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Industry and Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 21st November 1994.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms , Newham North East 6:56 pm, 21st November 1994

I am grateful for that intervention. The Select Committee offers a proposal that would allow existing telephone operators to upgrade their existing networks. That is the key. They must be able to upgrade existing networks on the ground in which they have already invested in areas where there is no cable television franchise. That would not threaten any cable television franchises that have been issued, but it would allow the main telephone operators the opportunity to develop their networks in line with developments that are taking place in all other industrialised countries. We cannot allow that opportunity to pass us by.

I now comment on what the European Union refers to as the trans-European networks—the key elements of infrastructure which, like the information super-highway, will underpin Europe's economic development in the next century—that is, a national high-speed railway network. I was pleased that the Gracious Speech referred to a Bill to enable at last the construction of the high-speed rail link from London to the channel tunnel. I accept the Government's assurances that the decision on the location of the intermediate stations will be made in a honourable way. As the Government have made it clear that they choose the present easterly alignment for the link in order to bring regeneration to east London, I look forward to long-awaited confirmation in the spring that there will be an international and domestic station at Stratford as well as elsewhere on the line.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Transport has told the House today that he will shortly meet representatives of the Stratford promoter group. However, the channel tunnel rail link is only a start. We need a national high-speed rail network, and Stratford international should be its hub. In that matter, too, we need Government leadership, vision and planning. Other European countries already have networks. As we recognise the limits on road building in future, so our need for high-speed rail services becomes more apparent.

An information super-highway and a high-speed rail network are vital components in the infrastructure for our economic development in the 21st century. We understand that the Government will not pay for them, but they have the key role in making them happen. The Government must take the lead in creating vision and setting up partnerships. The Gracious Speech was depressingly thin on those topics, but we cannot afford delay.