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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 14 January 2014

[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

High Speed 2

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Gyimah.)

9.30 am

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, which I think is the first to be held under the new arrangement whereby this debate in Westminster Hall is allocated by that Committee rather than through the mysterious balloting that normally takes place. I am grateful to the Committee for listening to and granting my request.

I also thank the large number of people who have raised this issue with me since the debate was announced. All did so in polite and civilised terms, even if they disagreed with the perspective they thought I was going to take. I would not like to suggest that I have read every one of the more than 400 e-mails that I have received on this subject down to the very last detail, but I have reflected on the key points that people raised and hope that they will appreciate that I have attempted to do so. It is important to look at this subject as calmly and respectfully as we can, because these sorts of plans and projects always arouse strong emotions. Those who are in favour of the development need to be as robust in our defence of it as those who oppose it are in their arguments.

When phase 1 is complete the journey time from Scotland to London could be cut by half an hour—that might not sound a lot, but it is an important reduction—because trains will be travelling at a higher speed for the first part of the journey before connecting on to conventional lines. When phase 2 is complete, journey time could be reduced to around three and a half hours, which would be a significant gain. However, my support for HS2 is not simply about cutting journey times from Scotland. I think that the project is in the national interest. The fundamental underpinning of that view is the need to grow our economy throughout the United Kingdom, and improved connectivity is a crucial part of achieving that. It is particularly important for the midlands, the north and Scotland: we need to distribute our centres of manufacturing and service industries throughout the country, and improved connectivity is the key to doing that.

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a powerful case. Does she accept that, however important the increased improvement in journey times is, the most crucial justification for high-speed rail in this country is capacity?

Sheila Gilmore: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and will be coming on to that issue. The underlying purpose, I would argue, is to be able to distribute our investment in our economy more generally, and connectivity is important to that. We have seen, for example, what has happened in Salford with the development of Media City and the BBC’s sometimes apparently painful move

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up there, which some people obviously felt meant going to the end of the world. That development led not merely to one large company moving part of its operations out of the south-east, but to supporting media industries locating in Salford deliberately because of the bigger pool there.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I apologise, Sir Edward, that I will have to leave before the debate ends, but I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this important subject to the House for debate this morning. Although the debate is predominantly about the economic benefits of HS2, does she accept that there are also environmental benefits? If as a result it means that, for further-flung destinations in Scotland and the north of England people are less likely to use air travel, and for areas nearer to London people are less likely to use the roads, there will be green benefits for our economy too.

Sheila Gilmore: I accept my hon. Friend’s point about green benefits in the long term, certainly in terms of air travel, although that will not necessarily be the case in the short term, as people will constantly argue.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I am not going to attack the hon. Lady aggressively on this matter, but she is making the point that she wants to see economic benefits spread throughout the country, so does she not agree that it would have been more sensible to look at connectivity between northern cities and with Scotland well in advance of running yet another line between Birmingham and London, especially as we do not even know yet whether that line will connect well or properly with HS1, or with Heathrow, Gatwick or wherever it is decided that our future airport capacity will be in the south-east? Does she agree that the project would have been better started in the north?

Sheila Gilmore: The right hon. Lady will not be surprised that I do not entirely agree with her view. We have to remember, for example, that the lines between cities across the north are already being electrified, quite separately from HS2.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sheila Gilmore: I will shortly, but I want to complete my argument about why, if we want to grow regional economies, we need to improve connectivity and why that is not possible within the existing rail network. There has been a huge growth in rail over the past 20 years, and there is limited spare capacity. Investment in existing lines has been increased and, we acknowledge, that investment is continuing under this Government, but—this is perhaps the point that the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) wished to make—the ability to make further improvements is decreasing because of the limits on capacity. If we decide that we are going to build new lines in various places, we may as well think about the high-speed line now.

Mr MacNeil: Did I understand the hon. Lady’s response to the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) correctly as implying that, as a Scottish Member, she would prefer to have high-speed rail starting in London rather than in Scotland?

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Sheila Gilmore: Personally, I would like to see it starting at both ends. I would be interested to learn the proposals of the Scottish Government to assist in achieving that within the powers that they have.

A number of objections are made to the arguments about capacity. Some people argue that the high rate of growth in long-distance travel—it has been about 4.8% a year—will not continue, but that is unlikely, given the patterns we have seen. The factors that are pushing people away from their cars and on to trains—high petrol prices and congested roads—are unlikely to change any time soon. Any type of sustained economic growth, which we all say we want, is likely to push demand for long-distance travel up further, not reduce it. On top of that, there are the predictions for growth in our population, which are now well established.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Since the hon. Lady agrees that High Speed 2 is about capacity not speed, what assessment has she made of the difference in cost between going at high speed across floodplains, with tunnelling and the like through and across environmentally sensitive areas, versus the cost of going at a slightly lower speed around the problematic natural areas within England and Scotland that the HS2 link will have to go through?

Sheila Gilmore: I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns, but if we are to make a serious step change in our rail investment, this scheme is the appropriate route to take.

The other point that some people have raised about capacity is that some inter-city trains operating at peak times—those operating in and out of Euston, for example—are not actually full and we should use that capacity before building a new line. However, on present patterns, it is likely that that capacity will be used up by the time the new line is built. London Midland trains, for example, which serve many commuter towns on the west coast main line, are already full to bursting and room must be created for trains to serve those destinations. Upgrading the west coast main line would be difficult and disruptive and would not provide the other benefits.

Some people have argued that HS2 would not release useful capacity around Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Existing services will still be needed in some places, but those trains will be able to stop at intermediate stations. The lines will remain and the trains will be able to stop at more intermediate stations without holding up longer-distance travellers, giving a substantial boost to regional connectivity. For example, stations between Coventry and Birmingham New Street would stand to gain more services.

We could tackle commuter demand at the southern end of the west coast main line by building more cross-rails. One is being built at the moment and another is planned. I am not saying that those schemes are not helpful, but if such an approach continues it will exacerbate many of the problems created by London’s dominance and would not help economic growth in other parts of the country. People often suggest that other schemes could achieve that, but no one has come up with firm proposals in which we can have confidence. The main transport corridor between Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool—the trans-Pennine route—is already being electrified and will provide that greater connectivity, which is good. This is not a matter of either/or.

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The other argument that is often raised is that the business case is not sufficiently strong. Perhaps one of the biggest arguments is about the use of time and the value that is placed on that. People say that in the modern age people can work on trains so there is not the same value to be gained from speeding up journey times, but that does not make up for the fact that it is even more valuable if staff can arrive at their destination and return in a shorter time. Although the cost-benefit ratio is low compared with smaller projects—some people have suggested that road bypasses have a much higher cost-benefit ratio—we cannot build a whole network with small projects. As large projects go, HS2 is relatively good value for money.

There are wider economic benefits that are not always captured in the business case. One argument that I have already addressed but want to talk about a bit more is that HS2 will be a disbenefit to the midlands, the north and other parts of the UK. Examples sometimes cited from Europe are that high-speed rail there has not benefited the places to which it goes. What matters is whether the project connects significant population centres.

Mr Simon Burns: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s generosity in giving way. I suggest that she does not need to go overseas to Europe to see the benefits of high-speed rail. All she needs to do is to look at the benefits that HS1 has brought to Kent and London.

Sheila Gilmore: The right hon. Gentleman’s experience and knowledge is valuable to this debate. Not all examples are of linking large conurbations with others. In some, the benefits may be spread around the country.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend’s speech is extremely welcome. I have never accepted the argument that building HS2 will somehow be a disadvantage to the north or the midlands. By that logic, if we tore up our motorways and existing rail lines, we would be more prosperous. The central point that I am interested in is the economic benefits of HS2—this responds to the point that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) made and that the Scottish National party tries to make—and the need for HS2 to go to London because of decentralisation. This country is the most centralised in the western world and decentralisation will come from London. That is why the route must be built as suggested. London’s property prices show that the country cannot sustain that level of centralisation. That is the crucial benefit of HS2.

Sheila Gilmore: There is no doubt about current centralisation and the pull factors. Some opponents of HS2 say that it would increase centralisation in London, but I argue the opposite. The pull factors towards the south-east exist despite the disadvantages of London—high property prices, lack of land for development, long travel times to work from not far away, and so on. I am seriously worried that we are seeing more of that than we have for some time. As the population is pulled in that direction, it increases even more as people who move to work in the financial services sector and other sectors require other public and private services to support them, so London’s population becomes more and more dense. If we genuinely want to decentralise our economy, we must think about that seriously.

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Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Scotland have competitive advantages over London in terms of population, availability of land to develop, relatively cheap housing and a lower cost of living. The service sectors that are already in many of those places and are powerful there would benefit from better access and could grow and develop to the advantage of all of us in the UK.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Does the hon. Lady agree that the Labour leaders of our great northern cities cannot all be wrong in that regard?

Sheila Gilmore: I certainly agree that their views should be listened to and that they have their cities’ best interests at heart. They want them to develop and widen. Of course there will be an environmental impact and I understand people’s concern about that. It is never easy to develop such projects. It would be foolish to say that there will be no disruption or environmental damage, but on balance the country must weigh up the benefits. We must accept, as we have done and will continue to do, that enabling the country to develop as we want and in a much more balanced way means that we must take that on board, while always trying to mitigate the environmental problems.

Mrs Gillan: Is the hon. Lady telling the Chamber that sacrificing homes, businesses, ancient woodland and the area of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency is a price worth paying for HS2?

Sheila Gilmore: I certainly hope that there will be as much mitigation as possible. Any other option, and even expanding some existing rail lines, would also cause damage and loss of housing, because when lines were built there was development around them, so it is difficult to expand them.

If we are serious about expanding our economy, we must find a way to improve capacity because I firmly believe that it will increase. We have to move forward with the project as quickly as possible. There would be regret if in future we looked back and asked, “Why did we not do it 10 or 20 years ago?” This is our opportunity to grow and distribute our economy throughout the UK.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): I have the right to impose a time limit, but I think we should be all right for the time being, if Members are aware of the clock. I shall start by calling Cheryl Gillan, who, I am sure, will be considerate to other people.

9.50 am

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I will try to be considerate, Sir Edward, but as you know, this project has a very deleterious effect on my constituency. I am grateful to be called by you, first of all, and to have the opportunity to put some points from the position of Chesham and Amersham.

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) on obtaining the debate. She has shown interest in this railway for some time, although I have to say that I am not sure it is a priority for her constituents, as 92% of all Scottish rail journeys begin

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and end in Scotland. As I understand it, some flagship improvements to the Edinburgh-Glasgow route have already been cut by £350 million. I have to say that if she is interested in the issue, she has failed to acknowledge that her constituents and anybody else travelling from Scotland will have years of disruption at Euston station. If she looks carefully at the plans for Euston station and where the long-distance trains from Scotland arrive, she will see that there will be fewer platforms and reduced services for many years, so her constituents and many people in Scotland will face a lot of disruption at the end of their journey if the project goes ahead.

Sheila Gilmore: Perhaps I should just point out that most of my constituents—although not necessarily all the people from Scotland—will be travelling to Kings Cross.

