House of Lords
Monday 9 September 2019
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Winchester.
Peatlands: Commercial Exploitation
My Lords, we have taken action to tackle domestic extraction of peat. The National Planning Policy Framework, published in 2012, ended the granting of new licences for peat extraction. We continue to focus on reducing demand for peat in horticulture in England, and on the uptake of alternatives. We are investing in research to overcome barriers to peat replacement. The forthcoming England peat strategy will set out our approach to speeding up progress.
My Lords, I welcome some progress in this area, but the Minister will know that our peatlands hold the equivalent, or a carbon sink, of something like 20 years of industrial emissions. Although I welcome things such as the peat restoration programme, surely it is better that they are not destroyed in the first place than that they need to be reconstituted? The voluntary process for reducing the commercial use of peat is not meeting its target, so when are we going to have mandatory targets that end the use of peat for commercial reasons?
My Lords, I sympathise with all that the noble Lord has said. That is why we are working on recovery plans. Amateur gardeners account for two-thirds of the peat being used. We have to reduce our use of peat and go for peat-free products. I read of one that incorporates wool and bracken, for instance. We are working with industry; I am very pleased that Kingfisher, one of the big retailers, is moving towards peat-free compost. That is how we must all proceed in reducing the use of peat and restoring what we have. It is vital to our environment.
My Lords, building on that Answer, amateur gardeners find it very difficult to get high-quality compost that does not contain peat. Can the Minister expand a little on what the Government are doing to get retailers not only to stock less peat-based compost—ideally, none at all—but to be more informative about the price that the environment is paying for the quality of the compost that they are selling?
As an amateur gardener, I agree with what the noble Baroness has said. It is precisely why we have embarked on a £1 million project, which ends at the end of this year, co-funded by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, with growing-medium manufacturers and commercial growers. It is being undertaken by ADAS and the Quadram Institute. The results so far are very promising. Some of the new mixes have proved very successful, and that must be the way forward. Clearly, we need to produce different materials if we want ericaceous compost for seeds and all the different components of agriculture, but the results so far are promising, and that is how we must proceed.
My Lords, will my noble friend perhaps display a greater sense of urgency, considering that it takes 200 years to create a peat bog? Since there are flood prevention schemes, such as the Pickering pilot scheme, will the Government ensure that peat bogs are created as part of such restoration schemes and will they form part of the land management system under the eventual agriculture Bill?
Undoubtedly, peat bogs and fens help with flood management and improve water quality. Indeed, they play a considerable part in climate regulation, which is why in the wider research beyond what I have already described we are funding research into mitigation strategies—for instance, for lowland peatland. This research is being led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. One of the things, of course, is not to let peat dry out.
My Lords, the problem is much wider than compost. Flora and fauna are being drastically affected. For example, the numbers of the iconic bird of the upland in summer, the curlew, have fallen dramatically because, without the peat bogs, they find it difficult to feed, in spite of their long beaks. Will he draw that to the attention of the agricultural civil servants in his department?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. The merlin, the dunlin and the golden plover are all birds that are also significant in their impact on the ecosystems and important in the peatlands. That is precisely why we want to concentrate on restoring peatlands and reducing peat extraction. Interestingly, the worst damage is being done in the lowland areas of peatland.
My Lords, being a farmer as well as an amateur gardener, I say that manure by itself would be a little too rich for some of the seedlings which we all need to prosper, but my noble friend is absolutely right about using compost and manure. Using them in the right mix and getting the right alternatives—natural alternatives such as wool and bracken—is the way forward.
My Lords, specifically on commercial peat extraction, as my noble friend Lord Teverson said, this is causing irreversible damage to some of the most historic and vulnerable nature conservation habitats and environments, so 2030 is too late to tackle this problem. Wonderful wetland habitats are being created from previous peat workings, such as at Westhay Heath. Why are the Government not doing more to promote such schemes to preserve more wildlife habitats?
My Lords, I am pleased to say, as I think I may have said before, that we have already allocated £10 million to restore nearly 6,500 hectares of degraded peatland. These projects started last year and are due to complete in 2020. They are about raising the water table and re-wetting peat, along with the revegetation of bare peat. A lot of work is going on and we absolutely recognise that we need to roll these large-scale projects out more widely.
My Lords, obviously, that is a possible action, but we want to find the alternatives that will make the use of peat redundant and unnecessary. Peat is a very important natural resource that we need for our ecosystems, which is why we want to pursue that route. However, the noble Lord is right: in the end, if we cannot get it done through this voluntary approach, we will have to look at all eventualities. That is where, with the peat strategy, we will need to be determined to improve the peatland situation.
My Lords, in the 2018 LGBT Action Plan, the Government announced their intention to publish a call for evidence on the experience of people who have variations in sex characteristics. This has now closed and we are analysing the responses.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Infants are being subjected to surgery which turns out in later life to be sometimes unnecessary and often extremely harmful. Will the Government, at the earliest opportunity, change the Equality Act 2010 to include variations of sex characteristics so that these very vulnerable people have some legal protection, which they do not at the moment?
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness and the way she has worked on this issue. She raises an important point: as she knows, we require more evidence on this issue to understand the long-term impacts of the medical interventions in children which she outlined. That is why we asked for information on this topic in the recent call for evidence and we are currently analysing the results.
My Lords, there are a number of children who have had sex-change operations who later on bitterly regret it. I have seen some of these people in fertility clinics; some also have complications after surgery. The decision to undergo gender reassignment is a very grave one. Are the Government satisfied that these decisions are being taken with sufficient care?
The noble Lord outlined the very point articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. Obviously, we would never want children to have to go through something they might later regret, or which they feel has been imposed upon them and can destroy the rest of their lives. That is why we did the call for evidence and why we will proceed carefully and responsibly in this sensitive area.
My Lords, these issues are complex to understand and highly sensitive, even for those of us steeped in LGBT+ issues. One problem is that, at the moment, there is no official data on the number, frequency and types of interventions for intersex people. Would it be a good idea for the NHS to start collecting this?
I do not know whether my noble friend knows this, but the LGBT survey we conducted had 108,000 responses—the largest of its kind ever undertaken in the world. Almost 2,000 respondents identified as intersex. However, my noble friend is right: that proportion is a snapshot of those who responded. People have been calling for the census to record this; there will be the opportunity to do just that in the next census.
My Lords, intersex people face widespread discrimination. What steps are the Government taking to ensure awareness of the human rights of intersex people? Will the Government ensure appropriate training on intersex issues for health professionals and public officials, including legislators, the judiciary and policymakers?
The noble Lord raises an issue which stems, in many cases, from ignorance. People mix up intersex with transgender: they are entirely different. Intersex is neither a sexual orientation nor a gender identity issue. He is absolutely right that more information and education on this are needed, as is more training for medical professionals—an issue which many intersex respondents brought up in the call for evidence.
I welcome the Government’s attention to this issue of minority rights. We understand that although this is a small minority it is an important one, and that early medical intervention can lead to deep unhappiness. Will the Government’s consultation lead to a public education programme? The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, mentioned the need for medical professionals to be trained, but we well understand that a lot of parents will need a certain amount of background enlightenment as to these possibilities and to the dangers of giving in to pressures at an early stage to “do something about it”, rather than allowing children to grow up as they are.
It is not a consultation so much as a call for evidence, which is a more informed process, engaging with various stakeholders with expertise in this area. The noble Lord will be aware, of course, that intersex or variations in sexual characteristics can be chromosomal, gonadal, hormonal or indeed anatomical. Therefore, it is very important that whichever public services the individual comes into contact with, particularly medical practitioners, are educated and trained to be sensitive to the various issues.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that intersex people face discrimination on the grounds of sex characteristics, including in access to healthcare, education, employment and sports and in obtaining official documents. Will she consider amending our anti-discrimination laws to ensure that the situation of people with intersex traits is effectively covered, by adding sex characteristics to the list of protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010? This would ensure that their human rights are recognised—they should be entitled to full protection under the law.
I think that that might be putting the cart before the horse in some ways; we have to understand, through the call for evidence, precisely what the issues are. I think intersex people are covered under current discrimination laws, but I take the noble Baroness’s point. Let us first be educated and informed by the call for evidence before we decide, as a Government, what the most effective way forward is.
My Lords, in the light of what has been said about the importance of expertise in this area, it must be concerning that there has been a decline in the number of child and adolescent psychiatrists in recent years. I understand that investment and effort is being made and that that trend is perhaps beginning to be reversed. Will the Minister look very carefully to see that we are successfully recruiting and retaining more child and adolescent psychiatrists to help in this area?
