[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair] — High Speed Rail

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 9th June 2010.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-(Angela Watkinson.)


Andrea Leadsom (conservative MP for South Northamptonshire) discusses...

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Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith 9:30 am, 9th June 2010

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Betts, and express my pleasure at having secured an Adjournment debate on such an important matter? Colleagues who were here before the election will know that this is not the first time I have spoken about high speed rail in Westminster Hall-indeed, it is not the first time I have secured a debate on the subject. High speed rail is a matter of particular importance to my constituency and my city, as it is to many other parts of the UK, which is why I am a long-standing campaigner for it.

As the years have gone by, the case for high speed rail in the UK has become stronger. In the past five years, the number of passengers travelling on the rail lines has risen by about 40% and freight has risen by 60%. Given the urgent need to tackle climate change by encouraging travellers to shift from air and road transport to rail, the case for investment in high speed rail becomes even stronger. The case for high speed rail relates not only to the new lines that it would create, but to the capacity that it would free up on existing lines.

I was greatly encouraged by the previous Government's announcement in March of a new line from London to Birmingham as the first phase of a network that would lead to Manchester and Leeds, and thereafter to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Members will recall that that was based on a report by High Speed 2 Ltd, which the Government established a year earlier. It was envisaged that construction would start in 2017, following the completion of Crossrail, and that the network would be opened in phases from 2026. The estimated cost of taking the line as far as Manchester and Leeds was £30 billion.

We seem to have reached a considerable degree of political consensus on the development of high speed rail in Great Britain. That will obviously be necessary because of the long time scale over which any such network will be developed. It will take many decades to build a complete network, which will obviously involve many Governments and, no doubt, many political parties. I welcome the fact that, along with the commitment from my party, there now appears to be a general political consensus on the need to develop a high speed rail network in the UK.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and commend him for his support for high speed rail. Will he acknowledge that, even in the present circumstances, he and his constituents can travel from Edinburgh to London in about four hours, whereas the shortest journey time from Aberdeen to London, only a further 110 miles, is seven and a half hours? Does he therefore agree that a high speed rail link must also ensure that there are fast links to connect to any high speed network that is developed?

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I do not want to intrude on matters that are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, but one of the important aspects of the debate on high speed rail is the need for discussions and co-operation between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, to ensure that the network will benefit not only the cities that it serves directly, but places further along the line, even if those places are not part of the network from the start. I will return to that point later. In due course the network should extend to not only the UK's largest cities, but most major cities. I am sure that Aberdeen would qualify as such.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

Edinburgh is terribly important, but so are the English regions. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a real risk, rumours of which the previous trains Minister did nothing to dispel, that money will be leached from regional and provincial rail networks to fund high speed rail? High speed rail should be welcomed, of course, but we must also remember the needs of many of our constituents who depend on lesser rail networks.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments. I certainly did not hear those rumours, but his colleague the Minister will no doubt reassure him that she will be able to combine her commitment to high speed rail with the interests of his constituents.

I welcomed the fact that the Conservatives declared in their manifesto that

"a new government will begin work immediately to create a high speed rail line connecting London and Heathrow with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. This is the first step towards achieving our vision of creating a national high speed rail network to join up major cities across England, Scotland and Wales. Stage two will deliver two new lines bringing the North East, Scotland and Wales into the high speed rail network."

That was an unqualified commitment to start work immediately, not just as soon as possible. I welcome the Minister to the debate and congratulate her on her appointment. I know of her commitment to high speed rail. Indeed, so unqualified was her manifesto's promise that I am almost surprised to see her here today, as she might have been out on the building sites with a hard hat and a bulldozer, starting work on the line immediately.

The Liberal Democrats were, somewhat out of character, a little more cautious about their spending commitments on this issue. Nevertheless, they vowed to set up

"a UK Infrastructure Bank to invest in public transport like high speed rail."

In the coalition agreement, the two parties stated:

"We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy. Our vision is of a truly national high speed rail network for the whole of Britain."

However, the agreement then stated:

"Given financial constraints, we will have to achieve this in phases."

The prospect of work beginning on high speed rail is not so immediate now, it would appear. By the time of the Queen's Speech, we were promised a hybrid Bill in due course.

To be blunt, one of my purposes in securing this debate was to test the strength of the coalition Government's commitment to high speed rail. I have no doubts about the Minister's commitment, but we need to know whether the coalition agreement means what it says. Did the coalition parties mean what they said in their pre-election manifestos, or was it just pre-election bluster? Will they really push it with the determination and leadership needed, or will they find excuses to delay it until some long-distant date? If the Minister gives the type of commitment that she gave before the election, she will certainly have support across the House for the development of proposals to introduce such a scheme, although the details may of course lead to debate.

I therefore have several questions for the Minister, which I hope she will be able to answer today. There are quite a few, but there are none that she should be surprised to be asked, so I hope that she will have answers today or at least some time soon. When do the new Government envisage bringing forward the necessary legislation for High Speed 2? I am not suggesting that the Minister should give an exact date, but a hybrid Bill could take years to go through Parliament so we need some idea of how it will fit into the Government's programme. Does she agree with the previous Government's assessment, as set out in their document on High Speed 2, produced earlier this year, that

"formal public consultation on the Government's proposals for high speed rail in the light of HS2 Ltd's recommended route for such a line should begin in the autumn"?

Does the Minister agree that HS2 Ltd should now begin similar detailed planning work on the routes from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, to be completed by summer 2011 with a view to consulting the public early in 2012? What steps do the Government intend to take to establish a company or other mechanism to deliver the project? What is their target date, in broad terms, for work to start on a new line?