Mrs Gillan: I am sure that most of the hon. Lady’s constituents will be travelling to Kings Cross, but plenty of people from Scotland travel to Euston. As she does not appear to want the route built to Scotland immediately, nor to want the northern routes to be constructed first, she can rest assured that there will be a lot of disruption right across the network as the project develops. I was surprised that she did not ask for the line to be built from Scotland to England, because there is to be a referendum in Scotland and, as I have always said, if we want Scotland to remain as part of the United Kingdom, connectivity to the rest of the United Kingdom is really important. Despite any differing views about HS2, I think that most people in the Chamber would agree that we want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Mr MacNeil: Does it not show London’s priorities that, rather than building high-speed lines to the north, it built high-speed lines to the south and towards the continent—indeed, to countries that were not in political union with London?

Mrs Gillan: No, I do not at all agree with the hon. Gentleman on that, and he knows it. If that is a mischievous way of pushing the SNP’s message, I have to say that I believe that we are better off together and that the people and economy of Scotland will be a lot better off if it remains firmly as part of the United Kingdom.

Today we have a fightback from HS2, because Sir David Higgins takes up his appointment; we have already had the PR charm offensive from HS2 this morning, conducted from Old Oak Common. We heard that we will have a new further education college to train the 2,000 engineers that we do not currently have to complete the build over the next 20 years of HS2. The Government are constantly trying to talk up the project. We have had more fightbacks and comebacks on HS2 than we can possibly imagine. More alarmingly, we heard this morning that over the next six weeks, Sir David will prove that he can produce HS2 cheaper and quicker. That is what he has been charged to do. That will be interesting; it means that the past four years and the work by the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd is obviously not good enough, and that a great rescuer can come in and show us, over the next six weeks, how we can do it quicker and cheaper. I wish him the best of luck, but it makes me wonder what we have paid nearly £1 billion for in terms of the work that has been carried out so far.

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Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): Is it not always a good idea constantly to make savings and improve delivery? Is that not what every businessman would do every day of his life? To say that that is not a good idea is very strange.

Mrs Gillan: I am not saying that it is not a good idea; I am asking what the hundreds of people who have been working on the project have been doing over the past four years. Surely—

Mr Simon Burns: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Gillan: The former Minister here is responsible. When we have a project for which the Secretary of State has had to come to the House and announce that the figures are wrong and that the cost has gone up by £10 billion, surely it is amazing that we now have a new chairman coming in who is already charged with trying to reduce that cost. What is going on with the costings for the project? Neither the Department nor HS2 Ltd have got a grip. I give way to the former Minister.

MrBurns: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I can certainly say that people have been working, over the past four years, on fine-tuning and improving the line of route and the delivery of it, and on mitigation, which, for example, directly benefits my right hon. Friend. She knows as well as I do that 19 km of HS2 go through her constituency; 14.5 km are in a tunnel and the other 4 km are in a cutting.

Mrs Gillan: I am so glad that my right hon. Friend can remember his brief from when he was a Minister. I am grateful for the tunnel, as are my constituents and the environment, but the fact remains that the area of outstanding natural beauty will be drastically affected by the project. If the issue is about connectivity and capacity, there is no reason why alternative routes cannot be found. The reason why it goes straight through my constituency is speed. There are alternative strategies—I am sure that he remembers the 51m alternative strategy that was produced. There are ways of achieving the connectivity and economic renewal of the country other than HS2.

The business case, which the hon. Member for Edinburgh East mentioned, is dreadful. At the end of October, the Government released yet another version of it, which confirmed the shrinking benefit. The benefit-cost ratio for phase 1 is now estimated to be 1.4, excluding the wider economic benefits. However, experts working on the figures—particularly those in HS2 Action Alliance, which includes some great experts on transport and economics—have estimated that the real figure could be under 0.5. That is less than 50p back for every £1 spent. Even the official figures now beg the question whether the project is value for money.

In order to deal with the bad publicity that HS2 was getting about the benefit-cost ratio and the project’s value for money, which is a shrinking benefit, a report from KPMG was commissioned. That was supposed to build a positive view of the railway, as we all now know. It claimed that the economy would be boosted by £15 billion a year. Within days of that report being published, that claim was challenged from many angles. In September, Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor,

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drove a coach and horses through the report. He rightly pointed out that many of the gains that KPMG had calculated were based on a reasonable notion that companies would be established in places where there were better transport links, but the report took no account of whether those regions contain available land to site new or bigger companies, or actually have the people with the relevant skills to employ. As those two features are the fundamental causes of poor growth in many parts of the UK, it is amazing to me that the report even stated:

“The methodology employed makes the implicit assumption that transport connectivity is the only supply-side constraint to business location.”

That was a coach and horses through the report.

Kate Green: I recognise how strongly the right hon. Lady feels about the matter and on behalf of her constituents. She referred to the KPMG report and the criticisms that were levelled at it. I also point out—and invite her comments on this—that aspects of economic gain were not referred to in the report. For example, it did not take account of the added economic benefits to us in Greater Manchester of investment in a station and of bringing the line through Manchester airport.

Mrs Gillan: The hon. Lady could be right. An awful lot was missed out of the report. It was in September that Robert Peston came up with the criticism. In October, a freedom of information request from “Newsnight” revealed the bad economic news that was missed out in detail from the report. The potential losses to some of our regional economies from this rail link will cause real problems. The negative impact on the north-east of Scotland, for example, was described as “significant to say the least” by the Aberdeen chamber of commerce. Areas from Cardiff to Kettering have been identified as ones that will lose millions of pounds from their annual GDP. I agree—that was missed out of the report. There was a nice little map that was supposed to disguise the figures behind, but a freedom of information request from “Newsnight” flushed out that important detail.

By November, the Select Committees were getting their teeth into the HS2 project, and so they should, although one cannot help feeling that the Select Committee on Transport is really an extension of the Department for Transport, given its latest thin and rather inadequate report.

Mr Simon Burns: Can my right hon. Friend answer a very simple question? Why is it that anyone who expresses any criticism of HS2 is 100% accurate, but anyone who sees any benefits in HS2 is either an appendage of the Department for Transport or just downright wrong?

Mrs Gillan: We could turn that question around to the former Minister, because he seems to think that everyone connected with HS2 is absolutely right, that this is the project that will solve all our economic problems and woes and that anyone who opposes it is not worth listening to. He is on dangerous ground with me, because he knows that I have been—

Mr Burns: So there is no answer to the question.

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Mrs Gillan: There is an answer to the question. We could easily be wrong on some points, but that is not to say that HS2 is not totally wrong. Besides, they have been set off in a certain—

Mr Goodwill rose

Mrs Gillan: I will give way to my hon. Friend the Minister in a minute.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. We are in danger of going round in circles now, so perhaps the right hon. Lady could get on with her speech. Perhaps if she gives way to the Minister, we can get on and hear from other people.

Mrs Gillan: I give way to the Minister of course.

Mr Goodwill: I understand that my right hon. Friend is entitled to her own opinions, but I do not accept that she is entitled to her own facts.

Mrs Gillan: Perhaps the Minister will intervene and give me the facts that I should have. Would the Minister like me to give way? How are my facts wrong?

Mr Goodwill: There will be plenty of facts when I make my concluding remarks.

Mrs Gillan: I will be grateful for a reply from the Minister then, of course. He knows that what I am doing is talking common sense and repeating what has happened, as opposed to making anything up. If this project is so good, perhaps the Minister will also, when he replies, let us know why the Government have still not published the Major Projects Authority reports, which highlight the risk. I believe that they have been classified as amber and red. If the Government are so convinced that this is such a wonderful project, it is important that those reports are made public. After all, we came into government saying that we would be the most transparent Government ever.

The hybrid Bill, which has been deposited, has also proved to be contentious. I think that tomorrow the Standing Orders Committee will meet for the first time since 2008 to examine the 14 Standing Orders that it may have transgressed. Alongside the hybrid Bill was deposited an environmental statement of nearly 50,000 pages, from which, as the Minister told me in answer to a question, some 877 pages were omitted. That and the fact that 56 days is the shortest period that has been given for any consultation on HS2 matters reflect the fact that the Government are not wanting to listen in detail to people who are raising valid and very worrying concerns about where we are going with this project.

It is widely known that Buckinghamshire gets all the pain and none of the gain. I am not sure whether the new college that is being promoted by my colleagues in government will be dangled in front of Buckinghamshire —whether it could come to Buckinghamshire. If that were considered, at least it would be something more than we are getting at the moment, because if people start to look in detail at what is proposed and the impact on Buckinghamshire, they will see that it is very worrying.

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I talked to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) before this debate. We were talking about the effects on the local economy and particularly on tourism in Wendover and beyond, and also in Great Missenden in my constituency. But also, more worryingly—my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford, who is also a former Health Minister, will know about this—concern has been expressed, because of what is proposed in changing the transport architecture locally, that even blue-light services could be affected during the construction phase of the project.

Mr MacNeil: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way; she has been very generous. She is painting a truly frightening picture of high-speed rail. I just wonder where high-speed rail has been constructed whether she would advocate digging it up and taking it away, because it does seem to be a very frightening project indeed.

Mrs Gillan: I think that I understood what the hon. Gentleman just said to me. We all know that we need to have a balanced economy and that we need to get growth across the country, but there are alternative ways of doing that. It always seems to me that HS2 was a project dreamt up by politicians—by Andrew Adonis in opposition—and adopted by the coalition when it came in and that no one really and truthfully sat down and said, “How do we get an integrated transport system? How do we join up our roads, railways and airports?” We do not appear to have done what I consider to be the overarching work to deliver an integrated transport system. [Interruption.] It is not yet going ahead. As we know, the hybrid Bill must pass through this House and the other House, so it has not got the final stamp of approval.

Mr MacNeil: Which ones would the right hon. Lady dig up?

Mrs Gillan: I am not digging up anything. The project has not got the final stamp of approval. There is still the option of pursuing other ways in which we could improve our economy.

Let me get back to my local picture, because I think that it is only fair to my constituents that some of their grievances are aired. The agricultural holdings in Chesham and Amersham will be severely impacted. Several farms will be badly affected by the construction, to such an extent that they will probably be put out of business. People cannot run an equestrian business next to a major construction site; nor can they use ground that has been submerged in 50 feet of soil. Will the Minister, although he is rightly going to defend his position, as he must, let me know what detailed work he had done on the losses that will be sustained by the businesses and particularly the farming and agricultural holdings in my neck of the woods? HS2 Ltd estimates that, across the whole route between Birmingham and London, about 300 existing businesses will be required to relocate to new premises, but people cannot relocate a farm and people cannot relocate a family business, when its land has been divided into two or part of its land has been appropriated.

I referred briefly to roads that will have to be closed, realigned or diverted during the construction phase. The impact on communities and local facilities will alter people’s travelling patterns and shopping habits, perhaps

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even for life. That is a great threat to the local economy. If people start to read through the detail of the environmental assessment, they can see some of the estimates of traffic congestion at the junctions of School lane and the A413, the Amersham bypass and the A404, and Chesham road and Bottrells lane—I could go on, but people will have got the idea. But I want to know what estimates the Department has made of the losses to our local economy from the delays, traffic congestion and disruption that years of construction will bring to Chesham and Amersham.