Charities: Plastic Bag Charges
My Lords, there is no legal requirement for businesses to donate the proceeds from the charge to charities; businesses are encouraged to donate. The Government’s proposals are at consultation stage and have always been due to come into effect in 2020. As such, charities have not lost any income from the charge. Our initial impact assessment estimates that small and medium-sized businesses, after deducting reasonable business costs, could generate approximately £59 million for good causes in the first full year.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is it not the case that this charge could have been brought in much more quickly and, as a result, charities would have been beneficiaries of a substantial sum of money? At the same time, is it not the case that by delaying the introduction of this charge until 2020, under the revised figures expected under the revised impact assessment something like 1 billion plastic bags will be used in this country in the next six months which would not otherwise have been used?
My Lords, I have looked into this very thoroughly and I understand concerns about the time is it taking, but we are required under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 to carry out regulatory measures and assess business impacts which are reviewed by the independent Regulatory Policy Committee. I know I am getting into the realms of Sir Humphrey, but it is about the detailed feedback on methodology. Given that this charge will affect every smallholder, market trader and charity shop, we are attending to the comments that have come back from the Regulatory Policy Committee. I would like to make progress, and we will do, but we have to go through the due processes. Also, the SI will be affirmative and that will take some time.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the issue of regulation with regard to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, but the scope of that Act applies to all devolved nations, yet Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already extended the plastic bag charge to small and medium-sized enterprises. What justification can there be for this? We are waiting only for England to catch up—everybody else has done it. Wales did it in 2011 and Scotland did it in 2013. It is now 2019. I would have thought that the scope of that Act would have allowed England to catch up by now.
The magnitude and quantum of the number of businesses that will be involved in England will, as I think everyone would agree, be much more significant. As I have said, we are working through the requirements as we understand and have been informed about them. The Regulatory Policy Committee has come back to us with detailed comments on the methodology. We have to receive a positive rating feedback from the RPC. We want to do that because we think there are significant benefits from increasing the charge from 5p to 10p and applying it to all retailers.
My Lords, the Minister said that it is not compulsory for retailers to ensure that the money goes to charities. Last year, 40% of retailers did not say where the money went. Why is it not compulsory for the money to go to charities so that we can be sure that it is going to good causes?
My Lords, from the very outset, this was for businesses, and all businesses—taking away their business costs—were encouraged to donate to good causes. As I say, significant sums have already been given, but we should be mindful, particularly when we go on from larger to smaller business, that this will undoubtedly have to be for businesses. I was very interested to find that the House of Lords last year raised £283.21, and I am pleased to say that we are phasing out our plastic bags. This is the sort of quantum we are talking about. We will be dealing with very small retailers, which is why the noble Baroness hits on something that would be very difficult to enforce.
Nuclear Power Stations
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of a warming climate on the operational risks of nuclear power stations, particularly in the light of the reduction in capacity of nuclear reactors in France in the July heatwave.
My Lords, companies involved in the civil nuclear industry are required to meet robust standards that are overseen by independent regulators. These standards include keeping plants safe against the effects of climate change, as demonstrated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation jointly publishing guidance with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales in March this year.
I thank the Minister for his Answer, but I did not hear anything about climate change. If noble Lords remember, this Parliament declared—I think it was at the end of April—a climate emergency. Every year, the Greenland ice sheet loses 300 cubic kilometres of ice on average—that is just Greenland—and we could face sea level rises. I would have liked to have heard some policies that are a little different from any standards that have gone before, because we need new, tougher standards.
The noble Baroness raises issues about climate change, which I will address head-on. The Office for Nuclear Regulation must not only anticipate but mitigate any potential problems that might occur, which will include not only sea level rise but sea temperature rise. In every instance, it must put forward robust strategies to ensure that at all points nuclear safety is paramount.
My Lords, is not the conundrum here that, while higher global temperatures may affect nuclear power, nuclear power itself can make a major contribution to combating global warming by producing massive amounts of low-carbon electricity? Can my noble friend give us an assurance that in doing so, costs can be kept down, particularly in relation to Hinkley Point, as they are rising rapidly? Could he make sure that we have a proper debate on this whole subject when we come back, as things are not going very well at present?
My noble friend is of course absolutely correct that nuclear power itself is a means of reducing carbon emissions, and it will remain part of our electricity generation mix—necessarily so, as it is already 20% at present. When Hinkley Point comes online it will represent 7% of the overall electricity generated in the entire United Kingdom. It is therefore important that we are able to ensure that nuclear remains a component part of our offering and our energy reduction. It is also important to recognise that one of the conditions of the nuclear strategy which we have put forward—the £200 million fund—is that there is a significant reduction in the cost of the production of nuclear energy. That will represent a 20% reduction overall, which must be part of that strategy. We are alert to these issues. Again, the time is right for a proper debate on the wider questions, which I suspect my noble friend would have raised had we had more time.
My Lords, I welcome the new Minister to his position. He will be aware that I usually use this opportunity to conflate nuclear power with energy storage. With high-capacity energy storage, the need for nuclear becomes much less critical. There are also short-term issues around storage, which we saw on 9 August, when there were blackouts across large swathes of England. The cost of replacing that short-term storage is about £1 billion to double it to 2,000 megawatts. What is the Government’s plan for storage, what money is available, and how is it being invested to deliver a robust system?
I thank the noble Lord for his welcome. Storage must be at the heart of our strategy, because we cannot get to net zero by 2050 without it. We will need to significantly increase our investment in this type of technology to understand it well. He will of course be aware that one of the most successful forms of storage is the pumped hydro, which again we need to examine in its manifest forms.
My Lords, what action are the Government taking to develop the scientific method to withdraw CO2 from our environment? We have passed the point when we can deal with climate change simply through reducing our emissions. One of the absolutely key answers has to be withdrawing CO2 from the atmosphere.
The noble Baroness asks a simple question which will get a complicated response. A number of changes must take place in greening and reducing our emissions, not least within our domestic environment. We need to move away from the gas in our homes and the hydrocarbons in our cars, and we need to do that in the short term. We need a new strategy which will address the culture. This is not just about what government can do; it has to be about what individual households can do, recognising the cost of each change. We have a strategy, which is available on our website.
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned pumped hydro. He will be aware of the role played by the Dinorwig scheme, which in its day was the largest in the world, although it is not quite that now. Are there more such schemes, and are they geared to the two-lake solution or to estuarial pumping, back up the valleys from where the rivers came?
The noble Lord is right to rejoice in the success that Wales has had in pumped storage. There are moves afoot on the part of a number of companies to expand existing hydro plants. The future is of course dependent on how we can mitigate some of the costs involved in such large-scale projects, but they will fit into both categories if we can find the right balance of incentive to encourage these sorts of developments.
My Lords, the Question relates to the resilience of nuclear electricity generation. Given the relative lack of progress beyond Hinkley in renewing the nuclear fleet and its possible contribution to that resilience, what progress are the Government making on the introduction of more small modular nuclear reactors for electricity generation?
My noble friend is right to remind us that not all nuclear reactors need to be on a large scale. Small modular reactors certainly have a place in our strategy. We are putting forward up to £80 million to develop this kind of technology, to help us to tackle the issue. It will help us to make a substantial difference to our climate change initiatives.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s commitment to a wider strategy and all the points that have been raised, but the Question refers to learning lessons from the reduction during the heatwave in capacity in the French nuclear power system. Is he utterly confident that the French system will share those results in view of our imminent departure from Euratom and ending all other agreements with our French partners?
The noble Lord will be aware that the French nuclear system is based primarily on riverine cooling, whereas that in the UK is based on marine cooling. Two plants in France had to be turned off because of the situation in the rivers. We do not have any issues in that regard, but we will learn lessons because it is important to do so. The Office for Nuclear Regulation must learn lessons not only from what happens at home but from what happens abroad.
My Lords, before the Summer Recess, the Government agreed that the UK should have a zero-carbon target for 2050. I cannot remember if that was from this Government or the May Government. Can the Minister confirm that that is still the Government’s position, although what is more important is meeting the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee? When will we have an updated clean growth strategy?
It was our Government. We will have an updated clean growth strategy because it is absolutely vital. We will need to be bold about taking ourselves forward to net zero by 2050, because our present initiatives are not adequate to deliver that. There will need to be a significant refresh not just of the wider clean growth strategy but of all aspects of this covering all government departments.
My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister to go back to the Question, and to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Whitty. We rely to a fair degree on electricity from nuclear power stations in France. What assessment has been made of the position whereby the French, because of climate change, should decide that they cannot maintain the same level of supply as in the past? What guarantees do we have that that will not happen, and what assessment has been made of how we will make up a shortfall?
The simple answer is that we cannot guarantee what the French nuclear system will do. France is an independent nation in that regard. We have to make sure that our provision is adequate to ensure that the lights do not go off and that the supply of electricity is absolutely maintained. That is why we rely not solely on nuclear but on a breadth of electricity generation. We will continue to do so at the safest levels possible.
