That the Bill now be read a second time.
My Lords, HS2 is a major infrastructure programme that has had substantial parliamentary support from both Houses over its development to date. The Bill before your Lordships’ House relates to phase 2a of HS2, which would extend the line from the West Midlands to Crewe. Before I move on to the substance of the Bill, I want to draw attention to the Oakervee review and the recent advice received from Allan Cook, the chairman of HS2 Ltd. Noble Lords will be aware that the Government have asked Douglas Oakervee, supported by a panel with a wide range of views, to review HS2. Noble Lords will also be aware of the Statement laid last week by the Transport Secretary regarding advice recently received from Allan Cook. The Oakervee review will assemble and test all the existing evidence, including the recent advice from Allan Cook to allow the Government to make properly informed decisions on the future of the project.
The Transport Secretary made it clear when launching the review that the review itself should not unnecessarily delay HS2. This means continuing with preparatory work, including the enabling work for phase 1, and progressing the legislation for phase 2a. It is important to mention the review and the chairman’s advice, but giving the Bill a Second Reading does not affect the conduct of the review or prejudge its outcome. Indeed, I wish to make it clear that the Bill seeks permissive powers, to be able to construct phase 2a. It does not require the railway to be built.
The focus of this Bill process is addressing the concerns of people whose homes and businesses are impacted by the route. The petitioners seek resolution of their issues and certainty about what will happen. By giving the Bill a Second Reading and allowing the Select Committee to do its work, we can enable petitioners to be heard and their concerns considered.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House when the report of the review will be published?
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention, but perhaps I may pick up all the issues surrounding the review later. If he includes that question in his speech, I will cover it in my speech at the end of the debate, when we discuss all those issues.
My Lords, will the Minister also say whether part of the evidence that the review takes will include an assessment of how much has been spent already on this vital link for the West Midlands? Then we could get a clearer idea, in the light of the suggestion by some that the scheme should be scrapped—which, as well as being disastrous for the West Midlands, would be a colossal waste of money.
I shall indeed cover that in my closing remarks.
It is nearly 200 years since permission was given for the building of what is now the west coast main line. Those railway pioneers made history. The railways allowed goods to travel more quickly to where people wanted them, and allowed people to travel too, for work and leisure. All this truly unlocked the Industrial Revolution, and by connecting people and goods it made the United Kingdom into an economic powerhouse.
Much has changed in nearly 200 years, but I want to focus on the things that remain the same—the things that the railways can still do: the need for railway capacity to take people and freight where they should go; the need for connectivity between places, to make travel easier; and the potential for economic growth through transport investment.
Turning to capacity, the vast bulk of our rail network was built more than 100 years ago. Demand has increased substantially since the 1990s, and the west coast main line is effectively full. Inevitably, this has implications for the reliability and performance of our network, affecting both passengers and freight. I do not want to underestimate those implications. Disruption to freight delivery can be unseen, but the disruption to people’s lives caused by late or cancelled trains regularly makes the press. The resulting huge frustration can mean that people choose not to trust trains for freight or travel, and those choices can mean more lorries and cars on our roads, with higher carbon emissions.
Capacity on, and in turn the resilience of, our railways is essential. The Government continue to invest in our existing infrastructure, but to really increase capacity and network reliability requires completely new capacity. Eking ever more out of our already full network comes with extensive disruption, leading to daily frustration with the impact on lives and businesses. Those rail users may not come back to the railways. If it proceeds, HS2 could be the best solution to capacity problems, providing much-needed space on the congested west coast main line, leading to more passengers and more freight trains on the existing network.
That brings me to connectivity. HS2 could connect many of the UK’s largest cities, and passengers would not have to travel on it to feel the benefit. Estimates indicate that about 100 towns and cities across the country could benefit from HS2 through the improved connectivity that a new railway could provide. That is not just rail connectivity; it is connectivity of people to other people, to jobs, and to businesses and their customers and suppliers. This section of HS2 could join Birmingham and London to Crewe, bringing greater connectivity to the north-west and Scotland.
That leads me to my third point: investment in transport infrastructure is not just about the infrastructure itself. Investment in transport infrastructure drives economic growth. It supports productivity by enhancing the transport networks on which businesses and individuals rely, and provides thousands of jobs and training opportunities in the supply chain. Earlier this year the Government announced that HS2 was already supporting more than 9,000 jobs and that 2,000 businesses had delivered goods and services for HS2. It has been offering up exciting opportunities for young people, with over 320 apprenticeships created so far. It is enabling young people to gain the skills to build our future infrastructure. Those skills are transferable, from building railways to other construction and other economic sectors, meaning that HS2 could give the UK more skills to compete globally, generate long-term employment opportunities and become the driving force behind Northern Powerhouse Rail.
I turn to the Bill itself. Phase 2a of HS2 is approximately 36 miles of track. It will extend HS2 from the end of phase 1 at Fradley near Lichfield and onwards towards Crewe. At the northern end it will connect to the west coast main line, allowing HS2 services to join that main line and call at Crewe station. The Bill gives outline planning permission for the railway and allows for compulsory purchase powers. It affects homes, businesses and land along the way, so it is rightly subject to extensive scrutiny. A Select Committee especially convened to scrutinise the Bill in the other place received over 300 individual petitions. During that scrutiny, the Transport Secretary offered 1,000 assurances to people who are directly and especially affected.
If the Bill receives its Second Reading today, it will pass to another specially convened Select Committee of your Lordships’ House that will look again at the detail of the Bill and make sure that it meets the high standards that we expect. The committee will have the power to amend the Bill as well as to require other changes to this part of the scheme not yet covered in the Bill. Since First Reading in July, the Bill has received 35 petitions for the Select Committee to consider, and HS2 is engaging with those petitioners to try to address their needs.
Stepping back from the individual impacts, wider community and environmental impacts are also raised by the Bill. I reassure noble Lords that I understand these wider concerns but I also remind them that it is not possible to build a railway without having some impact on the wider community. We must strike the right balance between delivering and operating a railway and being sensitive to its surroundings. I believe that the Government have struck that balance.
HS2 has undertaken detailed environmental assessments to ensure adequate mitigation of the railway’s impacts. These 36 miles of track have been considered through 17,000 pages of environmental statement—that is over 470 pages of assessment for every mile of track. Many thousands of consultation responses to the assessment were independently assessed and summarised in a report to Parliament. For example, an ecologically survey at Colwich looked for great crested newts. The field survey confirmed the newts’ presence and, to compensate for any possible losses, approximately 7.4 hectares of grassland, including eight ponds, has been proposed to provide suitable replacement refuge and foraging habitat. These assessments are not the end of our consideration of the environmental effects and impacts on communities. The Government have continued to listen to communities, environmental groups, statutory bodies and other stakeholders to try to reduce the impacts where we can.
Other changes to the scheme include the lowering of the Kings Bromley and River Trent viaducts in Staffordshire to reduce landscape impacts and the relocation of the southern portal of the Whitmore Heath tunnel, removing the need to realign a road and reducing the loss of ancient woodland. There are additional earthworks to further screen the maintenance base near Stone and to provide additional noise mitigation, such as the noise bund at Woodhouse Farm. There are assurances to protect water voles in Cheshire and to provide bird protectors along the power supplies to protect important bird species. These are just a few examples.
More than half the route is in a tunnel or cutting. The route avoids direct impacts to any grade 1 or 2* listed buildings, to scheduled monuments, to registered battlefields and to registered parks and gardens. The route does not affect any Natura 2000 sites or sites of special scientific interest, or cross any areas of outstanding natural beauty, and HS2 has been designed to withstand a “one in 1,000 years” flooding event. I know there are people who want to see more: longer tunnels, deeper cuttings, taller noise barriers and so on. I understand that. However, our duty to protect the environment must be balanced with our duty to the taxpayer. The work to date has done that and balances these responsibilities appropriately.
Does the Minister agree that those who demand longer tunnels and deeper cuttings are usually the ones who then complain about the extra costs there involved?
The noble Lord raises an interesting point. HS2 is intended to be greater than the sum of its parts. It is designed to provide much-needed capacity on our rail network, allowing freight and passengers more reliable services. It could reconnect our country, pumping much-needed investment into the Midlands and the north. HS2 is about potential: to create opportunities for growth, support a brighter future for the UK, improve and rebalance our economy and improve connectivity across the UK. It remains important to get these decisions right, so we look forward to hearing Douglas Oakervee’s recommendations. In the meantime, I hope the Bill is allowed to proceed today. I beg to move.
My Lords, the HS2 project is an initiative of the last Labour Government and one which we still support today. In the years that have passed since it was first announced, the project has steered off course from the direction we intended. The line was due to be built as a network rather than a standalone piece of infrastructure, as part of a campaign to engineer growth for the Midlands and the north of England. Throughout the route’s construction, we had intended that it would be built with consideration for the economic, environmental and time sensitivities. With public confidence in the Government’s ability to do this now waning, I am pleased that we can debate this Bill to enable the construction of the line between Birmingham and Crewe and that this Parliament can consider whether the project should continue.
In recent weeks, the Government announced that a review will take place to examine whether the HS2 scheme should be approved, amended or scrapped, a move which follows Labour’s amendment to the Bill in the Commons calling for exactly this. However, a review in itself is not enough, and I would appreciate confirmation from the Minister that it will give particular consideration to the predicted timescale and costs, as well as the impact on the environment. Regarding the environmental implications, the impact on woodlands should be specifically analysed. HS2 remains the biggest single development threat to ancient woodland, with at least 108 ancient woods threatened along the route. Can the Minister confirm that the impact on ancient woodlands will be included in the review, and whether any further felling will take place while the report is being produced?
In addition to clarifying what will be included in the report, I would appreciate confirmation that sufficient parliamentary time will be given for both Houses to consider the published review and whether the Government’s resulting judgment is right. The Government’s decision to announce a review highlights further the need for repeated review through the duration of the project. The publication of quarterly reports would make HS2 Ltd more transparent and accountable to Parliament, allowing MPs and Peers to be better equipped to identify any problems and hold both the company and the Government to account. On this side of the House, we may explore legislating for such transparency, as our Commons colleagues attempted to do during the Bill’s passage through the Commons. Could the Minister clarify whether there any non-statutory plans for periodic reports?
Returning to the specifics of the project, I mentioned earlier that the original intention was for HS2 to form a wider network rather than a standalone piece of infrastructure. Above all else, we must remember that HS2 should be to the benefit of everyone across the UK, not only the narrow number who live close to each station. In order to guarantee that the rail line benefits those near to and far from it, we must ensure sufficient accessibility and connectivity.
The section of the route which the Bill deals with begins at Birmingham and passes along the Staffordshire-Shropshire border up to Cheshire. Along this route are counties where some communities lack any kind of meaningful public transport connection to HS2. Although Oswestry, for example—North Shropshire’s largest town—is only about 30 miles as the crow flies from Crewe, if you planned to leave there at 5pm on a weekday using public transport, you would not reach Crewe station until past 9pm. Oswestry is one of the many West Midlands towns without a railway station, and whilst the nearby Gobowen station is only a bus journey away, the buses can be hours apart and the train journey from there to Crewe requires lengthy changes. Do the Government have any plans to improve links to the line from towns such as Oswestry, and others such as Cheadle in Staffordshire?