Are the Government still committed to a high speed network that will serve the whole UK, including Edinburgh and Glasgow? I certainly hope that they are. If they are committed to that, do they have any views on the route that such a line should take, and when do they envisage that the line will reach Edinburgh and Glasgow? It will be unacceptable if there is not a commitment from the start that the line will reach Scotland, because high speed rail will bring real economic benefits to the cities and regions along the route, and those cities that are either not directly linked or that have indirect links with the network would certainly lose out.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He suggested the need for a commitment that the high speed network would run to Edinburgh, but I do not recall ever hearing that commitment from the previous Labour Administration before the general election.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

The previous Government made it clear from the outset that high speed train services would reach Edinburgh and Glasgow in due course. As the hon. Gentleman should know, I have been pushing for high speed rail for some time. I pushed the previous Government, and I intend to push this Government as hard as I pushed the previous one. If he wants high speed rail to go to places north of Manchester, I hope that he will put the same kind of pressure on his Government as I used to put on mine. I believe that we all want high speed rail to serve the nations and regions of the UK, so let us try to keep up the consensus and the pressure.

As I said, there are real economic benefits for all the communities and cities along the route of a high speed line. Research shows that cutting the journey time between Birmingham and London from 84 to 49 minutes would increase Birmingham's annual economic output by £1.4 billion, or about 6%. The economic benefits of high speed rail would be more than £10 billion a year for the north-west and about £19 billion for Scotland. In total, 64,000 additional jobs would be created as a consequence.

There is an overwhelming case for extending the line to Scotland, to increase the number of business and tourist passengers travelling not just to and from London, but from the north of England to Scotland. Prosperity would spread much more than if the line were restricted to the south and south-east of England, and the UK as a whole would benefit as a result.

Photo of Michael Crockart Michael Crockart Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important subject. He will know that my predecessor John Barrett also worked tirelessly on this matter, and I intend to continue his support for it in this Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the greatest argument for extending the high speed rail line is an environmental one? For example, if we manage to drive London to Edinburgh journey times down to two hours 40 minutes, which is eminently possible, there would be a similar switch from air to rail, as happened when the Madrid to Barcelona line opened. That resulted in a 50% reduction in the number of flights between the two cities. If the same happened with Edinburgh and London, there would be 700,000 fewer air journeys between them.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

The hon. Gentleman is correct. Indeed, there has been increased use of the Manchester to London service as a result of the upgrade to the west coast main line, and we have seen the same with the London to Paris and Brussels services as well.

The point that the hon. Gentleman made about the benefits from reducing journey times particularly applies in respect of cities that are further away from London. The greatest journey time reductions will allow the greatest benefits in environmental and economic terms-and, indeed, in terms of convenience to passengers. That is why I hope that the Government will give a definite commitment to extend high speed rail to the north of England and to Scotland.

As the hon. Gentleman said, environmental benefits will be particularly important. Transport currently accounts for more than 20% of UK carbon emissions, so high speed rail has a role to play in that respect as well. Reducing journey times from London to Edinburgh to just over two hours could result in 80% of the current travel market between Scotland and London being captured by high speed rail. Even at three hours, with a partial high speed rail network, 67% of the travel between Scotland and London could be captured by high speed rail, so there are certainly environmental and transport benefits as well as economic ones.

In that respect, I have two other questions that I hope the Minister will address today or at another time. First, what is the Government's view on whether the line should run to Heathrow or a connector station at Heathrow, or simply offer a connecting service, as the previous Government advocated? I am aware that there were criticisms of that decision, and I believe that she shared them. Certainly she made such criticisms before she was a Minister, so I would be interested to hear her current view on whether the line should serve Heathrow directly.

I would also like to hear the Minister's views on whether there should be a link from a new high speed line north of London to the existing line from London to the south-east, France, Belgium and beyond. If there were no link-I hope there will be one-passengers from Scotland and the north would be less likely to use the high speed rail line for journeys to the continent, and travellers from the continent would be less likely to use it to travel north. Clearly, if there were no direct link, there would be less use of those services as well.

I hope that today the Minister can give some indication of how the Government will take the plans forward, and to answer the questions in their entirety, or at least to a great extent. I would like to hear a reiteration of the commitments that were given before the general election. I hope that today we will not hear from the Government any excuses that, because of the financial situation they claim to have inherited-we had all those excuses yesterday in the debate on the Queen's Speech-they cannot make any further commitment to high speed rail at this stage.

I hope that we will not get that line later this morning. It would be unacceptable for several reasons. First, it should hardly surprise the Government parties that a high speed line would require major expense. If they did not realise that, they should not have made such sweeping promises in their manifestos. Secondly, the spending on high speed rail would, of course, be some time in the future. There will be many years of preparation involving planning, legal and parliamentary approval and so on. We are talking about commitments that will last for 10, 20 or 30 years, and I do not believe that anyone-not even those in the Government parties who make the most pessimistic forecasts-would suggest that the current economic circumstances will last for 10, 20 or 30 years.

Thirdly, the commitments, although large in their totality, are not actually as substantial as many other Government commitments. The cost of a line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds is estimated at £30 billion spread over 10 years. Compared with many other Government commitments, that is not as expensive as might be thought at first. And, of course, there are the wider economic benefits that I have already set out and the fact that the costs of high speed rail do not all have to come from public subsidy. Some of the public subsidy would be recouped from commercial income from passenger and goods traffic if the traffic projections and estimates are reflected in reality.

On the extension to Scotland, there are issues around the role in linking up services and the financial commitment from the Scottish Government as part of the devolution arrangements. I would be interested in hearing from the Minister about what discussions the coalition and her Department are having with the Scottish Government on how high speed rail could be funded in Scotland, and on how it would link up with existing rail services in Scotland.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case, and I look forward to the Minister's reply. The economic, transport and environmental benefits of a working high speed system are well known, but the gap between transport investment in the south-east and London and that in the rest of the country has been growing. It is not just that there is a gap but that it has been growing. Does he think that there is a case for starting to invest in the system not in London but much farther north, and then building south, rather than building north from the south?

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

My hon. Friend makes a good case and raises valid points. He is right to point out that there has been a concentration of transport investment in the south-east of England. The Scottish Government have a role to play in developing services beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow, but, bluntly, it would be wrong for Scotland to pay for the bit from the border northward because, after all, it is part of the same UK-wide service. The same would apply to Manchester and the regions of England as well.

