High-speed Rail

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:01 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport) 12:01 pm, 8th December 2009

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I am certainly happy to go on record as giving a Liberal Democrat commitment to a high-speed rail network. I hope that the other parties will do likewise.

Understandably, there will be much debate and disagreement about the exact route of a high-speed network, and hon. Members will make the strongest possible case for high-speed rail coming to their own areas. I was interested to hear that the General Synod of the Church of England has stated in a recent resolution:

"This Synod urges Her Majesty's Government...to sustain employment opportunities, further environmental targets and strengthen future economic and social development by implementing the planning and development of a high speed rail line from London to the North-West and Scotland."

I am not sure how that resolution will go down and be viewed in God's own county of Yorkshire.

I do not want to get too embroiled in a debate about the exact details of a network, except to say that we envisage a high-speed rail network, rather than just a line, which will serve and provide access to northern cities and carry on through to Scotland. Ms Smith is absolutely right that Members representing northern cities either side of the Pennines should not fight over which way the line goes; they should work together to ensure that the north, Scotland and other regions of Great Britain receive the same transport funding as the south-east.

Until we know what is in the HS2 report, we are not in a position to talk about the detail of the exact routes. Sir David Rowlands recently told the BBC that a spur north of Birmingham

"would allow both sides of the country to be served...We will tell the government that the preferred option from our point of view is a network that certainly serves Manchester as well as places like Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and up to Newcastle and one way or another, up to Scotland."

That is broadly in line with our thinking on providing a network, rather than simply a single line, but the devil is in the detail.

There is also the issue of stations. My hon. Friend Lorely Burt raised the issue of Birmingham international and Birmingham New Street. Of course, there will be a wider debate about whether we ought to consider city centre or airport locations for stations. Clearly, such details will have to be debated thoroughly.