Report (1st Day)
Leave out “now received” and insert “not received until a Select Committee has been appointed to consider Works Nos 62, 67, 67A, 67B, 67C, 67D, 69, 69A, 70, 70A, 93, 101B, 101C, 101D, 101E, 101F, 101G and 101H and Footpath Stone Rural 33 and related works as listed in Schedule 1 and the House has debated its report and a Government response; that no member who has spoken in proceedings on the bill be appointed to the Committee; that the Committee be given power to receive oral evidence and to appoint specialist advisers; and that the Committee report within three months of appointment.”
My Lords, in moving this amendment at an unusual stage in the proceedings, my purpose is to debate how small changes are made to the Bill, not the route, either by the Government or by petitioners and the use of Transport and Works Act orders. I am grateful to the Minister for the meeting that she arranged with her and the Minister for High Speed 2, Andrew Stephenson MP. We had some useful discussion. The extraordinary thing is that it is not possible, under the current rules of this place, to debate a Select Committee report. In discussions with the helpful clerks, the next best solution that they came up with was that I move an amendment. I will explain what it does in a minute. I am afraid that it would cause delay, but I believe it offers some alternatives. We will see where that goes.
My purpose is to reopen petitions on phase 2a that asked for Transport and Works Act orders as a solution to the small changes that they were proposing. Both Select Committees, because of the custom and practice here, agreed that this should not be allowed. I will explain that in more detail.
Current practice allows for additional provisions or small changes to a Bill. They are approved in revised form in both Houses but, if the additional provision—I shall call them an AP—is proposed in the second House, it means going back to the first House for approval. This adds delay, so it has become custom and practice that an AP cannot to be accepted in the second House. The committee made that clear and I do not criticise it for so doing but, when petitioners propose changes that they believe will be beneficial, cheaper and reduce the impact on a local area—including one to change a viaduct into a tunnel at Wendover, Stone and Woore, in phase 1—their feeling is that attempt to get a fair hearing in the second House, which is usually the House of Lords, was not fair. They were not able to cross-examine the promoters and staff and came away rather unhappy.
My amendment, which is the only solution open to me to get the debate on TWAOs going, is to set up a committee of the House to look at areas of the Bill where petitioners had suggested the TWAO option, which is allowed under paragraph 8.118 of the Companion. The difference would be that the committee would hear evidence with an open mind and would be unfettered from not being able to recommend alternatives that would require an AP or TWAO. The committee’s remit would be confined to those issues where TWAOs were suggested by petitioners and not the whole scheme. It would hear evidence and would I hope be supported by an independent adviser who could advise the petitioners.
The key to the new committee, and we should reflect on this, is that it would recommend changes, but not how they would be implemented. That would be up to the Government, who could decide on a TWAO, or an AP with the additional time it takes, or they could refuse to do it at all. They can do that anyway.
The petitioners who I talked to expected a greater hearing. We discussed this in Committee. The committee clearly felt that it was acting within the constraint of solutions that would not require additional provisions or Transport and Works Act orders, so the petitioners thought that the process was unfair. This is not good for this project, future projects or communities that feel unfairly treated.
There is a solution: to use the TWAO that is provided for in Clause 49 of the Bill. In Committee, the Minister gave a very useful description of what the process entails, so I do not have to repeat it now. However, what worries me is that there does not seem to be any consistency in the use of a TWAO. The Government seem happy to decide when a TWAO should be used and when it should not. I am not in any way taking sides as to the rights and wrongs of each case, because that is how the process must work, but it is necessary to have a process that is fair and seen to be fair and consistent.
Perhaps I may give one or two examples, again without repeating what we discussed in Committee. In phase 2a, there is what has become known as the Stone railhead issue. As noble Lords have said, there has been a lot of discussion about that, and about issues such as the provision of evidence by HS2, the stability of an 11-metre high earth structure and things like that. I think the Select Committee’s conclusion in its special report was that:
“If it subsequently proves unfeasible to locate the IMB-R at Stone as the petitioners contend, it will be for HS2 to resolve the issue within the powers of the Bill.”
As the committee refused the option of a TWAO here, if the Government are to do this later, they will presumably have to do a TWAO at that stage. That will cause a great deal more delay. So why was it not allowed during the Select Committee hearing?
The other case is Woore Parish Council, which felt that it needed a TWAO to help with the flow of lorries to the construction sites and proposed the option of using the Keele services on the M6. We will be discussing transport, heavy lorries and other issues in later groups of amendment, but for the local residents the council’s suggestions seemed much better than HS2’s proposals.
I have discussed before the issue of a tunnel at Wendover, but more recently I have received a copy of a letter from Rob Butler MP, the MP for Aylesbury, who has written to the Minister at some length on it. He commented:
“While HS2 Ltd disputes the Wendover proposal’s figures, the company has consistently refused to provide the evidence to back up its stance – be it technical data on the method of construction, or accurate costings”.
He asks in his letter whether the tunnel alternative actually required a TWAO, but the extraordinary thing is that he then quotes a letter from the Minister, who said:
“Our legal advice is that any scheme that conflicts with the specific description of the work in question … is not permissible”,
and you cannot turn a railway into a viaduct or tunnel, or vice versa. But Rob Butler goes on to say that the Government are changing exactly that by extending a tunnel at a place called Bromford, beyond the length explicitly referred to in Schedule 1 to the Act. The extension conflicts with the description of the works in question, and the Government are proposing it with a TWAO. In the end, Rob Butler MP said:
“If I may put it bluntly, either Schedule 1 of the HS2 (London to West Midlands) Act 2017 is immutable or it is not. Given the Department for Transport has given leave at Bromford to deviate from the consented scheme, it appears a mechanism exists for such changes to be enacted without amending the Phase One Act”.
“If a tunnel can be granted at Bromford, with the use of a TWAO, why cannot this take place … in Wendover”?
There are other small changes to the HS1 Act that could happen in the Bill, which I do not need to go into. I will write to the Minister about whether those need changes.
It seems to me that the Government are not only seeking to prevent petitioners from proposing TWAOs but withholding information that should be available to them to support their cases. They are resisting TWAOs when proposed by others, such as at Wendover, Woore and Stone, while proposing TWAOs themselves, such as at Bromford. They may well also be making changes to the Bill without seeking any parliamentary approval at all outside the limits of deviation.
It cannot be fair for the Government to be allowed to make the changes that they want by way of a TWAO but resisting by all means the ability of others to propose alternatives which might require a TWAO and the proper consultation and processes that go with it. For future projects, I hope the Government and Parliament will agree that TWAOs should be considered as available for petitioners to deliver alternatives. Clearly, the scope should not be so large as to affect the principle of the project approved at Second Reading.
Although I do not want to divide the House on this amendment to the Motion, there are matters of principle here. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister and colleagues have to say. One solution which would be very much welcome locally, up the route, would be for the Minister to agree that those who asked for a TWAO should be given one. It does not cost very much and would not delay the Bill. I think it would also give an enormous fillip to the Government’s reputation, which is not very good at the moment. But if she declines to do that, then I shall probably feel it necessary to seek the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, the first thing to be said on this amendment is for us all to record our thanks to the Select Committee for the sterling and exhaustive work that it did over many months in considering this Bill on behalf of the House. To the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his colleagues, many of whom are present in the House this afternoon, we extend our thanks. When we considered my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s proposal in Grand Committee, the noble and learned Lord gave what I thought was a magisterial and comprehensive response to it, which leaves me surprised, to say the least, that my noble friend has brought it back to the House today.
The arrangements that the noble and learned Lord set out for the consideration of hybrid Bills are well established, with additional provisions being set forward in the first House but not in the second House. That gives ample opportunity for petitioners to petition but does not unduly extend the process by which Parliament considers these matters. It is a long-established convention that the additional provisions are in the first House and not introduced in the second House. The noble and learned Lord gave a very compelling response as to why TWAOs, in the instances which my noble friend has set out, are not appropriate because they cut across the customary consideration of the Bill, which is radically different from TWAOs that are additional to Bills and promoted in respect of changes after Bills have been enacted. The proper way to consider changes to a hybrid Bill is to amend the hybrid Bill and, where necessary, in the first House, insert the additional provisions, not—because a petitioner was unable to persuade the committee in the first instance, or did not bring in a timely manner proposals to the committee in the first instance—to seek to reopen the issue in a completely new way by means of a TWAO.
It might have been better if my noble friend had been clear that he is seeking to delay consideration of the Bill and to delay the project. He openly opposes the project, as we all know—he has opposed it at every stage. That is perfectly legitimate and honourable. I happen to think that high-speed rail is the face of the future for linking our great cities; if my noble friend wants to be stuck in the Victorian age, that is fine, but he should be open about it. After the exhaustive provision which your Lordships and the other House have made on this Bill, in accord with our customary procedures and in a committee chaired by a former head of the Supreme Court, it is now a bit late to reopen these issues, with the transparent motive of delaying the Bill.
I hope that we can move on rapidly to the substantive issues before us. The most substantive, which I cannot wait to get stuck into, is sticking to the plan for HS2 to link our major cities, and not going along with proposals by the Government to scale it back and deliver half of HS2. That would be an absolute tragedy for the nation.
My Lords, at the end of the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who it is always a pleasure to follow, implied, and has somewhat repeated today, that those who want to improve the Bill in any way are trying to stop it entirely. Although I am not a fan of the current HS2 project, I am in favour of high-speed rail. The problem was around the routing. However, I accept that the first phase, which affected me most, is going ahead.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, put his finger on two things, the first of which was the Hybrid Bill procedure. That is not for the Chamber today, but is something for us all to think about. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said that it is not customary procedure. That points out that there is a procedure which is not customary, and perhaps that should be looked at again.
Secondly, the most important thing that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, was that there will always be a few people who will be upset by the result, as with a Planning Committee. If your planning application goes ahead, those who opposed it think there is some skulduggery afoot, and vice versa. The noble Lord mentioned the Wendover situation, which is in phase 1 and is effectively done and dusted. I do not want the same problems again following phases of HS2. It is paramount that the Government take as many of the public along with them as possible, not only those whose lives are affected, sometimes dramatically, but the rest of the country, who might see this as quite an expensive project. To persuade the people who have put the Government in place that this is a good project, some of these TWAOs should be heard.
I understand that this is not the customary procedure, and that it is late now. I do not particularly want this Bill delayed any further—we might as well get on with it. However, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has raised a very interesting and useful point of debate. If there are going to be such projects, we should think about how to maximise support for them with the public.
My Lords, I refer to my railway interests on the register, and apologise that I was not able to take part in Committee. However, I have read Hansard, and it is clear to me and, I suspect, any objective reader that my noble friend Lord Berkeley was unable to persuade the other Members that further reviews of HS2, such as the one that he is suggesting in his amendment this afternoon, are needed. It was put during Committee that he was attempting to kill the project through endless reviews. My noble friend Lord Adonis went as far as to accuse him of being disingenuous. I am not sure whether that is a parliamentary term or whether it would be regarded as acerbity of speech, but it seems extraordinary that having served on the Oakervee review—as deputy chairman, no less—alongside the most distinguished group of independents drawn from academia, industry, the City, the national railway, Transport for London and local government, including the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, my noble friend, having failed to convince them, should now be saying that we should halt the progress of this Bill while yet another Select Committee is appointed.
I would be grateful if, when he replies, my noble friend could explain one aspect of his amendment which he did not mention: his attempt to tie the hands of the Committee of Selection and limit the membership of the proposed new committee. I do not remember seeing that before in your Lordships’ House. It would be a very undesirable precedent. It is a rather different tone to the one that my noble friend adopted when the House approved the composition of the Hybrid Bill Select Committee on 5 March. He said then
“I offer a few words of congratulation to the noble Lords appointed to this committee. With previous Select Committees, the House of Lords has really done very well in listening to petitions and coming up with recommendations… my plea to noble Lords on the committee, apart from wishing them well, is to listen to petitioners, give them time and listen to the evidence—I know that they will—rather more than sometimes happens in the Select Committees of the other place, where everybody is in a hurry.”—[Official Report, 05/3/20; cols. 725-26.]
While I am quoting my noble friend, let me share with the House his words at the Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, which contradicts something that my noble friend Lord Adonis said a moment ago:
“Many speakers have spoken to support the line. I support HS2 and I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.”—[Official Report, 14/4/16; col. 405.]
What many of us find hard to understand is what or who has got to him to make him change his mind.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, because it is important to hear from local groups, from those with a lot of expertise, from people with specialist skills and from those who really care about their immediate environment. It is valuable.
An earlier speaker said that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was back in the Victorian age. I have known the noble Lord for a long time, and I was told long before I met him that he was a real fanatic, if I may say that, who loves railways, as I do. I do not have a car; I go everywhere by train, and my partner works on the railways. There is no doubt that I like railways and trains. I want to make that clear, in case any aspersions are cast against me by later speakers. The Victorian age was the most incredible time for building railways, so that was a very inapt historical comment—a bit shaky on the history.
I am sorry for people who cannot keep up with the change in society that is happening so fast. Have we really learned nothing from the pandemic over the past year, when people have taken to remote working and have loved staying at home and seeing more of their kids, having more time and working and shopping locally? From that point of view, it has been a real success. From my point of view as a big opponent of HS2, HS2 has caused, and will cause, untold damage to our natural environment. It is being built for a market that will not exist in a future that will not happen, and I really wish that people could keep up with what is going on.
Returning to the Motion, members of the public, local groups and parish councils have tried to engage with the process of a hybrid Bill but, because of all the weird ways that we have, they have been unable to properly take part in the proceedings. That is unfair, and it also means a loss of expertise and wisdom. The Government recognise that HS2 will be expensive and that it will have huge impacts on the areas that it passes through, so it is only fair that your Lordships’ House should hear from the people affected. This is not an afternoon debate in the House of Lords; people’s whole lives will be affected. Those people should be able to cross-examine HS2’s experts.
It is worth getting the Bill right. I do not want it to go ahead but, if it is to do so, it has to be right. I would much rather that we scrapped it altogether but, if we cannot, let us at least make it better as much as possible, rather than the Government just burying their head in the sand and not listening to local people.
My Lords, I must admire the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his persistence and consistency. As has already been noted, he is fundamentally opposed to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, already referred to the masterly summing up of the procedural situation by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who chaired the committee on which I had the honour to sit. It was not just a matter of precedent, although, as a matter of precedence, it is for the House to examine as a separate entity, and not just as an issue buried inside one Bill, whether the current procedure is adjudged by noble Lords to be ideal and whether dealing with it as a matter buried inside one Bill is a proper way of addressing people’s concerns about the procedure, in so far as those concerns exist.
There was plenty of opportunity in the other place for the matters that are now being raised to be considered, and it was therefore not appropriate, under our existing procedure, for the second House to address those things. There is also a practical problem. If one introduces a further step, whether by additional provision or by a TWAO, fresh uncertainty is brought into the case. Landowners might well be affected by any change undertaken in that way, so, in fairness to them, you would have to go back and rehearse the arguments all over again.
I have dealt with only this one case of the HS2 Bill; nevertheless, I think that the procedure is perfectly sound, giving every opportunity for cases to be heard. My goodness, we should be proud as a Parliament that it is possible for people to bring their grievance or petition and have it heard in both Houses of Parliament. Through that process, there is plenty of opportunity for any glaring injustices to be dealt with.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to the depot or railhead at Stone and the village of Woore. I am subject to correction on this, but I am not aware that, through our proceedings in the Select Committee, those who represented the interests regarding Stone made the suggestion that they should have the opportunity, by means of a TWAO, for further discussion of the route; nor do I recall any such suggestion from those who represented Woore. The committee visited Woore and saw the situation for itself. Therefore, quite honestly I cannot see that this amendment does anything other than contribute to the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to delay and possibly wreck what is, in my view, an important piece of legislation.
My Lords, I have tried to consider this amendment not as a debate over whether the route should go ahead, but on its merits. I found it difficult to understand, but it seemed that the essential objective was to allow petitioners to make further submissions—a second bite at the cherry, as it were.