Finally, I will touch briefly on compensation. There have rightly been changes in practice to ensure that landowners and freeholders receive compensation for the loss of their homes, but the application criteria for the various compensation schemes do not ensure that compensation is paid to tenants, including tenant farmers. Concerns have been raised that the Government have overlooked this issue and it may be necessary to explore a statutory option in the Bill’s later stages. Since such concerns were debated during the Bill’s passage through the Commons, can the Minister update the House as to whether a new scheme will be introduced?
HS2 is a wholly necessary project to create additional capacity and improved rail connectivity which, if carried out effectively, will increase productivity and encourage growth. In addition, it can help the UK to engineer a much-needed shift of people and goods to rail that is imperative in the light of climate change, and for air quality. However, with reports emerging of predicted delays and overspends, we need, above all, transparency and repeated reviews to consider whether the project will achieve what it intends to achieve. We must also ensure that the project is delivered to the benefit of the wider UK population, as was first intended.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on her enthusiasm about this project. It is good to get that positivity at the beginning of this debate and it is good to see this project gradually creeping, inch by inch, northwards out of the south-east and London. But, my goodness, the Government and other stakeholders make this argument difficult for us at a time when the forecast is for an increase in cost of between £26 billion and £33 billion and for the timetable to extend by five to seven years. In fact, I think it is now 10 years since the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, announced this project, if I have got this right.
Nine years. If we are talking about it being completed by potentially getting up to Leeds and Manchester only, not even to Scotland, then that is going to take some three decades—the sort of time between the end of the Second World War and 1975—which puts it in a timeframe of my lifetime. That seems to me to be absolutely ridiculous.
Another difficulty is our track record. For HS1, it took 16 years from the announcement to get the line built, 14 of which were after the Eurotunnel had been completed, whereas France, strangely enough, had managed to organise it so that the railway line was open at the same time as the tunnel—something which we completely failed at in this country.
But, like the Minister, I remain optimistic. Looking internationally, in Europe—to mention a few countries—Germany, France, Spain and Italy have these networks in place. In fact, France started in 1981 with its TGV infrastructure and now has some 2,500 kilometres of track. China, of course, manages to do these things even quicker, for reasons we understand: there is not quite the level of consultation that we have in this country. It now has some 30,000 kilometres of track. I understand that the line from Beijing to Shanghai—over 1,300 kilometres—was completed in 39 months from announcement to operation. I was tempted to recommend in my speech that we open the work up again and that the Department for Transport gets some Chinese contractors to bid for it, but perhaps that might not be the way to do this. The fact is that we are a long way behind in this country. We are talking about something, although now, nine years later, it is about whether we stop or start again. We need to move this project forward.
Why do we need to do that? For me, an up-to-date, fast train infrastructure is just a part of the tools of a modern economy. I do not see how we can get away from that. Yes, we should have started some three decades ago, but we now need to proceed. It is important from an environmental point of view. There are important issues around environmental corridors and ancient woodlands that I in no way minimise, but I believe this is one of the ways that we need to tackle a clean transport strategy for the future, not just for a decarbonised rail system but for cars and automotive emissions in particular. I hope that at some point, when this railway goes north of the border, we will be able to substitute rail travel for air travel. Those are just some reasons why we need to do it.
I know that some people have said that this is an old technology. I have heard that from people in the environmental area whom I truly respect, but these lines are still being built abroad at some pace. It is still part of a new technology. Rail, which started almost 200 years ago, is still an important infrastructure. This is not an old technology. Videoconferencing will not substitute the way forward. I also believe that what the Minister said about capacity is particularly important not just for passengers but for freeing up lines for freight services.
I will take just one other area. I think the Minister said—and other contributors from the Labour Benches in particular have said this—that this railway must be open to all. My experience, not just from HS1, is that not just business customers use these lines. Yes, there are some commuters as well, but it is very much ordinary citizens who use them. HS1, particularly for south-eastern services, has been a vital way for local or semi-regional services to rejuvenate part of the south-east in particular coastal towns and communities. This is important for all these reasons.
The question I really want to put to the Minister is about value for money. During research for this project, I tried to look at the comparative cost per kilometre for other high-speed trains and tracks in other nations, particularly in Europe—clearly, it is far lower in China because of the geography and the lack of consultation there. Even in France, it is estimated that the cost of one of their recent lines was one-sixth per kilometre of what it is in the UK. I can understand why it could be even 50% more, but to be multiples more I do not understand. The fundamental question I ask the Minister, in order to keep the confidence of me, our Benches and the taxpayer is: how can the Government ensure that this project, vital though it is, is delivered at the right cost and at the right time, so that we can keep a modern infrastructure in this country?
My Lords, I shall be echoing the enthusiasm for this project of the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson.
When I worked at Number 10, I led a year-long project for the then Prime Minister on our national transport infrastructure, working with a team of officials from the Department for Transport and the Cabinet Office. We identified clearly that the UK, a pioneer of transport infrastructure in the 19th and early 20th century, had fallen way behind. In the previous 50 years, we had invested a far lower share of GDP on our infrastructure than other leading countries. Our work demonstrated that, again and again, Governments of both major parties had cut back on planned capital spend whenever a national financial difficulty arose. As a result, the UK had by far the poorest road and rail infrastructure of any developed country. Few of our decision-makers have ever worked in the real economy, I am sorry to say, and they have scant understanding of modern business and of why fit-for-purpose, globally competitive infrastructure is so essential.
Today, business relies on people with advanced professional, specialist and technical skills: financial, strategic, digital, logistical, data science skills and many, many more. They often work for just a few months, on a project basis. Such skills are barely ever available locally in sufficient number. So many people at every level in modern business travel long distances to work, some daily and some weekly, up and out early on Monday, back late Thursday, home-working Friday. At the same time, goods, products and parts of every possible description are distributed urgently at every hour of the day, to every corner of the land. Strategic roads, lamentable though they are in the UK, are by far the most important part of our transport infrastructure. However, rail matters too, and our rail network has long been a disgrace.
We simply must create a long-term, 20 to 30-year plan, not only for effectively linking the huge metropolitan areas of the north to one another but also for linking them and the great Scottish cities to London. Beyond that, we must address lateral travel right across the UK. Manchester and Leeds are 40 miles apart, but it takes over an hour by rail to travel between them. Norwich is 206 miles from Liverpool; the train journey takes five and a half hours, travelling at a snail-rail pace of just 37 miles per hour. Someone leaving London on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner to New York at the same time that Norwich fans left for their opening match of the season against Liverpool just a few weeks ago would have arrived 17 minutes before them.
As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, France opened its first HSR link from Paris to Lyon almost 40 years ago. Japan, Spain and France all have advanced HSR networks now around 1,800 miles in length. China has built an incredible 11,000 miles of high-speed rail in the last six years alone. This, my Lords, is our global competition. Currently, the UK’s only high-speed rail link, from Folkestone to St Pancras, is a measly 67 miles long. How embarrassing for our nation is that?
If HS2 survives its current scrutiny, we will still lag far behind other countries, albeit with a less shaming 400-mile HSR network all of our own. Whatever the project, it must of course be run efficiently, at least possible cost and with real environmental sensitivity. We would all agree on that, but only those who have never themselves managed a large, complex project can barefacedly protest when unexpected difficulties arise or when honest attempts to identify the full cost of a project prove flawed. Beyond that, those selfsame critics often show no appreciation at all of the difference between revenue and capital spend—the latter an investment to have an impact over many decades, perhaps centuries. The Minister reminded us that the west coast line was started 200 years ago. What a return on investment that has proved; it has paid for itself over and over again.
HS2 is a vital foundation of our future rail infrastructure and should be supported wholeheartedly. We should run the project as efficiently and as cost-effectively as we can. But we should also hold our nerve and, Brexit or not, in respect of our national infrastructure we simply must regain Britain’s one-time boldness and ambition from centuries past.
My Lords, I am sorry to spoil the consensus but I really feel as though this is Groundhog Day. I cannot believe that we are proceeding with something so obviously discredited and which is probably about to be scrapped, with all the costs and damage involved. All my remarks apply to any HS2 scheme in its entirety.
The original concept of HS2 was built on speed. When this proved impractical, the selling point became capacity. This has now become discredited not because there is no need for extra capacity but because this railway line is clearly not where it is most needed. Costs are now completely out of control, completion dates are a joke and any idea of accountability or normal public and parliamentary scrutiny has long since been abandoned. Whistleblowers are now revealing just how bad the situation is and, despite desperate attempts to muzzle them, the truth is coming out. I understand that the whole question of fraud is now being investigated.
With little effort being made to remedy the situation, a committee of your Lordships’ House suggested to HS2 that it consider reduced speed, since this makes all kinds of sensible savings. It also asked HS2 to stop the line at Old Oak Common rather going into Euston, which has proved an intractable problem. Neither of these suggestions was taken up. HS2 carries on in its own chaotic, spendthrift way. This is not surprising since, when the previous Secretary of State for Transport was asked how much he was prepared to spend, he said, “What it takes”. What saddens me and makes me resist this Second Reading is HS2’s pig-headed unwillingness to listen to or take advice from anyone, no matter how qualified they are.
Nothing has changed since I put down my amendment in your Lordships’ House at Third Reading of the HS2 Bill in January 2017, which would have stopped the farce once and for all. I said on that occasion:
“This House has a simple choice before it this afternoon. If it believes that the HS2 project provides good value for money and will benefit the British public, it will vote against the amendment. But if it agrees that this was an ill-conceived project from the start, which has been entirely discredited, even during the three years it has been passing through Parliament, and that if allowed to proceed, it will result in massive expenditure and huge disruption in both London and the countryside for no discernible benefit at all, the House will support the amendment and stop this scheme before any … harm is done”.—[Official Report, 31/1/17; col. 1099.]
Sadly, my amendment was rejected and we have since had two and a half years of wasted money and damage to homes, lives and the environment. I did have some support from people who really understood the situation: the noble Lords, Lord Macpherson and Lord Burns, both Financial Secretaries to the Treasury when HS2 was being put through. Asked to explain his vote, the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson, said that it was,
“simply on value for money grounds. In a world where capital spending is rationed, there are many road … schemes which would give the taxpayer a better return”.
Other signatories, including the noble Lord, Lord Burns, also backed the move.
Not only must the House not proceed with the Bill, but the existing work on HS2 must be stopped before any more damage is done, particularly to our environment and to people’s lives, homes and businesses. It is criminal to be felling trees in preparation for something that probably is never going to be built. In a recent statement on HS2 in the other place, Jeremy Wright MP asked,
“may I press the Secretary of State on the point he made about enabling works? As he knows, there is more than one kind of enabling work currently under way. Some of the enabling work is the destruction of ancient woodland sites. There are seven of them in my constituency, along with a very old and much valued pear tree in the village of Cubbington. Given that he has announced an all-options review, including the possibility that this project will be cancelled or significantly revised, surely it is possible and sensible to categorise those types of enabling work that will do irreversible damage and postpone them until the review has concluded”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/9/19; col. 356.]
In a similar vein, I have seen a plea from Councillor Kathy O’Donoghue concerning the section through Cheshire. She is extremely worried about what is happening in Cheshire, where there are now all sorts of problems. On 8 October, a planning application is going to be heard by Cheshire West and Chester Council to build a compound, which will have a huge effect on the area, where there are old salt mines. She is concerned that the planning application and the compulsory purchase order might go through before it has been decided that the project will proceed.
