I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
First, let me thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), and my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), for Welling- borough (Mr Bone) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) for their support for this Bill. I am pretty certain that, had he been free so to do at the time, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) would also have been sponsoring the Bill, and I am delighted to see him in his place today. I am also sure that if the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) had been on my radar when I was collecting the signatures, I would have been able to recruit him, too. Again, I am pleased to see him in the Chamber.
I plead guilty to a serious omission, as I should indeed have mentioned the hon. Gentleman, as Coventry is one of the areas that is probably going to suffer as a result of HS2; not only is it not going to benefit from HS2, but there will be an adverse economic effect on Coventry. We may hear a little more about that later.
HS2 is often seen as being done in the name of constituencies such as mine in the north of England. I want to put it on record that although there are undoubtedly some supporters of HS2 in my constituency, it is clear to me from speaking to my constituents that there are far many more opponents. They would much prefer that the money was spent on infrastructure in our local constituency economies than on a grandiose project that is going to waste billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
Positionally in the Chamber, I should say—I would not want to be accused of misleading the House. In Buckinghamshire, one of the organisations against this project, as proposed by the Government, has entitled itself “51m”, because it worked out that £51 million could be given to be spent in every constituency in this country for the equivalent cost of the project, as it was at the beginning of the process.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point, and the opportunity cost issue really needs to be addressed.
I live in hope, because two years ago today my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a change of Conservative party policy on a referendum on the European Union—he announced that we would have an in/out referendum. Two years to the day, I hope that the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), whom I am pleased to see on the Front Bench, will be able to make a similar announcement to give the people their say on one of the largest ever “publicly funded” infrastructure projects. It is described as that, but I would prefer to put the emphasis on it being a taxpayer-funded project, because, as the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said in 1983:
“There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money.”
That point has recently been emphasised by none other than Alex Rukin, aged nine, who gave evidence before the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Select Committee. He said in his petition that money should be spent on things that we really need and described this as a “stupid” project. I see Alex Rukin in a similar cast to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who made that memorable speech to the Conservative party conference at the age of 16. If Alex Rukin comes forward at the age of nine with such sound ideas, he has very good prospects politically, as someone who is going to bring common sense to our discussions.
Throughout our history people have spent money on vanity projects—follies and white elephants. I have no problem with that, provided the money they are spending is their own, rather than somebody else’s and, in particular, the taxpayer’s. In HS2, we have what is best described as a vanity project. It was conceived by new Labour and promoted by the then Transport Minister, Lord Adonis, on the basis that we needed more high-speed rail than just that between London and the channel tunnel. It was said originally that HS2 would link people from the north directly to the channel tunnel, but that proposal has long since been abandoned, so HS2 will come only into a London terminal.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the Conservative party was seduced by the argument that it would be able to avoid having another runway at Heathrow by using HS2 to divert traffic away from it. It was only later that the Government realised that HS2 would actually increase demand for Heathrow airport, meaning that they immediately decided to stop the connectivity between HS2 and Heathrow.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill. Does he realise that the so-called Heathrow spur, which most people realise will be completely unnecessary, whatever the results of the Davies commission, is still on the plans? If it were not there, that would not only save a lot of money, but take away a lot of blight, mostly from the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) and, especially, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). We should think about transport projects together.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to look at proposals on an integrated basis. That is one of the messages that comes out loud and clear from today’s report by the Transport Committee, “Investing in the railway”, which was published just after midnight. The Committee emphasises the importance of planned investment right across the railways to maximise the benefits of that investment. It is critical of the idea of just putting a certain amount of money into the HS2 project on its own.
When the Government realised that the project could not be justified on the basis that it would reduce demand at Heathrow airport, they started the line that it would reduce long-distance journey times. However, it was clear that the cost-benefit analysis that was carried out overvalued business time on the basis that business men did not spend any of their time on trains working. All the benefits were calculated on the basis of an improvement in speed that would mean that 15 minutes could be knocked off the time it took to get from London to Birmingham. My constituency is about 100 miles from London. This morning I got on the train at Hinton Admiral and arrived here two hours and 10 minutes later. Given the nature of a lot of our rail infrastructure, people expect to spend that sort of time travelling such distances.
As a result of HS2, the existing frequency of services on the west coast main line could be curtailed, to say the least, while fares would rise. While we might now have three trains an hour, that could go down to one an hour or even fewer, and yet, as the hon. Gentleman knows, fares are far too high—beyond the public’s reach.
The first person I ever heard proposing HS2 was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when she was shadow Transport Secretary, although the hon. Gentleman is right that Labour picked up the idea. To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), a lot of the money for HS2 could be spent on increasing nurses’ pay and stopping cuts to local authority budgets, and therefore providing better public services.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He will be aware that the New Economics Foundation published a report in June 2013 entitled “High Speed 2: The best we can do? Creating more value from £33 billion”. The essence of this debate is that if we are to spend that amount of taxpayers’ money—assuming that that is affordable—are there better ways in which to do so?
My hon. Friend referred to speed, but I have never yet come across anyone from a business in Shipley who has said, “Unless you can get me to London half an hour or so quicker, we are out of here and we’re going to relocate.” In fact, many of my constituents fear that this emphasis on speed will not benefit the north, but merely increase London’s commuter belt.
What my hon. Friend says is not just an assumption, because there is a lot of academic evidence about what happened when high-speed rail was built in other countries. For example, using a high-speed rail to link Paris with an outlying city generated more traffic coming into Paris than leaving Paris to go elsewhere. That highlights another incorrect assumption behind the project.
My hon. Friend is right to say that a lot of the economic analysis of this project has been simplistic. Evidence from France shows that while the number of visitors to Lille from Paris increased as a result of high-speed rail, there was a decrease in the number who stayed the night. The dynamic impacts of such projects are extremely subtle, but the economic analysis produced by the Department for Transport has been very blunt.
My hon. Friend, who is a strong opponent of HS2, is absolutely right. We cannot oppose HS2 only on the grounds of emotion and prejudice. Instead, we must deploy arguments, but the arguments against HS2 are well established and supported by not only facts, but sound judgments by academics and politicians.
I am conscious that several hon. Members wish to speak, but I want to touch quickly on the latest iteration of the HS2 sales pitch: economic regeneration in the north. Again, that heroic claim is not borne out by the evidence, because most of the economic benefits of the project will probably come to the south-east.
How can we, as politicians and taxpayers—working together—help our colleagues out of this hole without humiliating them? That is where the Bill comes in, because it would allow us to ask the people to express their common-sense view. I am sure that they would be against the project, so when they had spoken in a referendum, the Front Benchers of both main parties, and indeed our Liberal Democrat friends, could get themselves off the hook by saying, “The people have spoken and we got it wrong.” They could then say, without any humiliation, “We will revise our plans and spend the money in a different way.”
A lot of people say that those who are strongly opposed to HS2 are the individuals who live along its route, but one of the great advantages of the Bill is that it would provide the proof that many people who are concerned about the amount being spent live a long way away from the route, It would therefore give our colleagues in government and Labour Front Benchers the opportunity to say, “This is not required and not wanted, and therefore we should stop.”
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. My constituents live on the Weymouth-Waterloo line. When I held a meeting with representatives from Network Rail’s Wessex route study earlier this week, they confirmed that Waterloo is the busiest station for passenger numbers in the whole of Europe, with Clapham Junction the busiest for rail movements. They said that in 30 years’ time, they will need 60% extra capacity, but how will that be paid for? People in my constituency are therefore worried about spending so much on one particular vanity project that will not help them at all. Network Rail representatives said that if HS2 were built, it might increase demand, ironically, on the already overloaded Weymouth-Waterloo route, so there a number of very serious problems.
I shall close by referring to the 28th report of the Public Accounts Committee which was published on 16 January this year. The Committee recommends that the Department for Transport should set out a 30-year transport infrastructure strategy and use it to inform decisions about investment priorities. The Committee is sceptical about whether the Department can deliver value for money for the taxpayer on HS2, and it says that the extraordinarily large contingency sums that have been set aside are a way, potentially, of hiding the cost of overruns and increases in price. The report refers to the fact that Crossrail 2, which is likely to be needed as a direct result of this, could cost £20 billion extra, so even with the enormous sums involved—up to £50 billion—HS2 cannot be considered in isolation. That money would need to be spent alongside other money, because if something were not done about the interconnection at Old Oak Common, for example, there would be complete chaos in the connectivity into London.
There are an enormous number of reasons why people should be given a say on HS2. I commend the Bill to the House.
It is a great pleasure to be able to participate in this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for providing the forum for this debate. I regret that I was not able to sign his Bill when he introduced it. One of the advantages of having left ministerial office is that I now have greater scope to express my views on the subject.
One of the responses that has been chucked at Members of Parliament who have raised a whisper of protest about whether the scheme is desirable is that as they largely represent constituents who may be directly and adversely affected by it, the validity of their representations is diminished. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) described so well, the vast majority of letters that I received from constituents were from people who were not directly affected by the construction of this railway line, and who from the earliest stages wrote to register their concern about whether an infrastructure project, which in theory is a good thing for a Government to undertake, warranted the colossal amount of expenditure involved and the environmental damage that must inevitably go with almost any infrastructure project.
I am a realist. My constituency has a history of huge infrastructure projects—the M4, the M40 and the M25—which have all done massive environmental damage, but I accept that my constituents do not routinely write to me asking for those motorways to be ploughed up. That is not to say that we should construct a white elephant. It is abundantly plain that there are real doubts about whether the project justifies the expenditure. The point has, I am sure, been made in the House on previous occasions—and I know that all infrastructure projects have costs that run away with themselves—but it is remarkable that we started in 2009 with an announcement that this railway line would cost some £16 billion and we are currently on what we have been told is a fixed, definitive and final figure of £50 billion, after a process that took us to £29 billion, then to £32 billion. Why should any of my constituents have any confidence in the costings of the project?
