed by High Speed 2. What steps will be taken to ensure that cities and towns on the legacy line will retain the speed and frequency of their existing rail links?

High Speed 2 is critical for places such as Rugby, which have been so constrained by capacity on the conventional line. One of the benefits of HS2 is that it will free up capacity for better connectivity to places on existing lines, just like Rugby.

Warrington gets its journey cut by half an hour—lucky Warrington. Plymouth is a bigger city than Warrington and we have no high-speed link to the south-west. As regards the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), the Chair of the Transport Committee, will the Secretary of State confirm that top-slicing will not happen to other budgets and that the south-west main line down to Penzance will still get further investment?

We are about to continue the process on the high-level output specification, or HLOS2, and that will consider future investment in lines such as the great western line, which will be connected to HS2 via the Old Oak Common interchange. That will benefit the hon. Lady’s part of the country as well as everybody else’s.

I welcome the Transport Secretary’s commitment to high-speed rail and the fact that she is keen to have discussions with the Scottish Government about extending the route to Glasgow and Edinburgh, which would bring additional economic benefits of some £25 billion and carbon reductions from more modal shift from air to rail. What does she see as the main barriers to making high-speed rail to and from Scotland a reality and how can we best overcome them?

There are always barriers and challenges in dealing with such significant infrastructure problems, not least money and ensuring that finance is in place. As we have seen with phase 1, we must be incredibly careful that the route minimises the impact on local communities while maximising the economic impact that communities can get out of it. There is a long process to go through as regards talking with the Scottish Government, but I am keen to engage with them on it.

The Secretary of State’s statement will be welcomed throughout the whole of the north of England, as the chief executive of Manchester city council said, but there will be a worry in the back of some people’s minds that we were promised trains through to Paris when the channel tunnel legislation was agreed but we did not get them and that the same thing will happen again. It is not just a matter of political will. People in the north would be reassured if the Secretary of State gave a commitment to align stations and resources to build the routes to Manchester and Leeds as soon as possible.

I can give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. I certainly am not going to take any longer than we need to take to progress the full Y network. One aspect of the first phase that I have not mentioned yet is that it will connect HS2 through to HS1, so there will be that link directly to the channel tunnel and the European high-speed rail network, which will be hugely beneficial.

I have serious concerns about this planned project, particularly regarding the business case. Will the Secretary of State comment on the comparisons that can be drawn with the high-speed rail links in Spain and France? In France, it was the major hub city of Paris that grew, rather than Lyon, and in Spain it was Seville that was caused expense as a price of the growth of Madrid city. There is concern in this country that the north might not get the projected benefit and that instead it might be London that grows and benefits.

I have huge respect for my hon. Friend and I normally agree with her on most things, but I have looked at this case incredibly carefully. Let me say two things. First, cities such as Lyon and Lille have massively benefited from high-speed rail in France. Secondly, let us see what the north thinks. Manchester thinks this project is vital, Birmingham thinks this project is vital, Leeds thinks this project is vital and Sheffield thinks this project is vital. It is time to make it happen.

The Secretary of State will get a very warm welcome in Birmingham tomorrow, but that welcome might be even warmer if she gave a clear commitment to a purpose clause in the hybrid Bill and if she could bring that Bill forward to 2012 rather than 2013.

I do not think I can add anything further to my comments about my commitment to the Y network. In terms of the time it will take us to develop the hybrid Bill, we are doing it as fast as we can. I want to make sure that the Bill comes to the House in a proper and robust state, and that means doing a proper environmental impact statement and working with local communities, which will take some time. This is a big project and we are going to get on with it, but I will make sure that it has the time that all that will take. At the moment, it looks as though the Bill will come to the House in late 2013.

With a benefit-cost ratio of over 2.5, HS2 is a much better business case than Crossrail, which has just been accelerated. Will the Secretary of State consider accelerating phase 2 of this scheme so that it can reach the north before 2032?

