Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): In the Select Committee on Transport, I recently asked the Secretary of State for Transport about the HS2 report; I asked him if I could get a copy of it under the Christmas tree. His answer was that he would have a copy under the Christmas tree, but it would be a number of months before I could receive a copy, because there could well be planning blight involved.
Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman's account of that Select Committee hearing rather fits with my recollection of a radio interview with the Secretary of State a couple of weeks ago.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I will keep my remarks brief, Mr. Fraser.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) on securing the debate and on his campaigning. It is about 20 years since I started the campaign for the upgrade of the west coast main line. I had black hair at that time and was about 3 stone lighter. The first thing that he must do is keep his seat.
I take exception to one or two points. A high-speed line would not be built to Birmingham to reduce the journey time by 20 minutes-£10 billion would not be spent on that, because it does not make economic sense. The reason for doing it is that it is the start of the high-speed line. The hon. Gentleman was rather lazy in his arguments. When he did not like something, he said that it was a lazy conclusion, but did not go into the issue.
The point is that we need to build a high-speed line because there are major capacity problems on our railways. Whether we like privatisation or not, a lot of people have been travelling by rail and there are major capacity problems. We therefore have to build new lines. If we are to build new lines, we might as well build high-speed lines so that there is a better railway. The capacity problem is in the west, on the lines to Birmingham and Manchester. Beyond that, we can argue about which direction the line should go in. There is a major capacity problem that we need to deal with and that is why we are talking about building a high-speed line. This is not a wish list. We are talking about spending £30 billion to complete one line from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh. That is a lot of money, so we have to justify it. The capacity problem is the justification.
We do not have to forget about the classic, traditional lines. I chair the all-party west coast main line group and our lobbying has been successful. At the moment, speeds on the west coast and east coast main lines are limited to 125 mph. The speed on both lines could be pushed up to 140 mph with little investment. I suggest to people who live on the east coast that their first priority should be to upgrade the east coast main line, because that could bring faster speeds and quicker journey times to London and elsewhere without the need to wait 30 years for the high-speed line, as the hon. Gentleman said. We need to sweat our existing resources better.
We must be careful that those who live on the periphery of London, such as the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), do not block the advancement of the economy in the north. The question of Scotland, as raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason), is difficult. From the Scottish border, it is about 70 or 80 miles to Edinburgh and Glasgow. The question is whether the Scottish Government will have the money to pay for that and whether an independent Scottish Government would have the money to pay for it. I doubt that they would.
John Mason: I think that an independent Scottish Government would have a lot of different priorities, and this question is about priorities. If we are putting money into things such as nuclear weapons, there will not be money for railways.
Mr. Martlew: I take it that the hon. Gentleman's party would scrap Trident to build the high-speed line. I am very interested in that because I represent Carlisle, which is on the Scottish border.
High-speed lines work. They work on the continent and High Speed 1 works. However, we must drive down the costs of high-speed lines. There is a very good line from St. Pancras to the channel tunnel, but it is the most expensive high-speed line in the world. We must reduce the costs and make savings. When the policy is decided on, it must be stuck to.
I chaired a meeting of the all-party rail group last night. An hon. Member who is not present said that he would sooner have no high-speed line than one that did not go to Yorkshire. That is the sort of planning and bigotry that has held back the railways in this country for so long. We need a high-speed line, we have to give it some thought, we must get the money to do it and we must do it as cheaply as possible, but in the meantime, we must not forget the lines that we have. I say to the people on the east coast, the upgrade of the east coast main line and the electrification of the midland main line should be their first priorities.
[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The reality, of course, is that flights from Manchester have been devastated by the upgrade of the west coast main line. The real benefit in reducing flights will come when the line is extended to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Stephen Hammond: I can see that as part of a network, but all I am laying out now is that, with regard to domestic flights and short-haul continental flights, we could take out around 63,000 flights. Whichever party is in power after the general election-I hope that it will be a challenge for a Conservative Minister-it will face the challenge of Air France wanting capacity on our High Speed 1, and we will see a further expansion of that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) on securing this important debate. High-speed rail is, without doubt, a hotly debated topic across the country, and I was grateful for the opportunity to hear all the views that have been raised today, including those from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason), the common-sense comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and the views of the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt). I shall endeavour to respond to all the issues, but, if I do not, they have been heard and will be examined.
The £8.9 billion spent on upgrading the west coast main line has already delivered faster journeys between London, Birmingham and Manchester and beyond, and the December 2008 timetable change has resulted in greater frequency of services to some of our greatest cities. For example, we now have more frequent and faster journeys between Manchester and London, with a train every 20 minutes during the day and average journey times of around two hours eight minutes. Liverpool and Preston to London takes only a few minutes over two hours, and Warrington and Wigan are less than two hours away. Chester is one of the big winners, having a regular hourly service for the first time, with a journey time of just two hours. Services between the North-West and Scotland have also improved as have those to the west midlands.
We are planning now to ensure that we are in the strongest position possible to make the right investments in future years to continue developing the rail network. However, we also recognise that the west coast main line will be operating to its maximum capacity by the end of the 2020s, and that a new route might be needed. That is why we have created High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd to develop a proposal for an entirely new line between London and the west midlands, and to advise on the potential development of a new line beyond the west midlands. HS2 will also provide advice to Ministers on the potential development of a high-speed service beyond the west midlands and consider in particular the potential to extend to Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, the North-East and Scotland.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
The full transcript may be read here.
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