Thank you, Mr. Benton, it is a pleasure to serve under you this afternoon. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Greg Mulholland for securing this important and timely debate. As we await the HS2 report, which will no doubt be the Secretary of State's Christmas reading, it is vital to debate an issue that could shape our domestic transport infrastructure for the rest of the 21st century.
It is fair to say that the Government have been slow to get on board in support of high-speed rail. Had Lord Adonis not been made Secretary of State for Transport, I doubt whether the Government would have had a change of heart. Hon. Members will remember the former Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, who said only two years ago that
"it would not be prudent to commit now to 'all-or-nothing' projects...for which the longer-term benefits are currently uncertain".
Government inaction and indifference to high-speed rail has resulted in the UK lagging behind the rest of Europe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West mentioned, out of 3,500 miles of high-speed rail around Europe, only 68 miles are in the UK, between St. Pancras and the channel tunnel. Hon. Members from all parties will be aware that the Liberal Democrats were the first party to pledge support for a high-speed rail link to the north and beyond. As usual, the Conservatives have limped in at the last minute with a half-hearted proposal.