I beg to move,
That this House recognises the importance of rail investment to the UK economy and, in particular, the delivery of new lines linking Yorkshire, the North West, North East and Midlands; regrets the Government’s decision not to deliver new high speed investment, Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, and electrification covering communities across the North and Midlands; calls on the Government to deliver the new northern rail investment promised by the Prime Minister in full; and further calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to update the House in person before January 2022 on his Department’s benefit cost ratio analysis for the revised HS2 line.
The motion stands in my name and the names of the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. and right hon. Friends.
It is a great privilege to speak for the first time as the shadow Transport Secretary of State. This sector is absolutely central to regenerating our communities, decarbonising the economy, and connecting people across our country. It is the one area of Government where, every day, every person in this country relies on the Government to get this right. I look forward to working with Members across the House to ensure that every corner of this country gets the transport system that it deserves.
Days after the Prime Minister came to power he said with absolute clarity to communities across the north:
“I want to be the Prime Minister who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did for Crossrail in London. And today I am going to deliver on my commitment…with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.”
No fewer than 60 times, the Conservative Government committed to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail in full. Conservative Members stood on a manifesto to deliver it—and the eastern leg of HS2—in three consecutive elections. Just two months ago, at the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister said it all again. I imagine that Conservative Members are feeling pretty ashamed of their Government today, and I imagine that they have been sent out with lines to take to buoy them up and spin the IRP for their party. Before they do, I would like them to reflect on the importance of honesty with the public and of promises made, and the implications that breaking those promises have for trust in this place and in our democratic institutions, particularly promises made to communities that have been underinvested in for too long. I would like them to reflect on exactly why the plan before us goes nowhere near delivering what was committed time and again to the north and the midlands.
I could have written these lines for them myself!
The Leader of the Opposition, like many Members across this House, had concerns with particular issues around particular stations and particular routes. As a Member for Sheffield, I can say that we have had that debate many times over the past few years. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor have been absolutely clear that, if we were in government now, we would be committed to getting on with delivering HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full.
Let us be totally clear about what those commitments meant. The benefits of HS2 being extended from Birmingham to Leeds, and of a new, high-speed line between Leeds and Manchester, would be to get those fast, long-distance trains off the existing infrastructure and to free up capacity for local services and freight.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. The people of Barnsley have to rely on overcrowded, overpriced and often delayed trains. Does she agree that the Government’s shameful decision to U-turn on investment in the north will only make local services worse?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend’s powerful point. This is not the local transport revolution that was promised to the people of the north and midlands. In fact, what is now before us is not only less than what was promised, but could deliver a poorer service for many of our towns, cities and communities than the already unacceptable service that they currently have.
They are not listening on the Government Benches, are they? All the Government are good for is breaking promises to the north, but not only have they broken promises to the north, they have now told London that it has to manage a decline and that investing in London would mean a loss of 43,000 jobs in the north. All this Government do is break promises and not invest in our infrastructure.
Does my hon. Friend share the frustration of so many people in Leeds and Yorkshire that, after 11 years of planning and working hard, the Government cancel the eastern leg and the integrated rail plan says:
“We will look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds”?
We do not have to look very far; there was a plan, which the Government have reneged on.
Absolutely. I am afraid, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, that the IRP is full of nonsense like that.
The economic case for delivering the original plans as promised could hardly be stronger. Both schemes would have created more than 150,000 new jobs, connecting 13 million people in major towns and cities in our industrial heartlands. Without that eastern leg of HS2, the business case barely makes sense. In the middle of a climate emergency, when we know that we need to double rail capacity in order for the Government to meet their own net zero target, the decision makes even less sense. This was a once-in-a-generation chance to transform opportunity across the whole country, rebalance the economy and level up, but last month the Government tore their promises up.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, and she is absolutely right—the Government talk about levelling up, but they are looking to level down in London. If the Government refuse to give TfL the funding that it needs, one in five bus routes, on which disabled Londoners rely, will be cut, and there will be no new step-free access schemes. This is not levelling up, but seeking to level down London. Do we not want to ensure that transport is accessible for all, especially disabled people?
I could not agree more.
The Transport Secretary said in this House that
“the eastern leg is called the 2b, and, as the Prime Minister has said from this Dispatch Box, it is not a question of ‘to be or not to be’”—[Official Report, 22 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 1221.]
Well, he was absolutely right; it was simply a question of not to be. Madam Deputy Speaker, as you know, Hamlet went on to say,
“Be all my sins remember’d”.
None of us needs reminding of the Prime Minister’s sins: he promised HS2 to Leeds; he promised Northern Powerhouse Rail in full; he promised that the north would not be forgotten, but delivered less than half the investment that it demanded; the planned Leamside line and a station upgrade at Middlesbrough—scrapped; the planned electrification of Selby to Hull gone too; the new station at Bradford, one of the fastest growing cities in the country—abandoned; and the people of Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds no longer connected by HS2.
By scrapping Northern Powerhouse Rail and in particular the station in Bradford city centre, the Government have condemned another generation of Bradfordians to a low-growth, low-wage economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot trust a word that comes out of this Prime Minister’s mouth?
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful argument. Does she agree that it is not surprising that the Government are reneging on their promises on the HS2 eastern leg because they did precisely the same thing with regard to electrification of the midland mainline, which was promised by 2015, promised by 2017 and promised by 2019, and we will now be incredibly lucky if it is even delivered by 2034?
This is exactly the problem. The problem that Ministers have is whether we can even trust what is being promised in this plan.
In this country we measure infrastructure investment not in months but in years and in decades. When the Victorians laid the foundations for our modern railway, it was a vote of confidence in our future. The integrated rail plan was the Government’s chance to build a railway fit for the century to come that would help us to tackle the climate crisis, but when the north came to cash its cheque, it bounced. At the heart of these broken promises are the missed opportunities for investment, for growth and for business. The OECD could not have been clearer when it said that investment in regional transport drives growth. Northern Powerhouse Rail could have increased productivity by 6%—a £22 billion boost to the northern economy. That opportunity has been squandered.
My hon. Friend talks about missed opportunities. I can tell her of one big disappointment to residents in Greater Manchester, and that is the shaving of £4 billion off the cost for increasing capacity through Manchester city centre. We were promised a high-speed underground station. That is now not happening. We will end up with a sanitised version of trains on stilts that will completely halt the regeneration of my hon. Friend the shadow Minister’s constituency.
This was about capacity, and it was about promises made that have been broken. Frankly, this plan is simply not future-proof.
I cannot imagine that the Treasury is happy. The business case for HS2 without the eastern leg no longer represents value for money. I imagine that many of those in the home counties will be wondering why their lives have been turned upside down for a project that would not even have been started under Treasury rules if it was not going all the way to Leeds. People across this country were told this would level up the north and provide a significant return on investment, but now it is doing neither.
The difficult truth for Ministers is this: if they can openly, clearly and publicly deceive people in our proud regions, why on earth should we believe anything else contained in this plan? As we saw crystal clear last night in the leaked video from No. 10, their bare-faced, brazen and shameless dishonesty is catching up with them. If No. 10 can laugh and lie about a party it held when lives were literally on the line, does that not that prove that the one thing we know for certain about this Government is that you cannot believe a single word they say? Given this record, can the Conservative Members lined up today to do the bidding of their Government really be confident that even the paltry plan they stand up to defend will ever be delivered?
The nonsense contained in the integrated rail plan that these plans will somehow be better for communities such as Peterborough, Wakefield or Newark is just that—nonsense. Failing to build new lines will put more fast, longer-distance trains on existing infrastructure and will crowd out local services. The Secretary of State needs to be honest with his colleagues in Broxtowe, Dewsbury and Bolsover about the level of disruption that they can expect to experience over the next decade, with the cancelled trains and longer journeys while their lines are being upgraded, and whether, at the end—if, of course, this work is ever done—they will have more services, more capacity or less than they currently enjoy.
Will the hon. Lady be equally vociferous with her colleagues in the Senedd? The devolved rail lines in Wales were recently rated the worst in the United Kingdom, and the Welsh Government continue to insist on not building the M4 relief road, so there will be longer journeys. Will she talk to her colleagues in the Senedd about those points?
I thank my hon. Friend for the very powerful speech she is making and congratulate her on her new role. Does she agree that as well as squandering the opportunity to provide jobs and regenerate so many communities in the north, this plan squanders the opportunity to take freight and cars off the road, which would reduce congestion and pollution and increase journey speeds for those who need to be on the road?
That is exactly the point, and it was the point of the original plans for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. The hon. Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore) understand that. They understand what it means to scale back NPR. They have described the decision as hugely and bitterly disappointing.
I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend in the points she makes about how this Government have let down the north, London and other parts of the country. The electrification programme is a prime example. Electrification stops before it even gets to most of south Wales. It stops in Newbury in my region. Does she agree that there should be far greater investment in this important part of modernising our railway?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
Fundamentally the problem is that the integrated rail plan misunderstood the intention and benefits of High Speed 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. It was about freeing up fast, long-distance trains from the existing network and enabling more capacity for local services and rail freight. As a result, we have a set of proposals that will not deliver anything like what was promised for the north and the midlands.