I believe that some of the claims made by consultants are not correct. There will be a lot of substitution in the economy. Yes, businesses will be attracted to the high-speed rail line and may move, as they did when the BBC, which the hon. Member for Edinburgh East referred to, went to Salford. That move has attracted many production companies and media companies to that area. However, that is substitution, because the businesses have been drawn from other parts; hence one of the very important things that was highlighted in the KPMG report was the disinvestment and the permanent loss to GDP of other regions as businesses are attracted falsely to the line.

This will be a distorting project. Many MPs around the country do not realise that there will be an effect on their constituency, which will suffer disinvestment as businesses move closer to new conurbations, for example into buildings created with Chinese investment, as we have heard, for the Manchester airport area and in other centres where they intend to build buildings that will accommodate businesses or shops.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. The right hon. Lady has been speaking for 20 minutes, so I think she might bring her remarks to a close now.

Mrs Gillan: That is exactly what I intend to do, Sir Edward, and I am grateful for your latitude. I think everybody understands how badly Chesham and Amersham will be affected and how strongly people feel about the matter.

I do not believe that HS2 will deliver all the benefits that have been laid out, but I can see at first hand the terrible effect that it will have on my locality and the businesses there. Many commentators, including the Institute of Directors, the New Economics Foundation and the Institute of Economic Affairs, have said that the project is not the answer to economic growth. I urge the Minister to be sympathetic to my constituents and what they are going through, and to question hard whether the project is the right one. It is still not too late to look at the alternatives.

Several hon. Members rose

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. The wind-ups will start at 20 minutes to 11.

10.11 am

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila

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Gilmore), on securing the debate, because it is important that we continue to advance the economic case for High Speed 2 as part of the wider case. I assure the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) that I am not speaking as part of any lobby, and I have not been asked by anybody else to come here. I have simply come to express what I think is important for my constituents, for my city and for Scotland and Great Britain as a whole.

From a Scottish perspective, support for high-speed rail continues to be almost universal. One or two people oppose it, but the vast majority of interest groups across different sectors support it. The Scottish Government are united with the other political parties in Scotland in supporting HS2. The Scottish partnership group for high-speed rail has a wide range of supporters, including the major local authorities in Edinburgh and Glasgow, CBI Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish TUC, Transform Scotland—an environmentally focused transport organisation—and the local transport networks. There is wide public support as well.

Those organisations clearly set out the case for high-speed rail in the UK and the benefits that it will provide to Scotland. To me, those seem self-evident, although others do not agree. There are numerous arguments, and it is not right to single out one issue as the priority, whether it be speed, capacity or modal shift, because they are all important. HS2 will provide faster journey times, increase capacity and promote modal shift from air and road to rail, and it will support and benefit businesses not only in Scotland but in the rest of the UK. All those factors together make a powerful case for HS2.

We have heard the argument that instead of spreading economic benefits throughout the country, HS2 will suck economic activity into London. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) has pointed out, if we took that argument to its logical extreme, we would have to tear up all the existing roads and railways. Presumably, if we were to return to the days of toll roads with a turnpike every few miles and highwaymen along the road to stop us getting anywhere, it would lead to wonderful economic benefits for the rest of the country. I take that argument to its extreme to highlight the folly of the suggestion that HS2 will suck economic activity into London. Supporters of HS2 cannot simply assert that, however; we must give examples of the economic benefits that will result from the project, and recognise that some cities and some parts of the country might lose out from HS2 if it were not done in the right way. The answer is not to say “No HS2”, but to address the problems of areas that might suffer genuine negative economic consequences if high-speed rail is not introduced in the right way.

Let me outline the powerful case for HS2 from a Scottish perspective. Scotland has an important tourist industry, and many tourists come to Scotland not only by rail connections, but by road and air. Anyone who travels regularly on the routes from Scotland to the south will know that the passenger trains are already pretty busy, so tourism might be further enhanced by better, faster trains with improved capacity. Again, it is a question of people’s choices. London is and always will be a major tourist hub, and visitors to London increasingly go on to visit other places. They have to decide whether to go on, for example, to Edinburgh,

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Glasgow, Manchester or somewhere on the continent of Europe. If the choice is between travelling to other destinations in the UK on relatively slow routes, and travelling in Europe using better rail routes or improved air connections, visitors may well choose not to travel within the UK but to go elsewhere. The tourist industry, therefore, strongly supports HS2.

HS2 also has business consequences. It is not simply a question of speed, because modern technology allows people to work together without necessarily all being in the same place at the same time. Nevertheless, we still need to produce things that must be transported, and we still need to have business meetings, so people make choices based on the accessibility of locations to head offices and other sites of economic activity. A business that is well connected to a major economic hub—in reality, that will often be London—has a much better chance of being successful than one that is not easily accessible.

In addition to improving connections to London, it is important to improve connectivity between other cities and regions in the UK. We have heard about the benefits of faster links between cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, and I have another example of how regional economies might benefit from high-speed rail. In Edinburgh and the south-east and east of Scotland, the strong renewables sector is an important and growing part of the economy. There is also a strong renewables cluster around the north-east of England, but although there are some connections between the two, I get the impression that they do not work together as much as they could to achieve maximum benefit. Who knows where high-speed rail might go in the future? Increased connectivity between the east of Scotland and the north-east of England would benefit that potential regional economy.

Edinburgh, in particular, has an international, outward-based economy, which depends on good air links as well as rail links. HS2 would allow travellers the option of using airports further south by providing direct links to Scotland.

Sheila Gilmore: Does my hon. Friend agree that even after the recession, the financial services sector remains an important part of Edinburgh’s economy, accounting for 11% of employment in the city? Does he agree that good connectivity is essential to sustain that industry and ensure that headquarters and major offices are retained in Edinburgh, rather than being drawn to other places?

Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was about to come to that important point, so I will not repeat what she has said. As I suggested, high-speed rail stations can be important hubs and promoters of economic activity, and it will be up to local governments, communities and businesses to make the most of the opportunities that those connections offer. They will have to choose whether to view high-speed rail as a benefit, or as something that will suck prosperity away from their economy.

At the start of the railway age, towns reacted in all sorts of ways to new railway lines. Some towns chose deliberately to keep the railways away and avoid building stations, but they soon started to campaign for branch lines to reach their communities. I believe that some communities close to the route of HS1 regret choosing

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not to have a station and reap the benefits that we now see. That emphasises the fact that communities across the country must take the opportunities that arise from HS2, because if they do not, they will not get the benefits.

There is a question about whether HS2 could damage the economic position of certain parts of the country. If HS2 does not go from London to the midlands, the north and Scotland, those parts of the country are in great danger of becoming worse off as a result of economic developments elsewhere. If there are improved transport links from London to elsewhere in Europe and the world, but no such links going further north, those of us from communities further north will be relatively worse off. In addition to the high-speed services from London to Brussels and Paris, operators are planning direct high-speed services all the way from London to Cologne and Frankfurt, for example. If people and businesses in London have access to that high-speed link, but we are relatively worse off further north, our economic position is likely to be damaged. That is why I strongly support the argument for high-speed routes reaching Scotland as early as possible.

It would be damaging if we had the development of high speed to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and York, but did not take further the benefits of those connections and faster services. That is why I welcomed the announcement from the UK and Scottish Governments a few months ago of a study to look at ways to ensure that high-speed rail reaches further north to Glasgow and the rest of Scotland. I understand that the parameters for the study laid out by the Department for Transport state that all options should be considered. That could include new lines, upgrading existing lines or a combination of both. I am interested in hearing from the Minister an update on that study of the lines and connections from the end of HS2, as currently planned, on to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Mr MacNeil: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is important to take a wider perspective on how to ensure that HS1 and HS2 interact with each other seamlessly, so that we can travel from Scotland into the wider European market without hitting the buffers in London and having to change trains there.

Mark Lazarowicz: That is part of the argument, and that leads me on to the issue of where work on HS2 should start. Should it be from the north or the south, or somewhere in between? I am sure that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham would like it to start as far north from her as possible and never actually make it to her constituency. That might be a bit unfair, but some people do seem to have put forward the argument for starting as far north as possible so that work does not start in the south.

To me, those options do not seem to be in opposition. Work obviously cannot start everywhere at the same time, but the idea that the line must start from the south and meander until it eventually reaches the north is the wrong approach. There are no economic or technical reasons why starts on the line could not be made at more than one location. I understand that part of the difficulty has more to do with politics. I understand the wish of the Government not to have to deal with the difficulties of the HS2 route from London to Birmingham

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alongside the difficulties of planning the route from Birmingham to Manchester, or from Manchester to further north. It would be great if Members on both Front Benches made it clear that time would be made available to allow planning for HS2 to go further north from Birmingham, and perhaps for work to be started in Scotland and the north at the same time as in the south. That option should be back on the political agenda, and I urge the Government to consider it.

Mr MacNeil: It is a political reality that we probably instinctively feel to be true that if the work started in the north, it would be more likely that a bridge between the two high-speed lines would be completed than that High Speed 2 would be extended further north via High Speed 3. The pressing political and physical reality would make it more likely that a gap would be filled than an extension completed.

Mark Lazarowicz: I recognise that there is a strong case for work to start as soon as possible on the London to Birmingham section. There are particular capacity issues there, so I do not think that that should be left until the end. At the same time, I feel that we should be discussing trying to do more work much earlier on in the process to benefit parts of the country that are further north as well.

I have taken longer than I intended, Sir Edward, so I will try to make my last few comments as brief as possible.

Mrs Gillan: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the only thing really stopping HS2 from being started in the north, and therefore from achieving the connectivity between the northern cities that they so dearly require, is the legislative timetable? It would simply be a case of stopping what we are doing on the hybrid Bill on the line between Birmingham and London, and progressing quickly with the northern connectivity. We could, for example, bring in a Bill at the back end of the year for the northern stages, which could go through Parliament first. It is a shame that we are not doing it the right way round, for the sake of a few months. We could meanwhile discover, for example, what we are going to do about airport capacity in the south.

Mark Lazarowicz: I do not know whether the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), who is commenting quietly at the right hon. Lady’s side, wants to intervene, but it is not my position that we should stop what we are doing with HS2; we should be developing and bringing forward plans for the next stages of the line.

Mr Simon Burns: I will be brief. The fact is that one cannot do that and gain time, because there are so many set procedures to follow before we could produce a hybrid Bill. For example, all the environmental impact assessments must be carried out, as well as consultations, and time must be taken over coming to conclusions. It is pie in the sky to think that we could wave a wand and reverse the process without losing about four years.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am not suggesting that the process should be reversed. Others are obviously much more expert on the issue, but my point is that I do not see why

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we have to wait until 2033 for the lines to reach Manchester and York, and then perhaps 10 or 15 years beyond that for them to reach Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Government and Ministers should address that point, as should politicians from all parties who support HS2; we should try to make things happen as soon as possible.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Lazarowicz: I will give way, but it has to be the last time.

Mr MacNeil: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Given the time scale he mentioned—up to 2033—and the wait, does he agree that Barnett consequentials are also important to the debate?

Mark Lazarowicz: I will have to leave that point.