I agree entirely. One of the difficulties we have is that when we ask questions and seek further information, it seems that we extract it by dribs and drabs. One of the great merits of my hon. Friend’s Bill is that it would have the valuable consequence of crystallizing debate and obliging those who wish to promote the project to come forward with all the detail that we have so much difficulty extracting when we write letters and which the Select Committee considering the hybrid Bill, which I know is doing sterling work, also has great difficulty in obtaining.
Let me give the House one example, which is particularly relevant to my constituency. My constituency will be principally affected by a viaduct that will be built over the River Colne. It cuts through a site of special scientific interest. The Colne valley is a regional park, the landscape of which, it has long been acknowledged, should be protected even when development goes on around it. But the theme that has been put forward consistently by the Government and the proposers of HS2 is that tunnelling under the Colne is entirely out of the question. The two arguments advanced are that the cost would be entirely disproportionate to the environmental gain—it was estimated that it would cost around £1.5 billion more, which I accept is a substantial sum—and furthermore that there would be major engineering problems connected with it, because there has to be an area which is outside the tunnel where the Heathrow spur link joins up at the tunnel mouth going into the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan).
Those are two proper contentions, but the more this debate has gone on, the more I have come to realise that those assertions, which have been made to me repeatedly, do not bear close scrutiny any more. For example, the latest figure that I was able to glean for the differential cost between the viaduct, which apparently is a major piece of engineering of the highest complexity, and tunnelling under the River Colne is only £200 million. In the context of a project costing £50 billion and rising, that starts to make it look almost affordable. When will we get some clarity about that, without having a referendum to get people to come out and demand that proponents of the scheme explain what they are about?
There is ample evidence that the Heathrow spur is not needed. The mood music is clear that the success of the Old Oak Common interchange, which may be hugely advantageous to the borough in which it is located, and the train times into Heathrow airport mean that no one is interested in it any more. And if people are not interested in it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham said, we could remove planning blight over a substantial part of my constituency in Denham and Iver, where properties cannot be sold because people believe that trains will run either through them or under them.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point. I have people in my constituency, such as Mr and Mrs Elliot of Coventry, who have invested their life savings in their property but, because they are outside the formula area, do not qualify for compensation.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I will come to another point about compensation in a moment.
If the Heathrow spur is not needed, the junction at the entrance to the tunnel into the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham is not needed, which would make the tunnelling even easier. I am a constituency MP, wanting to do right by my constituents and trying to apply myself rationally to the fact that areas sometimes have to be disadvantaged to promote national infrastructure projects that may be in the wider public interest. The House will understand my frustration at being unable to get any clarity on these really key issues, which must be resolved if there is to be informed debate, and my real anxiety that, although we will go through the entire hybrid Bill process—through the Committee, with the evidence taking—when we get to Third Reading all sorts of issues will just have been left hanging in the air.
Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. The whole point is that the Bill, by facilitating a referendum, would enable these matters to be crystallised and discussed and would largely compel the promoters of the project to come up with all the answers that have been left hanging in the air.
I do not want to take up any more of the House’s time than is necessary. I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) about compensation. Any sensible person in this country must look at the compensation package, because as a good citizen they may wish to consider the interesting issue of their situation if such a thing were to happen to them in future. I am the first to accept that an adequate compensation package might go quite a long way as a palliative to those whose lives are interfered with. The truth is that the compensation package that we seem to be creating is, frankly, pretty woeful. It compares very badly with the sorts of packages produced in countries such as France.
The hon. Gentleman is right: having the referendum would enable us to have a debate on the sort of compensation package we should have. That would go much further than just this project; it might enable us to resolve compensation for the future in a much clearer and more credible way. Public debate, such as a referendum would allow, would be immensely valuable in achieving that.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that a referendum would force the Government to reveal the risks associated with the project? I am referring specifically, as he knows, to the Major Projects Authority reports, which have been withheld from Members of this House and from the very Committee that is scrutinising the passage of the major Bill through the House. If there were a referendum, the Government would be forced to let those risks be seen in public by the public who would be voting on the project.
I agree entirely. It would be to the Government’s political advantage to reveal as much information as possible about how the decision making process took place. Of course, I am mindful of the rule that Ministers must have the possibility of confidentiality so that they can make informed decisions. I am very respectful of that; my time as Attorney-General made me understand how important it is, and the matter is very much for our ministerial colleagues to determine. However, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Wherever possible, documents should be put forward. Even a document that might appear disadvantageous to people would at least have the merit of their being able to explain why, notwithstanding it, they had changed their minds. To come back to the Bill, that is exactly why the public debate at the moment is not adequate for the magnitude of the project that the Government have been creating.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the other advantage of the Bill would be to tease out how much support the project has in the north of England? Projects such as this are often proposed by people down south pretending that they care about the north, when all that actually happens is that those in the north realise how out of touch those people are with the north. If we were to have a referendum, we would know once and for all how popular the scheme was in the north and whether it was as popular as people in the south seem to think it is—or as unpopular as I seem to think it is, from speaking to my constituents.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I have no idea how widespread the support for the project is in the north of England; anecdotally, there is a suggestion that it is much less than has been suggested. Most referendums have regional or local results, which would be a telling way of showing whether the enormous expenditure is the best way of building better infrastructure for this country in future.
Whoever speaks on this matter in the House will have no difficulty in agreeing on the benefits of sound infrastructure; travelling on the London underground, one can see the need for investment. I also entirely accept—I make the point again—that infrastructure development cannot take place without some adverse environmental consequences. We have to do our best to minimise those, and one of my anxieties is that I am not sure that we have really considered that issue properly in the context of this project. However, I accept that there are those consequences. I am a realist, but I worry about this project, which is why I think a referendum would be so desirable.
I shall now bring my remarks to a close. I must apologise to the House, and above all to my right hon. Friend the Minister. There have been changes to the Order Paper, and unless I fail in my duties to my constituents in other respects, in a way that would be difficult for me, I will not be able to remain to hear the end of this debate.
Generally speaking, I oppose referendums, but that opposition is slight by comparison with my opposition to the ludicrous High Speed 2 scheme, which is, it has to be said, both amateurish and grotesquely expensive.
It used to be fashionable to say that things had been formulated on the back of a cigarette packet; it sounds as though it will be possible to do that on the front of a cigarette packet fairly shortly. I gather, however, that it is more fashionable now to say that things have been drawn up on the back of an envelope—and in this case, it is a pretty poor envelope.
It is clear that HS2, and all the money it involves, is unpopular in every part of England and even more unpopular in Scotland and Wales. I can say without fear of contradiction that it is certainly unpopular in my constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, where it will involve the demolition of the homes of about 500 people and expose more than 5,000 people to living next door to Europe’s biggest demolition, engineering and building site for 12 to 15 years, without any compensation at all.
The boundaries of the compensation scheme are such that people can live 5 metres—in some cases, 5 centimetres —from the boundary and not get a penny. We have been told that the situation is not like in rural areas; urban areas, apparently, are used to noise—“people are used to railways, you know, in the Euston area.” Indeed they are, but they are not used to living next to a major engineering site for a dozen or 15 years.
The five minutes that I was given to speak, under the procedures of the House, on Second Reading of the current HS2 Bill were not sufficient for me to do justice to the insanity of the proposals. The original proposals were for a total demolition and rebuilding of Euston station and its extension 75 metres to the west. They also included a link to the channel tunnel line, running across the North London line, above ground, from Primrose Hill to the back of St Pancras station. That latter proposal was rubbish from the start. No one thought it was sensible apart from officials at High Speed 2 and officials at the Department for Transport, which, even before the proposal was published, had been warned by everyone, including me, that the North London line would in effect need to be destroyed and rebuilt in order to enable high-speed trains to run along it. They had also been warned by the Institution of Civil Engineers that it was not a good idea.
Then the original estimate of the costs nearly doubled. We had warned people of this. They said it was because of new factors, one of which, apparently—it is in a parliamentary answer—was the need to widen the route. If they did not realise that would be needed from the start, they ought not to be employed in such projects.
Fairly recently, the proposal for the connection to the channel tunnel link was abandoned, so there is now no longer any rail connection to the European network, as had been promised. We were told that passengers could get off at Euston and then that they, rather than the trains, would be able to get to St Pancras: they could walk there in the rain or possibly use a travelator going along Euston road, which is, in terms of air pollution, the filthiest road in Britain. Recently, Sir David Higgins, the great new boss who has been brought in, told people that they could walk across Euston station, go to Euston Square tube station, get the tube to King’s Cross St Pancras, and then walk to the international trains. I would have thought that most people would not fancy that if they were carrying a bit of luggage. Anyway, that is the latest fancy proposal.
Let us look at the original proposals for the full-scale redevelopment of Euston and the bringing in of the high-speed trains. The original estimate was £1.2 billion. Just eight months later, the geniuses at HS2 acknowledged that that estimate—or guesstimate, or back-of-a-fag-packet stuff—had gone up to £2 billion. An escalation in price of £100 million a month is not bad, really—you have to admit that they are quite impressive at spending other people’s money. Then that was felt to be too expensive and abandoned, and they came up with the proposal known as revised option 8, which would, roughly speaking, leave Euston as it is, with a fancy lean-to shed next to it in which the glories of High Speed 2 would be displayed.
Those propositions—the link and revised option 8—were in the Bill that was considered on Second Reading in this House. One of them has been abandoned, and we are told that the Euston proposition has also been abandoned, without any debate in this House. Now HS2 wants to go back to the full-scale redevelopment of Euston, which has never been put before Parliament. If Parliament is not doing its job properly, perhaps the people will need to do their job properly in a referendum.
I have been tabling questions asking, “When are you going to come up with the revised proposals for Euston?” Last year we were told that those revised proposals would be out for consultation in October last year. The most recent answer to parliamentary questions that I have is that it is hoped they will be available in September this year. However, these people still have no idea of what the cost will be, and they cannot work out a viable scheme for the rebuilding of the station. I personally believe that they have been unable to overcome a lot of the engineering problems that would be caused by major works in the area. Parliament has not been doing its job properly; it has not had the opportunity to do so because it has been denied information by the Government. That is why we need a referendum.
