Chris Grayling has referenced the Queen while pitching the controversial HS2 project, saying the project will create an "Elizabethan era" for Britain's railways.

The Transport Secretary received a muted response from Conservative Party members as he insisted the Government must "press ahead" with the high-speed line as part of efforts to develop the country's Victorian-era network.

Mr Grayling added the future of airports in the UK is "right at the top of my in tray", although he avoided offering any new details on whether Gatwick or Heathrow will be chosen for a new runway in the South East.

A plea for businesses to treat Britain as the global hub for driverless vehicles also emerged, with Mr Grayling insisting the technology will "transform" the lives of disabled and elderly people.

He made the remarks at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, which is a key location in the HS2 project.

The first phase of the estimated £55.7 billion railway is planned between London and Birmingham by 2026.

Mr Grayling praised HS2 after attacking Labour's plans to re-nationalise rail services, claiming: "Re-creating British Rail is an expensive, reckless idea - and it won't fix the problems we face today or deliver modernisation that passengers want."

He added: "Our whole country will benefit from this new project. A commuter who never uses the new fast service will benefit from the extra space it frees up on their lines.

"The motorist who never uses a train will have a quicker journey as we get more freight off the roads.

"And, if we're going to build a new railway, why on earth wouldn't we build a new, state-of-the-art one for the coming century?

"What we're all about is a new 21st century, Elizabethan era for our railways. We're not about going back to the Victorian one."

Mr Grayling confirmed £12 million for the Midlands Connect project over the next three years, which seeks to identify transport opportunities in the region.

He then turned to the "transport revolution" of driverless vehicles, explaining: "I recently had my first experience of a driverless car - and, believe me, it's a very unusual experience.

"But, do you know what, it's all of our futures - and what a difference it's going to make. And I think particularly what I think is exciting about this is the difference it's going to make to the lives of the elderly or disabled. I think it will transform their lives almost more than anyone else's in our society.

"It will mean better use of our roads, more reliable journeys, safer motoring - and I want us to be at the forefront of that."

Mr Grayling confirmed the Modern Transport Bill will emerge "early next year" and will aim to help Britain develop and use the new technology.

He said: "I want to say to the motor manufacturers of the world: 'Come to the UK, develop your technology here. We have the most skilled and knowledgeable workforce in the world. Britain is open and this Government will support you'."

Tory MP Nigel Adams said HS2 should not be the Government's priority, with work to improve east-to-west transport links more important.

He told a fringe event: "Fix that and you have got a proper powerhouse - if people can travel east to west, Liverpool to Sheffield, Manchester to Sheffield, it should be the priority.

"HS2, quite frankly, might be a grand idea but that should not be the priority. There'd be far less local objection for an east-to-west, high-speed connectivity. I think people would welcome it.

"I think you'd see those towns and cities absolutely flourish if we got that right."