Committee (2nd Day)
A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published by the Government Whips’ Office, as have lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments or expressed an interest in speaking on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted.
During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Grand Committee Room, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister, using the Grand Committee address. I will call Members to speak in order of request and call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to move formally an amendment already debated should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments.
When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Grand Committee Room only. I remind Members that Divisions cannot take place in Grand Committee. It takes unanimity to amend the Bill, so if a single voice says “Not content”, an amendment is negatived, and if a single voice says “Content”, a clause stands part. If a Member taking part remotely intends to oppose an amendment expected to be agreed to, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
6: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent peer review
(1) The Secretary of State must commission an independent peer review of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe) project.(2) The review must include consideration of the project’s—(a) environmental impact,(b) costs, forecast revenue and economic impact,(c) engineering, and(d) governance.(3) In this section, “independent” means it is carried out by persons who are independent of—(a) Government,(b) HS2 Ltd, and(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out any of the scheduled works.(4) In this section, a “peer review” is a review conducted by experts of equivalent professional qualifications, expertise and standing to the persons responsible for each aspect of the project set out in subsection (2).(5) A report of the review under subsection (1) must be laid before Parliament and have been debated in both Houses before commencement of the scheduled works.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of the amendment is to require the Government to commission and publish a wide ranging audit of all elements of the scheduled works, costs, forecasts and economic impact and done by professionals who have not links with the Government or the promoters.
My Lords, the amendment is in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. On our previous day in Committee, we discussed regular reporting and had a good debate. This amendment is slightly different, because the emphasis is on independent peer review. I remind noble Lords that this project has been around, discussed in another Parliament, for probably 10 years and things have moved on. We have learned a lot. There have been changes, which we all know about. It is probably time for Parliament to commission an independent review so that it knows what has been asked for, what will be built, how much it is going to cost and so on. In particular, we have had a lot of debate both on the Floor of the House and in the Select Committees on the environmental impact, costs, forecast revenue before and after Covid—well, not after yet—the economic impact, the engineering and the governance.
I do not wish to express any opinion on whether what we have now is good or bad. What is needed is an independent opinion—independent of government, of HS2 and of the various contractors. The experience in the Oakervee review last year was that when we tried to seek independent opinions on whatever we were looking at under the terms of reference, we found it quite difficult to identify people or organisations that were not or had not been in some way linked to HS2 or the Department for Transport. I am not being critical, but it is pretty important if one wants an independent review that those conducting it are independent and not worried about where the next contract will come from, for example.
I shall not say much more except to remind noble Lords that probably one of the most important things that I am focused on is costs. There have been three or four times when Department for Transport officials or HS2 staff have basically said that they do not know what the costs are. One HS2 executive, when asked why they had not been transparent on costs, memorably replied:
“If we’d told Parliament the real costs, they’d probably have cancelled the project.”
That is a very bad reason for going ahead with a project. I know that my noble friend Lord Adonis will say that I am trying to get it stopped, which I am not; I just think that it is time now to get a one-off, independent review so that Parliament and other people can then monitor progress and hold the Government and HS2 to account if they feel it necessary. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not have much to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, so ably said, and the amendment is largely self-explanatory. It will become apparent as further amendments are moved that there is a strong case for an amendment such as this, which is why I added my name to it.
For all the many pages written on matters of safeguards, it seems that few outside the cerebral world of the department, HS2 and its contractors are entirely convinced that HS2 Ltd will honour the spirit as opposed to the letter as it sees it. Too much of this Bill appears to rest on HS2 Ltd’s self-assessment, in which the Government as ultimate funder and promoter are a party. Costs have soared, as we have heard. Budgets for things such as land acquisitions seem to have been woefully inadequate. Timelines have become stretched; procedures have been subject to novel interpretations, and a good deal of unnecessary uncertainty and doubt about aspects of the scheme have crept in as far as those outside but affected by the scheme are concerned.
This is a scheme by the nation for the nation, and it should embed best practice and be seen to be doing so. I am pleased to support the amendment because it goes to the heart of public confidence in the manner in which this truly mighty project is being managed.
My Lords, I oppose the amendment. I do not see any point in it whatever. It seems to me that in this country we can never make up our minds about whether we are going to do anything that is big and expensive. We have constant reviews, and we are constantly cancelling projects that have already made some advance. We have just had the independent Oakervee review of HS2, and we have just had a government decision to go ahead with the line to Manchester—although I share the worries of my noble friend Lord Adonis about what the Government are thinking about the eastern leg. However, I see no purpose in launching another review now.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley says that it is very difficult to get independent advice regarding all these concerns about costs, et cetera. Of course it is difficult to get independent advice, as the people who really know the facts are the ones who are doing the job. Unless the taxpayer is to fund an independent organisation to be critical of a scheme that Parliament has voted for and that the Government have reaffirmed and have cross-party support for, then this is a ludicrous proposal. I suppose that the answer to my noble friend’s legitimate concerns is to have an effective HS2 board. If there is an answer to this problem, it lies in having an effective board to supervise the management of the project. That is the point that the Government ought to be satisfying themselves on. I honestly do not think that this is a matter for legislation at all.
My Lords, I agree with every word that my noble friend Lord Liddle has said, and I hope that the Minister will not give an inch to this amendment and will comprehensively refute it when she speaks. HS2 has been reviewed to death.
I find it utterly astonishing that my noble friend Lord Berkeley should be moving this amendment because he has brought his great, independent wisdom and distinction to the biggest review yet of HS2, which concluded only this February after the best part of six months’ work. When he says that there are no independent people to conduct that review, it is a lot of complete nonsense. The members of the Oakervee review were very eminent and very independent: Doug Oakervee himself, a man of immense distinction in the delivery of infrastructure projects here and internationally, including some of the most successful developed in modern economies, in Hong Kong; my noble friend, who was the deputy chairman; Sir John Cridland, who is the former director-general of the CBI; Michèle Dix, who is responsible for directing Crossrail 2; Stephen Glaister, one of the most eminent transport economists in the world; Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail and former commissioner of Transport for London; Andrew Sentance, of the Bank of England; Professor Tony Travers, who is one of the most independent-minded and distinguished professors of government in the world and holds a chair at the London School of Economics; Andy Street, who is the elected Mayor of the West Midlands; and Patrick Harley, who is the leader of Dudley council. So I ask my noble friend Lord Berkeley to tell us in his reply: what sort of independence does he have in mind? Who are these great independent judges of infrastructure projects who can bring their wisdom to bear and have not already been consulted? At the end of the Oakervee report, which is 130 pages long, there is a list of the people who submitted evidence and were consulted. That list extends to more than 400 people and organisations.
My noble friend then said—because he is being disingenuous, if he does not mind my saying so—that he is not trying to get it cancelled, and he does not wish to express an opinion on whether it is a good or bad thing. However, he has consistently expressed an opinion that HS2 is a bad thing. He says that there should be independent review, but he then says that it is very poor value for money and the costs—whatever they are at any given time—are spiralling out of control. He makes a series of assertions that—although he is perfectly entitled to make them—mostly do not correspond to the actual analysis by independent advisers, and he then calls for another review.
The Oakervee review—which, as I say, has just been concluded, and on which the Government have decided to proceed—is the fifth major independent review of HS2 since I announced the scheme to Parliament in March 2010. What my noble friend Lord Berkeley is seeking to do is to kill the scheme by review. That is what is happening. I hope the Minister will not accede to this amendment. Indeed, I wish the Minister would cancel the current review of the eastern leg, which is doing precisely what my noble friend wants to do: to review to death one-third of the scheme.
I have the highest regard for the Minister, and I thank her very warmly for replying within 24 hours to the points that I made in the previous Grand Committee sitting. With that sort of service she should be put in charge of test and trace—but I am probably ruining her career. The Department for Transport is a great department. It deals with these things efficiently, unlike other departments. I am glad to see that those processes are still in place. However, the big concern I have at the moment is that, under the guise of a review, the Government are essentially seeking to indefinitely delay and quite possibly cancel the eastern leg of HS2. I do not want to reiterate all of the arguments that I made on Monday, although I am glad to see that the Yorkshire Post has picked them up and that leaders of major local authorities in the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east have picked them up as well. The Minister will have to forgive me but I am going to carry on agitating extremely hard on behalf of her department—which, as everyone knows, wants the eastern leg to proceed but is being thwarted by Dominic Cummings and the Treasury at the moment. I am doing my best for her even though she will not be able to recognise my efforts in her reply.
In the Minister’s letter to me on the issue of the eastern leg review taking place at the moment and the announcement she made to the Grand Committee on Monday that the western and eastern legs will definitely be separated in terms of hybrid Bills—which is a hugely consequential amendment—she said:
“As the Integrated Rail Plan Terms Of Reference make clear, more than one hybrid Bill could run concurrently in Parliament. There is nothing to suggest that bringing forward a Western Leg Bill should entail delay to any Eastern Leg legislation”.
The first sentence and the second sentence are in stark contradiction. There is every reason to suggest that bringing forward a western leg Bill will delay any eastern leg legislation; otherwise, why split them up at all? If the aim is to have them running concurrently, they should be in one Bill.
The Minister says that it is possible for the two Bills to run concurrently. If the Government’s intention were to run the two Bills concurrently there would, of course, be no need for separate Bills. There is no gain whatever in having two Bills running concurrently. On the contrary, there is a significant additional workload both for HS2 Ltd and for Parliament in dealing with two Bills rather than one, because of the whole process of petitioning and the need to comprise and set up new committees and so on. The only reason for separating the western leg and the eastern leg into two Bills is to delay the eastern leg Bill. Anyone who knows about parliamentary workload and procedure will be able to judge—correctly—that for Parliament to run two major hybrid Bills at the same time is a near impossibility. It has not been done before and I very much doubt it will be done in the case of a western Bill and an eastern Bill. The whole purpose of splitting the Bills is to delay the eastern leg Bill. It is very important that stakeholders outside, including the leaders of local authorities in the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, and Members of Parliament are aware of that and that the Government statement of policy that they are going to separate the western leg and the eastern leg will of necessity and by design lead to a significant delay of at least five years, in my judgment, in the eastern leg Bill, because that could come only after the western leg Bill has been enacted—and of course, that delay could be indefinite and could lead to cancellation.
Regarding delivery of the project and the argument in the Oakervee review about dividing the project, how construction is managed is entirely a matter for HS2, once it has the powers. There is no need whatever to split western and eastern leg legislation to phase the delivery of the construction; on the contrary, if you want the best possible phasing of the project, including continuous working, economies of scale and so on, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said on Monday, you would actually wish to grant all the powers to HS2 for all the north-of-Birmingham sections of the line—that is, all the way up to Manchester and all the way up to Leeds—in one Bill.
Far from acceding to this request for a further unnecessary review that is intended to stop HS2, I would be much happier if the Minister announced the cancellation of the review already under way and simply reaffirmed the decision that was taken two years ago, complete with a detailed route design, after much consultation and engagement with stakeholders, to proceed with the eastern leg of HS2 on the same timetable and with the same hybrid Bill as the western leg.
I think that the previous two speakers are actually getting a little bit personal, putting words in the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and misrepresenting him. They should both perhaps row back a little from personal comments, which they seem keen to make at the moment.
It is true that HS2 had the Oakervee review but, quite honestly, it was little more than an election gimmick by the Conservative Party. Sure enough, after the election, the Government were absolutely committed again, and they reiterated full support for HS2. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, explained this incredibly clearly in his opening statement, and perhaps it was so clear that people misunderstood it—I am not sure. He proposed a truly independent peer review on the full range of issues. I do not see why this is controversial. You cannot learn lessons if you have no lessons to draw on, and that is the big problem with HS2.
The proposed publication of a cost-benefit assessment of HS2 with annual revisions seems to me like good business practice. I have absolutely no idea why anybody would object to the amendment. It should be standard for any government project to have this sort of truly independent review and a cost-benefit analysis. Rigorous and independent peer-reviewed analysis would give a much more informed public debate; at the moment, we have HS2 blasting out its credentials all the time, when we know that it is doing the most incredible environmental damage and is costing a fortune. How can the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, dare to talk about taxpayers’ money when we are spending billions on this project? In view of the pandemic and people therefore working remotely these days, it is quite likely that there will be less demand for this demand for a project for a year, at least, and for much longer after it has finished.
Everybody says that HS2 is a project for the future, but it is a creature of the past, quite honestly. It was designed for a past that used to be the norm, and we will not be seeing that norm again very soon. For me, the cost far outweighs the benefit. Regrettably, it is perhaps too late to stop it, but really, we should—we should not spend a penny more. These amendments would help to settle that argument. If I saw the results of an independent review that ruled that it was worth the money, I would accept that.
My Lords, we always seem to have a conflict in our country between those who believe that we are far too slow in improving infrastructure, and those who appear to think that we are doing it too quickly, if not recklessly. This can apply to so many things, some of which I have been involved in in the past, as a Member of the House of Commons.
Broadly speaking, it is fortunate that the divide is not simply on a party basis. It is not always that I find myself on the same side as the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Adonis, but I find myself firmly bracketed with them on this issue. I am well disposed to the project of HS2, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is plainly not, whatever his protestations. He has a fairly good track record, even within the confines of this Bill, of trying to find ways of delaying it and pushing it even further into the future.
“We do things in a hurry when there is a war on”— a remark I heard many years ago, which gives away my age. Another comment somebody made to me, which I have no reason to dispute, was that synthetic rubber would probably not have been invented had it not been for the Second World War.
I find it very hard to see anything other than another form of dilatory motion in the amendment we are discussing, which is different from the one that we debated at the request of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on Monday. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, made the point about finding people who apparently would satisfy the opponents of HS2, and it is going to be a difficult exercise. Where would one get a group of people who are sufficiently saintly to be free from ever having tossed out a casual remark at a local drinks party that does not stain them with bias on this subject?
As I say, I am in favour of the project. I want to get on with it—but I am not without concern for people and communities who are disadvantaged. What I saw as a member of the Select Committee was the effort being made to soften the blow and provide compensation, even if it does not go quite as far yet in every case as might be justified.
The important thing about HS2 is the levelling-up potential. Speed is important: the length of time to get from home to work is a crucial factor. I picked up on the fact, as the Member of Parliament who saw a third London airport built in his constituency, at Stansted, that HS2 would mean that Birmingham Airport would be a shorter distance in time from London than would Stansted. That to me was an astonishing fact. Birmingham is our second city, yet its airport could hardly be said to be the second airport of the United Kingdom. I mean no disrespect to Manchester when I make that comment. Surely, it would make it easier for cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham if people could arrive in this country and find that there were fast journeys between cities and towns and the other areas they wish to get to.
Then, we have the pressure on the south-east. As has been spelled out so many times, there is the difficulty of fitting in all the housing we need into an area where, yes, jobs are being created—and that is wonderful—but we want to see jobs being created across the country. The conundrum of a country divided between north and south has remained unsolved for 60 or 70 years, despite the efforts of Governments of all colours to get on top of it.
Therefore, HS2 has a very important part to play in that, and it is already helping to create jobs. If, as can be said, there is a war on—a war against the pandemic—and there are already signs of jobs being created by HS2, then that is the way in which we are going to bring about some real, true levelling-up in our country. We need a decision above all things at this time on HS2—not more inquiries or reviews—because we want to win the war.
My Lords, this is, for me, a maiden speech as far as this Committee is concerned. I will try to confine it to the essentials of the amendment, which quite possibly will make me unique in this debate. My noble friend Lord Berkeley said that he had no opinion good or bad on the question of HS2: well, pull the other one is my response to that. It is a complete coincidence, I take it, that everything he proposes so far as HS2 is concerned has the effect of delaying or cancelling the project, but he has no opinion, good or bad, other than that. I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Liddle, as well as the views of the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley wants a review. He and I know full well that the number of reviews that have been held about the railway industry, for example, since 2000 has concerned us both. Indeed, both of us have been scathing in the Chamber over the years about the number of reviews that have been held: something like 34 reviews into the railway industry are gathering dust on ministerial shelves somewhere, few of them ever being implemented, and yet he wants another one. My noble friend Lord Adonis read out the names of the distinguished members of the Oakervee Committee, which included my noble friend, who was the vice-chairman. Could he suggest, when he comes to wind up, who, other than the sort of people listed by my noble friend Lord Adonis, could possibly carry out such a review with the impartiality that he desires? Presumably, some knowledge of these construction projects is essential unless we are going to cast around for a dozen people whom we meet in the streets to conduct the review. I would be interested to hear from him when he winds up exactly who he has in mind.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has made no secret of the fact that she is against HS2. I am always fascinated by the Green Party: if this project that we are debating today was a motorway, for example, running along the path of the proposed HS2, I would expect to see the noble Baroness and her Green Party colleagues carrying banners saying, “Put it on the railway”. The last thing we need is another motorway, yet she is against this particular scheme because, she says,—and I wrote down what she said on Tuesday when I had to contain myself from replying—this project is about cutting a few minutes off the journey time for travel between London and Birmingham. It is, of course, no such thing. I remind the noble Baroness—and I hope that she does not think that I am being personal when I do this—that this scheme is part of an overall concept of a high-speed network in the United Kingdom, which will obviously benefit other regions as well as the south-east. It will also, of course, create space on the west coast main line, which is another plus, as far as I am concerned, in relation to HS2. It is estimated that such space and availability that it will create on the west coast main line will relieve our road network of some 40,000 or 50,000 heavy goods vehicles. Again, that is something else one would have thought the Green Party would have been in favour of but, obviously, if she has this erroneous impression that HS2 is just about speed between London and Birmingham, that is not the case.