Reading the committee’s report, I am content that the petitioners have been adequately dealt with. The point of contention is that applications relating to additional provisions should not be admitted. The case for not admitting additional provisions is set out in Appendix 2 of the Select Committee report, which gives details of the precedent set by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker, when he was chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. I will quote from the appendix, which contains a statement made by the chair of the Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill. Paragraph 7 says:
“Those adversely affected by an additional provision ordered in the House of Lords as the second house would be denied that opportunity in the Commons as the first house unless the bill were to be returned to a Select Committee of the House of Commons with all the delays and additional expense that this would give rise to. As a matter of practical reality, almost every additional provision which solves or mitigates difficulties for one group of residents along the line raises new difficulties for another group. That is why petitions against additional provisions are permitted and why parliamentary practice regards it as unfair for additional provisions to be introduced in the House of Lords as the second house.”
The statement goes on to say that the committee considered the applicability of a Transport and Works Act order and came to the conclusion that it was highly related to the concept of additional provisions and that it should not be admitted.
We support the current parliamentary practice and, if my noble friend Lord Berkeley were to seek to divide the House, he would not receive support from our Benches. I would have hoped that what might come out of this would be some reflection by the Government and the House to make the procedures and customs of the House on hybrid Bills clearer. Nevertheless, we think that they are clear enough to reject this amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate—an hors d’oeuvre to the main course yet to come. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and other noble Lords are aware, the Bill has already been carefully scrutinised by a Select Committee of this House. That committee was convened under the rules for private and hybrid Bills and was chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, to whom we are very grateful and who unfortunately cannot be with us today.
In its report, the Select Committee discussed whether such a committee can make an amendment to the Bill that extends the powers of the promoter—in this case, HS2 Ltd—such as powers to compulsorily acquire land. Such an amendment to a private Bill is known as an additional provision. The Select Committee report states:
“As a matter of practical reality, almost every additional provision which solves or mitigates difficulties for one group of residents along the line raises new difficulties for another group.”
The Select Committee therefore concluded that amendments that extend powers would not be appropriate.
Those adversely affected by an additional provision in the first House have the opportunity to petition against it in that House and in the second House. As both HS2 Select Committees in this House—for this Bill and for phase 1—have noted, it would not be fair to allow amendments in the second House, unless those affected by it could also petition in both Houses. The consequence of this, however, would be that hybrid Bills would be for ever doomed to travel from a Select Committee in one House to another Select Committee in the other and back again in never-ending ping-pong.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, acknowledged all that in Grand Committee, yet here we have an amendment to send the Bill off to another but different type of Select Committee. This proposed Select Committee would have no powers at all to amend the Bill and the process would cause many months of delay to the Bill and create even more uncertainty for residents and businesses along the proposed route. At some point this must stop, a line must be drawn and a decision taken about the construction of this railway. I urge him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I did not get wholehearted support; I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her support. I do not think this has been in vain because some noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, in particular, have recognised that perhaps the system needs to be looked at, but not in the environment I started this afternoon. I apologise for that. I wanted to have a debate on Transport and Works Act orders, which we have not had, but we can follow that up some other way.
Several noble Lords have told me that I oppose the HS2 project and that this is only a delaying tactic; I want to put that on record. It would not be a delaying tactic if we had been allowed to talk about Transport and Works Act orders, which we are not under the current procedures. I have said many times that I am in favour of new railways, pretty obviously. My problem with HS2 is that it has turned out over the years to be overspecified and the costs have got completely out of control. The money could be much better spent on the regional railways in the north and the Midlands.
Also for the record, I am not criticising the Select Committee. I have said before that it has done a great job. I am not criticising its selection or its chair. My advice from the clerks certainly is that the second House on the occasion of a hybrid Bill is not a revising Chamber; it is a second Select Committee equal to the first one in its ability. If, by any conceivable chance, a hybrid Bill on a railway started in your Lordships’ House, the House of Commons would become the second House. That could be an interesting discussion and probably would not go down very well.
However, my main concern has been and still is that the Transport and Works Act order process is included in Clause 49 of this Bill but the extent to which it may be used appears to be in the Government’s hands rather than those of the committee, in spite of what has been said. I hope we can continue this discussion in your Lordships’ House on an occasion less time-constrained than this Bill and try and get it right for the next one. I hope there is another one coming. My noble friend Lord Adonis thinks it is going to come within the next six months. We will see whether that is the case. Whether it is or not, I think we need to resolve this and the many things we have discussed.
I did threaten to divide the House but, in deference to the amount of work we have to discuss this afternoon, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
Clause 1: Power to construct and maintain works for Phase 2a of High Speed 2
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) Within six months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament the Government’s plans for a Bill providing for the construction of a high-speed railway from the West Midlands directly to Sheffield and Leeds.”
My Lords, I had hoped that it would not be necessary for me to detain the House this afternoon because the noble Baroness, whom we hold in very high regard, would accept this amendment. However, I do not think that she is going to accept it so, alas, I will have to detain the House for a few minutes in putting forward the case for it. It is fundamental to the whole of the high-speed rail project that it should serve not just the West Midlands and the north-west but the East Midlands and Yorkshire. If it is a project just for one half of the country, it will by definition leave the other half behind.
If we just build a high-speed line up to Manchester and do not build a new railway up to Sheffield and Leeds and connecting on to the east coast main line, then—coming back to the Victorians—this would be the equivalent of the Victorians building a railway up to Manchester but leaving the canals to serve Sheffield and Leeds. It is fundamental to the project that it serves both halves of the country, and the great danger at the moment is that the Government are on track to cancelling or severely delaying the eastern part of the project. The Minister is not able to accept this amendment, which simply requires the Government to come forward with legislation for the eastern leg at the same time as that for the western leg. It was always integral to HS2 that phase 2b—the extension of the line north from Birmingham to Manchester—should take place at the same time as the extension of the line north-east from Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds.
All that this proposal seeks—there is strong cross-party support for it—is to hold the Government to the original conception of HS2, which they have said they accept and have not actually said they reject. However, they will not take the steps required to deliver it. Those of us who know how government works know that when the Government do not rule out an option but refuse to take the practical steps required to deliver it, we should smell a rat and act accordingly. That is the purpose of this amendment.
The noble Baroness may drag the rug from under my feet and tell me that the Government are definitely committed to introducing legislation for the eastern leg of HS2 to Sheffield and Leeds at the same time as the Manchester legislation. If she says that, I will gladly withdraw my amendment. If she says that she is prepared to consider doing that between now and Third Reading I will go the last mile to reach consensus with her and withdraw this amendment. However, if she cannot give that commitment, then the House would be reasonable in concluding that the reason she will not is because the Government are contemplating cancelling the eastern leg of HS2 outright. This will undermine the integrity of the project. It will not be levelling up. By definition, it will level down for the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east and we should carry this amendment today.
I am very glad to have the support of some of the speakers who will follow me. I would like to call the noble Lord, Lord Curry, my noble friend because he and I spent many months together on the economic inquiry into the future of the north-east, some five years ago. He is a very powerful champion of the north-east and completely understands the vital importance of the eastern leg of HS2, not just to the cities that it directly serves—Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds—but to the east coast main line going further north-east.
My noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, are very powerful champions for the city of Sheffield. I am told that I have managed a near-miraculous feat in uniting them this afternoon, which I am delighted to see. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, to the House, particularly as he has now joined the club of former Transport Secretaries, which is the most distinguished club in the House. He was an immensely distinguished Transport Secretary and carried the HS2 project forward for more than three years. It is in no small part due to him personally that we are debating the Bill this afternoon.
This is not a party matter at all; the rhetoric of the Government is about levelling up and bringing the benefits of high-speed rail. We will hear all these phrases from the Minister in a moment. She is already nodding—she has them in the brief in front of her. The benefits of high-speed rail should be extended to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east. You cannot have the benefits of high-speed rail extended to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east unless they actually have high-speed rail. She will also have in her brief that rail should be integrated; they have this thing called the integrated rail plan, which we will hear lots about. Well, you cannot integrate nothing with something. King Lear had the answer to that one three centuries ago, or whatever it was:
“Nothing will come of nothing.”
If there is no high-speed line going to Sheffield and Leeds and connecting to the east coast main line, there is nothing to integrate. If the Minister wants an integrated rail plan and she wants the benefits of high-speed rail extended to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, I am afraid there is only one way to do it: build the high-speed rail line through to Toton—the junction station between Derby and Nottingham—and to Sheffield, Leeds and the north-east.
I do not want to detain the House unduly. I set out all these arguments in Grand Committee. I even changed my amendment, in intense consultation with the clerks, to meet the objection of the Minister that we might delay the project; there is nothing I would less want to do. The form of this amendment involves no delay to the construction of the railway line from Birmingham to Crewe because it simply requires that “within six months” of the passage of the Act, the Government should come forward with plans for legislation for the eastern leg.
I end with two key points, so that your Lordships understand the vital importance of the proposition we are talking about today. If high-speed rail proceeds only to Manchester, and does not proceed to Sheffield and Leeds, when HS2 is completed the journey time from London to Manchester will be one hour, from London to Sheffield, and to Leeds, it will be two hours, and from London to Newcastle it will be three hours. Do I need to explain to your Lordships what the impact will be on business location decisions and the whole economic future of the country if that situation applies to these cities for most of the 21st century? If we are about building one nation, giving equal opportunity and incentives for all parts of the country to grow, and giving these phenomenally important cities of the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east an opportunity to compete on a level playing field with the western cities of the country, then we must pass this amendment today. If we get into a situation where HS2 is only half-built, it will be the equivalent of the great Victorian pioneers building railways in the western part of the country only and leaving the whole of the eastern part with canals. I beg to move.
My Lords, I remind all noble Lords in the Chamber to maintain social distancing for everyone’s safety. I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whose commitment to HS2 is very well known. I must say that I am impressed with his tie. I have a pair of socks which I clearly need to donate to him to match. As the noble Lord has mentioned, I have the honour of being a member of a commission which was established by the North East LEP and which was chaired by the noble Lord about five years ago. It was a revealing exercise even for someone like myself, who has lived in the north-east all my life.
It is almost slightly irritating for those of us who live in the far north of England—the north-east or the north-west—that, when viewed from London or the south-east, the north begins somewhere north of Nottingham and stretches to Sheffield and Manchester, while the vast area of England beyond that disappears into a fog and is too often regarded by those who live there as being neglected and ignored. This is the case with the existing plans for HS2. I have never regarded HS2 as just an attempt to deliver passengers from Euston to Birmingham 15 minutes earlier than is the case at present, but as a necessary investment to increase the capacity of the rail network. It is essential that the increased capacity planned is extended further north, beyond the current plan.
The north-east has some interesting and contrasting economic features. On the one hand, the region has one of the highest, if not the highest, proportion of GVA being exported of any English region, thanks to some very large companies such as Nissan. On the other hand, the north-east has some of the lowest indices in England, whether it be unemployment, average income levels, many social indicators, productivity and so on. For all these reasons—whether to support existing successful businesses or to help level up and address the long-standing economic and social issues—we need a commitment from Her Majesty’s Government to extend HS2 from the West Midlands to Leeds, as this amendment suggests, so that Yorkshire and the north-east can look forward to improved connectivity to assist in economic growth and address many of these long-seated social problems.
We all welcome the Government’s relatively recent announcement to invest in a whole range of infrastructure projects in the north. Many of these have been on our wish list for decades and are an important start to address the levelling-up commitment of the Government, but there is a very long way to go to satisfy the residents of the north of England. Supporting this amendment to extend HS2 would be a further, and very important, welcome step by the Government; it would show that they are committed to supporting the north and delivering an integrated rail network, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has very effectively outlined. It is essential to improve access and assist in delivering economic growth. I do hope that the Minister will change her mind and accept this amendment.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and his passion for the north. I probably have to disappoint both the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Adonis, as I do not have the sartorial elegance of the socks of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and I definitely do not have a tie like that of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
It is ironic that the day that we are having to debate this amendment is the first day in the north that we do not have Pacer trains—a change promised for a couple of years, and 35 years later we were still travelling along on “trucks on rails” as they were called. It is ironic that, on the day that we thought things were moving forward, we are here seeking a commitment from the Government—not just warm words but a commitment—to make sure that our railways in the north on the eastern leg are equivalent to what is going to happen up to Manchester.
There is a history of warm words from the Government and then things not happening, particularly on the Midland main line. I remember—I think I was a local councillor in Sheffield at the time—being told that we were going to have electrification of the Midland main line. That was stolen from us. We were told, “No, you don’t need that anymore. We’re going to have some modern hybrid trains running off hydrogen”—trains that do not exist to perform what is actually needed. So, the Minister can stand at that Dispatch Box and give us all the warm words in the world; the fact is, people in Sheffield and Leeds will not believe the promises. They will look at this amendment and wonder why a firm commitment could not be given to bring forward a plan, through law, and why we cannot get the equivalent of what is happening up on the western leg.
The Minister might say, “Oh, we are going to build to a phased approach up to East Midlands Parkway, and then, secondly, up to Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds,” but if you talk to a schoolchild who will be leaving school this year, and tell them that by the time they are 60, there is a possibility that the High Speed 2 railway might give them the opportunities to unleash economic performance that they do not already have, I am sure that they will look at you in disbelief, because that is what phasing actually means. It means that today’s schoolchildren who are leaving will not get what has been promised to generations before them. Therefore, what we seek can be described by a phrase used by the Prime Minister in the 2019 general election. He promised us then that he would stop the “dither and delay” on HS2 and get on and start building it. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, absolutely does that: it stops the dither and delay and it gets on with it. It allows the levelling up to go ahead.
You cannot have an integrated transport system for the north without HS2: the two things are linked completely. Transport for the North has made it very clear: certain stations, junctions and connectivity are all linked. It is no good the Government saying that they want to unleash the power of the whole north or that they want levelling up, because they will be giving us only two or three parts of the total jigsaw. The whole picture will not be brought about. It is really important that if the Government’s commitment is to levelling up and to unleashing the opportunities for businesses and individuals—whether it be in Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham or further afield up in Newcastle—HS2 is an integral part of that. It cannot and must not be delayed; it cannot and must not just be warm words—it actually has to happen.
For the real social benefits of levelling up, I would argue that the east leg is more important than the west leg. That is because, as the HS2 campaign group has shown, along the east leg—Sheffield, Leeds and parts of the Midlands—there is lower productivity than along the west leg. There is less spending per head on transport along the east leg than along the west leg. Really importantly, there are more social mobility coldspots along the east phase than along the west phase. It would therefore be inconceivable to delay this if the Government’s commitment really is not just to a transport system but to what that transport system would achieve as a result of HS2: unleashing the economic opportunities and capacity of all people in the north.
On behalf of many people and businesses to whom I have spoken along the eastern leg, I say to the Minister that it is time to stop the warm words and the false promises. Today we seek firm action and firm commitments, and that is exactly what the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, gives us. That is why, when the Minister comes to speak, I hope that she will give us not only warm words or future promises, but a commitment to support this amendment and allow all of the north to be treated equally and get the HS2 system it requires to bring about the economic and social benefits that we know it can bring.
My Lords, I am very pleased to lend my support to my noble friend Lord Adonis and his well-crafted amendment, and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and—yes—the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. On a number of occasions this year, he and I have found ourselves in agreement: I am not sure whether that is bad for him or bad for me, but on this occasion we are wholeheartedly as one. That is because we have seen what has happened over the years. He mentioned electrification of the Midland main line. Christopher Grayling promised it, and within months he withdrew that promise. It is similar to the picture painted by George Orwell of promising, withdrawing and promising again until people were completely bamboozled and befuddled as to what they had been promised and what had been taken away. I counsel my noble friend Lord Adonis to be very careful in hearing, as I am sure that he will be, the words of the Minister, for whom we have the greatest respect but who has been given a government brief. If the brief is not to say, “Yes, of course we intend to go ahead with this and we will, therefore, be quite happy to publish our legislation,” then I hope we will move this to a Division.