I was recently part of a judging panel in a competition to find alternative ways of spending £58 billion on our railway system. It was truly amazing to discover what a difference could be made nationwide, particularly in the north, with links east and west. In summary, we must call a halt to the existing work, particularly preparatory work, and immediately review the current position, as we are doing. We must spend every penny available for our railways on sensible, well thought out schemes. For heaven’s sake, we must find a way of costing these major infrastructure projects properly and supervising their construction in a sensible and professional way.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on her opening speech. As I will point out in a moment, there is a big problem with the conflict between that speech, which was full of enthusiasm, and the setting up of a fundamental review, which could lead to the cancellation of HS2. There is a clear left hand/right hand problem in the handling of this project at the moment, which will only serve to add to costs and delays. None the less, the noble Baroness’s speech was excellent and set out the whole case against having a fundamental review of HS2. My noble friend Lord Berkeley who, to my amazement, has agreed to serve on this extraordinary review, is not in his place this afternoon. However, I will recommend that he reads that speech and ceases his work forthwith. I also note the presence in the Chamber of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, who chaired the hybrid Bill committee on the London to Birmingham Bill. With the scale of the work required and the dedication of its members, that was one of the most heroic endeavours which any noble Lord has undertaken in recent times. It showed this House at its very best. I am looking around the Chamber to see who will be volunteering for the next hybrid Bill committee. My noble friend Lord Snape is nodding; maybe he will chair that committee. We would certainly welcome that.
The noble Lord’s work played a very significant part in taking this big infrastructure project forward, as did the work of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, when I became Secretary of State for Transport and devoted myself in a serious way to looking at the case for high-speed rail. He and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to France, but of course it is 55 years, more than half a century, since the Japanese opened their first and transformational high-speed line between Tokyo and Osaka. They started construction 60 years ago, so we have been taking some to catch up, but it was the noble Lord’s strategic review which put it in my mind that I should be looking very seriously at the case for a high-speed rail network in this country. This is a very good example—and we do not have many, I fear, in this terrible Brexit crisis—of constructive public policy which is factually based, learns from evidence and learns from international experience. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson said, almost all the rest of the industrialised world, apart from the United States, has high-speed rail, and even the US is halfway through constructing a line from San Francisco to LA.
The noble Lord mentioned China. China has more high-speed rail than the rest of the world put together and has been building a network at great speed. When I was Transport Secretary the Chinese Transport Minister offered to build our high-speed line. He said to me over a very long dinner in the Transport Ministry in Beijing that he would build it for half the cost of the Germans—I assume that he assumed we were about to give a contract to the Germans. I said, “We have this thing called Parliament, Minister, and it has to agree to all this before we can start the construction, but by all means let us have a conversation in a few years’ time”. I regret to tell your Lordships that that Minister is now in jail under a suspended sentence of death for corruption, so although the Chinese are able to construct these projects quickly, there are downsides in the way they conduct their affairs in Beijing. I am glad that I am with your Lordships and not currently at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
The background to this is a great sense of urgency, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said, to see that our infrastructure matches that of other industrialised nations, all of which, apart from the United States, have been investing in high-speed rail to link their major conurbations. When the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, said that this has been conducted without parliamentary consent and scrutiny, that is, of course, palpably untrue. There have been exhaustive debates. The work of the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker, and that of the Select Committee in the other place was absolutely exhaustive.
I am not sure that I said it had been conducted without parliamentary consent, did I?
The noble Lord said scrutiny.
It is important to be accurate, with great respect to the noble Lord. He said that I said it had been done without parliamentary consent.
I did not. I said, “without proper parliamentary scrutiny”. There has been massive parliamentary scrutiny of this project. The Motion the noble Lord referred to, which he moved at Third Reading in January 2017, attracted 25 votes while there were 385 votes on the other side, so I do not think anyone can say that it is not the express will of Parliament that is leading HS2 to proceed.
The problem we have at the moment is, as I say, a left hand/right hand problem. On one hand, Parliament has given emphatic consent to this project to continue, and indeed to be authorised in the first place: not just the first phase, which passed this House by 385 votes to 25, and passed the House of Commons by 399 votes to 42—absolutely colossal majorities—but this Bill, extending HS2 from Birmingham to Crewe, was passed in the House of Commons in the middle of July by 263 votes to 17. There has been cross-party consensus and overwhelming support.
The Minister referred, and I assume that her officials were giving her very carefully crafted drafting in this respect, to the work taking place on HS2 as “preparatory work”. There is nothing preparatory about the work being done on HS2 at the moment. The line is being built; more than £5 billion has been spent and more than 1,000 people work at HS2 Ltd in Birmingham. If your Lordships go to Euston, you will see that it is not preparatory work that is leading to the virtual closure of the station, with huge tarpaulins up and big excavation works, but the construction of the railway line. It is right that this should happen, because, unless we start constructing it, it will never be there.
Parliament authorised this project to proceed two years ago. Billions of pounds have been spent, thousands of people are working on it—we expect this work to proceed. It is this that makes the review that has been set up so bizarre. At the same time as Parliament has given express and overwhelming authority for this work to proceed, thousands of people being employed and billions of pounds having been spent, what do the Government do, courtesy of the Prime Minister? They parachute in a fundamental review which is essentially conducting open-heart surgery on a moving patient, if I may mix my metaphors.
This whole project is being constructed, massive public expense is being entered into, and what do the Government do? They announce a strategic fundamental review, looking not just at the management of the project, which is absolutely appropriate to look at because it has not been good enough and is part of the reason we have the cost overruns, but the whole case for HS2, which has been approved by Parliament by majorities of more than 10 to one.
I see the clock is flashing, but I will carry on for a few more minutes because this is Second Reading.
The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, stuck to seven minutes.
There is not a fixed time limit. I will make two more points if I may.
When the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, said that the case for HS2 when it started was on speed and not capacity, that was completely untrue. I published the White Paper on HS2 in March 2010, the opening words of which were,
“the Government’s assessment is … That over the next 20 to 30 years the UK will require a step-change in transport capacity between its largest and most productive conurbations … alongside such … capacity, there are real benefits for the economy and for passengers from”—
Will the noble Lord give way, since he is determined to take up the time of the House that nobody else, I am sure, will take up? Does he understand that the title of this project is “High Speed Rail”?
It is a high-speed line, but from the beginning the prime case for HS2 has been additional capacity. I was reading the opening words of the White Paper, which continue,
“alongside such additional capacity, there are real benefits for the economy and for passengers from improving journey times and hence the connectivity of the UK”.
My final point is about the network effects which my noble friend on the Front Bench referred to. HS2 will be a crucial part of a new and upgraded national transport network. It will link into Crossrail in London through its junction at Old Oak Common; it will link in with three airports—Heathrow, which is close to Old Oak Common, Birmingham Airport, through Birmingham International, and Manchester Airport; it will link in with HS3 going east-west; it will free up huge capacity for freight and metropolitan commuter services into all of those three major conurbations.
The right thing for this House to do is give emphatic support to this Bill today. We cannot keep pulling up by the roots big infrastructure projects when they are being half-built. If we do it with this one, no one will ever believe that we will do something as big as this as a country again.
My Lords, the most important factor we should consider today is the impact that HS2 could have on climate change and the need to reduce emissions. Compare these figures from the Government: the emissions from a domestic flight are 254 grams, from a diesel car 171 grams—with four passengers they are 43 grams—from domestic rail 41 grams, and from a fully electrified railway 6.9 grams, a very small proportion of what comes from other places.
With these startling figures in mind, a fully electric railway such as HS2 has the potential to make a very significant contribution to making the country carbon-neutral. High-speed railways can have a dramatic effect on modal shift. Take these examples from Italy and Spain. From Rome to Milan, rail use has increased from 6% in 2008 to 74% by 2016, and in the case of Madrid to Seville, there has been an increase from 33% to 84% with the implementation of high-speed rail. Imagine the effect that such a modal shift would have on both aircraft and vehicle emissions on routes from Leeds, Newcastle and Scotland.
The primary argument that has been stated for building HS2 is to increase railway capacity in much of the country. As the main lines on the north-south axis are at full capacity and cannot cope reliably with existing traffic levels, the need for increased capacity is almost unanswerable.
Government constrains the railway in two ways. Insufficient modern infrastructure is provided; the railway industry and Network Rail are in part responsible for this, through lack of efficiency in the fragmented organisation that was created at privatisation, when so many competent engineers left the industry. Let us not forget that the east coast electrification was delivered on time, to a very tight budget, by British Rail. The engineering side of the railway is now being rebuilt under strong professional leadership, and the railway supply industry has got the message that only the most efficient outcomes will be acceptable. But the Government, for their part, need to recognise that improving infrastructure depends on their providing a continuous strategy of development stretching years ahead. They have failed to do this over many years. HS2 and its future must be seen in this context. The objectives of the National Infrastructure Commission should be changed to putting carbon reduction at the top of its list of priorities and revising the appraisal of investment to schemes with long-lasting benefits, such as further extensions to railway electrification.
The other way in which the Government constrain the use of the railway is railway fares. Government and Opposition blame railway fare rises on the franchisees, but they are entirely the Government’s decision. Commuters or business users using the railway face an annual fare increase. Car commuters are protected from that by the fuel tax freeze. What rational Government, allegedly concerned about pollution and the associated growing congestion on the roads, can defend this, particularly as it is associated with early deaths and damage to health? Other countries seek to encourage rail use to deal with these evils but in Britain, both the Conservatives and, I am sad to say, Labour, have closed their ears and listened only to the motoring lobby. There is an available solution: reduce fares and provide sufficient infrastructure.
HS2 can bring immense benefits to the north and the east Midlands—take, for example, the proposed Toton hub, which is not being decided today, which would bring together Nottingham, Derby and Leicester; Birmingham would be reached from Toton in 17 minutes, which at present takes 74 minutes by rail and 60 minutes by car—provided that the fares policy is reasonable. Similar activity is planned around Birmingham for the new railway. But can the Minister give any reassurances today about fares policy generally, and how it might affect HS2?
An important issue to address in considering the investment case for HS2 is project appraisal. Railway projects, particularly on the civil engineering side, have a very long timescale over which they may be enjoyed—the noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to that. Tunnels and embankments last for well over a century, but current appraisal methodology has a high discount rate and does not take into account the period over which the assets will be in use. There is also the question of the enhancement of property values and the regeneration effects, which need to be factored into the equation. Surely it cannot be right that these benefits are not credited to the investment in HS2. There is an urgent need for the Government to overhaul the WebTAG arrangements they use to calculate the value of major infrastructure projects so as to reflect the longer-term benefits to communities.
I was once asked by a former Secretary of State for Transport—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—why road schemes always come out better in investment appraisals than rail schemes. The answer lies in the methodology that is used: road investment schemes are appraised using the “value of time”. That is the time the investment is expected to save road users multiplied by the number of users and what they say they would pay for it through stated preference techniques. No money changes hands, although it does for rail journeys. Significant factors such as the short life of many road investment schemes, as they are overtaken by inevitable traffic growth, also need to be appraised. Railways are penalised for their long-term, lasting benefits in investment by the use of the discount rate, whereas road schemes are appraised using slovenly methods which the Government have failed to face up to for a long time.
The issue of routes across the Pennines and faster journey times between Glasgow and Edinburgh, for which there are now five direct railways, needs to be considered. The HS2 route, which we are considering in the Bill before us, has been adjusted to give Liverpool a direct rapid connection to London as well as to Manchester and Manchester Airport. Progress on modernising routes across the Pennines is incomplete. What is the department’s understanding—
I hope that the noble Lord has come to the end of his comments.