I am looking at all the ways in which I can progress this project as fast as possible. At the moment, it looks as though the 2032-33 time frame is the fastest by which we can bring it to fruition. I hope that the House has seen today my desire to get on with this project and I will continually look at ways in which we can deliver it faster.

Can the Secretary of State say what impact the proposal will have on the frequency of services from Birmingham to Euston?

I think we will see a huge improvement. Not only will more capacity be released on the conventional lines, but the high-speed line will serve those stations.

The previous Secretary of State for Transport is now running Defence, where we are implementing major cuts in each of the armed services. Does this Secretary of State understand why those of us who are concerned about other areas of Government wonder whether these priorities are not rather perverse in the present economic situation?

I absolutely want to see the investment in our armed forces that we need for our country, but we also have to make sure that we look to the future for our transport system and the role that it plays in helping our economy to prosper, grow and create jobs. That is what today’s announcement is all about.

The map that the Secretary of State published today shows the network continuing north of Leeds to join the east coast main line. Is she considering joining that at York, and is she aware that there is a major development site right next to York station? If that is her intention, she needs to state it early to make sure that the land is available.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for flagging up that opportunity. I have no doubt that over the coming weeks and months he will want to set out some of those ideas in more detail. Over the course of this Parliament, we will be putting significant effort into developing High Speed 2—I think we will spend something like £750 million in total—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to ensure that he puts his views forward.

Can the Minister clarify and confirm that real concern was expressed prior to the introduction of High Speed 1 in Kent, but since then there has been real economic regeneration and growth in the south-east and Kent?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I think it shows that we are right to get on with this project today, but we are also right to work with local communities, and they can see huge benefits from high-speed rail when it comes to their communities.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. Elsewhere in Europe, high-speed rail has been kept affordable by keeping it in the public sector. Will she make a commitment that this will be kept in the public sector in this country?

I cannot make that commitment. We are just at the business of assessing what the line route is—I made my decision on that today, and will continue to develop the phase 2 route. I think decisions about how the train service will be operated are ones for further in the future, but of course we will look to do what we think is best value for the taxpayer and the travelling passenger.

The long-term benefits that High Speed 2 will bring to my Milton Keynes constituents will be welcome, by freeing up capacity on the existing line. However, there is overcrowding now, which will get worse before High Speed 2 opens. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue their impressive record of investment in the classic network, to meet demand in the period before HS2 starts?

I can tell my hon. Friend that there will be 106 extra carriages serving his stretch of line, and I think that shows that this Government are committed to making sure that we get investment in our railways in the short and medium term as well as the long term.

I am as keen on the Secretary of State for Wales as anybody else is, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Transport has done so much to keep her in her job, but can she be precise about the amount of money that is being spent on tunnelling in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Wales, because the total amount being spent in Wales on the railways this year is just £500 million?

I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would be pleased, because the route that I announced today will see us spend less money in my right hon. Friend’s part of the country. The way in which he has turned what I took to be the incredibly serious issue of this line impacting local communities in an area of outstanding natural beauty into a pure political point is a disgrace. The Secretary of State for Wales, alongside other MPs, has done a damn good job in representing her constituents, and I think she has probably been a lot more effective than he has been in the past.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. Many of my constituents work at Tata Steel in Scunthorpe, where rail production is one of their most profitable lines. Can she give me a categorical assurance that everything possible will be done to ensure that the procurement procedures favour British-based companies?

My hon. Friend will know that one of the things I am committed to doing in my role is to bring about a more strategic relationship, in terms of our procurement, with suppliers in the UK, and non-UK suppliers. I think that puts companies in production in the UK in a good position. There is unprecedented investment going into the railways at the moment. I have just announced the biggest railway infrastructure project that this country has seen in over a century. I think that is good news for Britain, but also good news for jobs and good news, hopefully, for companies like Tata.