Coincidentally, as we are talking about reviews, only today the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce —I do not know whether that organisation would meet with the approval of my noble friend Lord Berkeley —issued a press release and statement about HS2. The press release is only two hours old, so it is hot off the press—I have not put it up to this, I hasten to tell my noble friend—and it says:
“The West Midlands has already benefited significantly from the prospect of HS2’s arrival— Deutsche Bank, HSBC and engineering giant Jacobs are examples of major businesses that have already relocated operations to Birmingham—with HS2 creating more jobs in the West Midlands than any other region outside of London.”
Again, I address my remarks to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Does the Green Party not appreciate the fact that already, years before the scheme is actually completed and the line opened, thousands of jobs are being created? The chambers of commerce goes on to say that HS2 will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, thousands of apprenticeships and supply chain opportunities and,
“as Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce chief executive Paul Falkner states today, it will provide ‘a much-needed shot in the arm to business confidence’ as the country emerges from the health crisis.”
My noble friend Lord Berkeley has fought a valiant battle, whether he admits it or not, to delay this particular project. He needs to come up with something better than a specious argument about yet another review. We really ought to get on with this, and my noble friend will have some difficulty, I fear, when he comes to wind up, in convincing us that this amendment is designed to do anything other than delay this project.
My Lords, I support Amendments 6 and 8. Amendment 6 deals with the question of peer review, which is absolutely essential. In my remarks to the Committee last Tuesday, I explained that one of the great shortcomings of the HS2 project from the very beginning has been the complete unwillingness of the responsible Ministers to listen to the best and soundest advice coming from outside their department. Amendment 6 would allow these qualified railway experts to examine all aspects of the project in an unbiased way and give the Government the benefit of their advice. It must, of course, be totally independent of Government, HS2 and any company or individual linked to HS2.
We are all aware of the stories of massive financial and time overruns with aircraft carriers, and nuclear power station building disasters. With HS2, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” I remind the Committee that we are talking about £106 billion to date—probably £150 billion —and the sum is confidently forecast by reliable sources to reach £200 billion. Surely it makes sense for us to take steps to put in place the strongest possible oversight; peer review will do just that.
Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, recommends the publishing of a cost-benefit analysis of this project. I totally agree with that, although I fear that we are locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. This fundamental exercise should be undertaken, of course—in private business it invariably is—before any decision to go ahead is made. Perhaps it was; perhaps the Minister will tell us, and perhaps we can see it. It is quite simple to do: you make a list of all the costs and a list of all the benefits. You put one on one side of the scales and the other on the other, and I have done just that.
I chose benefits first and it is quite a short list: high speed, capacity and jobs. I turn first to high speed. For all sorts of reasons, the promoters of the scheme no longer cite this as an important aspect of it, so this cannot go on the benefit side, even though high speed is what it says on the tin and that is how the idea was originally sold to the Government. For a whole variety of reasons, it is no longer top priority. I do not know all the reasons: I understand that certain aspects of the line—embankments, tunnels, et cetera—would not cope with the proposed speed; and energy costs were also an issue. Therefore, it is no longer a high-speed train in the accepted sense, and we cannot put that on the benefit side of the scales.
Lastly, we come to jobs. Jobs are the proponents’ fallback position, guaranteed to sway faltering Ministers. Obviously, any extra jobs are not just welcome but, in these difficult times, invaluable, although it must be remembered that this was sold as part of the deal long before Covid arrived. It is my view that however much we need jobs, they should not be used as a reason to proceed with a project that is manifestly nonsensical.
If you spent this amount of money on regional railways, improving links from Liverpool to Hull or relieving commuter services in the north and in and out of London, you would produce just as many jobs, spread throughout the country—and, at the end, unlike HS2, you would have something really worth while to show for it. So the jobs argument does not work and that leaves precious little to go on the benefit side of the scales.
Let us look at the costs to the taxpayer: a minimum £106 billion and almost certainly considerably more—all those vital projects which are having to take second place to HS2, we could probably rebuild every hospital in the country for this kind of money; massive, irreparable damage to our environment through a huge swathe of the country; damage to the thousands of people whose lives, homes and businesses have been affected; and massive distrust in the Government’s ability to build anything. I mark it: benefits, precious little; costs, enormous. How did we get into this mess? I truly believe that this will prove to be the most monumental infrastructural and environmental blunder of all time.
My Lords, I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, on the issues he has raised in relation to HS2. He dismisses the speed issue, whereas every piece of research reveals that journey times are key to people deciding whether or not to use rail; so journey times need improving.
On capacity, it is the case that existing lines are full. Capacity is about not just how many people are on a train but how many trains per hour there are on the railway, and we badly need extra capacity in order to move the short-distance travellers off the long-distance lines and to allow freight to use the existing long-distance lines to provide enough capacity for all the freight that needs to go on the railways nowadays in order to save our planet. At the moment very low percentages of people in the Midlands and the north choose to travel by train. That is because of the capacity issue—because of problems with the service. We owe it to them to improve the options for them and to make it possible for them to travel in an environmentally friendly manner.
HS2 has often been its own worst enemy. On our Benches there is firm support for the project, as I have made clear today and in many previous debates. But that does not mean that we are not critical of the way the project has been managed so far. The Oakervee report was designed to review the project and point the way forward but that way needs to be a lot less scrappy than the process so far.
I have a general observation to make about this group of amendments, particularly Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. It is long past time for our approach to major infrastructure developments to be fundamentally rethought. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle: for decades we have proved incapable of making clear strategic decisions, costing them realistically and managing them effectively. The National Infrastructure Commission was supposed to give us the longer view required, which short-term government horizons inevitably fail to provide. However, we still do not have a system that works in a modern democratic economy.
At the very least—this is relevant to Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—the Department for Transport needs to develop a new approach to cost-benefit analysis. Its current approach simply counts what exists: the people who currently travel and the current journey times. It does not take into account the regeneration potential of railway projects. The Borders Railway in Scotland illustrates that the regeneration potential and the popularity of new projects can well outpace the counting of the existing situation.
I do not think that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is the right way to ensure that the path ahead is smoother than in the past. HS2 itself needs to reform and it needs to get on with it as swiftly as possible.
Before I call the next speaker, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to be aware that she needs to keep her mute on; otherwise, we will inadvertently see more of her than she wishes us to see.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley has spoken about the purpose of his amendment, calling for an independent peer review of the section of the HS2 project covered by the Bill; namely, the connection to phase 1 at Fradley in the West Midlands and to the west coast main line just outside Crewe in Cheshire.
The most recent review—and it is recent—was the Oakervee review, which started off with my noble friend Lord Berkeley playing a prominent role, which then appeared to be downgraded as time went on, until at the end he seemed to be treated as a somewhat peripheral figure. Presumably this was not unrelated to my noble friend’s views about the review and its conclusions.
My Amendment 8 requires the Secretary of State to publish a cost-benefit analysis of HS2 within three months of the Bill becoming an Act, and then to
“publish a revised assessment in each subsequent twelve month period.”
I imagine that the Minister will oppose that but, if so, I hope she will be able to tell me that that is because this will be covered in the new six-monthly reports to Parliament. Obviously, I await her response.
However, I want to raise some points about costs. Are the committed costs for phase 1 now some £10 billion, with that figure being about a quarter of the Government’s estimated total cost of phase 1? If that is an accurate or reasonably accurate figure, would the Government expect committed costs to have already reached some 25% of the total cost of the phase before the permanent works have really got under way? What is the Government’s estimated cost of phase 2a and how much has already been spent and committed? What is now the expected completion date of phase 2a? Are the Government confident that their latest cost-benefit ratio figure for HS2 could never worsen as the project continues—and, one fears, costs rise—to the point where there would be a serious question about the case for HS2? An assurance on that point would be helpful. Is it the Government’s unequivocal position that once the Bill becomes an Act, phase 2a will proceed—no ifs, no buts?
Our position is, and has always been, one of support for HS2. It was no wonder that my noble friend Lord Adonis sought unambiguous assurances on Monday, which he did not appear to get, of the Government’s continuing commitment to complete the eastern leg of HS2 in full, to plan, from Birmingham through the east Midlands to Leeds. It was a Labour Government who got this project off the ground, thanks in particular to the drive and determination shown by my noble friend. However, there needs to be a proper grip on costs once specific figures for expected costs have been announced, which also means that considerable hard evidence-backed thought needs to be given to what, realistically, those expected costs are likely to be, and the same should apply as far as the benefits are concerned.
I suspect that the Government recognise that. In a letter to me of 16 October the Minister said:
“The Government have strengthened the arrangements for governance and accountability for the HS2 project. There is now a dedicated Minister, a cross-government ministerial group and a six-monthly report to Parliament.”
Is the appointment of a dedicated Minister an admission that there has been insufficient ministerial involvement and oversight of the HS2 project and its costs by the Department for Transport for a significant part of the past 10 years? That is what it sounds like. If so, why did Ministers allow that to happen and to drag on for so long? Does the creation of a cross-governmental ministerial group mean an acceptance that there will have been no proper co-ordinated cross-government policy-making at ministerial level and oversight on HS2, including its costs, for a significant part of the past 10 years? Once again, that is what it sounds like. Again, I ask: if so, why did Ministers allow that to happen and to drag on for so long?
I would like to know why the Government think that these new arrangements will strengthen governance and accountability. In what way is governance being strengthened? What particular deficiency in the previous governance arrangements will be plugged by these new arrangements? What positive impact on the HS2 project do the Government expect to result from these new arrangements? In what way do the Government believe that accountability will be strengthened by these new arrangements? Who and what will become more accountable and to whom? What benefits do the Government expect to arise from this strengthening of accountability for the HS2 project? What will be the impact of the strengthened arrangements for governance and accountability on the costs of HS2? If it is expected to be positive—and I assume it is—why will these new arrangements involving Ministers enable costs to be better controlled than they have been under the existing arrangements?
The first of the six-monthly reports to Parliament has reported a further £800 million increase in costs over six months. Are the Government satisfied that the reasons given in the report for the increase in costs could not have been identified much earlier with more extensive preparatory work? If the Government’s answer is that they are satisfied that that is the case, that seems close to an admission that they really do not know what the final cost of HS2 will be since, presumably, further major unexpected developments or problems could continue to arise all the time. If that is the case, we can only hope that such developments and other potential issues affecting costs do not end up exceeding the contingency provision that has been made because, as we have seen and know, opponents of this project are reinvigorated every time there is an announcement of a further non-budgeted increase in costs. That is why controlling costs is important.
I hope that the Government will be able to give some clear answers to the questions I have asked and will explain why and what they believe the new arrangements referred to in the letter of 16 October will deliver in respect of strengthened governance and accountability and much better control over costs of a project we continue to support.
My Lords, when I saw the first group for this second day in Committee I thought, “This is going to be Second Reading territory” and, lo and behold, it was the case. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which went slightly wide of the amendments in the group, which are essentially about reporting, not about whether or not HS2 should go ahead, although we had a little run around that track as well. I note that the last group on the Marshalled List today is about party walls, and I find that a very exciting prospect and very much hope that we will get there.
As I outlined in my previous responses about the Government’s recent changes to transparency and accountability, we are putting these at the heart of everything we are doing on HS2 because we believe that enhanced reporting measures and ministerial oversight will help. That is not to say that there was a significant deficiency previously, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but that with all these things good governance is very hard to achieve and incremental improvements to governance structures should be made when they are deemed appropriate.
On Amendment 6, about another report, I think I share the feeling of some noble Lords who have spoken: “Not another one.” There have been several reports on HS2. I believe it is now time to get on and get it built without having another report. Most recently we had the report from Doug Oakervee and his panel and the recommendations therein. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned some of the people involved in that report, and I think we all agree that they are people of very high calibre. Indeed, they include the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. He was on that panel and, as was and is his right, he published his own dissenting report, which of course the Government read and took note of. Is it time now to have yet another report on HS2? I believe that is not the right thing for us to do. We should be looking at the conclusions of the last report, which was written only recently, and putting them into practice. That is why we have Andrew Stephenson as the Minister for HS2 and why we have put in enhanced reporting requirements to Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, mentioned the HS2 board. It is already a strong board, but it has recently been enhanced by representatives from the Treasury and the Department for Transport. That is to make sure that HS2 remains absolutely focused on our priorities and the interests of the British taxpayer. We also have the integrated rail plan, of which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is such a fan. That plan is in development and will make recommendations on how best to deliver high-speed rail in the north.
Therefore, the Government do not agree that we need a further report or review—call it what you will— into HS2 at this time. There will be a significant amount of scrutiny to come in any event, given the existing arrangements.
On the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, as I have explained, a new reporting regime has just been put in place that commits the Government to report every six months. The first one was published last month and updated the House on costs and schedule.
I will sidetrack slightly, if I may, on the issue of costs and schedule because I am doing a lot of work around this as there are quite a lot of major projects in my portfolio. In this country, we have a slight issue that we expect to know exactly what the cost and schedule will be on day one. That is not even day one of the build. We seem to want to know what they are going to be on day one when someone has only just thought of the project. That is absolutely impossible with these sorts of large engineering projects.
We have to wean ourselves off saying on day one, “It will cost £X billion and it will be finished on X date”. We have to come up with a different system that looks more at ranges of costs and schedules, because it is impossible to define such things from the start. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for example, was talking about costs increasing, particularly in the early stages of a project. That is fairly normal, but you should be able to provide the sort of costs that you would expect —a maximum and a minimum, rather than focus on a single amount.
The Government will publish a full business case for phase 2A before the main tranche of construction work begins. In that, there will of course be a much better idea of the costs, and it will include an updated cost/benefit analysis for the scheme. Furthermore, there is a comprehensive system within the Department for Transport for tracking and measuring the benefits of HS2. It may be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, noted, that we are conservative in measuring our benefits, and I am okay with that. We know that there will be improved journey times and reduced crowding on our rail network, but there are many other benefits, as noted by my noble friend Lord Haselhurst—jobs being one of them—including many apprenticeships and huge benefits for small and medium-sized businesses.
I agreed on Monday that I would write to noble Lords setting out all the things we are doing on improved governance and reporting; I will do that following further contributions from noble Lords today but, for the time being, I hope that on the basis of my intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call—
Sorry: I was not quite sure who I was supposed to email under this complicated regime. I emailed someone, but clearly the wrong person.
Perhaps I could ask the Minister a question. She gave she gave a compelling response as to why we should not have a review. She was less convincing in response to my noble friend Lord Rosser about cost/benefits, because costs and benefits change over time, which was part of the point my noble friend was making. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, was so concerned that we should pay attention to cost/benefits; can the Minister confirm that when it comes to the next review of cost/benefits, it is very important that the costs of upgrading the three principal lines running north from London—the west coast main line, the Midlands main line and the east coast main line—will be set against the costs if HS2 does not proceed? All the estimates made of those costs are that they are huge and should not be discounted in any future cost/benefit analysis.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, but what he notes are the counterfactual opportunity costs of not having to do those upgrades. I am not sure how they would factor into a standard cost/benefit analysis, but it is certainly the case, as he pointed out, that they would be fairly costly and that HS2 brings not only speed but capacity.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, and I will try to be as quick as I can, because I know we have a lot to get through today. The comments by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the need to have an effective HS2 board are absolutely right; that may well be one solution. As the Minister said, things are improving—we must see how it goes, but it is a good start.
It was interesting that my noble friends Lord Snape and Lord Adonis talked about having too many reports on railways. They are quite right but, as they both said, the Minister is undertaking one at the moment on the east side of phase 2B. That follows the Oakervee recommendation; paragraph 3.7 says that the Government should
“establish a further study to be completed by summer 2020”—
well, it is a bit late—
“to develop an integrated railway plan embracing 2B alongside an integrated railway investment programme for the Midlands and the North”.