This scaling back is a massive double whammy for our regions. The worst part is that the communities that will feel the brunt of years of broken promises, empty words and inaction are, at the same time, being squeezed the hardest by the Conservatives’ tax hikes and rising bills, while those with the broadest shoulders remain largely untouched. Those same working people will likely face a record increase in rail fares next year. They will be paying more than 50% more to get to work than a decade ago, relying on an unreliable and overcrowded system.
Tonight, Conservative MPs face a very simple choice. Will they stand by the pledge they made to their constituents at election time—a pledge that their Government repeated 60 times? Will they vote for the investment they were elected to office to deliver? With trust in politics so low, will they now do the right thing? This great rail betrayal will hit millions of people—their constituents—and leave the north and the midlands in the slow lane for decades to come. Tonight, Tory MPs can join with Labour and right this wrong. They have a chance to stand up for their communities. If they vote against this Opposition motion tonight, their electorate will know where they stand, will know they cannot be trusted and rightly will not forgive them.
Before I call the Secretary of State, I note that clearly very many colleagues want to contribute to this debate. There will be a time limit from the beginning, and it is likely to be four minutes, but I will confirm that after the Secretary of State has spoken.
Before I begin, I first welcome the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) to her place and congratulate her. She will be the third shadow Transport Secretary I have faced across this Dispatch Box, and I wish her all the luck of the previous two.
We were elected as a reforming Government. We have undertaken the biggest ever review of the industry and published the Williams-Shapps plan, creating a new public body in Great British Railways, with an overwhelming aim to deliver trains on time for passengers. We began by reversing the Beeching cuts, restoring lines to communities that were cut off from the railway in the 1960s and 1970s. We have set out our integrated rail plan, a £96 billion programme to reshape our railways in the north and the midlands. It is the largest single rail investment ever made by any UK Government.
The Secretary of State described this as a reforming Government, but what they are reforming is their manifesto after they have been elected on it. People in Chesterfield and across north Derbyshire were promised HS2, which would increase capacity. Instead, what we have got are slower services and years and years of delays while the reforms happen.
Our manifesto talks about the Oakervee review. The hon. Gentleman’s constituency of Chesterfield will be served by a new line to the east midlands completing the electrification of the midland main line, which I will come on to shortly.
Our reforming vision marks a new era of investment and growth. The integrated rail plan starts to provide benefits to passengers and communities quickly, rather than leaving it for two decades as previously planned. We will boost eight of the 10 busiest rail corridors across the north and the midlands. We will speed up journeys, increase capacity and run more frequent services, and we will do all that much earlier than previously planned.
Does the Secretary of State not recognise that upgrading existing lines is far more disruptive for the existing passengers of those lines than building new lines? Will he retract the statement that he made on the radio on the day he released the plan when he seemed more worried about car drivers on the M1 being upset by potential works on the new high speed link than about passengers on the existing rail network who will suffer years and years of disruption?
As I will come to shortly, it is not just about upgrading lines or building one or two high speed lines; it is about three new high speed lines and £96 billion of investment overall. Rather than focusing purely on inter-city connections, we will also strengthen regional rail lines in a way that economically benefits the midlands and the north the most and tie them into the main network. It is one integrated solution that delivers a better, faster, more efficient and more affordable railway than the outdated blueprint from 2019.
I will make some progress.
You could be forgiven for thinking, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we had abandoned all those plans if you listened to the Opposition, and I would not for one moment want them to mislead the House—albeit inadvertently, I am sure—on what we are doing. As I mentioned, we are not just building one high speed line from Crewe to Manchester; we are building a second high speed line from Warrington to Manchester to west Yorkshire, slashing journey times across the north, and a third high speed line from Birmingham to the east midlands with HS2 trains continuing to central Nottingham, central Derby, Chesterfield and Sheffield on an upgraded and electrified midland main line. Just one of those might be regarded as a major achievement for any Government, particularly given the economic shock of the last two years, but we are doing all three.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that under his plans, the high speed line joins the midland main line at East Midlands Parkway and does not go any further north, thus depriving Nottingham and all the cities of the east midlands of the improved connectivity and faster journey times to Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Scotland? Is that not precisely why my constituents are so angry about his broken promises?
It is absolutely extraordinary: the hon. Lady’s constituents in Nottingham were not going to be served by the HS2 line that was going to be built, so they were not going to get the additional journey times or the improvements, and now they will. I suggest that it is important not to mislead her constituents—[Interruption.] inadvertently, I should say, perhaps through not having read the details of the IRP—with regard to the many advantages that they will now get. As I was about to say, the journey time from Birmingham to Nottingham will be cut from an hour and a quarter to just 26 minutes through the new plan, so it is far better for her constituents. We will reduce rail journey time between London and Derby from almost an hour and a half to just under an hour, and in Leeds we are going to invest £100 million to look at how we can best take the HS2 trains through to the city, as well as to start work on a west Yorkshire mass transit system, which is something successive Governments have failed to do.
I must say I am slightly surprised by the disappointment of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley. I would urge all those who listened to her speech today to study the actual details of the plan, because it is producing benefits not only for the midlands and the north years ahead of what was planned, but for her own Sheffield constituency. She will want to hear the benefits for her Sheffield constituency. I know from her previous work that she was diligent and worked very hard campaigning to get that electrification done, so let us give her constituents some of the facts about what this new plan brings. The midland main line will be electrified to Sheffield, which is something she has been calling for—she has been calling for it—and the upgrade of the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield will be completed. HS2 trains will reach Sheffield and—get this—the journey from Sheffield to London will be half an hour quicker.
I have a suggestion for how the hon. Lady can use the extra half an hour she will have gained. I think she could spend half an hour speaking to her party leader and convincing him of the case for HS2. She might have her work cut out, though. This, after all, is the man who called for HS2 to be cancelled, and he even voted against his own party’s instructions—defying a three-line Whip—to try to stop the thing she says she is now campaigning for. I have no doubt about her own convictions on the need for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, and she has been consistent in calling for the electrification of the midland main line, but I do wonder if she knows her own leader’s views on that project. Recently, he called the electrification of the midland main line “complete nonsense”. As usual, we are looking at a Labour party riddled with divisions and too busy arguing with itself—and that is just the Leader of the Opposition. Meanwhile, we are getting on with delivering, as promised, better, faster and more reliable trains, and they are going to get there sooner as well.
As the Secretary of State knows, for some bizarre reason HS2 was deemed to be an England and Wales project, resulting in no Barnett consequentials for Wales. All the projects he has announced in his speech today are clearly England-only projects, so can he confirm that they will result in full Barnett consequentials for Wales?
The plan actually provides significant benefits to north Wales. Studies have been done about the tens of millions of pounds of additional benefit that HS2 will bring to north Wales in particular, and of course there is the Union connectivity review, recently launched by Sir Peter Hendy, which brings yet more benefit as well.
I will make a bit of progress.
For anyone who claims we are failing to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail, I want to set the record straight. Northern Powerhouse Rail is going ahead. It is going to bring faster services, there will be big capacity increases, and it is going to do this in the most logical and efficient way. [Interruption.] There are those—and I hear the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell)—who say all we are doing is electrifying the trans-Pennine route. That is wrong. We are actually investing £23 billion to build Northern Powerhouse Rail and unlock east-west travel across the north of England. [Interruption.] Yes, we are. Trains from Leeds will reach Manchester in just 33 minutes, cutting journey times almost in half. Seating capacity between Leeds and Liverpool will more than treble as a result of the integrated rail plan, and the journey between Leeds and Bradford will take just 12 minutes.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that, while he is letting down passengers across the north and the midlands, he is also letting down passengers in London? Can he confirm what conversations he has had with his colleagues in the north of England about the 43,000 jobs that will be put at risk if he does not agree further emergency funding for Transport for London? Can he say why he is neglecting our transport system in London three days from the current emergency funding running out?
At the risk of straying outside the bounds of the debate, I have already paid £4.1 billion to TfL to ensure the services can carry on running. I hope that, as a London MP, the hon. Lady will have a word with the Mayor of London and ask him where the plan he should have sent to us on 18 November is, because that is what is preventing a further settlement to a system we have of course always said we will support.
I will make a little further progress.
“Ah,” some say, “But this was never the plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail.” That is basically their argument—“This is a good plan, but it’s not the plan that was in place”—but, again, that is wrong. In fact, we are using part of the existing route, which was always one of the options for Northern Powerhouse Rail so it is not something we have just created. But this is not, of course, just about that £23 billion for the east-west rail: Northern Powerhouse Rail will cut 20 minutes off journey times between Leeds and London, with a £3.5 billion package of work to upgrade the east coast main line, benefiting many other destinations including Darlington and Newcastle, and north to Scotland as well.
I have heard many comments about this plan in the last few weeks, it has to be said. The Leader of the Opposition cried “betrayal”, the shadow Chancellor said it was “shameful”, and the former shadow Transport Secretary the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) described £96 billion as “crumbs off the table”. We really do have to worry about a party that thinks that £96 billion equates to “crumbs”.