The Secretary of State dismisses in one sentence the Select Committee’s recommendation that the London terminus should be at Old Oak rather than at Euston. Will she look at that again, or at least publish the evidence on which she bases that view, and will she assure us that the mitigation will apply at least as much to Labour seats in west London as Tory seats in the Chilterns?

We looked very carefully at where the HS2 line should terminate when it got to London. Our decision was that it was far better to terminate it in London than, as it were, at Old Oak Common, which would have seen people then have to transfer again. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says Crossrail, but of course they would have to transfer on to Crossrail. That is an added advantage that they will have, but we believe it is far better for HS2 to come in to Euston.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I worked as hard looking at mitigation elsewhere on the line as I did looking at it in the AONB in the Chilterns, and I am committed to making sure that I continue to do that throughout this entire process.

The Transport Committee’s detailed report raised a number of serious questions about the business case and the technical assumptions behind HS2. It also made the clear recommendation that the Secretary of State should not make a decision on HS2 until she had addressed those questions. Can she explain why she has chosen to ignore that clear recommendation?

I think my hon. Friend would be the first person to agree that the Transport Committee’s overall comment on HS2 was that it was a good value-for-money project. The engineers have looked in detail at every aspect of HS2. I encourage my hon. Friend to look at the plethora of reports that we have put out today, many of them giving technical detail. I hope that will provide him with the confidence that he needs.

We welcome the commitment to HS2 and note what the Secretary of State said about the impact on Scotland, but will she now widen the remit of HS2 to allow immediate planning for extension further north and link-up with development in Scotland, rather than waiting the several years that it will take the hybrid Bills to go through this place?

It is fair to say that our focus must be on making sure that the Y network and, in particular at this point, phase 1 of that network happens. I am happy to discuss with the Scottish Government their proposals and ideas for how we broaden that network further in the future.

I very much welcome the statement, particularly confirmation that the station at Heathrow will go through in phase 2. Does the Secretary of State agree that when phase 2 is completed and there is a direct link from the north to Heathrow, that should make a significant contribution to reducing the pressure of domestic flights at Heathrow?

I agree with that. We have estimated that around 4.5 million air flights a year will transfer on to high-speed rail as a result of this.

I welcome the right hon. Lady’s brave decision today. Like others, I am a little worried that if the legislative timetable is too long, the project may lose impetus and she may be a victim of election trimming. Will she reflect on those risks?

Today’s announcement has been welcomed by the business community in my constituency, including the chairman of the Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership, but many people are rightly concerned about the countryside. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital to safeguard the countryside and its wildlife as far as possible for all the people who are living there today, as well as for those who will be living there tomorrow?

I thoroughly agree. I have had a clear priority to look at how we can minimise the impact of this project on people, but in addition to that I have been careful to look at how we can minimise the impact more broadly on both the environment and of course wildlife, and I will continue to do that. The environmental impact statement process that we can now begin will enable us to do that in a far more detailed way. That is very welcome.

I welcome the statement. Greengauge 21 has pointed out that if some commuter services that currently run into Euston could be diverted on to Crossrail when High Speed 2 opens, that would create new through-services, which would be very welcome, could significantly reduce the demand for extra platform capacity at Euston, addressing one of the problems that has been raised in this exchange, and would also open up the possibility of a much better interconnection between High Speed 1 and High Speed 2 than the single-track proposal that is on the table at present. Is the Secretary of State looking at that idea for improving the position?

We have reached a conclusion on phase 1, which I have announced, and we have looked at such proposals. Network Rail is now able to look at the possibilities arising from the released capacity on conventional lines. That has the potential to address some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman raised.

I welcome today’s announcement on an important piece of our national infrastructure. As such, will my right hon. Friend consider all of us who represent constituencies west of Heathrow and make sure that the connectivity from the west into the new network is as good as possible?

Yes, I will. We are always looking at ways to improve that, and I welcome the chance to talk to my hon. Friend about it.