Private Notice Question
My Lords, Hurricane Dorian has caused untold damage to the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama. I am sure that I speak for every Member of your Lordships’ House when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost their lives or their homes or have been injured. The United Kingdom was among the first to provide support and we are pleased to see that the international response has since been ramping up. The Government have also committed up to £1.5 million, which has enabled the delivery of critical aid, and we have deployed emergency and consular teams to the Bahamas.
I thank the Minister for that response. Indeed, last Friday the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, also kindly informed me of developments as regards what we are doing to support both the MoD and DfID. But, of course, if noble Lords listened to the “Today” programme this morning, they will have heard the local concerns about the efficiency of the Nassau distribution of aid and support, particularly to those in the cays and the small islands around Abaco. What administrative and logistical support has been given to the Government of the Bahamas to ensure that everyone in need is supported?
My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord and pay tribute to my colleagues in the Department for International Development. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Sugg has joined me on the Front Bench. The MoD has provided support. The FCO has provided consular assistance and 13 members of its staff have been deployed to the region at the high commission in Nassau. Indeed, we are the only embassy or high commission from the EU operating in the Bahamas. DfID has also deployed a team of five humanitarian experts, with a sixth on the way.
Yesterday I spoke to the Bahamas Foreign Affairs Minister, Darren Henfield, whose constituency is Abaco, and I have been in constant liaison with both our high commissioner on the ground there and the Bahamas’ high commissioner in London. I assure the noble Lord that through the support that we have provided across the three departments—and let us not forget RFA “Mounts Bay”, which has been providing vital assistance to those directly hit on the two islands—we have been at the forefront of assistance to both our citizens and those of the Bahamas.
My Lords, I associate these Benches with the condolences that the Minister has just expressed. Does he agree that while it is vital to help those who have been so terribly affected by the hurricane, it is important that, as lives and places are rebuilt, resilience is built in? In fact—this question follows on from the previous one—given that this is the worst hurricane to have hit the area, does this not reinforce the fact that we have to work together to tackle climate change? As the Minister knows, in the EU we were able to lead on that in the run-up to the Paris climate change conference, which was so important. How are we going to ensure that we can play any such role in the future?
My Lords, we have been recognised by the UN Secretary-General—among others—for our primary role in building resilience, both in the Caribbean post hurricanes Irma and Maria, and in the Pacific. As the noble Baroness may be aware, the United Kingdom and a number of other countries are leading on the resilience strand at the UN conference that will take place during high-level week later this month in New York.
On the specifics, I assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that we were there two years ago and subsequently we have expended a great deal of effort, time, energy and focus on co-ordination in the region, both with our overseas territories and with international partners, including our European partners: the Netherlands and France. It is as a result of that that we have seen the co-ordinated response on the ground.
However, I reflect on the words of the Foreign Minister of the Bahamas yesterday. He thanked the United Kingdom for our support and prayers, but he also said, poignantly, that there is little you can do when Mother Nature takes her course. I assured him that we as a House and a country stand in support of their efforts and we will continue to support the Bahamas, not just in providing immediate relief but in reconstruction.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the fate of Bimini, a chain of islands in the Bahamas, which has been pulled apart by developers, who have destroyed the ecosystem of dolphins, whales and reefs? Will he take this into account when formulating a future development policy as a result of the hurricane?
My Lords, I assure the noble Viscount that we have been working across the Caribbean, not just on resilience but on the very issue that he raised about protecting natural habitats. That is why the United Kingdom within our own territories has been at the forefront of introducing marine protection areas, with 4.3 million kilometres of them around key habitats, protecting them. I will take the specific issue of the Bahamas back and if there are updates I will write to the noble Viscount.
My Lords, can my noble friend assure me that since, as is usual on these occasions, the aid has been delivered by our military forces, the cost the forces incurred in delivering that aid should fall on the overseas aid budget and not the military one?
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, has partly answered my noble friend’s question—this does not come under ODA eligibility. Indeed, the funds that we have allocated have been set up specifically for that reason, so I can give my noble friend that reassurance.
My Lords, we have heard of admirable amounts offered by way of support to the victims of this terrible storm. However, perhaps I may ask a question about the modalities for distributing the aid and the extent to which it involves local people with local knowledge, bearing in mind that those who administer what is given might reach wiser conclusions about the distribution.
The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise that, and I refer to my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. We have been working with regional partners and, most importantly, with CDEMA, the aid agency that responds to these issues in the Caribbean. We have been bolstering its responsibility and investing with our key partners. I assure the noble Lord that my conversation yesterday with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Bahamas focused specifically on ensuring that the technical support and the reports that we are getting reflect the type and focus of the assistance that can be provided. For example, we are working with American colleagues on ensuring that the airport is functional so that more aid and support can be provided.
As my noble friend will recall, lessons were learned from Hurricane Irma, one of which concerned the speed of the response. Can he assure the House that we are using the facilities at Brize Norton? If planes cannot land at Nassau, they should at least land at the Cayman Islands and be trans-shipped. Can my noble friend bring us up to date? Are we using the facilities and heavy-lift equipment at Brize Norton on the ground in the Bahamas now?
My noble friend raises an important point about lessons learned. I believe that I have already indicated the importance of staying focused after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. On the specific issues raised, RFA “Mounts Bay” was the only vessel that had the ability to access the Bahamas. As many noble Lords know, the hurricane stayed over the Bahamas, at one point moving only at about 1 mph, so for two consecutive days the Abaco Islands, in particular, were battered quite considerably. We provided support at the first point of access. The runway needed to be cleared to allow access and the US has been leading in providing support in that respect. In terms of the wider response, my noble friend talked about the Caymans and so on. I have been pleased that, because of co-ordination, we have seen support from the British Overseas Territories—namely, the Turks and Caicos and the Cayman Islands—in alleviating the suffering of the people of the Bahamas, and that co-ordination continues.
My Lords, the Minister will have seen that the Prime Minister of the Bahamas has described Hurricane Dorian as “catastrophic and devastating”. Can he confirm that more than 70,000 people have been displaced and provide an updated figure on the number of fatalities, which is said to be 44? Will he also confirm that 3,500 evacuees have now arrived in the capital, Nassau, and can he say what truth there is in the reported suggestion that no food, medical aid or water have arrived, particularly in the destroyed shanty towns where many Haitian workers were living?
My Lords, the issue on the ground is very fluid. The noble Lord talks of various numbers—he is correct that they have been widely reported—both for the people impacted and the fatalities. However, hearing the reports, I fear that that latter number will increase. As I said, I have been in touch directly with the authorities in the Bahamas and, most importantly, with the Foreign Affairs Minister to ensure that we are kept abreast of the immediate requirements. In terms of aid being received, there have been challenges in providing access to some of the hard-to-reach areas because of the nature of the hurricane. However, it is my understanding that we have provided the support that has been required and that aid has been getting through to those who require it.
The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Kew Gardens (Leases) Act
European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act.
Chair of the European Union Committee
My Lords, in moving this Motion, it would be remiss of me not to say a few words about the outgoing chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, who I am delighted to see in his place. He has served the EU Committee, and in turn this House, with such distinction.
The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has been the longest serving chairman in the history of the EU Committee. Over the seven years and three months he has spent in the role, the committee has met 229 times and published 122 reports—he is looking quite pained at the memory. Much of the committee’s recent work and 42 of those reports have been related to Brexit. I suspect that the noble Lord may not have anticipated that Europe would be quite so dominant in the national debate when he took on the chairmanship. That his stewardship of the committee has been so calm and measured has enormously benefited the whole House, especially when tensions on these issues have run high.
The noble Lord’s dedication to European matters is recognised way beyond this House. I was told by his daughter that his eldest granddaughters used to call him Baloo. The family naturally assumed that this was a reference to the character from The Jungle Book. “No”, explained the noble Lord’s granddaughters—it was because he wears blue jumpers and is always talking about the EU. On behalf of this House, I thank him for his service to the committee and wish him well in whatever he undertakes next.
Finally, I welcome the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, into the role. I have no doubt that he will prove an equally able and effective chairman, and I wish him well. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will share the noble Baroness’s confidence, and mine, that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, will take on this role with enthusiasm and great skill. His expertise in science and the law are key ingredients for evidence-based policy-making and analysis; that is essential, particularly at a time when some consider opinions superior to facts. We warmly welcome him to his new position.
It is also an honour to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, as he stands down. I first engaged with him many years ago when I was a newly elected MP and he was the shadow Minister leading for the then Opposition on the National Minimum Wage Bill Committee—he remembers it well. It still holds the record for the longest ever committee sitting in Parliament. I seem to recall that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, spoke many a night in that same Committee Room. Despite some very long and late nights, then as now, he displayed his customary courtesy and good humour at all times.
