It is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr. Fraser, and it is a pleasure to do so. I am delighted to have secured the debate, which is important to many right hon. and hon. Members of the House, as well as hugely important to the country, not just for transport reasons but for our entire economic future.
I am pleased to say that I was delivered here safely on time, having got a very early train from Leeds this morning by standard mainline rail on, of course, the now publicly owned east coast franchise-may it stay in public ownership for the foreseeable future. I want early in my remarks to express my disappointment that it is not Lord Adonis who will answer today on this important matter. That is meant as no disrespect to the Minister, with whom I regularly correspond: it is simply a matter of the role of Lord Adonis, and the way in which he has personally taken the initiative on high-speed rail and shown an interest in it. We would all agree that it is positive that high-speed rail is very much on the agenda. I hope that today's debate will contribute to that.
We must start by facing the country's abysmal record on high-speed rail. In a meeting with Lord Adonis in his office I looked at the high-speed rail map of Europe, and it shows about 3,500 miles of high-speed rail line on the continent. Yet at the moment in the UK a rather pitiful 68 miles, currently known as High Speed 1, links St. Pancras to the channel tunnel. We need only look across the channel to see how the French have taken the matter forward. The regional economies of places such as Lille and Lyon grow because of the bonus for business and tourism, as well as the development of whole industries that are based around the siting of high- speed lines.