I will make some final points as briefly as possible. First, one strong argument for committing to high-speed routes as well as high-speed trains going to Scotland is that the economic case for the entire line is improved if Scotland is linked into the process at an early stage. That point has been made by other people, and I strongly endorse it.

My second point is about the economic benefits of the line, not just in the long term, but in the construction phase, as a direct consequence of engineering and construction. The Government must assure people like me that they are making every effort to ensure that the benefits are spread as far as possible throughout the country. A document on HS2 was recently produced, I think by the Department for Transport, that emphasised how Crossrail had brought a wide range of job benefits to large parts of the country. If one looks at the chart in that document, the vast majority of the benefits, perhaps unsurprisingly, were focused around the Crossrail route and south-east England. Hardly any benefits from construction, engineering and knock-on consequences reached further north. The Government must ensure that a major effort is made to make sure that the indirect benefits from the construction phase—jobs and employment—reach the entire country.

Finally, I have a question for the Minister about the further education college that has been proposed to provide trained workers for the high-speed line. I recognise that the college must be based somewhere, but all its activities need not be based around one location; nor must they take place at just one physical college. That initiative should be aimed at ensuring that the job benefits from the construction phase of HS2 are spread as far as possible throughout the country. I suggest to the Minister that it would be worth while to enter into discussions with the Scottish Government at an early stage, so that there could perhaps be a linked initiative in Scotland to provide similar benefits to the section of the HS2 line that I hope will be promoted by both the UK and Scottish Governments at a relatively early stage. In that way, we too can see the jobs benefits, as well as the longer-term economic benefits, of HS2, for which I think the case is very strong.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): The three speeches so far have lasted 20 minutes, 20 minutes and 17 minutes. I am afraid that Members’ speeches are going to have to be a bit more high-speed.

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10.29 am

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): I certainly will be more high-speed, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) on securing this important debate. It is refreshing to have the opportunity to discuss the positive impacts of High Speed 2 and the benefits that it will bring to many areas of the country. I have considerable sympathy for my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), because I appreciate that there is tremendous pressure against the scheme in Buckinghamshire. However, benefits will also come to her constituency, although not in the same way as to Manchester, Birmingham or other areas along the line of route.

The most important thing about High Speed 2 is that high-speed rail is the future. We already have an example of high-speed rail in this country in High Speed 1, which runs through Kent and London. The benefits that it has brought to the economy of Kent in particular have been immeasurable, so it is not that we are talking about this while looking at a completely blank canvas; we know the potential benefits and impact of a high-speed rail system in this country.

There is an air of déjà vu about the criticism of High Speed 2. Like you, Sir Edward, I was in the House in 1987, 1988 and 1989, when legislation for High Speed 1 was going through Parliament. I vividly remember colleagues with constituencies in Kent talking about how it would be the end of the world and would destroy Kent and its economy while bringing it no benefits. Of course, since then, High Speed 1 has been built and is up and running. It has brought considerable benefits to Kent, particularly around Ashford and Ebbsfleet, where the stations are, to the point that Kent county council, which, along with Kent’s MPs, was opposed root and branch to High Speed 1, is offering to talk to county councils along the line of route of High Speed 2 to explain to them why it was wrong in its opposition, and what benefits high-speed rail brings.

Unfortunately, the county of Buckinghamshire does not wish to participate in any discussions with Kent. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham tried to persuade Kent county council, it would benefit by having some of its fears allayed.

Mrs Gillan: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Burns: I will, briefly, but then I will not give way again, due to the shortness of time.

Mrs Gillan: I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend confirmed who made that offer to whom and when, and what meeting was turned down. I happen to know that the chairman of Buckinghamshire county council, Councillor Martin Tett, has put tremendous effort into considering HS2 and all the alternatives. Indeed, “Better than HS2” is a strategy produced by 51m, which is headed by Buckinghamshire county council. I cannot believe that he would refuse to talk to anybody.

Mr Burns: I suggest that my right hon. Friend has a word with Councillor Tett; as he is a constituent of hers, it should not be difficult for her to contact him. Certainly, when I talked to officials at Kent county council as a Minister, they made it quite clear that they were more

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than happy to talk to county councils, and officials there told me that Buckinghamshire was reluctant to engage in any meetings with them on the subject.

On the economic benefits, the most important thing is capacity. Faster speeds for the rail network are important, but so is capacity. The west coast main line will reach its full capacity by 2024-25. Given that it is the spine of the country up to Scotland, and that we need those communications for passengers and freight, it is crucial that we relieve that capacity. People in Buckinghamshire and parts of London will say, “It brings no benefit to us.” Of course it will bring benefit to them as well. Although High Speed 2 will not stop in Buckinghamshire, the released capacity on the conventional west coast line that goes through Buckinghamshire and other related conventional lines will ensure that passengers using those lines to commute to London will have more capacity and a better journey experience, because others who might otherwise have been on those conventional trains travelling to London will be using the high-speed line.

High Speed 2 will also give eight of the 10 largest cities in England far greater connectivity, as was said by the hon. Members for Edinburgh East, and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). That is crucial. As the experience of Kent has shown, it will also create jobs through the actual building of the railways and through increased business activity, particularly around stations, whether at Birmingham, outside Sheffield, at Manchester, or elsewhere where there might be stations. The figures that I have seen, which some people would say are on the conservative side, suggest that 100,000 extra jobs will be created, although a conglomeration of local authorities has come up with the bolder suggestion of 400,000 jobs. Equally importantly, 70% of the economic benefits of the project are expected to be seen outside London, although obviously parts of London will benefit from the project.

I would like to mention the KPMG report. I know that people who do not support High Speed 2 rubbish it, but people like me who do support the project have a more open and reasonable approach to it. According to the report, when High Speed 2 is up and running to Leeds and Manchester, the annual benefit to the economy is anticipated to be in the region of £15 billion a year. Of course, as was said, some businesses and jobs may well be pulled away from other areas. That is part of economic life, but it does not mean that we should not allow a project that will bring a potential £15 billion a year in improvement to the economy once it is up and running. People must be careful about rubbishing a report that shows the potential for job creation, increased and enhanced economic development and growth, and an improvement in the growth abilities of our economy as a whole.

I believe also that we must embrace high-speed rail beyond Leeds and Manchester. That is why I am so pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), set up a project in October 2012 to examine the benefits of extending a phase 3 into Scotland, to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Personally, freed from ministerial responsibility, I believe that that is an important next stage for High Speed 2. I also see HS2 as a spine. In time, when there is a business case and

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financial resources available, it should have spurs to other parts of the country that could benefit economically. The areas that come to mind as potential candidates for a continuation of High Speed 2 are Liverpool, south Wales and the south-west of England.

Mr MacNeil: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Burns: I will, but very briefly, as my time is almost up.

Mr MacNeil: May I add to that a plea for Inverness and Aberdeen, and for the integration of Scotland into the high-speed European network as well?

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid point. That is what is so exciting about the project’s potential throughout the whole United Kingdom. In conclusion—

Mark Lazarowicz: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Burns: No, because I really must allow the shadow Minister and the Minister to begin their winding-up speeches.

There are people who oppose the project root and branch because it will be built in or near their communities; I have considerable sympathy for them, because the building phases are difficult and can be upsetting in cases where people’s property is affected. I hope that once the Government conclude their consultations and consideration, the compensation scheme will be fair and generous. With any project on this scale, there will be difficulties, and some properties and some areas will be adversely affected. One has to balance those problems with the national interest, and to my mind, the benefit to the nation—the economic benefits that will be brought to the nation, and to people, business and commerce in this country—is so overwhelming that we cannot afford not to move forward on this project.

10.39 am

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Edward.

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) on securing this important debate. A constant champion of the railways in this Parliament, her speech this morning exemplified both the passion and the attention to detail that she brings to discussions of rail issues.

I think that all right hon. and hon. Members would agree that the exponential growth in passenger demand now poses a serious challenge for our railways. We have debated the causes of that growth at length before and I do not propose to revisit those arguments today, but it is a fact that passenger demand has doubled in the last 20 years and we are now accommodating the same number of passengers as there were in the 1920s on a network less than half the size it was then. That growth has continued through periods of infrastructure disruption

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and even through recession. Technology is making it easier for people to travel and young people are now the group who are most predisposed to travel by rail.

Passenger numbers grew by 7.3% at the start of last year compared with the first quarter of 2012, and across the network conflicts between inter-city, commuter and freight trains are common as competing grades of traffic jostle for scarce paths. As my hon. Friend spelled out, some sections are already approaching the limits of their capacity, especially on the west coast main line, where the number of trains being run has doubled during the past 15 years, leading Network Rail to warn that the line will effectively be full by 2024. All this has happened despite the west coast route modernisation project, which cost £9 billion and caused enormous disruption over a period of 12 years without delivering the long-term capacity benefits that we as a country need.

I have full sympathy with right hon. and hon. Members and local authorities who represent communities served by the west coast main line, and they have made it clear that they have no wish to relive the experience. Unfortunately, the heavy demands on the line mean that expensive periods of disruption continue. In 2014, there are three planned closures of the line in the Watford area alone, which means that the southern end of the line will be closed for most of August as track and signalling is replaced. Such closures require sizeable compensation payments to train operators—Network Rail puts the cost for such works on the west coast main line at 18% of its overall budget—and cause delays and inconvenience to businesses and individual passengers, the costs of which are much more difficult to quantify.

Consequently, before I talk about the economic case for HS2, we should consider the economic impacts of inaction. Commuter trains could be cut as train paths are reassigned to more profitable long-distance trains—a process familiar to transport planners and passengers in the west midlands. In the most extreme cases, some smaller stations in Staffordshire were closed while the west coast main line was being modernised, and they have not reopened. Thousands of passengers are already being left standing on their morning commute, not only on routes into London but on the approaches to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. In addition, growing congestion on the lines hits resilience and reliability, undermining rail’s traditional advantage over other modes of travel. A consequence of the growing number of services provided is that journey times have not improved on most of the main lines, and in many cases have got worse in the past 20 years. Even after the intercity express programme trains are introduced on the east coast main line, a number of important long-distance journeys will still take the same time as they did in 1991.

There is a clear need for capacity improvements, and as the British Chambers of Commerce has said:

“Future business success depends on infrastructure networks that meet demand. Rail is no exception. The UK rail network must have the capacity to meet rocketing business demand - for long-distance services, for commuter rail services, and for the transport of freight.”

That was why Lord Adonis, when he was Transport Secretary in the last Labour Government, developed proposals for a new north-south line.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Member give way?

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Lilian Greenwood: No. I will not take an intervention at the moment.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) said on Third Reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill:

“High Speed 2 is a project that is in the national interest.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 1179.]

That is why Labour supports HS2 to meet our north-south capacity requirements and provide the connections between the core cities that our regional economies need to thrive.

In that respect, I am happy to declare an interest as an east midlands MP. There are relatively good links from Nottingham to London, which are due to be strengthened by electrification of the midland main line, but our inadequate rail connections to Birmingham and Leeds hold back growth. As the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) said, increasing capacity is vital, but so are connectivity and journey time improvements. It can take two hours to travel from Nottingham to Leeds by rail, but with HS2 that journey time would be cut by two thirds. Although it is important that we continue to invest in our existing network—the budgets published up to 2020-21 show that investment is not being diverted from conventional lines—high-speed rail will bring real improvements for journeys between cities outside London.