No. I have not been allowed enough time to debate this Bill because the Government of their own volition are proroguing Parliament. I am sorry, but I am not going to give way.
Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that the advisory speaking time is seven minutes. We can be quite flexible, but not too flexible.
I am aware of the advisory speaking time. It was imposed on us by the Government’s edict.
My Lords, regardless of what the noble Lord has said, I think that it is quite unacceptable that speeches on a matter of such importance should be restricted in this way when in fact the House is under no time constraint whatever, except one artificially imposed by the Government.
The advisory speaking time is in deference to colleagues because we have a number of other issues to discuss later on this evening.
I am sorry, but the Prorogation of Parliament has had nothing to do with me. It is entirely at the Government’s behest.
Shouting at us for longer than the advisory speaking time really does not convince anyone. It does not look good and I think that we ought to have a little more courtesy.
It is the Government who should have the courtesy.
I was going to go on to ask when progress is expected on the route across the Pennines. Do the Government constrain the activities of Transport for the North compared with the improvements made between Edinburgh and Glasgow and the plans of Midlands Connect by, for example, withholding funding from Transport for the North? The north of England should be very concerned about the slow rate of progress.
Much is made of disruption because of the noise and disturbance caused by building HS2, but measures will be introduced to minimise that. I am reminded of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a Labour MP from Kent. I asked him whether his constituents had complained about the noise and impact of HS1. He replied, “No, but I had sackfuls of correspondence from them about the continuing noise and disturbance coming from the adjacent M20 motorway”. There is a light at the end of the tunnel for those living close to HS2. The benefits of and the green agenda for more motorway building are now seen as a totally incorrect response to the problems we face. The debate is about capacity for passengers and freight—there is no spare capacity on the railway. We want cleaner air, fewer people flying and less congestion, and to that end our railways need to be expanded.
However, this Government lack foresight. What Administration would build the east-west link from Oxford to Cambridge without electrifying it? It costs far less than coming back after the line is open. They should seek to modernise links between Southampton and the north and between Felixstowe and Nuneaton. Both schemes would remove many heavy lorries from our roads, much to the benefit of our climate change agenda.
Freight customers are lining up to use the railway. Creating an electrified rail network would reduce serious accidents. HS2 could and should reduce its costs by looking at what some regard as excessive technical standards and probably reduce the speed of operation. The extension from Old Oak Common to Euston should also be called into question. For the future, we need better and more capacity, and to that end HS2 should proceed.
My Lords, as a former railwayman I have never made any secret of my support for this scheme, which in my view ought to go ahead as quickly as possible. The fact that both your Lordships’ House and the other place have voted heavily in favour of HS2 ought to mean that we do not hold things up by having this review. I am not as despondent about the review as some of my noble friends and other supporters. I suspect what is happening with the review is a minor rerun of Harold Wilson’s royal commission. Those of you with long memories will remember that he used to say 50 years ago that a royal commission takes minutes to set up and years to report, and that in the meantime the subject is buried in the long grass.
I suspect that this is a shorter version. The current Prime Minister is quite in favour of infrastructure projects. After all, he has cable cars going across the Thames as a legacy of his time as mayor. He tried to build a garden bridge at some cost—it was not a great success—and his buses, which are a tad uncomfortable in hot weather, are running around London as we speak. He has a record of being in favour of infrastructure projects.
The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, alas, is not in his place. I am not quite sure why he needs to refer to those copious notes; he has been making that speech for so long he ought to be word perfect by now. It is a pity he fled the Chamber almost as soon as he had committed himself. I wish that he and others who criticise the scheme would come to Birmingham and see the benefit this great HS2 project has already brought to the city. Do they not care about the apprentice college that has already been set up and the number of young people employed in the railway industry as a direct result of this scheme?
I have brought with me today the current issue of Rail magazine. Its editorial is mild praise for the Prime Minister. It refers to “Cunning politics around HS2” and says that the “Oakervee Review is all about what’s best for Boris Johnson”. That endorses the point that I have just made that this review avoids any direct commitment, any go-ahead, before the general election—whenever that is to be held. Yet I do not believe that it is necessarily a precursor to cancellation.
My noble friend Lord Adonis was not too polite about my noble friend Lord Berkeley. I understand why he is not in his place today, given the fact that he serves on this committee. Again, I say to my noble friend Lord Adonis that perhaps he worries unduly. I have known my noble friend Lord Berkeley for 35 or 40 years. During my time in the other place, I served on committees examining two hybrid Bills to do with the Channel Tunnel. He was one of our advisers; he certainly advised us as individual members of those two committees. He is eminently well qualified as a civil engineer. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that the projected cost of the Channel Tunnel was originally £4.5 billion but that, neither despite of nor because of his advice, the actual bill was £12.5 billion. Therefore, he is used to cost overruns and I hope that he is not too concerned about the increase in costs.
Noble Lords said earlier that it is a pity that the costings cannot be more accurate when the projections are made for these major infrastructure projects. However, we all know that, if every single cost were taken into consideration, there might be problems with the land over which the tracks pass, or areas of the country where people are rich enough to afford the best lawyers to insist that the compensation is far higher than was first envisaged. If a project were put forward on that basis, it would never get past the Treasury’s preposterous regulations.
The noble Lord, Lord Birt, and to a certain extent the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, talked about road and rail infrastructure costs. It was pointed out how differently we treat these projects. Up and down the country at present, we are building what are known as smart motorways. They are not particularly smart if you break down on one of them but that is the name that they have been given. I have been in your Lordships’ House for 15 years and I spent a considerable number in the other place as well, but I do not recollect us ever having any debate in either House about smart motorways. These are major infrastructure projects which, as I far as I am aware, have never been subjected to the sort of critical analysis that rail projects face at present.
We all know the outcome of smart motorways: there will be even more traffic on our motorways. It is a proven fact that the money spent on modernising our road network results in more traffic, although not just this Government but successive Governments have always talked about congestion and pollution and what we can do to combat them. What the Conservative Party has done to combat them, as well as building smart motorways, is to freeze fuel duty for the last decade or so at an estimated cost of £50 billion. Now, it is said that it will reduce fuel duty in the run-up to the election—a complete coincidence, of course —and that will generate even more traffic. For that £50 billion or £60 billion, which will be the eventual cost, we could have built the infrastructure for HS2 twice over.
I seek to make one further point before I sit down. I understand that the Liberal party—although neither of its spokespeople have mentioned this—is looking at demanding that HS2 starts in the north of England rather than where it is due to start. I do not know whether that will be official policy. I read it in a newspaper, so it cannot be right, but that is what I have heard. I just caution against that and urge the Liberal Democrats to look at it again. In the same magazine there is a long article by a gentleman by the name of Mr William Barter, a former senior railwayman. He talks about the difficulties of that approach and what it would do to the existing train service.
I end as I started. I have always believed in this great project. I wish that we could have fewer reviews, but regardless of Brexit and whether or not there is a general election, the sooner it is under way and completed, the better.
My Lords, I am a strong supporter of HS2. I was before I had the privilege of becoming a Minister in the last 18 months of the coalition Government, when I became the Minister responsible for phase 2. Hours and days were spent on the ground seeing not only extraordinary challenges but huge opportunities to regenerate economies that had fallen behind and essentially to change the future direction for many people, particularly in the north. However, I do not want to use this speech to talk in a general way about HS2; I want to focus on a number of issues that genuinely concern me.
Others have said this, but I shall pick it up in a slightly different way. This is clearly an opportunity for the Department for Transport, as well as other parts of government, to look again at how large, complex projects are costed. Recognising that the estimates cost of phase 1 had risen from £27 billion to somewhere between £36 billion and £38 billion did not happen overnight. Those who would have seen and recognised that they needed to make those changes never did so in the public arena—there was no transparency.
Frankly, I find this completely ridiculous. We should never look at a cost estimate in the early stages of a large and complex project and treat it as anything more than tentative. There should be an ongoing process of constantly updating. Having to say that the number is higher should not be treated as betrayal or failure; it is merely recognising and understanding the detail. I say to many here that this really needs a change in attitude at the Treasury and, frankly, much braver politicians in order to recognise that this will frequently be the pattern in projects of this kind.
I want to put on the record my gratitude to the whistleblowers who alerted many on the outside to the cost issues with HS2. I ask the Minister: will HS2 and the Government step in to amend some of the retaliation and harm that those whistleblowers have suffered? It was terrible and inappropriate, and it really needs to be remedied. We need that kind of honesty and integrity in this project.
I also want to look at cost-benefit analysis. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw referred to it in the more technical terms of the WebTAG. Allan Cook highlighted in his stocktaking report the inadequacies of the Government’s cost-benefit tools in providing any kind of sensible answer for projects on the scale of HS2, particularly with its broad impact on regeneration.
I feel this harshly. I had such fights inside the department during my period as a Minister. I have a banking background: I understand net present values and how you look at calculating returns. It was absolutely clear that the methodology was very inappropriate. The Government’s method completely fails to recognise more than very limited aspects of regeneration and economic benefit. This leads to poor decision-making on projects because, in particular, it does not recognise the uplift in land values. That would give us a much better mechanism for making decisions about these projects, as well as providing us with mechanisms to find ways to fund parts of these projects. Where there is land value uplift, we ought to be taking some of that in to pay for the project in the first place.
The current methodology is particularly hopeless for a phased project. Under its methodology, it captures all the costs of all the various phases and only includes a small part of the revenues and benefits that come from the later phases, because of the time guillotine inherent in the process. That has to be completely changed. I really think that it will take some outside pressure to get that kind of sense. It is perfectly within the department’s scope to look at all of that again.
I have a question for the Minister. I am really concerned about what on earth we will do with passengers now that the opening date of phase 1 is estimated not to be 2026 but somewhere between 2028 and 2031. I went into a lot of those passenger forecast numbers closely when I was in the Government. Even then, I was terrified that we could not cope with the forecast growth in passengers on routes between London and the Midlands with a 2026 opening. I do not know how we will cope without HS2 open until 2028 or even 2031.
I know that the industry is trying to use things such as changes in the way it manages fares to redistribute passengers through the day. Frankly, it will only make changes at the edges. In a couple of speeches, I joked about strapping passengers to the roofs of trains. It is no longer looking like a joke. We really are looking at tremendous overcrowding and over-demand. I have no idea what is being put in place now that we know that the opening of HS2 phase 1 will be delayed. This really ought to be a very urgent project.
As I said, I wanted to bring up one or two issues. Perhaps the Minister could help me with one last issue. HS2 is a project that demands sophisticated rail. I know that the whole industry has been reliant on British steel as the source of that rail. We know that the future of British Steel is in question. I hope she can explain to the House how we should respond or how she would see this set of issues. If somebody came to me and asked what major risks could further delay the project and put up costs in a way that we had not anticipated, that one would be somewhere near the top of my list.
My Lords, I start by saying that I agree with pretty well everything that everybody—except for one noble Lord—has said so far; I will try not to repeat those things. I say gently before beginning that I have looked in the Companion and I cannot find anything at all about the ability of the Government to impose arbitrary time limits on speeches beyond the normal time limits for Second Reading debates. If we are to do this in future, it is something that should be discussed.