At a time when the issue of our membership of the EU has fractured our politics, fragmented political parties, divided society and even split families, the work undertaken by our EU Committee and sub-committees remains essential and valuable. The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has acted at all times in the interest of your Lordships’ House to ensure that our debates would be well informed and timely. He can be proud of his record.
At times, it has been a difficult role. We hear that it has been seven years, three months—and I am sure he can tell us how many days as well. The noble Lord has always seen his work as service to this House and has been exemplary in fulfilling those responsibilities. We thank him and wish him well.
My Lords, the noble Lord has presided for a long period over the work of the European Union Committee, but I think that it will be the work related to Brexit for which he will be remembered. I am sure that the unprecedented volume of reports from that committee have informed a very large number of people across the country. In particular, the first tranche of reports after the referendum drew to the House’s attention—and mine—a whole raft of detailed issues relating to Brexit, and although I thought I knew something about the subject, I realised that I was ignorant. I would like to thank him personally for my education—and more generally, on behalf of the House and the country, for the immensely educative job that the committee has been able to do.
I also thank him personally for his very open approach to consultation. As Chief Whip and Leader, whenever there has been a particular issue relating to my group or policy more generally facing the committee, he has been able to come and have a confidential discussion about it. I found this extremely valuable, and I believe that the approach is very much in the best traditions of the House.
We welcome the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to the job and wish him well. At the same time, we look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, resuming his full voice in future debates on Europe and more generally.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I too welcome the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to this very important post. I think we can all agree that a safe pair of hands is required in these uncertain times and he can undoubtedly provide us with exactly that quality; I too wish him well for what lies ahead. I join others in paying tribute to the work that has been done on behalf of these Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. I take particular pleasure in doing so because it was invariably from these Benches that he addressed the House when he was presenting the reports of his committee, as he felt it was appropriate to do. As has been said, he presided over his committee, to the work of which he was utterly devoted, with great skill and authority; these qualities came through time and again when he was presenting these many reports.
Behind the scenes, both at home and abroad, the noble Lord worked tirelessly and always with good humour to maintain his committee’s authority and reputation. It is no exaggeration to say that, having earned the support and admiration of his colleagues, he transformed the work of the committee. He gathered so much into the committee itself, on top of what was being reported to it from its sub-committees. Instead of sitting once a month as was the position to begin with, latterly it was sitting each week and perhaps even more often than once. That is some testament to the qualities that he brought and the importance he attached to its work.
The noble Lord was particularly keen to stress—I am sure he would like me to mention this—that leaving the EU ought not to mean that his committee should cease to exist. That was his response to the challenges of Brexit, along with all the others mentioned. The House owes much to his initiative and dedication. His voice is always a pleasure to listen to and his presence always commands attention. There is so much about his chairmanship to admire and for which to be grateful. I join all those who have already spoken in extending to the noble Lord our warmest thanks and good wishes.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.
Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL]
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that it is expedient that if the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL]—
(a) has not completed all of its stages by the end of this session of Parliament, and
(b) is reintroduced in the next session of Parliament,
the Bill as reintroduced shall, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day), be taken pro forma through all of the stages completed in this session.
High Speed Rail (West Midlands–Crewe) Bill
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.
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 ecological 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.
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 although 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 of 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 the 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 serve only 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 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.
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”—
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—
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.
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.
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 is 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 account. 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.
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—
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 it will award all steel contracts through open competition.
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.
High Speed Rail (West Midlands– Crewe) Bill
Motion to Agree
That if a bill in the same terms as those in which the High Speed Rail (West Midlands–Crewe) Bill stood when it was brought to this House in this session is brought to this House from the House of Commons in the next session—
(a) the proceedings on the bill in the next session shall be pro forma in regard to every stage through which the bill has passed in this session;
(b) any petition deposited against the bill in this session shall be taken to be deposited against the bill in the next session; and
(c) the Standing Orders of the House applicable to the bill, so far as complied with or dispensed with in this session, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in the next session.
Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) (No. 2) Regulations 2019
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this Government are committed to the Belfast agreement. As I have said on many occasions, restoring a power-sharing Executive remains our key priority in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland needs the fully functioning political institutions of the Belfast agreement and its successors. That being said, in the absence of devolved government, the UK Government continue to have a responsibility to ensure good governance in Northern Ireland and that public confidence is maintained.
In November last year, legislation was brought forward, which among other measures addressed the need for urgent appointments to be made to a number of public bodies. At the time, the Secretary of State gave a commitment to make further appointments that may arise in the absence of an Executive. A statutory instrument was subsequently approved by the House in February 2019 which added six further offices to the 2018 Act. This new instrument specifies further critical offices to be added.
In preparing this instrument, my officials have worked closely with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to identify those appointments that will arise between now and the end of the year. This instrument would add to the list in Section 5 of the Act, thereby enabling the Secretary of State—as the relevant UK Minister—to exercise Northern Ireland Ministers’ appointment functions in relation to the following offices: the board of the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, the board of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, the board of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company or Translink, the Drainage Council for Northern Ireland, the Agricultural Wages Board for Northern Ireland, the board of National Museums Northern Ireland, the Historic Buildings Council for Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The instrument would also enable the Lord Chancellor to make Queen’s Counsel appointments. These are necessary and time-critical and, on that basis, I beg to move.
My Lords, all our debates, such as this one on the Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) (No. 2) Regulations, are in the context of the continuing absence, as the Minister acknowledged at the start, of an Assembly and the Executive. Although he has repeated his determination to get it up and running and we support him in that object, the increasing and alarming prospect is, instead, of a calamitous no-deal Brexit. In my view, that will lead inevitably to direct rule, not least to provide the necessary civil contingency and security powers which the civil servants currently administering Northern Ireland simply do not possess. That is shown by there regulations. They do not have the power, without us passing this secondary legislation, to make these appointments; they are certainly not going to have the power to deal with problems around the border of the security and civil contingency kind. Indeed, I heard the former Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington say recently on the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme that there would have to be direct rule in advance of 31 October in order for Northern Ireland to function properly. In their own small way, these regulations are a dress rehearsal.
I believe that direct rule would be little short of disastrous for Northern Ireland and the progress that has been made since the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. One of the great achievements of that agreement was to dilute, if not completely remove, the toxicity of identity politics in Northern Ireland. It also helped cement relations between the UK and Ireland. Citizens of Northern Ireland could be Irish or British or increasingly Northern Irish as they chose and the invisible nature of the border was central to that, particularly for nationalists and, above all, for republicans. That is changing and a DUP-backed right-wing British Government exercising direct rule may not take us back to the violence of the past—I certainly hope not—but it will immeasurably damage the prospects for long-term stability and reconciliation. The notion that this can be a cosy domestic arrangement between the DUP and the Government is in itself absurd.
Effectively, you have one party out of all the parties in Northern Ireland, that does not command a majority percentage of the votes, wagging the tail of the Government in a direct rule context. If direct rule has to happen—and that is a terrible calamity in itself—then under the Good Friday agreement the Irish Government must be constantly consulted on all major policy decisions and be seen to be consulted. Perhaps the Minister can confirm whether the appointments made under these regulations will be done with full consultation with the Irish Government. The alternative with the DUP in alliance with the Government would be to undermine the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and all the progress that has been made since. After painstakingly moving to a place where both communities felt more equal, this alliance suggests that one community—or perhaps one part of one community—again has the advantage over the other.
The Good Friday agreement is an international treaty and under it the Irish Government must be consulted through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference or BIIGC. A formal institution of the agreement, just like the others, it must meet regularly and our Government must no longer convey the reticence and nervousness they showed around their few meetings since the summer of 2018. I hope the Minister will take that point back. They must not pander to one party in Northern Ireland which does not like this institution. Instead, they must display the “rigorous impartiality” the agreement requires. I say that not just as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who had to be an “honest broker” to get Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness—bitter old enemies—into power together to govern Northern Ireland jointly. The former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major said the British Government had to be an honest broker to take the peace process forward and bring everybody together. They no longer are.