It is important to stress that communities away from the high-speed rail stations also stand to benefit, as more local services can be run on the conventional network. The right hon. Gentleman drew attention to people’s experience of HS1 in Kent. Similarly, compatible trains will run off the new high-speed rail line, enabling faster journey times and direct connections to the new network. I draw hon. Members’ attention to Network Rail’s “Better Connections” report, which examined how additional services can be provided. We need to see more of this sort of work from both Network Rail and local bodies, who should be emboldened as they plan how to maximise the benefits of HS2 as part of the transport devolution agenda.

When the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill was in Committee, we took evidence from two academics who both agreed that regional benefits would depend on the quality of the local plans that were put in place, so my first question to the Minister is: what steps is he taking to encourage transport authorities that are not on the immediate high-speed rail route to plan for HS2? We have already seen how high-speed rail can be a catalyst for regeneration in west London. Plans have been outlined by Queens Park Rangers football club to relocate to Old Oak Common in order to create a new 40,000-seat stadium, a project that the developers say will support 24,000 new houses. In Birmingham, the city council has said that the arrival of HS2

“presents a huge opportunity to breathe new life”

into the Eastside area. The new station is planned to be at Curzon Street, which was the original terminus of the first London to Birmingham railway and which last saw long-distance services in the 1850s. If the planners get the design and the connections right, the reborn Curzon Street station promises to be the jewel in the crown of Birmingham Eastside’s rejuvenation. Centro, the west

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midlands transport authority, has developed a wide-ranging plan for integrating high-speed rail with its Metro system, commuter rail lines and bus services.

My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) have touched on the importance of the HS2 line for Edinburgh and Manchester, and as an east midlands MP I can point to other examples of how HS2 can act as a spur to investment. A recent report by consultants Volterra found that development in the immediate vicinity of the planned station at Toton could build 650 to 875 houses and support up to 1,500 administrative jobs. However, more can be done to promote jobs and skills. Can the Minister update us on how many apprenticeships have now been created by HS2, both directly and indirectly? Also, will he commit to the target of creating an apprenticeship for every £1 million spent on the project, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has called for?

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Member give way?

Lilian Greenwood: I will not give way as I have very limited time to speak.

We heard this morning that the Business Secretary has announced plans for a new further education college to educate the work force we need to build HS2. That is welcome news, but we want a proper jobs and skills strategy. Last year, during the evidence sessions for the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, we were told that that document was being prepared. Can the Minister tell us when it will be published? As he knows, the current Crossrail project has begun to train a new generation of highly skilled workers, and a plan must be in place for the HS2 project too.

Labour successfully amended the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill to make the Government account for the number of vocational qualifications gained each year. Another Labour amendment that was accepted will compel the Government to account for any underspending or overspending in the project’s annual budget. I note that the Minister’s colleague in the Lords, Baroness Kramer, described the process that we put in place as

“a very vigorous reporting process under which the Government must report back annually and record any deviation from budget, and the consequences of that…which has put in place a very intense scrutiny process around the budget.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 November 2013; Vol. 749, c. 949.]

I am glad that Labour successfully wrote a “vigorous reporting process” into the primary legislation, but the truth is that the Government should have got a grip on escalating costs since the election.

The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) rightly raised concerns on behalf of her constituents about the uncertainty about compensation after the Government’s initial consultation was deemed to be unfair—

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. Will the hon. Lady bring her speech to a conclusion?

Lilian Greenwood: Certainly, Sir Edward. It is in the interests of the wider rail network, regional economies and the nation as a whole for the project to succeed. That is why I am proud to support it and why Labour wants to see HS2 delivered on time and within budget.

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10.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): As ever, it is a joy to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) for securing this morning’s debate and everyone else for their most useful contributions. I will try to address some of the large number of questions asked.

To respond to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), we are well aware that there are real concerns about not only the environment, but people’s property and businesses, in the areas through which the line will be driven. We have done as much as is reasonably possible to avoid or reduce environmental impacts. We will, for example, provide more than 150 miles of tunnels and cuttings, make extensive use of sound barriers and plant a total of 4 million trees along the line of route. In my right hon. Friend’s constituency, 77% of the line will be tunnelled and the rest will be in a cutting, which is a great achievement that she has managed to secure for her constituents, who will understand how she campaigned to secure it.

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful for the Minister’s kind acknowledgement of the work that I and others have put in. Will he assure me that he will not rule out at this stage looking at mole tunnelling further to protect the area of outstanding natural beauty, which environmental organisations in my constituency have forcefully proposed?

Mr Goodwill: The hybrid Bill process, which we hope to commence this year, will provide an opportunity for those who want to make representations. As I say, however, 77% of the line in my right hon. Friend’s constituency will already be in a tunnel.

My right hon. Friend also referred to the KPMG report. HS2 will of course not serve all areas of the UK, which is reflected in the figures, and the benefits will naturally be greater in the places directly served by the line. Of course, the analysis does not include the benefits of other investments to boost the transport system. Indeed, the Government will invest £73 billion in the next Parliament, of which only £17 billion will be spent on HS2 and which will help the places not being served by HS2, particularly those in the north of England.

Lilian Greenwood: Does the Minister accept the Select Committee on Transport’s recommendation that the Department, HS2 Ltd and Network Rail work together on identifying potential high-speed Britain projects that might be included in the next control period for transport spending?

Mr Goodwill: It is vital that other investment happens in both rail and road infrastructure and that account is taken of how that will dovetail with High Speed 2. HS2 will also free up capacity on the existing classic network to allow services to places such as Blackpool or Shrewsbury and, most importantly, for more freight, which many people have missed. Moving freight off the roads and on to rail will free up capacity on our roads.

The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) mentioned apprenticeships. It is envisaged that HS2 will create up to 2,000 apprenticeships during its construction. I was pleased to be with Sir David

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Higgins and other Ministers at Old Oak Common this morning, when the further education college that will focus on the skills necessary for HS2 was announced. Several locations have been proposed, and I will take on board the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz).

I believe passionately in a successful Britain and in a country that can compete and thrive in the global economy. To achieve that, we need infrastructure that is fit for the 21st century and beyond. Nowhere is that truer than in the context of transport, which is a key enabler of economic growth. Good transport equals good economic conditions. An important way to support British business, to power up the recovery and to put people back in work is to invest in and modernise our transport networks. Growth and prosperity are created by businesses and people having ideas, taking risks, innovating, working hard and creating jobs. A balanced and successful economy requires modern and efficient infrastructure. The Government’s role is to help create the conditions for success by fostering the security, skills and infrastructure that support our economy. By delivering additional capacity and enhanced connectivity, transport infrastructure allows businesses to grow and work together and to access a wide range of customers, suppliers and skilled labour. Business investment is encouraged by the quality of transport links, influencing the decisions of international companies on where to locate and, in turn, increasing investment in the UK.

Transport infrastructure has particular economic significance for UK cities. In 2009, London and the core cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield, together with their wider urban areas, contributed almost 50% of UK GDP. The core cities deliver 27% of the UK’s GDP and need to be better connected to thrive and achieve higher levels of growth if they are to close the performance gap between the south-east and the rest of the country—the so-called north-south divide.

Major infrastructure investments like HS2 stand apart from many other decisions made by the public and private sector. They affect the lives of generations of citizens and last centuries, not decades, which makes it important that we make the right decision. In proposing HS2, the Government are firmly convinced that we are investing in a solution that is right for the future economic development of the country, and I am pleased that we have such widespread cross-party support.

HS2 is a transformational project that will enhance rail capacity, connectivity and reliability, helping to underpin economic growth. It will provide the spine for a truly national network, connecting seamlessly to the existing rail network, serving destinations not directly on the high-speed line, releasing capacity on the existing main north-south lines to enable additional commuter, regional or freight services to use the line and freeing up more space on existing trains. It will provide a step change in the capacity of the rail network to accommodate the growing demand for long-distance travel. Our transport system is already under strain, as we have heard today, and will only get worse as demand continues to grow. Alongside the £73 billion that the Government will invest in all forms of transport by 2021, HS2 will help us get ahead of current demand on our core transport network.

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HS2 will slash journey times for passengers between our key cities and regions: London to Birmingham will take just 49 minutes, London to Manchester just 1 hour 8 minutes, and London to Leeds just 1 hour 23 minutes. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East knows the current journey times between Edinburgh and London all too well. Scotland will benefit from high-speed services from the moment that HS2 opens. The Y network allows for the seamless transition of trains on to the east and west coast main lines and is expected to slash the journey times between Edinburgh and Glasgow to London by up to an hour, which will benefit the Scottish economy by some £3 billion.

Scotland is an important part of the United Kingdom, and we must not be swayed by those who propose dangerous alternatives. In November last year, the Secretary of State for Transport announced further work into rail capacity and connectivity in Scotland and between Scotland and England. The study’s objective is to identify the broad options available and to provide the evidence base for any future decisions. Work is ongoing and a draft report will be ready in time for the summer recess.

We have taken steps to ensure that the economic opportunities presented by a scheme as transformational as HS2 are fully exploited. The HS2 growth taskforce, ably led by Lord Deighton, has a relentless focus on maximising the economic growth potential of HS2. Lord Deighton was also at Old Oak Common today to see the potential in that part of London. HS2 will be the biggest infrastructure project in Europe and will have a significant direct impact on local jobs, particularly in engineering and construction. Independent research predicts that HS2 is capable of directly generating up to 22,000 jobs in the next five years, rising to a maximum of 50,000 jobs by the late 2020s. In addition, HS2 will support over 100,000 jobs. Phase 1 will create 40,000 jobs in the midlands and London and phase 2 will create at least 60,000 jobs in the midlands and the north. We recognise that the benefits will not just fall into our lap, and the role of the growth taskforce is to identify the work that must be done in advance to ensure that we capture the full potential of this investment for the UK.

In conclusion, HS2, coupled with the record investments we are making in existing transport, is the right solution to the transport challenges that we face. It is about a step change in capacity and connectivity for passengers. It is about unlocking the potential of our major cities and regions, supporting jobs and driving growth. It is about building a dynamic society, a thriving economy and a successful Britain. HS2 is not just a viable proposition for a new railway; it is so much more than a piece of transport infrastructure.

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South Sudan

11 am

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Edward, and to have secured this important debate on the humanitarian tragedy that is continuing to unfold in the world’s newest state, South Sudan. I am grateful to members of the associate all-party group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, which I chair, who have supported this debate and are present.

In less than two years of statehood, South Sudan has experienced an unprecedented shock to its national income; its gross domestic product fell by nearly 250% in 2012, at the height of the dispute between South Sudan and Sudan over oil charges and compensation. There has been some progress since then on what have been generally dismal indicators on health, maternal mortality rates, mortality during childbirth and education. In that respect, the past four weeks have been a tragic and massive step backwards.

When members of the associate all-party group, including me, visited Juba and Lakes state in April 2012, we saw at first hand the challenges and the great opportunities before the new state of South Sudan. We heard of the problems in bringing together a cross-tribal, cross-community Government able to function efficiently in order to alleviate hunger and educate the country’s children. We heard of the need to adopt a genuinely pluralist constitution that provides for the accountability of the state to its citizens and of the Government to Parliament. We listened to the complex issues regarding the future of Abyei state and the need to resolve the continuing border problems with Khartoum.