In this debate, I have avoided getting too involved in the exact details of routes, apart from the important exception of Heathrow, and exactly when and where they will start, because the case for high speed rail as a whole is in danger of being undermined by discussion of some of the detail. However, I accept my hon. Friend's fundamental point: there is no reason why work should start from London and move northward, or why it cannot start from some other city at the same time. Clearly, phasing would allow benefits to be brought to other places en route, and I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on that in due course.

The method of securing funding for a new line also has a bearing on another important issue in this debate, which is the environmental case to which Mike Crockart referred. By itself, high speed rail does not guarantee substantial carbon reductions. Certain arguments and research make that clear. Carbon reductions depend partly on the energy source providing the electricity, how the route is to be constructed and, to a great extent, on the degree to which there is a modal shift from air and road to rail as a result of high speed rail services being developed.

A modal shift can be encouraged by shifting expenditure from new roads to high speed rail, which I support, and by using transport taxation to encourage that shift and raise the funds for public investment in high speed rail. The Liberal Democrat wing of the coalition suggested in its election manifesto that it would raise an extra £9 billion a year from airline and passenger taxation, and if that is taken forward in the agreement between the coalition parties it could provide substantial funds for high speed rail. I am interested in hearing the Minister, or any Liberal Democrat colleagues, respond to that point.

I am sure that the Minister is not surprised that I have asked a lot of questions. I hope that she will respond as far as she can. I pay tribute to her commitment to high speed rail before the election. Like all Ministers, she will no doubt have battles to fight in her Department and beyond to keep high speed rail firmly at the top of the Government's agenda, and I am sure that she expects me and other colleagues to pursue these matters vigorously if she does not. I hope that she gives us good news today-reaffirms the Government's commitment to high speed rail and tells right hon. and hon. Members how she will bring it about.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 9:51 am, 9th June 2010

It is good to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Transport, who will respond to the debate. I hope that she will forgive me, and that hon. and right hon. Members will do so too, if I am unable to stay for the winding-up speeches. I am standing for the chairmanship of an all-party group, the annual general meeting of which is being convened this morning at a time to suit colleagues in another place.

The comments made by Mark Lazarowicz and my hon. Friend Mike Crockart demonstrate and reinforce a point about high speed rail that Lord Adonis made to me before the general election, which was that everyone wants the stations but no one wants the track. We will all have to manage that in bringing about a commitment made by both Government parties in their manifestos at the general election and in the coalition agreement, which is in the Queen's Speech and is expected to be delivered.

I shall not repeat any of the sensible questions asked by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to answer. I wish to ask three specific questions on various points.

First, may I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that it would help if, at some point in the near future, she wrote a "Dear colleague" letter to every colleague in the House, setting out in straightforward terms the legislative process and the timetable that the Government intend to pursue, so that we can share them with our constituents? It is a pity that the previous Government brought the project forward just before the general election. We all understand why: the previous Prime Minister wanted to make what he thought was a decent press announcement-he went to Birmingham to make it-but that meant that the process got rather confused. It would help if hon. and right hon. Members were able to share the relevant information with our constituents.

Secondly, on speed, Eurostar goes at 300 kph-186 mph -and those of us who have been on it know that that is pretty fast. High Speed 2 is due to go at 400 kph, which is 250 mph and considerably faster than Eurostar. More straight track is needed for a very fast train, which means less opportunity for mitigation or variation of the route to accommodate settlements, towns or important topographical features. I hope that, at some stage, there will be an opportunity to have an informed debate about what are the cost-benefits of a very fast train as opposed to a fast train, and what is the real benefit of 250 mph over 186 mph, so that we can consider the options between them.

Thirdly, on community engagement, my right hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised that my hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom, Mr Speaker, whose constituency adjoins our constituencies, and I will be working together with our local communities, which are concerned about the possible impact of the route on them. The route runs close to the sizeable town of Brackley in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire. Will the Government consider complete alternatives to the routes in the consultation, to what extent are they willing to consider mitigation or variation of the existing route, how will they engage with the communities and how can that debate be informed?

It is important to put on the record what the Campaign to Protect Rural England has made clear:

"We welcome the vision of HS2 as a low carbon backbone of a sustainable transport system. By removing fast trains from the overcrowded lines north of London, space will be created for local passenger and freight services too."

Even campaigning groups such as the CPRE recognise that there are considerable benefits to be had from HS2. However, such organisations have long experience in engaging with Government on issues of this kind. It would help if Ministers said how they intend to engage with our constituents and communities on the impact of the track on individual communities and constituencies.

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport proposes to walk the route later in the summer, which seems sensible. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister give an undertaking that, when that happens, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will engage with colleagues so that we can ensure that, in respect of each constituency or groups of constituencies, there can be positive, constructive engagement between him and local communities on comments people have to make about mitigation or variation of the route?

I would like to emphasise a point made forcefully by the CPRE. It is evident that people are keen on the stations, because those will make linkage between parts of the United Kingdom much quicker and obviate the need for a third runway at Heathrow. There are all sorts of self-evident benefits. However, the benefits are not so self-evident for those who have the track going through their parishes or back gardens.

The benefit to people of a motorway going through their county or area is that it is part of the local infrastructure, and they can join and leave it. There will not be a station between London and Birmingham, so those living in that area will have limited direct benefit from HS2. However, there may be other ways in which communities can be compensated so that damage might be mitigated-for example, undergrounding existing electricity transmission lines on the HS2 route, creating new local rail services and reducing noise from existing roads.

The CPRE suggests:

"Some of the spare capacity freed up on rail lines could be used to create new cross-country passenger services", such as a High Wycombe-Aylesbury-Northampton route. It is important that when my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State engage with local communities on the route of HS2 across England they consider the benefits that the initiative and project may have for local communities, so that we see not just clear mitigation, but a clear and immediate local benefit, rather than just a contribution to an initiative for the betterment of the country as a whole.

