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Great Western Main Line: Electrification

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 19 April 2018

12. What discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the cancellation of the electrification of the Great Western main line between Cardiff and Swansea. (904821)

The Prime Minister and I discussed Cardiff to Swansea at the time, and reached the view that spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and causing massive disruption to passengers to enable the same trains to travel on the same route at the same speed to the same timetable as they do today was not actually a sensible thing to do.

We know from press reports issued during the Easter break that the Prime Minister personally made the decision to renege on an election promise to electrify the main line to Swansea on the basis of cost. Is not the reality that the British Government do not consider the west of my country worthy of investment?

We made the decisions about electrification on the midland main line and the line between Cardiff and Swansea on the simple basis that spending hundreds of millions or billions of pounds to achieve the same journey times in the same trains was not sensible. The trains on the Great Western route are already in operation, delivering services to people in Swansea, for whom it is a great and important investment. Trains on the midland main line require the addition of one engine to provide a little bit of extra acceleration, but they already exist, and will be great for that line as well. So let us hear none of this nonsense from Opposition Members. In fact, during the years when they were in government, this was their policy: they believed that what was important was capacity and delivery, not electrification, and I agreed with them.

Facts matter. In a written statement on 20 July last year, the Secretary of State said that with bi-mode trains it would be possible to

“achieve the same significant improvements to journeys”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 72WS.]

However, as we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), it is clear from National Audit Office reports that that statement cannot be correct.

No, this was about the Cardiff to Swansea route as well.

Why did the Secretary of State give those assurances? Now that he has come to the Dispatch Box, will he apologise?

Let us be clear. I stand by every word that I said then. We will deliver smart new trains and improved journey times for passengers on the midland main line, as we are currently doing and will continue to do on the Great Western main line, and as we will do on the east coast main line and the transpennine route. [Interruption.] As I have said, we will also deliver new trains providing better services for passengers on the midland main line. The only difference made by £1 billion of spending would be a one-minute saving in the journey time, and that is not good value for taxpayers’ money.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that this is such an important matter, surely we should have a point of order on it.

As the hon. Gentleman will know on the strength of his nearly 39 years of experience in the House, the effect of a point of order during exchanges on a question is to cause all further exchanges on it immediately to cease. Fortunately for the hon. Gentleman, he does not risk becoming hugely unpopular as a result of his attempted point of order, for the simple reason that no one else was standing and seeking to catch my eye—other than the hon. Gentleman with his rather bogus, albeit enjoyable, point of order.