We witnessed the positive effects that investment by the Department for International Development and its partners in the United States and France, through the UN, is having on the economic empowerment of women and the attempts to rebalance the economy in favour of agricultural production, which the rich foliage, particularly in the southern parts of the country, strongly promotes. We experienced for ourselves the problems of a country that has only 60 km of paved roads and, in many respects, a very weak—in many states, non-existent—infrastructure. We saw the intense difficulty that that causes to farmers in getting their goods to market and in distributing seeds and other agricultural products from the capital out to the other states. We also met farmers who had fled to Uganda during the earlier civil war and were making painstaking efforts to rebuild their businesses and their lives on land that had been returned to them after that civil war ended.

I will not forget the huge numbers of female fruit and vegetable growers north of Rumbek, in Lakes state, who greeted us when we visited their UN World Food Programme-supported plantation. They were all wearing T-shirts proclaiming: “Marriage can wait, women’s right to education first.” I asked one of them how many children she had, and she told me 12. She was determined to make a success of the agricultural co-operative, so that her children would have something that she had been denied: the right to an education. It is tragic that the avoidable humanitarian situation is putting at risk all that essential work in one of the poorest countries

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on earth. The avoidable political instability, the internal displacement and the tribal conflict that is being stoked up for political ends, or to settle old scores, mean that the extraordinary work of many such women, who are empowered in South Sudan’s economy for the first time, and of the UN and the United Kingdom in carefully supporting such programmes, runs the risk of being lost.

The conflict could not have come at a worse time. The planting of crops is due to take place next month. The rainy season in South Sudan is due to begin in April and May. In that period, 60% of the country will be inaccessible by road, and many parts will be accessible only by air. The country struggled to cope with spiralling food security problems in 2011 and 2012—nearly 4 million people were threatened by hunger in that period—and the risk is that the situation will get worse in the spring if agreement cannot be reached between the Government and their Opposition.

Nearly two years ago, the biggest humanitarian challenge in South Sudan was the returning refugees who had spent many years in Sudan and were returning to their former homeland in the south without jobs to go to or the means of ensuring a livelihood in the future. Additionally, the current conflict means that there are up to 400,000 displaced South Sudanese nationals, with some 50,000 having fled into neighbouring states. The UN estimates that between 3,000 and 4,000 people a day are fleeing South Sudan into neighbouring Uganda. The violence is having a tragic and serious impact on the region.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of this morning’s news reports that more than 200 people appear to have perished in a ferry accident while fleeing the fighting? Does that not show the absolute desperation of the terrible situation that the South Sudanese face?

Mr Bain: My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the growing disaster. The UN’s best estimate is that 10,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict in the past month alone. As we know, the impact of conflict is always felt most profoundly by the most vulnerable. Women and children in South Sudan are bearing a particularly harsh burden in a conflict that is not of their making. The UN has also said that health facilities in many states of South Sudan are already beginning to creak at the margins. There are shortages of blood and transfusion supplies. There is one hospital at which 192 patients are awaiting surgery pending blood becoming available. That is the scale of the crisis that the violence is beginning to produce among the weakest in South Sudanese society.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Is not a serious development the fact that refugees are now moving to surrounding countries, such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and, of course, Sudan? That is putting further pressure on those countries, and further exacerbating the difficulty of getting humanitarian support to people who are now dispersed over a wide area.

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Mr Bain: My hon. Friend is entirely correct that that is making the job of the UN Mission in South Sudan even harder. An added burden is also being placed on the mission, as a number of refugees are fleeing into neighbouring states.

The conflict has exacted a deadly toll. The International Crisis Group estimates that some 10,000 people have already perished in the conflict. Mass graves are being discovered, and humanitarian access is limited in conflict areas, with battle having spread to seven of South Sudan’s 10 states. The very real prospect is that the final number of deceased may be even higher.

The source of the renewed political instability in South Sudan is the aftermath of President Kiir’s Cabinet reshuffle last July, when Vice-President Machar was removed from his posts—along with the secretary-general of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Pagan Amum, and others—after Riek Machar issued a public challenge to President Kiir and indicated his desire for a leadership contest. The President then announced the dissolution of all internal Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party structures in November. That step was described by his internal critics as unconstitutional. There was a walk-out by the Opposition at the national liberation council on 15 December, and fighting began later that day between factions of the presidential guard in Juba, spreading to other parts of the armed forces in the following days. That violence has now become ethnic in nature, and has led to as many as 60,000 people seeking refuge in the South Sudanese compounds of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, particularly those in the capital, Juba.

The conflict has spread to the other states in South Sudan, with former Vice-President Machar declaring it an armed rebellion. There is now evidence that the armed forces are splitting along ethnic and tribal lines. There has been prolonged fighting over the city of Bor, with control switching between the forces loyal to the President and those loyal to Machar. There have been harrowing accounts of ethnic killings in Jonglei, along with the deaths of two UN peacekeepers. The obvious consequences of that are that non-governmental organisations’ staff and others have had to be evacuated from the country, making an already difficult humanitarian situation even worse and reducing access.

Some of the international responses have been welcome. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development has dispatched a delegation of Foreign Ministers to Juba. The African Union is now engaged, and talks are continuing in Addis Ababa to try to find a resolution. While that happens, people continue to die and women and children are facing a terrible humanitarian position. Can the Minister update the House on how many areas of South Sudan are open to humanitarian access? We need to ensure that the South Sudan crisis response plan is fulfilled, and that the shortfall of $106 million to meet the immediate needs in the crisis is contributed to by supportive Governments. I welcome the fact that DFID has allocated a further £12.5 million to help deal with the crisis, but can she say what representations have been made to other Governments to help to meet our collective responsibilities as an international community to the many hundreds of thousands of people at risk?

There is a wider question about the UNMISS mandate. After the UN Security Council passed a resolution in late December, extra troops were promised to provide a

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peacekeeping function in South Sudan. Will the Minister state what the latest intelligence is on when those troops will be deployed, in which states and with what remit? Will it be to support food supply lines? Will it be to support hospitals and schools? What will be the function of those additional troops?

A wider question has to be asked on the future of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Questions have been asked about its capacity to provide security in that country. When we visited in 2012, there was already tension between dealing with the day-to-day alleviation of hunger and deprivation, and longer-term development objectives. Is it the view of the Minister and the Government that those two functions are still compatible, or does the crisis mean that a review of UNMISS’s mandate in South Sudan should be considered? There are also issues with the perceptions that some in South Sudan have of UNMISS. How can the international community act to overcome that, and to ensure cross-community, cross-tribal confidence in what UNMISS is doing?

My sense is of a state that has had an enormously difficult start in its birth and early years. My sense in visiting the country was of a state that has enormous capacity to supply economic benefits and be the bread basket of central Africa, but it badly needs support from the rest of the world to establish an effective system of governance that gives proper democratic rights under a permanent constitution, that observes the normal relationship between the armed forces and the people, that allows democracy to come to the fore, and that has a mechanism to resolve the territorial disputes between South Sudan and Sudan.

My other strong sense is that a process of reconciliation has to happen. It was necessary before the conflict, and it will be even more necessary now. I wonder what our country, with its hugely important diplomatic heritage in Sudan, South Sudan and the entire region, can do together with other countries, such as the United States, China and our other partners, to ensure that a proper process of reconciliation can take place once this conflict has been resolved.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In exactly that regard, and in the current terrible context, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that as humanitarian aid is directed into South Sudan, Governments and foreign donors make a point of trying to ensure continuing engagement and support for national civil society organisations and faith networks, so that they can maintain their fabric and ethics and underpin that course for reconciliation?

Mr Bain: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, because the sense of anyone visiting Juba and the outlying states in South Sudan is that civic society—non-governmental organisations—largely constitutes the means of delivering health, education and other services to the people in those areas. Those groups are critical in rebuilding the country, particularly after this hugely devastating conflict, and in securing the international community’s development goals for the area.

It is clear that we have to document the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed in the past few weeks. Those responsible for any violations have to be held to account. What is the Government’s view on dealing with that situation

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when the conflict comes to an end? Will the Government be prepared to call for the reinvigoration of the national peace and reconciliation committee to bring people together? That committee should reflect the diversity of South Sudan society and encourage further nation-building initiatives.

In conclusion, South Sudan has had a tragic first two years of its life. We have a strong history in the area: this country has contributed enormously to the improvement of the diplomatic situation in Sudan and what is now South Sudan over the past few decades. We and the rest of the international community cannot walk away from this issue; people look to us for leadership. I hope that in replying to the debate, the Minister will show that the United Kingdom is prepared to offer that leadership on a devastating and tragic situation.

11.18 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Lynne Featherstone): It is a pleasure, Sir Edward, to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) for securing this extremely important debate. As chair of the associate all-party group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, his experience and knowledge is huge. His was a powerful exposition of the situation in South Sudan, and I thank him for that.

The UK is deeply concerned—I am deeply concerned—by the terrible violence in South Sudan that began on 15 December 2013. We have been at the forefront of humanitarian and political efforts. Conflict is continuing in parts of the country and there are large numbers of reported deaths. The ethnic dimension, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, of some attacks is deeply worrying. We have been calling on all sides to ensure protection of civilians and respect for human rights. We are urging the leaders on both sides to remain engaged in the talks led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and to agree on the immediate cessation of hostilities while pursuing a sustainable political solution to the crisis, rather than continuing to seek resolution through military means.

South Sudan is close to my heart. It was the first country that I visited when I took up my post. I saw an 18 month-old country full of optimism, hope, possibility and potential. It was undeveloped and there were huge needs and challenges—but it was all there. It is heartbreaking to think how much of a setback the current situation will be and to wonder how any good things can continue. Even before the crisis, as the hon. Gentleman said, South Sudan had one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in the world, with a complex mix of needs, including refugees—more than 225,000 are Sudanese. I went to the camps on the border of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and refugees were pouring across the border. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are no roads, and we had to go by helicopter. It is a logistical nightmare, particularly in the rainy season, when everything becomes inaccessible.

South Sudan, a poor, young and vulnerable country, already faced immense challenges, and now it has deep difficulties, including internal displacement of people, populations affected by floods, returnees from Sudan and a large population affected by chronic, severe food insecurity. Those pre-existing issues have not gone away,

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but the response is being disrupted directly in areas affected by the current crisis, and indirectly elsewhere, as a result of disruption of supply routes and markets, and the evacuation of humanitarian agency staff. In addition, the humanitarian situation that has developed as a direct result of the conflict is extremely urgent. We estimate that there are more than 350,000 displaced people within South Sudan, with large numbers in UN bases, and an additional 50,000 people have been displaced to bordering countries—the majority to Uganda. Many are in acute need of food, health care, shelter, clean water, sanitation and protection, and we are concerned about reports of the conditions in which some displaced people are living, including in UN camps. Thousands of people are yet to receive any humanitarian assistance, and remain fearful for their safety and that of their families.