In reality, of course, the integrated rail plan is the biggest ever single Government investment in a rail network, five times more than the amount spent on Crossrail and 10 times more than was spent of the Olympics. I cannot help but detect the hand of politics in the Opposition’s reaction, but while they criticise and politicise, their constituents will start to see the benefits. They will ride on faster trains, sit in more comfortable carriages and not have to fight for a seat. Perhaps that is why the Labour Mayor of Manchester said the plans bring “significant benefits”, or the Labour Mayor of Doncaster welcomed the
“significant further investment in the East Coast Main Line”
I will give way in a moment, but I think Labour Members will want to hear this. Perhaps it is why the Labour leader of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council said that the IRP was a “victory for common sense”.
Of course it is common sense. We have not just stuck to the original plans which would have spent an extra £18 billion. And what for—what would it have given the Labour party to include that extra £18 billion? It would have given 15 years of delays and just four minutes off the journey between Manchester and Leeds.
The Secretary of State talked about leaders and the quotes. I want to touch on the quote of the Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotherham. He said that the penny-pinchers at the Treasury have won the day to roll out a “cheap and nasty option”. Isn’t that the case?
It is an extraordinary idea that £96 billion is “cheap and nasty”, but maybe this is a question of language. Those in Liverpool should know that the current journey time from London to Liverpool is 132 minutes and that will be slashed to just 92 minutes—“cheap and nasty”, but 92 minutes.
The common-sense approach we have taken delivers a plan that under the original plan would have been years and years in the making—until well after many of us had stopped serving in this House. This plan benefits smaller towns and cities, which would have been ignored under the plans Labour still backs. The smaller towns and cities would have seen no improvements at all; in fact, in many cases they would have seen deteriorating services, and let us face it, these problems have been known about for years.
My right hon. Friend is completely right: the smaller towns and villages will benefit from this plan, not least Bramley, Wales and Aston in Rother Valley because HS2 was going to bulldoze through them, destroying 400 homes. However, there is still safeguarding around the route, so can the Secretary of State update us on when that will be lifted so that people in Rother Valley can get on with their lives?
We will of course continue to keep the matter under review, but as my hon. Friend knows £100 million is going to west Yorkshire and Leeds to see the best way of getting HS2 trains to Leeds so I ask him to be a little more patient on that front.
However, he is absolutely right to mention the smaller towns and cities that the Labour party seems to have largely forgotten about. The existing plan would have seen deteriorating services. We intend to revise the plan, because as far back as 2014 it was recognised that the existing plan would
“deliver maximum disruption and minimal benefit.”
Those are not my words about the plan that Labour is proposing, but those of the now Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, but he knows and I know that his predecessors committed to the full delivery of HS2. That was the way that the full economic benefits would be delivered. He talks about smaller towns. They are the ones that would directly benefit from a fully funded HS2, which would not only get people off the roads and away from aviation on to rail, but release capacity across the entire network. He knows that to be true. This is a shortfall. It pulls the rug from under his own plans and those of his predecessors. Is that not the case?
The hon. Member knows a lot about this subject from our time sparring across the Dispatch Boxes and, representing Middlesbrough as he does, he knows that he is going to get a direct train from London to Middlesbrough. That is a major achievement, and I am proud that this Government were able to give his constituents that service.
I was talking about the Mayor of Greater Manchester and what he said—I could not agree more—about sticking to that original plan through thick and thin. It did not deliver what was required. Instead, our new plans mean that the great northern infrastructure projects are going to be linked up locally, regionally and nationally.
I am challenged that that is not what he said, but I have the quote. He said that the original plan would
“deliver maximum disruption and minimal benefit.”
In fact, he was campaigning against HS2 going north of Birmingham until Northern Powerhouse Rail was built.
Many towns and villages that would not have benefited originally will now benefit from this approach. Labour Members need to explain to people in places such as Kettering, Leicester, Loughborough, Doncaster, Grantham, Newark, Retford, Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Wakefield why they want to take away from them the services that our integrated rail plan will deliver.
Mayor Burnham had more to say on the subject. Just last year he claimed that the 2040s were far too long to wait for high-speed rail in the north. Perhaps that is why he was prepared to sacrifice HS2 north of Birmingham to focus exclusively on Northern Powerhouse Rail.
I want to get to the end and let others come in.
This Government are not going for either/or, as the Mayor of Manchester tried to persuade us to; we are going to deliver both—high-speed trains up to Leeds while building a brand-new high-speed line east-west between Liverpool, Manchester and West Yorkshire, with a total of 110 miles of new high-speed line and 180 miles of newly electrified line, all of it in the midlands and the north.
I am going to finish so that other Members have the opportunity to come in.
In the last 11 years, we have electrified 1,221 miles of track. In 13 years, how many miles did the Labour party electrify? I will tell Members the answer: 63 miles. It is extraordinary. The Opposition want us to believe their plan for rail when they managed 63 miles. Previous plans would have cost the taxpayer twice as much. They would have ignored the very towns and communities that need to be levelled up.
Madam Deputy Speaker, £96 billion is an immense investment. Every single pound will go to boosting our network, not in 10 or 15 years’ time—no, we want to get this work under way immediately. The integrated rail plan represents the biggest upgrade to rail services in the north and the midlands since the arrival of rail 200 years ago—not just improving journeys but spreading opportunity and, yes, levelling up our country.
I, too, welcome the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) to her post and wish her well. No doubt we will chat soon about the role.
Those of us with long experience of the UK Government’s trail of broken promises and inaction knew that this day was likely to come. The minute the High Speed 2 Bills in this place were split by phases, it was clear that the Government were preparing the ground for cancellation once the political cover of promised HS2 to the north was no longer required. The idea of a rail strategy coming from the Department for Transport is a bad joke. In recent months, my office, and indeed my house, has accumulated a colourful collection of glossy DFT booklets and reports—a substitute for genuine action and construction. What with the Williams-Shapps plan, the integrated rail plan, the net zero strategy, the Union connectivity review and the transport decarbonisation plan, to name but a few, the Department is at least keeping graphic designers in work, and will no doubt keep fact checkers busy for months and years to come.
If hon. Members want to see real ambition and forward thinking, they should look across the North sea to Denmark—do not worry; I will come to Scotland. Denmark has managed to construct an 8 km bridge and a 4 km tunnel linking it with Sweden—a real bridge and a real tunnel, by the way, not a back-of-a-fag-packet scheme with roundabouts under the Isle of Man, dreamed up by the Prime Minister while he organised secret Santas. [Interruption.] I will come to it; don’t you worry, Secretary of State. Denmark’s fixed link with Sweden includes a high-speed rail link between the countries. For the foreseeable future, there will be more high-speed rail over and under an inlet of the Baltic sea than over a single inch of the north of England.
Now the Danes are building a fixed link to Germany —the project is financed and run by the Danish Government—while also building high-speed rail links joining the rest of the country. In fact, on current plans, Denmark, which takes up a third of the area that England does, will have more high-speed track in use than England by the end of next year, and it will continue to pull miles and miles ahead.
The Danish authorities are showing more vision and commitment to the nation’s transport infrastructure than their counterparts in the DFT. In Denmark, connecting neighbours is not a wheeze dreamt up by the Prime Minister, with no basis in reality; it is part of a sustained, long-term strategy to truly level up. I cannot imagine the Danish transport authorities planning a bridge or tunnel over a munitions and radioactive waste dump. They live in the real world, where they are building real infrastructure and real connections. This is a small, independent, northern European country taking bold and radical steps to improve connectivity with its neighbours, to push towards decarbonisation, and to boost its economy and that of its neighbours.
Contrast that with the Union connectivity review, where, despite the Scottish Government wanting meaningful engagement on a raft of issues, the UK Government simply ploughed ahead and ignored them.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way during his powerful contribution. In May, a station in my patch, Northwich, collapsed. It still has not been rebuilt. People who are disabled or have mobility problems cannot travel in one of the directions, yet the Government have so far refused to build back better, fairer and in an inclusive way. Does he concur that that is the reality on the ground in many parts of the UK, including the north of England?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I have not been to his part of the country yet, but I am sure that I will make plans to shortly. I have no doubt about what he says, and I am entirely unsurprised by it. I am sure—or at least I hope—that the Secretary of State was listening to what he said.
I apologise to my Transport Committee colleague, but I promised to try to keep my contribution under 10 minutes because of the number of Members who want to contribute. [Interruption.] It is a devolved matter.
It is the usual pattern for Downing Street. Don’t like something? Ignore or marginalise it. Transport for the North speaking up for a real rail network, and against the Government’s plans? Neuter it out of any real existence. Afraid that the Welsh Government might use Barnett consequentials from HS2 spending in a way that shows up the paucity of ambition on the other side of the border? Just do not give them any. Worried that the Scottish Government will come to some different conclusions about what is needed for real connectivity across these isles? Just ignore them when they look for real engagement. And, dare I say it, do not like the rules about Christmas parties during a pandemic? Organise that secret Santa anyway.