I say this not to make a political point but very seriously as the Secretary of State through the last period of direct rule in the 2000s. I thought I was the last direct rule Secretary of State and said so on the record. How wrong it looks I was. It was a difficult and delicate time during which we all learned that once you go into direct rule it is very hard to come back out of it. To do otherwise would put at risk the progress that has been made since the parties and the two Governments came together in that historic agreement in 1998. I say to my friends in the DUP—and I have lots of friends in the DUP—who say that they would welcome direct rule, as I heard Jeffrey Donaldson say, again on the “Today” programme recently, they need to be careful what they wish for. They may well find that English nationalists—that is who we seem to have in power under Boris Johnson at the moment—are no more sympathetic to their cause than Irish nationalists in the long term. They must know that the proof of this came earlier this year when the then Back-Bench MPs, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab—now in the Cabinet—among others, broke personal promises to the DUP and voted for Theresa May’s Brexit deal the third time it was put to the other place. As the now leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg draped himself over the Front Bench as if he were back in the common room at Eton, you can be sure that he was not thinking about the impact of his kamikaze Brexit on sheep farmers in Fermanagh.
It is my view there is no such thing as a good Brexit, either economically or politically, for the people of Northern Ireland. However, a no-deal Brexit threatens everything that successive British Governments worked for up until the Cameron Administration foolishly decided to revert to the hands-off policy that helped get us into this catastrophic mess in the first place. I call on the Government to redouble their efforts to restore devolution, but twice of very little is not enough. It will take much more than that but the first essential step is to stop a no-deal Brexit before it is too late. I hope that the noble Lord will confirm that he will give due credence to the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in the event of direct rule and that regulations such as this will be consulted on through that process, and that the appointments he is going to make under these regulations will also be consulted on to ensure that there is buy in and cross-community support.
My Lords, the appointments being added to the list include such things as the Drainage Council for Northern Ireland. If the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is seriously saying that the Irish Government need to be consulted about that, that amounts to joint authority. It is not a requirement of any of the treaties or the 1998 Act. The two Governments can consult at a council that can meet periodically. That is fair enough but we must be well aware of the three-stranded process. Its integrity is the core of the agreement.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in expressing concern about the direction of travel. I had been given the impression that talks were going at white-hot pace during the summer but that is not the case. If my information is correct, the last all-party meeting was on 5 July, which was before we left this place for the summer. I stand to be corrected, and if the Minister does so I will be more than happy to withdraw that point, but that is my understanding. There have been one or two relatively casual meetings of working parties on programmes for government and so on, but certainly in the last two weeks of August there was one interaction in one week and one in the other.
It is true that there have been some bilateral talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin but I repeat that there is no proper process, although I stand to be corrected on that also by the Minister. The two meetings on 5 July and 9 September are sufficient evidence that there is a lack of urgency, drive and ambition. Although I have no particular issues with any of these appointments—I do with some of the recent appointments but that will come up in a later debate—I say to colleagues that devolution will not be restored unless there is a proper process that is organised, timetabled and properly run. This ad hoc approach—we will meet now; we will meet again; maybe we will, maybe we will not—will not deliver. During our debates before the recess on the Executive restoration Bill, a number of us said that some of the proposals in that legislation would not assist the process of restoring the Executive, and so it has proved. We are now closing up shop until the middle of October but there are two other things that need to be borne in mind.
Unusually, the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland is to be challenged for her position in November. I do not believe that Sinn Féin has the remotest intention of doing anything until Brexit is resolved, and certainly I cannot see that happening when its leader in Northern Ireland is facing a challenge from outside. Therefore, it looks as though we will arrive at the third anniversary of Stormont being closed in January, with no Government and so on.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to the wider issues of direct rule. Personally, I do not have a preference for direct rule. We worked hard to get Stormont going again and to get devolution, and the fact that people have messed it up is another matter. However, there is one issue which I keep drawing to the House’s attention. I ask the Minister, with his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, to consider our health service, which is in dire straits.
There are 7,500 vacancies in the health service in Northern Ireland for 3% of the UK’s population. Noble Lords can do the maths. That goes for nurses and doctors and applies right across the whole card. Our system has been kept going by locums—people brought in by agencies at enormous expense. One person working on a ward at night will be from an agency on X amount of money and one will be from the regular health service staff on Y amount of money, which is far less. It is unfair and unreasonable. Naturally enough, nurses are going to these banks and agencies and are being brought in as locums. Some of them are flown over from Newcastle upon Tyne and other locations. They are perfectly good people but their flights, accommodation and food have to be paid for, and of course they come into a ward and do not know anybody. This is becoming a humanitarian crisis.
With a new Session of Parliament coming up, I have asked the Public Bill Office to prepare a Bill for me, which I hope to put into the ballot. I remind noble Lords that in the last three ballots I got positions one, one and five, and I am hoping to improve on that. The Bill would transfer health, social services and public safety powers from Stormont to here, and it would have a sunset clause whereby immediately upon the establishment of the Executive those powers would revert. We did that some years ago with social security when there was a disagreement at Stormont and those powers were returned. I appeal to the Minister: the waiting lists have become absolutely ridiculous. Professor Deirdre Heenan of Ulster University was part of a Nuffield Trust study that a few weeks ago produced sobering figures, to say the least. People are hurting and I think that lives are being lost while we fiddle around with this issue. If the best effort is a meeting of the leaders of all parties on 5 July when we are in the middle of all this, there is something radically wrong. If I have missed the boat and secret talks that I am unaware of have been going on somewhere, I will be glad to hear that, but I suspect that I am not very far wrong.
Therefore, I say to the Minister that I do not have any particular difficulty with the appointments that we are talking about, but if we can bring legislation—even though this is secondary legislation—before this House to appoint the chairman of the Drainage Council, why can we not do something about the suffering of people in the health service and the fact that that service is being allowed to go down the drain? The spending priorities set by the outgoing Executive are five or six years old and no longer match the current needs and requirements of our community. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to speak to his right honourable colleague in the other place and to seriously consider this matter. I do not want to see direct rule a day earlier than the noble Lord, Lord Hain, does—I have the same reservations—but this is a humanitarian issue; it is a matter of life and death. This Parliament has a responsibility to people for their health and safety but that is not being exercised.
My Lords, I have listened with great care and interest to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Empey. If either noble Lord has any magical formula to restore Stormont, I will certainly be very glad to hear it. However, there seems to be no magical formula because Sinn Féin, with the collaboration of this House, has been handed the keys of Stormont.
Let us make no mistake: same-sex marriage and abortion, as debated and legislated for recently, were two of the key demands of Sinn Féin. This House agreed to them, and if Stormont were not returned by 21 October, the legislation would be enacted. This House and the Government were warned that, in so doing, they were keeping the doors of Stormont closed because Sinn Féin has no reason to allow them to open. If Stormont returns, these issues can be debated. I know that on abortion there is a genuine desire across the political divide to see the changes in the legislation that came before the other House and this House. Rather than blame everyone else, this House has to accept part of the blame because it handed to Sinn Féin the reason for not returning to Stormont. It is therefore not good enough for people to do a pilot Act, wash their hands and suggest that the parties in Northern Ireland are responsible for the present hiatus.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned and warned about the DUP being in cahoots with this Government, influencing and collaborating with them. I remind the noble Lord that the leader of his party collaborated with Sinn Féin—the IRA Army Council—when they were in the midst of terrorist activity, against honourable Members of this House and others in our friend and family circles who were murdered and injured. To suggest that there is somehow a great danger in the Government and the Democratic Unionist Party working together and not see the danger—what the people of Northern Ireland witnessed in their darkest days—of the then Government collaborating with Sinn Féin was certainly very hard for any democrat to take.
It certainly does not go well for some noble Lords in this House to accept what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is saying.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, with whom I worked very closely in the past as Secretary of State, as he will acknowledge. I understand the specific point he has just made. I was simply making the point that the British Government have to be an honest broker to do this job properly. I would make the same point if it were the UUP or the SDLP—if it had any representation any more—in an alliance with the Government. You cannot be an honest broker if your majority depends on one particular party. That is the point I was making—not an anti-DUP point but one about an honest broker.
I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. However, I cannot see how this House—never mind the Government—was an honest broker when it handed two of Sinn Féin’s major demands to it on a plate to ensure that the doors of Stormont would remain closed until after the deadline in October. These two major social issues were the responsibility of the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. This was accepted by all, even the courts.
I certainly want to see the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland. However, I ask the Minister to confirm that the appointments to the various bodies being discussed are internal matters for the people of Northern Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom and that the internal affairs of Northern Ireland are therefore not the responsibility of the Irish Republic. I have no doubt whatever that there should be the closest co-operation between Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Irish Republic—I welcome it—but they should not interfere in the internal matters of the people of Northern Ireland.
I would like to say a little bit about this debate. First, I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Hain said. I do not need to repeat it.
I have enormous sympathy with the campaigning for the health service of the noble Lord, Lord Empey. It is a really crucial issue. I give him full credit for having raised it on numerous occasions. I am not sure that the matter is not too urgent for a Private Member’s Bill in the next Session—that is the only thing I would say. It is such an important point and a sign of the political vacuum in Northern Ireland.
