My Lords, the Department for Transport is continuing its assessment of the detailed report from High Speed 2, which was received at the end of last year. If the Government decide to pursue proposals for high-speed rail, we will publish a White Paper that sets out plans by the end of March.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s Answer. Does he agree that we should develop high-speed rail links from London to Scotland as a matter of urgency? I make the plea that we have not only plans but progress on developing the link. I also make a plea for the west coast.
My Lords, I have a report on my desk that extends to more than 1,000 pages. It examines the case for a high-speed line north from London that provides services all the way to Scotland. We are giving it intensive consideration and, as I say, I hope to come forward with proposals before long.
My Lords, the noble Lord will have noticed on his journeys that there is a lot of England between London and Scotland. Which places, east or west, are likely to be served by high-speed rail, and will this be integrated into the railway system—unlike Eurostar, which just goes from point to point?
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord will have to wait until the White Paper to see which conurbations could be served by high-speed rail, but he makes a very valuable point; there are a large number of conurbations between London and Scotland, and it is very important that high-speed rail serves the needs of all parts of the country.
My Lords, it will not have escaped the Secretary of State’s attention that an election is pending. What realistic progress does he expect to make on any consultation on a White Paper that he produces in March? Given the reply that he has just given, will he also take into account the fact that he could blight the lives of thousands of people if he publishes his chosen route in March, given that it is not guaranteed to be the route of either of the current opposition parties?
I assure the noble Baroness that it had not escaped my attention that a general election might be coming in the near future. She can rest assured that if we publish a White Paper on high-speed rail, it will receive great prominence in our election manifesto. However, I am glad to note that her party and the Liberal Democrats also have commitments in respect of high-speed rail. Believing that we should put national interests beyond party interests, I hope that it might even just be possible that we come to agree on the high-speed rail plan, which could be of great advantage to the future of this country.
My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that, when the White Paper is published, there will at least be an option for connecting High Speed 2 to the rest of the European high-speed rail link, which is HS1? A lot of stories are going around that people will have to get off HS2 somewhere in London and hump their bags to St Pancras to get on a different train. Does my noble friend agree that, for the benefits of High Speed 2 for the rest of the country, there has to be some shrewd running?
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that it is not just conurbations which benefit from high-speed rail? Rural hubs like Berwick-upon-Tweed benefit hugely from fast direct rail to London and Scotland. I hope that any proposals will not in any way make the situation on our line worse and will enhance the north-east line.
My Lords, is not the point about blight made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, particularly relevant? Is it not important to ensure that, if there are to be cuts in expenditure, we do not provide information now which may not be implemented in terms of projects for many years?
My Lords, my noble friend is correct. For that reason we have not published the High Speed 2 report in advance of the Government publishing a White Paper. It is important that only those proposals which we intend to take forward for consultation are given the imprimatur of the Government so that we do not cause unnecessary blight.
My Lords, I am extremely enthusiastic about this development but hope that there will be a study among the thousands of pages on the Minister’s desk to ensure that, if the high-speed rail link goes up the west coast, it will not adversely affect the competitiveness of the north-east of England.