Gavin Newlands – 2021 Comments on Government Announcement of Scrapping Rail Projects

The comments made by Gavin Newlands, the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, in the House of Commons on 18 November 2021.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, although I did read most of it in a newspaper beforehand.

I do admire the Secretary of State’s chutzpah for the most bullish U-turn I have yet seen in this place. He talks of Beeching reversal; this is nothing but an HS2 reversal. Bit by bit, HS2 and its grand vision for a rail network that might actually belong in the 21st century rather than in the 19th century is being salami-sliced until all that is left is a Birmingham to London shuttle with a few token services to Manchester, benefiting few, but costing us all.

Perhaps the Secretary of State should ask for some tips from the French Government, whose high-speed rail network is now 2,800 km long, or from the Germans, who have over 3,000 km. Denmark is building high-speed rail to link with Germany’s network, including an 11-mile tunnel under the Baltic sea. Meanwhile, the UK cannot even manage linking itself.

On electrification, the 2015 manifesto promised electrification to Windermere, south Wales and the midlands, and they were ditched, so forgive me if we are sceptical about today’s promises not meeting the same fate. For a country that started the railway age and produced Brunel, Stephenson and Joseph Locke, England is now badly served by its transport leadership—a leadership that no number of glossy reports and reviews can paper over.

Can I ask the Secretary of State what implications this will have for Barnett consequentials for both Wales and Scotland? Will Wales now receive its fair share of funding if HS2 money is being redeployed elsewhere? Can he confirm that Barnett will also apply to Scotland’s funding? Given that the Scottish Government are miles ahead of the UK on decarbonisation, electrification and active travel, at least we know something useful will be done with that cash.

Perhaps it is time that levelling up applied to the DFT. Move the Department up to Newcastle, Carlisle or Doncaster, and quickly find out at what level the rest of England operates when given a shoestring to run a public transport network that is in the 21st century in theory only. Experiencing the third class network the north of England is expected to endure every day as compared with that in Greater London might sharpen a few minds in the DFT as to where their priorities lie in the future.