I turn to the noble Lord, Lord McCrea. We will have a chance to talk a bit about abortion in a later debate this evening. He says that something has been handed to Sinn Féin on a plate, but it took years before Sinn Féin came around to supporting abortion. It is a fairly recent thing. I think it did it only because it realised that public opinion in the Republic was in favour of it. I certainly never saw abortion as an issue that the Sinn Féin people from Northern Ireland were keen on. I used to talk to them about it when they came here for their many lobbying activities. I do not think it is quite as the noble Lord said, but I agree that its policy then changed and it is now in favour of abortion.
I am not sure how many red lines there were. Sinn Féin must be asked somewhere else to speak for itself, I suppose. It is not for me to try to quote what I thought was wrong with its policy. All I am saying is that my sincere understanding was that it was not keen on abortion over a period of years. I used to say to the Sinn Féin people who came over, “What about your party being as progressive as it claims to be and taking a stand on abortion?”, and they did not. It has been only a fairly recent thing, since the Irish referendum got momentum. I am not sure how relevant that is to the debate here now.
We of course accept the need for these appointments to take place and regret the necessity of it being done in this way. I ask a question of the Minister which has been referred to recently. My memory of when I was a junior Minister there many years ago—it was a long time ago—was that the Government in Dublin could put forward their suggested people to be considered for public appointments in Northern Ireland. It did not mean that we took notice of it or appointed the people, but it was simply one other contribution to the mix of possible candidates we looked at for particular jobs. I wonder whether that is still the case.
Are we simply rubber-stamping reappointments of people already in posts, or are there some new appointments listed in these regulations? If so, is there an appraisal process—in other words, an equal opportunities system for interviewing and appointing people—if we are not reappointing people who would normally expect to have a second term in office?
Some of these bodies are quite important. I had involvement with several of them in my time as a Minister. I was particularly interested in the Historic Buildings Council. If I may digress slightly from the main point here, when I got to Northern Ireland, there was a mentality of, “Get rid of these old buildings. Let’s just bulldoze them away and put up new ones”. This was a long time ago and I hope that I am totally out of date. I think that the people who argued like that—some of them did—did a total disservice to Northern Ireland. It was a job to resist the pressure to get rid of listed buildings because people said, “We’ve got to do that. They’re standing in the way of progress”. For people who support historic buildings, the skill is to say, “We’d better be clever and find a proper use for historic buildings so that they can be maintained in their historic beauty and yet are economically viable in their new situation”.
I regard some of these appointments as pretty important. I am very concerned that the people in these positions—or who will fill them, if they are new appointments—will have a real commitment to historic buildings and the other areas we are debating.
Who gets these key jobs is very important. It is so regrettable that this is where we are. It is such a massive regret that we have not been able to move forward. If I have a chance in the next debate, I would like to repeat some of the things we have said in the past about how we might move forward. In this House, saying something twice is tenable over six months but probably not in one evening. I will leave it at that.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. As we have seen, with the lack of any operational Executive in Northern Ireland for the last two years, it is now necessary for Ministers here to make those key appointments to offices in Stormont and to make strategic legislative interventions to ensure good governance once again in Northern Ireland; this should have been exercised by the Executive themselves and we hope it will be again as soon as possible.
At this point, I make note of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about the health service in Northern Ireland. It is indeed quite shocking that so many vacancies exist; we really must do something to help the situation. We have been here before. Back in February we approved the appointment functions of several key offices: the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland; the Commissioner for Children and Young People for Northern Ireland; member of the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland; member, chair or vice-chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, et cetera. This statutory instrument adds nine other offices to those in which the appointment functions of the Northern Ireland Minister can now be exercised by the relevant UK Minister.
My noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie, who is unable to be present in your Lordships’ House this evening, and who spoke on these matters at the time, said that,
“effectively we are going on and on in this limbo of democratic nihilism … having to institute ad hoc measures as and when necessary to fill the gap in the absence of real political initiatives”.
He asked what practical steps the Government would take to ensure that we would not get to the end of August without having reached a position where functioning decision-making by the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland could return. He added that,
“a Secretary of State in a UK Government who are propped up by a hard-line unionist party in Northern Ireland is likely to find the perception of her office somewhat compromised … is it not time to find some independent authority that might bring parties together and start to identify what it would take to break the deadlock and get things back to normal?”
“what were the criteria that made these urgent, and what other appointments are coming down the track that may require us to be back here in the very near future?”
Now we know. He continued by asking,
“what assurances can we have that there is any reasonable momentum to try to ensure that we get the political process back?”
The Minister, in response, told the House that,
“the appointments have been identified by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The principal criterion for that identification was obviously timing”.
He said that on Friday 15 February, all the parties had gathered together in Northern Ireland for the first time in more than a year, in,
“an attempt to move things forward in a fashion which would ultimately lead to the creation of a sustainable Executive”.—[Official Report, 18/2/19; cols. 2041-45.]
Yet here we are again. The Government’s Brexit chaos is constantly distracting from the real issues affecting citizens across the UK, and the formation of a Northern Ireland Executive is crucial to stability in the region. We are deeply concerned about the progress being made towards restoration and urge the Minister to do all he can to stress the urgency of this to the Prime Minister, who obviously has other things on his mind at the moment.
We will discuss these issues in more detail in the debate to come later today, but can the Minister give any update on the Government’s efforts to make progress on the restoration of an Executive in Northern Ireland? The last time an instrument under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 was deployed, my noble friend Lord Bruce asked the Government to think outside the box for solutions to the issues at hand. I echo this plea. Have there been any efforts to find an independent authority to try and bring the relevant parties together?
Finally, does the Minister foresee any further appointments being made in the near future? Is he confident that Parliament can prorogue without any outstanding matters to be addressed? We very reluctantly agree to this statutory instrument going forward.
My Lords, I want to speak only briefly as I hope to contribute to the later, main debate. I just want to take up the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. Even had we had the so-called Conference Recess, we would have been sitting throughout this week, up to and including Thursday, which would have given us time for a whole day on Northern Ireland. Would that be too much when we have the ultimate responsibility in this Parliament during the continued and deeply regrettable absence of an Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland?
I believe it is wrong, indeed positively indecent, for this Parliament to abdicate its responsibilities this week. I also believe proroguing is wrong, because it not only takes away the week before the Conference Recess but takes away the Conference Recess itself, in a very special way. During a recess, Parliament can be recalled and Select Committees can sit. We are going into a state of suspended animation where it is virtually impossible to reassemble Parliament, other than in certain circumstances such as when there is a great national or international crisis; of course, many of us would argue that there is a great national crisis now. I am not in any sense directing one iota of criticism at my noble friend Lord Duncan, for whom I have enormous respect, but it is shameful that the Government are silencing Parliament on every issue for five weeks. I felt that I could not allow this debate to come to an end without saying that. I say it for one specific reason concerning Northern Ireland: the eloquent plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on the health service. It should not be beyond the capacity of the United Kingdom Parliament to call together perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses—working with the committee that I had the honour of chairing for five years in another place—to put something in place that would alleviate at least some of the problems to which he referred.
I have become increasingly ashamed and embarrassed over the last few weeks; tonight does not lessen either my shame or my embarrassment.
My Lords, I will be brief but I want to say one or two things. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, extol the virtues of the Assembly. I am not going to say anything negative about it except, simply, that to date it has failed to provide a working Executive. I will say no more than that. Regarding what the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has said, I find myself generally in agreement. Perhaps he has oversimplified things but, nevertheless, I know he is sincere in what he says in relation to the health service. Our health service is in dire straits. He does not exaggerate when he says that. Furthermore, our waiting lists are growing by the day. He also said that there could even be deaths as a result of the state of our health service.
We are a devolution party. We want devolution tomorrow. We have declared no red lines over its return. Any issues announced by any party can be discussed around the Stormont table and Assembly at any time. We have not said, “This can’t be discussed” or “That can’t be discussed”. We have said no such thing. Bring the Assembly back tomorrow and we will be there. I suspect that we would be the first through the doors, because we strongly believe in devolution as the best way forward for Northern Ireland. I ask the House to take cognisance of that.
We have heard from the Lib Dems the idea that the Conservative Party is in cahoots with a right-wing unionist party. Yet not that long ago those same Lib Dems were in cahoots with the Conservative Party—and we saw the disaster that that was. Some may point and throw stones, but those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, because they will discover that those stones will crash through their own glass house one day. My colleagues and I are a bit tired of taking lectures from a failed identity. Please restrain and refrain, and work with those of us who want devolution restored.
My Lords, this is a short debate and an important one. The Opposition will support the Government on the regulations, for obvious reasons, because appointments in Northern Ireland could not be made unless we did. But the Minister must be aware from the tone of the contributions made in the past hour that this debate is really about the restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland.