The Secretary of State has rightly spoken of the need to offset biodiversity loss and mitigate environmental impacts on wildlife, but will she go one stage further and take this unique opportunity to look at developing migratory corridors that will give species that need to migrate northwards as a result of climate change the connectivity in the landscape to enable them to do so?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I will be keen to look at the environmental opportunities presented by the project as well as the environmental challenges.

This will be even more popular in Derbyshire if the trains are built at Bombardier. When will we know the detail of the location of the station for the east midlands and the route for the track, which is of some concern to my constituents?

My hon. Friend will have been pleased, over Christmas, to see that Bombardier won the contract to produce train carriages for Southern Rail. We will be getting some initial views on the route later this year, and that is when we would like to see regions, areas and communities trying to reach some consensus on where those interim stations should be.

I welcome the statement and the accompanying Command Paper in relation to talk about the foundation for subsequent phases and extensions arising from the Y route. In her discussions with the Scottish Government, will she look specifically at the business case, and start to do so now, so that the vital impetus to ensure that HS2 benefits Scotland is not lost?

We are getting on with our discussions. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), will be going to Scotland tomorrow, and I have no doubt that those conversations will start right now.

Does my right hon. Friend work on trains when she is travelling around the country, and if she does, along with hundreds of thousands of others, does she not believe that that factor undermines a major plank of the business case for HS2?

No, I do not. The fact the people rightly complain when they get delayed on a train and stuck in traffic shows intuitively that people place a huge value on their time, and rightly so. We use robust methods to value time in the business case, and they are absolutely correct.

Timetables are important to railways. When does the Secretary of State expect to see the first high-speed train into Glasgow Central station running on high-speed rails?

In theory it should be in 2026, when the high-speed line from London to Birmingham is complete and trains will continue up the west coast main line, and no doubt arrive in Glasgow. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s underlying question was when the high-speed network will make it up to Scotland, and as I said on a number of occasions during the statement, I am very happy, indeed keen, to talk to the Scottish Government about their proposals for that in the future. In the meantime, the good news today is that we are getting on with phases 1 and 2. That has to happen in order for his desire to be fulfilled as well.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. The plans published today do not include any stops on the Y between Birmingham and Manchester, whereas there are two between Birmingham and Leeds. Businesses in north Staffordshire believe that a stop is essential to the development of the regional economy. Can she confirm that it is still under serious consideration?

I will be very happy to talk to my hon. Friend about his desire for high-speed rail in his area, and then we can discuss those precise issues.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and thank her for her commitment to HS2 today. She will, of course, be aware that there has been a great deal of support from members of the public and from businesses in Wales on this. Can she confirm whether the Secretary of State for Wales, in her capacity as Secretary of State for Wales, made representations in favour of this, thus reflecting widespread opinion in Wales?

The Secretary of State for Wales did her job both as a Welsh Secretary and as a constituency MP in talking to me about the benefits of the project, and I thoroughly agree with her that we have ended up with the right line, with the right mitigation.

My constituents in east Kent, who already benefit from High Speed 1, will be pleased to hear that there will be direct through services on High Speed 2 to the north and the midlands. Has the Secretary of State considered the economic benefit to Kent, East Sussex and east London of better connectivity with the major centres of the north and the midlands?

Part of our business case for phases 1 and 2 is looking at the wider economic impacts. It is always difficult to monetise those properly, but I believe that they will include some of those positive impacts, and that over time we will see the benefit of a larger high-speed network nationally, bringing benefits not only to constituencies like my hon. Friend’s, where the network already exists, but to other cities across the country.

I would be intrigued to learn how it is cheaper to develop a railway by digging a tunnel. How can the UK Government justify that decision, which it is reported will cost £500 million, made to keep the Secretary of State for Wales in post, while refusing even to electrify the main line to Swansea?