To say that this is an unpopular idea is an understatement. In March last year, polling by ComRes showed that 52% of the UK population generally were against it and 30% were in favour. Last autumn it got a bit worse, from the point of view of those who are in favour of this ridiculous scheme, because, in a YouGov poll, 53% were against it and its supporters had gone down to 25%. A breakdown of the figures shows that no group anywhere in the country is, on balance, in favour. Among all men and all women, more are against than for. People in every age group are more against than for. All social classes are more against than for.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) talked about the views of people in the north. I have the polling figures here. In the north-east, 62% are against and 20% are in favour. In Yorkshire and Humberside, 48% are against and 37% are in favour. The nearest thing to majority support anywhere is in the north-west, where there has been a lot of banging the drum for the wondrous likely impact on Manchester. To be fair, though, it is still quite close, with 43% against and 39% in favour, and the majority are still against.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) talked about the west midlands, where 50% are against and 34% are in favour.
Apart from those who are paid supporters of the scheme, it has virtually no supporters. When I say “paid supporters”, I am including some of the civil engineering advisers and consultants who are producing reports in favour because they are paid to do so. There is a danger that they are damaging the reputation of British civil engineering consultants.
People watching these proceedings will probably be remarking that there are not many MPs in the Chamber, but historically we do not get many people here on Friday morning for debates on private Members’ Bills. Is it not remarkable that so far there have been no interventions in support of this project on which £50 billion of taxpayers’ money, at the very minimum, is being spent? I am sure that the Front Benchers will support it, but no other voices have rushed here to do so.
That is so. I think that the right hon. Lady is probably regarded as being in the south-east, where 51% are against and 30% are in favour. In the London area, 48% are against and 34% are in favour. And so it goes on. The supporters of every political party are, on balance, against.
I think that for these purposes Somerset is probably part of the south-west, where 60% are against and 25% are in favour. I should also add a late wire from the course: as of yesterday, a Daily Mirror poll showed that 80% are against and 20% are in favour.
There is something amiss if Parliament is not reflecting the views of the public, especially when they are so overwhelmingly in one direction. In the absence of Parliament reflecting those views, it seems to me that there is a case for a referendum, or possibly local referendums, on the proposals.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, although we do not have referendums on infrastructure projects across the board, this is a unique infrastructure project, and that because every party capable of forming a Government is in favour of it, it is impossible for any party to claim a mandate for it?
There are mandates and there are mandates, are there not?
One of the problems is that as each argument in favour of this ludicrous proposition fails, the proponents come up with another. The first one was speed. Oh, it was wonderful! People would be able to speed to Birmingham —or speed from Birmingham to London, but that tended not to get mentioned too much. Time would also be saved for business people. The first calculations were based on time saved when using motorways, but people are not supposed to read when they are driving, so there is a considerable gain in getting from A to B as quickly as possible, whereas on a train they can do some work. The calculations were modified, but even then they were wrong.
The next argument was that the proposal was going to add to train capacity. The proponents then had to admit that sorting out two or three particular bottlenecks on the west coast main line, which they intended to do anyway, would add considerably to the line capacity. They have never done a calculation—this would be of interest to those who use the west coast main line—of the incapacity that the massive engineering works at Euston will force on the line. These works will result in a lot of interference to access to and egress from Euston. People’s journeys from the midlands and the north-west will be interfered with one way or another for the best part of 15 years, but that is not part of the capacity argument.
Although the situation in Coventry is not exactly the same as that in Euston, there will still be major effects on the traffic flow and major disruption in Coventry. That could go on for many years, and blighting is another issue we will have to address somewhere along the line.
The other problem is that the people behind the proposition live from hand to mouth. They said, “There’ll be a way around this, because we’ll be able to divert quite a lot of the local services that come into Euston to Old Oak Common and therefore relieve the pressure on Euston during the works period.” They have now admitted, however, that they cannot divert the local services to Old Oak Common to bring about that relief, so they are still lumbered with the fact that they will louse up access to Euston station for the next dozen to 15 years.
I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that an alternative option for improving the passenger service from London to Birmingham would be substantially to improve the performance of the Chiltern line and thus relieve a lot of passenger need on the west coast main line. All over the country, minor improvements to the track, signalling and electrification could bring about big improvements for passengers. As a lad originally from just outside York, I am always conscious of the fact that the east coast main line is electrified from King’s Cross to Leeds and from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, but that the link between York and Leeds is not electrified. Consequently, anyone who wants to go to Leeds from Edinburgh, Newcastle or Durham cannot do so on an electrified train; they have to change at York or find one of the trains that are still diesel.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Is it not the case that it takes almost as long on the train to get from Leeds to Liverpool as it does to get from Leeds to London? It is, therefore, bizarre that so much money is being spent to try to make it quicker to get from Leeds to London when many people would prefer it to be quicker to get across the north of England.
Indeed. When the capacity argument fell through—the proponents threw in the towel—they turned to economic growth. However, if they look at virtually all the foreign experience, they will see that when a high-speed line is put in to a capital city, that capital city sucks in business and jobs from the other places on the line. That is significant to those who live in smaller towns near the cities where HS2 stations are proposed, because there is considerable evidence that those smaller towns will lose business to them. If a station is built in Manchester, towns in Rochdale, Oldham and other surrounding areas could lose trade, jobs and prosperity to Manchester. That might be okay for Manchester, but it would not be too good for Greater Manchester.
Rail improvements are needed in the north of England. The time it takes to travel from York to Manchester and from Leeds to Liverpool is a disgrace. High Speed 3 is now being talked about, but I think there would be a bit more support for High Speed 3 if it became High Speed 2. A lot of local services in the north of England need to be improved, as well as the interconnections between the big cities.
People talk about the economic benefits that High Speed 2 will bring to cities in the midlands and the north. The cost will be £50 billion and it is intended that five cities will benefit: Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester. As I suggested in one debate, if that £50 billion were split between those cities, giving them £10 billion each, and the people of, say, Manchester and Sheffield were asked in a referendum what they would do with their £10 billion, the chances are that they would not say that the first thing they needed to do was to club together for a high-speed railway. That would be pretty unlikely. Perhaps there should be local referendums.
Some of us are decried for being neanderthal and opposed to progress. People say, “What about the wonderful progress that was made by the great railway entrepreneurs of the 19th century?” A lot of those projects in the 19th century were characterised by bankruptcy, fraud, deception, thieving from shareholders and God knows what else. George Hudson of the Great Northern railway invented the Ponzi scheme about 100 years before Ponzi was born.
Those entrepreneurs did get the things built—that is a fair point—but if we want to rely on 19th-century examples, and if High Speed 2 is such a good idea that it could be put to a referendum and people would agree to it, surely we should be asking why the private sector is not desperate to build this new railway. Why should the taxpayer have to find the money, when historically in this country it is not the taxpayer who has done so? There seems to be no rush to come up with the dosh privately to invest in this scheme. Perhaps that is because outfits such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Institute of Directors—not organisations I usually quote, I freely admit—think that it is a total waste of time. Broadly speaking, they think it is crackers.
That brings me to the most recent report of the Public Accounts Committee, to which the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) referred. To say that it is a lukewarm endorsement of High Speed 2 is to wildly exaggerate the Committee’s enthusiasm for it. I need my glasses to give you the full benefit of the report, Madam Deputy Speaker. It says:
“The Department for Transport is responsible for a number of ambitious, expensive transport infrastructure programmes including the planned High Speed 2 programme. We are not convinced that these programmes are part of a clear strategic approach to investment in the rail network… The Department told us it will deliver the full High Speed 2 programme within its overall funding envelope of £50 billion.”
For a start, it is not £50 billion, because HS2 admits that if the scheme were to work, Euston station would not be able to cope with the extra passengers and would be overwhelmed. Crossrail 2 would then be needed, at an additional cost of £20 billion. If the scheme were to work—if all the optimistic prognostications of those who are in favour of it came to be—it would require a further £20 billion. Quite frankly, it is deceptive of the Government and High Speed 2 to talk about £50 billion. Usually, they do not even like to talk about £50 billion: they talk about £43 billion and then reluctantly admit that they need another £7 billion for the locomotives—it was perhaps going to be a train-free railway at one time—and we have to bear that point in mind.
I want to express my own views and those of the people who live in my constituency. Crossrail 1 is causing a bit of trouble here and there, but, broadly speaking, people have been willing to go along with it. Originally, the proposal for the channel tunnel link was that it should come into a huge concrete box under King’s Cross station. The sort of people who are now proposing HS2 said, “This is the only way to do it. There is no possible alternative. We are the experts. We know everything.” They ended up having to admit to a Committee of this House that was considering the Bill that their concrete box was too short for the proposed train. That was the quality of thought that went into the proposal.
When I first suggested to the planners that the best thing to do would be to use St Pancras station, which was grotesquely underused, I was treated like a total idiot: “Pathetic! How could he possibly come up with such a silly idea when our concrete box under King’s Cross is a masterstroke?” They eventually abandoned the masterstroke and we now use St Pancras station. I am pleased that if someone gets a train from St Pancras to the Gare du Nord, they really know that Britain is best, because the Gare du Nord is horrible and St Pancras is a credit to everybody except the railway planners, because they were not in favour of using it originally.
Similarly, despite the problems that have been caused in my area, there has been, broadly speaking, full support from nearly everyone there, including myself, for the massive improvements at King’s Cross station, all of which were started under the Labour Government, with the support of myself and local people.
I believe that it is necessary to say to Parliament, “Look, you are letting people down.” The proposals are a disgrace: they are amateurish and grotesquely expensive. Parliament has not been doing its job properly. I mean no criticism of the people who are serving on the legislative Devil’s island that is the Committee stage of the hybrid Bill. Those people should, at the very least, receive double salaries and free passes on the railways for ever. Our procedures let people down and do not reflect the views of people in this country.