If we engage constructively and sensibly in dialogue during the coming months and if we all have a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve, that will assist the Government and substantially reduce the risk of numerous judicial reviews. As my right hon. Friend knows, nothing is more frustrating when timing a Government project than various parties feeling frustrated by the process and that they need to go to judicial review.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post and hope that, following our questioning today, she will write to us all in the not-too-distant future with a clear explanation that we can share with our constituents, who are, understandably, worried about the process.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South 10:01 am, 9th June 2010

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz on obtaining this timely debate on an undoubtedly important issue. Those of us who use the midland main line-I know that you do, Mr Betts-are well aware of the enormous success of High Speed 1, not least because when we arrive at St Pancras we must fight our way through the crowds disgorged from trains from Paris and Brussels.

The prospect of another high-speed line in the United Kingdom is exciting, and I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that prospect and the fact that the new Government have picked up the previous Government's commitment to construct such a line. However, as Tony Baldry said, it will have an environmental price, and he was right to remind us that there will be a trade-off between speed and the environmental damage that that might cause. I urge the Government to examine that trade-off carefully, and to consider whether there are prospects for using existing transport corridors to achieve the same results at a lower environmental cost.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith referred to the difference between this Government's proposals and those of the previous one for the service to Heathrow. There are serious doubts about whether it is sensible to use Heathrow as a terminus for the high-speed line instead of somewhere that is well served with a link to the high-speed line. It is unlikely that someone travelling from London to Birmingham or Manchester would want their journey to be diverted via Heathrow. That would not make much sense to them. The benefits of serving Heathrow may be achieved in another way by ensuring an adequate link to the airport instead of diverting the line.

I want to take this opportunity, when welcoming the Government's commitment to high-speed rail, to press them for an assurance that construction of such a line in phases at some time in the future-who knows when it will be constructed?-should not be at the expense of continuing investment in the existing classic or conventional network. Parts of that network are undoubtedly under desperate strain and people who travel on it-often those who commute daily-must stand for much of their journey. Much could be done to relieve their suffering with continued investment in rolling stock, on which the previous Government had made a commitment, and in longer platforms and a generally better service.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

My hon. Friend is going to the nub of the debate on future investment in the rail service. Given the time required for the development of high-speed rail, I do not believe that it is a threat to regional services. Does he agree that the real choice before the Government and the country is whether to continue with Crossrail or with regional services, and that we simply cannot afford Crossrail at the moment?

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

Having served for some 18 months on the Select Committee that considered the Crossrail Bill, I have a personal commitment to its completion. My hon. Friend argued earlier that investment in rail has been skewed towards London and the south-east at the expense of other parts of the country, but that is not an argument for ditching what is an important part of the transport infrastructure in our capital city.

There is concern that high-speed rail may be seen as a panacea. It should not be built at the expense of the investment that the Association of Train Operating Companies argued for to open lines that are unused or used for goods, and the opportunities that would be generated thereby for reconnecting to the rail network communities that are currently unconnected. Above all, it should not be used as a pretext for not continuing the investment in electrification of the main line network.

Like you, Mr Betts, I am keen that electrification of the midland main line should be completed as soon as possible. It is already electrified as far as Bedford, and completion of electrification through to my city of Leicester and to Derby, Nottingham and your city of Sheffield, Mr Betts, will provide considerable positive cost benefits to rail users, and to the economies of the east midlands and your area of south Yorkshire, with a boost to the economy and general environment of those areas. I am worried that even if the second high-speed link is ultimately achieved and goes to somewhere in the east midlands, it will be of little benefit to those who are currently served by the midland main line if electrification of that line has not taken place and there is no link to St Pancras International and High Speed 1.

I doubt whether anyone would oppose investment in further high-speed rail in the UK. There are doubts about whether its fares will be affordable and attract a significant proportion of air passengers who would otherwise pass through Heathrow. My real concern is that it should not draw funding that would otherwise go to the conventional network. It must not lead to postponement of electrification of the existing mainline network, it must not leave rail commuters standing in unacceptable conditions on their daily commute to work, it must not leave unconnected communities that could be connected to the network, and it must not leave passengers and the environment with the prospect of old and smelly diesel traction for many years to come when relatively environmentally friendly electrification is a real possibility.

In brief, users of the existing network are unlikely to be impressed by half-promises of high-speed rail in phases, perhaps a decade and a half away, while they continue to struggle to use an existing network that is overstretched, overused and in desperate need of continued investment.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party 10:09 am, 9th June 2010

I add my congratulations to Mark Lazarowicz on an informative speech, particularly about the benefits of high-speed rail. I shall look up some of his statistics in Hansard for my own use. My constituency is in the west midlands and includes Birmingham International airport and the national exhibition centre. I shall take account of the comments made this morning, but I shall confine my remarks to the first phase of High Speed 2, for which I am a strong advocate.

Passenger numbers have risen by 40%, and freight has increased by 60% over the last five years. Clearly, there is a big appetite in this country for high-speed rail and the benefits that it can bring, which were so ably outlined by the hon. Gentleman. We need a dedicated high-speed rail line that is independent of the creaking Victorian network, although that network has served us well in the past and continues to do so. I take on board the point made by Tony Baldry that any improvements or new rail services must not be made at the expense of the existing network. We must ensure that the service improves for those who currently use our creaking commuter network, which should not be neglected in favour of high-speed rail.

We have the prospect of being able to travel from Euston to Curzon Street in Birmingham in 49 minutes. According to my figures, the train speed is 225 mph, although the hon. Member for Banbury mentioned 250 mph; either way, it is fast. We hope there will be a Crossrail interchange at Old Oak Common and we support the idea that Crossrail must go ahead; it is hugely important. Funding for Crossrail and High Speed 2 can be imaginatively secured, with a large proportion of investment coming from private industry or from some form of national infrastructure bank, as recommended by the Liberal Democrats before the general election. I am sure that it can be done and that the benefits can be proved.

We expect this phase of HS2 to start in 2017, and to have passengers on the trains in 2026. That is a long time, and I have a lot of sympathy with Graham Stringer, who intervened earlier to ask where we should start. If we can get the funding, perhaps we should start at both ends of the line so that it does not take such a long time to complete the network. I am sure the Government will look at that.