May I just correct the hon. Gentleman’s facts? Tunnelling under the Chilterns will save between £250 million and £300 million, rather than costing £500 million. I hope that that provides him with some reassurance that this will in fact be less expensive than it would otherwise be.

All of us involved in the cross-party, cross-sector and cross-riding campaign for a high-speed rail line to Yorkshire are absolutely delighted by the announcement. Because it is so important that it gets to the northern cities, can the Secretary of State assure us that in the legislation she will ensure not only that the line will be guaranteed to go to Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds, but that the two Ys will be built no more than six years after phase 1, as currently planned?

My hon. Friend is right to urge me to push on with that, which is precisely what I will do. I do not think that I can add anything to my earlier comments on my desire to provide a concrete assurance that the Y will happen, but I reiterated on many occasions in my statement my intention to see the full Y network built.

I commend the Secretary of State for her decision. Many of the arguments for High Speed 2 cited reduced journey times, which are obviously important, but I have always thought that the arguments about capacity are equally compelling, particularly as investing in classic rail services would provide only two thirds of the capacity that we will get with high-speed rail. How great a factor was that in her decision?

One of the most important parts of the decision was looking at the alternatives to see whether they could answer the critical capacity question that, as the hon. Gentleman points out, we face. High Speed 2 is the best answer to that question. I urge other Members who have asked themselves that question, but who have perhaps not done quite as much research as he has, to look at the Network Rail report published over the weekend, because it gives a compelling and robust assessment of some of the alternatives and sets out precisely why they would not have delivered the capacity that we so badly need.

Businesses across Lancashire will welcome today’s announcement on High Speed 2. When will the Secretary of State be in a position to lay before the House details of the region-by-region economic gain that HS2 will bring to the north?

We have already looked at the wider economic impact, but I will see whether it is possible to break it down by region. There is no doubt that the broad overall economic impact of HS2 will be substantial.

HS2 will not resolve the urgent need for additional rail freight capacity. To achieve significant modal shift for freight traffic we need a new route, built to UIC gauge C, enabling continental rail wagons and lorries on trains to be transported up and down Great Britain and to and from the continent. Will the Secretary of State look at the case for a dedicated rail freight route from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, for which a carefully designed scheme is already available?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the critical issue of freight. I visited Felixstowe port earlier last year and talked to people there about the sorts of challenges they face and the investment that they feel is needed in the network, and I will continue to look at those opportunities. He emphasises the continued need for investment in the current conventional line while we get on with our proposals on high-speed rail.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement on what will be a significant improvement in national infrastructure. May I ask her about Old Oak Common in relation to the connectivity to Crossrail and the Great Western line? Would she also look at the possibility of connecting the high-speed line to the West London line so that people living in south London and the south-east can access HS2 without having to use the London underground?

My hon. Friend raises the right point, which is that the plans for HS2 that we have announced and confirmed today will in future present broader opportunities to us and our transport system. I will be happy to discuss those with him in the coming weeks and years.

The Secretary of State’s announcement will be warmly welcomed in the Sheffield city region, particularly the fact that consultation on the route north of Birmingham will begin this autumn. However, at that time blight will begin for households and businesses. Will she therefore give an assurance that the decision on the route will be made as quickly as possible afterwards? When will compensation arrangements be in place for those affected?

What will happen later this year is the start of an informal discussion with stakeholders in that region on where the route might go. The formal consultation is scheduled for 2014, precisely so that we can, I hope, minimise blight. As I think I have said very clearly to the House today, we will consult on a final package of property and blight compensation and mitigation later in the spring, which will help to provide some assurance to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that there is a structure in place to ensure that there is a package of support for people who are directly affected by High Speed 2 as it goes into phase 2.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision and the measures that she has announced, which will benefit the Chilterns as a whole, but will she say a little more about the commitment that she has made about giving the public more opportunities to get involved as the project proceeds?