To be crystal clear, the Minister, in his summing up, must confirm that Scotland and Wales will receive full Barnett consequentials from the English rail plan and confirm the level of consequentials and the timing, because the transfer of the funds simply cannot be punted down the track. Everyone on these isles would benefit from improved connectivity internally and externally, but instead of working collaboratively with the devolved Administrations, Mayors and combined authorities in England, once again Whitehall knows best, and Whitehall, as ever, knows London best.
I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving way and it is always a pleasure to serve with him on the Transport Committee. In the interests of collaboration, which he just mentioned, would he care to share with the House why, during the Union connectivity review, the Scottish Government refused engagement on this issue from the United Kingdom Government to achieve that very point?
As I have outlined, that is not true. We asked for engagement on a number of issues and those advances were rebuffed by the UK Government. [Interruption.] It is a simple fact.
In the last financial year, the east midlands saw spending on transport of £477 per person. London received £1,476 per head. Even allowing for the fairly extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, if we go back another year, we see a similar picture: £377 per person versus £856 in London. On every metric going back decades, we find a similar picture, with every single region of England not just outstripped by London, but overpowered by multiples of 200%, 300% and even 400%.
This system is holding back every part of these isles while making sure that London gets the lion’s share year after year, decade after decade. For all the Government’s talk of levelling up, there is no sign, and nor has there been since time immemorial, of making the kind of investment in the rest of England that is deemed necessary in Greater London. Even assuming that every single inch of track and electrification laid out in the integrated rail plan actually happens—about which, given the precedents of cancellation that have been referred to in this debate, we are right to be sceptical—it will do little or nothing to close the gap between the north of England and London.
There is a fundamental flaw in not just how the UK is governed, but how policy is decided, that allows this kind of warped disparity to go not only unchecked, but positively encouraged by successive Administrations and Transport Secretaries. Again, places such as the north of England, the south-west and the midlands bear the brunt of that dysfunctional system.
Lest anyone thinks that it is just SNP Members calling out the Government for their failures, let me correct that record. The chair of Transport for the North called the integrated rail plan “woefully inadequate”. The former technical director of HS2 said:
“You can’t have prosperity without being well connected.”
The chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee said that the plan is
“a hammer-blow for the North East and…the very opposite of levelling up”.
And the chief executive of the Rail Industry Association asked:
“How certain can the railway industry be that the”—
“will actually be delivered, given what’s happened to the previous plan?”
Once again, the north of England is being let down by a Government whose action, if not their rhetoric, stops at the M25.
We in Scotland are well used to being let down over connectivity. Nearly three decades ago, we were promised direct rail links to Europe through the channel tunnel. Just as with HS2 to the north-east of England, those promises were buried as soon as it became politically expedient. Even the proposed sleeper trains were punted off to Canada, and what a mistake that looks now. Europe is seeing a rapid renaissance in cross-border sleeper trains. Today, anyone looking to avoid flying to Europe will be boarding in central London, not Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh or Glasgow.
Around the same time—[Interruption.] That is a bizarre contribution; I will take an intervention, but I would advise against it if that is what it would be. Around the same time, the old Strathclyde Regional Council brought forward plans for a new and modern light rail network for Glasgow. They were kiboshed as the UK Government were more interested in their dogmatic rush to privatise British Rail. Residents of Leeds should look into the history of the UK’s commitment to urban light rail in Scotland, given the promises now being made to them as a fig leaf to cover the HS2 cancellation. It was the UK Government who spent months and who knows how many fag packets drawing up madcap schemes for bridges over munitions dumps instead of working to improve our infrastructure in the real world. Knowing that, it was rich to hear the Scottish Secretary laud his Government’s Union connectivity review the other week. It is only since the dead hand of Westminster was removed from transport policy in Scotland that real progress on rail modernisation and a decarbonised future has been made.
It is the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Governments —in fairness, from three political parties on these Opposition Benches—who have upgraded, reopened, and decarbonised the four rail lines running between Scotland’s two biggest cities over the past two decades, and launched many other electrification projects, including Paisley Canal, which boosted demand by up to 35% at some stations. The length of track electrified in Scotland has gone up by nearly 50% since devolution under both SNP Governments and Labour-Lib Dem Administrations. In contrast, in England and Wales the increase is more like 14%.
It is the Scottish Government who have overseen the reopening of the Airdrie-Bathgate line, the current work on the Levenmouth rail link and, of course, the Borders Railway, with demand far outstripping predicted passenger numbers. We have got on with reversing Beeching without the need for exaggerated rhetoric, overpromising and underdelivering. It is also the Scottish Government who are taking our rail services back into public ownership, where they belong, from next year.
Scotland’s economic prosperity depends on not just our own domestic connectivity, but that of our neighbours. We want and need a prosperous and well connected north of England. Collectively, Scotland and the three northernmost regions of England have a population of 21 million. That is bigger than all but five EU member states, but nearly 16 million of those people are being let down by a UK Government and a Department for Transport who are stuck in a 19th-century mindset, where Whitehall is the centre of power and woe betide those who challenge its authority, as Transport for the North is now finding out.
To conclude, the north of England deserves better. The birthplace of the first steam railway, the first inter-city railway and the first purpose-built main line electric railway; the cradle of an industrial revolution where the railways and commerce went hand in hand—it is being let down, as it has been for decades, by a Westminster Government who lack vision, lack ideals, and above all lack commitment.
The new industrial revolution will be much different from that of the 19th century. It is about decarbonising our economy and society to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Scotland’s rail network will play its part by decarbonising all passenger services by 2035.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have a Front-Bench role here, but I have only four lines left, so if the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Sir George Howarth) had let me finish, I would have taken up less time.
The UK’s plans, in contrast, leave much of the north of England stuck with those 19th-century services and infrastructure. It is time for the UK to learn from elsewhere, from Scotland, from Denmark—from anywhere, frankly, because anywhere else would have a rail policy that lasts longer than a Downing Street Christmas party. Other countries are joining up and truly are levelling up, but the UK Government continue to ensure that for huge swathes of England, the only way is south.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand that the Prime Minister’s official spokesman has now confirmed that a Downing Street press conference hosted by the Prime Minister will take place at 6 pm. As of course I am sure the Government will want to ensure that this House hears from a Government Minister no later than the time of that press conference, may I ask whether Mr Speaker has received a request from the Government for a statement to take place in this House no later than 6 pm, to enable the Government to set out any proposals that are coming forward and to allow Members of this House to ask important questions on behalf of those we represent here?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point of order. As I understand it, we have not had notification of a statement as yet, but I will ensure that that is confirmed and, if there is anything further that I need to add, I will do so. I call Andrew Jones to speak, with a four-minute time limit.
I agree with the first line of the motion before us today, recognising
“the importance of rail investment”,
but the motion goes on to say that the Government will not be delivering high-speed rail, electrification and the rest. That is simply wrong and we should not support it.
My first impression when I read the integrated rail plan was of its sheer scale, because £96 billion is a major investment. It is the largest rail investment ever made by any Government, and that must be recognised as a positive. Rail investment is a driver of economic growth, social mobility and environmental progress, and the scale of these actions is not limited to high-speed rail. We will see investment in ticketing and upgrading of the systems to bring the benefits of convenience and modal integration to more parts of the country, and also investment in smaller schemes, such as line reinstatement. I know that the first of the schemes to reverse the Beeching cuts opened last month. One of the key benefits of the IRP is certainty for the industry and its supply chain, which are in need of it.
I am a long-term supporter of HS2, and I was disappointed to learn that the eastern leg would not be delivered in full, because I think it is a good scheme. However, the picture is far more complex than the claims of cancellation. It is complex because parts of the original plan will happen—for example, the east and west midlands will be connected—but then an enhanced midland main line will bring HS2 services north to Sheffield and Leeds.
I understand from the IRP that we will see a range of benefits for the north, in the form of new lines, increased capacity, and improved journey times. In fact, the outcomes seem similar to those of previous plans, but they will be delivered in a different way. There will be investment in both the existing trans-Pennine line and the construction of a new fast line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire. I think that my constituents will see enhanced services, but while I note that the IRP includes work on the connection between Leeds and Bradford, I am still concerned about overall Bradford connectivity, and I think there is more work to be done in that regard. I also note that the east coast main line will receive investment to deliver much improved journey times between Leeds and York, and a reduction of 20 minutes in the journey between Leeds and London. As a regular user of the service, I welcome that benefit.
I look around and I see rail improving. I see, for example, the doubling of the frequency of services between Harrogate, Knaresborough and York, which will take place this month. There is work to be done on the resilience of the east coast main line, and I hope to see the electrification made more robust. However, the motion regrets the scale of electrification. It is remarkable that Labour should remind the House just how poor its record is. Labour delivered 63 miles in 13 years; we have delivered 1,221 in 11 years. I remain disappointed that HS2 will not be coming north fully, as was planned, but the next question for me is how quickly we can deliver on these plans. HS2 would not have reached Leeds until the 2040s, but we should now be asking ourselves how we can deliver these schemes better and more quickly, and gain the benefits earlier.
