High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 8:04 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 8:04 pm, 28th April 2014

It is a pleasure to follow David Mowat, and my speech will echo much of his. Like him, I support High Speed 2 and not just because I am a Greater Manchester MP, although we will benefit substantially from it. I support it not just because our railways need the capacity, although they do. I support it not just out of a parochial desire to see more transport investment in the north, although I do not think being a parochial northerner is necessarily a bad thing. Much more than all of that, I support it because it is genuinely wonderful that, for once, we are choosing to solve a transport problem that we know is going to happen but has not happened yet. By that, I mean the looming capacity crunch on our railways. It is the polar opposite of how we usually approach transport issues. Secondly, I very much welcome the cross-party agreement on delivering a fundamental piece of infrastructure when, frankly, there are a great many reasons why a Conservative Government might not want to do that.

We simply have to acknowledge that the changes in how and where people live and work has driven a huge demand for regular and reliable train travel. Thirty years ago, there would have been enough jobs for almost everyone who lives in my constituency to work in my constituency, but as our economy has moved more towards services and the creative industries, those jobs are clustered more in the cities, so many more people need to commute—and these are jobs that are much more geographically mobile. Before the last election, I worked as a solicitor in Manchester city centre. I would travel into Manchester every day from what is now my constituency, but it was relatively common at some point in the day to receive a message saying that I needed to go to Birmingham, London, Leeds or elsewhere to attend a meeting or a completion or something else.

Those economic changes are what lies behind the doubling of passenger numbers on the railways in the last decade. Looking at the numbers is genuinely startling: over the past 16 years, passenger journeys on inter-city trains have doubled to 128 million a year, and the number of all rail journeys has doubled, from 750 million a year to 1.5 billion. Of course, the UK’s population is predicted to grow by a further 11 million by 2035. I do not believe that it is the less-than-impressive performance of rail privatisation that has driven that growth. For once it seems we might be trying to provide the capacity we require in our transport network before the problem hits us. If only the Parliaments of the 1970s and ’80s had done the same with our airport capacity.

Some people are concerned that HS2 will actually suck prosperity out of the regions towards London, but that is illogical. If that were true, the best way to achieve regional prosperity would be to tear up our existing railways and motorways and promote some sort of regional autarky. That would be just as foolish and ill-conceived at regional level as it would be at national level.

I recognise that it is in the nature of a high-speed train line that some parts of the country take the burden of hosting it, while others, such as in my area, receive the benefits. I absolutely agree that there should be adequate compensation, particularly in London around Euston station, and there should be proper mitigation of the route where possible. I understand colleagues who need to represent the needs of their areas where local opinion is opposed to HS2. I do not think it credible, however, to argue for increased mitigation such as expensive tunnelling and then complain that the cost of the project has gone up; clearly, there is a balance between the two. I would say that the development of the British economy in a way that spreads prosperity, growth and opportunity more evenly around the United Kingdom, rather than focusing on the south-east is genuinely in everybody’s interests.

The price tag appears large, but Government investment in capital projects is about £50 billion each year, and the costs of HS2 will be spread over 20 years. Crucially, this is wealth-creating infrastructure. We should recognise, too, that there is a cost to not proceeding with it. There will be a cost to not creating the capacity we require on our railways. Imagine, Madam Deputy Speaker, if we had not regenerated London’s docklands. Think of all the private investment that followed it, which would not have occurred without it. There are many other examples—the original M1 motorway has already been mentioned in the debate.

Some hon. Members have claimed that investment will be diverted from other schemes towards HS2. Let me say that the only time we know that that has ever happened was when we tried to patch and mend the west coast main line. It cost billions and drained investment from every other project certainly in the north-west, but across the whole country, too. The destruction was, frankly, untenable.

For once, we have a far-sighted proposal with cross-party agreement and the political will to deliver it. We would all like to see our favoured amendments implemented. I would like construction to begin in the north. This Bill certainly deserves its Second Reading today, which I warmly—