Broadly, two things will happen. First, as I have said, we will consult on the compensation and blight package in spring. Secondly, we will set up structured working with local authorities and community groups on the environmental, planning and community challenges, to ensure that we can make the most of HS2 and take advantage of some of the opportunities for the environment as well as mitigating some of the downsides of going ahead with the project.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), commencement is a long way down the line, but the contemporary concern in my constituency is blight and the fear of blight. The right hon. Lady has said that discussions on the details of mitigation will take place possibly this year and possibly next year. With respect, that is not good enough for Northolt, Greenford and Perivale. Will she tell me something today so that I can explain to those people that they will have their voices heard, particularly and specifically on mitigation?

Yes, I can. The hon. Gentleman will obviously be aware of the bored tunnel under Ruislip, which will significantly help his area. I would also direct him to look at the document that we have issued today setting out our review of property issues. It talks in very clear terms about the next steps, and what will happen when.

Will the Secretary of State reassure the residents of Redditch that High Speed 2 will come in on budget, and that it will bring massive economic benefits to constituencies in the west midlands?

I hope that I can provide reassurance. We have certainly developed the calculations on costs in line with Treasury guidance, which is very conservative. Of course I will be aiming, if at all possible, to have the project come in under budget, although I suspect that there will also be others who will have to manage the costs over the coming years.

I commend the Secretary of State’s statement this afternoon. Is she aware that the High Speed 2 announcement could bring benefits to the north-east of England almost straight away? Hitachi Rail Europe, which wants to build its train factory in Newton Aycliffe in my constituency, has announced that it will bid for the rolling stock to be made there when the time comes, which could bring jobs to Durham, the Tees valley and the north-east of England.

The hon. Gentleman points out the very welcome investment from Hitachi in his area. Combined with the unprecedented investment that the Government are making in our railways today and in future, which I have announced today, that bodes well for creating more jobs building rolling stock in the UK.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today, which will deliver massive long-term benefits for the north of England. However, during the construction phase of High Speed 2, it is likely that there will be significant disturbance to the existing west coast main line, in particular because of work at Euston station. Has she considered how to ensure that existing services are protected during construction?

We will work in a very detailed fashion to make sure any disruption is minimised. The disruption will be significantly less than the disruption that there would have been if we had had a strategy of upgrades to lines, including the west coast main line.

The Secretary of State gave a helpful hint earlier, when she said that she was considering covering the whole Y-shaped network in forthcoming hybrid legislation. Will she agree to meet a delegation of MPs from northern cities so that we may press the argument for its inclusion, which is amazingly and incredibly important to the whole north of England?

I shall be happy to meet the hon. Lady. On that agenda, I would also like us to discuss some of the benefits that HS2 can bring to communities such as hers—one that I, of course, know very well.

Coming from Yorkshire, may I enthusiastically welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement? Does she agree that if we are to rebalance the economy from the south-east to the midlands and the north, constituencies such as mine, and the wider city of Leeds, need to become more attractive for business to invest in? Fundamental to that is ensuring that we deal with the overcrowding problems on our existing rail services. HS2 is the solution, and it is good for Britain.

It certainly is, whether in terms of providing more seats for passengers in the future or relieving the huge pressures on the existing rail network. HS2 is a direct line for growth in our country, and I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to announce today that it is going ahead.

I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement, as well as her commitment to the Y network and the ongoing improvement of the classic network. However, the northern hub is essential if we are to ensure connectivity so that local services are not disadvantaged by HS2. Will the Secretary of State commit to the full funding of the full northern hub project?

We have already announced the electrification of the trans-Pennine railway line, which is a key part of how we can start to deliver some of the northern hub agenda. I am very happy about that, and we are indeed looking at what it means for the rest of the northern hub proposal as part of the HLOS2 review process, which is happening right now.

Fast services on the west coast main line to Nuneaton were drastically reduced under the previous Government in 2008, much to the displeasure of many of my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend explain whether HS2 will make the provision of fast services for my constituents better or worse?

I certainly hope that it will give us the potential to make them better, and Network Rail is looking at precisely what the opportunities for the conventional rail network will be if we have capacity elsewhere via high-speed rail and High Speed 2. The problem we have at the moment is that the more constrained capacity is on the network, the more we have to prioritise where to connect to on the network to maximise passenger benefit, and that has, of course, caused pressure to reduce the network’s connectivity. One of the best things about HS2 is that it starts to open up some real opportunities on the existing network to connect people better with the railway.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement on high-speed rail. She will presumably agree—certainly with regard to phase 1—that commuters travelling from Leicester train station in my constituency will see no direct advantage, although I appreciate that phase 2 may be different. She will be aware that many of those commuters have been hoping for the electrification of the midland main line. Given her remark that she is ruling out short-term fixes, is she now saying there is no possibility whatever of electrification of the midland main line in the foreseeable future?

No, I am not. We have the HLOS2 process, by which we can consider all such things. Again, I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at the Network Rail report, which is very clear-cut about some of the pressures there will be on the midland main line if we do not go ahead with High-Speed 2.

I am delighted to welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. This is the right decision for the whole country and will tackle the capacity challenge, create jobs in the midlands and the north and equip our economy for the 21st century. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that High Speed 2 will reduce carbon emissions, as well as switching people from road to rail?

We hope that it can. It will result, on average, in about 4.5 million short-haul flights a year and about 9 million road journeys a year transferring to high-speed rail. Both those things will be good for the environment.

Despite warm words from the Secretary of State about Scotland, I remain unclear about whether she is prepared to extend the remit of the HS2 company to include detailed route planning for Scotland. If she is, when will it happen?

I ask the hon. Lady to give me a chance to get up to Scotland and meet the Scottish Government. I will be happy to meet her and other MPs representing Scottish constituencies to discuss the opportunities for the broader high-speed network. As she demonstrates so clearly, in countries that get on with high-speed rail, once one bit of the line is done there is pressure to do more of it. That is because it is incredibly successful and people can really see the benefits.

Having worked closely with the north west business leadership team, I would like to welcome High Speed 2 on its behalf, given the arguments that have been made over many years about unlocking the potential of businesses in the north, assisting the rebalancing of the economy, and proper connectivity between the north and south. This is a national scheme in two phases but will the Secretary of State clarify the benefit to the north of England from phase 1?

The principal benefit will be not just the high-speed link between London and Birmingham but the fact that it could connect to the west coast main line, which means that people will benefit from shorter journey times that persist as they continue their journey further north. That is really good news for people in that area.

Did I hear the Secretary of State aright? Did she say that the Chilterns tunnel would cost £250 million to £300 million less than the cost would be without it? That raises the question why, if it is cheaper to tunnel, she is not burying the entire line. Will she please give us the true figure for building the tunnel?

It will cost £250 million to £300 million less. The hon. Gentleman asked why we cannot tunnel the whole way under the Chilterns. Of course that is predominantly an engineering question concerning the amounts of spoil and the geographical nature of the land that we are going through. It is quite a complex question but the brief answer is yes, it really is more cost-effective.

The Secretary of State said that the hybrid Bill could include phase 2. Would it not be sensible, if we have a hybrid Bill before us, to take the route all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh, which would reassure those of us who live beyond Manchester and Leeds that there will be a high-speed network there at some point in the future?

The short answer is no. If we did that, we would have to go through the laborious process that we had to go through to sort out phase 1 of the route. It is better to get on with that and then initiate the process of finalising the route as it goes further north.