That is a really good idea, but now to expect to have one enormous hybrid Bill covering the whole lot, as my noble friend Lord Adonis is suggesting, is not really sensible. It would be double the size of the phase 1 Bill, and that took long enough anyway.
I also respond to my noble friend Lord Snape—or perhaps it was my noble friend Lord Adonis—about the people on the Oakervee review. It is worth reminding ourselves that we had only two months to do this, and the terms of reference were slightly unusual for such a study and did not include anything about the environment —we added something, probably at my suggestion. That was one reason for suggesting that another review, done independently, might be a good idea to cover those matters. I will not go into the likely or actual opinions of the members of the review panel, because, as a result of their diaries, they were unable to spend a great deal of time on it, although they contributed a lot. Anyway, we are where we are, and the Oakervee review got published. There is always an issue with independence. A couple of people who I suggested should join or provide evidence to the review said, “If we do that, we might get blacklisted by the Department for Transport for future studies”. I will not name names, but that was a fear that people had.
It is all over now, and we have had a good discussion. Of course, I will not press the amendment and I look forward to continuing discussion on reports and information, cost/benefits and the environment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 7. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that means the clerk in Grand Committee, not the clerk downstairs in the Chamber, who he emailed by mistake.
7: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, must not enter into any non-disclosure agreement with any party in connection with the scheduled works unless the assessor of non-disclosure agreements related to the scheduled works (“the assessor”) has certified that it is in the public interest.(2) The Comptroller and Auditor General must appoint a person to be the assessor.(3) The assessor must be—(a) independent, and (b) a current or former high court judge, higher judge or Queen’s Counsel.(4) In this section, “independent” means independent of—(a) Government,(b) HS2 Ltd, and(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out the scheduled works.(5) The assessor must undertake his or her work with a presumption in favour of transparency and public accountability in matters connected to the scheduled works.(6) The assessor must review any non-disclosure agreement between the nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, and any party in connection with the scheduled works and in place before this section comes into force to certify whether it is or is not in the public interest. (7) The assessor may not determine that a non-disclosure agreement is in the public interest for the purposes of subsection (1) or (6) except for the reason that it is justified because of exceptional commercial confidentiality.(8) If the assessor certifies under subsection (6) that a non- disclosure agreement is not in the public interest that non-disclosure agreement immediately ceases to have effect.(9) In this section, a “non-disclosure agreement” means any duty of confidentiality or other restriction on disclosure (however imposed).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to require HS2 to subject all proposed NDAs to independent scrutiny.
My Lords, this amendment on non-disclosure agreements is relevant to the Bill but covers a much wider scope of government policy than just HS2 or even transport. This amendment was tabled in the House of Commons and got some very interesting discussion going. There is a lot of interest in NDAs and their scope around Parliament around at the moment. There is a lot of concern in the health service, as some noble Lords may know. An all-party group on NDAs has been formed under the able chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who will speak to this grouping.
I emphasise again that I am not trying to see NDAs banned completely, but I think some limit to who is subject to them and what they are used for might help transparency in discussions taking place, particularly in Select Committees on the Bill. The worry from people trying to petition has been that businesses and local authorities have been asked to sign NDAs that have prevented them from getting the information they feel they need from HS2 to be able to petition effectively.
This includes denying information to the elected members of councils. I gather that 31 local councils had NDAs on HS2 in place. It is important with issues that concern local areas, such as road movements, which we will come on to as well, and the effect on industrial estates, to ask how the public interest can be served if information is limited and councils cannot tell even their elected members what they are discussing. I do not know whether the withholding of all this information was intentional, but it is important that access to it is not denied to councils, landowners and businesses to prevent them discussing options and issues.
The idea of banning NDAs completely is obviously not very sensible and I am not proposing that, but what I am proposing is—I am sorry to use the word “independent” again—a process not only for HS2 or its successor but for other railways and projects, as well as the NHS, to make some kind of assessment of whether or not something is in the public interest. I suggest that the assessor should be a current or former High Court judge or someone similar.
I am sure that we will have a lot of debate on this. It is not a showstopper, but a lot of people would gain comfort from knowing that they are able to get the information they need in order to hold a debate on what they want to talk about. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has withdrawn from speaking to this amendment, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
My Lords, I apologise for my ineptitude with the mute button. I am afraid that I have been infantilised by the previous system, but I promise to do better.
I strongly support this amendment because this is another thing that ought to be standard in public life. Government works are for the public good and private contractors are there to perform that role for the Government on behalf of the public good. It is about trying to achieve that outcome and transparency should be a central pillar of all public works. Lack of transparency breeds distrust, fuels conspiracy theories and undermines whatever public good the Government are trying to and might achieve in doing the work. In particular, non-disclosure agreements should never be used for political purposes; for example, to avoid embarrassment or controversy. Perhaps the Minister could give us an explanation of the full range of NDAs being used in relation to HS2 and precisely why they are being used. That would help us move forward on this issue.
My Lords, while I recognise that there is a fixed order of speakers, I really want to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, because I know that in the past she took up the case of a particular whistleblower. I think that it relates to the time when she was the Minister responsible for HS2. In thinking how I can use creatively the processes of the Grand Committee, now that I know which clerk to email in order to speak after the Minister, if I have anything to say after the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, has spoken, I shall do so by those means.
What the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said about non-disclosure agreements not being used for political purposes is of course completely correct and all noble Lords would agree with that. I am very keen to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, because I think that she is going set out her concerns about a particular case or cases, and obviously I am also keen to hear the Minister’s response to those.
The noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, has withdrawn from speaking to this amendment and so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
My Lords, I am worried that in these discussions I am going to fall out with my noble friend Lord Berkeley, for whom I have great respect, but I hope that that is not the case. However, I think that this is a very odd amendment to attach to a Bill on HS2. There is much wider public concern about the use of non-disclosure agreements, but to add this to an HS2 measure just confirms conspiracy theories about the way that HS2 has been operating. I do not think that there is any great evidence for this and therefore my noble friend should withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am happy to support Amendment 7 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, relating to non-disclosure agreements. What on earth does an organisation such as HS2 want non-disclosure agreements for? MI5 and MI6 need secrecy for our national security and Ministers are bound to sign the Official Secrets Act for obvious and long-accepted reasons. It is understandable that employees working at the sharp end of research in companies that are competing with each other might be asked to keep their findings confidential. However, to insist on non-disclosure agreements for those working on a civil engineering project is ridiculous and must be seen as rather sinister.
Is this designed to ensure that no one is allowed to discuss the shortcomings of the project? That must have been hugely harmful to the whole construction process. Greater transparency and honesty might have prevented the problems that have arisen. Transparency leads to discussion and consultation, which eventually lead to efficiency and confidence. Secrecy breeds distrust, lack of communication, incompetence and, inevitably, mistakes, which, in a project the size of HS2, can be disastrous. It is no coincidence that this project encapsulates the worst aspects of both secrecy and incompetence. No one outside HS2 has any up-to-date facts and figures to work with and no one knows how bad things are. The truth will come out in the end, but the acceptance of this amendment might allow some fresh air in sooner rather than later.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Adonis has said, we need some more information and it might have benefited all in the Grand Committee to have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, if she feels that there is a particular problem with whistleblowing on this project. I am rather inclined to agree with my noble friend Lord Liddle that this is not the right legislation in which to include such detail, but let us wait and see.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to the Oakervee review, of which he was such a distinguished member, and said that the process was too short and the terms of reference too narrow. He felt that some members did not want to hear witnesses he wanted to call in case they fell out with the Department for Transport as a result. Like my noble friend Lord Liddle, I have a great deal of time and respect for my noble friend Lord Berkeley, so I do not want to fall out with him either, but this is all a bit President Trumpish, in a way. You sit on a commission and there are various aspects of people’s involvement in that commission that are not quite what they should be. If my noble friend feels that something untoward is going on, he ought to tell us about it when he winds up the debate rather than make the implications that he has.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham. If I might compliment him by saying so, at least it was a different tune he was playing. The end was pretty much the same, but it was a different tune. We had heard his previous speech, I think, twice on the Floor of the House, once in the Moses Room and at least twice during this Committee. We all knew what he was going to say. The Minister knew what he was going to say. I suspect that the mice in the Members’ Tea Room had an idea about what he was going to say. He is against the project. When I look at the history of his title, I rather think that a lot of his opposition comes from the fact that Framlingham station was closed as long ago as 1952 and the noble Lord has come to the conclusion that if he cannot have any trains, no one else can either. But I will reserve the rest of what I have to say and, like my noble friend, listen with interest to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
My Lords, I think I will have to disappoint at least three Members of the Committee. First, the work on NDAs, which is an area that does exercise me a great deal, is being carried on under the umbrella of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Whistleblowing—a very effective group, chaired by Mary Robinson MP. It is very cross-party—it includes the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, among its distinguished members—and is doing an incredible amount of good work. That is the right place for this to be pursued because it puts it in the very important and powerful context that most of those who personally suffer from NDAs—or, rather, the individual version, normally called a settlement agreement—are whistleblowers.
I am also not going to bring up the individual cases. I would ask the Minister to meet me—although I suppose we will always have to do this virtually—because there are cases of individual whistleblowers that need to be much more central to the attention of the Government. But this is not really the venue to go in detail through their individual cases. They need proper and long discussion. I am also not the right person to put words into those individuals’ mouths—they need their opportunity to make their position understood.
I support this excellent amendment because I think it is rather skilful. It identifies that non-disclosure agreements have long since lost their original purpose. They were meant to be arrangements which would provide confidentiality for proper commercial interests, such as protecting intellectual property or preventing unfair competition. There might be times when they give scope for private discussion, but I think most people can see that that would be very limited.
The amendment also gives primacy to the public interest. What has happened with NDAs is that people are asked to sign them almost as a matter of course in order to get into a meeting, and they have come to be used very widely now simply as a way to make sure that incompetence and wrong behaviour do not get into the public arena.
A number of journalists have done FoIs to try to get a sense of how many NDAs have been signed for HS2, and I was quite shocked to see—looking just at local authorities and civil society-type groups—that there have been some 340. This is just a strategy to prevent transparency in a project that is being paid for by the taxpayer. There should be a presumption of openness and of closure only in those circumstances where it is absolutely required for a valid reason. Right now the assumption is that everything will be secret unless there is some mechanism for opening it up.
As I said, I am particularly concerned about the NDAs which are being used to silence whistleblowers. Again, for people who may not be familiar with this, “NDA” is actually an American term. For individual whistleblowers, these are part of a settlement agreement. As noble Lords know, most whistleblowers are fired pretty much immediately; they lose their jobs and end up in employment tribunals. That drags on for years and then there is a settlement, or they are threatened with retaliation unless they come to a settlement which includes this vow of silence.
Quite a number of whistleblowers on the HS2 project have gone public—at great personal sacrifice. I feel that they should have proper protection, and that is one of the issues I want to discuss with the Minister. Like many in the transport world—including, I am sure, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—I am aware of many more people who have accepted settlement agreements, including those silence clauses, because they were afraid for their personal livelihood and for their family. Whistleblowers are canaries in the mine. They should be nurtured, not silenced. Serving staff should never be afraid to raise concerns. HS2 has not been exemplary—to put it mildly—on this issue. It has behaved very badly, frankly, to quite a number of its own staff. If anyone doubts that, they should look at the way that information on issues around costings and land ownership compensation has finally surfaced. Instead of government and others being aware early on that there is a problem, the whole issue festers and by the time it reaches the ears of anybody in government, as far as I can tell, it is very difficult to correct a lot of the underlying damage.
I have to say this; it is important. Most of the whistleblowers on HS2 are great supporters of HS2. I am a supporter of HS2. But we want the project to be judged on its genuine merits and not incorrect claims. I do not believe that the project is being helped by the way in which information has come out—delayed, challenged and finally admitted. It has scarred the reputation of the project. It has undermined public trust, frankly, in any information that HS2 now provides and that is a real tragedy.
We politicians have to shoulder responsibility for some of this. There is a pattern whereby the Treasury pressures departments to understate project costs. That has infected not just this project but a lot of major infrastructure projects. Crossrail strikes me as another of these tragedies which have suffered from the need to come up with an attractive claim in order to get approval at various stages. Those who are running projects—and sometimes this includes the Ministers, frankly—are really afraid to admit when costings are shown to be wrong because they are afraid they will then be vilified.
In complex, difficult, long-term projects, attempting to assess the issues and the costs up front is extraordinarily difficult and we need to take that on board and understand that information will change, that facts on the ground will change and that in this very complex situation not everybody will get it right, but we need that correction to happen as soon as possible and for the information to be available in the public arena as soon as possible. Open kimono is really the only way in which to generate trust and sensible decision-making. Frankly, we will never get that kind of transparency unless we deal with this NDA problem and the silence clauses in settlement agreements. Change that framework and people will speak out, we will hear the canaries, and it will be possible to take action in a way that is beneficial to the project and fair to the taxpayer and all the various stakeholders.
We have heard already today about government steps to bring in new arrangements to improve governance, so I hope the Minister will be able to be tell us a bit more about non-disclosure agreements in relation to HS2, because one presumes that has something to do with good governance. My information is that HS2 currently has 342 non-disclosure agreements—that is the figure I have been given—including with businesses and landowners, but that not even a list of the parties with whom those agreements have been made is published, let alone their contents.
Who decides that information relating HS2 is so sensitive that its non-disclosure takes precedence over transparency and the public interest, including, I presume, some information relating to expenditure of taxpayers’ money? Is it the Government who make these decisions? Is it HS2? Is it a party with whom HS2 has a contract or an agreement? What happens if there is a disagreement between parties on whether there should be non-disclosure? Who has the final word?
In response to a Written Question, the HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson, defended the agreements, saying:
“Non-disclosure agreements … are used to protect both HS2 Ltd’s information and the information of the other signatory party and are in accordance with typical business practice. These agreements help to avoid placing homes and businesses in unnecessary blight, protect commercially sensitive information of both parties and the personal information of those potentially affected by any proposed changes to the scheme.”
So he has broken it down into three categories: avoiding placing homes and businesses in unnecessary blight; protecting commercially sensitive information of both parties; and protecting the personal information of those potentially affected by any proposed changes to the scheme. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us—I doubt that it could be today—of the 342 NDAs, how many come into each of those three categories that the Rail Minister said in a Written Answer was one of the justifications for an NDA. What was significant in that Answer was that he did not mention that they would ever be used in relation to whistleblowing—that was not one of the categories that he listed.
This is a very murky and secretive area of NDAs. I share the view expressed that there are circumstances when they are needed and are fully justified—I am sure there are—but when one sees the number in relation to HS2, one is entitled to ask whether they have not got a bit out of hand and are being used in instances for which NDAs were not originally envisaged. Are they perhaps being used for the interests of the parties concerned, and have we forgotten that, where there is any doubt, transparency and the public interest should take priority, which is surely what good governance is in part about and which the Minister has said in earlier debates is what the Government want to strengthen in relation to this project?
My Lords, non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are entered into voluntarily with the consent of both parties. In the case of the HS2 programme, NDAs are used for good reason and in the public interest. For example, NDAs may allow HS2 to have open and frank conversations with stakeholders, including local authorities and businesses, on a range of plans and proposals—these are not firm schemes but plans and proposals; they are things that may come to pass or may not. By doing so, it has better access to the information it needs to inform the proposals then put forward. If all possible developments are public at all times, the alarm and concern created in local communities would be simply extraordinary.
NDAs provide huge value to the taxpayer and local communities by reducing generalised blight that would happen otherwise. HS2 entered into agreements with local authorities as part of the very early stages of exploring the different route options. This protected swathes of the country from suggestions of new infrastructure. What would have happened had those suggestions come out? Property values would have plummeted, yet most of those suggestions were just that—suggestions—and they would never have come to fruition.
The private nature of such conversations is helpful. It reduces worry and uncertainty for those affected by the scheme. The use of NDAs also protects the public’s private and personal data. Sometimes, it is necessary to share information between organisations. For example, there might be concerns about somebody’s welfare. HS2 has a duty of care but also needs to share such data in compliance with the law. NDAs allow this to happen. Protecting personally sensitive and project-related data in this way allows the project to avoid affecting property values unduly and to protect individuals’ rights. I am confident that the use of NDAs by HS2 is in the public interest. It is not a way to avoid transparency; it is a way to ensure that HS2 is able fully to scope the costs of the various proposals in a confidential manner and to ensure that whatever proposals are eventually put on the table are those most likely to succeed, while minimising the alarm caused in areas which, frankly, do not need to be alarmed because they were not in the end chosen.