It is not all good news. There are many planning considerations and much of the investment in the first phase of HS2 will go on existing railway lines such as the Chiltern line, which will track the A413. I have a particular concern for parts of the Warwickshire countryside in the west midlands. People must be consulted properly, which, for me, means that there is no foregone conclusion-otherwise, it is not a consultation. There must be proper compensation for anyone who suffers as a result of these plans. When a second runway at Birmingham International airport was proposed, a terrible blight was created which in some cases still hangs over residents in the local area. It is important to avoid that blight, as it puts people's lives on hold and creates more misery than is necessary. On the bright side, according to research by the Department for Transport, which I read this morning, every reduction of one minute to a commuter journey adds £1,000 to the value of a house in the relevant area. Somebody will benefit, although I am not sure who that will be in the west midlands.

The justification for HS2 must be that it is part of a wider strategy. Like the previous Government, this Government are committed to a strong carbon reduction programme. We must show that we will shift people away from the roads and the air and on to rail. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith mentioned the Liberal Democrat plans, and part of the coalition agreement was that we will move from passenger charges on planes to a charge per plane. That will help in the reduction of carbon.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I am grateful for the hon. Lady's kind comments about my opening speech. I am aware of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative policy of moving away from individual taxation. However, I think that the Liberal Democrat manifesto also suggested a potential increase in duty, which I welcome. Is that part of the coalition policy?

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

I am afraid that it is above my pay grade to comment further on that. The coalition Government will be working on this issue, and the Minister may wish to refer to it in her remarks.

Increasing people's ability to travel is a bit like Boyle's law-demand expands in relation to the existing capacity. We have seen that with the motorway network. Every time new roads are built or a motorway is enlarged, traffic increases more than would be expected under normal predictions. We must be careful about that. During the three weeks the Minister has spent in her job, I do not know whether she has given any thought to how we can make it easier for people to travel less. That must obviously be an aspiration.

I will conclude by considering some of the economic benefits that HS2 would bring to the west midlands. In terms of employment, we have probably been the hardest hit of any region. We have a strong manufacturing base, but that has also been hit hard by the recession. On behalf of people in the west midlands, I am looking forward hugely to the airport link. The extension of the single runway at Birmingham International airport will mean huge inward investment, and along with the high-speed rail link to London and the north, that will make the west midlands a central economic hub, which I welcome.

The national exhibition centre will benefit hugely from the fact that High Speed 2 will stop there before moving on to Curzon Street in Birmingham. It is important to get on with this scheme. I am sure that we can use our imagination and ability so as not to damage the existing rail network, which we must work on and improve. High Speed 2 is a wonderful thing, but it is not everything. We must look at the whole picture and ensure that the experience of the rail traveller-whether on High Speed 2 or on local railways-is a good one.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield South East

Jonathan Edwards is the last speaker who wishes to be called in the debate. Let me advise him that I intend to start with the contributions of the Front-Bench speakers at 10.30 am.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr 10:18 am, 9th June 2010

I congratulate Mark Lazarowicz on securing this debate on the important subject of high speed rail. It is an issue that affects both his constituents and mine due to likelihood that under the current proposals, it will have no impact on them whatever. Historically, UK Governments have failed Wales on rail, and the refusal to provide a timetable for the development of a high speed rail link has put us on the backburner once again.

The last UK Government agreed to electrify the Great Western line to Swansea because of the hard work of the Transport Minister in the Welsh Government. When the previous UK Government announced the scheme, it was supposed to go only as far as Bristol, and only after the intervention of the Welsh Government did they agree to electrify the line as far as Swansea. I understand that the Conservatives have always been coy about sticking to that agreement. Will the new UK Government confirm that that electrification will take place?

Will the Government also confirm that the electrification will go further in Wales, as part of their commitment to support further electrification of the rail network? That would include, for example, the north Wales coast line, the valleys lines and the Severn tunnel diversionary line, as recommended by Railfuture Wales. In Europe, Wales is alongside Albania and Moldova in not having more than a mile of electrified rail track. What more proof do we need that the UK Government are leaving us behind?

More than just electrification of the railway lines, we need a concrete timetable for high speed rail in Wales. The proposal for a Wales high speed rail connection was first put forward by First Great Western in 2005, as part of the package of suggestions that it was making for improved rail services, linked to its bid for the new Great Western franchise. However, we are no closer to having such a connection now than we were then.

The former shadow Secretary of State for Transport, who is now the Minister of State, said only in March:

"Our plans to take high speed rail to the North will boost jobs and investment right across the country and bring particularly strong benefits to the regions. We believe it is essential that the North is not short changed and left out of high speed rail and the major regeneration opportunities it will generate."

Naturally, I agree with every word about the benefits that high speed rail will bring to those regions, but it cannot be right that Wales does not share in those benefits. At the moment, high speed rail is an England-only project that will be funded from UK money. That cannot be right.

A genuine High Speed 2 network needs to include Scotland and Wales and connect with the south-east of England and the continent, bringing us closer to major international markets and them closer to us, giving us major business opportunities and helping to tackle climate change by reducing short-haul air travel. Otherwise, the UK Government should just admit that high speed rail is really for England only and give us a Barnett consequential, so that we can get on with the job of developing our own network in Wales.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West

The hon. Gentleman is painting a strong picture of how we need a countrywide network, including Wales and Scotland. Is he aware of the High Speed North proposal by the Harrogate-based engineer, Colin Elliff? That is a real vision for a nationwide network-something that the previous Government did not properly consider. I hope that the new Government will properly consider it.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I was not aware of those proposals, but I imagine that the UK Government should be examining them closely, because the key point is that if we are to go for a high speed rail network based on a UK Treasury spend, the benefits should apply to all the nations and regions of the state.

We would like a timetable and costings to be developed for a high speed rail link between south Wales and London, preferably as part of the current scheme but even as part of High Speed 3. Perhaps as a matter of good faith, the work on that could begin at the south Wales end. That would certainly be the far cheaper part of the development. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:22 am, 9th June 2010

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz on securing this crucial debate on high speed rail. He spoke with real authority on behalf of many businesses and rail passengers in his constituency, and throughout the UK, who recognise the transformative effects that investment in high speed rail will bring: a stronger economy with the creation of new jobs in the construction and maintenance of the new high speed lines; a modern transport infrastructure to match those in the rest of Europe; improved business links between London and the other major cities in the UK; and increased tourism and environmental benefits, with many more journeys being made by rail than by short-haul aviation.