The disadvantage of being one of the last Opposition Members to be called is that people have already asked my question. But I will give it another go. I certainly broadly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and recognise her comments about the project’s economic benefits for the entire United Kingdom—so long as the kingdom remains united, of course. I noted her reference to phases 1 and 2 of the project. Obviously, there was no specific mention of a phase 3 and the line’s extension to Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, although I accept the Government’s aspirations in that regard. I also noted that on several occasions she told hon. Members that there would be discussions with the Scottish Government and Scottish MPs. I believe that such discussions, being long term and prolonged, should be structured. Will she publish a timetable for those discussions?

I will consider how we can take forward discussions with the Scottish Government. Perhaps I can set out a few more details for the House in the near future.

HS2 has the potential to tear down the north-south divide. With that in mind, does my right hon. Friend agree that support for, and confidence in, the project in the north of England would be massively enhanced if the building of the Manchester and Leeds legs began as soon as possible, at the same time as the London to Birmingham leg?

We cannot do that, but for all the right reasons—because we have to go through the rigorous process of ensuring that we have got the line of route right. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that we will go through that process as fast as we can—but get it right—and then crack on with the rest of the Y-shaped network.

In the north-east and Newcastle this decision is welcomed, both by business leaders and because it is good for the economy. Can the Secretary of State identify to what extent HS2 will free up existing rail capacity on lines to and from the north-east?

We believe that it will have the potential to free up significant capacity. As for the potential that this will create for the conventional rail network on new routes and new station stops, Network Rail has been asked to do that work and will report to me later in the year. I look forward to reading that work with interest, and to sharing it with the House.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that many people believe the present exceptional hardship scheme to be inconsistent and unfair. Can she confirm that her proposed refreshed hardship scheme will be consistent and will ensure that anybody affected by blight who wishes to move will be properly compensated? Those people should not be penalised for living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I have been keen to look at what we can do to improve the effectiveness of the hardship scheme. My hon. Friend will know that we have received around 240 applications from people. With the finalised line of route, some of those will obviously be from people in areas that will now see real mitigation. The point of the consultation, which will happen in the spring, is to ensure that we finalise those details. I very much urge him and his constituents to respond to the consultation, so that we can reach a final version of the scheme that delivers what we want, which is a fair deal for the people affected.

In commissioning HS2, will my right hon. Friend avoid the mistakes of the previous Government in drawing up the contract tender specifications for the last Bombardier contract, and do all in her power to ensure that as much of the materials, construction work and rolling stock for High Speed 2 as possible is provided by British firms, providing British jobs for British workers?

This Government have a laser-like focus on ensuring that our country becomes more competitive and creates more jobs. We are now back in the top 10 nations in the World Economic Forum ranking for the first time in many, many years. I believe that our companies are well placed to take advantage of the investment that we are making, and that is certainly what I want to see happen.

I welcome this important announcement. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that high-quality engineering and construction companies in the north of England have a fair chance of bidding for some of the £33 million, and that it does not become just an opportunity to refill southern coffers?

I have no doubt that companies in my hon. Friend’s part of the country will be extremely well placed to bid as well as anybody else, in any other part of the country, to take advantage of some of the economic benefits coming from this project.

I think that I am on the slow line, Mr Speaker. I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement today about High Speed 2. As a good northern girl, she will know that the north of England does not start and stop at Leeds and Manchester. On the route map published today, it seems that High Speed 2 on the north-west line extends further north than Manchester, perhaps to what looks like Preston. Will she give serious consideration to ensuring that Preston is included in phase 2, so that Lancashire and one of the hubs of British manufacturing get direct access to the south?

I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that places such as Preston will gain from phase 1, in terms of connectivity between the west coast main line and HS2. I am as passionate as he is about ensuring that his area has excellent railway links, and we are looking at developing the HLOS2 proposal for shorter and medium-term funding in our railways. I have no doubt that he will continue to represent his constituents’ needs to us as powerfully as he just did, and I will continue to pay very close attention to them.

Seventy-four hon. Members have been able to question the Secretary of State in 59 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time, so I thank colleagues for the succinctness of their questions, and the Secretary of State for the succinctness of her answers.