There are three sets of people who helped the Government. One set are those who were against HS2 from the start. I understand why: they believe that the money should be redeployed elsewhere. There is a second set who say: “We do not mind you doing the north-west, but we are quite happy for you to give us the money for infrastructure work and other investment in Yorkshire and the north-east.” The third set says, “Do not rock the boat, because we do not want to be seen to be undermining phase 2a and the subsequent leg to Manchester because it would be grossly unfair.” All three are just so naive that it is breath-taking. It is breath-taking to suggest that money that would not be spent on HS2 would, in any way, be spent on other forms of infrastructure in the two decades to come. It is naive to believe that, if you give a fair wind to someone else, they will back you when they got what they wanted and you failed to get what you needed. It is naive to believe that a Government who will not commit to what they originally promised have somehow just mislaid the necessary words and are not intent on changing policy or their programme.
My great fear—and I have had it all along—is that we will, of course, get Crewe to Manchester, and we will get the fast HS2 line from Manchester to Leeds, so that the Leeds leg will be an extremely rapid cross-Pennine addition, but it will not be from Birmingham through the east Midlands and Yorkshire with the spur to the east coast main line and to the north-east. I worry about MPs from the north-east—many of them very new, and this is true of the east Midlands as well—who seem to live in a parallel universe where they believe that words do not say what they actually say, as Alice would have said in Wonderland. Unless you get it on paper and it is absolutely unequivocal, it is not going to happen. The east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east will lose out all over again.
The briefing notes sent out were very interesting. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, talked about people from London and the south thinking that the world stopped at Sheffield. I wish that they did believe that, but they think it stops at Watford. When they use terms, as were included in this briefing note, such as “the north” or “the northern powerhouse,” what they clearly mean is the north-west or Greater Manchester and the surrounding areas. That is what George Osborne believed, which was understandable from his point of view because at the time he represented a seat in the north-west.
It is time for the leaders of councils, the elected mayors and the Members of Parliament of every party from the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east to start collaborating in order to have their voice heard; otherwise, they will find themselves conned. Once again, they will be seen as losers and I am sick of us being losers on the east of the Pennines: I want the north and the northern powerhouse to be right across what is the north of England. I want that promise of 30 million people benefiting to be not some sort of artificial myth: I want it to be a reality. It can be a reality only if we actually get this additional leg, promised from the beginning, through the east Midlands, which has a high density of passenger usage, which will then be accommodated by freeing up the existing services. That is the argument in Stoke and Macclesfield in the north-west; it works just as well for the east Midlands and Yorkshire, where there is high-density passenger mileage in this particular corridor. Let us unite in wanting to do something that at last will put the nation in better balance—not only the levelling up that is so often talked about but levelling up between the north-west and north-east of the Pennines as well.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to address the House on what I believe is a very important infrastructure project, one of the biggest undertaken by any Government in recent years. I have a slight worry about the amendment as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, which is that it would put too much of a straitjacket on the Government regarding the future proposals that need to be ironed out. However, I find myself with a lot of sympathy for it.
I myself as Secretary of State for Transport made many changes to the plans put forward by the noble Lord when he did his initial scoping project, which was then carried on. Not the least of those changes is in the Bill before us. This part of the Bill came about as a result of the review done for me by David Higgins about how we could get it to the north faster, because there was a lot of concern that we would build up to Birmingham and then it would stop there. So I am delighted to be able to partake in these proceedings in this House on this section of the project that I think I started off.
I was fascinated to hear the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talk about the end of the Pacer trains. It reminded me of my time as Secretary of State: it was I who issued the instruction to the Permanent Secretary to override the advice of the department, which said that we could not possibly get rid of the Pacer trains as there was no financial case. I am very pleased that that has been done. It has been delayed slightly, but these things take a bit of time. Still, at long last those trains, which were brought in 40 years ago on a temporary basis, will cease to exist. I have to say I was surprised that there was no “Save the Pacer train” movement, because the rail industry can sometimes become very nostalgic, keeping everything in the past. As far as I know, there has been no such movement.
I did not get the exact wording of the Minister’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but she said it was time to get on with the Bill and not accept any more delays. I reinforce that to her: it is time to get on with the whole project in so far as it goes at the moment, because even the line up to Leeds and Manchester is not really the full project. It is only the start of the project of modernising our railway network. I find it ironic that I can get a high-speed train from London to Paris or Brussels, but not to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh or Glasgow. That is the dream; we have to ensure that future generations get their own high-speed rail.
I regret the words “high-speed rail”. It is not about high speed, but about high capacity. One of the things that this railway does is release a lot of the capacity on other railway lines to fulfil some of the more desirable things that areas want. We have seen a modern revolution in rail travel in this country. At the time of privatisation, 700 million people a year were using our railways. Last year, before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, the figure was something like 1.8 billion people. Railways have become a much more important part of our nation and of our cities. I believe that the Bill and the Government committing to going as far as Crewe is essential, but there is more about it that is essential. The line was always planned to be a Y shape. The most expensive part of the railway was actually building it from London to Birmingham and then its costs fall away a little, although I fully accept that it is still a very expensive project.
Something that annoys me about people who complain about the cost is that they then usually come up with ideas that will make it more expensive, not less. They are the people who want more tunnelling to take place so that it does not disturb their areas, or the like. One of my fascinations when I was Secretary of State was all those people who said that it was costing too much but, by the way, would we tunnel a bit more or make the line move elsewhere? They would then complain about the extra cost if you agreed to that particular change.
I urge my noble friend to take this message back to the Secretary of State and the Government: I worry particularly about the blight that will be served on areas that will get HS2, and on the eastern leg too. It is not just Sheffield, as championed by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, but Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Yes, there is Leeds, but what has not been mentioned is that it will also have quite a big impact on Chesterfield, again because of the changes that have been brought about as a result of the improvements that have been made. Initially the line was going to stop not in Sheffield directly, but outside Sheffield, at Meadowhall. That was changed as a result of the campaign led by Sheffield to have it go right into the city. This project is evolving as we find better ways of serving our cities.
As we have said time and again, it has to be a case of levelling up the north—and by “the north” we are referring not just to Manchester, but to the eastern section. I hope that those thoughts can be taken on board by the Government, and that when the Minister responds she can give some encouragement over when the full plan will be announced and moved forward. The sooner that is done, the better.
My Lords, I put my name down to speak on this amendment because it seemed the one opportunity that I would have today to give general support to HS2, the Bill and this amendment, obviously, as opposed to the other amendments, which I consider to be wrecking amendments. I would be somewhat more negative about them. I did not have the opportunity to speak in earlier debates.
It gives me pleasure that, having spoken some years ago in favour of the London to Birmingham part, I have an opportunity to support the idea of the total concept outlined by my noble friend Lord Adonis and the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, who we have just heard from: the one-nation aspect of the project. It was never about London to Birmingham, but something much bigger. As has been said, it was not about speed either, but about capacity. However, for the first couple of years the PR was somewhat negative.
The Minister has heard pleas from others and I join them, although I understand the position that she is in and what she will want to say. By the way, I found there were occasions when it was possible to make policy at the Dispatch Box when replying in the Lords because of the pressure that you were under, and it helped to stave off a defeat. I always used to tell my Secretary of State when I went back, “I had to give way on that otherwise we would have been defeated.” By and large that was generally accepted, so there is a capacity to do that.
What the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said about the last days of the Pacer trains is ironic. I remember that when I travelled around the country as a Minister, I was on one of those Pacer trains. I had never heard of them or seen them before. I cannot remember when it was; it was in my MAFF days so I am going back 20 years. I could not believe there were carriages like that on the railways, and of course there still were 20 years later. In some ways this is a bad day, because without the amendment the people of the north and north-east will feel as though they have been left behind.
I do not intend to speak for long. One of the most powerful points that the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, just made was about the blight. Everybody knows what the original plans were; they have seen the Y shape of the line. All of a sudden that has disappeared. The blight that that will leave on housing, industry, the movement of people and investment in particular will be massive. It is very difficult to put a cost on blight but it is very negative. Whatever the outcome is today, the Minister needs to point out to the department and the Government that it is in no one’s interest to have part of the country blighted in the way that that part will be if there is no government plan.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, entirely and all other noble Lords who have spoken. There are two things I want to mention because of my knowledge of the railway. If we do not get this addition to HS2 to the north-east, journeys will be very much slower than they would otherwise be. An HS2 train going from Toton through to Leeds will take 27 minutes; at the moment it takes 85 minutes by conventional railway. For Newcastle, the difference is between 93 and 160 minutes. It really is about putting the country together. There is no way that the existing infrastructure will be able to provide anything like what will be offered by HS2.
The second issue, which is very pertinent, and to which other noble Lords have referred, is the appalling standard of social mobility, education and health that pervade the area north of Toton, going up toward Sheffield and Leeds. HS2 will bring great opportunities. Lots of people will locate their industries and research institutions alongside HS2. It does not even have to built; it has to be promised, but promised faithfully, and people will move there in anticipation. The flow of education and training will bring hope to many people in that area who have abandoned hope. Some of the comments that people make about what it is like to live in these towns and villages show that they are pretty hopeless.
I implore the Government, for the sake of sensibly levelling up, to give this scheme the approval that it needs. I am afraid that if it is turned down, people will give up hope as their hopes have been so often dashed in that part of Britain.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who is a most distinguished retired railway manager. He was working for the railway for many years in the last century, and he was a very prominent figure in the industry when I was working for the Board in the 1970s and 1980s.
This has been a remarkable debate in that every single speaker has spoken in favour of the amendment tabled by noble friend Lord Adonis, with cross-party support. I find it very heartening that there is such support for High Speed 2 across the House, and indeed in the other place as well. It is right that the Minister has been praised for backing it so wholeheartedly. I hope that she will not disappoint us when she responds to the debate and gives her view on what happens to this amendment.
May I correct one thing that the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, said about Pacers? He may not be aware of it, but there is a Pacer rail group, dedicated to buying at least one of these trains. There are Pacers in use on heritage railways now, and there will be one in the National Railway Museum. If he redevelops a wish to see Pacers, they will be around for some while yet, although happily not on the national network.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on supporting the railways of Britain, not just through the present emergency but committing to their expansion in the future as well. That is why it is important that these good intentions are not undermined in the case of the eastern link of High Speed 2. There is a cross-party consensus that increasing the capability, the capacity and the use of the national electrified rail network is crucial to delivering the Government’s zero carbon agenda. No other transport project comes as close to achieving that goal as High Speed 2. Travelling on High Speed 2 will emit almost seven times fewer carbon emissions per passenger kilometre than the equivalent car journey, and 17 times fewer than the equivalent domestic flight.
Part of the essential case for High Speed 2 is the need to create new capacity on the three main lines going north from Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross to allow substantial numbers of extra freight trains to run on them. The eastern branch of HS2, connecting Birmingham and the cities of the East Midlands with Sheffield and Leeds is, therefore, vital. We know from the 10-year experience of modernising the west coast main line earlier this century that attempting to create a 21st-century railway by tinkering with a Victorian one creates years of disruption, delay and increased cost. The situation would be as bad or worse if the same were to be tried with the Midland main line and the east coast main line, rather than building the eastern leg of High Speed 2.
I finish with a comment from the director of Transport for the North, Tim Wood, in an interview with Modern Railways magazine in the current edition. He said that the eastern leg is as important as the 2b route to Crewe, Manchester and Liverpool:
“We all welcome the move, as further progress in delivering a step change for rail travel in the north. The plans to integrate the network on the east of the Pennines need full commitment and to be progressed at speed as well.”
I do hope that the Minister will agree, and that she will accept the amendment.
My Lords, I am a supporter of this project and congratulate previous speakers on their support for the amendment. I suspect that the amendment comes about as a result of almost a throwaway line from the Minister in Committee. She said, to my surprise—and, I note, the surprise of my noble friend Lord Adonis and, I suspect, some other members of the Committee—that the eastern leg of the high-speed network would mean more than one Bill. I think she said at least two Bills would be needed in order to go ahead. That rang alarm bells, certainly so far as my noble friend Lord Adonis was concerned, and he questioned the Minister. Like my noble friend Lord Blunkett, who spoke earlier, I fear that if we were to have more than one Bill to take the eastern leg forward, there could be not just a delay but a cancellation of part of what was proposed as part of the original Y-shaped HS2 system. That, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, in his memorable speech, would be disastrous for cities such as Sheffield and Leeds, and also for those of us who want to see HS2 continue beyond there and on to the east coast main line, and then further north.
There are worrying rumours, which I hope the Minister can deny, that, as was also said earlier, the intention will be to run a piece of the eastern leg as far as Toton and expect those travelling to Leeds and Sheffield to go via Manchester, through a connection between the proposed HS2 western leg as far as Manchester, and a new HS3—or whatever name one likes to give it—taking the railway forward across the east of England towards Sheffield and Leeds. I live in the city of Birmingham and, although hardly a native of it, as one might be able to tell from my accent, if I were going to Sheffield and Leeds I would not necessarily want to go via Manchester—a city for which I have great admiration, as I was born and brought up in the Manchester area and served on a local authority there.
If we are to have the alternative which I have just implied we might—of a connection between a western, Manchester leg of HS2 and the existing railway, perhaps a tarted-up one—then we will need to do some tunnelling under the city of Manchester. Forty years ago, I was a member of the passenger transport authority in Manchester when we proposed a tunnel between Manchester’s Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Alas, the legacy of railway competition in the 19th century meant that trains from the south terminated on the south side of Manchester and that those to and from the north started and terminated on its north side, and never the twain shall meet. They still do not; there is a tram connection between the two these days, but that is about the best we have been able to manage. If that is the proposal, I would regard it very much as a retrograde step.
I rely on the Minister to tell us one way or another whether such a proposal exists and, I hope, to bring some reassurance to this debate. That would undermine the critics of HS2—even those critics as friendly as my noble friend Lord Berkeley, who tells us on each and every occasion how much in favour of HS2 he is before throwing yet another rock at the train driver as it passes, in the hope of either slowing it down or cancelling the project completely. It would give more ammunition to those who criticise the scheme as just a way of getting from London to Birmingham even faster—a phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on behalf of the Green Party during Committee.
We can criticise HS2 as much as we like, as the noble Lord said earlier, but surely we have to acknowledge the fact that it is about connectivity. In the West Midlands, we are surely as entitled to that connectivity from Birmingham to Leeds and Sheffield as we are to London. I need only remind the House that organisations as diverse as the chamber of commerce in Birmingham, Midlands Connect and the northern powerhouse have all spoken strongly in favour of the eastern leg of the project. Whether it is about having one Bill or two—the amendment is clear that it must be one Bill within six months—I hope that the Minister can reassure us on that point. If she cannot, I know that my noble friend Lord Adonis will take his amendment to a vote later. I feel sure that that vote will be supported by noble Lords on both sides of the House who care about the detailed nature of this project.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, would accept that I am as enthusiastic as he is about the potential of the HS2 project. I recognise the intention behind his amendment but, despite the softened wording, it seems to have “delay” written all over it. That is not because he intends it but because it is something which opponents will feel invigorated by. We shall have the arguments developing again, with new and ingenious ways found of suggesting difficulties so far as phase 2a is concerned. I am doubtful about the amendment’s wording and the Government should not be imprisoned by it.
However, from a practical point of view, first, if we agree to put into law the phase 2A project from the West Midlands to Crewe, this will add to momentum as we are already beginning to see the benefits in the West Midlands through investment and job creation. It will enthuse more people on the east of the Pennines to expect that these benefits should come their way, and that the people who represent them should recognise that as well. Secondly, there is a political imperative for the Government here. So much has been said about levelling up that to level only one side of the Pennines and not the other would be seen as a considerable let-down, to use as mild a word as I can.
I understand that one of the principal arguments about having more railways is to deal with the capacity issue. At the same time, we should not brush aside the importance of the speed of journeys. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, reminded us a short while ago, there are some pretty horrendous journey times between east and west and these need to be improved, because of the barrier that they represent. Yes, but so too is the difference between north and south; the more we can shorten times there, the more chance we have of levelling up and spreading investment, jobs and housing, at the same time as easing pressures off the south-east while bringing huge benefits to the north of England.