Let me also praise the contributions of the other hon. Members who participated in the debate, including my hon. Friend Sir Peter Soulsby and the hon. Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who spoke eloquently about the need for consultation. There was a passionate contribution from Jonathan Edwards on the need for a UK perspective on high speed rail and its extension to Wales.

This is a project of genuine national importance, and our task in the coming years will be to work across this Chamber to ensure that High Speed 2 is completed on schedule. The aim of Opposition Members is to fulfil the vision in the Command Paper published this spring-to start with construction of the high speed line between Euston and Birmingham and then to extend it to Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith said, we see great advantages in expanding the high speed rail network to Edinburgh and Glasgow in due course, subject to consultations with the Scottish Government, as it would involve significant capital expenditure from that source.

In my first appearance as Opposition transport spokesman, I welcome the Minister of State to her position in the Department for Transport. I look forward to our discussions here and in the main Chamber over the coming months. They may be robust at times, but they will never be intemperate. In opposition, she demonstrated a keen commitment to the principle of high speed rail and if that continues in government, she will have our support in the negotiations that she undertakes with the Treasury to secure the financing to make High Speed 2 a reality, on time and on target.

I have had an opportunity to consider "The Spending Review framework" published yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I note that all Departments will be asked to assess and justify their spending priorities against nine criteria, which include the promotion of economic value. In the Opposition's view, even when those criteria are applied, HS2 is a project of national economic necessity, which must escape the Chancellor's programme for fiscal consolidation.

I place on the record our appreciation for the work done by former Ministers Paul Clark and Chris Mole, who, sadly from our perspective, were not returned to the House to represent the constituencies of Gillingham and Rainham and of Ipswich respectively. We wish them well for the future. The shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan, will hold the Government to account on their transport pledges in the coalition agreement and continue to advocate the causes that he advanced while in government.

I also pay tribute to my noble Friend Lord Adonis, who was one of the most visionary Secretaries of State for Transport that Britain has had in the past 60 years, with a powerful commitment to the role of a revived railway network in boosting economic growth, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, through his strategic support for HS2, building the modern transport infrastructure that a decent, just society requires.

In the Command Paper published in March by the previous Government, we sought to avoid some of the problems in the consultation process for the first domestic high speed link, from central London to Ashford, by consulting on a single preferred route between Euston and Birmingham, rather than the choice of five routes in the first high speed rail consultation process. No route in a project of this significance will be without controversy, which is why there must be adequate consultation of the affected communities, together with consultation on the exceptional hardship scheme for those whose properties may be affected by proximity to the preferred route. We note that the Government have slightly extended the period for consultation on the hardship scheme until 17 June and have introduced a shadow scheme for immediate introduction. We would support both those measures.

There has been strong support from rail passengers, business and local government in the cities covered by the proposed new high speed rail network, because they recognise the real benefits that high speed rail will bring to their cities. For example, journey times from London to Birmingham will come down to 49 minutes, and those from Leeds to Canary Wharf will come down to 90 minutes. Even with regard to the first part of the network, my constituents in Glasgow would immediately benefit, with a reduction in the journey time from Glasgow to Euston to about 3 hours 30 minutes. That makes high speed rail genuinely competitive for business, passengers and tourists compared with short-haul flights from Scotland to London airports.

Some 10,000 jobs will be created in the construction of the high speed line, with a further 2,000 permanent jobs created in line maintenance and operation. There are great environmental benefits, given that high speed rail emits between eight and 11 times less carbon dioxide than air travel. There will be an increase in the freight capacity available by rail. There will be a boost to the west midlands economy to the tune of £5.3 billion a year, and to the north-west economy of £10.6 billion a year. If extension of the network to Scotland proceeds, there will be a benefit of nearly £20 billion to the economy there. As the work of HS2 Ltd made clear, every £1 spent on high speed rail yields £2 in economic benefit to the nation.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State clarified several points. Will she confirm the Government's priorities and intentions on the route set out in the previous Government's Command Paper? Will Ministers commence the consultation on that route, which the previous Government planned to start in October? Are the Government committed to the Y-shaped network that HS2 Ltd proposed in the Command Paper or is that being abandoned for an alternative structure?

Will the Minister outline the time scale that the Government envisage for the commencement of the construction of the first part of the network? My party's plans were predicated on connectivity with Crossrail and Heathrow Express, with an interchange station at Old Oak Common and fast links to Heathrow airport, Canary Wharf and beyond. The proposed connectivity between Crossrail and HS2 meant that we wanted to complete the construction of Crossrail by 2015 and to commence the construction of the London to Birmingham high speed line in 2017. Do the Government agree about the need to link Crossrail with High Speed 2? Are their plans based on the completion of Crossrail in 2015?

In opposition, the Minister was committed to plans for a high speed rail hub at Heathrow airport. Are those the Government's plans now? Does the Minister propose to alter the terms of reference or the time scale of Lord Mawhinney's review into the practicality of a high speed rail station at Heathrow airport?

Can the Minister give a pledge that none of the cities that the previous Government proposed to link through the new high speed network will be left behind or left out? Specifically, does she agree in principle that we need a network that serves the major northern English cities? Does she plan to begin talks with the Scottish Government over possible network extension to Scotland in due course?

Has the Minister's Department begun work on preparing the hybrid Bill that would need to be presented to Parliament to make the new network a reality in this Parliament? Will she give a pledge today that the Government will commit to the long-term investment required to make the project a success?