Yes, I endorse that. Everyone who has had dealings with the Clerk, and with the other Clerks who have been involved from time to time, pays tribute to the help that they have been given in making their representations and getting their representations in order. However, try as they might, our procedures in relation to such matters are ridiculous.
In the absence of proper parliamentary scrutiny, one of our own Committees, the Public Accounts Committee, is saying of the Department for Transport—I will put my glasses on again:
“The Department still lacks a clear strategic plan for the rail network, and it is unclear how the Department makes decisions about which programmes to prioritise for investment… We remain concerned about the Department’s ability to deliver on time and budget… We are sceptical about whether the Department can deliver value for money for the taxpayer on High Speed 2… There is a risk that industry does not have the capacity to deliver all current and proposed programmes… The Department has a long way to go to prove that it is being more active in realising benefits from major programmes.”
Surprise surprise, all sorts of benefits were supposedly to result from the station at Ebbsfleet and the channel tunnel link, but—lo and behold—they have not been realised. That might be because they were unrealisable from the start and were basically a bit of fantasy infrastructure dreaming, but that is also what this proposal is. Parliament is letting down the people of this country and we should let them have a say with a national and local referendum.
I want economic growth and development in the great northern cities, and the towns and villages that surround them, which have contributed so much in the past to our economic strength. In future, we cannot possibly compete in the world as the cheapest on price because we will always be undercut. All we can do is compete with the best on quality and economic initiative. For example, graphene was developed at Manchester university and is the strongest material the world has ever known. I think it would be better for Manchester if we put £1 billion into developing applications of graphene, rather than putting the money into this railway. Because I am a Yorkshireman I will also mention Rotherham, which is famous for its special steels and still does great work developing them. It would probably be a good idea to put money into graphene in and around Rotherham, so that the development of the strongest material in the world is done in league with the steel industry and does not try to replace it. We should invest in those sorts of things, not throw money away on this railway.
We should allow the people of this country to have their say, but not in a general election in which everybody has—allegedly—signed up to the project. Indeed, I suspect that if there was a secret referendum in the Cabinet and shadow Cabinet, the vote would probably be 80% against HS2 and 20% in favour, because lots and lots of people recognise just how stupid this project is.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson). If we had a secret, unwhipped ballot across the House, I think we may find less support for this project than those on the Front Benches would like.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on bringing this Bill to the House and giving me and my colleagues the opportunity to sponsor it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was not free to sponsor the Bill, but it is good to have his affirmation that he would have added his name to it had he not been on the Front Bench. I have been liberated for some time, and fortunately I have been able to speak about this matter. For the first two years of this Parliament, however, owing to Cabinet collective responsibility and observing what is right and proper in the House, I was unable to air my views about this project on the Floor of the House.
Friday mornings are never convenient for Members who want to spend time in their constituencies, and it is commendable that colleagues have joined the debate this morning, probably on their way to their constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) has asked me to mention the strong feelings in his constituency about the huge cost of this project, particularly because the lack of any interim station means that local people are set to gain no benefit from the line, while facing massive disruption to their lives for years to come. I echo that point for my constituency and constituencies in Buckinghamshire that will be severely disrupted should the project go ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) supports the Bill but is unable to attend the debate, and I am pleased to put that on the record to show that many Members up and down the line—and now beyond the line—feel uncomfortable with the proposals.
That we are debating giving people a vote on this project is absolutely right, and if the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes)—
I do apologise; I meant no disrespect. If my right hon. Friend realised how unpopular this project was, he might not make the speech he is about to make. I recall that while I was driving—I think I was listening to “Any Questions”,—one of the questions involved HS2. The audience on the radio booed, and I thought, “Well there’s a popular project for the Government to pursue, particularly in the light of its so-called limited cost.” This project has not captured imaginations up and down the country, and it is certainly not held dear by the people I talk to, including those way beyond being affected directly by the line.
The trouble is that HS2 is slipping under the radar in many ways. The organisation led by Buckinghamshire county council is an amalgam of many other organisations and, as I said earlier, it has called itself “51m”, because the equivalent cost of HS2 at the moment, if spread among our constituencies, would give each Member £51 million to spend in those constituencies. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras said that if we gave £10 billion to the five cities, they would not immediately club together and want to build HS2. In the same way, if constituencies up and down the country received £51 million, they would not immediately club together to build HS2.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I wanted to find out what people thought about HS2, so I went along to the Institute of Directors. In Transport questions last March, I raised that issue because the IOD—the very business people to whom the project is supposed to appeal—surveyed more than 13,000 directors for its spring report last year to get their views on HS2. More than half those directors thought that HS2 was poor value for money, and more than 60% thought that the budget earmarked for the project would provide a better return if it were used to improve existing road and rail networks. Frankly, when our business community comes out against a project to that extent, I do not understand why the Government do not listen. I am not afraid of asking people what they think, and neither are most of my colleagues in the House. I therefore believe that the proposal for a referendum is well made and should be put, not least so that the business community can express its views.
It is all very well for the companies that are already earning highly from the project. I was amazed at some of the sums that have already gone to potential advisers and contractors on this project, all of which have been printed in Hansard in response to questions—I will not go into the details of the companies, but they are there if people want to look at them. Those companies are in favour of the project, as are Manchester and Birmingham, which see vast swathes of taxpayers’ money coming in their direction. Sir Albert Bore and Sir Richard Leese will be absolutely delighted and will put pressure on Labour Front Benchers to go along with the proposals, because taxpayers’ money will go into those Labour-controlled authorities, but what does that say to the rest of us?
Even in Birmingham there are doubts. There is a site called Washwood Heath. Everybody in Birmingham ranging from the far-left Trots to the chamber of commerce was in favour of redeveloping it with about 3,000 modern jobs in IT and bio-engineering, but—lo and behold—HS2 says, “Tough. We need it for some sidings. Total employees: 30.”
The right hon. Gentleman is right. A constituent of mine who owns a business in the Birmingham area will be adversely affected by the project. He will have to re-site a profitable factory, which will involve losses and a great deal of interruption to the business.
It is five years since the announcement of the project. Its genesis has been well documented by other hon. Members, including in this debate. We are five years in and we do not know what the costs are. Inevitably, those costs are rising. In 2009, the costs for HS2 were identified as £16 billion. A year later, they went up to £29 billion. By 2010, they were £32 billion. As everybody knows, the costs now stand at £50 billion, particularly if we want the luxury of a few trains running up and down the lines.
What worries me is that I do not believe the costs will stop there. First, there is the unknown quantity of Euston and the implications, which could run into millions, nay billions, of pounds if the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras is to be believed—and he is to be believed.
There are unforeseen costs after that. For example, I am not convinced that the countries that make up the United Kingdom will not press for Barnett consequentials on that spend, not least because, as I know, there was a dispute with Wales on whether Barnett consequentials would be applied on the transport elements of the Olympics and the Olympics project. It was decided that the transport spend elements would be Barnettised, and therefore extra funds had to be found to pass to Wales and Scotland and so on. The first phase of HS2 is Birmingham to London. There is a powerful argument to make, and there is no reason to think that more funds will not have to be found to deliver those Barnett consequentials to the other countries that make up the United Kingdom.
Naturally, the costs have risen. As I mentioned, the costs quoted are at 2011 prices. I sit on the Select Committee on Public Administration. Last week, the Treasury permanent secretary was before us. During the course of our investigation, I asked him about the costs of HS2 and pointed out that we were dealing in 2011 prices. I have asked him for an up-to-date costing of the project, which I believe he has agreed to provide by means of a letter to the Committee. I hope that, very shortly, the House will be better informed as to the real costs—the costs as of today’s date. It is hard for people to understand the full implications of the costs of the project if we do not keep pace with current prices.
The assumptions that have been made about the benefits of the project are grossly overestimated. The benefit-cost ratio for phase 1 of HS2 has dropped to 1.4 from 2.4, as it was when the first business case was issued. For phase 2, the ratio stands at 2.3, which is down from 4. One thing is not highlighted: the business case includes an £8.3 billion cut to existing inter-city services. When HS2 was first announced, my colleague the Foreign Secretary, who was Secretary of State for Transport, said it would be necessary to “seriously review the viability” if the BCR dropped below 1.5. That has happened, but as far as I know there has been no review. The reliability of the assumptions are widely questioned, but in a project of that size that will cost the taxpayer so much, we need to be certain before we press ahead.
If we strip out from the assumptions the questionable elements—for example, the overvalued benefits of the reduction in journey times, which are questionable because people do valuable work on trains—we calculate that the more realistic BCR is 0.5. If that is the case, the project will be one of the poorest value for money projects that this country has ever seen. It compares unfavourably with many other infrastructure projects. Many road improvements have BCRs of as much as 10. The optimised alternative to HS2 originally proposed by “51m”, the group of councils that have lobbied against HS2, had a BCR of 5.
Basically, by anybody’s reckoning, the project is based on dodgy assumptions. We do not know the real costs. It is five years in, but we do not have the final route and the final plans. We do not know what the risks entail. It bears repeating that the Major Projects Authority was set up to identify the risks of such projects. As far as I was aware, it was supposed to be transparent. As I understood it, we were going to be one of the most transparent Governments ever. Those reports, which we know are classified as amber/red, have not been released. I repeat that it is not right or proper that the House can be said to have scrutinised the project properly on behalf of our constituents and the taxpayers if the Committee that considers the project Bill in detail does not have access to the clearly identified risks laid out by the Major Projects Authority. If Members of the House are not allowed to have them, members of the Committee at least should have them. If the project is to be done, it needs to be done properly. People need to see that each of those risks has been addressed by the Government, and by HS2 Ltd or whatever organisation delivers the project.
Is there an analogy with people seeking investment from shareholders? They have to produce a proper, transparent and open prospectus for shareholders. In this situation, taxpayers are in the role of shareholders, and they are not getting a proper prospectus from the Government.