The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) spoke about the people who were on a boat on the Nile and, sadly, drowned. People are swimming across the Nile trying to escape their dreadful situation, because it is better than staying. Aid agencies are doing a tremendous job in reaching those in need, where security allows. The ability to provide assistance remains severely constrained because of the fragile security situation and subsequent lack of humanitarian actors on the ground. Without progress on the security front, aid efforts will remain inadequate, especially in the areas worst affected by conflict, such as the town of Bor in Jonglei state.

The humanitarian crisis remains our priority and the focus of our efforts. Our existing significant humanitarian programme—more than £60 million in 2013—has put us on the front foot in responding to the crisis with the redeployment of funds to ensure a rapid response. DFID is supporting the efforts of aid agencies through direct funding and by supporting logistics. On 30 December the Secretary of State announced a further £12.5 million commitment to provide immediate supplies and support to key organisations operating in South Sudan, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN agencies. That package of support will provide emergency medical treatment for thousands of people, clean water to 5,000 people and tents for 7,500 people who have fled their homes, including family-sized tents which provide women, girls and young children with some privacy and a safe space. That issue was raised, rightly, and it is a priority for DFID. The support package will also support the logistics of the humanitarian effort, through support to the UN’s humanitarian air service, which airlifts aid workers and humanitarian supplies to those in need across the country. On 5 January a UK-funded emergency relief flight carrying life-saving water and sanitation equipment landed in South Sudan to avert a potential health crisis that was emerging from the conflict. Via trusted partners, we are closely monitoring the situation on the ground and we stand ready to provide further assistance as required.

The facilitation and provision of humanitarian assistance, on the basis of need alone, must be allowed. We have called on all parties to ensure safe, secure access for humanitarian agencies and respect their neutrality, and to meet their own obligations to avoid civilian casualties and direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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As I have said, before the current crisis, South Sudan was already one of the poorest countries in the world and more than half of its population were below the poverty line. Alongside our emergency humanitarian funding, the Department for International Development has a long-term development programme. However, that has been completely disrupted—I cannot put it any other way—because so many of our staff have had to leave, as have our implementing partners. Our priority at this point is to assess and respond to the immediate humanitarian situation. In the UN Security Council the UK was quick to agree to an emergency troop uplift of 5,500 to the UN mission in South Sudan, almost doubling existing numbers. We are now considering how to give more support to UNMISS through airlifts and by helping to fill gaps.

As to the specifics on what representations have been made, we are co-ordinating closely with other donor agencies and development actors and we know that further pledges are coming down the line, and are likely to be confirmed in the coming days, to contribute to the immediate funding shortfall that the hon. Member for Glasgow North East raised. As I have said, we have already contributed an extra £12.5 million. On the matter of UNMISS, I heard criticisms of the UN operation when I was in the country, and particularly in Jonglei. The need for regular review of all peacekeeping missions is built into the system, and clearly the latest events will have to be taken into full consideration at the next review.

The UN has been gathering disturbing reports of human rights abuses, and we are deeply concerned, as everyone must be. We welcome efforts by the UN Mission in South Sudan to investigate reports of abuses and ensure that civilians are protected. The UN Security Council agreed on 24 December to strengthen the UNMISS human rights component. We of course welcome the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s announcement that it will investigate the involvement of organised forces in the killings in Juba. The UK is currently in discussion with international partners on how best an independent review can be taken forward. We welcome the UN Secretary-General’s announcement on Friday that he would send the assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, to South Sudan.

On 10 January the UN Security Council statement gave a clear welcome to the African Union Peace and Security Council’s decision to establish a commission of investigation to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities. The hon. Gentleman raised those issues and they are at the core of the matter. The situation may have started with political machinations, but the people were living side by side perfectly peacefully and they have now been drawn completely unnecessarily into ethnic divisions. The immediate focus is obviously on the cessation of hostilities, but I agree about the way forward in the longer term.

Humanitarian access is severely constrained. UN agencies and NGOs are on the ground and providing support where they can. I do not have the full breakdown of the uses to which new UNMISS troops will be put. DFID is still in the process of assessing needs, and therefore the deployment will presumably follow the needs that are expressed.

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I will touch on the political side, and the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign Secretary has been in touch with both Kiir and Machar and is trying to bring all sides together. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development is the mechanism for taking those matters forward, but we are urging President Kiir to ensure that the issue of detainees will not prevent constructive discussions from progressing. We are working closely with our Troika partners, the US and Norway, and the EU and regional players, to support the political process.

I thank all hon. Members who have attended the debate for their interest in and concern about a matter that is close to my heart. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East gave an excellent exposition of the situation. My Department, working hand in hand with the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, will continue to focus our efforts on ensuring that we are responding to the humanitarian situation and continuing efforts to support the political process.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Strengthening Couple Relationships

[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I am most encouraged to see so many of my hon. Friends joining me for this debate this afternoon. It is also good to see some of our friends from Northern Ireland here, too. It is a pity that there is only one Labour Member present, but there we go; I shall not be saying something positive about the Labour party. As you can probably gather from my voice, Mr Streeter, I am suffering from the lurgy that afflicts most of us at this time of year. I was not going to come in, but I was told that the debate would not happen unless I was here and as so many of my hon. Friends want to take part, I was not going to deny them this opportunity.

I also offer a warm welcome to the Minister. He may or may not be aware that, when we announced this debate, we received a call from his Department to ask who should be responsible for replying. I know that the Minister is robust, and I hope that the slight uncertainty between his Department and the Cabinet Office does not reveal some lack of co-ordination in Government on this hugely important issue. Research has consistently shown that stable families are the foundation for a strong society. In 2008, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that

“there’s nothing more important to families than the strength of their relationships”,

yet the United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the western world, with less than 70% of children living with both their parents. It is for that reason that I am leading this debate on strengthening couple relationships today.

In 2000, I helped to produce the Family Matters Institute report on the cost of family breakdown, which we then identified was costing this country £30 billion a year. According to the Marriage Foundation, last year that figure had risen to no less than £46 billion, which is more than the entire defence and overseas aid budgets combined and some £1,500 for every single taxpayer. It is a substantial burden. Just yesterday, the Daily Mail carried a two-page spread about a man who has apparently fathered 15 children by six different women, with seven more children by unnamed women, and who is said to have cost the taxpayer in excess of £1 million. One son is a convicted murderer and three others have served jail sentences, all of which cost the taxpayer a further £150,000 a year.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for securing the debate and to his courage in leading it despite his ill health. The doubling of family breakdown over the past 30 years is plainly a huge issue, but there are heroes. I pay tribute to Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation, who will no doubt be referred to later, for helping to deliver practical support on the ground to help keep couples together. He says:

“We value commitment and faithfulness ever more. But we have lost confidence in marriage. The tide will turn when we realise once more that marriage is the best way to achieve both.”

Does my hon. Friend have any practical proposals to make to the Minister on how to achieve that?

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Sir Gerald Howarth: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I want to set the scene first, because the problem is of such magnitude that it is important to put the facts on the record. I will admit to him that I am light in the department of what the solutions are, but he will not be surprised to hear that I have some advice for the bishops. I know, however, that my hon. Friends are doing good work in this field.

I was drawing attention to an article in yesterday’s Daily Mail. Some people will say that it refers to an extreme example, which it may be, but it reflects on a smaller scale what is going on right across the nation. I regularly deal with broken family cases at my surgeries. One constituent recently told me that the father of her child walked out the day she went into labour and has not been seen since, although he boasts on Facebook that he has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash for a London flat. Another told me that the father, who smokes a lot of weed, has not seen the children for two years; he has a child by another woman and is now with a third woman. A third constituent told me that she is expecting a child by a man who is not interested and has no job; he himself was placed in care as a child. This is going on all over the country. I am not talking about a deprived inner-city area. This is Aldershot, Hampshire. If it is happening there, imagine what else is happening in some of our inner cities.

The men who father these children seem to have absolutely no interest in bringing them up, let alone paying for them. It is important that we recognise that we cannot afford to continue to subsidise people who live such dysfunctional lifestyles. We do not have the money. It is immoral, it is wrong and it has to stop. Am I being judgmental in an age when such an approach is deemed inappropriate? Of course I am being judgmental. For the sake of our country, we need to be judgmental. Besides, plenty of people never cease to be judgmental about Members of Parliament.

Let me move from the particular to the general. Let us consider the data. According to the Centre for Social Justice—an excellent organisation—more than 3 million children are growing up in a lone parent household, 92% headed by the mother. Does that matter? I submit that it does matter because the evidence shows that

“marriage provides the most reliable framework for raising children.”

Those are not my words, but those of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), the former Home Secretary, in his 1998 consultation document entitled “Supporting Families”. That view was essentially reiterated by this Government when, in their social justice strategy paper published in March 2012, they said that

“this Government believes marriage often provides an excellent environment in which to bring up children. So the Government is clear that marriage should be supported and encouraged.”

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. His point about dadlessness is important. The lifelong impact on dadless children’s educational achievement and job prospects, among other things, is immense, but does he accept that children sometimes grow up in dadless households because dads who want to be there have been excluded? The purpose of the presumption of shared parenting in the Children and Families Bill, which is going through Parliament now, is to ensure that, wherever possible, those dads who are

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unable to live with their children because of an acrimonious split continue to have whatever meaningful and valuable contact they have with their children because of the huge value that it brings to the experience of the children.

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It is not one that I intended to cover in my speech, but I am glad that he has put that on the record, because it is clear that there are fathers who do want access to their children and who do want to play an important role in bringing up their children, but they are denied. I hope that the Children and Families Bill will be a move in the right direction to rectify that wrong.

Let me be clear that the problem is not just about the financial cost, massive though that is. As all right hon. and hon. Members are only too aware from their surgeries, there is a massive social cost in human misery, which has an undeniably detrimental effect on children, as my hon. Friend has just illustrated. Statistics show that children of separated parents are more likely to have physical and mental health problems in childhood and to fall into crime or substance abuse in later life. The Centre for Social Justice observes that lone parents are two and a half times more likely to be in poverty than couple families, and children from broken homes are statistically less likely to be able to establish stable relationships themselves, thereby continuing the cycle.

Research by the Office for National Statistics on “The mental health of children and adolescents in Great Britain”, published in 2000, found twice the incidence of disorders in boys aged 11 to 15 in lone-parent households as in married households. Even more interesting, the incidence in cohabiting households was similar not to that in married households, but rather to that in lone-parent households. I shall have more to say on cohabitation in a moment, but clearly one has to recognise that although not all children brought up in such conditions will necessarily struggle in those ways, we cannot ignore the facts if we are to tackle the issue. According to Relate, another excellent organisation, the number of families with dependent children increased by 5% between 1996 and 2012. The number of married-couple families with dependent children fell by 12%, however, and the number of lone-parent families rose by 22% and the number of cohabiting couples doubled. One million fathers do not live with their children.

Marriage, which for the majority of Conservative Members of Parliament can be only between a man and a woman, remains the core of a stable family. Only in this environment do children have both male and female role models for guidance and support. However, the number of marriages has fallen from about 415,000 in 1970 to about 240,000 in 2010, a near 100-year low. The number of single-parent households has risen from 8% of the total in 1970 to 22% in 2010. Since the late 1970s, there has been a steady increase in the rise of cohabitation, with nearly half of all children today born outside marriage, but cohabitation is a relatively unstable substitute for marriage. Figures from the Centre for Social Justice show that fewer than one in 10 married couples separate by their child’s fifth birthday, compared with one in three cohabiting couples.