In a sense this regulation is a precursor to direct rule, and we are drifting drearily and inexorably towards that. That would be calamitous. I was a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland for five years. I enjoyed being there, and I enjoyed doing the job—but it was quite improper that I was doing it. If we have direct rule it will mean an English, Welsh or Scottish Minister, or a combination of such Ministers, taking decisions in Belfast for people who live in Northern Ireland. That is wrong, in every democratic sense.
The Minister’s new boss is apparently on resignation watch, according to the newspapers this morning, on the basis that he is—quite rightly—troubled by the fact that if there is a no-deal Brexit there will be, as my noble friend Lord Hain has said, no proper Government in Northern Ireland to deal with the enormous problems that would result from the catastrophe of no deal. We cannot leave the government of Northern Ireland to civil servants in those circumstances.
When the Minister and his Secretary of State go back to Belfast, can he not make it plain to the political parties in Northern Ireland that we are now in a situation totally different from the situation two months ago, and that urgency and intensity are necessary to bring about the restoration of the institutions, because of Brexit? Brexit dominates everything, and during the past three years the Brexit negotiations in Brussels and London have been skewered because there have not been parallel negotiations regarding Northern Ireland. It is my view that, had there really been a resolution of the problems in Northern Ireland, we could have dealt with the backstop in a very different way. If that had happened—if there had been an agreement in the Assembly and the Executive on what to do about Brexit—that would have helped towards the resolution of the whole Brexit crisis. But it was not to be.
There are, of course, those on the nationalist republican side in Northern Ireland who think that continuing chaos on Brexit and no deal would make a drift towards a united Ireland more likely. There are also those on the other side of the political community there who feel that, somehow or other, they become more British if we leave the European Union. I am not saying that those ideas are right or wrong; I am simply saying that they make the resolution of the problems there much more difficult.
As my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Empey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, have said, the talks have no shape: there is no structure. Every successful talks process in Northern Ireland has had a proper structure. But now there is none. Over the past six months we have begged the Government to find an independent arbiter or chair. We have begged them to ensure that all political parties sit round the same table to talk about the future of Northern Ireland. And of course, we have begged the Prime Ministers both of Ireland and of the United Kingdom to involve themselves much more intensely in the negotiations, as has happened historically over the last 30 years.
We are in a pretty awful mess—not just the mess of Brexit but the mess of what is how happening in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister, for whom I have the highest regard, and the new Secretary of State will be able to go back within days to Belfast and ensure, in their ministerial meetings, that there is a proper structure to the talks, to avoid the calamity that is on its way.
My Lords, I have stood here many times and my words are often repeated back to me—and with each passing few months the words become less and less tenable. I said earlier that we need to be very clear that good governance must be at the heart of our ambition for Northern Ireland. I do not think it would be unfair to say that all the parties need to recognise that we are at the very stage when the opportunities for delay are falling away.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, asked when the parties had last met as a gathering of five. The answer is: in the first week of August. I take no pride in saying that. I do not think that that is much better than the date that the noble Lord suggested. Since then, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been conducting bilateral discussions in an attempt to restore that Executive. One would think, I suppose, that if we cannot restore it now, when such vital issues are at stake, if, against that backdrop, those parties cannot recognise that now more than ever their voices would have been valuable—might, indeed, have been instrumental—we do begin to wonder whether those parties will ever find a way through to restore an Executive. And if those parties cannot restore that Executive, which is so needed, for the very issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, other means must be found.
Let me take up some of the points raised by noble Lords today. We are talking about appointments that are necessary, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked how they are pulled together. There is indeed a mix of appointments—both reappointments and new appointments. I can now tell your Lordships how they break down. A competition is due to be carried out for the chair of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company. Open competitions have been carried out to identify suitable candidates for appointment to the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, to the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, to the Agricultural Wages Board for Northern Ireland, the Board of National Museums and the Historic Buildings Council. Competitions are due to be carried out to identify candidates for appointment to the Northern Ireland Drainage Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Every effort is made to ensure that the people concerned are qualified individuals. I am aware that there may be some controversies about some of the earlier appointments; we may come on to that in our later discussions. I am aware that some remarks were made about the Drainage Council. In truth that is a vital body, because it looks after waterways, sea wall defences and so on. I cannot think of anything more important, as we consider climate change.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, asked again about the role of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. I believe that if we do indeed find ourselves in the darker waters of direct rule, that will be a vital component. As for the involvement of the Irish Government with these appointments at present, the noble Lords, Lord Empey and Lord McCrea, are correct: these are domestic matters and would not involve that external consultation. However, I recognise the point they are making, which is about finding the greatest consensus in the communities of Northern Ireland; I believe that is exactly where they are coming from.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, has put forward a Bill to examine the NHS in Northern Ireland. He is right to raise that subject. Professor Deirdre Heenan has written a devasting report which is, for any noble Lord who takes the time to read it, very troubling, for obvious reasons. This is an area of fully devolved competence that is in a bad state of play. We have made every effort that we can within the constraints that we face, but at the same time we are limited in what we can do on this issue. I commend the noble Lord as he brings forward that Bill, and I hope that we are in a position to address it as a matter of some urgency.
If I may, I will skip to the very end of the debate. I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and, I believe, the entire House for the appointments. As for the question of the talks themselves lacking a structure, the latter part of the talks has actually been quite structured. There has now been a series of what we would term break-out constructions under an independent chair, not someone drawn from the Government or indeed from the parties of Northern Ireland, who has sought to facilitate that communication. In truth, the parties are still coming together, which is a welcome improvement on discussions that we have had in the past when, as I have told the House, we could not even get them round the table. In fact, and noble Lords might even recall the occasion, the last time that I was able to stand here and say that they had gathered together was at the PinkNews event at Stormont, which was not a bad way of gathering but a reminder that sometimes external factors can bring them together more successfully than can the Government, which is in itself a deeply troubling reality.
My noble friend Lord Cormack said that we should have devoted a whole day to this issue. I am slightly troubled by the prospect of a whole day spent looking at this, for reasons that I hope my noble friend will appreciate, but I note his sentiment, which is that we need to be clear that these issues, which we have debated on a number of occasions, would be far better in a restored devolved Assembly that could spend not just a whole day but every day debating them because that would be its principal function.
I welcome the comments from the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, about the DUP having no red lines. Irrespective of that, I fear that we have not yet been able to find any way of brokering the ultimate agreement and there remain issues of substance. I believe that those issues can be corrected and brought together, but at the present moment that has not been done. As I said earlier, if Brexit, the situation in the NHS, the wider questions that we have touched on in this House on a number of occasions and indeed the questions of same-sex marriage and abortion are not incentive enough to bring them back together, that begs the question of what on earth would. However, we must make every effort to make that happen.
I have considered the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and I had a brief chat with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, earlier today on a number of these issues. He talked to us again about thinking outside the box. I myself have used a box analogy myself many times: we appear to be trapped in a box with no light, and it is dark. That seems to be where we are right now, and until we can get through that we will continue to experience this sort of event, which I take no pride or enjoyment in doing. These are necessary steps for Northern Ireland’s good governance, drawing upon a previous Act that needs to be moved forward. I welcome noble Lords’ support for bringing that about.
We are approaching the point at which no doubt my words will come back to haunt me, but I must say again: this cannot go on. The people of Northern Ireland are the ones who are suffering from the lack of a devolved Government, and that cannot go on. The question is how it will come to an end, and on that point I am afraid I do not know the answer. I return to the reason why we are here today. I know we have another debate to come, but on the issue of the appointments I believe that they are necessary and timely. I would like to say that this will be the last time that this will be done—I would dearly like it to be true and I hope it will be—and I hope noble Lords will accept that I am moving this forward because it is necessary. I beg to move.
Government of Wales Act 2006 (Amendment) Order 2019
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this draft order amends the consent requirements in Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006 in respect of electoral registration officers. It also makes clear how this amendment interacts with the provisions in the Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) Order 2018 so that functions over EROs are transferred to Welsh Ministers.
There was a drafting error on an early version of the Order Paper today. For clarity, I confirm that this SI appeared before the JCSI on 4 September and no points were raised.
The UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments have committed to reforming the annual canvass process. These reforms will improve the ability of EROs to identify those properties where household composition has changed, allowing them to target resources towards those properties. Electoral registration officers are appointed under Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, and under the Welsh devolution settlement are classed as reserved authorities. This is because, while they exercise functions in relation to Assembly and local government elections in Wales that are devolved matters, they mainly exercise functions in relation to reserved polls.