The need for an independent assessor to testify to the public interest has been discussed extensively and considered by the Secretary of State for Transport during the passage of this Bill, including whether it might be pertinent to appoint further observers or implement a new complaints procedure. The conclusion has been that it is right that those who wish to do so should have the opportunity—they do not have to do it—to enter into an NDA with HS2 Ltd. In this sense, people who are affected by the scheme should be allowed to protect themselves and their private conversations with HS2 without concerns that their data will be shared with a third party. Just because these private agreements are just that, private, does not make them invalid or an illegitimate form of protection for the parties—it does not make them shady, as has been the impression I have been given by the speeches of some noble Lords. They are voluntary agreements that can be entered into for various reasons.
If an independent assessor were appointed to scrutinise such agreements, they would be breaching the privacy of those agreements. The appointment of an assessor would effectively prevent the sharing of information on a confidential basis. This would cause delay, which noble Lords tend not to like. It would increase uncertainty —again, a bad thing—and costs for those affected by the project and the cost of the project itself, which is ultimately paid for by the taxpayer.
I want briefly to mention that there are established complaints procedures for members of the public who wish to have their concerns considered through independent scrutiny. As noble Lords are aware from day 1 of Committee, there is Sir Mark Worthington, the independent construction complaints commissioner. There is also the residents’ commissioner, Deborah Fazan, who is in place to hold HS2 to account for the commitments in the residents’ charter. She produces periodic reports on HS2 performance against those commitments. Within HS2, there is an established whistleblowing hotline, called Speak Out. Speak Out provides a route for staff, contractors and members of the public to raise concerns about any potential misuse of taxpayers’ funds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, mentioned that she would like a meeting. I would very much appreciate a meeting with her, although I might perhaps offer my colleague, Minister Stephenson, as the HS2 Minister. He would be better able to hear her concerns, because we need to get below the whole “Ooh, it’s a bit shady; 342—isn’t that too many?” I do not know: is it too many or is it too few? The whole point is: are the non-disclosure agreements the right ones, and are they reached voluntarily and for the right reasons?
I would like the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, perhaps to have a meeting with my colleague, the HS2 Minister, to talk through some of the evidence and some of the things that may have happened in the past, which we have been able to remove, because of the steps that have been taken, and to discuss any ideas that she has for steps that we can take in future to ensure the requisite level of transparency—but also to protect the taxpayer and ensure that confidential conversations can take place when appropriate.
On the basis of my intervention, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
The Minister’s response has been compelling. She is right to point up the importance of HS2 Ltd being able to discuss with local authorities confidentially different route options, treatment of works, and so on. That is completely correct. Of course, if that was not possible, HS2 probably would not be able to have some of those conversations, because the issues raised would be too sensitive. Therefore, I do not think that the case for this amendment has been made even in principle.
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is going to come in after me. If she is going to try to persuade the Committee that there should be some more different and onerous process for HS2 Ltd in respect of non-disclosure agreements, she will have to be franker with the Committee about that. I do not think that we should have general statements made that would lead to substantive changes in a non-disclosure agreement that could impede the work of HS2 Ltd, unless we are given instances that we find compelling to justify that.
Thank you. I would very much like to take up the Minister’s offer of a meeting with the HS2 Minister, Mr Stephenson. That would be extremely helpful. I hope she might have the opportunity to spend a little bit of time looking at some of the cases. I want to challenge the myth that signing a non-disclosure agreement is essentially voluntary. I think that she will find that it is just standard practice, or a meeting is not offered.
The Minister will also recognise that the non-disclosure agreement then covers everything contained within the meeting. As I say, there may be nuggets that genuinely should remain confidential, but there is a great deal of information that should be out in the public arena. It is a mindset, in a sense, for how organisations conduct themselves—whether it is transparency around information not disclosed on an exceptional basis, when there has been careful thought about whether or not that information should be disclosed, or whether the presumption is that everything will be kept behind the closed kimono and information will made available only on an absolutely must or need-to basis. We need some rethinking on this, because that has not served us well.
The Minister will know from her own experience of looking at infrastructure projects that they come up with shocks. We are probably both very aware of Crossrail, which appeared to be completely on track almost until the very final moments, when we were all expecting the announcement of its opening, when we discovered that it was several years behind.
This issue has to be tackled. The issue of individual whistleblowers is one that I would very much like to take up with Ministers, because a salutary conversation between Ministers and senior management at HS2 could make very significant improvements in that arena.
Well, okay, I thank the noble Baroness for her further intervention. I am not wholly the wiser as to what she is trying to do here. She has mentioned the shock of Crossrail. I was not aware that that was anything to do with NDAs. But she was a Transport Minister, so she knows how projects work, and I was actually discussing Crossrail earlier today and asked exactly the same question about how on earth that happened. It is the case that sometimes, for whatever reason, costs increase, but I was not aware that with Crossrail there was an issue with NDAs. If she has information in that regard, I would be happy to receive it, because it would be news to me.
I am trying to get beyond the sweeping statements that, “These things are bad, information is being hidden, and therefore we have to crack down on them.” That is one side of the argument—but the other side, of course, is as I have set out, that they can be hugely beneficial and are entered into voluntarily. The noble Baroness said that they were not entered into voluntarily, as if everybody was evil, but I need more understanding of what the evidence is around that and what information she feels is therefore not getting out into the public domain that should be. She said that you do not even get a meeting unless you sign the NDA. That may often be the case—and, yes, about 80% of the meeting may be absolute nonsense and could be public information. But, again, I would appreciate in the meeting that we have with her if we could get underneath the skin of this a bit and find out what information she feels is being covered up, the consequences of that cover-up, and how the NDA process is fuelling that cover-up, because I am not there yet. I have heard sweeping statements, but I am not quite fully understanding.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. I think we are in grave danger of having a debate about what is black and what is white; these are the kinds of things where there is actually a lot of grey in between. I do not think that a sweeping statement saying that all NDAs are wrong is at all helpful, and I do not support it. Similarly, as my noble friend Lord Rosser said, if there really are 340 NDAs for HS2, there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that they are not all necessary for the good promotion of HS2 and its ideas and discussions. How many of them are more to avoid embarrassment? I do not know whether the Minister will be able to respond to my noble friend Lord Rosser’s request for the reasons but, if not, perhaps I could join the meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and talk about it further.
It has been a useful discussion, but I emphasise that, however it is taken forward, public interest and transparency have to be looked at alongside confidentiality. What I thought was really inappropriate was when I was told that the borehole information at Wendover was confidential. Why should borehole information for anything be confidential, especially when we have a very good geological survey of the whole country?
With those comments, I thank noble Lords who have spoken and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendments 8 to 10 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 11. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
11: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State must conduct an annual review of the impact of this Act on the connectivity of the UK Rail Network. (2) The review under subsection (1) must make reference to—(a) the impact of HS2 on connectivity in relation to—(i) the existing rail network, and(ii) new parts of the network constructed during the process of HS2;(b) future connectivity planning.(3) The review under subsection (1) may make reference to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on future connectivity planning.(4) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the review under subsection (1) before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, and each calendar year thereafter until 2035.”
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 11, I shall refer to the amendment in the name of the Labour Party.
The finances of HS2 do not stack up, unless it is used as a spine from which to hang a network of substantial improvements to existing rail services and a programme of new lines and stations. Amendment 11 in my name is designed to cover this by way of an annual review by the Secretary of State. The frequency is intended to keep the process of future planning under constant review because, for the sake of efficiency and cost effectiveness, it is essential that there is a steady flow of work for the rail manufacturing and construction industry. The Department for Transport needs to move away from the cumbersome feast-and-famine approach to railway building which has so hampered the industry in recent years.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, queried whether the eastern leg of HS2, phase 2b, would be built following the Minister’s confirmation in our previous debate on Monday that Bills for the eastern and the western legs will be separated. I invite the Minister to tell us whether there is any truth in the rumour that the National Infrastructure Commission, which is developing the strategic rail plan, might recommend that HS2 as a new line should be built only from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway, and that thereafter trains would join the existing main line to Nottingham, Derby and Leeds. Even if that line is improved and electrified, this would mean that there will be no gains in capacity and speed, and it will mean the loss of the economic development potential of HS2 which we have seen so well illustrated already in Birmingham. If there is truth in this rumour, it illustrates the UK’s fatal flaw: our failure to raise our eyes to the horizon, to build for the future, to plan for the future.
The work of Midlands Connect, for example, and its Midlands Engine Rail plans illustrates perfectly the way in which HS2 can and should be used to stimulate major improvements in rail services across the area and, beyond that, further to the north. It has planned three packages of improvements. Package West uses phases 1 and 2a as well as capacity in existing lines which is released by HS2. It would enable 20 more trains per hour into and out of Birmingham Moor Street station, improving links with the south-west, Wales and the east Midlands. There are plans to improve connectivity at Birmingham Airport and for faster trains on existing lines between Birmingham and Manchester. Then there is its Package East: a multimodal strategy to connect towns across the region into the HS2 hub station at Toton. But possibly most significant is its Package Connect. It has plans to enhance the east-west connection between, for example, Crewe and Derby, Nottingham and Lincoln, and so on, significantly improving journey times in an area where the percentage of commuters who travel by rail is woefully low. Why is that? It is largely because the speeds of the trains—the services at the moment—are low, and the services are infrequent. I must also not forget the importance of freight. Putting more goods on to the railways is important, and essential to a green future and to avoiding climate change.
The single unifying factor in all these plans is that they all depend in some way on the impetus that HS2 will provide. A high-speed long-distance railway leads to improved services for commuters, shoppers and leisure travellers as well as additional capacity for freight. Despite the falling numbers of rail passengers, and despite the fact that the pandemic has made us think again, there is every reason to believe that people will return to travel in the future. Indeed, they already have. Already, we are at roughly 100% of pre-pandemic road traffic levels, at a time when only 59% of us are back in work in our offices. If we were all to go back to work as we have done before, that would be an additional 2.7 million cars and other vehicles on the road per day. It is simply not possible and sustainable in terms of congestion, let alone the impact on air quality and emissions. For a green future we have to plan for a modern, fast and efficient railway.
I remind the Minister that in the general election last year the Government received a huge boost from electors in the Midlands and the north, who put their faith in the Government’s levelling-up rhetoric. Now the Government have to deliver on that, and HS2 is a key part of that deal. But as I hope I have illustrated, HS2 must be used as a catalyst for much more—for much greater change—and the north of England and the Midlands will have a pretty dim view of government promises if that does not go ahead as planned. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has made some powerful points. She has also teed me up splendidly because her amendment raises the issue of connectivity. I can see that the Minister is much looking forward to the fact that I am going to speak again about the connectivity of the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, which is imminently threatened by this review and potential cancellation of HS2 east.
Lest noble Lords think that I am unnecessarily alarmist on this, I am doing my public duty to see that this catastrophic and historic error is not made. Every time I raise this issue and engage with stakeholders, my concerns become greater. Since I made my remarks on Monday I have had a number of private representations, which it would not be proper for me to reveal because I gave non-disclosure agreements in response to those, but I have also had a very significant public representation —which I have forwarded to the Minister to give her an opportunity to respond in her reply—from Professor David Rae, who is a professor of enterprise at De Montfort University in Leicester, an area which would gain enormously from the benefits of HS2 east. Perhaps I may read the key part of his letter to the Grand Committee, because it specifically responds to the points I raised in our previous sitting on Monday. He writes:
“Consistent with your Twitter messages”—
I tweet summaries of my speeches because they are far too long to inflict on the public at their full extent—
“regarding the threatened axing of the HS2 Eastern link, a well-informed source tells me that the National Infrastructure Commission, which is preparing the Rail Plan”—
the one that the noble Baroness keeps referring to, and which she rightly says I do not like because it is the disguise for delaying or cancelling it—
“which will recommend the future investment, is more likely to propose that HS2 East is only built from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway (EMP) and there to join the existing Midland Mainline and follow existing … lines to Nottingham, Derby and North to Leeds. Even if this is approved, there are multiple negative effects. In terms of rail, there will be few gains in either rail capacity or speed, and none north of EMP. In effect the Leeds and Northern HS2 link would be via HS2 to Manchester and thence via Transpennine Rail”.
I should say in parenthesis that that means that the east Midlands would gain very little out of HS2 and the journey times to Leeds and the north-east would be significantly delayed because all of their HS2 journeys would need to go via Manchester. That presupposes that a tunnel is built under the Pennines at high speed to take the line from Manchester to Leeds, which itself, as I know from having looked at the costings, is a hugely expensive and very problematic project.
Professor David Rae continues:
“There is also a large economic development loss to the region. As you will know, the development of the Toton ‘Garden of Innovation’ new community and innovation district around the HS2 station—
the junction station between Derby and Nottingham that is proposed as part of HS2 east—
“is of strategic importance to the region and is one to which the Councils in Derby, Nottingham and respective Counties as well as the Local Enterprise Partnership … are committed. This is crucial to grow the high-value and high-skill capacity of the region, predicated on HS2, and if lost will set back the region’s economic development by 5 years. We simply cannot afford this loss, set against the effects of COVID-19 job losses and anticipated Brexit impacts.”
I could continue to quote, but the noble Baroness has the letter. The point underlying this is that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is absolutely right to highlight the wider connectivity issues at stake in HS2. HS2 is a network, not simply a single line, and it is essential that the network benefits of HS2 are secured to the eastern side of the country as well as the western. If HS2 proceeds only to Manchester, with some stunted version ending either at Birmingham or going on only to East Midlands Parkway station, north-east of Birmingham, we will essentially have two nations in England in the century ahead. We will have the prosperous, dynamic, western side of the country, which will have the benefits of 21st-century technology, capacity and railway engineering, and the eastern side of the country, which will be stuck in the 1830s and 1840s in terms of its rail technology and capacity and will inevitably fall behind.
So, I make no apology for raising the alarm again. I give the Minister another opportunity to confirm that HS2 east will proceed, and I hope I will at least have alerted the local authorities involved—Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and York being the primary ones affected—that their economic prospects for the next generation and beyond are about to be blighted by this review. The only consolation I have is that the review is being conducted by the National Infrastructure Commission, which I had the honour to establish and to chair, and I cannot for a moment believe that my colleagues on it would be so unwise as to recommend the scaling back of HS2 east, with all the damage that would do to the long-term infrastructure and economy of the eastern part of England.
My Lords, that was a very powerful speech by my noble friend Lord Adonis, and I have very little to add to it. I support this amendment. I think it is sensible that Parliament look regularly at how the HS2 scheme is being used to promote greater connectivity at local and regional levels, and of course I agree with my noble friend’s concerns about the eastern leg of the HS2 plan. The only other point to add concerns the work of the Select Committee. I have sympathy with the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser, on the capacity of the county councils to deal with the consequences of the HS2 plan. The Select Committee felt that in one or two cases where we had petitioners making perfectly reasonable points, the county council had not responded to them in the way we would have hoped. There should be a strong message—although I doubt an amendment would be appropriate—that the councils need to gear up to cope with this major project.
My Lords, while I support everything that has just been said on this amendment, I do not want to repeat anything. There is a connectivity problem with HS2. If it were decided—wrongly, as has been amply outlined by my noble friend Lord Adonis—to truncate the eastern leg of HS2 somewhere in the east Midlands and, presumably, electrify the existing line so that HS2 trains will join the existing main line at some unspecified point in the east Midlands, there would be an immediate connectivity problem.
In the days when I worked for the railway, on the operating side, the regulation of trains was a fairly simple matter. Trains were broken down into various classifications: A, B, C, et cetera. Class A was an express passenger train, and signallers would normally give priority to such a train, regardless of circumstances —late running, bad weather, et cetera. Since privatisation, of course, things are somewhat different. It never ceases to amaze me sometimes, standing at Birmingham New Street station, to watch a late-running Pendolino train for London Euston being held in the station while a local train booked to leave behind it leaves on time and therefore in front of it, delaying the express passenger train even further. When I ask signallers and people responsible for operating the railway these days why these incidents take place, I am told, “Well, the lawyers will say that that was its booked path and if we delayed it further, there would, of necessity, be compensation payments”.
I raise that technical side for this reason, as far as this amendment is concerned: in Clause 34, “Objectives of Office of Rail and Road”, there are details about railway matters. If we are to have high-speed trains mixed in with existing passenger and freight trains, I just remind noble Lords on both sides that this will happen regardless of the completion of the Y-shaped layout planned for HS2. There will be another regulation problem thrown up by the addition of such trains to the existing traffic. Without going into any great detail, the Select Committee discussed the provision of an altered junction on a short stretch of the west coast main line that would have meant that high-speed trains, instead of joining the “down” fast line on their way to Crewe, actually joined the “down” slow line—again, as the result of the understandable desire to reduce expenditure—cutting over to the “down” fast line some small distance further north. That adds another complication so far as train regulation is concerned, on, as we have already discussed, an already crowded west coast main line. That situation, of course, would be repeated and worsened if the Y-shaped east Midlands leg of HS2 were truncated, as my noble friend Lord Adonis fears.
I have a question for the Minister, going back to Clause 34. I quote from the Explanatory Memorandum:
“The Railways Act 1993 imposes on the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) a duty to address certain objectives in the execution of its non-safety functions. These objectives do not currently contain any explicit requirement for the ORR to facilitate the construction of Phase 2a of High Speed 2. Subsection (1) adds such a requirement and thereby clarifies the ORR’s role for the benefit of the ORR and rail operators.”
My question to the Minister is, what role will the ORR have as far as connectivity and train regulation is concerned? I do not expect her to have the answer off the cuff, and I would be grateful if she would write to me. It is an appropriate matter, I hope she agrees, to raise in connection with this amendment and I hope we can find some way of answering this particular problem concerning the role of the ORR in future.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of these two amendments. They are vital to getting the best out of HS2. Amendment 11 was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who mentioned 20 trains an hour in and out of Moor Street, and there is a great deal that needs to be done around Birmingham to improve local services there. She and other noble Lords mentioned the problem—or the not very good services—and the tracks that head from Birmingham eastwards towards Nottingham and Derby. I think there is quite a strong argument for either upgrading the existing lines or at least building HS2 section 2b there.
I have more of a problem with making decisions now about what should happen to HS2 between Derby and Nottingham towards Leeds and Sheffield. There are various ways of doing it, such as just upgrading the existing routes or improving the east coast main line, which I know my noble friend Lord Adonis is greatly against, as he said on Monday. However, all these things need to be looked at because when we were doing some of the consultation, such as it was, for the Oakervee report, it was quite clear that the demand for services in the Midlands and the north was primarily for shorter distance and to a large extent east-west, and therefore getting across the Pennines somehow is very important. Whether it is HS2, Network Rail or Transport for the North does not really matter as long as there are services there and further south from Birmingham to the Derby area. The key is to have frequent, reliable services going faster, but whether they need to be separate or together with HS2 is something I think the Minister is looking at in her study.
For me, HS2 is, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, not a network but a line which starts in London, splits in two and goes to Manchester, and perhaps a little further north to connect with the west coast main line, and to Sheffield and Leeds. The network is there to connect with much improved local services, and therefore the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is very important. It needs to link with, I hope, improved local services.
I also support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Rosser to some extent. It is very important, but we are almost going back to the discussion we had about the Transport and Works Act and hybrid Bills and whether local authorities in the present set up have enough resources and are given enough time in Committee to make their arguments. That is something that I am sure we will continue to discuss over the next few weeks.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Lord Bradshaw? We will move on and I will call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and return to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, if we can connect with him. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
I shall be relatively brief. My amendment is on a similar theme to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, but mine relates more specifically to transport provision in Shropshire and Staffordshire. It refers to the construction and maintenance of the HS2 works and to changes to general passenger movement caused by the works and the implications for railway stations in order to keep it within the scope of the Bill.
Shropshire and Staffordshire are not particularly well placed when it comes to public transport, and it looks as though HS2 phase 2a is going to present considerable upheaval for some residents during construction, and perhaps to a degree afterwards, when there is no direct subsequent benefit to them from HS2 phase 2a, as there will be no stations nearby that will give them easy access to the new high-speed service.
At Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe raised the lack of transport infrastructure in Oswestry. Since Second Reading, it has been announced that the bus station in Oswestry could close. On the other side of the coin, there are rumours of the Government supporting the reopening of a railway station in Oswestry. Can the Minister say whether the Government would support such a station and obviously then the restoration of a rail link to Oswestry?
The Foundation for Integrated Transport has examined bus services in Shropshire and called for new services in the north-east of the county in Ellesmere and Whitchurch. With the relatively poor public transport infrastructure, many people are reliant on roads, including to reach the railway network. Roads in Shropshire are in need of improvement. For example, the A5 trunk road near Oswestry is still not dualled. Do the Government intend to address that situation? In Staffordshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme has a population of some 75,000 but does not have a railway station. Do the Government intend to improve transport links by addressing that deficiency?
It would be helpful to have responses to these questions and also to the general point about whether it is the Government’s intention to take a serious look at improving transport links generally in Shropshire and Staffordshire as an associated part of the HS2 phase 2a project, which will pass through the area but be of little benefit to those most affected if transport links to gain access to and from the new high-speed services are not also considerably improved.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Lord Bradshaw, I think you are muted. You have to unmute yourself with the new system. Lord Bradshaw, I am sorry, but as we cannot connect with you, we will move to the Minister.
My Lords, connectivity between HS2 and the wider network and the impacts of HS2 on that network are critical concerns. The central aim of HS2 is to improve connectivity along its length and to ensure that it integrates with all modes of transport, including local rail and bus networks.
On rail specifically, noble Lords will be aware that Crewe, at the northern end of phase 2a, has a long history as an important hub on the railway network. Construction of phase 2a will allow passengers who connect through Crewe currently also to connect to HS2 services. This will significantly improve rail connectivity, and we expect regeneration benefits at the station and in the surrounding areas. The details of those services cannot be defined now but will be worked out in due course through existing rail operations processes.
The time to assess the connectivity benefits of phase 2a, whether by rail or indeed any other mode, will be when the railway has been built and the services have been planned such that other services can be connected to them. In the meantime, the Government continue to invest in local and longer range transport infrastructure in the UK to improve connectivity and capacity, and we continue to identify and assess problems and possible solutions.
We continue to talk to local communities and railway operators and to invest in infrastructure and services that level up opportunities for everyone across the country. For example, the Restoring Your Railway programme includes an ideas fund that provides development funding for early stage ideas to explore options to restore lost rail connections. Ten proposals are already being funded at the development stage so that they can move from the first round of the ideas fund to the subsequent stages.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, asked about the role of the ORR, and I shall be honest with him that I will have to write, but I will happily do so.
Many noble Lords have tried to lure me into a discussion of connectivity and services beyond phase 2a, but I fear that I would only repeat myself and I cannot countenance repetition, so I will not be lured at this point. We are talking about phase 2a, and I believe that there are huge opportunities for its connectivity, many of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and of course the Government take into account those sorts of opportunities whether or not one is building HS2 in the area because local connectivity is always important.
Turning to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the question of the impact of construction on the transport networks in Shropshire and Staffordshire has been considered quite extensively in the environmental statement. The majority of the phase 2a route passes through rural Staffordshire. As I can confirm from my own visit to the route, some of the sites are accessible only by very minor roads. The environmental statement that accompanies the Bill therefore gives significant consideration to the issue of getting workers to and from the worksites in the most efficient and least disruptive manner.
The draft code of construction practice sets out that workforce travel plans will be developed with the relevant highway authority and these will take into account public transport and cycling and walking routes. It is our expectation that the existing railway network will not be used much on a daily basis by workers on HS2 phase 2a. The environmental statement, taking a reasonable worst-case approach, assumes that all workers will commute either in a car or in a van, with some element of ride-sharing. Worker accommodation will be provided at some locations, and this will reduce the volume of journeys. We also expect many of the workers to travel outside peak hours.
I therefore do not see the merit of requiring an annual review of rail connectivity, as suggested in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. There will be ongoing discussions about connectivity that will develop over time. The provision of transport in Staffordshire and Shropshire has already been looked at, but, of course, we will continue to be open to opportunities for further improvements. I hope that on this basis, the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.
My Lords, my comments are about connectivity and probably relate more to Amendment 11 than to Amendment 14. The Minister has just spoken about connectivity, so it seems to be an appropriate moment to follow that point. I declare an interest in that I have close family living near the place where the trains will pass.
HS2 is a hugely expensive and long, drawn-out process; it should be viewed in that context. I am a supporter of high-speed rail, with the qualification that it is not satisfactory that direct travel between London and the north will still not be possible. Instead, travellers and their baggage will need to leave the station in Birmingham that they arrived at and swap to the new terminus, which, I understand, is to be called Birmingham Curzon Street, and is some distance away. This is not good enough for the 21st century; people are used to travelling with less disturbance and more convenience than that. This is an opportunity not to be missed to make a better connection.
I also concur with noble colleagues who have commented on trains, speeds, tracks and their suitability. There really is not much more that I need to say, because so much has been said, and I have been very impressed and interested, but I am a supporter. I hope that in the end this line will provide excellent connections and direct travel from London to the north. I wish it well.
I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for joining the Committee and sharing her thoughts with us. I am pleased that she supports HS2. She raised some issues about Birmingham, and I do not have the information to hand. I will write to her with further information about connectivity and the issues she raised about access to Birmingham Curzon Street.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in this short debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for the impetus he has provided to us all with his points about the eastern leg and the whole issue of connectivity. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, pointed out, the importance of getting across the Pennines is one of the main points here. He also emphasised the demand for shorter-distance travel, which, of course, is what is freed up on existing lines by the building of HS2.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, deals specifically with issues in Shropshire and Staffordshire, and we might return to that later in the debate on road transport. There is clearly a very important need to improve transport links there. I say to the Minister, who said she wanted to stick to phase 2a: some of the examples I gave her from the Midlands Engine deal specifically with phase 1 and phase 2a and initiatives that flow from the existence of phase 2a. I am disappointed that she has failed to address in detail the point of my amendment, which is to force continued planning on HS2 as we move forward, and to integrate HS2 with other infrastructure developments in the areas through which it passes.
The rail industry is crying out for a smooth flow of future planning. It does not prosper from the stop-start approach, and there is a need for a smooth process in order to maintain skills and capacity within the industry generally. Having said that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 12. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
12: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Mitigation of loss or inconvenience to owners or occupiers of land used in these works
In any matter relating to the entry on, occupying or acquiring of, private land, the nominated undertaker must take all necessary steps to mitigate the inconvenience or loss to any owner or occupier of that land.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that best practices in minimising loss or inconvenience are followed by HS2 Ltd and its contractors.
My Lords, it is fortuitous that this amendment follows the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about Amendment 7. I stumbled across this matter almost by accident in discussion with various bodies and individuals over the operation of the HS2 Ltd land acquisition regime. I am particularly indebted to Andrew Shirley of the Country Land and Business Association, of which I happen to be a member, and Kate Russell of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, of which I am not a member. I have also spoken to other chartered surveyor practitioners of the dark arts of compulsory purchase and compensation who have been prepared to share their experience with me. To some extent, the amendment builds on earlier amendments before Grand Committee on day one.
Kate Russell forwarded me a copy of a lengthy letter she sent on 1 June 2020 to Thomas Barry at the DfT in response to the general question—I paraphrase—what could be improved? Noble Lords will be glad that I paraphrase the seven pages of that letter, but I have permission to show it to any noble Lord who may be interested and to whom I have not already forwarded it to, but I have sent it to the Minister and those who spoke to Amendment 5. Bear in mind that this is sent by an official of a professional body, not a disaffected claimant’s agent. Even so, I would not have attached such importance to a single letter had it not encapsulated many of the same sentiments independently expressed to me by others. Please also bear in mind that phase 2a naturally follows the procedures laid down for phase 1.
Kate Russell first explained that the issues being encountered over land and property acquisition went far beyond the normal range and severity that she would have expected. In her letter, she encouraged the department to pause for reflection—a figurative pause, that is, because of course she did not ask for everything to be stopped—because of uncertainties due to design refinements, consequential to the reality of land acquisition and the implications for and disruption to claimants. She outlined the significant stress levels not only for claimants but also to professionals involved and that this has been directly due to the manner in which HS2 Ltd had been handing cases. So bad was this that the very notion of working on HS2 cases has become an issue in professional recruitment and retention, with her members seeking guidance because requirements of their tasks seemed to be at odds with professional codes of conduct.
Her letter goes on to cite several underlying causes. I truncate this, but there was the scale and timeframe of the undertaking and the implications of that, the highly impersonal manner in which the claims were handled and HS2 Ltd’s apparent desire for total consistency above all else in what is a sea of highly variable individual cases—in other words, uniformity in preference to fair balance to individual circumstances.
Of course, everyone recognises the need for value for money in these huge schemes, but the underlying sense expressed to me by another commentator was that the Treasury’s hands were around the financial throat of the department, which in turn has its around the neck of HS2 Ltd and so on, with HS2 Ltd acting in a similar manner towards its suppliers, professionals and, last of all, at the end of the supply chain, the claimants. This, in varying terms, was reflected in the views of everyone I spoke to on the point. The suggestion is that the structure and chain of command of this project is in large part to blame.
Ministers have publicly professed “compassion, fairness and respect” as objectives—or did, until the terminology changed to “compassion, dignity and respect”. When I heard the comments of noble Lords on Amendment 2, I wondered whether this terminology had been intended to refer to the graves and memorials of the long dead rather than to the pressing imperatives of the living. But the word fairness none the less seems to have disappeared.
The visible symptoms of this malaise are these: shifting the burden of proof and justification on to claimants even when it is plain that there must be a reasonable case in principle; challenging every claim line by line; the adoption of the unique HS2 Ltd “take” on matters such as injurious affection and then claiming that this is established practice; delaying payment for as long as possible by these means, or seemingly so; and claimants being driven to the point where they will give up and take whatever is offered to them because they simply cannot go on any longer. We have already mentioned the temporary access provisions which appear to have been used to occupy land first and deal with claimants’ costs at leisure. There is also the demand for professional service suppliers to adhere to these objectives as a priority over their professional rules of conduct, as I explained earlier, as well as overturning their recommendations if it suits. Finally, there is control from the centre to ensure uniformity with no delegation of any decision-making, regardless of the rigidity that results from the process.
Some of these tactics are commonplace and are easy to slant either way. For instance, if you make an internal, unminuted decision to apply a “beyond reasonable doubt” criminal proof standard to compensation claims in what should be a balance of probabilities civil test, that requires no new laws or regulations and can easily be defended as financial control, but which does lasting injustice. Similarly, if you ask for clarification for further and better details, not just once but drip-fed one after the other and each taking a turnaround time of several weeks, that can paraded as diligence. The timeframe can be endlessly spun out and, where payment is involved, delay the pay-out. Another tack when confronted with anything like a complaint is to deny everything to the point of calling black white.
These things are not unique to HS2 Ltd; they are part of the standard pattern of behaviour of large organisations which think that they are beyond the need for customer care or are too big to fail, or have only themselves or a government parent as a regulator, or believe that the noble purpose of their mission is more important than conduct, ethics and fairness, or perhaps all of these.
In our debate on Amendment 5, the Minister took a particular dislike to my reference to the perception of coercion: I did use that word. Perhaps she would prefer “strong-arm tactics” as an alternative, but this does seem to be what is going on here—not yet on an industrial scale, I suspect, but significant enough to matter and important enough for measures to be taken to reduce it, as suggested by Miss Russell. Please understand that this has nothing to do with the adequacy of the compensation claim; it is about the mode, culture and characteristics of implementation.
There are four basic principles that need to apply here. First, there has to be a high degree of accountability in the areas of ethics, fairness, transparency and professionalism, and that has to be embedded in the very culture of the organisation with a comprehensive and effective code of practice. Secondly, there has to be independent oversight and monitoring. Thirdly, there has to be an effective and accessible redress system. Fourthly, there have to be meaningful sanctions for poor practices in appropriate circumstances. The amendment would pave the way for this approach, but I acknowledge that it would require proper resourcing.
In particular among large construction enterprises and administrative organisations, there is a belief in spending much fine gold in defending the process in which they are engaged. Directors get together in order to defend the principle of their existence and what they are involved in. With that comes the question of the exercise of power for its own sake instead of making that process more efficient and transparent. I cannot count the number of times I have pointed out that this is a false philosophy that merely increases friction, although I do not doubt that it gives the impression of being busy, however fruitlessly.
With HS2 Limited I am getting the message that whatever form of corporate social responsibility is at work, it is not one that professionals or citizens universally recognise as a modern or effective duty of care or that it is confined to handling claims. The resultant delays, lack of trust, uncertainty, added disputes, blame shifting and financial loss and so on are capable of being mitigated to good effect were there, as Miss Russell suggests, a claimant strategy document that is worthy of the name, incorporating the four principles I have mentioned. Miss Russell has also told me that in September she inquired of the Department for Transport about such a strategy, having mentioned it in her letter, but she was told that it would be out “soon”, a word I have heard used so often by Government Ministers but which is then followed by no visible action, so that it has nearly lost all meaning and value. However, confirmation that this is somewhere in the pipeline does underline my general point about the need for action.