As far as I am concerned, it is “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” We are always dictating to the banks and corporations that they must have transparency in their dealings, but we are not doing it ourselves. I find it rather disturbing, and it is certainly not fair on my constituency and the other constituencies that are going to pay the ultimate price for the delivery of this project if it goes ahead.
If one is going to put in a piece of infrastructure that disrupts an area of outstanding natural beauty—that is, an area of the country that has been nationally designated as something that is precious—it is not right that it should only be half protected. I am very grateful to my colleagues, because following my representations I was able to increase the tunnelling that protects my constituency. It was originally to come out in the middle of a football field at the back of old Amersham. I was able to persuade the then Secretary of State for Transport that we needed more tunnelling. I envisaged that that tunnelling would carry on to the end of the area of outstanding natural beauty, but it was moved to a place called Mantles Wood. There is no logic for why it should come out at Mantles Wood. If we are going to spend this money, I think it should go to the end of the AONB, so that that nationally designated area of the country is fully protected.
I think the right hon. Lady will confirm that she was present when our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), asked Sir David Higgins about the fact that they were going to tear through two bits of ancient woodland in her constituency. He reassured her that it was all right, because they would replant it!
The depth of ignorance knows no bounds in some instances. I am very depressed by the fact that people actually believe that one can replace ancient woodland. I have worked with the Woodland Trust. When I was first elected, Penn Wood in my constituency was one of the first major woods that the trust purchased and saved for posterity. The complexity of ancient woodland, with its soil and the way in which it is made up, cannot be replaced. We can have substitute woods put somewhere else, but they can never be replaced. Once they are gone, they are gone for ever. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention.
If one is going to spend £50 billion and disrupt the lives, businesses and homes of a number of people, money ought to be spent fully on compensation, as well as on protection of the environment. If one cannot afford to compensate people properly, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, it is a crying shame, because they are paying not once through their taxes but twice with the blight. It is unfair that the burden should fall disproportionately on those nearest to the ultimate route.
Another aspect that worries me, and which the Bill plays to in putting a referendum on this project before the people, is that I do not feel new technology and developments have been taken into account fully. I put a question to the Department for Transport on whether the impact of driverless cars had been taken into account when looking at the future development of the railways and other forms of transport. The written answer came back that they had not been taken into account, but that a study was going to be carried out. One cannot go ahead with a costly project over such a long period of time without looking at the impact of new technology. When I first came into the House, my secretary worked on a golf ball typewriter. I now carry with me an iPad on which I can FaceTime the world—all my e-mails come in and I can go on Twitter. The change in technology over 20 years has been absolutely phenomenal. That is the time scale of HS2. There will be all sorts of developments, not least if we can finally get good, first- class, rapid broadband into all parts of Buckinghamshire and all points north, east, south and west. There are going to be changes to business patterns, patterns of travel and style of travel. It is important that we look at horizon planning holistically before we commit to this sort of expenditure, and that we give people the chance to say what they want through a referendum, as envisaged in the Bill.
The Public Accounts Committee report was quoted extensively by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras. He produced the summary, which is exactly the part I had underlined to read out to myself. What struck me is that the Department takes a piecemeal approach to rail investment. That is one of the most damning aspects of the report. It is important for the Department to go back to the drawing board and do some real horizon planning across the whole piece, looking at all our methods of transport, interoperability and connectivity. Otherwise, the white elephant that has been adopted as a sign by the anti-HS2 campaigners, will come to fruition. The PAC and the National Audit Office have consistently criticised the project, and that counts for a great deal. The NAO and the PAC are set up to scrutinise the type of expenditure envisaged here, and to tell it warts and all. The PAC is a cross-party Committee, so there is no political bias. Once again, it is not being listened to seriously at the highest levels of Government.
I will not go on for much longer, but I will leave the last words to my constituents. I have received literally hundreds of e-mails about the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has been mentioned in dispatches many times. E-mails have come not just from my constituents; they have come from around the country. Many people would like the Bill to come to fruition, although I know that at this time of the electoral cycle we do not have much hope of it going any further. I will leave it to my hon. Friend to decide what he wants to do with it.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is in the habit of responding to such e-mails, but one point she might be able to make is that people should challenge candidates in the forthcoming general election on whether they would support such a Bill in the next Parliament, so that there can be a popular vote on whether we should spend this amount of money on HS2.
I certainly will. I stand proudly as a Conservative and will be standing proudly as a Conservative, but I think my Front Benchers and my party know that I cannot subscribe to this project, will be speaking out against it and will continue to speak out against it. I am sure there will be opportunity politicians who will try to claim their opposition to this project. I am well aware that there is one party that claims it is the only party that opposed high-speed rail. I seem to recall that it had three high-speed rail promises in its manifesto at the previous election. I have no reason not to believe that in areas of the country that perhaps welcome this project it will be singing a different tune. As far as I am concerned, this is a policy I cannot agree with and will not agree with.
I want to give the last word to John Gladwin, from the Chiltern Society HS2 team. The Chiltern Society is an excellent local organisation set up to praise and cherish the Chilterns, which is an asset not just for my constituents but the whole country, particularly Londoners. He writes:
“While the country is running a substantial deficit, requiring restrictions on spending on the NHS and forcing local government to cut services, is it sensible to invest in a project that offers a poor Benefit Cost Ratio, and takes forever to deliver benefits to the North and the Midlands? Add to this the fact that the Government does not have a coherent Transport Infrastructure Plan, as evidenced by there being no Airport Commission Report until later this year, and Sir David Higgins coming up with HS3 as a way of delivering the benefits of HS2 to the North. Would it not seem sensible for the taxpayer to decide whether to fund this project or not?”
The Bill is simple: it allows for a referendum to be held on whether the UK taxpayer should financially support the HS2 railway. The referendum must be held before the commencement of construction of the railway, although I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that nearly £1 billion will already have been spent by the time we get to the general election. The simplicity of the Bill appeals to me and I know that it will appeal to a much wider audience. Although this is a Second Reading debate, I know that the Bill will not progress much further, but I wish it a fair wind as it would mean that the people could decide on this project.
It is a privilege to speak in the debate, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for bringing the matter before the House. It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who eloquently outlined many of the arguments and concerns. I share those concerns 100% and I do not propose to repeat the arguments, merely to endorse them, and I will not take up much of the House’s time today.
I endorse the comments made earlier about the Clerk to the Committee. Many of my constituents have come down to petition the Committee directly, as did I, and the Clerk has been extremely helpful to my constituents and to everybody who has taken part in what can be a daunting process for those who are not used to the somewhat arcane workings of this place.
My views on this project are well known and I have voted against it in this House at every opportunity. I am opposed to it on three levels: nationally, as I do not believe that there is any argument that stands up to scrutiny that shows this is the right way for the nation to spend some £50 billion; regionally, as I have deep concerns about its impact, thanks to strong evidence from around the world that smaller regional economies linked to larger regional economies suffer what is known as a negative agglomeration effect, whereby economic activity is not pushed out from the centre but is sucked in, and as Birmingham and the west midlands are the closest regional economic centre to London to be linked by high-speed rail, I am deeply concerned that potential investment that might have come to Birmingham and the west midlands will instead be pulled into London; and locally, as my constituency of North Warwickshire is almost certainly the worst affected constituency outside London—I add that caveat—as we have phase 1, phase 2, the delta junction and the Y junction as well as an enormous railhead close to Kingsbury. Although that railhead is technically a temporary structure, it will be there for a minimum of 15 years. The idea that people living next to the structure will not qualify for compensation because it is temporary, even though it will be there for 15 years, is staggering.
As I mentioned earlier, the economic analysis used for the case is woefully simplistic. It seems as though those who support the project believe it to be self-evidently good, given the woeful lack of sophistication in the economic analysis used to demonstrate that it is good. During the later stages of the argument, when the earlier bits of the case started to fall apart, the question of whether HS2 would help resolve the north-south divide started to be elevated as a key argument, even though it was not mentioned at the beginning. The north-south divide suddenly became a major selling point, and I remember the Select Committee on Transport’s ringing endorsement that
“only time will tell whether or not HS2 will…help…reduce the north-south divide.”
What a ringing endorsement of what has become a key plank in the project!
When the budget miraculously increased significantly, I noted that in order to maintain some semblance of a benefit-cost ratio that worked, the benefits had to be increased significantly almost overnight. I recall watching a Transport Minister—I will not mention which one, although I hasten to add that it was not the one who is sitting on the Front Bench now, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—struggling on “Newsnight” to explain how they had suddenly found billions in additional benefit almost out of their back pocket in order to maintain some semblance of a benefit-cost ratio that looked right, given the costs that had been added to the budget.
I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman. One need only look back at some of the guesswork relating to the channel tunnel and HS1 to see just how woefully wrong almost every prediction of passenger numbers and so on turned out to be. I agree that we should have a healthy dose of scepticism about the large numbers involved in this project. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham has pointed out, now that the benefit-cost ratio is so thin those assumptions become really important. We are balancing on a pinhead the question of whether this project will get over the threshold of being worth doing. It only takes one or two of the assumptions to be out by a relatively small amount for the benefit-cost ratio to collapse even further.
Although it is not central to the argument for or against HS2, it is essential that we mention the conduct of HS2 Ltd as an organisation—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) indicates from a sedentary position that he agrees with me. Anybody who has had to deal with HS2 Ltd will have found it a terrible organisation whose conduct towards many ordinary people has been nothing short of scandalous. I am not pointing to any particular member of HS2 Ltd—I understand that the people who work for it have a job to do and many individuals go above and beyond the call of duty to try to do that job well—but somehow, as an organisation, it is far less than the sum of its parts. Constituents of mine have been driven to despair by the way that they have been treated by HS2 Ltd. That is not how we should be doing business as a modern country.