Quite frankly, the Government must indicate that they accept this logic of dealing evenly with Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire on the one hand, and the East Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond—further north—on the other. For those east and west of the Pennines, this must be seen to have equal benefit. It will be a great shame if the Government do not make it clear that that is exactly what they intend by developing the whole of HS2.
My Lords, I add my support for my noble friend Lord Adonis’s amendment. I remember that when he first brought forward HS2 as Transport Secretary it was as a concept for this new Y-shaped spine, which would dramatically transform connectivity between London, the Midlands and the north. This concept has stood 11 years of the most severe examination. This afternoon, we have an opportunity to tell the Government that they cannot replace a north-south divide in this country with an east-west divide, and that both parts of this scheme should go ahead.
We were in economic difficulty at the point when my noble friend Lord Adonis first proposed HS2. We had just been through the financial crisis and the banking meltdown yet, at a time of great fiscal difficulty, here were a Government putting forward a transformative scheme for the country. One of the great things about it was that my noble friend Lord Adonis was able to secure cross-party backing for the whole concept. That is why it survived throughout the decade of the 2010s, first with the coalition and then with the Conservative Governments.
The need for this giant step forward in connectivity in Britain is even more compelling today than it was in 2009, because, since then, regional inequalities have grown. We have Brexit, which, whatever we think of it, will cause problems for regions in the north and Midlands that are heavily dependent on manufacturing. Now we have the prospect of permanent scarring of our economy as a result of the Covid crisis. One thing on which I think we can all support the present Government is their aspiration for levelling up. If we take that aspiration seriously, what on earth is the case for losing heart on this tremendous concept of transforming connectivity in England?
The economic argument holds true. Across Europe and North America, cities are the most dynamic places of productivity, growth, innovation and opportunity. Bringing cities together through better transport connections will increase and multiply those benefits. I saw some data the other day that suggested how the big cities of Britain were all much less productive than their comparators on the continent. This transformative proposal for connectivity would help reverse that. The imperative to go ahead is as strong as it ever was.
I speak as someone who does not live directly on the line. My dad was a railway clerk in Carlisle. When I was a lad, I think there were four express trains during the day from Carlisle to London. The first one left at 8.30 am and got you into Euston just before 5 pm. It was quite nice, of course, because if you could afford it, you could have both lunch and tea in the restaurant car, but it was an exceptionally long journey in the 1950s. Now, as a result of the west coast main line modernisation, the journey time has been reduced to three hours and 20 minutes. With HS2, it should be reduced further to around two and a half hours. Just to show how these things link together, one of the proposals of the borderlands project, which the Government last week agreed should be accelerated, is to spend the money on making sure that the platforms at Carlisle station are long enough to take HS2.
This scheme can affect most parts of Britain in a positive way. We should not go back on it now.
My Lords, I join every other noble Lord who has spoken in reminding the House that services between Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds are pretty awful at the moment. They are very slow, they are probably unreliable, and they do not help with the levelling-up agenda, “one nation”—as my noble friend Lord Adonis called it—or anything else. It is easy to reflect now on whether the Government should have gone for phase 2b east before they went for 2a, but it is too late for that, and does it really matter?
My noble friend Lord Snape said that if he was going from Birmingham to Leeds or Sheffield, he would not go via Manchester. Well, he might if it was faster and if he was keen on speed. I say that because, in addition to improving the route of 2b east, there is a strong wish among people living in the towns all the way from Liverpool to Hull and everywhere in between to improve the east-west links, which are very much worse than those to London. We could debate whether that matters, but I think it does. For the communities along that route and all the towns beside it—we can call it the northern powerhouse area or whatever—the line needs electrification and higher-speed running to help economic regeneration. Both need doing, but we should not say that we do not want to do an east-west improvement for fear of making it more difficult to go from Birmingham to Sheffield via Manchester.
I understood from the announcement of the Prime Minister earlier this year that the route of 2b east would be the subject of a study by, I think, John Armitt, as to how to integrate it with the existing lines. To my knowledge, that report has not yet been published. It would be unsatisfactory to go ahead with preparing a Bill for the whole thing until that report had been published and debated.
The distance of phase 1 of HS2, from London and Birmingham, was about 120 miles, while the distance of 2b, from Birmingham Interchange up to Leeds, is about the same. Some people might think that it goes through virgin countryside and it does not matter, but that is total rubbish. It goes through many conurbations; many people are interested in being able to use the line or improved lines that connect in with it. From what I have seen of the time it takes to prepare hybrid Bills—I am sure my noble friend Lord Adonis would agree—I think that, if you have not yet decided on a route, to publish a Bill in six months is pushing it. If the Minister says, “Well, it’s got to be done in stages and we’re not ready for the whole thing,” on this occasion I would support that. I want something done to improve the lines, but to do it all in six months without any proper consultation even having started would be a little optimistic.
My Lords, we received a useful briefing from HS2 prior to this debate. The final sentences read:
“Legislation to complete the Western leg of HS2 into Manchester is expected to come forward in 2022. Extending the line to Crewe is the first step to making this happen.”
There is a total absence of any reference there to the eastern leg. Other speakers have talked about the regenerative impact of HS2. This has already been demonstrated in Birmingham despite the line not being built yet. It is already a hotspot for inward investment, with high-quality jobs being created in major banks—HSBC and Deutsche Bank—as well as, importantly, in Jacobs Engineering.
The Government’s election rhetoric on levelling up won them seats in the north-east, and HS2 is an essential part of that. It is integral to delivering the plans of both the northern powerhouse and the Midlands engine. That means the whole of HS2; as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, without the eastern leg it will be unable to improve the transport links across the country and to create new freight capacity.
This is all essential if the Government are to be able to decarbonise our transport system. Much more important than higher speeds is the capacity that HS2 will unlock. Only a very small percentage of commuters currently use rail in the north of England. For example, 7% of people commuting from Liverpool to Manchester, and 3% going from Hull to Sheffield, use rail. That is because services are slow and unreliable. HS2 will provide additional capacity on existing lines by freeing them up to enable faster, modern trains to provide many more services. Trains are the most carbon-efficient mass transport system available.
Existing rail freight services are far too slow. Freight is the most challenging part of our transport system to decarbonise. Road freight accounts for 5% of our nation’s CO2 emissions, so it has to be tackled. For example, it now takes 11 hours to send freight by rail from Liverpool to Selby, for the Drax power station. That is an unrealistically long time. It takes only three hours to take the same load by road. The Government cannot hope to improve productivity and create well-paid jobs in the north, while meeting our climate commitments, without revolutionising the infrastructure of the region. HS2 is the key to that—freeing us from reliance on a 19th-century rail system that is literally buckling under the strain.
What we need from the Minister today is a firm and unequivocal commitment to the eastern leg, with a timeframe that puts it on an equal footing with the west. We will be listening very carefully but, much more importantly, the people of the north-east are listening. They will not forgive, or forget, any attempt to renege on election promises. As noble Lords have made clear this afternoon, the case for the eastern leg has been made perfectly over the years. It is now well overdue for work to start on the details of this project.
I do not intend to repeat all the points made so persuasively by my noble friend Lord Adonis and other noble Lords in support of his amendment. The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 election said that:
“HS2 is a great ambition”,
but, as we all know, great ambitions are not always realised in full. The manifesto went on to say that HS2,
“will now cost at least £81 billion and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040.”
Continuing, the manifesto said that:
“We will consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome”.
In other words, there was no unambiguous commitment in the 2019 manifesto to complete HS2 via the East Midlands to Leeds, since the “optimal outcome” was dependent on government consideration of the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings.
In Committee, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe invited the Government to commit to building HS2 phase 2b to Leeds in full. In reply, the Government said that:
“Plans to provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond will be confirmed following the publication of the integrated rail plan”,
“that a properly connected line from the Midlands up to the North will be a key part of the HS2 project.”—[Official Report, 9/11/20; col. GC 351.]
As we know, that reply was not a commitment to build HS2 phase 2b via the East Midlands to Leeds in full.
It would thus be helpful if the Government could clarify in their response what the phrases,
“plans to provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond”,
“a properly connected line from the Midlands up to the North will be a key part of the HS2 project”,
actually mean. Do they mean that the Government are committed to building HS2 phase 2b via the East Midlands to Leeds in full, or do they mean not that the high-speed line will be built the whole way from Birmingham via the East Midlands to Leeds but that HS2 services could, for all or part of that journey, run over existing routes calling at existing stations?
The indications are that the Government are either looking to abandon or scale back the eastern leg of HS2 through to Leeds or, at best, seriously delay its construction and completion. The lack of a clear commitment to the HS2 project in full calls into question the Government’s declared commitment to levelling up, since the eastern leg is just as vital as the delivery of the western leg. Levelling up cannot just mean levelling up the north-west and the West Midlands. It is just as vital to communities in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the north-east. Indeed, only proceeding with the western leg would leave the cities and areas that would have been served by the eastern leg at a disadvantage.
The Government now have the opportunity to put to rest any concerns over their commitment to the eastern leg by saying, in their response today, that they are committed to the construction and bringing into operation of HS2 phase 2b to Leeds via the East Midlands in full, and giving the date by which they intend it will be completed. The Government can also accept the terms of this amendment. We will now have to see if they intend to take that opportunity. It will be for my noble friend Lord Adonis to decide whether he is satisfied with the Government’s response but, if he does decide to call for a vote, we will be supporting him.
My Lords, I did a tally the other day; there are currently nine former Transport Secretaries in your Lordships’ House and I appreciate the wisdom of each and every one of them, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I thank him for his amendment and hope that I will be able to satisfy him today. I will go as far as I possibly can. I hope that he will listen carefully to my words and take as much comfort from them as he is able. All noble Lords will recognise his enthusiasm for and commitment to HS2. I have read the amendment extremely carefully, but suggest that there is no need for it, as I hope to explain. The Prime Minister has been very clear that the Government’s plans for the HS2 eastern leg will be set out in the integrated rail plan and that this will be laid before Parliament within the timeframe referred to in the amendment. I make that commitment to the House today.
The Government have already said that the integrated rail plan—let us call it the IRP, because it is a little quicker—will be informed by the yet to be published National Infrastructure Commission’s rail needs assessment, and that the IRP will consider how phase 2b is designed and delivered alongside other major rail investment in the north and Midlands, so that the improvements are felt as soon as possible.
Most noble Lords recognise that HS2 will be a transformational investment in our country’s infrastructure. The Secretary of State for Transport and the Prime Minister have both made it clear that they support the Oakervee review’s recommendation of a Y-shaped network. Given the very purpose of the IRP, and the analysis being undertaken by the independent National Infrastructure Commission, it is important that the outcome of the IRP is not prejudged.
I can reassure noble Lords that work is, of course, well under way. The amendment asks for a plan for a Bill. As the noble Lord well knows, I have previously indicated that this is not the current direction of travel. Preparations are already under way for phase 2b to be done in smaller multiple Bills; these smaller Bills may run concurrently. This can give us greater agility and enable faster construction, and this will allow the supply chain a steady plan of work and a suitable and sustainable pipeline. Splitting phase 2b into multiple Bills will also make it easier for Parliament and, as importantly, for others to scrutinise the extraordinary amount of detail that goes alongside these pieces of legislation. I would like to reassure noble Lords that plans for legislation—and as I have said previously, it is unlikely to be one Bill; it may yet be, but I am fairly sure that it will not be—covering the eastern leg of HS2 phase 2b will be confirmed following the publication of the integrated rail plan.
At this point I have an offer for the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. If he will withdraw his amendment, I will commit to him that we will publish the plan for legislation at the same time and as part of the IRP. I think that pretty much covers the noble Lord’s intention. The Government are doing all they can to deposit the phase 2b western leg Bill as early as possible, but I would like to reassure all noble Lords that bringing forward the western leg Bill will not delay the deposit of an eastern leg Bill; we are simply taking advantage of the western leg because it is shorter, and the section of route for the western leg is actually broadly agreed. This is all about getting things into your Lordships’ House and through your Lordships’ House as soon as we can so that we can deliver.
I am fully aware that there are concerns—and I have heard concerns—about what the National Infrastructure Commission is likely to suggest in its report. I would argue that, as an independent body, it is right that it looks at all of the available evidence when undertaking its assessment. But it will then be for Ministers to consider the National Infrastructure Commission’s conclusions and make final decisions on the IRP.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is a great supporter of this project. I applaud the noble Lord once again for his tenacity and his diligence, and I remind him that the Prime Minister has been clear that the Government’s plans for the HS2 eastern leg will be set out in the integrated rail plan, and that this will be laid before Parliament within the timeframe of his amendment. I hope I have made the noble Lord sufficiently content, and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received no other requests to speak, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
My Lords, there was a rare degree of unanimity in the House, and I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken with a very great degree of passion. I think there is a great sense among noble Lords that the future of the country is at stake in the way that we proceed with HS2, just as the country that we live in today was to a very substantial extent shaped by those great Victorian railways and the way that they connected—or, in some cases, failed to connect—the great cities of our nation. The decisions that we take in Parliament over the next year or two on HS2 will shape the whole future of this country over the next century. Therefore, even though this has been a lengthy debate, I think it has been an important one, and hugely important for the direction of the country.
I said there has been near unanimity. I am afraid that the noble Baroness’s words do not go far enough; let me just do an exegesis on her words so that noble Lords are very clear about what she said. She said: “The Government have been very clear that the Prime Minister’s plans for the eastern leg will be set out in the integrated rail plan.” However, the key question is: what are the Prime Minister’s plans? Giving a commitment to set out the Prime Minister’s plans is absolutely pointless, unless those plans commit to building the eastern leg of HS2, which the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, his successors as Transport Secretary and I, on behalf of the then Government in 2010, committed to bringing forward as an integrated plan. Absolutely central to the whole philosophy of HS2 for the future of the country from the outset was that it should serve both the western and eastern parts of the country, and not, as one noble Lord said, replace a north-south divide with an east-west divide.
If the noble Baroness, who, as I say, we hold in very great respect, could commit to bringing forward legislation on the eastern leg at the same time as the western leg—that there will be definite legislation at the same time—I will withdraw my amendment. Is that a commitment the noble Baroness can make? Alas, my noble friend Lord Rooker invited her to rise to the occasion, seize the moment and make a declaration from the Dispatch Box—
My Lords, you absolutely could commit. The noble Baroness could commit now to introducing legislation for the eastern leg. If she is telling me that the problem is the precise time it takes, but that there will be a definite commitment to legislation to build HS2 to Sheffield and Leeds at the same time as to Manchester, she could rise a second time, since she has already risen once, and I will withdraw my amendment. Alas, silence reigns, I am afraid, on the Government Front Bench.
I shall come to the quick, since it is important we understand the gravity of the issues at stake. The situation, which is well known in the Department for Transport and among those with whom I speak, is as follows. Dominic Cummings tried to cancel HS2. To be blunt, he does not much like Governments of any form doing big projects, but he certainly does not like big state projects of this kind. He wrestled very hard with the Prime Minister after the last election to get him to cancel HS2 outright. The Prime Minister believes in big infrastructure projects. When I was Transport Secretary, I had big discussions with him. There are many things he has no fixed belief on, but he has been prepared to commit to big transport infrastructure projects that will connect the country. He was persuaded of the case for HS2, and when the decision had to be made in February about going ahead with the first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham, he gave that commitment. What then happened was that Dominic Cummings moved on to the eastern leg, because the weakest of the BCRs—benefit to cost ratios—is for the eastern leg. The reason the weakest BCR is for the eastern leg is very straightforward: the cities served in the east of the country are smaller than those in the west. But we are supposed to be about levelling up. That is the whole philosophy of the Government. So the fact that the BCRs are lower for the east is not a reason for not proceeding with HS2 East; it is an essential reason for proceeding.