We are in a ludicrous position today, with the Leader of the Opposition tabling a motion criticising the Government when he has repeatedly called for the cancellation of HS2 in the first place. If he were not just a feeble opportunist, he would have tabled a motion in support of the Government, whose record, compared with that of the previous Government, is like the result of the Lionesses’ match against Latvia last week. I can inform those who do not follow football that it was 20-nil to the Lionesses. The motion before us fails to recognise the progress that is being made. When any Government invest £96 billion in rail, we should welcome that, which I why I will not support the motion.
I want to address the way in which these new proposals affect the Liverpool city region, and specifically the way in which it will be affected by the upgrade, as distinct from the northern powerhouse option. Earlier in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) quoted the metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, who said that the upgrade was the “cheap and nasty” option. I do not think that there is any hyperbole in that; it is an accurate description of what is going on.
I want to concentrate on the disruptive effect that this new proposal will have over the six years of its lifetime. For example, it will lead to 500,000 more road journeys annually, partly as a result of freight being shifted from the rail network on to the motorway network and partly as a result of private car journeys. That will mean a loss of something like 88 freight trains a week, which will lead to an additional 2,000 truck journeys a week and of course more car journeys. That is bound to have an adverse impact on the environment and on our net zero target. It will badly affect the Government’s levelling-up agenda. We estimate that the Liverpool city region economy will be worse off to the tune of £280 million—a vast sum of money—as a result of the disruption to trade.
In terms of rail travel, there will be only marginal or negative gains to journey times. For example, the journey time to Manchester will be reduced from 37 minutes to 35 minutes. Well, that is not going to make anyone in Liverpool want to go and work in Manchester, or vice versa. Those figures compare with the 23-minute journey time that the Northern Powerhouse Rail option offered. Turning to capacity, which is after all the main reason for HS2, the so-called upgrade proposal will add little or no additional capacity. For example, there will be 83% capacity compared with the industry standard of 85%. That sounds quite marginal, but it means that when there are adverse weather conditions, the system will go into chaos, because there will not be the capacity to deal with it. To summarise, the upgrade option will be disruptive, with little or no gain to be had.
Let me conclude by making what I hope will be a constructive suggestion to the Secretary of State. Steve Rotheram has made it plain that as a city region we are open to compromise, so will the Secretary of State agree today to meet the metro Mayors of the region, to see whether we can arrive at a compromise that will improve this outcome, in contrast to the rather bleak picture that I have just had to paint?
It is a pleasure to follow, on this side of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). We both have the distinction of having had two stints as Ministers in charge of HS2 and major rail projects, and we both bear the scars on our backs. One of my first duties as a Minister was to cancel the electrification of the midland main line, so I am delighted to see that the integrated rail plan reverses that. Who knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) might get a surprise in five or six years’ time. Who is to say?
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that this decision to reverse the previous decision to cancel the electrification of the midland main line shows that the Government do not have a proper strategy for delivering net zero or for delivering rail investment? Is this not the most inefficient way to electrify the railway? Should they not have a proper rolling programme rather than this stop-go approach?
I have to disagree with the distinguished former Chairman of the Select Committee. I am about to set out why I think there is perhaps an understandable flaw in the system of rail investment.
There is a political problem with rail investment when justifiable ambition on both sides of the House runs into the hard, cold reality of the public finances and the practical reality of enhancing rail networks in a sustainable and timely fashion. Since around 2008, we have seen plans for HS2 come along in differing fashions and HS3 being rebranded as Northern Powerhouse Rail to serve a shifting cast list of northern cities, although no one could quite agree on the full list. Then Midlands Connect came along because it did not want to miss out on the party that the northern powerhouse was having, and all the while in the background there was a threnody of upgrades for the east coast main line, the west coast main line and the trans-Pennine routes.
The Oakervee review progressed in the latter part of 2019. I was the HS2 Minister at the time, and it became increasingly clear to me that there was no proper understanding either here or more widely in the country of how any of it should best be sequenced, built and delivered in a timely fashion. It was deemed sensible and appropriate to ask the National Infrastructure Commission to look in detail at all the plans that were in circulation, which led to the rail needs assessment for the midlands and the north.
None of those criticising the Government today has engaged with the analysis from the National Infrastructure Commission on the feasibility, rather than the desirability, of delivering all these schemes. Indeed, it instructs the Government not to overpromise and underdeliver but to underpromise and overdeliver—it is easy to mix up the two.
As a Minister, nothing made my heart plummet more than when groups of people came to me from across the country with lengthy lists of projects they wanted. It is much better to set out the conditional outcomes we wish to achieve, in terms of both capacity and journey times, preferably set within the country’s economic objectives, and to let the transport planners come up with suggestions and answers. Instead, we get named projects that acquire almost mythical status, brands in their own right. This obscures whether those conditional outcomes can be achieved sooner by other, more affordable means, which is what we see with the integrated rail plan.
There is an underlying importance of continually asking the right questions, rather than identifying marquee projects that can be trumpeted politically but may supersede less eye-catching but more deliverable short-term projects that would have greater economic impact.
The integrated rail plan does not contain everything I might wish and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, I would rather see phase 2b, the eastern leg, go ahead. I would rather see Bradford served much better than it will be, but that does not make the integrated rail plan an incoherent and unrealistic package. As schemes and projects mature, and as we know more about the conditions in which they will be built, a few may turn out to be easier and cheaper than predicted; others will be more complex than expected. The nature of building railways is that we cannot predict how easy it will be. Plans will change and details will alter, but at least we now have a baseline for what can be delivered within a specific budget and a specific timeline and, to some degree, against a range of desired outcomes.
The construction of new railways takes decades, not months. It is the work of many Governments, not just one. Transport planning is not inherently politically exciting, but I hope we can now move away from the feverish branding of specific projects and understand how we can create capacity, rolling stock, station enhancements and a much wider range of interventions to identify and remedy the inadequacies that we all know exist across our rail network.
The IRP, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is a £96 billion investment in our rail network, and it should be welcomed on both sides of the House. It will bring benefits far sooner to many of our communities across the north, so it should be welcomed and not turned into a political football.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard).
Much has been said about the disintegrated rail plan, the watering down of the northern powerhouse and the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2, and all that criticism is well founded. The bottom line is that this Government have broken their promises. I see the northern rail network as a beating heart, and the arteries are badly clogged. So much so, we need stents where the blockages are most severe and some major bypasses to take the pressure off the entire system.
The conventional system needs upgrading as well as the high-speed intercity connections. The Tories, the Prime Minister and a succession of Transport Secretaries, including the latest one, have argued that we need both. That is what HS2 and NPR, as promised, would have delivered, but it has all been tossed aside by the Tories’ integrated rail plan, which is nothing short of a betrayal.
For all the talk of levelling up, the Government are failing constituents like mine in Middlesbrough. When I came into Parliament at the end of 2012, I immediately began to campaign for better transport services in our region. One element of that was a direct rail service from Middlesbrough to London, as we were the largest conurbation in the UK without a direct rail link to our capital city. Despite its late arrival, we will finally be getting that service next week, but it is only one train out and one train back each day. It is a start, but the fight continues. I will do everything I can to make sure we get the promised seven trains out and six trains back a day, and that they materialise as soon as possible.
Another key issue on which I have pressed the Department for Transport from the moment I arrived in the House is the expansion of electrified rail from Northallerton on the east coast main line to Middlesbrough. Electrification is a hugely important infrastructure development for our wider ambitions. Back in 2013, a national electrification taskforce reported to the then Secretary of State, who is now the right hon. Lord McLoughlin, highlighting 12 northern routes that should be electrified by 2024. Northallerton to Middlesbrough was among the 12 routes earmarked for completion in the period 2019 to 2024, but since then the Government have gone completely silent on the schemes. We need a modern mass transit system connecting our communities, with full connectivity of our rail services across and beyond our region. That would be truly transformative for our community.
On the point about connecting communities, does my hon. Friend agree that HS2 was not just about building track, building stations or reducing journey times; it was more about regeneration and connecting regions and cities, and about the economic benefits that could flow between them?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The entire purpose of HS2, which was supported by successive Governments—the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and supported it himself—was to release capacity on our conventional rail line. If we really want to make that advance, take vehicles off our roads and get people off aviation and into rail, HS2 is the way to deliver it. Give us the option to go all the way up to Scotland, because that is critical. Sadly, that opportunity has been lost with the plan that has been announced.
Observing your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will draw my remarks to a close. We want those improvements in our systems, and there is no reason in the world why we should not strive for exactly that. Frankly, however, I have no faith that the Government will deliver on any of their past promises, and I fear that their further promises are destined to be broken.
I thank the Secretary of State for mentioning Dewsbury several times in his opening remarks. Under the old proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail, Dewsbury would not have got a single mention, because it was not included.