It is nearly 10 years since all this started, and where are we? I am tempted to say that we have got as far as digging up cemeteries. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said that there is rather more work than that going on, but it is taking an inordinate amount of time. The proposed route for phase 2a, which we are discussing today, was first published four years ago. I compare this not with China—as a place where things can be done without asking people what they think—but with France. I go to the Pyrenees most summers and I watched the construction of the line from Tours to Bordeaux, extending the existing TGV line, which seemed to be done in a small number of years. I have travelled on it twice in the last two years; I have to say that not only does the line seem okay but so does the new TGV, which I travelled on, there and back, two or three weeks ago.
Last Friday, going home I travelled on one of the new Azuma trains from Kings Cross to Leeds. In comparison—from the point of view of the ride, the acoustics and, of course, the infamous seats—I felt that I had gone back 40 years. Then I reminded myself that the Azumas were ordered and specified by the Government themselves, which I think says something.
All we get are reviews and promises of delays. I am reminded that the Victorians effectively built the mainline network in England in less than a quarter of a century. We seem to take a very long time indeed to do these things. A lot of the opposition to HS2 is about the competence, efficiency and effectiveness of the people doing it: the Government, HS2 Ltd and everybody else. We must distinguish between the need for the line—the project itself—and the need to improve the way these things are done. People attacking the way that it is being done—alleged efficiency, overspends or whatever—is not an argument against building the line; it is an argument to say that we need to do things better in this country.
The proposal that we are talking about today—extending to Crewe—is a relatively small part of what I hope will, in the future, become a substantial network connecting the main regional centres of the country. We need to start thinking about it in those terms. It is not a question of a line from Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds to London, with all this London-centric thinking. We should be thinking about a network that connects all the major cities in the area.
As far as extending it to Crewe is concerned, it would be a very good thing for people in Lancashire and the north-west, as well as, I would hope, people in Scotland. It would allow trains from the new HS2 line to run further north, just like the train I caught to Lourdes the other day—I have to say I was going there for the mountains and not for other purposes. That train slowed down after Bordeaux and became a normal fast express. Then, when it got past Dax, it slowed down a lot. The advantage is that people can do a lot of the journey at high speed and then continue to other places. When the new line to Crewe opens, as I hope it will, it should be the basis of Scottish services as well, not just services to the north-west.
It is integral to the plan that there will be through services to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Absolutely—but these things need to keep being said, because people who are not served by the particular line concerned say all the time, “It’s no use to us”. People in the north-east are saying that—quite wrongly, because the proposal, especially when we get to phase 2b and so on, is to run services through to the north-east.
I live in Colne in Lancashire, at the end of the worst branch line in the north of England, and I am acutely aware that when the Prime Minister comes to the north and promises a fantastic new HS3—or HS15—or a northern power something or other, over the short distance between Manchester and Leeds, it is no use to us. There may well be merit in building a new high-speed line across the Pennines between Leeds and Manchester, but it is not the top priority for people in the north of England.
What people in the north of England want is an efficient network on the existing lines between their cities and towns. The geography of the north of England consists of a series of scattered towns and cities that need a network connecting them all, not just one line between one big city and another, which might perhaps stop at Bradford but nowhere else in between.
What we in the north of England urgently need as a priority is upgrading existing trans-Pennine routes, reopening Colne to Skipton to allow a new freight line as well as local services, reopening Woodhead to provide Sheffield and Manchester with a good service that way, and electrification of the substantial network. That is what we should be spending money on, not a short vanity project—it would not exist in the short term anyway; it would take 20 years—between Manchester and Leeds. The Bill, however, has my total support.
My Lords, I am sorry to be slow in rising to my feet to speak, but I was so fascinated by the other speeches. I agree that the Minister gave a passionate opening speech, but I was not particularly convinced by it because I have huge concerns about HS2. Saying that there were 17,000 pages of environmental assessments did not really sway me, because the crucial thing is what is in those assessments. If they are 17,000 pages of nonsense, there is not much value in them.
Greens love railways: I love railways. I do not fly, I go on holiday by rail, and my partner works on the railways. I have nothing against railways. But I do have huge problems with HS2. As a Green I have lots of different concerns, but obviously, environmental concerns head the list. The Government have decided to shut Parliament down today, which does not allow us much time to speak. But that does not mean that sticking to an advisory time is not a courtesy to the rest of us, and to other people who have business coming through later.
The Government have commissioned a review, which is an excellent thing to do. I support that wholeheartedly. But I am curious about why they think it is worth putting the Bill through. Are we simply expected to speculate on the costs and the benefits? As the cost has been rising, the benefits have supposedly been rising at the same rate, but I am very dubious about that. Perhaps that is something that particularly needs looking at in the review.
It seems plain daft to pass a Bill before the review comes out and we have a view from those conducting it. However, I am glad that the Government are doing it, and I hope that they will take a serious look not only at the spiralling costs in order to develop a more sensible budget but at the cost of HS2 to our natural world, which I do not think has been fully explained. Local people are extremely concerned about local conditions; they are the people who actually understand their areas and they can see what is happening. In view of the climate emergency that Parliament declared back on 1 May this year, will the Minister confirm that the review will also be thinking about the enormous cost that HS2 is placing on the natural world?
We are looking at this second stage after the first stage has been started, and that first stage was actually extremely damaging in environmental terms. There are horror stories of environmental destruction and failed attempts at so-called biodiversity offsetting. Ancient woodlands were mentioned earlier; once an ancient woodland is destroyed, there is no way to replace it. In the meeting that I attended which the Minister was kind enough to offer us, I asked about that and was assured that there would be no net loss of biodiversity. I am afraid that that is absolute hokum because you cannot replace ancient woodland or the biodiversity that lives there.
At least 30% of the trees planted by HS2 have been allowed to die by neglect, and local campaigners say that the number is actually higher. The land manager of an ancient meadow has described his precious habitat as having been destroyed to create several access bridges for the purpose, ironically, of creating a biodiversity zone. Wildlife trusts have spoken out against HS2 and its plans to destroy precious habitats long before any habitat replacement is completed, leaving wildlife with nowhere to go. Will Ministers be visiting at least a few of the hundreds of wildlife habitats that will be permanently scarred or entirely destroyed by this project and listen to local people, who can explain it with as much passion as the Minister has to complete the project?
If this is how HS2 has been proceeding under legislation for the first section, where it is clear that the Bill has totally failed to protect the environment, that makes it very likely that the next section will also be hugely damaging. It is for those reasons that I will be opposing the Bill and proposing amendments that seek to protect the natural world that HS2 is destroying.
I could stand here for a further three or even six minutes and tell noble Lords about my holidays by rail, which obviously I love, but I am going to sit down.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. I do not entirely agree with her but I thought that she put her points in a very pithy way. Clearly the trade-offs between the benefit of HS2 in environmental terms and some of the environmental defects are those that always have to be weighed. The problem that I have is that sometimes we weigh these balances for so long that in the end we make too little progress.
My frustration, which I share with other noble Lords, is that this country is so bad at major infrastructure projects, yet in HS1 we have an example of a brilliant project that I think was undertaken on time and on budget without one major health and safety victim. It is unbelievable that we are spending so many years building what is still a relatively short piece of track. There have been many reviews of major infrastructure projects in this country—my noble friend has looked into this matter on a number of occasions—but, given our economy and the challenges that we face, we cannot afford to mess around any longer with these critical infrastructure projects.
There are obviously questions to be answered about HS2. We have heard about the cost and delay overruns. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised the issue of whether there was overspecification in the original project, which the review will no doubt look into. Like my noble friend Lord Adonis, I think the Minister put the case for HS2 extremely persuasively and, essentially, I want to endorse what she said. I also wanted to touch briefly on the impact on the economy of Birmingham and the West Midlands, about which I am most informed.
Just looking at the capacity crisis on our railways, it is a no-brainer that we have to increase capacity one way or another. Whatever the cost overruns on HS2, the capacity issue simply will not be washed away. If, for instance, the review suggested that HS2 should be cancelled, or in the end the Government decided to do this, they will still be left with this incredible capacity issue. What are the alternatives? One is to four-track the west coast main line between Rugby and Wolverhampton, but the cost and disruption would be enormous. The same would be said if the Chiltern line from London to Birmingham was changed to a four-track line. That is clearly another option, as is turning trains into double-deckers. This is feasible, but bridges would have to be raised and services would be disrupted for a very long time and at huge cost. So what are the alternatives? In the end, the review is bound to conclude that there is no alternative to carrying on with HS2.
My noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Snape made the point that construction has started. A huge number of jobs have already been created in Birmingham and the West Midlands and the National College for High Speed Rail has been established. A huge amount of investment is taking place in the city of Birmingham on the strength of HS2. The West Midlands economy is fragile. The potential of Brexit and the damage it could do to our motor industry is immeasurable. Cancelling HS2 at the same time as we face these huge uncertainties would have a devastating impact on our economy. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly referred to those who are talking to the Government. Our own Select Committee looked at this and focused on the railway challenges facing the north of England. I sympathise with noble Lords who are concerned about the railway infrastructure in the north of England, but I do not think that stopping the London to Birmingham part of HS2 and starting again in the north is a rational or sensible approach to delivering this railway.
I want to thank the Minister, who has my full support for this Bill. We will attend it with great interest at some point in the future—maybe the distant future. I want to say to the Government that this was a convenient way to get HS2 off the election agenda, but in the end, they will have to make a hard decision. From all the Minister has said, I think she knows already that the only decision that can be made is to continue with HS2. I very much hope that she will do that.
My Lords, I will make a very short speech, because most of the points I wanted to make have already been made in a much better way than I would make them, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and my noble friends Lord Bradshaw and Lord Teverson. I wanted to take part in this debate because I was very nervous that the escalating cost of HS2 might provide an excuse for this Government to abandon the project altogether. There was much talk of this, or of at least postponing its construction. They are also giving hope to those who have been opposed to HS2 from the start, and we have one Peer who represents that view.
It seems that all recent engineering projects, Crossrail being the most obvious example, end up costing excessively more than was down in the original budget. I can never understand why the original planners do not include sufficient contingency for the unexpected, which by now should be classed as the “more than expected”. Going vastly over budget might well mean that heads should roll but it should not be a reason for abandoning HS2 altogether, particularly as about a quarter of that budget has already been spent. I believe that detractors of the HS2 project do not fully understand its importance or its value to the country’s infrastructure. Some even regard it as no more than a vanity project. They cannot justify its cost if it does no more than get people from Manchester to London in half the time.
I wish it had not been called “high-speed rail”, because its faster speed is not the main reason why we need it. The main reason is that it will be a brand-new railway line and, apart from HS1, the first major railway line since the 19th century. It will relieve much of the pressure on the spaghetti of existing railway lines, in the Midlands and the north in particular, and it enables them to provide more necessary capacity. So, when detractors say that money should be better spent improving those 100-year-old lines, the existence of HS2 will be a major factor in achieving just that.
There are so many other advantages too, many of which have already been pointed out. It brings London and the cities of the north closer together. It is a great boost to our engineering industries, as has already been pointed out by many. For instance, railwaymen and engineers who have been working on Crossrail can now look forward to continual employment. The arguments that say it will ruin our countryside are complete nonsense. For a short period of time earthworks and earth-moving machines may be unsightly, but how many beauty spots in Britain today are any less beautiful for having a railway line running through them? Some would say the railway line enhances the place.
The most important advantage in the medium and long term, which was well expressed by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, is that all innovations and improvements of our railways—and HS2 is the major one—will make lorry and car traffic less essential and, I would like to think, internal flights within Britain unnecessary. Global warming is a serious threat and we are only just beginning to take the issue more seriously.