Dominic Cummings is no more. That is a great step forward, which is why the tone of the remarks from the noble Baroness is much more positive than it would have been if he was still running No. 10. We now have a problem with the Treasury. The Chancellor is wrestling with a difficult situation in the public finances—we all understand why—and he wants the option to cancel the eastern leg. This is what this big argument is about. It is the reason the Government will not proceed and give a firm commitment at the moment. This is what is at stake at the moment. That option is being exercised through the integrated rail plan. It would be short-sighted and a catastrophe for this country if the Government were to exercise that option, because it would mean we had 21st-century infrastructure serving the western parts of this country and 19th-century infrastructure serving the eastern parts. As much as I like the history of this country—I am delighted the Pacer trains are going to appear in the National Railway Museum—history belongs in history, and we should be seeking to address the present and future in this House.
The noble Baroness’s department is entirely at one with me. Indeed, in the secrecy of this House, I can say that the Government themselves, in respect of this Minister, are at one with me. This afternoon, this House has an opportunity to tell the half of the Government that agrees with me to use their heft to persuade the other half to come into alignment. The join between these two is the Prime Minister. That is the reason for backing this amendment today. It is not a small matter; it is fundamental to the future of this country that we build HS2 both east and west. If we are going to be one nation in the future, we need a one-nation transport and infrastructure system, and that is why I beg to move.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 22: Burial grounds
2: Clause 22, page 9, line 39, after “buried in it” insert “and which have been buried for at least one year before work commences”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 2, I will speak also to Amendments 3, 14 and 15 in my name. I rather regret not speaking on the previous debate, for two reasons. First, I would have been able to put to bed the idea that I am not supportive of high-speed rail. I support extending it; if not, what was the point of having just London to Birmingham? The second, perhaps more pressing, reason is to wish my noble friend Lord McLoughlin, who is not speaking on any of the other groups I am speaking on, a happy birthday. He reminded us of his innate good sense; he was the first Secretary of State for Transport to really mention that the issue of HS2 was capacity rather than high speed. I rather wish others had got there first.
I put these amendments down mainly as a result of the story around the memorial garden—arboretum, if you like—for Rennie Grove Hospice Care. Some trees were cut down that had plaques on them in memorial for children who had unfortunately died prematurely. We can all understand the hurt that that will have caused. I asked the Public Bill Office—I thank it for its help—how I could try to raise this. I do not intend to put any of these amendments to a vote, but I want some reassurance from my noble friend the Minister. I thank my noble friend, who has met with me on a couple of occasions, on the first of which I raised this issue, and our honourable friend Andrew Stephenson in the other place, who was also genuinely concerned about these reports. I have received a letter back.
There are a couple of issues on which we need some reassurance. I put “including trees” in Amendment 3 because one thing that occurred to me when looking through the Bill was that it refers to “monuments”, and I was not sure whether memorial trees count as monuments. I would like that clarified. If they do not, we should consider including them, because they are now very common—particularly when we are trying to have tree-planting, as they are a way of combining the memorial with doing something good for the environment. The Woodland Trust has done a lot in that capacity.
I tabled Amendment 2, saying that remains must have been buried for “at least one year”, and other amendments in my name because I could foresee a situation where some people might suddenly claim that a tree that had been planted had become a memorial. That is why there must be a timescale. Protestors—I have sympathy with some of them, though not all—might come up with innovative ways to try to impede this. If there is a memorial tree, I want it to be absolutely genuine.
The other amendments would ensure that the undertaker—a slightly unfortunate use of the word here—has some responsibility to inform the deceased’s next of kin and to ensure that they give them ample time. The letter that was sent to me said that HS2 had given the hospice a month’s notice that these works would take place. I am not sure that a month’s notice is sufficient in this case, to be honest. I want to go round this course to see what can be done, because we do not want any repeats of this.
Another thing I noticed in the useful letter my honourable friend in the other place, Andrew Stephenson, gave me was that it said HS2 removed the memorial plaques before cutting the trees down, but I do not think it specified what happened to them. It also said that HS2 is discussing with the hospice some future memorial with regard to this. I want to make sure that we flag up that this is a concern and really should not happen. There is plenty of provision in Schedule 20 to the Bill, paragraph 6 of which says:
“Where a licence to remove any remains is issued under paragraph 2(1) or (2), the licensee may remove from the land any monument to the deceased and re-erect it elsewhere or otherwise dispose of it.”
“Otherwise dispose of it” is a bit worrying. I would like some reassurance on that and on what a “monument to the deceased” actually encompasses. I ask my noble friend to address those comments in winding up.
My Lords, I have little to add on this amendment, except to say that the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which call for investigating the possibility of the railways as a means of getting workers to HS2 sites, are well worth considering. I hope the Minister will respond positively to them.
My Lords, I raised in Committee the issue of burial grounds and monuments, and the way in which they are dealt with. I made it clear that mine was a probing amendment, and that my interest was in ensuring that there was encouragement for really good practice in this context. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has taken the opportunity to take the issue further, because undoubtedly the modern, environmentally friendly, way of creating a memorial frequently includes trees. I shall listen carefully to the reassurances that I hope the Minister will be able to give us.
My Lords, I have little to say on these amendments, other than to make a general comment on the subject of burial grounds and so on. It seems to me that the intent in HS2 Phase 2a Information Paper: Burial grounds is appropriate. There are some useful words about how things should go ahead, and it says:
“Any human remains affected by the Proposed Scheme will be treated with all due dignity, respect and care.”
As ever, with the relationships between HS2 and the wider community, the whole issue is a cultural one. If, working within these guidelines, HS2 is constantly positive in seeking solutions, there will be no problems. But if it hides behind officialdom, there may be problems. I would be grateful if the Minister could give us some indication of how the Government will hold HS2 to account with regard to the tone and culture of the relationship between it, the wider public and, in particular, the representatives of the public in this sensitive area.
My Lords, in no other setting is it more important that HS2 works be undertaken with dignity, care and respect than when they impact human remains and monuments to the deceased. The works authorised by this Bill do not directly impact any known burial grounds or monuments. However, given that the construction of the scheme requires ground excavation, there is potential for human remains and associated monuments to be discovered. Such discoveries are most likely to be made as a result of archaeological investigation works. In such an event, Clause 23 and Schedule 20 provide for an appropriate process for carrying out the works required.
Amendment 2, moved by my noble friend Lord Randall, would remove the process in Clause 22 and Schedule 20 for burials that have been made less than one year before work commences. I state again that the phase 2a scheme, which we are considering today, does not impact any known burial grounds. It is highly unlikely that these works will impact any burial made under one year prior to their commencement. In any event, I believe that Clause 22, which applies to all burials, including those less than one year old, is appropriate. Therefore, I do not believe that my noble friend’s amendment is necessary.
The process set out in the Bill is founded on existing UK burial legislation, and ecclesiastical law and practice. The procedure in place to ensure compliance was discussed and agreed with the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England and Historic England. I must therefore resist my noble friend’s amendment.
Amendment 3, also in my noble friend’s name, would expand the scope of monuments and memorials to include trees. This would give such a memorial wood, or individual trees planted in memory of an individual, the same standing in legislation as, for instance, gravestones and war memorials.
It would be very difficult for any legislation to recognise such cases. In the UK there is no official record-keeping for memorial trees, and the Bill contains no controls for the designation of any trees as memorial trees. Furthermore, as there is no definition of a memorial tree, such a provision could, as I think my noble friend noted, be abused by individuals to hinder and delay construction works. Clearly, this would not be desirable. But we absolutely do agree that HS2 Ltd and its contractors must fully engage with those who may be impacted, sensitively and with due care. I know that my colleague, Minister Andrew Stephenson, will ensure that it is fully held to account in that regard.
As for the memorial woodland mentioned by my noble friend Lord Randall, I am aware of the case. As he knows, because we have corresponded about it, HS2 Ltd is supporting the hospice and the affected families, and will have discussions with the hospice and the landowner about creating a suitable memorial in this location once the works have concluded. Of course there will be lessons to be learned from this case, and from certain other cases. There are always lessons to be learned, and ways in which things could have been handled better. Minister Andrew Stephenson will ensure that those are carried across the phases of HS2. I sympathise with the intention to amend the Bill, but in terms of legislative proposals to address such issues, these proposals would not do the trick.
Finally, on Amendments 14 and 15, the Government are clear that due notice should be provided for any HS2 works impacting human remains or monuments to the deceased. There is a notice procedure already provided in the Bill for such works. It includes an eight-week period for next of kin to apply to remove human remains or monuments at the expense of HS2 Ltd. Prior to this notification procedure occurring, the programme of land acquisition will already have commenced. This requires notification to the owners of the land and all those with an interest in it. It would be highly unlikely that anybody with a private burial or associated monument on their land would not know what was to occur; they would know about the work well in advance.
I am sure my noble friend agrees that including a requirement to notify the next of kin “if possible” would not be workable. It would be incredibly difficult to determine what is or is not possible in notifying the next of kin. However, HS2 should be, and is, proactive in attempting to contact known next of kin, and places notices in local newspapers and at the site of burial. I understand the aims of my noble friend and reassure him that, where this process is in force for known burial grounds on phase 1 of HS2, it is working well.
Similarly, requiring notification to be given six months in advance of the works would also not be practical. Where burial grounds are identified, early notice is practical and possible. However, there are no burial grounds on phase 2a, and requiring works to cease for a mandatory six months would risk unnecessary delays in the construction programme and bringing into operation of phase 2a.
I must resist these amendments. I am aware of a couple of points of detail that my noble friend raised, so I will write to him. In resisting, I recognise the importance of this issue, the interest that has been shown across your Lordships’ House in what happens to both human remains and monuments, and the importance of memorial trees and other places special to friends and family. We will make sure that HS2 does whatever it can to make sure they are treated sensitively and with respect. I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who took part in this short but important debate. I understand the issue about memorial trees not being recognised as monuments, but this is happening increasingly and we should be looking at it. This is not the Bill or place to do it, but this idea is becoming increasingly popular, and large monuments and gravestones are not being treated as they used to be.
I am grateful to my noble friend for committing to write to me. I particularly ask her to find out what happened to the plaques that were removed from those trees, because that is of great interest to me. With that said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendment 3 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 4. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
4: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Consultation with residents and stakeholders in relation to Phase 2a of High Speed 2 and associated works
(1) Before 1 May 2021, the Secretary of State must publish the report of a consultation with—(a) residents of the County of Shropshire, the County of Staffordshire, the County of Cheshire and any other areas deemed relevant by a Minister of the Crown, who may be impacted by the scheduled works, Phase 2a of High Speed 2, and associated works; and(b) any stakeholders deemed relevant by a Minister of the Crown.(2) The consultation must ask the views of residents and stakeholders listed in subsection (1) in regard to—(a) the impact of road traffic as a result of the works;(b) the impact of the works on the natural environment, including but not limited to the impact on ancient woodland;(c) whether there are sufficient transport provisions for the purposes of passengers connecting to Phase 2a of High Speed 2, and to address changes to general passenger movements caused by the works; and(d) if not, whether the construction of new railway stations and improvements to railway stations, including any associated reopening of lines, is necessary in relation to paragraph (c).(3) The report must be laid before both Houses of Parliament and a Minister of the Crown must make a statement to both Houses detailing any steps which will be taken to implement the findings of the report.”
Amendment 4 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, requires the Government to consult the affected people of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire on how the construction works for HS2 phase 2a will impact on their communities and the natural environment, and whether there is sufficient transport provision to enable passengers to connect to phase 2a of High Speed 2, including whether the construction of new railway stations, improvements to railway stations and reopening of lines is necessary and needed.
The Government would be required to produce a report before the beginning of May next year on the outcome of the consultation, and lay it before both Houses of Parliament with a statement to both Houses detailing any steps that would be taken to implement its findings. The amendment does not seek to tell the Government what their response to the consultation should be, simply that they should consult further on the issues mentioned and produce a report to Parliament.
I thank the Minister for her letter to me of 20 November on issues I raised in Committee about local transport in Shropshire and Staffordshire, but much of it was about what might happen or might be considered, rather than what would happen. We ought to have progressed further than that on improved local transport links to HS2 phase 2a.
On consultation, in their response the Government will almost certainly maintain that they have engaged with those impacted by the works. Residents along and close to the line of route do not always seem to share that view about engagement, which at times appears to have been sparse and has left many feeling that it happened only as part of a tick-box exercise. It is easy to regard consultation as an exercise in telling people what is going to happen, rather than listening to their views and concerns, and seeking to address or mitigate them.
We are aware of one community meeting in Shropshire where the HS2 representative who attended seemed unaware about even which county the community concerned was in, when he said that HS2 had been in contact with Staffordshire County Council about relevant issues. We have heard and received comments, fair or unfair, that the independent construction commissioner has not appeared keen to engage and that the point of contact with HS2 for local communities keeps being changed. In one case, we heard about a community that has recently been transferred to its fourth official. The provision of information has too often been sporadic or not forthcoming, including on such basic issues as how long disruption is likely to last.
Many in Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire will see no material benefit from the opening of HS2, and many close to or relatively near the line of route will have significant disruption to their day-to-day lives.
In Committee, I asked the Government if any lessons on consultation had been learned from phase 1 and, if so, what they were and whether they had been or were being applied to phase 2a. I did not receive a clear answer, so have assumed that the approach to consultation for phase 1 did not provide the Government with any lessons learned. In this case, I suggest that we continue to have a problem.
Despite the new HS2 line straddling the Shropshire-Staffordshire border, there does not yet appear to have been any real effort made to ensure that the people of Shropshire reap some benefit from the new line. Much of the county still has no easy access to rail services. As I have mentioned before, Oswestry has a population close to 20,000 but no station. While a group is attempting to open a heritage line, its first priority is not connecting to the main line at Gobowen, and the heritage line has also been turned down for funding by the Government. Other towns in the north of the county, such as Ellesmere, are similarly without a rail link, and Ellesmere has also been singled out in national reports for its underinvestment in bus services. As for roads in the county, parts of the A5 are in urgent need of dualling to improve connections from the county to elsewhere and, one would hope in the future, to HS2 phase 2a.
Likewise, in Staffordshire, phase 2a will also have significant consequences for many residents, but many will see no direct benefits. Newcastle-under-Lyme, for example, has a population of around 80,000, but no railway station and poor bus services for a town of its size. In north Staffordshire, rail services are infrequent, particularly on the Crewe-Derby line, and in the town of Leek there are calls for the reconnection of the railway to Stoke-on-Trent.
There have also been calls for improvements to rail services in Cheshire. Again, some parts will be heavily impacted by HS2 construction works, but with no material benefit resulting. Local towns see little benefit to them from the HS2 project, and there have been calls for better services on the mid-Cheshire line and for improved frequencies.
My amendment also refers to the “natural environment”. While it is inevitable that an infrastructure project on the scale of HS2 will have implications for the natural environment, any negative implications must be minimised. Local residents and expert stakeholders must be engaged and consulted about how the works will impact ancient woodlands and the effectiveness or otherwise of the mitigation measures being proposed. Those within the towns and villages along the route will best understand the impact the project will have on their environment, and only with their engagement on a continuous, meaningful and regular basis can the project be best delivered.
We have previously heard from the Government about new cross-departmental groups that are now in place to keep a tighter control at ministerial level over the HS2 project, not least in respect of costs. We have heard from the Government about the impact the new post of Minister for HS2 will have on the project and its progression. One role for this new cross-departmental group and the new Minister should be to make sure that consultation with local communities is effective, ongoing and directed to seeking to address—or to mitigate as far as possible—the concerns being raised. It very much needs a hands-on approach at a high level to make sure this happens.
This amendment, with its requirement for further consultation and a subsequent report to Parliament on both the impact of the HS2 works and the possible benefits that could accrue to local communities in the form of improved transport links, providing connections to HS2 to enable them to benefit from it, will enable that much-needed hands-on approach, led or closely overseen—one hopes—by the new Minister, to happen in a productive and positive way for all concerned. Whether I seek a vote on this amendment will be dependent on what is said, including by the Government, during the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have an entirely different point to make, which I believe the Minister will need to take into account as HS2 progresses: the question of the stations at the northern end, be they at Leeds or Manchester. I believe it has now been decided that the Manchester station should be capable of dealing with through-trains. At Leeds—I now speak in the name of the late Lord Shutt of Greetland, who was very strong on this issue—the idea of a terminal station that is a dead end is anathema to most railwaymen.