People often forget that the north is not just made up of cities such as Manchester or Edinburgh; towns such as Dewsbury, Mirfield and Huddersfield also deserve accessible and realistically delivered transport services. Under the old plans, my constituency would have seen little, if any, improvement, but it will now undergo major developments, including full electrification and improved station facilities, alongside faster connections to nearby cities. The original Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals would not have delivered benefits to the north for another two decades, and Dewsbury and Huddersfield would have been missed out in their entirety. That is why I fully support the integrated rail plan.
On that point, I was extremely surprised that the Labour leader of Kirklees Council signed a joint letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that he wants anywhere but his own borough to benefit from the integrated rail plan. I therefore urge the leader of Kirklees Council to stop blindly following his counterparts in Bradford and Leeds, and the Mayor of West Yorkshire, and to stand up for Kirklees by acknowledging the fact that Dewsbury and Huddersfield benefit greatly from the introduction of this plan.
The plan also changes the game for British businesses and those involved in the rail industry, such as Associated Utility Supplies Ltd, a company based in Clayton West that supplies specialist equipment to Network Rail. Coming from a business background myself, I know the importance of the tendering process. I will continue to work with not just AUS, but other companies in my constituency to ensure that they have the best chance of taking the opportunities granted through this major rail investment.
One final piece of the jigsaw in my constituency is still missing: the much-needed upgrades to the Penistone line. Despite my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) and I putting in a joint levelling-up bid, there is still uncertainty as to whether we will be successful as we move into the second round of bidding. The integrated rail plan more than adequately covers those travelling from east to west by significantly improving links with Manchester, Leeds and York, via Dewsbury and Huddersfield. However, it is equally important that we link up the north and south through my constituency and beyond by connecting Huddersfield to Sheffield, thereby making it accessible to people who live in those villages in my constituency that have stations on the line. This would enable the people of Stocksmoor, Denby Dale and Shepley to commute between those hubs and, just as easily, to Manchester and Leeds.
The making of much-needed station improvements on the Penistone line and the movement from an hourly to a half-hourly service would be transformational for my constituency. With that in mind, will the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), consider the benefits of such an upgrade and investigate how it could be incorporated into the IRP? With a total investment of £96 billion, I am sure he could squeeze in the odd £47 million.
Investment in rail in the north was a central element of the manifesto that I ran on. Levelling up cannot wait until the 2040s, so I fully support the plan, which will deliver more punctual, frequent and reliable journeys for the people of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale.
I declare an interest as a metro Mayor. Also, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the fact that both Ministers on the Front Bench—the hon. Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson)—have been unfailingly helpful and cheerful in supporting the work we are trying to do in South Yorkshire, so the critique of the Government’s plans that I am about to make is aimed not at them personally but at decisions that have been made in Downing Street.
When the Prime Minister first set out his levelling-up agenda back in July 2019, he made an unequivocal pledge to fund Northern Powerhouse Rail. Since then, he and his Government have repeated that pledge not once, not twice but 60 times—not in part and not with compromises, but in full. The Prime Minister was right to make those promises, because the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail and, indeed, HS2 in full is the least that the north could expect. It is not some extravagant fantasy—another airport in the Thames or bridge over the Irish sea—and it is not special treatment; it is the bare minimum to redress a legacy of decades of neglect.
Set against that neglect, Transport for the North’s plan of investment, spread over 30 years, is entirely reasonable, but instead we have ended up with a cut-price, compromise scheme that leaves Sheffield disconnected from any high-speed link to Manchester or Hull; that does nothing to fix the unacceptably slow and infrequent connection to our sister powerhouse city of Leeds, just 35 miles away; that leaves the great city of Bradford isolated on a branch line; and that does too little to mend the north-south divide and risks widening the east-west divide.
Worse yet, the IRP sets the stage for decades to come. This was the moment to invest in our railway infrastructure for generations to come; it was not the moment to cut corners. Instead, the plan bakes in mediocrity for a generation and delays the structural improvements needed for the fundamental change that levelling up is supposed to be all about. Sadly, all this is par for the course. The Government have a consistent track record of dressing up half measures and telling voters that they amount to transformation. If it means anything, levelling up must mean that, for a change, the north gets what it needs—that we do not get second best.
Let us be clear: this is a betrayal not just of the north but of the whole country.
Northern Powerhouse Rail could have helped to create 850,000 extra jobs and unlock £3.4 billion of gross value added every year. It could have reduced the £14 billion a year regional inequality that it is estimated to cost in lost tax revenue and higher health and benefit spending, but, as it stands, the IRP only confirms the utter poverty of vision of this Government and the insincerity of their pledges. Perhaps some people are so used to this that they have forgotten to be outraged, but I say to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have not, and enough is enough.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis).
It is essential that our country, which invented rail travel, continues to pioneer rail connectivity. Projects such as the integrated rail plan and the publication of the Union connectivity review proved that this Government, despite what the Opposition claim, remain committed to levelling up as one nation and building back better from the pandemic. In total, the integrated rail plan brings forth the single biggest investment in the history of our rail network—£96 billion—delivering three new high-speed rail lines that will slash journey times across the United Kingdom.
Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, I have consistently championed HS2’s benefits for Wales. Too often, the benefits of HS2 are thought to impact only England, but this investment brings benefits for the entirety of the United Kingdom, including for passengers travelling from my constituency in south Wales. This plan will spread the benefits of HS2 further, enabling more frequent, faster journeys while simultaneously enhancing passenger capacity across the country.
Additionally, the investment of the IRP provides opportunities and job security for people across the whole of the UK and supports vital sectors, such as steel, that are integral to my constituency of Bridgend—many of my constituents work in the Port Talbot steelworks in the neighbouring constituency of Aberavon.
Previous plans would not have delivered benefits to Wales for another two decades. Levelling up cannot wait until the 2040s; it must happen now. These plans deliver transformational changes in speed, capacity and reliability, while increasing prosperity and access to larger job markets for all throughout the United Kingdom. It is clear to me that this plan is a record-breaking, fantastic investment in our rail. It is not just for that reason that I will not be supporting the Opposition motion this evening, but for three further reasons as well: less than 65 miles of track was electrified prior to 2010; Sadiq Khan’s Transport for London is in tatters; and the Welsh Government-controlled rail lines are a devolved disaster.
It is not just the north that has been badly let down by this Government, but the people in Wales. All of us recognise the need for rail investment not just for the immediate economic and commercial benefits, but in order to decarbonise our transport, which currently accounts for some 27% of all emissions. Electrification of the railways and investment in the renewable generation of electricity are an obvious way in which emissions can be reduced. Then of course there is the need to increase capacity. I have frequently raised with railway professionals the question of why more freight cannot be transported by rail, and I am told that, in many instances, there is simply not the capacity.
The truth is that the people in Wales have been badly short-changed by this Government in respect of investment in rail infrastructure, because, although Wales has some 11% of the UK’s rail track, we have barely had a 2% share of investment in rail infrastructure. Matters are currently compounded by the fact that HS2 has been designated as an England and Wales project—
No, I will not give way. The hon. Member has had his say.
Matters are currently compounded by the fact that HS2 has been designated as an England and Wales project in spite of the fact that, according to the Government’s own analysis, rather than benefiting from the project, Wales will actually miss out. The designation means that Wales does not receive any Barnett consequentials, so I again ask the Government whether they will now follow the recommendations of the Welsh Affairs Committee and redesignate HS2 as an England-only project, and then accord Wales the appropriate funding in the form of Barnett consequentials.
Sadly, time and again, we have heard the Tory Government talk of lavish investment, but it is all talk that is not backed up in reality. Instead, we have had announcements that are reduced in scope, re-announced as if they were new, delayed, postponed or completely forgotten. All we know is that they are broken promises that are not delivered.
One such case is the electrification of the Great Western main line. In 2009, the former Labour Government announced a £1.1 billion project to electrify the line to Swansea. However, in 2010, the incoming Tory Government immediately axed the Cardiff to Swansea leg. After some considerable campaigning by local MPs, a promise was made in 2012 that the electrification would in fact continue to Swansea. However, in 2017, the Government again broke their promise and axed the Cardiff to Swansea leg. When this issue was raised recently, the Secretary of State for Wales responded glibly that there was no point in doing it because the nature of the track meant that speeds would not be significantly improved—what a pathetic answer. For the sake simply of combating climate change, electrification makes sense. Indeed, it is essential if we are to decarbonise our transport.
Absolutely, and I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on this matter.
After all the razzmatazz of COP26, I hope that the Government are going to get serious about tackling climate change. One obvious way to do this would be to electrify the railway, not just to Swansea, but all the way through to the strategic port of Milford Haven.
We desperately need upgrades to the north Wales main line, which goes through to Holyhead, which handles huge volumes of traffic with Ireland. We also need much better connectivity between north Wales and the north-west of England, as there is a huge volume of cross-border traffic. Indeed, Transport for Wales and Growth Track 360 have been developing plans for a north Wales metro, as well as improvements to the north Wales main line, speed and capacity upgrades between Wrexham, Bidston and Liverpool, and proper links to HS2.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it was sad to see that the very good idea of funding further work on the Wrexham to Bidston line, which was put forward under the levelling-up proposal, in fact got no money whatever, and that again Wales has been levelled down by this Government?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. In fact, Sir Peter Hendy, in his report, recognised the value of that project, the Burns report on improvements for the area around Newport, and the need for improvements from Cardiff up to the midlands—all very worthwhile projects. There is no lack of ideas in which the Government could invest, if they were so minded to.
