High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 4:38 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport 4:38 pm, 28th April 2014

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is 120 years since we last built a main line railway north of London. It is even longer since, in 1833, this House voted to start what is known as the west coast main line. The line was not meant to be a national route;
it became one almost by accident. It was a railway built with twists and turns to placate landowners, for slow steam trains pulling open-top carriages. It is worth recalling that in 1832 Parliament rejected the initial Bill because some people objected, arguing that canals were all we would ever need for long-distance travel. Today, we ask far too much of the line. If we were talking about roads, it would be as if traffic still had to go up Watling street, as if the M1 and M6 had never been built, and we tried to solve our transport needs by just patching up old roads—a roundabout here, a bridge there—as if incremental change could make all the difference. Well, we tried that: we spent £9 billion upgrading the west coast main line a decade ago, and most of that work did not even get south of Rugby. Cities and towns in the north deserve better. Scotland deserves better. Britain deserves better.

That is why I stand at the Dispatch Box today to support High Speed 2, a new north-south railway line. I do so with much humility and not a little trepidation, but also with confidence, because although I wholly understand the concerns of hon. Members whose constituents are affected by the route, I also know that this is a decision we cannot duck. We have waited long enough. The west coast main line can take no more; it is increasingly full. More than that, London and the south-east are also increasingly full, caught in a cycle of rising house prices, some of the most expensive commercial rents in the world and transport congestion, while cities in the north want to grow. It is time to help to break that cycle—time to connect great cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool.