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High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 29 January 2019

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That if a High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill is brought from the House of Commons in the next Session of Parliament, the Standing Orders of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with or dispensed with in this Session, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in the next Session.

My Lords, I will briefly ask the noble Baroness a couple of questions on this Motion. It is good to have it before the House—it shows progress with HS2—but I am wondering why today. It is probably because we do not have much else to do in your Lordships’ House. Could she give us any idea as to when the Bill will complete its passage through the House of Commons and when we might see it?

Before the Bill comes to your Lordships’ House, will the Government publish a new business case and cost estimate for phase 2a—the subject of the Bill—taking into account the latest information about land purchase and design development? I am already hearing stories about quite difficult ground conditions on the route, including salt mines. There are lots of salt mines in Cheshire. Let us hope that the costs estimate does not go shooting up. I ask this because on HS2 phase 1 we are still working on the 2013 business case, which is six years old—six years of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s amber/red designation, which I think is a record.

This was raised in the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee hearing last week, when Nusrat Ghani, the Minister, and officials gave evidence. When the committe quoted higher costs to the Minister—I think she had probably gone to vote by then—the officials said, “We don’t recognise these figures”. When the committee went back to them and said, “If you don’t recognise the figures we’re quoting, what figures do you recognise?” The answer was, basically, “None”. I do not know whether this is the first of many Treasury blank cheques, or whether in fact the Minister will confirm, as she did in a Written Answer to me about six months ago, that before permanent work starts on phase 1, the Government will come up with a new cost estimate and a new business case.

My Lords, perhaps I may add a couple of question to those of my noble friend Lord Berkeley. I must admit that I am a wee bit worried now that he has told me about the salt mines in Cheshire—but I will have a go nevertheless.

This Motion refers to,

“the next Session of Parliament”.

I am glad to see that the Government Chief Whip is here, because my first question is: when is the next Session of Parliament? When are we going to get it? Will the Queen ever come here again? Will we have a Queen’s Speech—because we have a whole range of things to get though? With what is happening down at the other end of the building, this Session could go on and on. So, before we agree to this, it would be useful to know when the next Session of Parliament is due to begin.

My second question relates to the question of publishing the business case, which my noble friend raised. The original business case, which seems to be being forgotten—I know that my noble friend Lord Snape will not have forgotten it—envisaged that the high-speed rail would go all the way up to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. Therefore, the business case was based on competition: competing with the airlines that fly now between London and Glasgow and Edinburgh. If it is not going up to Glasgow and Edinburgh, that business case does not arise—so I would be grateful to know whether the business case does include the extension of high-speed rail to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Those are my two questions. I hope they are not enough to get me sent to the salt mines of Cheshire.

My Lords, before the Minister responds, and without wishing to send my noble friend to the salt mines or anywhere else, could she offer some reassurance to those of us who have long supported this particular scheme, as far as costings are concerned? My noble friend who asked the first question of the Minister is, like me, regarded as a supporter of HS2. I am tempted to say, “With friends like us, who needs enemies?” I think that the costings we have had so far are causing considerable concern—although the Economic Affairs Committee has never been well disposed to this particular scheme and has criticised it on financial grounds on previous occasions. Can the Minister offer some reassurance to those of us who support this scheme that the costings are sensible and that we will not have to keep defending it against people who appear to believe that if you think of a figure and double it, that would be the cost of HS2 in future.

Finally, would the Minister agree that it is essential, whether or not the scheme gets to Scotland, that pressure is taken off the west coast main line, and alternatives are offered in the way that, we all hope, HS2 will bring about?

I thank noble Lords for those questions. On phase 2a costs, in July 2017 we published the business case for phase 2a, which included the funding envelope of £3.48 billion at 2015 prices. We still believe that cost estimate to be correct and so do not intend to publish any further cost information at this stage, but we will publish a further incremental estimate of expenses with the Additional Provision 2 shortly, which I hope will provide noble Lords with some reassurance.

On timing, the Bill is currently at Select Committee stage in another place. Once it completes all its stages there, it will come here. I am not able to give an exact date to the noble Lord, but we expect it to be the summer—of this year. I think it is fair to say that announcing the dates for the next Session is well beyond my purview.

That is a new way of putting it; it is usually “above my pay grade”, so “beyond my purview” is new. Sitting two down from the Minister is the Government Chief Whip, who is paid a lot more than she is. I wonder whether the Chief Whip would care to intervene and tell us when the next Session of Parliament is due to start. If he cannot do so today, maybe he will do what he did when I raised the issue of Recess dates and announce them a week later.

My Lords, I will restrict myself to answering questions on HS2, which is within my pay grade. On HS2’s costs in general, of course all major projects face challenges and it would be unrealistic to expect HS2 to be straightforward. We are absolutely committed to delivering HS2, and HS2 Ltd has been set an ambitious target of starting phase 1 services in 2026. HS2 Ltd is currently working with contracted suppliers to keep phase 1 on track, which includes updating and agreeing an assessment of schedule confidence. We will make those schedule details public as part of the full business case for phase 1, which is due to be published later this year. The spending review in 2015 established the long-term funding envelope for delivering HS2 of £55.7 billion at 2015 prices, and we remain determined to deliver HS2 within that.

On timing, there was no particular reason for debating the Motion today. It is simply when it was scheduled as a formal procedure. The equivalent procedure has already passed in another place and it follows the precedent for hybrid Bills in this House. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on the necessity for HS2. We have seen a doubling of passenger numbers on our railways; we are at capacity and we urgently need a new railway to help deal with that demand. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.