I really cannot finish without stressing the real need for this Government to respect devolution and the Welsh Government. No matter how big a Union flag Ministers put on their internet background, if they ride roughshod over the Welsh Government rather than fostering co-operation, they will provoke resentment. A strong Union needs effective collaboration, not—as we have seen with the community renewal fund—the UK Government ignoring the long experience and strategic planning of the Welsh Government.
I remind the House of the huge commitment of the Welsh Government to public transport infrastructure, taking over the Wales and Borders franchise, creating Transport for Wales, and now investing £738 million in transforming the valleys lines. To match the Welsh Government’s ambition and commitment to rail, in which they are investing, we now need the Government to step up to their responsibilities for rail to Wales and main lines within Wales, make up for their lack of investment to date and for their broken promises, consult meaningfully with the Welsh Government on priorities and plans, and deliver for Wales.
First, I thank the Secretary of State for his support in securing the funding for the reopening of Golborne station in my constituency of Leigh, and of course his excellent ministerial team for all the other work that they have been doing. The £15 million from the Government’s transforming cities fund will ensure that the long-held ambition of my constituents in Golborne to reopen our railway station is realised, with the timetable for the completion of the new station currently set to be 2026-27, although I hope that we can bring that target forward and would welcome an opportunity to meet the Secretary of State to discuss that issue.
Secondly, I welcome the investment that the Government are making in signalling improvements to create capacity on the Castlefield corridor, which would allow a station serving Leigh to be built at Kenyon Junction—the first railway junction built in the entire world—just south of the Atherleigh Way—another long-held ambition of my constituents, and a much-needed improvement.
Next I should like to talk about the Golborne spur of HS2. I declare my interest: the spur affects my family home, the Grundy family farm, as it does the homes of thousands of my constituents in Lowton and Golborne. The integrated rail plan and Union connectivity review both recommended that the Government look at alternatives to the Golborne spur. I strongly welcome that recommendation, on behalf of my constituents. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) will strongly agree with me on that point.
Finally, I pay tribute to the thousands of local residents and the many local groups who have contributed to the campaign against the Golborne spur of HS2—two individuals, in particular. The first is Linda Graham. Some Members who have been around long enough may remember that she was Andy Burnham’s office manager, and a very formidable one at that. The second, more sadly, is the late Ted Thwaite, chair of local residents’ group the Lowton East Neighbourhood Development Forum, who sadly passed away just a couple of weeks before the announcement about the review of the Golborne spur. He was a great man. Many people would spend their 70s with their feet up sat on the couch; Ted spent his 70s campaigning for his village and his community. As his great friend Bob said when he was giving the eulogy at his funeral, if Ted has anything to do with it, that review will go the right way. I ask Members to listen to the residents of Lowton and Golborne and take note of all the thousands of letters and petitions they have sent in over the years: please scrap the Golborne spur of HS2.
The north of England is the birthplace of the modern railway, with the first passenger services launching in the UK between Darlington and Stockton in 1825. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which opened in 1830, was the first modern railroad. Preston was an early adopter of railways, with the first station opening in 1838. Since the Victorian age, the north has lagged far behind the south in new railways and infrastructure. The existing infrastructure has reached capacity, but now demand continues to grow. A fast railway line would take northern England into the 21st century and help to level up the region, which continues to be the promise of this Government.
The case to have a high-speed railway running through the centre of Britain was first formally made by the Labour Government in 2010. It is not just about speed; capacity constraints are mainly at the heart of the strategic case for HS2 and north-south rail links in England. Rail capacity is dependent on two things: train capacity and route capacity. HS2 will improve transport times, create jobs and help the country’s economy while serving as a driver of growth in regional economies and creating opportunities for regeneration. Ultimately, the economic benefits will be worth the proposed costs.
The Government said that they wanted to deliver more frequent, more reliable and faster journeys between our major economic centres. Beyond the immediate transport concerns, the gap in productivity and economic growth between London and the south-east and the north was recognised in the strategic case for HS2, linking in with the Prime Minister’s ambitions to “level up the country”. In fact, the Government’s own national infrastructure strategy cites backing HS2 to deliver essential north-south connectivity as an example of how it is using infrastructure to unite and level up the UK.
I am sorry, but I want to save time for other speakers.
As recently as February 2021, the Prime Minister told MPs in the Chamber that the project was going ahead:
“I can certainly confirm that we are going to develop the eastern leg as well as the whole of the HS2.”—[Official Report, 10 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 325.]
The Transport Secretary, who is not in his place, outlined his commitment to the project nearly seven months ago. Similarly, Northern Powerhouse Rail was supposed to deliver a new high-speed rail connection between Manchester and Leeds, Leeds and Birmingham and London and Birmingham in phase 1, due to open in 2029, thus linking England’s four largest urban areas with faster train services. Now the project’s proposed £34 billion budget is being slashed by half, so the trimmed-down initiative does not resemble the bold rethink of Britain’s rail system once promised. That has triggered widespread condemnation in the north, in both Labour and Conservative seats. The Lancashire local enterprise partnership believes that the productivity gains as a result of HS2 services to the area could help provide an extra £600 million for the region. HS2 will reinforce Preston’s position as a strategic rail hub. The Lancashire LEP has referred to Preston as the engine to establish an “arc of prosperity” running from Lancaster and through to Blackpool, Blackburn and Burnley, taking in Lancashire’s aerospace, energy, tourism and higher education sectors. In Preston itself, HS2 could mean 75,000 extra visitors a year.
The rhetoric has not matched the reality. The Government should deliver on their promises from three general elections. I urge the Government to rethink their plans.
A few weeks ago, the Government announced £96 billion worth of infrastructure for rail throughout the midlands and the north—an unprecedented commitment to levelling up transport and delivering on the Government’s agenda. The east midlands, where I have my constituency of Broxtowe, has received the lowest spend on transport per head in the country year after year. With the Government having laid down a package of more than £12 billion of rail infrastructure for the east midlands, they have made it absolutely clear that that ends today.
The rail improvements will not only provide faster journeys, increased capacity and more frequent trains, but will make us greener. We are not only levelling up; we are cleaning up. Electrification under the IRP will mean that more than 75% of Britain’s main trunk roads will be decarbonised. It will also take significant volumes of passengers and freight away from petrol and diesel cars and trucks and on to electric trains. By upgrading our local services, we will reduce the use of cars and reduce carbon emissions, building back better and helping us to reach net zero by 2050.
In my constituency of Broxtowe, we are receiving a brand-new station at Toton, with links to Nottingham and other areas throughout the region. A shuttle could also operate from Toton to the HS2 stop at East Midlands Parkway, meaning faster and more efficient travel times throughout my constituency. In the area, we will see the new Maid Marian line, as well as the Robin Hood line, improving connectivity in the east midlands, thus unlocking investment and creating jobs throughout Toton and surrounding communities. It is now absolutely essential that we move forward at speed. It is a fantastic package in front of us that has excited many in the region, and we must now see those plans come to fruition. It is time to get shovels in the ground and get the job done.
I wish I could show the House an image of Bradford’s transport system. A train comes into Forster Square and must reverse back out, and the same happens less than just half a mile away on the other side of town, where a train coming into Bradford Interchange also must reverse back out. The reality is that Bradford transport is literally a one-way, dead-end cul-de-sac.
The people of Bradford were continually reassured that they would get NPR in Bradford. I wrote to the Chancellor a week before this announcement with cross-party Members and the Bradford business community, highlighting the importance of the Government sticking to their promise. I highlighted the great work that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) has done in raising the need for a proper transport network.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the scandalous way that the proud Yorkshire city of Bradford—a place close to my heart, having worked there for more than a decade—has been let down yet again. Would she also agree that for the towns and villages in my constituency of Batley and Spen, we need more detail on the stopping patterns at intermediate stations? Faster trains between cities on existing lines do nothing to free up the capacity that we desperately need.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I agree with the valid points she makes.
Campaigners say that it was quicker to travel to places from Bradford on a steam train than it is on today’s network. The Edwardians could get on a train from Bradford to Wakefield and it would take 30 minutes. Today, it is 48 minutes. Bradford is Britain’s seventh biggest city, with the youngest population, and it is the worst connected major city in the UK. We were promised a through line and were betrayed by this Government. Only a few weeks ago, at the annual Bradford chamber of commerce dinner, the new president Victoria Wainwright said, “This isn’t the end of the line for business in Bradford; it’s never the end of the line for Bradford”, because despite the failure, neglect, and contempt that this Government have shown towards Bradford and its people, Bradford is still reaching new heights.