In order to get connectivity through a system, it is ideal to have platforms that allow through-trains to serve the larger stations because these are not the terminal points to which people want to go; they want to connect on further, and, in the case of Leeds, it will obviously be a desire to go on to Newcastle, York and, possibly, Scotland. I imagine that, when you get to Manchester, you will want to go on to Bradford and then to Leeds in the end.
In supporting this amendment, my plea is not about the small issues of connectivity, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has referred in his remarks, but about developing a network that is able to connect through to other places itself so that we maximise the possibility of HS2 and of it connecting with tram and express-bus systems, which are really needed to provide the integrated transport network that many people want.
My Lords, the only comment I wish to make on this amendment is to express surprise that some of the issues were not brought to the attention of the Select Committee by one means or another. We carried out a visit and saw some of the nature of the problems that could arise so far as road traffic was concerned, but it seemed to us, as the report indicates, that these were things that were being actively examined by HS2. We also felt that the lead on getting what was felt to be necessary for the benefit of local people should be taken by the local authorities. We were disposed to believe that they had some slack to take up in relation to addressing the real needs.
On extra stations, I think that, while it is inevitable that some people will say, “Well, if we have got this splendid new railway, can we not connect to it?”, every connection will add to journey time, of course, unless the extra stations should really be serving the lines that are being freed of the traffic by the construction of HS2. The idea that we should report to Parliament with the kind of frequency suggested means that people will be spending an awful lot of time doing that rather than, perhaps, getting on with negotiations to try to achieve the maximum amount of local understanding and support.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. I support Amendment 4, in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser, particularly where it seeks to ensure that the Government listen and learn from
“the views of residents and stakeholders … in regard to … the impact of the works on the natural environment, including but not limited to the impact on ancient woodland”.
In future amendments, we will discuss, with increasing depth, the issues of ancient woodlands and the unacceptably high impact of HS2, so I will not ask the House to listen to me going on and on about it several times—the Minister is already pretty fed up with hearing about it. I simply say that I support this amendment, which would not only help reduce environmental damage but, absolutely vitally, would examine the priorities of local people, which is inadequately done in these major infrastructure projects.
My Lords, I question whether this amendment is appropriate for this Bill. My noble friend Lord Rosser talks about the inadequacies of the transport system in various terms, with examples including Oswestry. With respect to him, HS2 phase 2a, which is what we are supposedly discussing on this Bill, does not go anywhere near Oswestry. I point out to him as gently as possible—I do not want to upset him, as I know that he is a former railwayman—that the more stations that you put on a high-speed line, the less high-speed the trains become. The whole purpose of a high-speed line is to connect from city to city. While I have every sympathy with those who are affected by HS2, those of us who served on the committee did our best, as the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, said, to listen to people adversely affected or who felt that the road network in their immediate area was adversely affected by the forthcoming works, but again, as he said, surely those are matters for the highways authority. With the best respect to all noble Lords, we are not really qualified to make decisions about the impact of the work on HS2 on the road network in a particular town or village. That is for the local authorities. Those of us who have served on local authorities will be aware of the concern that people often express about traffic difficulties and alterations to the road network. Again with respect to my noble friend, I do not think it is for those of us in this House to make those decisions.
Perhaps the Minister can help me on procedure. My understanding is that if we pass this amendment, for example, the whole Bill will have to go back to the other place to be looked at again. I might be wrong about that, but if it is the case, again, I do not feel that it is appropriate for us to agree amendments such as this at this stage of the Bill’s passage.
It is a similar story with connectivity, the subject of Amendment 8. My noble friend Lord Rosser will know, as I do, that timetabling is an enormously complex procedure. I have great admiration for the Minister and the way in which she has conducted the Bill’s passage but, as I think she would agree, she is not really qualified to get involved in the future timetabling of trains and the impact of HS2 on existing rail services. Those are all matters for the future. With due respect to both my noble friend and the Minister, I do not feel that these are appropriate matters for the Bill.
My Lords, I had better declare an interest because I am sitting here in south Shropshire. South Shropshire is unknown to the people who run Shrewsbury and north Shropshire. They think that we are in another world. As far as I am concerned, the biggest transport issue in Shropshire is the A49. It needs to be dualled from top to bottom. I can understand why people at the margin, particularly on the boundary between Shropshire and Staffordshire, might have an interest, but, to be honest, the way that this amendment is drafted—I have no personal criticism of anybody—I do not intend to vote for it. It is almost a wrecking amendment, as shown by the provisions of proposed new subsection (2). So, having declared my interest and made my case for better transport infrastructure in Shropshire, and partly rubbished the amendment, I am content to leave it there.
My Lords, I have some sympathy for this amendment given my experience as a member of the HS2 committee. The representations that we heard from petitioners were basically very local: they were individual petitions—people who had particular grievances and concerns—and, to the extent that there was any collective representation, at the parish council level. It is a pity that broader questions of whether the county council, highways authority and those responsible for transport locally had looked at how the impact of HS2 could be mitigated, given that we do not want to stop it or change the line of the route, did not come up at our committee. I therefore have some sympathy with Amendment 4.
My Lords, this is an interesting amendment. I shall just concentrate a very few remarks on proposed new subsection (2)(c) and (d). The first thing to say is that I do not think that anybody is serious in expecting them to build extra stations on phase 2a. Crewe is a very good junction and it must involve, possibly on other lines, building extra stations if it can be justified.
As part of the Oakervee review, I also, with the team, visited Crewe. I think the Select Committee went there as well. It brings into focus the fact that the Select Committee quite rightly looks at local things and people’s concerns, but who looks at what one might call the regional connectivity? I will give one example. We were sitting in the office in Crewe talking to HS2 and Network Rail representatives and it became quite clear that the design of HS2 to go through Crewe station was effectively preventing even an hourly service from Shrewsbury through Crewe to Manchester because of the point layout. I got the impression that HS2 did not care at all about that. Network Rail said, “You’re stopping us doing even what we can do at the moment with difficulty”. I do not know where that should be discussed, or whether it should be in a report, as the amendment proposes, but there ought to be an opportunity to discuss it. It is not a matter for petitioning, but I will be interested to hear what the Minister will say about it.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 4 because HS2 has come in for criticism about the quality of its consultation with local residents. Although it has impressed on us how much it has improved, I am sure that there is probably still some way to go. I am particularly concerned about the impact of the construction process, which may not be obvious to either HS2, or to local residents, before it starts. Construction of a project of this size and this kind is not a transitory process, in that it will impact on some communities for years. It is not like your next-door neighbour building an extension, where it is bad for a few months but then the disturbance goes away. This could last for years.
The amendment specifies traffic and the impact on the environment. Although both issues were raised in Committee, we still need some answers from the Minister. We have heard a lot, and will hear more today, about the impact on ancient woodlands, but other aspects of the environment are of equal importance, for example wetlands. The amendment also includes an important reference to new links to HS2 itself. I am not suggesting—it never occurred to me—that that means stopping on the way, as that obviously would be a very slow way to run a high-speed railway. Treated properly, HS2 will be the catalyst for a widespread upgrading of our existing Victorian railways. I was taking this amendment to mean improving links into HS2, to the stations that have been specified.
Amendment 8, which is in my name, is also in this group. It specifically refers to that aspect. It provides for an annual review of connectivity in our rail network and the impact of HS2 on that. I have already spoken this afternoon about the importance of using HS2 to unlock capacity to allow more intensive use of existing lines by commuters and for other local journeys, as well as to provide room for the transfer of freight from road to rail. The northern powerhouse and Midlands Connect rely on that. I suggest that progress on this needs annual review because the Government—any Government—need to be kept under pressure to maintain the momentum for change. The review is to be laid before Parliament within six months of its completion. Once again, that is to avoid backsliding.
There is also a provision so that the impact of the pandemic is taken into account. This is specifically to address the impact on demand for public transport, which has clearly fallen sharply in recent months, largely because people are worried about safety, although public transport providers have made huge efforts to ensure it is safe. However, demand will return, albeit maybe in a different pattern which providers will have to adapt to. Anyone who thinks that we will suddenly not want to travel has misjudged human nature and failed to take the lessons of history. I am keen that above all we encourage people back to travelling by rail. There has been a lot of discussion about building back better, and part of that is ensuring that new services are fit for the future, and ensuring that HS2 is the catalyst to enable future UK Governments to deliver on climate objectives, by taking cars and lorries off the road and replacing planes with trains.
My Lords, I will address these amendments, how they are worded and what their consequences would be, because I am not sure that that fully came out in this debate, which was much shorter than I had anticipated. When I first looked at this speaking note on Saturday, it had 2,585 words. This is not to suggest that I intend to bore your Lordships into submission but to illustrate that there has been a huge amount of consultation, and that there is a huge amount to say about it.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would mandate just one more round—like one more wafer-thin mint—as if it might yield what? Would it yield different results to previous consultations, when works have not even started, and impacts are not yet being felt? I agree with what I think lies behind the noble Lord’s amendment: that HS2 Ltd must engage with and consult local communities, not once, not twice, but on an ongoing basis, before, during and after the project. I have condensed 20 minutes of words into something slightly less, but I warn noble Lords that there is still a fair amount to say.
I have a huge amount of respect for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who is exceptional in his diligence and one of the hardest-working Members of your Lordships’ House, but I was saddened that just a few examples were being used to show that the entire consultation process therefore has not worked. That is not the case. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, also said something like, “Well, I hear reports that consultation hasn’t gone brilliantly.” If there are specific concerns about lack of engagement, I encourage any noble Lord to bring them forward to Minister Stephenson. We will build this project successfully if engagement happens before, during and after the project. We have a way forward, and therefore the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is not needed; nor would it even be helpful to the progress of the Bill, I am afraid.
Ten years ago, there were consultations that led to the initial identification of the preferred route. Five years ago, further consultation carved out phase 2a as a separate project to bring the benefits of HS2 to Crewe sooner. That led to the further round of consultations. In spring 2016, HS2 Ltd undertook a consultation on the scope and methodology to be used in producing phase 2a’s environmental statement and equalities impact assessment. In September 2016, HS2 Ltd launched consultations on the phase 2a working draft environmental statement and the working draft equalities impact assessment. At the same time, the phase 2a design refinement consultation was conducted by the Department for Transport. These consultations were open to everyone, including the people of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire, and were publicised widely by letter, email, notices in local newspapers, posters in doctors’ surgeries and libraries, press releases to local media and, of course, social media.
The consultations included information about the impacts on the natural environment, including ancient woodland. They included information about construction routes and road diversions and closures, so that people could understand what might happen to their local roads and transport infrastructure. They included alternative options and asked for feedback. The consultations closed in November 2016. The responses were collated, taken into account and, where relevant, design changes were made. The report on all that work was published alongside the deposit of the phase 2a Bill in July 2017. It took over a year, but that is not all.
In July 2017, when the Phase 2a Bill was laid, it was accompanied by the environmental statement and the equality impact assessment. These two documents were also open to consultation and covered agriculture, forestry and soils; air quality; climate; community; cultural heritage; ecology; electromagnetic interference; land quality; landscape and visual assessment; socioeconomics; sound, noise and vibration; traffic and transport; waste; and water resources. In the final documents, these topics were presented on a route-wide, area-by-area and community-by-community basis. There were engagement events, in which local people had the opportunity to meet experts to discuss all these matters. A huge amount of written material is available for people to read if they wish, and summaries in plain English. The consultation on the environmental statement deposited with the Bill received 16,768 responses.
The Bill itself, including the design of works, was also open to scrutiny by those directly affected by phase 2a and their representatives, such as local authorities, local interest groups, and parish councils, as well as environmental and transport NGOs. They were able to bring their concerns directly to a Select Committee in the other place. I might skip over this bit, as we have done Select Committees, but noble Lords will know that a huge amount of scrutiny goes on. Environmental reports and statements are prepared for any provisions added by the Select Committee, and an enormous amount of consultation has happened as a result of those environmental statements.
There has not been a lack of consultation to date; nor has that consultation failed to deliver a particular response—that surely people want X, Y or Z. Perhaps the concern posited by this amendment is that now the Bill is near to being finalised, local communities will not hear from HS2 Ltd again or be able to have their say. That is not the case. This Bill gives certainty to those who are directly affected, and we do not want to delay it. It is certainly not the end of the engagement story.
This Bill provides only deemed planning permission for the scheduled works. Further approvals are still needed from elected local authorities. Various processes are outlined in Schedule 17. Local authorities have all sorts of powers to approve or request conditions on a range of works, including construction arrangements, lorry movements and design works. Local communities will get very involved in that, and HS2 Ltd has also committed to engage with local communities on design features such as viaducts, tunnel portals and maintenance bases, and on developing standards for road bridges, foot bridges and noise barriers, and will engage on local environment management plans and local traffic management plans.
I could go on. There is a hotline, there are two commissioners and the HS2 Minister, to whom people or their MPs can write. We must draw the line somewhere. While I am fully in favour of constantly communicating and engaging with people, I am not sure that asking them similar questions again and again is particularly productive.
There is also the point on timing. I noted earlier that previous consultations had taken well over a year to do properly. They took up a huge amount of resources and effort, and they were well worth it, because they were good consultations and produced good outcomes. However, to produce another environmental consultation that was worth the paper it was written on, deliver it, analyse it and then provide a considered response by 1 May 2021 is an incredibly tight deadline, and I say that generously. Therefore, I cannot support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. It just would not make any sense. However, I understand where he is coming from and I believe that we can do a lot to help him on that journey and keep him content.
I would like to point out that I was saved by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, who made some excellent points on why local transport connectivity is an issue for local people and local authorities, with of course government stepping in to provide guidance, funding and the regulatory framework where needed. I am the Minister for Roads, Buses and Places. I know how to fund a road, but the reality is that I do not come up with a blueprint deciding who gets which road. People come and ask me because the local people want a road in a particular area and it makes sense to have one. Therefore, I do not think that the Government should interfere in local transport connectivity studies. Those are for pan-regional bodies such as Midlands Connect. We will certainly do what we can on roads and buses—we have the bus strategy coming out—and local authorities will look at how to put together integrated transport plans, as indeed is their role.
I turn quickly to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on connectivity. Connectivity is one of the fundamental aims of HS2. The Government are not willing to accept the amendment, but I thank the noble Baroness for it. The Bill before your Lordships’ House today concerns just 36 miles of track from Fradley to Crewe. Crewe is a key rail gateway. It was opened in 1837 and linked the Liverpool and Manchester railway with the London and Birmingham railway, and Crewe station became a major hub. We believe that it will be able to build back even better from the huge heritage that it has. There will be extra rail capacity, which is envisioned to transform Crewe. The growth strategy of the Constellation Partnership, made up of a group of two local enterprise partnerships and seven local authorities, has developed plans to deliver a significant number of jobs and homes across the whole of Cheshire and Staffordshire, and I urge the noble Baroness to look at that.
There are all sorts of ways in which we can take the railway forward, but providing an annual report on a railway on which construction has not even started and which will not be operational for some time is possibly not the best way to do it. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government are doing many reports on connectivity on an ongoing basis, and I encourage her to respond to the union connectivity review, which is being led by Sir Peter Hendy and is currently open to calls for evidence. I have difficulty in seeing merit in the amendment from the noble Baroness and I trust that I have been able to satisfy her.
I have received one request to ask a short question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I call the noble Lord to ask a short question for elucidation.