I invite the Minister simply to confirm that the production of a claimant strategy document is imminent, that it will be independently assessed and not just some internal box-ticking exercise, and that it will be available for us to scrutinise in draft at any rate before the Bill leaves this House. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has withdrawn from speaking to this amendment so I call the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst.
My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. In general, while of course one should uphold the idea of best practice in these circumstances, we are never going to get to a situation where best practice is perfect practice.
I have seen the law on compensation tightened over many years and become more rigorous and more extensive. The present situation is that it is backed up, in the case of the hybrid Bill procedure, with the opportunity for an individual, community or business to bring their grievance to Parliament. The HS2 Bill has been through that process in the Commons and in the Lords.
One should remember that there will always be two parties to any negotiation. Our committee listened with great sympathy to many of the points that were made to us. Our job was to try to push both sides together to reach an agreement. Many an agreement was made, some of them without the petition having to be brought as far as the committee. Some claims seemed slightly far-fetched—that must be honestly admitted—whereas others were deeply emotional and it was difficult to find the absolutely correct way of addressing them.
I have seen various things in my political lifetime relevant to a discussion of this kind. In my first constituency, Middleton and Prestwich, those two towns were suddenly separated by a six-lane highway, the M62. That project finally tipped the Government of the day into recognising that it is not just land-take that should be measured in circumstances of that kind but that there are various other factors, such as noise disturbance, obviously. That led to the Land Compensation Act 1973.
For most of my political life I was the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which it was designated that London’s third airport should be established, at Stansted. The battle over where the third London airport should be put was fought for over 40 years. I was the unlucky person who was finally overridden in the campaign by the Government of the day. But I saw a whole host of types of grievances that arose and there is nothing more potent than aircraft taking off a mile or two away from where you live. One understands that the very concept of a high-speed railway gets people on the defensive, quite rightly.
However, I honestly do not recognise that from my recent experience on the HS2 hybrid committee. I think a great measure of justice has been done, as far it as can be when you are talking about the construction of a railway of this magnitude. I say to the noble Earl that I do not recognise too much of what he has just described to the Committee. What other colleagues who were alongside me on the committee would say I do not know but I think it was our general recognition, as may be judged from the report, that we were able to get accords in many difficult situations. Not all of them—maybe one or two of the claims were extravagant —but by and large petitions kept being withdrawn because an agreement was reached.
I just do not know whether it is possible at this stage to put into legislative form a compensation system which will ever be universally acceptable. There will always be consideration of the other side. If there is going to be wider public complaint about the rising cost of great infrastructure schemes of this kind, there has to be some sort of control on the level of compensation given, which will not, alas, fully satisfy every single person affected by the project. So I honestly do not see the need for an amendment of the kind proposed.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
I then call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Snape.
My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst. As members of the committee, we heard some familiar feelings from many of the petitioners. During my time in Westminster, I have served on committees on four hybrid Bills. Without exception, people affected by works of this kind go through various stages of concern, fear and outrage that their property could be taken, altered or knocked down. It is an inevitable consequence of projects of this size. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, I thought that those who appeared in front of the committee were treated pretty well by HS2 and its representatives. Like him, I saw many of them withdraw those petitions before it was necessary for us to come to a decision.
On all the hybrid Bills that I have served, without exception and across party, Members of both Houses have been aware of the sense of loss that people go through when their property is affected. We buy houses, too; we cherish our own homes and feel terribly strongly when projects such as this affect us.
Dealing with large organisations is never easy; I speak with some feeling here. I spent last night and the best part of about two hours this morning trying to get some sense out of Virgin Media, so I know how people feel and how irritated they become at saying the same thing to different people in the same organisation, but, by and large, it seemed to us on the committee—I think I speak for all of us who were on it—that HS2 did its best.
When Theo Clarke MP appeared before the committee on behalf of her constituents and others affected by this project, the chairman handled the matter in an exemplary way. The committee chairs on all the four hybrid Bills in which I have been involved have been pretty good, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, given his experience, was excellent in the way he handled both petitioners and HS2. Without knocking any heads together, and in his calm way, he got them to come to some sort of compromise. Therefore, like previous speakers, I do not see any need for this amendment. I just say to the Minister that if she can satisfy the noble Earl’s correspondent on every single one of those complaints, she will not be an Under-Secretary for very long.
My Lords, I have heard many noble Lords say that there is not a problem because the Select Committee, if it received complaints, dealt with them. I suspect that, if there was a problem and people got as far as petitioning about it, the committee would have made sure as best it could that it was solved, and that is very good.
However, I have also heard many examples of people not being paid, and some landowners who have found that HS2 was trespassing on their land, and maybe doing damage to it, not being paid for months or even years. That has been a common thing—and I suspect that both examples are equally valid. The real issue here is that, if there is no problem, the amendment does no harm to anybody. If there is a problem, it will encourage HS2 to behave, and pay for what it intends to occupy permanently or temporarily.
I suspect that the issue may have been something to do with the timing: the Select Committee sat for a certain time and the HS2 Bill has been around for several years. In the intervening period, what do people do if they suffer hardship? There is a lot of evidence, which I think that the Committee has heard before, that the budget that HS2 was given for land purchase by the department, and which the department was given by the Treasury, was woefully inadequate—probably about 50% of what was needed. That is probably one of the reasons, apart from having too much work to do, and maybe incompetence—I do not know—for late payments. HS2 and Ministers will have to do all in their powers to make sure that that it does not happen again for the next phase or two. There may be lessons to learn. In the meantime, I cannot see what is wrong with the amendment, which might incentivise HS2 and other businesses to behave in what is normally thought of as a normal business relationship.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue. In a way, this amendment goes alongside the previous one on NDAs. You wonder why the use of NDAs is apparently routine in an organisation on this scale. The problem with routine use of NDAs is that, while no individual one is possibly downright wrong, the whole oversight of the scheme gets suppressed. Therefore, it becomes difficult to see those early symptoms of things not working as they should.
We must also bear in mind that it is very easy for an organisation the size of HS2 to look overbearing, unfeeling and unreasonable. It is therefore very much in everyone’s interests that it operates as a good business with the highest ethical standards. It is, after all, a programme and a business for the future, producing something that will be at least 10 years in the making. Therefore, it needs to have modern, responsible business practices.
I suggest to the Minister that, while I am sure she will not want to accept the amendment, it would be an idea for the business practices of HS2 to be given a good look, with this amendment and issue in mind.
I will be brief. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, this amendment is about the attitude and approach of HS2. I tried to make a note of some of the things that he referred to. I think he referred to a highly impersonal manner and to the level of control to ensure uniformity of approach when not all cases are similar. I think he referred to the shifting of the burden of proof, to the delaying of payments and to the challenging of decisions line by line. I think he also referred to how it seemed that the Treasury put pressure on the DfT, which put pressure on HS2 regarding finances, and to how eventually all that financial pressure being applied was reflected down the line in the approach to claimants.
I will listen with interest to what the Minister says in reply and, in particular, to whether she accepts that there is validity in what is being said. The noble Earl clearly believes that there is, and I imagine that he is far from the only one who thinks that that is the approach of HS2. I know the Minister will take what has been said seriously. However, I hope very much that she will be able to offer some words that will at least indicate that she will look at the issue and seek to address the concerns raised.
My Lords, before I turn to this amendment I need to apologise. There was an error in my speaking note on Monday which I need to rectify. The error was in the statement that I made in relation to Amendment 13, dealing with advance payments of compensation for temporary possession of land. I stated that the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 provides for advance payment of compensation in relation to the temporary possession of land and that the amendment was therefore redundant. While it is correct that Section 24 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 will provide for advance payment of compensation in relation to temporary possession, these provisions will not apply to temporary possession of land under the powers of this Bill. This Bill, like previous hybrid Bills and previous orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992, has a bespoke regime for temporary possession of land which does not provide for advance payments. In my detailed response to the noble Earl, which I have already promised to provide, I will give further details as to the practice of HS2 in respect of the timing of payments of compensation for the temporary possession of land. I will circulate this to all noble Lords who spoke in Committee and place a copy in the Library of the House. I reiterate my sincere apologies that that happened. It will not happen again.
I turn to the amendment. We have heard the underlying concerns which may have led to this amendment and I will set out what the Government are doing about them. Land is needed for the HS2 scheme to build the railway. Some of this land is purchased by agreement but most of the land is acquired through compulsory purchase. This is an unavoidable fact of building most new transport infrastructure and I recognise that, to those affected, it can be devastating. Most individuals affected will accept what the coming of this scheme means for them, come to terms with it and find a way to come to an agreement with HS2 as to when their land will be acquired and what compensation they will receive under the compensation code. For some, they will be happy with the arrangements and agree that their treatment by HS2 has been fair and proper.
However, a few landowners will feel that they have been unfairly treated. They may feel that there is inadequate compensation or that HS2 has not taken due note of their specific individual circumstances. The Government have taken note of those individuals and have been reviewing how they can improve the way in which the project is delivered for all those affected. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked if we would have a good look at the business practices in this area, and we have already committed to do so.
My colleague Andrew Stephenson has instigated a rigorous land and property review to assess the wider concerns that the amendment seeks to ameliorate. The letter provided by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will form part of the evidence for that review, and I am pleased to be able to say that this review will be published very shortly. Of course, Sir Mark Worthington OBE, the Independent Construction Commissioner, deals directly with the complains of individuals affected by the project.
Going back to the amendment itself and its effect, I am not convinced that it addresses the concerns that may have led to it. The HS2 project already has a policy to attempt to reach early access agreements with owners and occupiers and, further, a policy to be a good neighbour and to treat all with respect. These policies already go beyond the requirements in law. Compulsory purchase legislation does not require the nominated undertaker to seek to reach agreement with the owner or occupier to enter land where powers are to be exercised, but the Government have put these additional policies in place. It is the sincere hope of the Government that the land and property review and the role of Sir Mark combined deliver meaningful change on HS2 that puts affected people and businesses at the forefront of what we do.
As I have already intimated, I recognise that not everything has been perfect for every individual affected by this project—perhaps we will never achieve perfection. Building a railway requires the acquisition and possession of private land and, as I have already mentioned, much of the time this is on compulsory purchase terms. As I said before, for some landowners this is not a problem, but for some affected landowners this railway is an unwelcome intrusion into their lives, and we understand that. It is one of the reasons the Government put those additional policies in place in the first place, and there are safeguards where these are not adhered to.
My colleague Andrew Stephenson is there to help us make sure that people are being treated with the respect and dignity that we would wish and that they deserve. These concerns are not just about money or inconvenience; this is about making sure that people are treated properly. I do not agree that the amendment achieves the outcome of respect, dignity and fair treatment, but adherence to the policies that are already in place and the work that my colleague Andrew Stephenson is doing will. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will join me and Minister Stephenson—and any other noble Lords with an interest in land and property—to discuss these matters further, and that, on that basis, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken; those who have been in favour of this amendment and those who think it is unnecessary. This was essentially a probing amendment—a fishing expedition, if you like—to discover the existence of or progress towards a document that I considered important.
I have noted what noble Lords said about the compensation code. I said in my opening remarks that this was not about the fact of the compensation code, and I tried to steer clear of any question of the quantum of compensation, because that is really quite outside my brief and my knowledge. I do know a fair bit about large projects, because when I worked in a public service, I had to deal with something called the A27 Folkestone-Honiton trunk road. I advise noble Lords that it has reached neither Folkestone nor Honiton, and there are large gaps on the way, but, hey-ho, that is what happens with these things. I also know very well about Part 1 of the Land Compensation Act 1973—the compensation for physical factors where no land is taken, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst. The point here is that I had identified that the Department for Transport had something in train. I do understand that no compensation system can cover everything and no set of procedures in a large organisation can deal with every eventuality.
I am not sufficiently familiar with the process of how petitioners come to appear before the Select Committee. I do not know whether that happens after the point at which they have been in negotiation on compensation matters or beforehand in the prospect of something happening. Certainly with regard to phase 1 of HS2, I am not sure how much of the land acquisition and the acquisition of rights has actually taken place; I suspect that it is not a great deal and that a lot of design work is going on that needs to be sorted out before that can happen. The point I am getting at is that the Department for Transport seems to have admitted that it is doing something and I want to draw out the facts on that and find out what is happening, to provide some background to the reason why that was important.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their comments. I note also what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said about whether the validity of these things is appropriate or not. I turn now to the comments made by the Minister. I did wonder about the question of advance payments and I accept entirely her correction. However, I would say simply that there is an issue here. I am glad that the Government are looking at ways of improving the position and that they are committed to the land and property review, but I am not sure that I am encouraged by “very shortly” as a term of art and whether it is materially better than “soon”, “presently” or whatever other terminology is used. I am particularly interested in the point made by the Minister that there is no requirement to conclude an agreement before entry, or at least that is what I understood her to say.
I will say this: if you do not settle and get an advance compensation payment before entry, you will have someone who has had the use of their land removed, with all the disruption that that entails, but who does not have the money for restructuring or anything like that. In some cases, that may be harmless and inconsequential. After all, you do not earn much by depositing money in the bank these days. In other circumstances, however, I can see that it would be absolutely mission critical for the operation that is being compensated, so that needs to be looked at closely.
I welcome the opportunity of a meeting with the noble Baroness and Mr Stephenson. With that, although I may return to this matter later on in the progress of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Clauses 59 to 62 agreed.
Schedule 1: Scheduled works
Amendment 14 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 15. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
15: Schedule 1, page 29, line 25, at end insert—
“(5) The scheduled works may not commence until the Secretary of State has published a report considering the impact of road traffic resulting from the works.(6) The report must include—(a) an assessment of estimated levels of road traffic resulting from the works;(b) an assessment of the conditions of any roads which may experience an increase in traffic as a result of the works;(c) results from a consultation of residents and local authorities likely to be impacted in each Parish in which the works take place.”
This amendment provides that the
“scheduled works may not commence until the Secretary of State has published a report considering the impact of road traffic resulting from the works”,
and goes on to stipulate certain issues that the report must cover, including the
“results from a consultation of residents and local authorities likely to be impacted in each Parish in which the works take place.”
I want to refer to a specific case, which is one reason for my amendment. The Select Committee report contains a reference to a petition from Woore Parish Council, Woore being on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border. The petition focused on the impact on the village of construction traffic, primarily to service the works at the Madeley tunnel site, that would run via the A51 and the A525, which meet at a crossroads in the village itself. This would entail the widening of those roads and other works at certain points. The village shop is right where the lorries will turn and during the day there is likely to be a lorry every five minutes. The Select Committee said that there were important matters affecting the safety of the public and that these needed to be discussed between the parish council, HS2 and Shropshire County Council. It urged all the parties to have those discussions as soon as possible.
I understand that until now engagement by HS2 has been felt locally in Woore to be less than satisfactory. This is far from the first occasion when local communities that are going to be heavily affected by the impact of HS2 construction traffic over a lengthy period have felt that HS2 has been less than understanding and sympathetic to their valid concerns or willing to engage fully with local residents and local authorities to address those concerns and minimise impacts. I am aware of issues of this kind in relation to phase 1, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred on Monday when he said that even his successor as Member of Parliament for Uxbridge, namely the current Prime Minister, had just as much trouble getting answers out of HS2 as he did. What lessons do the Government think have been and are being learned by HS2 from phase 1 on this key issue of effective and meaningful engagement with local communities? Will those lessons learned be properly applied in phase 2a?
HS2 is a company whose basic purpose is to get the new line built. For it, I suspect, engaging with and addressing concerns raised by local communities about the impact of construction works in particular is a secondary issue compared to what must be major engineering issues associated with construction of the line which it has to address. However, to local communities the impact of construction works on them and their daily lives is the issue associated with the construction of HS2, particularly so when the opening of HS2 brings no obvious direct benefit to their community. Whatever the reality may be, HS2 does not always give the impression to local communities directly affected that it recognises this reality.
My amendment seeks to deal with this point. If the Government decline to accept it, I would like to know why they think it is not needed and why they are so confident that the kind of feelings felt in the village of Woore towards HS2 and its perceived lack of engagement and understanding of the impact of construction traffic on the village will be addressed and how.
The impact on Woore of the construction of HS2 is far from the only concern. Three parish councils have raised major concerns relating to HS2’s plans for the Stone railhead/infrastructure maintenance base. The Select Committee called for discussions as soon as possible between HS2, Shropshire Council and Woore Parish Council. The body most directly affected by the impact of the construction of HS2 is the parish council.