Paragraphs 8 and 10 of Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006 place restrictions on the Assembly’s ability to impose, modify or remove functions of reserved authorities without the consent of the UK Government. This means that while the National Assembly for Wales has legislative competence for Assembly and local government elections, it cannot modify the devolved functions of EROs without a Minister of the Crown’s consent. I assure noble Lords that this was not the Government’s intention. A small number of reserved authorities are carved out of the consent requirements because, like EROs, they exercise a mix of devolved and reserved functions. These include the Electoral Commission and the Food Standards Agency.
Article 2 of this order addresses that issue by adding EROs to the lists so that in future the Assembly can modify their devolved functions without needing the UK Government’s agreement to do so. Article 3 makes clear the effect of carving out EROs from the consent requirements on the Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) Order 2018.
The 2018 order sought to transfer the remaining Minister of the Crown functions in devolved areas to Welsh Ministers. This includes all the functions within the devolved competence of the Assembly contained in the main pieces of electoral legislation. However, the effect of paragraph 12 of Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006 is that the reference to the devolved competence of the Assembly in the 2018 order does not include an Assembly provision that would require the consent of a Minister of the Crown. Because of the consent requirements relating to EROs that I have already outlined, it therefore follows that Minister of the Crown functions that relate to the devolved functions of EROs did not transfer to Welsh Ministers through the 2018 order as intended.
This order therefore provides that powers to modify the devolved functions of EROs will be treated as transferring to Welsh Ministers under the 2018 order on the date that this order comes into force. This will enable Welsh Ministers to make the necessary regulations for the canvass reforms in respect of devolved polls. I welcome the positive engagement that has taken place with the Welsh Government in developing this order, which has also been laid before the National Assembly for approval. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome this measure. Before going into any detail, I welcome the noble Baroness to her Front-Bench post; we wish her well. We know that she has a tremendous interest in Wales, and I am sure she will stand up for Wales when there are battles that need to be fought. She has a challenging role in following the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who undertook his responsibilities in an exemplary manner and gained the respect of the whole House. I wish her as much success as he had in fighting Wales’s corner, which can sometimes be an uphill struggle.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s introduction. It explained why the reaction in Wales I was getting was that these powers had already been identified as coming to us, or indeed had already come. The difficulties that have previously been experienced have been met by this order. As the presiding officer, the Welsh Government and the Assembly welcome the order, I of course support it this evening. However, the way the difficulties were addressed by the 2018 provisions underlines the complexity of the devolution model in Wales, with some things being devolved and others reserved. That mixture can lead to the sort of complications we are putting right tonight. It underlines the need for a clear-cut devolution model whereby things are either wholly with Wales or not, with no grey area that can lead to difficulties.
The 2006 Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was mainly responsible for getting through, was a very significant step forward in its day. I have previously congratulated the noble Lord on getting it through Cabinet, the House of Commons and this House. However, I think he would be the first to admit that requiring an order every time the National Assembly was going to legislate in every function—an order that could be blocked by a resolution in the House of Commons or by the unelected House of Lords—was not ideal. We have moved on from that, but we seem to have a little hangover from that period in the context of what we are discussing tonight.
Finally, that whole subject has a certain resonance for me. I am present in this Chamber only because of that model. As a party, we had never taken seats in the House of Lords. We changed that at the invitation of and under pressure from the Government of the day because, as we saw it—I think rightly at that time—it was quite invidious that the unelected House of Lords could block by order a legislative requirement of the elected Government of Wales. That is why I came here. That is why we were promised at that time that we would have three people in this Chamber—a promise that was never fulfilled by either Government. That may resonate in Wales tonight.
My Lords, I very much agree with the points the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made. I too welcome the Minister to her role. I stress that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, leaves big shoes to fill, because he spoke on Wales with an intuitive understanding and empathy from his long political experience. Despite our party differences, he spoke with real authority and I thought he was an exceptionally good Minister in this House. I wish the noble Baroness all the best in following that model.
My Lords, I add my voice in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, to her new position on the Government Front Bench. I look forward to working with her in the future on behalf of Wales.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments on this statutory instrument and to the Government for timing its passage through Parliament to allow it to conform with the Electoral Commission’s timetable for completion of voter material in association with canvass reform in Wales. This instrument is the result of the Government’s consultation towards the end of 2018 that sought responses to proposals for reform of the annual canvass and removes restrictions on the Assembly, bringing Wales in line with the rest of the UK. On these Benches, we are supportive of the devolution of further powers and responsibility to Wales and welcome this move to give the Welsh Assembly Government constitutional responsibility for their EROs.
The Welsh Government are bringing forward their own regulations to apply these reforms to their local government registers. Your Lordships will be aware that legislation is in its final stages in the Assembly to ensure that, when the next local government elections take place in Wales in 2022, 16 and 17 year-olds will be permitted to vote. These regulations will ensure that 14 year-olds and 15 year-olds, who will turn 16 during the period the register is in force, will be able to register to vote as attainers.
The overall aim of the reform is to deliver a more efficient system by which EROs maintain their electoral registers with no negative effect on citizens or the accuracy and completeness of the registers. The desire to modernise the system is understandable. The present mainly paper-based system is not an efficient use of public money with its potential for EROs needing to contact households up to four times during a canvass. Experience is showing that changes over the last few years, such as rolling registration, individual electoral registration and online registration have all had an impact on how the registers are maintained.
Where I do have misgivings about these reforms is in the lack of detail on the data-sharing mechanisms required to achieve the greater efficiency these proposals aim for and the lack of guidance on data handling. My misgivings began as a little niggle in the back of my mind but grew as I read an Electoral Commission report. I am grateful to the Electoral Commission for its recent report on the feasibility studies into the reforms which it carried out. In its final comments, the Commission points out its concerns, saying:
“The feasibility studies also highlighted a number of challenges that would need to be addressed before steps were taken to implement any of the reforms. These include the importance of undertaking detailed testing of potential new data sources (which would require a legal gateway) in order to determine whether the options would deliver beneficial and cost-effective results”.
Crucially, it adds:
“The reforms also raise broader public policy questions about data sharing, data protection and the limits of state intervention (particularly in relation to automatic registration) that require wider debate”.
Could the noble Baroness tell me when and where that debate will take place? Data sharing, data protection and the limits of state interventions are massive public policy questions which should be debated in Parliament. Will the Government bring forward further regulations to deal with these issues?
My Lords, I must add my voice to others who welcome the Minister to her position. We note that the gangway is wide enough for even the longest swords not to reach each other, so I trust that we will pursue business pertaining to all of us and for the betterment of Wales in perfect amity. I do not want to intimidate the noble Baroness with all that has been said about her predecessor, but I must add my voice to those who expressed their admiration for all that the noble Lord contributed on this and other issues. I hope she will not take that as pressure in any way, but an expression of gratitude and a real welcome to her in her new role.
This is such a simple matter, but it arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said about the complicated model that allows some activities within a related set to be on the reserved list and some not. In Wales we have not only a word but a way of saying it; this will make everything “tidy”, will it not? Presently, the right to oversee elections at local level and to the National Assembly is devolved to the Assembly, but all other elections are subject to the reserved list and they have no similar autonomy. This brings everything together and is logical.
I am glad that this has happened in response to the stimulus from similar exercises being undertaken by other devolved Governments; we wish that the devolved Government of Northern Ireland were fully party to these conversations, instead of things having to be dealt with in a different way for Northern Ireland. This electoral list exercise that is being undertaken in the hope that everything will be brought together by 2020 really puts the pressure on to get these things tidied up. The things that the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, referred to as needing to happen will be facilitated by this, but even more needs to happen to get some of the things that she properly alluded to.
So those powers that now come together under the authority of the devolved Government of Wales and the powers that Ministers will have in the Welsh Assembly without having to resort to Ministers and the Government here in Westminster are both welcome developments. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, says that three Plaid Cymru Members were promised, but I cannot imagine for a moment three Lord Wigleys. One really is enough. For all that, in terms of the contribution that he makes, not just to subjects related to Wales but across the entire spectrum of considerations that are before us, it is good that his party is represented and would that it were even better represented. I will just leave that with the noble Baroness.
The Explanatory Memorandum that has come to me from Cardiff, under the considerations that relate to the policy objectives to be achieved and enhanced by the measures before us, signs off with a sentence that I find intriguing and bewildering. It says, “The remaining provisions”, without stipulating what they might be,
“would need to be made as part of the UK legislative proposals which would see the necessary statutory changes sitting within two separate SIs”.
I have done lots of examination papers in my life. If we had the word “discuss” at the end of that sentence, I wonder what the noble Baroness would have to say. It is a bit of gobbledegook but at the heart of it there may be something that we need to take note of before we approve this statutory instrument. But in terms of the general provisions, there is no hesitation on our part from this side of the House and we wish the noble Baroness well with her first electoral triumph, which she is bound to have on this occasion.