I think that the Minister has demonstrated how much consultation there has been over the years. I do not want to go into that, other than to say that most of it has been good. However, I go back to paragraphs (2)(c) and (d) proposed in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Rosser. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, people will start to think, “Okay, it’s being built. What’s going to be the end result?” I can see my noble friend’s concerns: it gets built but the connections to it by rail, with or without extra stations, either have not been thought through or nobody will know who is responsible for them. Will that satisfy the consultees? I am not sure that having an annual report is the right thing, but I hope that the noble Baroness will consider what should be done to satisfy people that, when the line opens in 10 years’ time or whatever, all these things will have been addressed. If there are changes that people think are desirable, they could have started so that there is not another 10-year gap before something happens.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for raising that point. It is really important, so I will ask my honourable friend Minister Heaton-Harris, the Rail Minister, perhaps to write to him setting out his ambitions for rail nationwide, particularly how his ambitions for rail interact with the ambitions for HS2 and how that then produces greater rail connectivity.
I thank the Minister for her response and indeed for her kind words. I also thank all other noble Lords who have participated in this debate.
My amendment calls for further consultation, seeking the views of residents and stakeholders
“who may be impacted by the scheduled works”,
including on whether there are
“sufficient transport provisions for the purposes of passengers connecting to”
HS2 so that they can benefit from it, with a report on that consultation to Parliament. Clearly, from that, the references are not to additional stations on HS2 itself but to whether there is a case for any additional stations, reopening of lines or improvements to stations associated with improving connectivity to and from phase 2 of HS2 for the people of the three counties mentioned in the amendment—namely, Cheshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire.
As one can see from the wording of the amendment, it is not about having another consultation on what the route should be or anything like that; it is about the impact of the works and about looking at transport links to and from HS2—that is, all transport links, not just rail links. The amendment specifically refers to “transport provisions” to enable better access for the residents of the three counties.
The amendment would not tie the Government’s hands to any specific course of future action or policy; nor would it delay progress on phase 2a of HS2, as it does not stipulate that there should be no further progress until the consultation has been completed and the report put before Parliament. The issue is that there is a need to make sure that local residents affected feel that their voice is being heard by HS2 and that their views are being listened to. They should not, as I said, feel that consultation is something of a tick-box exercise in which they are told what is going to happen rather than being engaged on a continuous, regular basis. They should feel involved in decisions affecting them and be aware of what is happening and when.
The Government appear satisfied with the consultation that has taken place with local residents on phase 2a of HS2. I have to say that that is not the message that I get. I do not think that the Government should be satisfied with what has taken place to date, albeit it may have been extensive. It comes back to the question of whether people feel that they are being told what is going to happen, as opposed to them having an impact on decisions affecting their lives.
I hope that he will not mind my doing so—if he does, I apologise in advance—but I refer to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who said the following in Committee on 9 November. In relation to phase 1, in which the noble Lord was much involved, presumably at that time the Government were saying much the same thing as we have heard today about the extent and thoroughness of the consultation that there had been. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, said:
“HS2 does not listen to the concerns of NGOs, Members of Parliament or ordinary members of the public. As an example, when I ceased to be the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge, I was succeeded by no less than the current Prime Minister, but he has just as much trouble getting answers out of HS2 as I did.”—[Official Report, 9/11/20; col. GC 376.]
Clearly, if the Prime Minister cannot get answers out of HS2, what chance do the residents of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire stand without the help of this amendment and the helpful role that it will enable the new Minister for HS2 to play in ensuring that there is proper and continuing engagement by HS2 and progress on ensuring improved transport links in the three counties to and from HS2 phase 2a? I have listened carefully to what has been said, but I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 5. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
5: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Biodiversity net gain
The scheduled works must achieve 10% biodiversity net gain.”
My Lords, I declare my interest as in the register as the deputy chair of Natural England. Amendment 5 stands in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will also speak to Amendments 6, 7 and 11 in this group. I give notice to the House that I will seek votes on Amendments 5, 6 and 7 unless the Government see light on the road to Damascus or even on the line to Crewe.
First, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the numerous meetings she has held with Peers proposing amendments. If we have not been persuaded, it is no reflection on my noble friend—it is just that some of us are difficult blighters at the best of times. However, on this occasion we think we might have some merit on our side. Noble Lords may consider this an unusual grouping of Peers, but we are all united in our desire to protect and enhance UK biodiversity, which has declined drastically over the last 50 years. We are not seeking to stop or slow down HS2a, but we suggest that a flagship construction project should be a flagship regeneration project for our flora and fauna too, and it can be done at little cost.
Amendment 5 would insert a new clause stating:
“The scheduled works must achieve 10% biodiversity net gain.”
The Government’s policy is that all new developments must achieve 10% biodiversity net gain. This has been welcomed by developers who see it as a selling point for their properties. However, the policy does not apply to national infrastructure projects, which in my view should be leading by example. Indeed, even Network Rail and Highways England have committed to net gain in the future.
Clause 92 and Schedule 14 to the Environment Bill, currently in another place and which this House will get next year, lays down a requirement for 10% net gain, but the HS2 policy is just no net loss. Leaving aside the point that when one destroys an ancient woodland there is an irrecoverable loss, that policy is now way out of date. In 2015, no net loss might have satisfied the public and the then Government, but it is out of step with what the Prime Minister has announced in the last few months and out of step with the mood of the times on to our environment.
Just last week, the Prime Minister said in the national infrastructure strategy that we must build back better and greener. He made the 30x30 pledge and recently launched a massive programme of nature recovery networks. Therefore, the old HS2 policy on the destruction of habitats and wildlife is way out of tune with the Government’s new thinking on nature recovery.
I pay tribute to the Government and to my honourable friend Andrew Stephenson MP, the Minister in charge in another place, for pushing HS2 to do more than just achieve no net loss. This amendment is designed to help my noble friend the Government by putting HS2a under an obligation to achieve 10% overall biodiversity improvement when the project is complete. HS2’s green corridor ambition can contribute to the project’s environmental legacy, but it is unlikely to deliver net gain on its own.
The main misconception about net gain, and this has been said in Committee, is that it would involve more compulsory purchase of land adjacent to the line. That is absolutely not the case. Achieving net gain in this project is similar to the environmental land management schemes being designed for farmers, launched this morning. That would mean HS2 offering incentives for landowners and others to develop biodiversity projects. These may be adjacent to the route or even many miles away. HS2 could fund new woodlands, peat restoration or wetlands improvements and these do not have to be tied to the route. It could fund landowners or organisations such as the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and local wildlife trusts to carry out nature recovery work elsewhere, so long as by the end of the project all the works had achieved a 10% net gain overall.
Natural England calculates that the cost of net gain over the whole HS2 route would be 0.01%, or £100 million. Here we are dealing with a section one-third of that length and a guestimate of costs would therefore be about £35 million. That would be a one-off cost. The wage bill for the 1,389 HS2 staff last year was £109 million, and that will be a recurring cost for 15 years or so. Thus, achieving net gain is a very small cost but a huge environmental gain. We should expect HS2 as the Government’s flagship infrastructure project to lead the way and go above and beyond the minimum and achieve what we will legislate for next year in the Environment Bill.
HS2 is unnecessarily antagonising organisations which would love to weigh in behind it if it would do a little bit more for biodiversity. There will be some who will always be opposed to the project, but many highly respected NGOs would publicly support HS2 if it achieved net gain and saved ancient woodlands.
That brings me on to Amendment 6, and my proposed new clause:
“The scheduled works must not destroy any ancient woodlands, either directly or indirectly.”
A number of ancient woodlands would be damaged or destroyed by the current proposed route. No matter how many new trees we plant, we cannot replace the biodiversity lost when an ancient woodland is destroyed. These are not just old trees. When habitats have been left to develop for 500 years or so they become complex ecosystems holding a wide range of flora. Ancient woodlands have declined dramatically over the years and now cover only 2.4% of the UK. That is far too small a size to sacrifice even more.
I quote from the Government’s own National Planning Policy Framework, which instructs councils that
“development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists”.
Of course, the Government then list as “wholly exceptional” any old national infrastructure projects where they exempt themselves from the rules they apply to everyone else. In this day and age, I do not think Governments will get away with a policy of “Everyone must obey the rules, except us.” That mood is changing.
If ancient woodlands have to be destroyed, Natural England proposes a replanting ratio of 30:1. That seems high but it is a recognition that you have to plant a lot more new trees if you are going to try to ameliorate the damage done by the loss of ancient woods. I shall say no more on this subject, on this amendment, because I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who is an absolute expert on this matter, will talk about ancient woodlands. I look forward to hearing what she has to say about this amendment and her Amendment 13.
My last amendment, Amendment 7, seeks to insert a new clause stating that:
“All plants and trees planted on any of the land on which the scheduled works take place, or in mitigation of the effects of those works, must be … British native species, and … sourced in the United Kingdom.”
This is not a little Englander new clause, suggesting that I do not want nasty foreign trees when we have left the EU, but a recognition that our native wildlife needs native plants and habitat to survive. For tens of thousands of years our native fauna has survived and developed in a habitat of native British flora. Putting it simply, we cannot have native red squirrels unless we have the native trees producing the nuts, fruits and seeds on which they survive. The Back from the Brink project, to recover 20 species from near extinction, depends on native habitats.
This new clause is necessary because HS2 plans to plant one-third of the plants and trees from latitudes of up to two degrees south of the midpoint of the route. Planting trees from further south may make sense for commercial forestry, guarding against climate change, but does nothing to help our native fauna survive. Eucalyptus trees from France may be very good for timber but I understand their leaves are toxic and that only koala bears and possums thrive on them and we do not want those species running around our woods. Thus, we need UK native trees and plants to support our native wildlife. However, I mention that as an extreme example and I do not expect to see these exotic species from France, but it is highly likely that the one-third will be sourced from the largest supplier of trees and plants in Europe: the Netherlands. Last year, we imported £1 billion of trees and plants from Holland.
As colleagues will know, we face an increasing threat from diseases unwittingly imported along with plants sourced from abroad. Even if we step up biosecurity when we leave the EU, there will still be an enormous risk of bringing in destructive bugs and diseases. For any imported seed stock, HS2 must follow the relevant hygiene regulations as set out in the Plant Health (England) Order 2005 and it must comply with the latest biosecurity certification standards on planting and importation. But that is what is supposed to happen at the moment for all imported seeds and plants and yet we have ash dieback, oak processionary moth and spittlebugs, and God help us if Xylella fastidiosa gets here because it can destroy 500 different tree species. Of course, many bugs and diseases are hidden in the soil.
No doubt noble Lords with more expertise than I will correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the case that every single bug and disease which has devastated our trees and plants has come in from abroad despite the best efforts at port control with phytosanitary measures? Do not take my word for it on the risk. In July 2019, the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture issued a warning to all its members saying that they had to take special care that they did not export the oak processionary moth to England along with all the English oaks they exported to us. If even the Dutch exporters are warning about the dangers of their products, should we not exercise a bit more caution? The one-third foreign planting advice satisfies the technical advice from the Forestry Commission and Natural England, but I am suggesting that we should be more cautious than the technical advice. The danger is not foreign eucalyptus but foreign English oaks.
At this precise moment—or he may have finished now—my noble friend Lord Gardiner is upstairs in the Grand Committee taking through a large SI on protecting us from invasive non-native species. A week today, he is taking through a massive SI with 13 annexes on plant phytosanitary conditions. Defra is well aware of the threat but it seems that the Department for Transport is not. That is why a requirement on acquiring plants from UK sources is so important. It will also be good business for UK nurseries that can easily supply all that would be required. We have a huge range of UK native trees and there is no excuse not to use them. One has just to look at the Woodland Trust website to see the full range and all animals, birds, butterflies and other species that depend on our native flora for survival.
I have just read, this weekend, the Woodland Trust publication, published this month, called Tree Provenance Choice in a Changing Climate, which addresses this biodiversity argument. The Woodland Trust says:
“For woodland conservation, resilience, and enhanced biosecurity, evidence suggests that tree seed sourced from local UK provenances will be best adapted for UK sites in the long term … Wherever possible, trees should be sourced from within the UK in order to prevent further introductions of damaging pests and diseases.”
Again, I say simply: do not take my word for it but listen to the experts on this occasion.
I want to say a few words on Amendment 11. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has drafted—in my opinion—a more detailed and better amendment than mine. I look forward to her speaking on it, but I will seek a vote on Amendment 7 if the noble Baroness does not seek one on Amendment 11.
I cannot see any downside to the Government accepting Amendments 7 or 11. They carry no extra cost, give a big boost to UK plant growers, provide native trees and plants for our native wildlife, and are a 100% cast-iron guarantee that we will not bring in another devastating plant disease. It is a win-win-win-win for all of us but especially our tress and wildlife.
I apologise that I have spoken at length on these amendments, so I will not try the patience of the House by speaking to any other amendments today, but I do support Amendments 10 and 13 in another group, when they are reached.
In conclusion, the cost of what we propose here for this short part of the route is infinitesimally small in comparison with the overall cost of the project. Our amendments would not slow down construction. If we are to have a world-class new railway, we should preserve our existing world-class woods and wildlife—what remain of them. HS2 should guarantee a substantial environmental legacy that is commensurate with the status of a flagship government infrastructure project. I hope that the Government might accept these simple amendments of mine or that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is an extremely great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Blencathra. He has made a very eloquent case for all the amendments in his name and those that I have signed with him. First, I draw attention to my environmental entries in the register of interests.
Amendment 5, as my noble friend as said, is about treating national infrastructure projects in the same way as the Government want everybody else to do: in other words, to have net gain. Surely that is right. We should use our national infrastructure projects as an example of what can be done. I take the point—it is very valid—that environmental NGOs would support HS2 if they believed that this was achievable, which I think it is. I can give an example relating to phase 1, which has obviously now been completed, when I pointed out at a very early stage that the route was going through a local nature reserve owned by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. I suggested that HS2 could improve that reserve: it was a deep lake, and could easily, with some of the spoil and so forth, have been made a little bit more shallow or have been graduated. Not only could it have made an excellent place for wildlife and biodiversity generally, but it could have become an educational facility for the west of London and surrounding areas. I think local people would have accepted that as something worth gaining against the loss of the land that HS2 was carving through.
That argument is now gone: we cannot do anything about that, but phase 2a is a very short route, and surely we could do something here. I agree entirely with my noble friend that the cost of it, in relation to everything else, would be very small indeed. It does not even have to be along the line all the time—although railway lines are, of course, notable for being wildlife corridors. As he said, we could all get behind the restoration not just of woodland, but of wetlands and so forth.
I turn to Amendment 6 on the preservation of ancient woodlands. We have discussed this before, and we will hear more about it, no doubt, from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who is one of the experts on this and will be able to say a great deal about it. I support this amendment entirely. Ancient woodlands cannot be replaced or replanted. However many trees you plant in a place, when you destroy something like that, you destroy woodlands that are centuries old. I will give one anecdote from my days as a retail furnisher. One of our suppliers, a company that prided itself on having sustainable timber from British woodlands, used the example of a tree that was so old that it was actually reaching the end of its life. It used, as a promotional tool, a slice through the tree and showed what was going on in the world when it was a young sapling. First it was planted, and then the second ring was the Battle of Waterloo and so forth. It just is so impressive to see the age of these trees and what has gone on. The loss of one tree is a shame, but when you destroy a whole woodland it is a crime against nature.
Moving on to Amendment 7, which is the easiest in this group for the Government to accept, I agree with my noble friend that this is actually a win-win-win-win situation. Of course it is. We have probably gone past eucalyptus—I think that he said polar bears but probably meant to say koala bears—which were imported. Eucalyptus forests, whether in Spain or in Africa or wherever, contain virtually no wildlife whatever. They are deserts. In Australia, however, they are the very source of a lot of the wildlife. Once you move them away, they are useless, apart from the commercial side. That is what my noble friend was saying, although I would not have a eucalyptus for commercial uses either.
For biodiversity, we need our own species. My noble friend very clearly made the point that they should be sourced in the United Kingdom; I cannot for the life of me see why that cannot be accepted. He mentioned the invasive species that creep in—a lot of them come in the soil. I draw noble Lords’ attention to something called the Obama worm, which originated in Argentina, came across to Europe, is now in the UK and is eating up all our earthworms. As you can imagine, it does not do our soil or our biodiversity any good. It is almost impossible for however many—and we will not have many—inspectors to be able to dig through all the earth that these saplings, or whatever, come in. Quite honestly, the Government could show great encouragement for this; elsewhere, as my noble friend said, Defra has shown such encouragement. Government at the highest level is very keen on improving our biodiversity. I am afraid that the Department for Transport does not seem to quite get it, but there is an opportunity here.
