I rise to speak in favour of the Bill. This is a massively important piece of national infrastructure that will benefit us not just in the immediate decades after its completion, but for probably more than a century. Connecting the great cities of the north and midlands to London and the south-east, and to the continent through the channel tunnel, is an investment in our future. We should look at the benefit not just in ticket sales, but in the business regeneration that will take place across the network.
The Secretary of State described the business situation in Kent, an issue that, as a Kent MP, I should like to touch on. It is impossible to imagine how east Kent can be regenerated without the benefits that High Speed 1 brings. I sit in meetings with the regeneration group that looks at the east Kent regional growth zone, and selling the benefits of High Speed 1 and the lower journey times into London is the single biggest advantage we have. As the Secretary of State pointed out, the HS1 line runs only as far as Ashford into London; the rolling stock running from Folkestone, Dover and Canterbury into Thanet is also a massive source of regeneration.
None of us can know for certain what the future will bring—no more than when, nearly 30 years ago, this House debated the Channel Tunnel Bill. At that point, many Members spoke against it. Some said that we were living in the age of Concorde, and that international rail travel was not the future. The channel tunnel has outlasted Concorde and will be there for many more years to come. Back then, my predecessor, Michael Howard, championed the property blight issue. A compensation scheme was in place, but in fact people’s property prices actually went up, not down, as a result of the building of the channel tunnel rail link. People said at the time that it would be a drain, diverting business investment from the south-east to France, where it would be encouraged. In fact, that gateway is bringing business investment into the UK from France. People said that it would destroy jobs in Kent; in fact, it is creating jobs. As I said earlier, it would be impossible to imagine a job creation strategy for east Kent without the physical infrastructure of the channel tunnel.
In the 1980s, Members said that they did not think there was a case for city-to-city rail travel, and certainly not through the channel tunnel, which would simply reduce journey times across the channel itself. Of course, there is now an enormous market for city-to-city travel: not just from London to Paris and Brussels, but soon opening up into Holland and Germany and to other locations in Europe. My hon. Friend Mr Binley pointed out in his very good speech the enormous benefit that rail freight infrastructure gains from investment in high-speed rail, and from the channel tunnel. The potential is enormous and evolving, and it will be the same with High Speed 2. I commend the Bill to the House.