There is now a dedicated Minister for HS2 and a cross-government ministerial group. What will their involvement be in ensuring that HS2 engages properly with local communities such as Woore? Will the impacts on local communities and how they are being addressed be dealt with fully in the six-monthly reports to Parliament? Can the Minister assure me that if Woore Parish Council feels that the discussions which the Select Committee has called for are somewhat delayed or are not being entered into in the spirit and with the intent that the Select Committee clearly envisaged, as the body most directly affected by the impact of the construction of HS2 it can take its concerns about the discussions direct to the dedicated Minister for HS2? I hope the Minister will be able to go some considerable way towards addressing the issue to which my amendment relates. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rosser. We had a considerable discussion at the Select Committee about this matter; we felt then, and I certainly feel now, that these are matters for the local highway authority rather than a Committee of the House or the Minister herself. If the representations made by the parish council to Shropshire Council as the highways authority are powerful enough, surely they will be acted on. If they are not acted on, obviously the remedy is in the hands of local people at the next council elections. Beyond listening with some degree of sympathy to the petitioners at the time, we felt that, and I certainly feel now, that these matters are best discussed and debated and agreed at local level, and that this is a matter for the local highway authority. From that point of view, I do not see why the Minister should accept an amendment that would delay construction until these discussions have concluded. Given the Covid epidemic, I presume that that will be the reason why things have not progressed as quickly as we might have hoped. Still, I repeat, these matters are best debated and agreed at local level rather than in Parliament.
My Lords, there is a lot of merit in this amendment. As my noble friend Lord Snape says, it should not be necessary because local authorities should be required to deal with HS2, but clearly, in some cases, this does not happen. There is a similarity between what my noble friend Lord Rosser is trying to achieve with this amendment and what we will probably be discussing under Schedule 23 stand part. That is that, before any work starts, there should be a condition survey of the road and the traffic so that one can see what changes, if any, have been brought about by the construction and then, as necessary, deal with it. It is easy to say that local authorities should deal with it, but there needs to be a fallback that, if that does not work, the Minister’s door is always open so that he can deal with it and, if he thinks it is a reasonable request, he can instruct or advise HS2 to do a little more local engagement and respond to what may be justifiable complaints or concerns from the local authorities or residents.
My Lords, the road traffic issue is one of the thorniest problems associated with this project. When you look at many of the objections or petitions to the Committee, they are actually objections to the building process. That is not surprising: people do not want heavy traffic going past their door when they are not used to it. On the one hand, of course, residents and environmental groups have pressed for more tunnels. There are expensive lengths of tunnels planned. However, with more tunnels and long tunnels, every mile of tunnel adds greatly to the amount of site traffic, with lorries having to remove soil as well, of course, as lorries carrying heavy equipment to the site.
A series of initiatives and techniques is proposed by HS2 to mitigate the impact of the traffic. However, I fear that the use of local roads—and the M6, for example —is bound to impact on travel times and convenience for people way beyond the area close to the line of the project. Schedule 17 ensures that construction routes are submitted to local planning authorities for approval, so I have some questions for the Minister. First, the Committee’s report says in paragraph 69:
“Construction routes used by large goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes would require the approval of the local highway authority, except where they were using motorways or trunk roads and access to compounds with less than 24 two-way trips per day”.
That is 48 HGVs rolling past your window on a daily basis, which may not make much difference if you are on a major A road but would make a huge difference if you were on a quiet back road. Is this exception in relation to compounds, of the 24 two-way trips a day, a standard provision in construction contracts of this sort?
Secondly, given that it is the local planning authority that will make the decision on routes like this, what happens if the local planning authority withholds approval and cannot reach agreement with HS2 on a reasonable alternative route? Who then decides and where does the decision go? I hope that the Minister can provide us with some answers on that.
My Lords, the impact of the works on local communities is of critical importance to the Government, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for tabling his amendment to allow us to have this discussion.
The environmental statement for phase 2a runs to some 17,000 pages and, within it, there is set out in great detail the impact of the proposed scheme on local traffic levels. To manage traffic flow, the phase 2a Bill includes powers for the control of construction traffic, requiring qualifying authorities to approve the local roads to be used by large goods vehicles—and this was noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—where the number of large goods vehicles exceeds 24 trips per day, to or from a site. That is in total, yes, 48 trips, which over a 12-hour period is one every 15 minutes. The noble Baroness asked whether that was a standard provision in contracts. I shall have to write to her on that matter.
In addition, in the Bill there is a statutory duty on the nominated undertaker to have regard to the potential traffic disruption that may be caused and seek to minimise such disruption so far as reasonably practicable. I suspect that local communities will use that to make sure that action is taken, if there are measures that could be taken but which have not been taken.
As the project progresses and construction plans are finalised—and at the moment we should remember that this railway is not being built; there is no construction at all, so plans are still in development—local traffic management plans will be developed alongside these plans with local authorities, agreeing approaches to highways and public rights of way so that the impact on local communities is minimised.
Members of the public were able to petition the Bill Select Committees of both Houses. Further local mitigation measures have been introduced to the scheme to remove or reduce traffic and transport impacts on the basis of recommendations made by those Select Committees. In some cases, that included restricting and reducing construction traffic, maximising the use of rail and haul roads, and undertaking further traffic surveys.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised the village of Woore. I took some time to look at my phone and see on Google Maps where Woore is, and it is at the junction of the A51 and the A525. While I have every sympathy for those who will be impacted, because there will be an increase in traffic and construction traffic, it is not the case that at the moment they do not have any traffic going through their village, which is at the confluence of two A roads. We need to make sure that they get the sort of measures that they are expecting. My understanding is that there has been no failure of engagement with Woore and that traffic-calming measures have been offered. Perhaps there has been a mismanagement of expectation here. As construction plans are developed, traffic management plans can be developed; without them, we can have all the engagement in the world, but that will not actually achieve anything until there are construction plans to put into play.
I am sure that Minister Stephenson, when we meet him next week, will have something to say about his ongoing commitment to community engagement and how he intends to be involved with it, since it is a very important part of his work. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
There are no questions to the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
I first thank the Minister for her reply and all noble Lords who participated in the debate. I just comment that I made it clear when I made my contribution that it was at the junction of the A51 and the A525 in the centre of the village. I also said that what would be entailed was widening of those roads and other works at certain points and that that junction was right at the centre of the village.
I have perhaps made some progress. It was after all the Select Committee that said that there needed to be further discussion as soon as possible—because safety issues were involved—between HS2, Shropshire Council and the parish council. I was not asking the Minister—nor do I think she took it this way—to immediately intervene. I asked that, now we have a dedicated Minister for HS2 and a cross-government ministerial group, what would be their involvement in ensuring that HS2 engages properly.
This is not the first occasion that we have had local communities saying to us that in their view—rightly or wrongly—they do not feel that HS2 engages as well as it should. I also asked whether, if the discussion with the parish council was either delayed or not being entered into in the spirit and intent that the Select Committee envisaged, it could take its concern to the direct dedicated Minister for HS2. I think that, in her closing comments, the Minister referred to the role of the Minister for HS2 in making sure that there was community engagement. I appreciate that that was on a general basis—she was not talking specifically about this case—but I hope that this is one where, if the parish council still believes that the discussion is not being entered into with the right spirit and with the necessary intent, it would not be dismissed by the dedicated Minister for HS2 if it made an approach to him with its concerns. It is then obviously up to the Minister what he would or would not do in the light of that approach.
Having made those comments, I again thank the Minister for her reply and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
I just want to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, because I did not hear him mention the road names and now I feel very silly that I did not. I also want to say that in my role as Roads Minister, for example, if a local community feels that Highways England is not engaging with them, they bang on the door of their local MP, the local MP comes to see me immediately and tells me off, I go to tell off Highways England and something gets done. The HS2 Minister will play precisely the same role that I play in making sure that local communities are dealt with properly by whichever delivery body is working with them. We can obviously discuss this with Minister Stephenson shortly, but if I did not explain that particularly well, that is exactly the role I expect him to play.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Schedules 2 to 22 agreed to.
We now come to the group consisting of the question whether Schedule 23 be the 23rd schedule to the Bill. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
Schedule 23: Party walls etc
Debate on whether Schedule 23 should be agreed.
My Lords, given the Minister’s earlier remarks, I am delighted to provide a vehicle for what I detect she thought might be some excitement, and I see that I have a little more than an hour to do so. With a bit of luck, it will not take that long, but here goes.
Schedule 23 to the Bill makes fundamental changes to the long-established procedures for dealing with party walls, works at the line of legal property boundary and adjacent excavations, all of which are covered by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, which I took through this House. However, the Bill does so for HS2 phase 2a purposes only.
By way of explanation, under the Party Wall etc. Act, a building owner wanting to do certain types of work is required to serve advance notice on the adjoining owner, spelling out the intended work. Following notice and in the absence of express consent, a dispute is statutorily triggered after 14 days, at which point Section 10 of the Act provides for a dispute resolution procedure whereby either the parties agree on the appointment of a single agreed surveyor, or, more commonly, each appoints their own surveyor to negotiate the matters not agreed. These two surveyors will then identity a third surveyor who will be called on as much or as little as needed to act as an adjudicator on any points that they cannot agree. The surveyors produce an award that can be appealed, although I am glad to say that very few are. Further awards can be made subsequently as necessary.
The reasonable costs of the administration of this process are normally met by the person doing the works, who is statutorily liable for any loss or damage to the adjoining owner. This, of course, is the reasonable loss—the loss that flows from the works notified. The Act contains safeguards and default provisions and, given that this has been around in central London since the 1930s and in England and Wales since 1997, most people understand the process. As it is investigative, the surveyors use their skill and expertise in construction, building condition, property title and tenure, as well as in the functioning of the Act and the professional guidance issued by their various bodies, to resolve matters.
Schedule 23 to the Bill would change much of that for HS2 phase 2a purposes. I am indebted to party wall experts Michael Cooper and Andrew Thompson, who first alerted practitioners to the issues with phase 1 of the HS2 Bill series in an article for the Property Journal. If the Minister or any other noble Lord has not seen that article and would like to do so, I will arrange to send it through by email. They concluded that serious adverse consequences would likely ensue from the operation of the schedule. I am also indebted to Shirley Waldron, another eminent party wall specialist, for her comments which were partly based on her long experience dealing with Crossrail. I am grateful also for the comments of barrister Alex Frame.
The Bill removes the need for any notice under Sections 1, 3 or 6 of the party wall Act. It attempts to disapply the Act for HS2 purposes, but in fact it also appears to override some common law elements by permitting works thereby on neighbouring property without notice. One of the definitions of party wall—although it is not the only one—is that the line of legal boundary bisects the wall or structure in question, making it party. The purpose of notice is of course to alert a neighbour to what is about to happen and to provide details. But it also provides the trigger for a counter notice. It seems impossible that there can be a counter notice facility if no trigger notice is possible in its original form. The disapplication of Section 3 of the party wall Act, which is what Schedule 23 would do, effectively disables the notification process for an extensive list of rights set out in Section 2 of the Act, which begs the question of which of those rights remain. Those rights are important because they exceed common law rights.
The Bill refers to
“(right to repair etc party wall)”.
This formula of words is lifted from the marginal notes to the Party Wall etc. Act, but they are not part of the legislation. This might be taken to mean that Parliament intended something different from the Act, especially shorn of the further recitals of the full list of rights under Section 2(2). Seemingly, the neighbour has no say in all this.
Parts of the Party Wall etc. Act where counter notice might be applicable, as I have mentioned before, seem to be rendered inoperable, particularly where one serves a notice to reduce the height of a party wall under Section 2(2)(m). This has an allied provision in Section 11(7), for the service of a counter notice. However, you cannot serve a counter notice unless the originating notice is there, so the drafting appears defective.
Section 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act, which relates to adjacent excavation and construction, is disapplied for any purposes related to phase 2 work. This is perfectly logical for a major underground scheme in an urban area such as phase 1, or, for that matter, Crossrail, but it is much more questionable for this and later phases, for construction and above-ground work. It is not clear what the definition of “Phase 2a purposes” might be in any given instance and it does not appear to be limited to the type of works specified under the Party Wall etc. Act, though doubtless it will be interpreted liberally in HS2 Ltd’s favour. Party wall legislation, after all, is driven by certain clearly specified types of work and not their purpose.
Moreover, it is not clear whether paragraph 5 of Schedule 23, which refers specifically to “(underpinning of adjoining buildings)”, is consistent with the application to
“anything, for Phase 2a purposes”
as opposed to those defined by Section 6(1) and (2) of the Party Wall etc. Act, which are the two tests governing the degree of proximity of works to another person’s building which require notice.
Protective underpinning of neighbouring structures is at Section 6(3) of the Party Wall etc. Act, but it is disapplied in the circumstances of paragraph 6(2)(a) of Schedule 23 and it is not clear what this part of the Bill seeks to achieve. It seems to be the intention to absolve HS2 Ltd from the obligations while retaining the benefits. I am entirely unclear that it achieves this.
Paragraph 6(2) of the schedule proposes the insertion of new subsection (6B) where underpinning to HS2’s structures is involved. This appears to be an additional requirement, but it then goes on to refer to a procedure for a “consent notice”, as opposed to the normal term, “counter notice”, which inter alia may make further demands on a neighbour wanting to do works. This is misleading terminology because the consent notice can in fact be a notice of dissent.
Save for where the private neighbour needs to carry out work of underpinning to HS2 structures, the power to execute the work is reserved wholly to HS2 Ltd, but at the sole expense of the other neighbour wanting to carry out the works. HS2 Ltd can presumably dictate such terms as it likes, regardless of reasonableness, causes, need or cost of the work.
There is a complicated provision under the schedule’s paragraph 6(2)(b) in relation to new subsection (7A)(b) for notice where a dispute is deemed to have arisen. It seems curious to have a notification process regarding a dispute once the matter is already in the dispute mode. The occasion triggering the requirement of such a notice appears unstated.
The overarching adjoining owner right to be reimbursed for any loss or damage under Section 7(2) of the Party Wall etc. Act is apparently unamended, but it would appear to cut across other matters proposed in this schedule.
Section 7(5) of the Party Wall etc. Act, which is to do with the appointment of surveyors, is disapplied by Schedule 23 in so far as it relates to surveyors acting on behalf of the parties, leaving the matter of any subsequent deviations from the work—which is what that section of the Act refers to—to be settled between the parties. There is no brokerage arrangement for this other than by further arbitration.
The major change is that the resolution of disputes provision under Section 10 of the party wall Act is replaced by a provision for arbitration by a single arbitrator. Again, there is no obvious trigger giving rise to a dispute to which arbitration relates, nor any contractual agreement to refer to. The circumstances are undefined. What if HS2 encounters an unresponsive owner? There is no appointment of surveyors by the owners, nor any third surveyor. There is no process of post-appointment negotiation because no surveyors have been mandated to handle the matter in that way.
No duty applies to the process of investigative brokerage of matters in dispute which no arbitrator can perform, being bound as they are by the Arbitration Act procedures. There is no express obligation on the proposer of the works to meet reasonable or any costs flowing from the proposals, bar the general party wall Act Section 7(2) provision, or the arbitrator’s award, and what happens when one differs from the other I just do not know.
The HS2 Bill goes on to make an insertion at new Section 10(5), referring to
“the notice in respect of which the dispute arises”
suggesting that somewhere in this cat’s cradle, a formal notice of dispute procedure is intended after all, but no provisions for it seems to remain, all the other notifications having been stripped out of the Bill.
This is just a selection of the issues which the Bill raises. More broadly, the basic symmetry of process under the party wall Act would be substantially damaged for the purposes of the Bill, along with the established party wall guidance and precedents. A statutory but fluid framework, focused on consensus, would be replaced by a single-stage legalistic and inflexible one where contention is assumed. It will create rather than defuse divisions and antagonism and is very likely to involve substantial additional costs. It significantly overrides adjacent owner rights, long granted by Parliament and the common law, and even, on one interpretation, fundamental rights granted under international conventions. In other words, the proposed process reverses the very workable arrangements that have been in place for many years and seems to up the stakes unnecessarily.
The suggested engineer-led solution is flawed. Engineers are of course splendid people, but boundaries, title, land law and occupational rights, neighbour impact, specification and remediation of minor works, consequential losses, and compensatable interference with homes and the operation of businesses are not generally within their professional scope. That is why party wall matters are customarily dealt with by surveyors with the necessary training, experience and professional indemnity cover for such work. This gives the impression of an attempt to graft statutory party wall procedures on to an Engineering Council standard form of contract dispute resolution—equivalent to a “cut and shut” in the second-hand car market.
Nobody would dispute the need to govern works being done by a neighbour that would undermine or damage essential operational HS2 infrastructure. Neither would it be unreasonable to disapply Section 6 of the party wall Act for subterranean works. After all, this was done with Crossrail, and it avoids serving innumerable notices. However, if that is the intention, then this is a convoluted way under Schedule 23, and almost certainly ineffective in achieving these aims. Can the Minister reassure me that this is not some pretext for using powers in lieu of the party wall Act provisions? If that is the case, I suggest that it is an entirely improper use of the legislative process.
