[Mr James Gray in the Chair] — High-speed Rail

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:35 am on 13th July 2011.

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Photo of Eric Ollerenshaw Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood 10:35 am, 13th July 2011

For the benefit of hon. Members, I will try not to repeat points that have already been made. I will also try to obey the strictures of my hon. Friend Iain Stewart about the north-south divide, although I do want to say something about that.

Like others, I will avoid references to long history, although I shall mention the original high-speed line—the west coast main line in the 19th century. It went from Euston station in London to the Euston hotel in Fleetwood. We also had at one time a ferry to Scotland and to Northern Ireland, so the Scots and the Northern Irish had the benefits of coming to Fleetwood. Unfortunately, we have no ferry now. We still have a railway line in Fleetwood, but we have no trains on it. Nevertheless, we are supporters of High Speed 2, and that is despite the fact that most of my constituency is 50 miles away from Greater Manchester. For the benefit of those who are not north-west MPs, I should point out that the north-west is not just Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

For us, the issue is the capacity that the project will release on the west coast main line. According to the figures that I have seen, the only increase in capacity that we are going to get in the next 10 years is one of 12%. However, the passenger load has already hit that figure, as anyone who travels on the line will know. We need capacity to be released.

There is a solution to all our problems and the debate about where the line should go in the south: we should start the other way round by building now from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and then slowly build downwards while there is a discussion in the south about where the line should end up. However, I am not sure whether civil servants could cope with that thinking.

Let us consider the figures and the real issue about the north-south divide with reference to my own county of Lancashire. If we look at gross value added in terms of what we contribute to the national economy, we see that it has been going down for the past 10 years. In 1995, the gross value added figure for Lancashire was about 88.7% of the average. By 2008, we had gone down by 10 points—that is the real issue. When the average transport spend per head in London is £802 yet it is £333 in the north-west, people rightly ask questions. For me, the key is capacity and maintaining what the coalition Government promised, which was to try to rebalance the growth in the regions, which were clearly failed by the previous Government in the past 10 years.

I want to finish by putting a technicality to the Minister. I understand that the hybrid Bill—I am not an expert on such measures—will deal with only the route from London to Birmingham. We desperately need to maintain support for the project. Somewhere in the Bill, there needs to be a mention that that is a first step that will lead to a second step to Manchester and Leeds and then, we hope, a third step to Glasgow and Edinburgh.