Many of us welcomed the Government’s acknowledgement of the contribution that marriage makes to a strong society when the Chancellor included a tax break for married couples in his autumn statement.

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At this point, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who led the campaign on that front, but it can only be the start. I agree wholeheartedly with the Christian Institute that

“most marriages last for life… Children need a father and a mother to nurture them... Children need parents who love them and love each other just as much. That love must be a permanent and not a temporary commitment… The best environment for raising children is marriage because the spouses have committed themselves to each other, and thus their children, for life. No other kind of relationship provides this environment of stability and permanence for children. Social science confirms that lifelong and loving marriage is the ideal context in which to raise children.”

Some say that in a free society, people should be entitled to live any lifestyle that they want and to an extent that is unquestionably true. I am conscious that I am trespassing on delicate territory, as we are all touched in one way or another by such trends, even at the highest levels in our land, but overwhelmingly it is the taxpayer who is picking up the tab for the current state of affairs, so the state cannot be an idle bystander.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. His comments thus far have rightly centred on the importance for children of having a stable family background, but does he also agree that marriage is important for looking after more elderly family members as well, and increasingly so? My own family has had experience of this. People need a solid family life to look after elderly parents or grandparents who might need care, even if not at a level that requires them to go into a home.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I could not agree more. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point—one that is not often made but needs to be, particularly as our elderly population continues to grow. The importance of families sustaining that elderly generation will increase. My own children never cease to remind me that I need to be kind and generous to them, because they will be choosing my old folks’ home. I do not know quite what they mean, but there we go.

The statistics I have quoted provide sound reasons why the state should encourage marriage. International studies have found that couple counselling has been effective in improving the quality of relationships. Relationship guidance and support from organisations such as Relate should be at couples’ disposal. I am pleased that the Government have pledged £30 million to support these initiatives, although I understand that only 2% of those eligible are able to access the facilities, because of a lack of resources. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has been doing hugely important work in the field of providing counselling to those whose relationships are in difficulty.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that those who wish to stay at home, whether the father or the mother, should be encouraged to do so, if that is what they wish? Government policy should not push them out.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Again, I agree with my hon. Friend. Our friends always say how nice our children are, and perhaps it is all down to me, but actually it is

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not; it is down to my wife, because she gave up her job and spent the early years of our children’s lives looking after them. At dinner parties, people would say to my wife, “What do you do?” and she would say that she looked after the children, to which they would reply, “Oh, so you don’t do anything else.” Well, seeing all of my hon. Friends here who are male—




They are not all male, but many are, although sitting in front of me is my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), the mother of three children. Those men who have been asked to look after our children in the way that mothers do find it extremely demanding. The idea of the full-time mother staying at home has been belittled for far too long and the role should be properly recognised.

Many others beyond Relate seek to provide support to those whose relationships are challenged, and I salute all of them. The churches individually do a tremendous job in seeking to heal the wounds, but I wish that the bishops would be more vocal in their condemnation of dysfunctional lifestyles. Like the Bishop of Manchester, they seem to have no shortage of views on the iniquity of the Chancellor’s proposals on welfare, despite the overwhelming public support for them, but they seem reluctant to pronounce on the value and the virtue of fidelity.

I have been much encouraged by reading about Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court judge who seems to have been eased out of his place for having trenchant and principled views on the importance of traditional marriage. He recently warned of the “yawning public ignorance” about the mental effects on children of conflict between parents, even from birth. He believes that the Government have spent too much time pushing through the same-sex marriage legislation rather than tackling a crisis of family breakdown.

The cost to the taxpayer, the cost in human misery and the damage to children serve to prove why it is time that Parliament took the issue more seriously. I hope that the Government will push it much higher up the agenda than they have been able to do up until now.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order. Colleagues, about five people have caught my eye and we have about 50 minutes remaining. If we self-regulate at about nine minutes each, we should all get there, but I will let you know how we get on.

2.48 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on securing this important debate.

I speak from the perspective that supporting stronger relationships is a public health issue. The importance of relationships in preventing disease and in prolonging life, health and well-being is becoming increasingly recognised, not only for partners in a relationship, but for their children, their wider family and the community at large.

The scale of the problem of relationship breakdown is such that we cannot put it into the “too difficult” category. Government have to act and treat it as a public health issue. The public health outcomes framework should make explicit mention of family and relationship

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factors. In particular, we need to be concerned about the impact of family breakdown on those in more deprived households. Relationship breakdown affects them more than others, and the outcome for the children can be disproportionately serious.

According to a recent YouGov survey for the Prince’s Trust of 2,161 young people aged 16 to 25, 21% of the children in poor homes said that no one had ever told them, “I love you.” Those results show that young people from deprived homes where there are not necessarily functioning and strong relationship standards are significantly more likely to face symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks. Young people who grow up in poverty are also twice as likely to believe that no one cares about them—22% expressed such a view compared with a figure of 10% for the wider youth population. The tragedy is that many young people are growing up today in households where they have no role models for strong relationships.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): My constituency of Belfast North, which is one of the most deprived in the United Kingdom, bears testimony to what the hon. Lady is saying. Great work is being done by local groups on relationship support, but does she agree that part of this issue is the need to take away the stigma attached to going for help about relationships? There needs to be more education to ensure that people feel comfortable about coming forward.

Fiona Bruce: I agree entirely and hope to come on to that issue.

Professor Scott Stanley has talked about the perfect storm that is brewing with

“an ever greater amount of family instability”

and has said that for young people the problems are going to be pronounced. He says:

“Attachment is an unalterable, important human need and reality, and how attachment systems form in individuals really matters”

for their future health and well-being. He also argues that:

“The cultural systems and structures that always have helped couples clarify, form, and maintain strong commitments have been steadily eroding”—

most notably, the sense that marriage and childbearing inherently belong together, which makes ongoing stability more likely than not.

The nature and extent of the problem we are up against have all the hallmarks of a public health emergency. The Office for National Statistics recently found that people’s personal relationships, mental health and overall sense of well-being are all intimately bound up with each other. But the stakes are even higher than that: in many cases it is about life and death. A huge review of 148 studies, with almost one third of a million participants, that looked at how social relationships influence the risk of mortality showed that people with stronger social relationships have an incredible 50% increased likelihood of survival when compared with those with poor or insufficient social relationships.

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I want to give credit to Dr Samantha Callan of the Centre for Social Justice for drawing many of these issues to my attention. She argues that the influence of social relationships on risk of mortality is comparable with risk factors such as smoking, and exceeds many well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.

Other potential public health issues are isolation and loneliness. The absence of loving relationships of any sort is bad for health and is linked with increased risk of cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity and death. One of my constituents has written to me to say that it is absolutely critical that the new health and wellbeing boards take into account the issue of loneliness and focus on how they can improve relationship support, bearing in mind the impact that loneliness is having on our older generation.

Studies on the impact of relationship difficulties suggest that improving couple relationships has the potential to reduce alcohol misuse. Recent studies focusing on metabolic syndrome suggest that obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and poor blood sugar metabolism, all of which increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, are other mechanisms by which poor marital adjustment increases poor health outcomes for women.

There is also the issue of obesity among children. Children who are raised by parents who have what is called an authoritative—not an authoritarian—parenting style apparently eat more healthily, are more physically active and have a lower body mass index than children raised under other parenting styles, such as authoritarian, permissive, indulgent, uninvolved or neglectful. Reports say that marital dissatisfaction results in more authoritarian and less authoritative parenting. In other words, there is a vicious cycle. The quality of the parental relationship has a significant bearing on children’s health. The sad fact is that disadvantaged children suffer the most.

If a focus on relationships has the potential to deliver significant public health gains, how do we realise those gains? Certainly, building stronger relationships requires encouraging couples to build on good habits and to reduce bad ones. We should encourage and support proposals within plans such as the “Let’s Stick Together” programme developed by Care for the Family, which talks about avoiding negative habits. Often the issue is skills, which can be developed. Such skills include being responsive or even enthusiastic about what a partner is saying, expressing feelings of warmth and affection, managing conflict, communicating well and preserving a friendship, as well as learning how to perceive and demonstrate commitment and deal constructively with misunderstandings. All those skills can be learned, and learning them is critical when people have had no role models.

We also need preventive relationship education, web-based support and specialist counselling and therapeutic services—prevention rather than cure. Could we not move some of the millions of pounds that Relate receives to work at the outset of relationships instead of using the money to deal with the fallout and damage at the end?

The CEO of the Fatherhood Institute, Adrienne Burgess, has said:

“Encouraging parents to both take a lot of responsibility for looking after the child…and earning is a great way to help couples become real team parents. When they do this child rearing brings them together and means they are less likely to split up.”

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On maternity services, Adrienne Burgess has argued:

“Increasing the potential for both of them to be involved is a really simple way to help strengthen couple relationships.”

To return to my point about the elderly, loneliness has significant links to a range of chronic conditions, including high blood pressure and depression, and increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by over 60%. On average, 10% of the population aged over 65 is chronically lonely, which means that they feel lonely all or most of the time. It is vital that the health implications of this issue are recognised by those making decisions about local health priorities. The proportion of elderly people in our population is increasing. Many of them live alone due to relationship breakdown. Helping them to sustain partner relationships, with the mutual support that such relationships can provide in later life, could carry major personal and public health benefits.

The Relationships Foundation has described strong relationships as a national asset that we should preserve and strengthen. The social capital of families and communities is a sustainable bedrock not only of our national wealth but of our well-being. Stronger relationships between couples mean that those couples can then provide strength and support up and down generations, across families and out into communities. That is a national resource that we must nurture and cultivate, and that we ignore at our peril.

2.57 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on bringing this matter to the House for support and consideration. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). Perhaps I am a bit biased, but I believe that she always puts forward a good case on these issues. We are both concerned about them and are here to show our support. The Chamber is full of Members who, we were saying before the debate started, are the likely suspects. They are the ones who support what we are about in this debate on strengthening families.

I want to make a few comments in support of marriage in its totality. I do not want to be judgmental in the information that I relay. I am blessed in that I come from a strong family, and my parents are still a tower of strength in my life—my mother is 82 and my dad is 84—but I know that not everybody has the stable background that I had. I also know that there are single-parent families who simply could not do a better job raising their family than the one they are doing. I understand that and want to put that on the record right away. I believe that we have a role in this place in strengthening families and relationships, which is why I congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot on bringing this matter forward.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that if we polled young people about their aspirations, it is unlikely that they would aspire to be a single parent? The reality is that we have to get in early and make sure that we give our young people the infrastructure in their lives so that they are able to make wise decisions and are not at risk of their relationships breaking down.

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Jim Shannon: Those are wise words from the hon. Gentleman and I agree with him wholeheartedly. It is important that, through this debate, we try to explain why we feel that marriage is important and why it should be an aspiration of all young people. I believe that it is, by the way, but things happen and relationships fall down. That is a fact of life.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): The Library’s debate pack states:

“On current trends, 48% of children born last year”—