My assumption is that in amending the party wall Act, it was not the intention to disapply it completely. That might have been one approach, but at no time did those drafting this schedule make any contact with me, as chairman of the relevant RICS professional panel, nor apparently did they consult any other specialist party wall practitioner group, such as the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors or the Pyramus & Thisbe Club. These are the reasons I oppose the Question that Schedule 23 stand part, and I hope the Minister will be able to put my mind at rest, although I sense that she may need to write.
A lot of professionals outside are very worried about the effect of this and think that it will create all sort of problems, with litigation to work out what it actually means. The Minister might like to tell the Committee on whose advice the drafting was concluded. In any event, I suggest that she arrange a specific meeting between the Bill team and experts, including at least one of the specialist barristers working in this field, to discuss this special point about the impact on party wall procedures. Subject to knowing exactly what the Bill seeks to achieve, we can then see if something workable can be put in place so that it does not become a litigators’ paradise. Meanwhile, I ask that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who has put his name to this amendment, and I could meet the noble Baroness and her team to discuss how this should be dealt with in line with trying to achieve the timely progression of the Bill.
My Lords, the Committee will be very much indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for that very full, comprehensive and interesting introduction to the party wall legislation as it applies to HS2. I have been involved in party wall disputes, but on a domestic basis. I assure the Committee that, even at a domestic level, people get very upset about it. It is really important that fairness and transparency is identified all the way along: the result may not be everything that all parties want, but there is definitely a feeling that a fair hearing has been had, that those who caused the problem are having to pay for it and those who suffer are given reasonable but not undue benefits.
I read the article in the Property Journal and I recommend it to all noble Lords, because it is a simple introduction to what I think the Committee must believe is quite a complicated subject. My purpose in speaking now is to try to ensure that a reasonable and fair solution is found to this, because we run the risk, I am told, that if it is not sorted out, there could be some class actions around for people who live adjacent to or above bits of HS2. The example I will quote comes from phase 1, but it is not surprising, because many party wall issues will not appear until the construction is getting close to starting. The text in the legislation is the same in both Bills, so I can give an example to explain what the problem is from my point of view.
I was alerted to this legislation by an eminent engineer, Sam Price, who petitioned against the phase 1 Bill about the approach to Euston, and I helped him a bit with other things, as some noble Lords may remember. One example was a house on the west side of the approach as trains come into Euston, a road called Park Village East. There is a very high brick retaining wall which has stood there for many years, but HS2’s current scheme—I appreciate that it is one of two current schemes—was to excavate down from the footing of that wall, about 10 metres down, and create something that, in cross-section, looked a bit like a birdcage, but of course it was very much bigger than that, with lots of concrete walls, diaphragm walls, concrete structures and everything. There is a fear that this high brick wall, which basically supports the road and the Queen Anne houses behind it, probably does not have any foundations, because it has been there so long.
The owner of one of the houses discovered that HS2 was planning to support this wall, before it started the excavation, by drilling horizontal soil anchors underneath the house, from the wall towards the back of the house, over the length of about 10 houses, and they are big houses. These holes, which might have been two levels of holes at about 1 metre centres, were designed to hold the house up and stop it settling. We can have views about whether that would be suitable, but that does not really matter. My friend Sam Price asked where under the party wall Act is the obligation for the residents of those houses to be given notice that HS2 wishes to do this work. The answer is that they have not been given notice. They hear about the work on the gossip, but not much else.
We looked at this a bit more with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who is a real expert, as I am sure the Committee has understood. It seems that the legislation in the HS2 Act has been developed from the Crossrail legislation—of course, much of Crossrail was underground —which itself was developed from the party wall legislation that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, mentioned. From a quick reading of some of the issues that went on with Crossrail, it appears that there was a major problem near Hanover Square with party wall legislation. I suspect that has something to do with the two or three-year delay to Crossrail and Bond Street station because that has not been resolved. I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that that is it. The problem is that this legislation on HS2 removes the obligation of an adjacent developer to serve advance notice on an owner whose property might be affected and removes the need for a joint condition survey undertaken by a professional surveyor. That is the first nub of it.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, commented that when it comes to being the final arbiter engineers are splendid people, but—. I speak as an engineer, and I think he is absolutely right. Engineers are very good at engineering but they are not surveyors and they are not party wall surveyors. That is an error in the Bill, because the final arbiter should be from the RICS, as in the 1996 legislation. I do not know whether the drafters consulted the RICS but I doubt it.
As it stands, this legislation is very unfair on residents. They will have no alternative but to go down the legal route. They should not be trying to stop HS2, and I do not think they will, but they deserve to be treated fairly. I am afraid I compare it to this. If we think about phase 1—just the section between Euston and Old Oak Common, although there are many other tunnel sections near Birmingham in phase 1 and further up the line—under this legislation the only remedy these people have is a class action, if they can afford it, against HS2. That will be a horrible delay. I am not trying to delay it, but I am trying to get fairness. I refer to our debates over the past few years on the postmasters scandal, which ended up as a class action. It was finally decided that the Post Office had acted illegally and £60 million was awarded against the Post Office, but the lawyers took £58 million of it so the poor old postmasters got nothing. We really do not want that.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has described the problems very well. I have met some of the experts he has read and I commend them. They are really looking for a solution to this that will not delay the project but will stop people trying to go to court because they feel badly treated. I think there is a solution, but I echo noble Lords’ requests for an urgent meeting with the Minister and whoever so that we can take this forward.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Berkeley persuaded me to add my name to this amendment. Having listened to the debate so far, I do not owe him any favours. I suppose that we should congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on his comprehensive knowledge of these matters. He mentioned the Crossrail Bill, which I served on. Fortunately, we did not get involved in the realms of the Party Wall etc. Act at the time, which is perhaps surprising. It also enabled my noble friend Lord Berkeley to return to another of the many other bees in his bonnet, which is the early part of HS1 between Old Oak Common and Euston. I do not think that that has taken the Committee any further forward as far as the debate is concerned.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, why was this particular schedule added to the Bill, bearing in mind the rural nature of the line that we are supposedly discussing, phase 2a of HS2? I repeat that no mention was made of any party wall difficulties during the passage of the Bill through the Select Committee. Perhaps the noble Earl can tell us how many properties he thinks will be affected by Schedule 23 if it is included in the Bill. However, it seems to me that we could be discussing the vagaries of the property world for some considerable time without taking forward the Bill that we should be discussing, which covers phase 2a of HS2.
My Lords, I will not take long, but I want to say simply that when a noble Lord raises an issue of this complexity and technical detail, it deserves to be taken very seriously. While I fully realise that the issue is not really appropriate for debate in Grand Committee because it is much too technical and detailed to encompass within the form of our debates, that does not mean that it is not important. Therefore, I ask the Minister to make sure that when she has had her meeting with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, about the issues concerned she will set out in some form the outcome of those discussions in a letter to all noble Lords who are participating in this part of the debate today.
My Lords, I can only agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, because I too would value a letter that gives some explanation. I have always been rather curious about party walls when looking at buildings, and I have often wondered how the issues are sorted out. I am absolutely delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and no doubt his colleagues at the time, created the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. How to overcome all the conflicting desires of the parties concerned seems to be quite a difficult concept. That legislation has lasted for 24 years and, given the number of party walls you see every day as you move around cities, it must work pretty well.
Surely the essence of taking this forward to this particular application should be to maintain the philosophy of the Act by working with what it says and making the minimum number of modifications and certainly not making modifications that would change the philosophy behind the Act and the fairness that has obviously been worked into it for it to have worked so well.
It seems to me, by just a cursory examination of the Explanatory Notes, that we almost have a cultural issue here. Paragraph after paragraph of this schedule removes various requirements; it takes out ensuring that the landowner does not acquire any rights over phase 2a works under the 1996 Act, et cetera. It is almost a bludgeoning approach to the particular problems of the railway. That goes back to many of the comments made in the debates on this Bill and the almost cultural idea that HS2 seems to need powers that are bullying in nature and very one-sided. I will be interested to hear what the Minister says in response, but I would have thought that this really needs some modification, because it is, in its present form, going to end up involved in massive litigation. That would be bad news for the project, and almost certainly bad news for the private citizens involved. In my business experience, my number one objective has been to try never to go to litigation and to solve problems by agreement. The mechanisms in the 1996 Act that worked towards seeking agreement are removed by this schedule, and I cannot believe that is a good way of going forward. It could well cause delays, expense and unhappiness. I hope that the Government will look at it again.
My Lords, I knew there was a reason why I was looking forward to this one. I would be very grateful if the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, could send me the article about party walls; I am sure that all noble Lords would very much appreciate reading it.
On the Motion to remove Schedule 23, rather than address each of the noble Earl’s points in detail, as I do not feel properly qualified to do that, I shall put forward the Government’s reasons why the schedule should stand part of the Bill. We agree with him that the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 works in most circumstances. However, for major railway projects authorised by Parliament, it is appropriate to modify its provisions to streamline its processes, but also retain its protections for neighbouring owners. This was the approach taken by Parliament for the phase 1 Act and the Crossrail Act 2008, and it is the approach being taken here.
The modifications to the party walls Act in Schedule 23 have developed from those included in the Crossrail Act. The experience from the construction of Crossrail was that compliance with the party walls Act process, even as modified, raised risks to the project programme. It is therefore appropriate to alter the process for the HS2 project, as agreed to for phase 1, to avoid construction delays and associated cost implications.
The provisions in Schedule 23 are identical to those already agreed in the phase 1 Act, so this Bill ensures consistency across the HS2 project. Before I outline the proposed modifications in Schedule 23, I wish to make something clear. The regime I will outline does not apply where the underpinning works to adjoining buildings are due to HS2 excavations. Given the more intrusive nature of such works, a different regime is required. This regime is set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill and provides for the giving of notice; the right for adjoining owners to serve counter notices; for disputes to be referred to arbitration; and for payment of compensation. Similar provisions as regards the underpinning of buildings were made in the phase 1 and Crossrail Acts. I hope that goes some way to reassuring noble Lords that the protections for adjoining owners, where major excavation works are needed, are comprehensive.
I shall now continue briefly to summarise the effect of the proposed modifications in Schedule 23, and their purposes. First, the nominated undertaker, HS2 Ltd, would not have to serve notices under the party walls Act to carry out works to which the Act relates. Therefore, the adjoining owner does not have the opportunity to serve a counter notice. This simplifies the process and time taken for agreeing the works. However, the works would still have to be carried out in accordance with the plans and sections agreed with the adjoining owner, as is the process under the current party walls Act. If they are not agreed, the matter would be referred to a single arbitrator for determination, which I will refer to later.
Secondly, a neighbouring owner carrying out works under the party walls Act would not have an automatic right to place footings or foundations on HS2 land or to carry out works required to safeguard HS2 buildings and structures. The nominated undertaker could elect to carry out any such agreed safeguarding works instead of the neighbouring owner at the neighbouring owner’s expense. These modifications are necessary to protect the railway.
Thirdly, any disputes would be determined by a single arbitrator appointed in default of agreement by the president, at the time, of the Institution of Civil Engineers. This would replace the more cumbersome disputes determination process provided by the party walls Act. The purpose of this modification is to provide a speedier and simpler process for dispute resolution. It would ensure that, in a case involving complex railway works, the dispute was determined by a civil engineer with relevant skills, while leaving flexibility for a surveyor to be appointed where that was appropriate. In other respects, the provisions relating to the dispute process, including costs and appeals to the county court, would be the same as under the party walls Act.
The modifications would still provide safeguards for the adjoining owner including the right to compensation and for expenses to be paid in accordance with the party walls Act; the requirement to be given at least 14 days’ notice of the nominated undertaker’s entry on to land to carry out works, except in the case of emergency; that works are to be executed in accordance with such plans, sections and particulars as may be agreed between the nominated undertaker and the neighbouring owner or, in the event of a dispute, are settled by arbitration; and for disputes to be determined by a single arbitrator under the dispute resolution provided by Schedule 23.
These safeguards protect adjoining owners appropriately. To be clear, under the provisions of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, which still apply, any works required to a party wall would be undertaken at the project’s expense, and compensation would be payable for any damage to the adjoining owner’s property caused by the works to the wall. These safeguards also go alongside the other protections for adjoining owners inside and outside of the Bill. The environmental minimum requirements, through the code of construction practice, provide for the necessary protections to manage and control any potential impacts on people, businesses and the natural and historic environment that may arise from the construction of the works authorised by the Bill.
Finally, we come to the point raised with great insight by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. Are there any party walls on the phase 2a route? The route is rural in nature. It is therefore not expected that many, if any, disputes requiring arbitration under the modified procedure will occur due to the works authorised by this Bill. Where necessary, the modified process would provide a safe and speedy resolution for both the project and the adjoining owner, if indeed there are any party walls on the route.
I shall write in response to the issues raised by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I would be grateful if the noble Earl could give some consideration to, and perhaps clarify, exactly what he would wish to change and why. It is very difficult to deal with a long list of, “I don’t like this, I don’t like that”, rather than understanding, given where we are in the process, what would make the difference to this Bill if it were to be changed.
Following all that, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his objection to the schedule being agreed.
There are no questions to the Minister, so perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, might want to comment briefly on what has been said.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Perhaps I may deal with a few points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. My understanding, having spoken to Shirley Waldron—who I mentioned earlier, and who was closely involved in Crossrail matters—is that Crossrail disapplied only Section 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996; it did not disapply Sections 1 or 3, as the Bill seeks to do. She also told me in a phone conversation that the party wall matters had been completed so long ago that they could not possibly have been responsible for the current delays that have recently come to light. However, that might be only her view. I can confirm on good authority, because I checked today, that no one consulted the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors regarding the drafting of this Bill or, for that matter, the phase 1 Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, raised an interesting point about how many properties might be affected. It is difficult to know because the party wall Act provisions apply not only to party walls but to adjacent excavation and construction near to adjoining owners’ properties. Even with phase 1, in many instances the detailed design has not yet got to the point where an accurate quantification of all those affected in a densely urban area can be calculated. So I have to say that I just do not know. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked the Minister to report to the Committee. I am sure that there will be more to come out of this, and that point is noted.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, gave due praise to the operation of the party wall Act—of which I was not the architect; I was simply what is known in the trade as the parliamentary midwife of a private Bill. However, the provisions have been in existence in the metropolitan area of central London since the 1930s, and the principles of party walls have been with us since the year after the Great Fire. So in enacting legislation in 1996 that was going to apply to the whole of England and Wales, one was drawing on a cadre of very experienced specialists in central London. That experience has been rolled out across the country. It is a philosophical issue and a situation where all the provisions of the party wall Act hang together as a whole. The notification, the counternotification and all that follows, up to the conclusion of the dispute resolution procedure—the way in which it is appealed and the safeguards—are of a piece. They all interrelate. It is quite difficult to unpick bits of the Act without doing some serious mischief to the rest, and I think that that is what this Bill threatens to do.
Turning to the Minister’s comments, I shall certainly send the article out and copy in all noble Lords who spoke in this part of the debate. She referred to the fact that major railway projects authorised by Parliament needed the modification of the Act. I admitted in my initial comments that, certainly in connection with Section 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act, that was done in connection with Crossrail. I do not believe that it went any further than that, and I also believe the fact that the notification provisions in Sections 1 and 2 were still extant and available to Crossrail enabled it to deal with a number of matters that otherwise would have been much more difficult to conclude.
I note what the Minister said about the provisions in other parts of the Bill. Like her, I will have to go away and consider carefully what she actually said, but I think the operation of the Party Wall etc. Act has been misunderstood to some extent, and wide disapplication of Section 3 unravels things that disapplication of Section 6 alone would not. On the question of what would be changed and why, I think the substitution of a heavyweight arbitration process in lieu of what has actually been a very slick and relatively low-cost operation, understood by a large number of people, in terms of the operation of Section 10, is something you dump at your peril.
I think the reason we have not had much blowback, if I can call it that, from phase 1 is because we have not got to that level of detail of design to even get to the point where, if the Party Wall etc. Act had applied, a notice would have been served, because there is still a lot of design work being done. I welcome the opportunity to talk further with the Minister and the Bill team about this. I will endeavour to provide the answers that she seeks, but for the time being I withdraw my objection to the schedule being agreed.
Schedule 23 agreed.
Schedules 24 to 32 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.
That concludes the Committee’s proceedings on the Bill. I remind Members to sanitise their desk and chair before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 7.02 pm.