I know that many in the Minister’s party are very against HS2, and I would like to be assured that there is no way that the Government are going to turn back on this. It must go ahead, as I think most of the speakers have already said today.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of The Woodland Trust. There may well be benefits to HS2, such as capacity and carbon reduction, but they are worth nothing if that involves destruction and damage of irreplaceable ancient woodland habitat. It is gimmicky to say that ancient woodlands are the cathedrals of the natural world, but that is what they are. If we were going to line up 108 cathedrals along the route of HS2, I suspect your Lordships’ House would be more exercised. However, that is the reality of what we are doing.
HS2 poses the biggest development impact threat on ancient woodland. Phase 1 was bad enough and very little has been learned from that unhappy process, despite protestations from the HS2 company that it would learn from the first phase. Phase 2a has an impact per mile 23% greater than phase 1, the total of which, as I said, is now up to 108 across the length as currently planned. I do not see any signs of learning from the company.
Today, the Minister has boasted about the route avoiding protected areas such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, Natura 2000 sites, which are protected by European law, and SSSIs. Some of these habitats are replaceable—we could build them again—but ancient woodland is irreplaceable, cannot be built again and has not been so spared. Yet the Government have only recently given ancient woodland a level of protection similar to the more protected sites in the National Planning Policy Framework, although infrastructure projects are of course exempt from it. I will talk about that in a moment.
The Minister also talked about newt schemes. I do not know whether your Lordships are intimately aware of the UK’s newt position, but we are newt central in the world. We have more newts than any other nation. This is probably a good reason why we should look after them, but on the other hand it probably means that they are not quite as precious as the few fragments of ancient woodland—that irreplaceable natural resource which cannot be recreated and is being destroyed with equanimity.
I would like some ancient woodland schemes, but that does not mean translocation. There is no evidence that moving an ancient woodland across the countryside and dumping it somewhere else works. In recent months the Government have touted their commitment to net zero carbon policies and net biodiversity gain. Ancient woodlands are hugely important to both policies. Because of the carbon stored in ancient woodlands, in its soils and its old trees, if such a scheme was enacted its level of protection would mean a considerable amount of carbon would be stored. The Government’s policies are great, but their implementation seems hugely lacking. I wrote that and thought, “I wonder why I’m surprised”.
HS2 should be demonstrating higher standards, particularly if it is seeking to become an exemplar of the best Britain can do. The destruction planned is not such an example, because the Government’s pledge to leave the environment in a better state will fail. HS2 prided itself on a pledge to deliver no net loss to biodiversity. However, it will not achieve this because of the loss of irreplaceable ancient woodland.
HS2 should tunnel wherever possible to avoid such impacts and not hide behind the arguments raised by noble Lords today about cost. In reality, the costs of any tunnelling to avoid ancient woodland sites are utterly dwarfed by expenditure on the project overall. Yet, the habitat concerned that would be safe is irreplaceable. Let us have a tunnel to avoid the biggest damaging impact of phase 2a, at Whitmore Wood in Staffordshire. Let us consider whether a slower speed railway, as recommended by the Economic Affairs Committee, would enable cost reduction by avoiding environmentally sensitive areas and the need for compensation and the tunnelling I have talked about. After all, this line is supposed to be about capacity rather than speed. Let us have it slower and wriggle round some of these 108 cathedrals that we have up the route.
I will finish by speaking briefly—I will stay within my seven minutes—about the Oakervee review, which is amazingly short. I have just met with its chairman, who tells me he will complete it within four or five weeks. One asks oneself, bearing in mind the degree of information on HS2, how it will be able to review everything in four weeks. Its terms of reference do not include environmental impacts and costs, only the environmental benefits. That needs to be changed. There needs to be at least one environmental expert on the panel. It does not have one; it is full of engineers and economists.
Most importantly for the review, because of the preparatory works that will come to pass in the next few weeks—in fact, they are not preparatory works but the route actually being built—many of the ancient woodlands I have been talking about will be destroyed or damaged in September and October. If this review is going to reach a view within four or five weeks and the Government, with their usual commendable alacrity, are going to come to a conclusion on it, it does not seem too much to ask the Minister that we pause those preparatory works, which would have an irreversible impact on ancient woodlands, until the results of the review and the Government’s subsequent actions are known.
I share noble Lords’ views about the very poor process we have for driving forward major infrastructure in this country. If I had my way, we would sweep away the hybrid Bill process; it is a nonsense. We give people hope that they may be able to influence the scheme long after the line of route has been decided, when in reality they cannot. We have not found the best of British ingenuity to avoid some of the conflicts that people are campaigning on, and I believe that we can. It is not about development versus the environment—British ingenuity should be capable of delivering both—but let us smarten up our process as well. It was invented 150 years ago and, frankly, my God, it looks like it.
My Lords, I put my name down for this debate, but withdrew it when I feared that I would have to leave before it ended. I am happy to take less time than intended, and so hope that I may be allowed to speak in the gap, in order to give a West Yorkshire—and, in particular, a Bradford—perspective on the way in which phases 2a and 2b fit in with the northern network, which we need for modernisation.
The transformation of the northern economy is what we are talking about once we start moving HS2 north of Birmingham. The eastern leg is as important as the western leg, linking Birmingham with Manchester and Liverpool, and then the second leg, linking those cities with Sheffield and linking Sheffield to Leeds. That then forms a triangle in which the new lines that Transport for the North are talking about, between Liverpool and Manchester and between Manchester and Leeds, also provide the fast links between the northern cities as far as Newcastle and Hull, which we also desperately need.
This is a matter of capacity. I was talking to someone from Transport for the North last week, who told me that we can get freight by rail between the Humber and the Mersey, provided that we do not mind the freight trains going via Daventry, because we lack the capacity and the tunnel space across the Pennines. That is part of the case for a new line, and for modernising the existing lines across the Pennines. I speak particularly from a Bradford perspective in saying that the transformative effects of a Manchester to Leeds line which went through Bradford city centre would be transformative for the whole area. The current value-for-money analysis does not begin to take that into effect. We need all of these lines, and this means a higher level of public investment in infrastructure for the north of England, after decades in which rail investment has been in the south of England.
I speak as someone who has travelled between Leeds and Manchester, and between the north and the south, for more than 50 years. I have seen how little impact any new investment has made there. We need phase 2a, phase 2b and HS3, and we need the Government to move on them all as fast as possible. This is how we begin to transform the economy of the north of England, by linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull so that it is easy to move between them, and so that the potential dynamic of these cities can be developed together. Successive Governments—including Labour Governments—have failed to deal with this over the last 30 or 40 years. Now is the time to have faith. Therefore, I strongly support this Bill.
My Lords, I start with a reference to procedure. The Government’s attempt to impose an arbitrary time limit on speeches on this Bill is a great discourtesy to the House, and in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was the Minister who initiated this scheme, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw has a lifetime of experience as a leader within the railway industry. We are talking about a multibillion-pound project. The Government should cease to be carried away by their attempts to stifle scrutiny of their record on Brexit by proroguing this House; they should be paying attention—proper attention—to what is said here.
The Liberal Democrats have always been, and remain, firm supporters of HS2. In our view, a high-speed spinal railway linking London to Scotland is the correct strategy, for two fundamental reasons. First, the Midlands and the north of England badly need economic regeneration and to share in the prosperity of the south-east. Improved long-distance communication is fundamental to this. Secondly, we have a moral duty to use every available initiative to reduce carbon emissions, which threaten our planet. HS2 does this by encouraging people to take the train for long journeys rather than their car, or even to fly. It is not as straightforward as counting the number of people who will sit on HS2 trains. HS2 will take direct intercity services on to dedicated high-speed lines and hence free up capacity on existing lines for more trains on local and regional routes. That will make daily commuting to work by train a feasible option outside London; it will therefore get people out of their cars and reduce congestion on our roads. So long as the whole project goes ahead, it will remove the attractiveness of internal flights. It will free up new freight paths, taking freight off the roads. It is important to remember that freight reduces carbon emissions by 76% compared with road haulage.
The west coast main line is the busiest mixed-use railway line in Europe. We have simply run out of options to squeeze any more capacity from it. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw both made that point. We have no more rail paths available and have already used the option of longer trains. To those who say, “Just improve what we already have”, I respond that that would lead to a decade or more of intense disruption to existing routes. I say this as a regular commuter on the Great Western Railway line, where for years we have been disrupted by the electrification process—a process that we welcome strongly but it is very disruptive.
The cost of HS2 is eye-watering but so are the benefits: just look at the economic growth already impacting on Birmingham. When the whole HS2 project is completed, it will link 25 towns and cities and 30 million people. The Liberal Democrats are supportive but, as the House will have heard today from my noble friends, we are very much critical friends, so unlike the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I welcome this review. I am reassured that the panel appointed to undertake the review is sufficiently experienced and balanced in its viewpoints to ensure that it is not being used just as an excuse to cancel the project. I have to confess that that was at the top of my mind when I heard that there was to be a review. It has been a very real fear. The Prime Minister himself has sown seeds of doubt and many Tory MPs have taken political pot-shots at the project. I note that most of them represent seats in the south-east, where transport spend is three times per head of population that in the north of England. I feared that the Government could be searching for a reason to cancel it because the huge costs of a no-deal Brexit will simply swallow up funding for major projects such as this across the country.
Of course, HS2 has left itself open to criticism, with sloppy management and spiralling costs. It has 1,300 staff and, astonishingly, more than one-quarter of them earn more than £100,000 a year. Even more surprisingly, despite those pay packets, they do not seem to have the skills required at this time. Consultants were employed on 31 separate occasions in 2013, at a cost of £60 million. There are things in the management of HS2 that have to be addressed. The project was agreed in 2013 so rising costs are not a surprise, but it is clear that they are not currently under control. I refer noble Lords to the National Audit Office report, which referred to the use of,
“fragile numbers, out-of-data data and assumptions which do not reflect real life”.
This review gives us an opportunity to nail down these costs and to address some of the proposals to reduce costs; for instance, reducing the length of rail line that will go through tunnels. Another suggestion is the use of Old Oak Common as a terminus, at least in the early years, to avoid a decade of costly disruption at Euston. The question that has to be asked—and will, I hope, be answered—is: is this being overengineered? Would it be significantly cheaper to cut, say, 20 mph off the maximum speed? It is clear that the time advantage over road travel will be very substantial, even at a lower speed.
Concerns remain, of course. There are concerns over delays which add to our unwelcome reputation as a nation which is pretty hopeless at building major projects. My noble friend Lady Kramer referred to the impact of overcrowding on existing railways that will be caused by the delays to this project. I caution that ending up with just phase 1 of HS2 would make Birmingham an outer London suburb—a new commuter zone. That would be the worst of all worlds. I live in Wales, so I am concerned that the vision of the Crewe hub is implemented. That in itself could transform the economy of north Wales. The review must bring this project under control and satisfy the critics. It must reassure those who, like me, support the principle of HS2 but worry about efficiency, cost control, transparency, whether those who live nearby are being given a fair deal, and the environmental impact of the building process. The review must clear the air and enable a fresh start on a firmer basis. My noble friend Lord Teverson raised the issue of comparative costs with other countries and used an example from France. Will the review look as far as comparative costs with other countries? It should do so. Some £8 billion has already been spent on this, 9,000 jobs have been created and 2,000 businesses are involved.