The entire country is paying for this project. People are paying directly through taxes, and through the opportunity cost of investment that will not now go ahead in transport infrastructure in other areas; and unfortunately, far too many people directly along the route are paying for the project with their homes, their communities and in many cases with their health and, virtually, their sanity. Referendums on infrastructure projects are not the norm, of course, but as every party who has any likelihood of forming a Government supports HS2 Ltd, there is nowhere for those who do not support it to go if they do not wish to vote for some crazy fringe party. It is impossible for any party to claim a democratic mandate for this project, which is the largest infrastructure project since the second world war. There is therefore a legitimate argument that this is a special case as it is unlike other infrastructure and transport projects, so a referendum strikes me as a very sensible way to go. I do not wish to add anything further but simply endorse all the comments made so far today.
Although I count myself as a supporter of HS2, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on securing a Second Reading for his Bill. I know that he has a long-standing interest in these issues as a former shadow transport spokesman, and it is always important to debate how public money—taxpayers’ money, if you will—is spent and to subject major public projects to close scrutiny.
The hon. Gentleman has said outside this place and has contended today that the House has not had an opportunity to scrutinise HS2’s funding and the costs and benefits of the project, but speaking as a veteran of the Public Bill Committee that considered the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013 and as a Front-Bencher during the introduction of the phase 1 hybrid Bill, I am not sure I can follow him that far. The truth is that the House has already imposed tighter spending controls on HS2. I submitted an amendment to the preparation Act that was accepted by the House and introduced a duty on the Government to declare any overspend, against both the annual and the total budget. The noble Lady Baroness Kramer conceded in the other place that that was
“a very vigorous reporting process under which the Government must report back annually and record any deviation from budget…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.]
Of course, there can be no room for complacency. Delays after the election and substantial cost increases have not been to the Government's credit, and I would agree that the Government, perhaps distracted by their rail franchising fiasco, failed to communicate properly the reasons why the project is necessary. Of course, the overall figure, the £50.1 billion, includes a sizeable contingency buffer—as well as funds for new trains, some of which will run on existing lines—but that is not money that we want to see spent. We need to have a laser-like focus on bringing down the project’s costs. There cannot be a blank cheque for this or any other project.
Nevertheless, I do not see the case for such a dramatic course of action as that proposed in the Bill. We did not have a referendum on Crossrail, which is due to cost £16 billion, nor did we have a referendum on HS1, which cost £6 billion. I am happy to be corrected, but I am not aware that the hon. Member for Christchurch called for such a referendum at the time. On a day when an important Transport Committee report called for
“a fairer allocation of rail investment across the country”,
it would seem very strange to set such a precedent for a railway that will primarily benefit the midlands and the north. Moreover, a referendum would itself cost £85 million, given that that was the cost of the AV referendum.
Finally, and importantly, the phase 1 Bill Committee is now deep in its work. Three days a week, in Committee Room 5, mitigation is being agreed and the project is being improved. I cannot accept that further and prolonged uncertainty would benefit people on the route. Labour Members—albeit with one or two right honourable exceptions—believe that, provided costs are kept under control, HS2 will bring enormous benefits to the country.
As was expected, the hon. Lady is in favour of HS2 and against the Bill, but would she care to tell us at what cost point her party would decide to abandon the project? She said that we must keep costs under tight control, but given that she must now know what the limits are, will she share them with the House? I think that that information is important.
The right hon. Lady has, of course, been a strong advocate on behalf of her constituents, and I know of her long-standing opposition to the hybrid Bill. Labour’s position is clear: we support HS2. It was a Labour proposal, and we want that Bill to be passed. However, I can do no better than quote what was said by the hon. Member for Christchurch, who, when he was an Opposition Front Bencher 10 years ago, said in the context of Crossrail
“no serious prospective Government—such as we are—would be prepared to write a blank cheque for any project, however desirable people might think it is.”—[Official Report, 7 April 2005; Vol. 432, c. 1607.]
A budget has been set out for this project, which includes a significant contingency element. We must maintain our focus on ensuring that the project is delivered within that budget, and, I have said, it would be preferable for the contingency money not to be spent.
I have already said that the necessity for Crossrail 2 and whether it would attract a favourable cost-benefit analysis should be investigated. Crossrail needs to be considered on its merits, as do all other investments in transport infrastructure. A case must be made on the basis of the benefits that it can deliver and whether it represents a good use of taxpayers’ money.
The hon. Lady said that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) had not called for a referendum on Crossrail 1. I understand that Crossrail 1 is funded partly through the rates and partly by businesses in London, and not entirely by the Treasury and the taxpayer’s purse.
I agree. Nearly all rail projects’ capital costs are publicly funded, although there are sometimes opportunities for private investment. I have no doubt that there will be opportunities to attract such investment in, for example, over-site development of stations in connection with HS2. However, when we need investment in our infrastructure, we must be prepared to commit public money. As I have said, I do not think that we should set a precedent in this regard.
HS2 will unblock the congested arteries of our ageing rail network, will provide vital additional capacity, and will transform the connections between the great cities of the midlands and the north. Our message to both the Government and HS2 Ltd is clear: take the phase 1 Bill to Third Reading, present the proposals for phase 2, and get this important project back on track.
This has been an interesting debate to which a number of Members have contributed. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on enabling us to explore these important matters. They involve HS2, of course: that is the matter of substance, because the essence of the proposal in the Bill is that it is of such significance that it should be supported only on the basis of the consent of the people, sought and gained by means of a referendum.
I do not want to delay the House unduly, but my hon. Friend would expect me to deal with the question of why a referendum is an inappropriate vehicle for such a decision. The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) focused on that—and, while I speak of focus, let me reassure her that no one’s focus is more laser-like than mine. She explained why she thought that a referendum was an inappropriate way of proceeding in respect of HS2. I intend to speak about that in some detail and at some length, and also with considerable respect for the argument advanced by my hon. Friend, the essence of which is that very big projects that have an environmental effect of this kind and an economic value of this type, and which involve costs of this scale, are of a character that necessitates a referendum.
Since I became a Transport Minister, straddling No. 10 and the Department, I have been associated with—indeed, I would like to say that I contributed to—our road investment strategy. The ideas for that began before my arrival, but I have been pleased to be very much a part of its formulation, and look forward to being part of its delivery. The road investment strategy, the biggest of its kind since the 1970s, looks forward to many decades: the effect of its provisions will last throughout my lifetime, and well beyond. It commits some £15 billion—indeed, a little more than that—to a plan that will affect places throughout Britain, consisting of 100 schemes.
Did we take the view that a referendum was necessary for that plan to proceed? Did my hon. Friend suggest that a referendum should be held in respect of a very large infrastructural scheme, which involved transport and would affect tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of our countrymen in connection with the works that would be carried out and the value that would result in the form of easier and better communications and safer and better roads? I have to say that the answer to that is no, at least as far as I am aware. The same might be said of a number of other infrastructural projects to which the hon. Member for Nottingham South drew our attention, Crossrail being a good example. I am not sure that a case can be made for a referendum in one policy area—indeed, one transport policy area—but not in others, when the drama, significance and scale involved are as great as what we saw in that road investment programme.
My right hon. Friend surely needs to look at his own situation, because the Government say in respect of local authorities that may, for example, want to spend money on subsidising buses that if the consequence is that they are going to increase their council tax by more than 2%, they must have a local referendum. If it is good for local authorities, where the sums involved might be as little as £28 per household on average—if we take the average council tax—why is he saying that it is essential to have a referendum in that situation, but not in the situation we are addressing today?
My hon. Friend draws attention to the idea of holding a local referendum or plebiscite in a very particular area and on a very particular proposal. He does not propose in his Bill a referendum for those directly affected by HS2. He is not suggesting that we hold a referendum of the people of Birmingham, Warwickshire or Chesham and Amersham—or even Christchurch, although I am not sure they will be as directly affected as those in some of those other places. He is suggesting a national referendum, where people from Northern Ireland, for example, would have a vote on these matters, and he is doing so not because they are affected directly, but because of the cost.
I think my right hon. Friend has lost his rapier-like focus, because every taxpayer in every corner of the UK is going to be paying for this project. Every single taxpayer will be making a contribution and, as I pointed out before, the sum is £51 million for every constituency, so I am afraid his argument falls at the first hurdle.
And that is true of the road investment strategy, too. It is certainly as true of the road investment strategy as it is of HS2—it is as true of the £15 billion-plus we are spending on roads across the whole country. That £15.2 billion for the road investment strategy does not just affect people in terms of the value it brings; it is also funded by taxpayers in exactly the way my right hon. Friend suggests.
What I am saying is that a referendum on this kind of matter is wholly inappropriate. The only referendum my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch cited in his speech introducing the Bill—and I understand why he has introduced it; it makes a perfectly understandable contention—was the referendum on what is now the EU. I have the Referendum Act 1975 with me and I also have a copy of the Second Reading debate when it was a Bill being discussed in this House. The arguments made then were that this was a matter of immense constitutional significance that affected the future of our nation as a whole in respect of its governance. That is a very different set of arguments from those, however well made, about the cost of a particular area of policy and the effect of that on a number of our constituents—and I include in that the effect, in the broadest terms, it has on the taxpayers contributing to it. That it is a very different kind of argument as my hon. Friend knows very well.
That kind of referendum has only been used in the way I describe. Indeed, my hon. Friend also mentioned the referendum by 2017 that has been pledged by the Prime Minister on our association with the EU, and which is of a similar kind to the 1975 referendum. There are many of us, including my hon. Friend, I imagine, who would argue that that new referendum is absolutely necessary because getting the fresh consent of the British people on the terms of our relationship with the EU is a matter of some urgency. I do not think, however, that one can argue that it is equivalent to the proposal he makes today.
Are not the EU referendum and the referendum proposed in this Bill a lot closer than my right hon. Friend says? All the leading political parties’ Front Benches support our continued membership of the EU and it is time that the people had a chance to challenge that consensus in a referendum. Similarly with this Bill, the Front Benches all support HS2 funding to the extent of £50 billion-plus, but the people outside do not. Is this not a chance for them to express their own view on this matter?