The high speed rail project is of genuine national significance, and the Opposition will not play petty or partisan politics with it. I hope that we will be able to work across the House to secure a rail link worthy of a great country entering the 21st century.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 10:32 am, 9th June 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Betts. I join others in congratulating Mark Lazarowicz on securing a debate on this important topic. For many of the reasons that he so articulately set out in opening the debate, the issue is significant for the future of our transport system, our economy and our environment,

I can assure hon. Members that high speed rail plays a core role in the new Government's vision for the future of travel in the United Kingdom. I am therefore grateful for the strong support that has been displayed across the parties in the debate, and particularly by the new shadow Minister, Mr Bain. That support has been reflected in many speeches this morning, and I welcome the contributions from not only the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, but from Sir Peter Soulsby, my hon. Friend Tony Baldry and the hon. Members for Solihull (Lorely Burt) and for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). I shall address a number of the issues that they raised. As well as supporting high speed rail, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury reflected on some of the issues for local communities that might be affected once a route is chosen. I will come to that later.

The Conservatives championed high speed rail in opposition. We transformed debate on the issue in October 2008, when we pledged to start the long process of building a national network. At the time, the Labour Government had dismissed high speed rail as an option, and their 30-year strategy for the railways contained no place for it. Nevertheless, I very much welcome the change of heart that occurred after our announcement and with the appointment of Lord Adonis. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow North East in welcoming and paying tribute to the work that Lord Adonis did on the issue.

The change of heart from the previous Government signalled the emergence of a broader cross-party consensus on the principle that high speed rail is essential for Britain's transport system. The new Government's support for high speed rail was clearly and explicitly included in the coalition agreement. Our programme for government includes the creation of a high speed rail network. Our ambition is the creation of a genuinely national high speed network, although we recognise that that will have to be achieved in phases over a number of years. However, in answer to the questions about that national network, let me say that a genuinely national network of course embraces destinations in the east midlands, Scotland and Wales-the areas that have been specifically highlighted this morning.

Let me take this opportunity to emphasise that the Government's ambitions for high speed rail do not stop at Birmingham. Although the previous Administration had a change of heart on high speed rail, their focus was still just on detailed plans for a route to Birmingham. It is manifestly clear that we will not reap the full benefits of high speed rail unless we go much further than the west midlands, important though a link to the west midlands obviously is. We want to make progress as rapidly as possible towards the creation of a national network that connects to the rest of Europe via the channel tunnel.

In opposition, both coalition partners emphasised the importance of taking high speed rail to Scotland. It is clear in the devolution settlement that the Scottish Government are responsible for rail infrastructure north of the border. Delivering cross-border high speed rail services and a cross-border high speed rail line would therefore obviously require close co-operation and careful joint working between Holyrood and Westminster on a range of issues, including, of course, funding. That is why, in my role in opposition, I visited Scotland for constructive talks with John Swinney on how that co-operation might go forward. There are extensive and close contacts between the Department for Transport and its counterparts in Scotland. The Secretary of State also looks forward to working with his Scottish counterpart in developing a high speed rail strategy that incorporates Scotland.

Issues relating to the timetable were at the heart of the questions from the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. The Secretary of State is considering the timetable set out by HS2 Ltd. He is also considering questions relating to the integration of Heathrow into the high speed rail network, which I will come to in due course. He will report to Parliament in due course on the timetable and on how things will be taken forward. However, the intention is to go forward with the consultation as promptly as possible, after that statement to Parliament.

The Government intend to present a hybrid Bill during this Parliament. We also intend to start enabling work by 2015. That is a somewhat more aggressive timetable than that set by the previous Government, but we are determined-the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith questioned me on this-to take the process forward promptly. Further work is already under way on lines beyond Birmingham. We will also continue to assess the appropriate delivery vehicles.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I thank the Minister for her answers so far, but may I be clear about one point? She said that she envisaged work starting in 2015, but what kind of work does she mean? Such work would be welcome, but 2015 is quite soon, so perhaps she will elucidate.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

As I said, the intention is for enabling work to start in 2015. Given that there will be a detailed and expansive consultation process before decisions are made on a route, it would not be appropriate or realistic for me to say exactly what type of work we would intend to start by 2015 and in what locations.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

The Minister has talked about a route going beyond Birmingham, and about Scotland. Do the Government remain committed to the Y-shaped link that was part of the previous Government's proposals?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

The previous Government talked about a line north of Birmingham, but had no clear commitment. It was the Conservatives who championed a national network that would bring the benefits of high speed rail to a wider range of areas than was envisaged in the core part of the previous Government's proposals.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned fares, and it is important that the high speed rail line should be affordable for ordinary families. The analysis done by the Conservative party in opposition and by HS2 Ltd under the previous Government makes it clear that the line will be affordable and deliverable with a contribution from future fares revenue, even with fares that are reasonable and broadly in line with existing levels on existing services. We can deliver the line without necessarily assuming that the fares will be unreasonable and out of the reach of ordinary families.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

I thank the Minister for her response on fares, but she did not respond to my question about the Y-shaped link. I am interested in the link not north but east of Birmingham, serving the east midlands, south Yorkshire and, of course, the north-east.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

As I have made clear, our ambition is a national network, and we believe that it is vital to make progress promptly and to ensure that we achieve the benefits of high speed rail as widely as possible. We have also made it clear that merely going to Birmingham is not enough. We need to ensure that other parts of the country share in the benefits of high speed rail. We shall publish details of the timetable in due course.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West

I welcome the Minister to her new job. She is aware that I have been heavily involved in the lobbying campaign for a direct high speed link to Yorkshire, working with you, Mr Betts, and with Philip Davies, in a cross-party campaign with the Yorkshire Post-its "Fast Track to Yorkshire" campaign. The Y shape is not the only way to create a direct link to Yorkshire and the important cities of Sheffield and Leeds, which are the economic hubs of their areas. The High Speed North proposal merits further consideration. May we be clear, and have a commitment that the Government will, when the relevant phase happens, create a direct link to Yorkshire-not a link via Manchester, which does not make sense?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I have made it clear that the ambition is to create a national network, and it is of course vital that the north of England, Manchester and Yorkshire should be included in that network. In due course, decisions will be taken about the exact route to be selected. However, as I have emphasised, there is a long process to be undertaken before final decisions are made on the route for new high speed rail lines.