At this time of national emergency, when we face the potential for a massive economic downturn, it should be unthinkable that we cancel HS2. Instead, the Government should redouble their efforts and their ambitions and recommit to building the whole route to Scotland. They should also announce the powers and funding for Transport for the North, so that it can plan and build the east-west rail routes—the sorts of routes that have been referred to by my noble friends Lord Wallace and Lord Greaves. These need to be created to hang on the HS2 spine, in order to maximise its success.
We understand fully that there must be no blank cheque for HS2. It must be brought under control without undermining the central scope or purpose of the project. In the long term, as a country, we simply must look again at how we approach such projects. We need to be able to look long term in order to make difficult, ambitious, big spending decisions, to support and control our long-term infrastructure vision. We have failed for decades to do this. I realise it is a bit of a forlorn hope at the moment, when the Government are consumed with short-term tactics, but as a nation, we really have to get to the basis of this.
My Lords, not only does High Speed 2 get delayed but even this debate on the Government’s latest High Speed 2 Bill has had to be rescheduled to today from last week. This Second Reading debate is taking place in something of a vacuum. The Government are inviting us to support the Bill, which gives statutory powers to enable the construction and maintenance of phase 2a of High Speed 2 from the West Midlands to Crewe, yet they apparently do not know whether they will be pulling the plug on the whole project in a few weeks’ time. We await the outcome of the review, which is considering whether or not HS2 should still proceed, and if so on what basis, or whether it should be cancelled.
There must be a real prospect of the Government cancelling HS2, first, because the Prime Minister, as with the third runway at Heathrow, has a direct constituency interest and is neither project’s number one fan, and secondly, because the Government have a noteworthy track record of cancelling projects extending railway electrification which they have previously promoted or supported. As recently as 15 July the Government were fully committed to HS2. In the Commons during the final stages of this Bill, the Minister said of HS2:
“It will be transformative not only because it will increase capacity and reduce the time it takes to reach eight of our top 10 cities, but because, along the way, it will smash the north-south divide, creating jobs and opportunities for people in the midlands and the north”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/19; col. 646.]
Earlier, in a Written Statement on 6 February this year, the Government described HS2 as,
“a transformational infrastructure project that will improve people’s journeys, create jobs, generate economic growth and help to rebalance our country’s economy. HS2 is more than a railway and the project’s vision is to be a catalyst for economic growth. It has cross party support and support from councils, LEPs, Metro Mayors and businesses who can see the transformational potential”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/2/19; col. 15WS.]
Cross-party support includes us, but does that reference to HS2 having cross-party support include the Government? If it does, why was the inquiry set up with a remit that included looking at whether HS2 should proceed at all? This was a point raised by my noble friend Lord Adonis and we expect an answer from the Government when they respond to this debate.
What have the Government just found out that led them to set up the review last month, but of which they were presumably unaware when they were extolling the virtues of HS2 so enthusiastically in the Commons the month before? Will they say by when they expect to receive the findings of the review and when they expect to announce their decision on the future or otherwise of HS2? I ask that in the context of contradictory statements from the Government. On 25 July, in response to a Commons Question on constructing from the north, the Prime Minister said:
“I have asked Doug Oakervee, the former chairman of Crossrail, to conduct a brief six-week study of profiling of the spend on HS2, to discover whether such a proposal might have merit”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/7/19; col. 1476.]
Which is right about the purpose of this review: the Prime Minister’s statement that it is,
“a brief six-week study of profiling of the spend on HS2”,
or the terms of reference referring to,
“whether and how we proceed with HS2”?
What is the truth, as opposed to confusing statements, about the timescale of the review? On 25 July, the Prime Minister spoke of a “brief six-week study”. That six weeks is already up. Or is it meant to be six weeks from when the Secretary of State for Transport announced the review, on 21 August, in which case the review report will be ready at the beginning of next month? Yet the Government now say it will be completed in the autumn. Is it a six-week review, as the Prime Minister so clearly said? On the assumption that it is, when did the six-week period start?
It is to be expected in a Second Reading debate on a Bill enabling a further stage of HS2 that the Government would say something about not only the costs and benefits of the further stage, but the extent to which the quoted costs and benefits expected for the first stage were or were not still on track. On 15 July the Government told the Commons,
“there is only one budget for HS2, and it is £55.7 billion. The bit we are talking about today, phase 2a, is £3.5 billion. The benefit-cost ratio is £2.30 for every £1 spent”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/19; col. 647.]
Recently, though, the Secretary of State for Transport said in a Written Statement that the chairman of HS2 did not believe that the current scheme design could now be delivered within the budget of £55.7 billion, set in 2015 prices. Instead, the Government said, the chairman of HS2 now estimated that the current scheme required a total budget, including contingency, of £72 billion to £78 billion, again in 2015 prices; and in 2019 prices, £81 billion to £88 billion, against a budget equivalent of £62.4 billion. On the basis of those revised figures for the cost of completing all stages of HS2, will the Government indicate what percentage of those figures is to cover contingencies?
The Government went on to say that HS2 no longer believes that the current schedule of 2026 for initial services on phase 1 was realistic, and that instead there should be a range of dates for the start of the service. The recommendation of the chairman of HS2 was now 2028 to 2031 for phase 1, with a staged opening, starting with initial services between Old Oak Common and Birmingham, followed by services to and from Euston later. HS2 Ltd now, it seems, expects that phase 2b to Manchester and Leeds will open between 2035 and 2040. Significantly for this Bill, the chairman of HS2, according to the Secretary of State, now considers that phase 2a, from the West Midlands to Crewe, should be delivered to the same timetable as phase 1. Furthermore, the chairman was now of the view that the benefits of the current scheme were substantially undervalued. All these views from the chairman of HS2 Ltd would, said the Secretary of State, be assessed by the review panel, which would provide,
“independent recommendations on whether and how we proceed with the project”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/9/19; col. 7WS.]
I hope the Government can tell the House today that they had no inkling that the costs were rather higher than previously stated and that HS2 would not be delivered within previously announced timescales when, in asking for support for the Bill, they told the Commons on 15 July,
“there is only one budget for HS2, and it is £55.7 billion”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/19; col. 647.]
Even the £3.5 billion the Government quoted for phase 2a, to which the Bill relates, is now apparently £3.6 billion to £4 billion. Will the Government indicate how much has been spent so far on HS2, including the value of contracts that have been signed but for which the work has not been completed?
In the light of the view of the chairman of HS2 that the benefits of HS2 are substantially undervalued, can the Government say what the current figures are for the benefits arising from HS2 and whether they include the potential wider economic impact of changes in land use and values as a result of HS2 and the transformative effect that it can have, both on the locations directly benefiting from the improved transport links and locations on other rail routes where capacity would be released for new or additional services?
Could the Government also say for how many years into the future are the economic benefits, including wider economic benefits, accruing from HS2 currently calculated and taken into account in assessing the overall benefit and value to the nation of the project? Are those overall benefits taken into account only for a specific fixed period—and if so, what is that period—or are they calculated and assessed as delivering effectively permanent wider economic benefits resulting in a higher overall value figure, since presumably, for example, the favourable impact HS2 already appears to be having on regeneration in Birmingham is very much of long-term value and permanent benefit to the city?
We now have the HS2 chairman’s recent report, or stocktake, on the current status of the project. It has been quite extensively redacted. In the Commons on 5 September, the Secretary of State said:
“I am unhappy about having any of that report redacted. I have read the rest of it. It is not hugely exciting. I pushed back on that with the Department, and apparently it is just that the lawyers are saying that it is commercially confidential stuff that I cannot force to be released”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/9/19; col. 354.]
Could the Government say who determines whether something in a report is commercially confidential and who determines that commercial confidentiality outweighs the public interest in knowing about the information that is being withheld? Could they also say what would be the consequences, and for whom, of the Secretary of State releasing information that the lawyers had deemed commercially confidential? What contracts, if any and with whom, would be broken or breached by releasing such information as is in the HS2 chairman’s report? Who are the signatories to those contracts?
Phase 2a is the first step to delivering the whole of phase 2, which extends HS2 north from Birmingham. It is intended that the opening of phase 2a will result in further west coast main line services transferring on to the HS2 route, freeing up capacity on the existing west coast main line between Lichfield and Crewe. With the completion of phase 2a, the journey time from Crewe to London would be cut from 90 minutes today to under an hour by 2027, while HS2 journeys north of Birmingham would be up to 13 minutes faster than they will be following the construction of phase 1 of HS2.
HS2 has the support of the chief executive of the South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who has already made clear its beneficial impacts for Crewe. It has the support of the Mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region, local authority leaders in Leeds and Newcastle among others, and Transport for the North. It is also important for the delivery of northern powerhouse rail, which requires HS2 infrastructure to provide 50% of the new lines it needs for key parts of its services in and around Leeds and Manchester.
HS2 says that it is one of the most scrutinised organisations in the country, with oversight from the Department for Transport, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. It is clear from the sudden announcement a few days ago of delay and significant increases in costs that that extensive oversight has proved less than adequate, as something major has emerged for the first time about the HS2 project which could and should have come to light much earlier.
My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe has indicated the issues that we will be pursuing: accountability and transparency, connectivity and the quality of links between HS2 and other relevant parts of the existing network, and compensation for tenants. I do not intend to repeat them in any detail.
It was a Labour Government who were the driving force behind HS2 and it was my noble friend Lord Adonis who, as Secretary of State for Transport, got it off the ground. This Government appear to have failed to exercise proper control over the progress of the project in all its aspects and thus failed to deliver proper accountability to Parliament. Now they look as though they could be getting cold feet and are looking to the recently appointed review panel to bail them out. What we do not know is whether, for the Government and the Prime Minister, bailing out means providing a justification to proceed, a justification to emasculate, a justification to abandon or simply a case for kicking the whole matter of the future of HS2 into the long grass during the run-up to a general election.
We continue to support the HS2 project because of the extensive and wide-ranging economic and other benefits it will deliver for the nation as a whole, in addition to addressing major capacity problems on the west coast main line, which would only get worse if HS2 is abandoned. We thus support this Bill giving the statutory go-ahead to enable phase 2a to proceed. The question is whether the Government still fully support their own Bill and the project, after more than nine years of actively supporting and progressing with the construction of HS2. Or, incredibly, will today be the last we will see of this Bill or any further Bills providing for the completion of the construction and development of HS2? I hope the Government can clearly and emphatically indicate now that they intend to proceed with this project.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this wide-ranging debate. I am heartened by the amount of support that this project still has across the Chamber. I recognise that I will never be able to make my noble friend Lord Framlingham happy on this one. I will work on the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and might get there in the end—we are going to keep trying, because it is a very important project.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made some particularly important points about these large critical infrastructure projects and the difficulties this country faces in the way that we are set up and do our budgeting, scheduling and timetabling. Certainly, over the longer term some changes will probably happen in those areas. It is the same in rail as in roads, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, who spoke about roads being vital. As Roads Minister I completely agree with him. The Government are committing vast sums of money to improvements in both roads and rail, which are absolutely essential. The next RIS2 will have £25.3 billion to spend. On rail, we are spending £48 billion in the next control period, which is significantly more than we have spent on our railways for a very long time.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that this has pretty much always been about capacity—it just happens to be called High Speed 2. If I could have one wish in my life, it would be to change the name of this project. Calling it High Speed 2 has caused so many problems. It is a high-speed railway, I completely get that, but it is about capacity. Although it might be possible to slow down the railway, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, suggested, that would cut capacity. However, that is one of things that the Oakervee review will look at.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, stated that this project was transformative and mentioned many other times when Members both in the other place and in this House, from the Government and beyond, talked about its transformative nature. It is very difficult to disagree, but “transformative” can mean many different things. We must be absolutely clear—this is what Oakervee will do—that the benefits and costs are appropriate for this project. That is the reason for the review.