My hon. Friend is a distinguished and experienced parliamentarian, but he is much more than that: he is both a wise man and a clever man—he will understand the difference between wisdom and cleverness —and he knows the argument he has just made is an argument not about equivalence, but about political coincidence. It is certainly true that the Front Benches at that time took a similar view, and the Front Benches do so now, too, as he heard when the shadow Minister spoke. That is a matter of political coincidence, however; it is not a matter of governance. I am arguing that the difference between this Bill and the 1975 Act that gave rise to the referendum in that year is that the advocates of that referendum made it absolutely clear that the referendum was necessary because it was on a constitutional matter of profound significance. I am not sure we can say that about a particular area of policy, however important it is. It would be unprecedented, as my hon. Friend knows, and in my judgment it would, for that reason, be ill-judged. Once we open up that hornet’s nest, I see the ugly prospect of plebiscites on every kind and type of subject. There are those who might welcome that, but I, as a confident exponent of the role of this House, would not do so. I think it is important that representative democracy is served by those who believe in—who have confidence in—the power of this House to take big decisions: to be bold, and to be sufficiently original to excite and inspire the people.
I did not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman as the cloak of Chesterton falls about his shoulders, but would he not agree with the former Baroness Thatcher in her comment that these referendums and plebiscites are devices of dictators and demagogues?
There is no need to apologise, but the hon. Gentleman anticipates what I was about to say, and I did think, rather mischievously, as he intervened, of the Chesterton line that
“He who has the impatience to interrupt the words of another seldom has the patience to”
devise good ones of his own, but that is certainly not true of him, I have to say.
The point the hon. Gentleman is making is a perfectly decent one: once one gives way to the contention that every major matter—and I accept that this is a very major matter—not only requires the consent of this House, but furthermore, between elections, requires the consent through a referendum of the people as a whole, we have the dangerous beginning of a set of arguments which leads to the place suggested by the blessed Margaret Thatcher and the hon. Gentleman, which is almost one might say anarchic.
I think that my right hon. Friend is taking this line because he is afraid that if a referendum on HS2 was offered to the people of the UK, they would vote firmly against it. Is he actually saying that an institution such as the City of Edinburgh council, which held a postal ballot referendum in February 2005 on its transport strategy, was wrong? I would say it was absolutely right.The people voted and rejected the proposals by 74% to 26%. The voter turnout was 62%. That vote gave people a chance to say how they wanted their council to spend money on a transport project. Is the Minister saying that Edinburgh council was wrong? Is not the truth that he is afraid that people would vote this project down?
It is not out of fear that I resist this proposal; it is out of courage. I am courageous enough to believe in the power, wisdom and efficacy of this place. I am not one of those politicians who is prepared to give ground to that destructive modern insecurity—that guilt-ridden doubt about our ability to originate, to invent, to inspire and to enthral—that so many of the governing class are said to feel. I believe that politicians can make a difference, and that they can take big decisions and be ambitious for what they can achieve for the country. So it is not fear that drives my resistance to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch’s argument; it is courage, and the willingness to be bold and to have confidence in the decisions taken by this House. I emphasise the point about the decisions being taken by this House, because this kind of project can succeed only on the basis of consensus.
Lots of people pull into Euston, and they want to continue to do so without being interrupted for the next 15 years by the works on HS2. In relation to the impact on my constituency, surely the point is that although all the proposals in the Bill—which the House has apparently seriously considered—have been abandoned, the work around Euston has not. There are no proposals for the people or for this House to consider at the moment, and no such proposals are expected until September, even though they were originally promised for last October.
The people of Holborn and St Pancras, in their wisdom, have chosen the right hon. Gentleman—for whom I have a great deal of respect, as he well knows—to speak for them. Members of this House are elected to voice the concerns of their constituents. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) finished her speech by saying that she would give way to her constituents and allow them to have the final word on this matter. Other Members have argued that they speak boldly for their constituents. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) said the concerns of those who have doubts about HS2 were being disregarded because they were seen solely as concerns about the constituency. I do not disregard them on that basis; those Members are doing their duty and their job in making the case for the people they serve, and they do so in the spirit—the Burkeian spirit, dare I say—that should drive all of us who believe in representative democracy and the role of Parliament.
The intervention by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) brings me to the matter of Euston, about which he spoke at considerable length—understandably, given his long association with that place. He will know that part of the advantage of the HS2 project is that it involves the redevelopment of Euston. He will also know that that will, in turn, involve the rebuilding of the Euston arch. There are those in Warwickshire, and in Chesham and Amersham, who might say that their local concerns are far greater than any consideration of what might happen at Euston, but I say that the emblematic significance of rebuilding the Euston arch will send a signal out across the whole nation that the Government are doing the right thing.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the rebuilding of the Euston arch is associated with the redevelopment of Euston station, which is at the very heart of the HS2 project. Of all the London stations, perhaps the one that demands redevelopment most of all is Euston. I know that he would not eschew the opportunity to see the benefits of that regeneration not only for rail travellers but for the whole of that part of his constituency. I know that he was not dismissing the redevelopment of Euston or the rebuilding of the Euston arch. I think that, at heart, he is something of an aesthete. Surely he knows, however, that if the project does not go ahead, Euston will not be redeveloped in the way that it could be.
I fear that the right hon. Gentleman has been very badly briefed by his officials, because he ought to know—his officials certainly ought to know this, although they probably do not, if my experience is anything to go by—that there were outline proposals for the redevelopment of Euston station that virtually everyone in the locality approved of. They would like that particular redevelopment to go ahead, because it would not involve a vast amount of redevelopment around the station. Sir David Higgins appears to believe, based on his experience with the Olympics in east London, that the area around Euston is a brownfield site, but it is not. It is full of people, and they want to be left alone.
I want to say two things about that. First, the right hon. Gentleman knows that those redevelopment plans have been given life only as a result of this project. Secondly, I concede that it is important that any redevelopment should take full account of the interests and wishes of the people in the immediate vicinity. He made a strong case for them in his speech. It is critical that the communities that will be directly affected by that development should be integrally involved in what takes place there. He has been making this argument for some time and, as a result of the overtures that he has made today, I will commit the Government to engaging with those communities, to ensuring that what is done matches the local interest, and to involving him in that process. I am more than happy to have further discussion on the detail of the development of Euston, given what he has offered this debate today. In that spirit, I say to him that its development can be a good and indeed glorious thing; it does not have to be bad news for him, his constituents or the people in that vicinity.
I am sure everybody, particularly the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), appreciates the assurances the Minister is trying to give him. However, I understand that the designers have downed tools on Euston, because they were trying to do it within a £2 billion budget and they cannot redesign and deliver anything meaningful within that. So I would love to know what budget the Minister has set in the Department for the redevelopment, because this is a golden opportunity to inform people of the new budget for any redevelopment at Euston.
Let me tell hon. Members what I think about the redevelopment of Euston. This will perhaps come as news to my right hon. Friend and others, but I am absolutely determined that the development of Euston should be ambitious and bold in the way she described. I am absolutely determined that we should end with something that takes its inspiration from the arch. We do not want some vile, low-budget, modern monstrosity. We want a building that is grand and fit for the future, that is a landmark destination and that is as glorious as the new redevelopment of St Pancras or the addition to King’s Cross. We have a good recent record on what can be done at these large London stations. Let us do nothing less than that at Euston—indeed, let us try to do more. So, I will not be constrained in my ambitions in the way she says, and I could hardly be so, given that I claimed earlier to believe that politicians in this place should be bold, courageous, ambitious and inventive. I want a neoclassical building on a grand scale at Euston, and it does not take a lot of working out to realise that the inspiration—the genesis for that—should come from the redeveloped arch.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras was saying that although he understands that there will be a totemic significance to that building, we also need to consider its environs. I have pledged to him that we will engage with the local community, with local representatives and with him to make sure that the views and representations of the people in the surrounding area are built in to our thinking. I do not think we can say fairer than that.
The sort of thing the Minister is now saying is what HS2 has been saying endlessly to people and then ignoring them. The people in the area—not just their MP but the people themselves—were promised that the revised proposals for Euston would be made public for consultation in October last year and are now being told that these things may be available in September this year. That shows the quality of the consultation that has been going on—it has been listen and ignore.
The right hon. Gentleman understands that those are not matters for which I was responsible, but I am here today and I can seize the responsibility for saying to him that we will make those proposals available for local consideration and consultation, and I do not think it is unreasonable to say that we should do that by September. What I do not want to get to is a further statement in September saying that they have been further delayed. He is a very distinguished and experienced local representative. The way these things work best is when draft ideas—plans—are put forward, to which people can then add, and they then develop incrementally. That cannot be done until the conversation is started in the way he describes. So I think we need to move ahead with greater alacrity than he suggests has been the case so far.
I am sorry to press the Minister further, but I am interested in what he is saying at the Dispatch Box because the rumours are that the budget for any development at Euston is going to increase to about £7 billion. I stress that that is a rumour, but I hope he will be able to comment on it. He seems to be adding another layer of consultation and another delay to this project, which will of course add cost to it, so I would like him to set out the timetable for that consultation on Euston and tell me what sort of delay there will be on it. Will it be delivered in September? What is the budget? What are the proposals? If he is going to be able to say what he has said so far at the Dispatch Box, he must have that detail available. I think it is only fair he does this because any changes at Euston will, of course, delay the entire project between Birmingham and London.
Let me leave Department for Transport officials quaking when I say that I will give these commitments: the arrangements I have set out in respect of the further discussions and consultation with the people in the area that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras represents should be completed speedily; they should certainly be done within existing budgets; and the proposals should be brought forward no later and the measures I have set out should begin no later than September, as he requests. That seems to me to be perfectly reasonable, and I am happy to confirm that that has become the Government’s position, because I have said that it is the Government’s position.