The case for high speed rail is undeniable. It has the potential to make a huge contribution to the long-term prosperity of the country and the efficiency of its transport system, and it can play a crucial role in achieving the goal of a lower-carbon economy. In the next 20 to 30 years, key inter-urban routes are likely to become increasingly congested, with negative consequences for our economy and quality of life. High speed rail could provide a massive uplift in capacity, as well as dramatically reduced journey times.

We have been discussing the areas to be served directly by high speed rail, but we must not lose sight of the fact that a high speed network also relieves pressure and overcrowding on existing railways. It allows more space for commuting and freight services, so it produces significant benefits for passengers and the economy even in areas that are not directly served by a line or station. It will create huge benefits in growth, regeneration and jobs, which will be felt far more widely than in the destinations directly served by new lines and services. I believe that it will provide valuable help in addressing long-standing prosperity differences between the south-east and the rest of the country, and thus create a more stable and balanced economy.

To return to some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Leicester South, of course it is vital, in parallel with taking high speed rail forward, to continue a programme of work on upgrading and improving the existing rail network.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

On that point, I would be very grateful if the Minister gave way again.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I would rather make a little progress. I have been very generous in giving way, so I will proceed with my remarks for a moment.

We all acknowledge that there is a downside to the proposals-the impact on the environment of the localities through which new lines could go. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury explained, hon. Members have understandable concerns about the potential impact of high speed rail on their constituents. The Government of course recognise the gravity of those concerns. There will be a detailed and inclusive process before final decisions are made about our approach to high speed rail overall, and the route it should follow. I am happy to engage with colleagues and hon. Members during the process. It goes without saying that reducing and mitigating the local environmental impact of high speed rail will always be a high priority for the Government in advancing the project. It will inform our decisions on the selection of the route.

I am happy to take on board my hon. Friend's ideas on benefiting the communities that may be subject to the environmental impact of high speed rail lines. Ideas are already under discussion about the possibility of burying power lines, and the new Government's commitment to high speed rail has already brought about a benefit, because it has enabled us to say with confidence that we strongly oppose a third runway at Heathrow. The fact that it will not go ahead provides significant benefits for some communities that may be affected by high speed rail, because there will not be the massive uplift in aircraft noise to which many of them might have been subjected had the election gone a different way and if a Labour Government had been elected and proceeded with their plans. As to existing transport corridors, in assessing the route, the potential benefits of their use will be fully considered. However, that approach is not a panacea. It cannot provide the answer in all cases, but it is worth considering.

We made it plain before the election that we reserved our position on the route that HS2 has recommended. The process of formal consultation on the hybrid Bill will provide extensive opportunities for people to make their voice heard and have their point of view properly and fairly considered before a route is finalised. We also recognise that concerns in that respect are not confined to fears about the future. In some places, the impact is being felt today in the instability of local property markets.

A key goal for the new Government is to press ahead expeditiously, taking on board the continuing consultation, with the finalising of arrangements for an exceptional hardship scheme, so that we can swiftly and equitably give assistance to those who most need it. The consultation is due to end in a week, and we shall look with great care at the respondents' suggestions in deciding how to proceed.

As part of the work that we are doing to reconsider and review the HS2 proposals on the route, we need to find the right option for connecting Heathrow to the new network. As we made clear in opposition, we believe that it is vital to integrate the country's only major long-haul hub airport to the high-speed rail network that we propose to build. Lord Mawhinney was asked by the previous Government to assess the alternatives. His review was established against the background of Labour's policy of supporting a third runway at Heathrow.

In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, one of the first acts of the new Secretary of State was to agree with Lord Mawhinney an amendment to his remit, to reflect the approach of the coalition. The new Government strongly oppose a new runway at Heathrow, as the Prime Minister confirmed and reiterated in one of his first actions on taking office. Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger. A key part of our programme for improving it is to integrate the airport into the proposed new high speed rail network. That would improve public transport links to the airport, and help to relieve the problems with air quality and congestion in the area by encouraging people to switch from road to rail when travelling to Heathrow.

In response to questions on the subject, we are obviously carefully considering whether high speed rail could be integrated with Crossrail. As a number of colleagues said, integrating Heathrow should also facilitate a major shift from air to rail. Experience in Europe shows that high speed rail provides an attractive alternative to short-haul flights. For example, Air France has completely stopped flights between Paris and Brussels, choosing instead to charter carriages on the TGV rail link.

Maximising the scope for switching from air to rail is an important goal in environmental terms, as high speed trains emit significantly less carbon than aviation. Indeed, the gap between the train and the plane is likely to widen as we proceed with the vital task of cleaning up our electricity generation sources. A further benefit of the air-to-rail switch would be to free up space at Heathrow by providing an alternative to the thousands of short-haul flights going in and out of the airport. That is how we plan to relieve capacity pressure.

We believe also that it is essential to have a direct link between the new domestic line and existing international services on HS1, and we have asked HS2 Ltd urgently to assess the best way to deliver that. It would be a mistake to consider rail only in relation to domestic aviation when it is clearly a viable alternative for travelling to a number of important near European destinations such as Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

In conclusion-

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am sorry, but I am going to conclude. There is a huge task ahead of us as we contemplate delivering an infrastructure project as big as any since the 19th century, when the Victorians revolutionised our economy and our society with the nation's first railway network. It is worth remembering that Britain's first, and so far only, 68 miles of high-speed track owed much to the unlikely combination of John Prescott and Michael Heseltine. As we press forward with realising this great ambition, I hope that we can continue to count on cross-party support.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I have given way on a number of occasions. I am now going to conclude.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield South East

Order. The Minister is indicating that she will not give way.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I have no doubt that there will be difficult times ahead, not least in relation to decisions about the route and how we mitigate and reduce its impact on surrounding communities and the landscape. However, I firmly believe that future generations will thank us for displaying determination and persistence in delivering this crucial upgrade to our transport system. We need to inject some of the long-term thinking that transport policy has so often lacked in the past. The new Government are determined to rise to that challenge and deliver the high speed vision for Britain's rail network-one that could have a transformative impact on our transport system, our economy and our quality of life.

Sitting suspended.