Bradford is the only city outside London that has two FTSE 100 companies—Bradford & Bingley and Provident Financial. We are proud to have in Bradford the headquarters of Morrisons, one of the country’s largest supermarkets. Najam Kidwai, who is from Bradford, today listed a company on NASDAQ that is five times over-subscribed with more than $1 billion in share orders. We have curries that Lahore and New Delhi struggle to compete with and milkshakes that have been tried and tested by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We have the Bradford literature festival, which is the most diverse festival in Europe, and we are bidding to be the city of culture, because, among other things, Bradford has one of the largest collections of David Hockney’s work, is a UNESCO city of film and has a world heritage site.
I end by asking hon. Members to imagine the potential that Bradford could unlock if the Government supported it and it got its fair share—I would be happy to work on a non-partisan basis with the Government on that. With the transport investment alone, we would have unlocked a £30 billion economic boost to the region within a decade; brought more than 6.5 million people to the city; created 27,000 jobs; generated a 10% uplift in land value; and unlocked 1.3 million additional accessible jobs within 90 minutes of Bradford.
When I was growing up, I knew my mother had been down to town because she used to walk through Rackhams and try on all the nice perfumes—a bit like people do in Selfridges these days. That is what Bradford used to have, and it deserves to be back at its best, not just for Bradford, but for the whole of the north.
The litmus test of levelling up is levelling up for Bradford. I am grateful to my friends, the hon. Members for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and for Shipley (Philip Davies), who have supported NPR, but the Government have failed. It is time for the Government to remove the iron gate in front of Bradford. They need to support us, invest and allow Bradford to unlock its full potential.
Order. If everybody can resume their seats, I am getting information that there is likely to be a statement at approximately 6 o’clock. The debate would be paused for that period and would then be resumed after that, as I understand it. If anything changes, I will let you know, or Mr Speaker will give a statement informing the House what the procedure will be when he takes the Chair to chair the statement.
In Hyndburn and Haslingden, we have not had representation for years and Labour did nothing for our area. I have campaigned tirelessly to improve our transport links. For example, in the recent Budget, the Manchester to Rawtenstall service was given approval through the next stages of the Restoring Your Railway fund; there have been advancements on the vital Skipton to Colne railway line, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) has worked with me; and Accrington station has received money for disabled access. I also worked with hon. Members to save the vital X41 route.
I push the Government to keep the promise that they will focus on the smaller projects that link towns to cities. A 25-mile journey from Accrington to Manchester can take an hour by rail. When we look at projects about journeys from Manchester to London, we have to understand that that takes 10 minutes more than a 25-mile journey. I ask the Government to keep that promise to connect constituencies such as mine to the big cities, so that an area that could be a brilliant commuter town can really prosper.
Railways are the most essential form of transport, and they are the greenest and cleanest form of transport available, so their development is absolutely essential. We have to reflect, however, that since privatisation in the 1990s, fares have gone up astronomically, there has been massive profit-taking from the railway systems, and fare-paying passengers are paying the price. We should take the opportunity to take the entirety of the rail system into public ownership, as we put forward in our 2019 manifesto. The longer we go on with a partly privatised rail system, the longer many of the people we represent—many of them—simply cannot afford to travel by train. They are, however, expected to support a very high level of investment in the railway system. We do need to address the problems of the fare gap.
This expensively produced document—the integrated rail plan—is actually a massive apology for the failure of the Government to carry out the promises they made in 2019 about the investment they would make in the midland main line, the Pennine lines and all across the north of England. I have absolute solidarity with all of my colleagues across the north who are demanding proper, rational investment—
No, I will not give way.
Those colleagues are demanding proper, rational investment to ensure that their towns and cities are properly served by the railway system across this country. I absolutely support them in doing that.
There has to be an integrated transport system in this country. Therefore, the underfunding of Transport for the North and the failure of the Government to recognise the need to support Transport for London at the present time are actually part and parcel of the same short-sighted mentality they have to try to get through the current problems they face.
We need to increase rail capacity, and we need to increase rail capacity all across the country. I support the reopening of closed railway lines. The whole process that Beeching carried out under a Tory Government of closing branch lines all over the country did a great deal of damage to the railway network as a whole, but I have to say that some of the reopening is good but short-sighted. For example, why was the line reopened as far as Okehampton, but there is no plan so far to reopen it all the way to Plymouth? And so it goes on all across the country. I would urge the Government—
I would urge the Government in planning any reopenings, which generally I would support, to do a serious cost-benefit analysis and look at the potential of the line. In most cases, there has been a gross underestimation of the benefits that reopening brings. For example, the Edinburgh to Galashiels line, which is doing very well, should be opened right the way through to Carlisle.
The last point I would make is that to make the railways affordable we have to take the profit motive out of the running of the train operating companies, and we have to bring them into public ownership to make railways affordable for all. Otherwise, what are we going to say—that those less well-off can take the bus or those less well-off can take long-distance coaches, while the railways will be there for those who can afford it and for the middle classes? No, railways have to be there for everybody, and that means proper investment and public ownership.
The railways are at the heart of Crewe’s history. The town came after the railways did, in fact. Until the station and railway works were built, it was just a village. While we do not have the same dependency on the railway sector as we used to, it is a key part of our local industry. So major investment in the railways, wherever it is in the country, can only be good news for Crewe.
Companies in Crewe and Nantwich contribute to the building and maintenance of trains and railway lines in all sorts of different ways. The fact that Crewe is itself at the heart of these plans means that we will be benefiting directly from what is the single biggest investment in the railways ever in the north and the midlands. The integrated rail plan is set to level up our transport networks in Crewe and across the north-west. Crewe is set to become a vital super-hub, connecting high-speed services and the existing railway network.
The arrival of HS2 services into Crewe and the confirmation of the Crewe to Manchester leg of HS2 will benefit my constituents in a number of ways. The most talked about element is the drastic cuts in journey times—for example, from Crewe to Manchester airport down to 15 minutes, Crewe to Manchester Piccadilly to 24 minutes and Crewe to Birmingham halved to 25 minutes. These sorts of journey times will allow my residents to make very different choices. Young people will not have to leave our area to get a job in a big city or to study, which means we will keep their vibrancy, their spending power and their contribution to our local communities.
Of course, these journey times, Crewe’s railway heritage and its centrality to the future of our railway networks make it the only place we could sensibly place the headquarters of Great British Railways, and I know the Minister will find it very difficult to disagree with that.
Importantly, by moving inter-city traffic off the west coast main line, this investment will free up capacity on existing lines and routes so that Crewe can benefit from more frequent and reliable services locally, which I think is what my residents care the most about. We do need to work hard to make the most of that opportunity—for example, by making sure that services from Nantwich to Crewe are improved in frequency and reliability.
As always, the Opposition are just not credible on these issues. I have completely lost track of all the extra things they want to spend money on across government, whether welfare, foreign aid, education, the NHS, social care, business rates, support for lockdown measures and now the railways. We can guarantee that whenever the Government decide to spend money, it will not be enough; the Opposition would spend more and that would make everything all right. But what does their track record show? The last Labour Government did not require Northern Rail to invest and improve the network—contracts signed by the Labour Government were done on the basis of zero growth and zero investment. Under Labour, the ranking of our roads and railways plummeted from seventh in the world to 33rd, meaning UK infrastructure was ranked below those of Namibia, Slovenia and Cyprus. That is their track record on infrastructure in this country.
How would the Opposition pay for what they are proposing? They tell us, “Just tax the rich and tax wealth,” with no details, no idea of how they are going to do it and how much money they would get from that. While they cry “betrayal” we know that their track record is one of betrayal while ours will be one of delivery on railways and infrastructure for the people of the north and midlands.
This has been an interesting discussion. Not once has any Government Front Bencher mentioned Northumberland. It is a wonderful county and I wonder whether Ministers or indeed the Secretary of State have ever visited it. The Government’s integrated rail plan proposals are an absolute disaster for the north-east. Once again the Government have overpromised and under-delivered. Once again the north-east has been betrayed; once again the saying “the great north rail betrayal” rings true throughout the communities of the north-east.
The scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2 is extremely disappointing, if not surprising in the least, and the Government announced on more than 60 occasions that they would not scrap it. But in the north-east the plans were never really going to benefit the communities in the first place. The eastern leg of HS2 basically only went as far as Leeds and NPR only went as far north as Newcastle, with those in Downing Street missing out the wonderful county of Northumberland. I wish people would visit our wonderful county.
The plans to reintroduce passenger rail on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line are essential. I and my predecessors have been campaigning for that for generations, and I want to place on record my thanks to the South East Northumberland Rail User Group for its outstanding campaigning efforts. I want the Minister to please give a firm commitment in the winding-up speech that that line will go ahead. I say that simply because of the broken promises of this Government with regard to many things—we cannot trust a word they say.
On the east coast main line, the proposals to change the services schedule in order to shave seconds off the time from Edinburgh to London were an outrage, and that was only changed because of public annoyance. I ask the Government to please look at that again. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said only a few seconds ago in his contribution, public ownership is the answer to the issues facing the disastrous transport system on our rail networks.