Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:17 pm on 11th November 2014.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity once again to raise the issue of rail networks in the south of England, particularly with reference to the Portsmouth harbour area, which is part of my constituency. We have had a lot of rail-related news recently, with much discussion about the potential HS3 line and talk of a “northern powerhouse” and a proposed super-hub.
It is important that we start this journey in the north. We always hear about the north-south divide and the need to link up the deprived northern towns with the cities—or rather one particular city—of the prosperous south. This narrative relies on drawing the starkest possible contrast between the run-down, post-industrial centres of the north and the gleaming, global city of London, surrounded by leafy suburbs and sunlit shires. Of course, the truth is much more complex. Child poverty in the Deputy Prime Minister’s constituency in Sheffield is less than a third of that in parts of Portsmouth. In my town of Gosport, which is on the other side of Portsmouth harbour, one in five children lives in poverty—about the same as in the centre of York.
Poverty does not respect geography. BAE’s decision to end centuries of shipbuilding in Portsmouth has exactly the same effect on working people on the south coast as a decision to shut down a mine in County Durham or to close a factory in east Lancashire would have in northern areas. Similarly, proximity to London is no use for people south of the capital if we cannot actually get there. It takes as long to get up to London from Portsmouth as it does to travel down from Doncaster—a journey twice as long. It is absolutely right that we are looking to improve our infrastructure across the country, but, as I will set out, we must ensure that some of the poorest communities in the country, who just happen to be in the south, are not left behind.