I have clearly made the case that the Bill is an inappropriate means to consider HS2 further, on the grounds that a referendum is not the best way of moving forward. I think that I have begun to offer some reassurance to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras about Euston. I know that he is not entirely convinced, but I hope that he will count it as progress that the Government have recommitted to the kind of proper discussion with the local community that will allow it to shape plans as they move forward. Although I do not wish to delay the House unduly, I shall now move on to other matters arising from this wide-ranging debate that need to be explored.
As she has done a number of times, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham made a spirited case on behalf of her constituents, and she cannot be criticised for inconsistency in her argument. She suggested that we were—I hesitate to use this phrase, but I will do so, for the sake of clarity—hiding costs by using 2011 prices. She will know that estimates are presented in 2011 prices to ensure that costs can be consistently compared as the project progresses. That is a standard approach for large projects that stretch over many years.
My right hon. Friend also talked about VAT. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs recently confirmed that HS2 Ltd can reclaim VAT. As she will know, that took effect at the start of 2014-15. As the National Audit Office has pointed out, VAT is an internal transfer within government, rather than an additional cost, so it would not be right to include VAT in construction cost elements.
I did not raise the matter of VAT, but it is always good to have that information. However, the permanent secretary to the Treasury has given evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee and undertaken to provide us with the costs at today’s prices.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for clarifying her position.
My right hon. Friend did speak about ancient woodlands—at some length, and understandably so. I agree that it is vital that we value ancient woodlands. Whenever possible, it our intention not to destroy ancient woodlands. Furthermore, it is important that we take whatever mitigating measures we can along the line as a whole to deal with environmental effects. I will be speaking shortly at a platform provided by the Campaign to Protect Rural England about aesthetics and infrastructure, and the importance of ensuring that good design characterises all that we do in major projects, whether rail or road. For too long we have assumed that the ergonomic argument was enough or, worse still, that it was enough to make the case just on the basis of utility, but all great infrastructure projects should have a positive effect with regard to what is built and what that looks like. Of course, it is not possible to avoid all destruction of existing landscape, but I nevertheless value my right hon. Friend’s contribution on ancient woodlands and I have something exciting to say in a moment about a particular tree about which there has been a national campaign.
The Minister is going down a route which encourages me. Will he support me in calling for the full tunnelling of the area of outstanding natural beauty, and can his Department say now that it accepts full tunnelling of the AONB, as it is a precious piece of landscape that he obviously would want to protect?
There is already an immense amount of tunnelling in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. I have the map here. Although I cannot give any further commitment today, the Government always have at their heart a desire to do the right thing by the environment. In that spirit I shall speak about the Cubbington pear tree.
As I said, ancient woodlands are an important part of our natural heritage so they need to be protected wherever possible. The best way of doing that is to avoid them in the first place, as my right hon. Friend argued, where that is practical. I repeat that a robust assessment of environmental factors must accompany all aspects of this scheme. As part of that, there has been considerable debate about the 250-year-old pear tree in Cubbington wood. It is not in my right hon. Friend’s constituency but in Warwickshire, but I know she will care about it because she is a great admirer of ancient trees. That pear tree, the second oldest in Britain, I am told, has been the subject of a considerable campaign.
I have asked for a new arboreal study to see whether the Cubbington pear tree can be moved. I do not know if that can be done, but as the rail Minister for the day, I am delighted to say that we will commission that study. If it can be moved, the Cubbington pear tree will be saved. We have already committed to take cuttings if it cannot be saved, but I want to go further and make that commitment in the course of this debate.
The other central element of the debate has been cost. The question that has been raised is why the scheme is going to cost so much and why the target price for phase 1 has gone up. In fact, the target price for phase 1 has come down. It is now £16.34 billion, not the £17.16 billion figure that was originally published. I know that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will intervene in a moment and say yes, that is because of the removal of the HS1/HS2 link, and that is true. None the less, although we have increased the scope of the work that HS2 Ltd must deliver for the target price—the target price now has to include rolling stock, for example—we are determined that despite that bigger ask, there should be a new laser-like focus, to use the words of the shadow Minister, to ensure that this project is conducted as cost-effectively as it can be.
The Department and HS2 have a constant strong focus on ensuring that the project will deliver maximum benefit for minimum cost. The development agreement continues this focus on cost control by making it a key requirement of the delivery arrangements. So yes, this is a very significant project; yes, the costs are very great, but we can deliver it within budget as cost-effectively as possible. Again, perhaps I believe that partly because I am a confident Minister in a confident Government. I am bold about what we can do. I am ambitious. I do not by any means disregard the concerns of Members about these matters because it is important that the Executive are held to account, particularly on issues of cost. But I do say this. Governments and politicians can take one of two views: a reductionist view of politics—a dull, rather mediocre view—or the view that I hold, which is that big projects, with all their economic value and effect on wider well-being, are what characterise big countries.
Order. The Bill suggests that we pose this question in a referendum:
“Do you support the use of …taxpayers’ money to pay for the construction of the HS2 railway?”
We are now drifting well away from the subject of the referendum and the total costs. We are discussing not the individual costs, Minister and Mrs Gillan, but that principle. I am listening carefully to the Minister, who could never be accused of not being ambitious and confident. I would like him ambitiously and confidently to return to the central proposition of whether there should be a referendum.
No apology is necessary; I am sure that nobody could lead the Minister astray even with the skills you show in representing your constituents, Mrs Gillan. Your points may be relevant, but we have been discussing only the minutiae and we need to return to the big picture.
If I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have done me a great service as well as the House—and not for the first time. Until now your generosity in allowing me to range widely has moved me. I anticipated that you would want me to return to the core of the Bill, and I will do so without further delay.
The core of the Bill is the proposal that a project—in this case HS2, but it could be any large infrastructure project—should proceed only on the basis of a further reference to the British people through a referendum. I flatly disagree with that, and it will not be accepted by the Government.
I was about to come to the end of my introductory remarks, but I am now inclined to make them my concluding remarks, given your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am minded to draw, as I briefly did earlier, on Edmund Burke, who said in 1774:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Weigh those words—
“if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
In other words, the representative must not lack the confidence, vigour, energy and vision to make a case on behalf of his constituents for the common good and in the national interest. It has been the business of this House for more than 150 years to usher in some of the greatest projects that the world has ever seen. Those include the railways built by the Victorians, which have stood the test of time and still prove themselves as the veins and arteries of this country. In their day, the same criticisms were made.
I have the railways Acts of 1833 and 1837 with me here today. I have seen the Second Reading debates. I know the criticisms faced by those who proposed that first generation of great railways—those big infrastructure projects; they were very like the criticisms made in the House today. Those debates were very like those that we have enjoyed about whether these things represent a threat or an opportunity. Those politicians, those Victorian leaders and those Governments did not duck their responsibility—they did what Britain needed. Today we remain grateful for their decisions, because we still benefit from them.
Let me be clear: the west coast main line, which despite having been upgraded since those Victorian times, has at last reached its capacity. Even on moderate forecasts, that line—the nation’s key rail corridor—will be full by the mid-2020s, despite the £9 billion-worth of improvements in recent years. We cannot continue to make do and mend. We must make a bold decision worthy of our nation’s future, in the spirit of those great leaders of the past, as ambitious and confident for the next generation as they were for us. As parliamentarians, we are elected to serve not only the constituents that live now but those yet to come, for the decisions we take will affect them too.
We have a duty to support this kind of infrastructural investment—to make the difference, to shape the future, not to hesitate to do the right thing—and that is precisely what we will do. That is why I ask the House to reject the arguments, however well meant and well articulated, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and reject the Bill he has put before us.
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I thank everybody who has participated in this debate. It will not have escaped the House’s notice that the only speeches against the Bill came from the two Front Benchers. In a sense, that sums it up. The only way we are going to be able to break out of this cosy consensus between those on the Front Benches is to allow the people their say.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) gave the House some fascinating statistics on exactly how unpopular the HS2 project and the associated expenditure of taxpayers’ money are. Established politicians, whether they be with great ambition, like my right hon. Friend the Minister, or not, should listen very carefully to the views of the people on these issues.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras for their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) made a very telling speech in which he emphasised the problems in his constituency. We have also had interventions supporting the Bill from the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) and my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is here as well.
I also want to thank a lot of people who have helped to raise awareness of this debate, particularly one of my constituents, Penny Gaines, who moved into my constituency relatively recently, having been forced out of the constituency where she lived before but unable to sell her house at a reasonable price because of the blight of HS2. She remains very strongly opposed to the project, as do large numbers of my constituents.
The question people ask at this stage of a debate is, “Where next?” I am reliably informed that if we pushed the Bill to a Second Reading, it would not receive the Government’s support for a money resolution and would therefore be unable to make any progress. It would not be able to go into Committee or be dealt with before the end of this Session—the last Session of this Parliament.
However, this issue is not going to go away. Our country is still running an annual deficit of close to £100 billion a year. The HS2 hybrid Bill is still in Committee and will be there beyond the general election. Come June, after the general election, there will be a fresh ballot for private Members’ Bills and I hope that a successful colleague will promote a Bill along the same lines as mine. We will then be able to drum up the necessary support to give the Bill a Second Reading, take it to Committee and, I hope, get it on the statute book.
As the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras has said, it is obscene for such a proposal to waste so much public money when taxpayers’ money is so scarce, and the Front Benchers, in a cosy alliance, are trying to force it through against the will of the people.
Finally, the £20 billion for Crossrail 2 is an additional cost to that for HS2. Without it, people getting off HS2 would not have anywhere to go because it would be so congested. My right hon. Friend the Minister gave no answer to that and there was no clear answer from the Opposition representative, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). I am afraid that typifies what has almost become a dialogue of the deaf on this issue. Ultimately, this is costing the taxpayers money, and the Government need to be brought to account.
I look forward to this Bill, or something like it, being reintroduced later in this calendar year and, ultimately, making it to the statute book. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.