Can I take it then, in the light of that comment, that the Government are not prepared to rule out this project being cancelled?
The Prime Minister has been very clear that nothing has been taken off the table. Imagine if the numbers came out as £100 billion to build it with benefits of only £50 billion. The noble Lord might have a slight problem with saying yes to a project with numbers like that. We know that things are under review, but we have also seen the report from Allan Cook—
I would agree, if we were faced with figures such as those which appeared to completely change the situation, but I imagine that if we reached that stage there would be an immediate inquiry into how the original figures were ever produced.
That may well be the case, but we are now talking about hypotheticals, so I suggest that we wait until the review has finished and look at its conclusions in the context of the report from Allan Cook. The Government will make a decision at that time.
I turn to the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, about why we do not have a long-term railway strategy. That is exactly what we are doing at the moment with the Williams rail review, which is looking at the status of the rail network and the service operators to see whether and how we can improve the system for the future.
I turn to some of the more specific points raised by noble Lords. There was a bit of discussion around investment in the north and how important it is; that was brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. It is of course absolutely critical, as the Government recognise. Northern Powerhouse Rail could be transformative for the north, but probably not in isolation. It needs to be part of a larger project, which is why the Government are supporting Transport for the North to develop the options for Northern Powerhouse Rail. We committed £60 million at the spending review in 2015 and £37 million in 2018, which is on top of the £300 million we have committed to make sure that HS2 infrastructure accommodates a future Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands services. Therefore it is part of a bigger project, and other developments are certainly being included.
On the Oakervee review and accountability, I have already mentioned that costs, timescales and benefits will all be tied up in the review. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, spoke about accountability and HS2. I refer him to a comment made by my colleague the Transport Secretary, who was very clear that he wanted us to be as transparent as possible. That includes on costs and schedule, which is why we published the Cook report. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, raised that as well. Therefore, there will be more transparency and accountability. We are not minded to introduce quarterly reporting on HS2 at the moment, as it already provides reports to Parliament, as required by the framework document, and we believe that that level is proportionate and sufficient. Of course, noble Lords may request debates on HS2 at any time.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, claimed that it was a bit left hand/right hand, given my opening remarks and the fact that we are having a review. However, I do not see it like that. The process for HS2 is positive, and the review we are having is a sensible reconsideration of the facts. A sensible reconsideration should never be confused for a lack of support.
A number of noble Lords mentioned whether work should continue during the Oakervee review. Certainly, the Prime Minister was very clear that the fact that we are having a review should not unnecessarily delay the progress of HS2. That would be wrong, and it would mean that costs would rise. That is why limited enabling works are being undertaken by HS2, and why your Lordships are being asked to consider phase—
Will the Minister at least acknowledge that the felling of trees and the damaging of ancient woodland when the matter is still under discussion would be a serious thing to do?
I will come on to the issue of ancient woodland in due course and will look into the amount of work going on. I will certainly write to my noble friend if I can get some more information in that regard.
Perhaps I can help the Minister with that. I would be delighted to send her the list of woodland that is about to be demolished over the next six weeks.
I suspect that I may already have that list, but I would be delighted to receive it again.
My noble friend Lord Framlingham made what I think noble Lords will agree was an expected contribution, mentioning costs and value for money; indeed, that is what the Oakervee review will consider. He spoke about whistleblowers, as of course did the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. We are clear that any whistleblowers are covered in the UK by the whistleblowing legislation, and absolutely nothing should stop them coming forward. The Oakervee review will of course look at all available evidence when assessing the scheme.
Would the Minister be willing to meet on one occasion to take up that issue of whistleblowers?
I would be delighted to meet the noble Baroness when diaries allow.
My noble friend Lord Framlingham mentioned fraud. I would like to be clear that neither the Serious Fraud Office nor the police has contacted HS2 regarding any investigation, nor made any request for information in that regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked whether HS2 was competent. The Oakervee review will of course look at how we have arrived at the place we have, and at whether HS2 as it stands is able to deliver the project. We would not want to prejudge that outcome, but we have been working closely with the new chairman to ensure that HS2 has the right skills at this important stage to take the project forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned salaries, expressing surprise at the number of people who are paid quite high salaries within HS2. I do not know that I agree with her on this one. These are very technical positions, which need quite a lot of skill and experience, and I have not yet been able to see any benchmarks which would mean that they are not reasonable salaries to pay to these highly skilled technicians and engineers.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raised the important issue of connectivity. I said in my opening remarks that HS2 will be able to connect the major cities of the UK, but also described how the hub-and-spoke system then goes out to more than 100 cities and towns, which will be able to benefit. It is probably slightly early days now to think about those towns, because we need to get closer to the date of completion and services. However, I agree with him that whoever is in government at that time—I very much hope that it will be the Conservatives—will work with local authorities to make sure that we have an integrated transport system so that the buses connect with the trains, and all those things happen that we all would like to see.
The issue of Old Oak Common was raised a couple of times. We published a response to the Economic Affairs Committee report in July 2019, which mentioned stopping at Old Oak Common. There are few benefits, because stopping there means that you cannot transfer on to other transport systems, but the Oakervee review will of course look at that issue.
On the basic point about connectivity, will the Minister confirm that, when 2b is built, the trains will indeed run through to Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow?
I am unable to confirm that just at this moment, purely because I do not know, not because that decision has gone one way or the other. My apologies.
Oakervee is looking at the costs and benefits and, as the noble Lord mentioned, the costs have increased—the envelope was originally £55.7 billion, and Allan Cook now estimates that that is between £72 billion and £78 billion.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about similar projects in other nations. It is difficult to compare us to someone else. We have very different countryside, and various stakeholders have very different needs. That point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. If we were to keep absolutely everybody happy on the environmental side of things, we would never build anything ever again. Clearly, that is not a feasible option, and therefore we must have a balance. While Oakervee will look at this, given our landscape and our need to mitigate against justified environmental concerns that have been raised, the cost of these things becomes quite high. I mentioned at the outset that there is a significant amount of tunnelling and cutting; some of that is down to the landscape that the line is going through, but also environmental concerns there. In later debates I will give examples of where we have literally moved the route to go around a tree. Those are the sorts of things that, with respect, may not necessarily happen in other countries. On the flip side, knowing France fairly well as I do, much of the country does not look like Staffordshire, so there are differences.
I thank the noble Baroness for going through those details, but they sound like a list of excuses, if you like. I understand all of that, but the rest of Europe is not blasé about these issues. As we know, the French public can be equally awkward. While I hear the noble Baroness, I find it difficult to understand the differences in culture.
I would be happy to return to this issue outside the Chamber where perhaps we could have a better and more detailed conversation. I was also going to say that we should meet when the review has been published so that we can talk about the more detailed costs and benefits assessment. That conversation is probably too lengthy to have in the Chamber today.
I turn now to a few of the environmental matters which have been raised, because of course they are very important. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who referred to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, saying that he admired her “hippy way” of bringing things up. I thought, “No, that is not the case at all, because these issues are important”. We had a good conversation when we met, and I hope that both noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Young, along with other noble Lords will accept an invitation to a briefing by the HS2 environment team. Perhaps we can then get to the root of the issues of concern because this is a huge area. I believe that HS2 has a great deal of information on it and I hope that the team will be able to put at least some of the fears of noble Lords at rest, although I am probably resigned to the fact that the noble Baroness will not change her view.
I want to refer to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow. He asked whether having a railway line causes an area to become not beautiful any more. Having visited the area that phase 2a of HS2 will go through, I agree with him that it is lovely and a great part of the country which already has the west coast main line and a motorway running through it. However, it is still beautiful. I think that there are many positives. On the habitat side, again we can raise those issues with the environment director and talk about them further.
I just want to clarify that I did not say that the noble Baroness was a hippy; rather, I said that she was pithy. In other words, she put her points of view across very succinctly.
Goodness, okay. I offer my sincere apologies to the noble Baroness and perhaps Hansard will go back and scrap all of that.
I shall carry on about the environmental statements, which are of course very important. I can assure the noble Baroness that they are of a high quality. However, I shall turn now to ancient woodlands because I sense that this is an issue that we may return to a number of times. I agree that ancient woodlands are very important, but there is some context here. We have some 52,000 ancient woodland sites in the UK, and of those 52,000, some 62 will be affected by HS2. It is the case that we can do things to mitigate the impact on ancient woodland. I was quite surprised to learn that not only do we have a planting regime in place, which we will learn from and improve on—and we can quiz the HS2 environment director on it—but we also propose to move the actual soil to a new place.
The evidence for the preservation of ancient woodlands simply does not exist; it is a myth, and I do not think that we should be misleading the House in this way. While I am on my feet, I should say that I have met endlessly with the HS2 environment team. Although there may be a large number of fragments of ancient woodland so that this looks like a comparatively small number, the reality is that most of those fragments have been very bisected and diminished by development, and we are continuing on that merry way to the point where shortly we will have little ancient woodland worthy of the name.
I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. I suspect that we are not going to wholly agree on this matter, but if I can do anything at all to bring us closer together, I shall be pleased to do so. I believe that earlier the noble Baroness mentioned Whitmore Wood, which I have also had the pleasure of seeing. The Select Committee in the other place did consider whether the project should tunnel under the woodland, but it decided that that did not represent value for money. An assurance was given to reduce the impact on the ancient woodland by 0.5 of a hectare. However, the Select Committee of your Lordships’ House may look at this issue again.
My Lords, can the noble Baroness answer the question put to her on precisely when the review will be published?
I cannot do that with great precision. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned that the original length of the review was six weeks. We should take that period in the context of a couple of months or a month. It is not six weeks on the dot, from day one to the end, although it may well be. The point is that the panel has had to be set up and appointed and the terms of reference were published on 21 August. Given that, I will stick to the autumn of 2019. As noble Lords will be aware, it is a bit chilly outside now, so autumn is coming. However, I probably cannot go much further than that. As I say, the review will be published shortly or in due course. No doubt noble Lords will soon ask me about this again in Oral Questions. However, it is under way and it is a short review.
I want to cover briefly the issue of tenant compensation, which I realise is important to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. There will certainly be an opportunity to discuss it further before we reach the next stage of the process. Due to the route of the proposed scheme, phase 2a affects mostly rural residents, many of whom are tenants of their properties or land. Most types of tenants who will be impacted by the scheme are already provided for under existing compensation law, but where they are not, the Government are able to use their flexible non-statutory arrangements to provide support. That is probably not sufficient detail for the noble Lord, and I agree that we will take the issue further forward.
I want to comment briefly on a comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, about British Steel. I understand the concerns of the noble Baroness, but none the less the Crown Commercial Service steel procurement policy requires bidders to outline their steel supply plans and will award all steel contracts through open competition.
Perhaps we may have a straightforward answer to the request that there should be a moratorium on felling in ancient woodland sites until the report is available.
I am not able to provide that certainty at this moment, but I will undertake to establish exactly what enabling works or felling will take place, whether that is of ancient woodland or otherwise, within the period that we anticipate the review will take to be carried out. I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
This is the start of the proceedings on this Bill. I look forward to many further discussions both within the Chamber and without the Chamber. For now, I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.