Finally, I also agree with my noble friend on Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, which I am looking forward to hearing about; it seems something that I could really get behind. I shall support him in the Division Lobby later if, as he said, that is not pressed to a vote.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 7 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and to Amendment 11 in my name.
I will start with Amendment 5. You really cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra—he laid out the case so clearly and passionately. It is strange that the Government have committed to, and will bring into legislation, a requirement to have 10% biodiversity net gain from all developments other than major infrastructure projects. It is morally as well as environmentally important that these major projects, which are mostly government-sponsored, should not be able to duck this important commitment if the government are trying to get everybody else to commit to it. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.
Of course, there are weasel words in all this. In the case of HS2, the concept of net biodiversity gain would need to be defined very carefully. Any project that impacts adversely on ancient woodland is already not able to achieve net gain fully, as damage to ancient woodland is irreversible and cannot be compensated for in any way. No amount of tree planting or carting woodland soils across the country can recreate or compensate for trees that may be anywhere between 400 and 1,000 years old, and are part of complex webs of biodiversity. That is what ancient woodland is—it is about not just the trees but the soils and all the other species; it is about that ecosystem. So I would support a requirement for 10% biodiversity net gain for HS2 with the exclusion of ancient woodland, where it simply does not work. I am also greatly against HS2 saying that it is delivering biodiversity net gain. As long as it is destroying ancient woodland, it simply cannot make that claim.
I support Amendment 6. It is a bold and simple amendment not to destroy ancient woodlands. Avoiding ancient woodland in some of these major infrastructure projects is not an impossible dream. However, it needs a couple of things to happen; for example, an up-to-date ancient woodland inventory mapping all the remaining areas so that developers have a sporting chance of seeing where these areas are and avoiding them. That has been done very successfully for such things as sites of special scientific interest, marine protected areas or bird-breeding areas. It is not a new idea but a very simple one.
The current ancient woodland inventory has existed for a number of decades but is incredibly out of date. I saw a quite laughable example recently where a site on the ancient woodland inventory has actually been a cement works for 15 years; that goes to show how out of date it is. It is out of date, it does not map all the eligible areas, a lot is missing and, as a matter of policy, it does not go down to some of the smaller fragments.
Natural England is responsible for updating it and is, very slowly, with Woodland Trust help because it simply does not have enough money to do it at the pace that is needed. We really cannot expect developers to do a good job on ancient woodland identification without help. An inventory could avoid much conflict, if there was a good one in place. The simple message for the Minister today on the ancient woodland inventory, as part of Amendment 6, would be: please stump up the money to allow it to be completed and brought up to date. It is bizarre that a charity such as the Woodland Trust, supported by public donation, is paying for a statutory body to do a statutory job.
The second thing we need if we are to destroy no more ancient woodland is a slower speed HS2, as constantly advocated by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. The TGV goes at 200 mph and the Japanese bullet train goes even slower. Why do we need one at 250 mph? Let us have medium-speed rail rather than high-speed rail; that would give us the ability to wiggle the routes more around sites that are sensitive, for whatever reasons, and reduce the amount of public angst for a variety of reasons. We know, as has been said this evening, that HS2 is more about capacity for passengers and freight than about journey time. Speed is less important; ancient woodland is vital.
Amendment 7 seeks to ensure that the species used by the HS2 project are all native. This is important for three reasons. Most commercial forestry in this country focuses on non-native softwoods. As we restore the highly depleted tree cover of the UK, which we are going to do because it is vital for us in addressing climate change, the biggest growth needs to be in native trees. Strangely enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, pointed out, they also support native biodiversity and will help to reverse the tremendous decline in it that has already happened, so we need native trees to be planted by the HS2 project. Sticking to native trees also avoids imports and helps to avoid tree disease. I will speak on that when I come to Amendment 11.
I want to challenge the argument at the moment that HS2 needs to plant a substantial proportion of trees from two to five degrees south—as far south as the Loire valley—because they will adapt better to climate change. That argument is simply ceasing to represent what the science is saying. Recent research confirms that native species growing in native soils and living in assemblages of native biodiversity, to which they are accustomed, have more chance of adapting over time to climate change as it advances. They are capable of demonstrating greater resilience, particularly because of the wide genetic variation which we are blessed with in this country, even within individual species and sites. I urge the Minister to tackle Defra to require the Forestry Commission urgently to revise its guidance on the selection of species. What might be just acceptable for non-native species in commercial forestry is absolutely not acceptable for amenity and conservation planting, which is what HS2 is doing.
Let me turn to Amendment 11 in my name. We desperately need a biosecurity standard for HS2 to reduce the risk of importing potentially devastating tree disease. We all know what happened to English elms. Ash dieback is now rampant, with a prediction that 80% of the more than 2 billion ash trees will die. Now that is what I call a pandemic, and it will change the face of the British countryside. Ash trees are the most predominant trees standing as standards in our hedgerows. They are an archetypal bit of what the English countryside looks like, but they are not going to be around. Lots and lots of other trees, for commercial and amenity purposes, will die as a result of the ash pandemic.
That pandemic was probably brought about by trees being imported from Holland. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked about oak processionary moths, which are now with us. There is now a disease or pest for practically every native species, either here or waiting to invade from the continent. France, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland all have huge horticultural industries serving the UK and have recorded outbreaks of serious tree diseases that are not currently prevalent in the UK. You just have to say “Xylella fastidiosa” to a tree person and they go into a terminal faint. This bacterium can infect more than 300 species of trees and shrubs. If it comes across the channel, which, under the current importation standards, it could well do, it will infect tens of billions of shrubs and trees in this country and threaten the billions of pounds of benefits that trees provide terms of in public services across the country—services such as protecting our water and soils, cleaning our air, reducing flood risk, providing health and well-being, supporting biodiversity and reducing climate change. We cannot afford to have any risk at all of Xylella coming here. We have already had to double the number of plant health inspectors post-Brexit, but that is insufficient in the face of the scale of threats we are talking about. The only real protection is to have a major push for the use of seeds, shrubs and trees sourced and grown in the UK and Ireland only as the only safe way forward. There is an added benefit of promoting new tree nursery businesses in the UK and Ireland and allowing them to invest now to create safe tree stocks for the growth in both urban and rural planting that we are going to see with the push for the planting trees in the face of climate change.
I hope I can get the Minister to give assurances on those points I have raised on biosecurity. I do not intend to move my amendment because I hope I am going to get assurances, but were the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, to move his, I would vote for it.
My Lords, I am rising in support of all these amendments. If it comes to a vote, I will vote for them all. It is a pleasure to follow the previous three speakers. I admit we are a strange bunch to be putting amendments, and, after the excellent opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, I look forward to working with him on the Environment Bill. I am sure we will have lots to agree about. Astonishing, is it not?
It is worth saying yet again that we are in a climate emergency. Gone is the time for mega projects like this. It is not the time for new airports and new roads. We have to cut down. It is a time for creativity, adaptation and transformation, as well as keeping things local, whether buying or producing. Amendments 5, 6 and 7 would, at least, protect against some of the worst damage and legally require effective mitigation of the damage.
I know HS2 makes lots of promises, but unfortunately, it often breaks its promises. It is down to the Government to make sure it does not. For example, last night, in Camden, there was a motion to try to reclaim £129 million for rehousing from HS2 because it gave all sorts of assurances about noise and construction, dust and debris, all of which has made life absolutely impossible for hundreds of Camden residents. Every single political party unanimously agreed that HS2 was at fault and they would try to reclaim the money. We have to accept that HS2 does not live up to its promises. We, here and in the other place, have to try to make sure it does.
The Bill has shown the limits of what parliamentary democracy can achieve. The parliamentary arithmetic is against us in the other place and in this House. Preventing this destruction is something that just a few of us cannot manage. I realise that the Green Party is the only political party that is against HS2, alongside some notable rebels from other parties. I am very sad that Labour is not, I gather, supporting these amendments today. Surely everybody cares about biodiversity; it is the basis of our health as humans. I pay a special tribute to all the campaigners against HS2, some of whom are exposing themselves to great physical, mental and financial risks. Their work, like that of activists on so many issues, is what inspires me and keeps me fighting in this Chamber, although it is wonderful to have the support of other political parties today.
The Conservatives ran a shameless election gambit last year, claiming to put HS2 on hold. They did not so much kick it into the long grass as hide it in the grass until after the election—then they went ahead with it. They had full support for it once the election was over, not understanding what the loss of ancient woodland means. I have heard the arguments: it is only a few; there are lots more; we can replace them. That is all absolute nonsense. The loss of ancient woodlands creates gaping wounds in Britain’s nature. These amendments will, at least, force the Government to face the reality of the destruction that is being inflicted.
I am pleased to be a signatory to Amendments 5 to 7 and would have signed Amendment 11 if I had spotted it. I very much hope that the Government are in listening mode on this and that the Minister can take it back and get some sort of support for it.
My Lords, I cannot hope to match the oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, when he moved and spoke to these amendments. I have a great deal of sympathy for what he said, but I urge him and other noble Lords to look at the report from the Select Committee, which took this aspect of the Bill extremely seriously.
We heard detailed evidence from the Woodland Trust about biodiversity, particularly about the loss of ancient woodlands. Can the Minister define exactly what an ancient woodland is? There seemed to be some doubt in the committee about what it was and how much of it was being lost through the building of HS2a. It seemed to us that the Woodland Trust’s demand that any ancient woodland being lost should be replaced at a ratio of 30:1 was somewhat excessive. Does the Minister agree with that? The distinguished chairman of the committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made the point that replacement to such an extent would take a considerable amount of existing farmland and would certainly not be in the interests of the countryside generally. Can the Minister say exactly how much ancient woodland is being lost as a result of the HS2 scheme?
The committee received assurances from the promoters of HS2, who insisted that they had planted, and intended to plant, new woodlands, though perhaps not to the extent that the noble Lord who moved the amendment would like. I would be interested to hear the Government’s view. The committee was not entirely satisfied with the promoter’s response on the replacement of woodlands, but the case for their replacement is not helped by exaggerating the amount of ancient woodland being lost through this project.
On the proportion of new and replacement trees from abroad, the committee sought assurances from the promoters that such replacement would be kept to a minimum. Again, those assurances were received. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what proportion of British native species she envisages will be replaced under the scheme and how much of it will come from other countries. I cannot comment, because I do not have the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, about the dangers of importing seeds from places such as the Netherlands, but if organisations such as the Forestry Commission and Natural England are prepared to accept a proportion of replacement trees from the continent, it seems to me that we should accept their assurances.
My noble friend Lady Young wanted to turn the high-speed train—perhaps an unfortunate name for it—into a medium-speed train by curving the line and having it less straight. I gently remind her that one of the reasons we are building HS2 is the curvature of the existing lines caused by the reluctance of landowners in the 19th century to permit the railways to pass through their land. The two things go together. If we are to have a train service that exceeds the speed of our existing services, which is at least one of the purposes of HS2, expecting it to go round curves would make unsatisfactory the reason for building it in the first place.
My noble friend asked some important questions about biodiversity which the committee was anxious to look at, but I stress that we were collectively and unanimously of the opinion that, although HS2 could do more, it was certainly making a substantial contribution to the replacement of any trees that would of necessity be destroyed by the project. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what progress has been made so far on this aspect of the Bill in light of the amendments before us.
My Lords, how appropriate it is that we are discussing these amendments during International Year of Plant Health and, more particularly, National Tree Week. It is rare that we get that lucky match.
I will speak to all the amendments in turn. On Amendment 5, which would insert a new clause on biodiversity net gain, I have very little to say except that I support my noble friend. It seems illogical that a flagship project should not behave in the same way as other projects, as envisaged in the Environment Bill which will come to us shortly.
On Amendment 6, my heart is with it, but I fear that in this and other amendments one is looking at the environment a bit too much with a telescope; it needs to be done slightly more broadly. There are other irreplaceable habitats, so why single out ancient woodlands? There needs to be a balance overall for the environment. If we avoid ancient woodlands, which I am all for, are we doing more damage to the environment by going another way? At the end of the day, that requires a balance. If we put into legislation just one item, that we will not destroy any ancient woodland, there could be adverse and perverse effects which we have not taken into account.
Amendment 7 relates to British native species. What are British native species? There is a list on the Woodland Trust’s website. I am glad to see that the only softwood is Scots pine, so there will be no chance of Norwegian pine, thuja, sitka spruce or anything else being planted; if there is to be any softwood, it will have to be Scots pine.
When it comes to our broadleaf woodlands, let us not forget that 70% of them are still represented by only five species, and disease is wiping out one of them: ash. We need more diversity in our woodlands.
The point of Amendments 7 and 11 is to prevent the potential importing of tree diseases. Again, they are looking at tree diseases and pests with a telescope and focusing on just one part of that problem. Let us not forget that we have had 14 new diseases and five new major pest outbreaks in the last 20 years that have affected our woodlands, but those have not all been caused by the importation of plants or seeds from overseas. It is possible that ash dieback, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, was also introduced by air, and we have absolutely no control over any disease that comes in that way.
Diseases also come in from imported timber. The noble Baroness mentioned Dutch elm disease, which came in by imported timber from the United States, I believe; I was a young land agent at the time and on behalf of some landowners we injected a lot of elm trees, but they all died of the disease in the end. It was not a plant that brought that in; it was imported timber.
Although the phytosanitary statutory requirements have been tightened, and will be tightened noticeably after 1 January—that is one of the great ways in which we will be way ahead of the EU in our standards—Britain is the second largest net importer of timber in the world. That timber does not just come in as sawn logs; it can come in the round, in palleting and in packaging—indeed, some of that trade is illegal. We are not going to be able to check it all. Focusing just on plants does not mean we are going to stop diseases coming into this country. Diseases come in carried by birds. Again, Natural England does not have a way of stopping that despite its very best intentions.
Perhaps the most evil of all the carriers is the human being. We bring in diseases unintentionally. Horse chestnut leaf miner, which is a huge concern, was brought in by tourists coming back from France, and if ever Xylella comes into this country it is more likely to be brought in by tourists than by anything else.
We human beings are all so guilty. I recently saw that a television programme has released a whole load of bugs and insects into the environment. What a crassly stupid thing to do, all for the sake of trying to get a show that is going to make some money. We are playing with nature in a way that is totally stupid when we do things like that.
Diseases to come are equally worrying. Both the emerald ash borer and Xylella, which I have just mentioned, could decimate our broadleaf woodlands.
It is important that wherever possible we use British-sourced and British-planted seeds and plants. I have always been an advocate of self-sown woodlands because I believe that that produces the right tree for the right environment. But the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was right when she mentioned the climate. The problem is that we do not know what the effect of a changing climate will be on British woodlands. Are our oak trees going to be as adaptable when we have severe periods of drought and excess flooding at other times of the year? It is only right that we look abroad for biosecure plants, and they have to meet the appropriate standards.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra is a great believer in free trade, if I remember rightly. We could not have a restraint of trade like this, with the nursery or the provider of the plants meeting the same biosecure standards as we do; I think that would be very difficult to implement. I agreed with so much of what my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, but I disagreed fundamentally when he said we could 100% guarantee that this will stop disease. No, my noble friend has got that one utterly wrong. There is no guarantee to stop disease coming into this country. It can come in by air, by bird or be brought in by humans, as I have said.
This is a hugely complex area, and to focus on this one particular issue is taking our eye off a much bigger and more serious problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has withdrawn from this group, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
My Lords, I do not always agree with my noble friend Lord Blencathra, but I thought he gave a splendid introduction to these amendments this evening. Unlike my noble friend Lord Caithness, I find myself almost entirely in agreement with him. One thing I did agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness about—well, probably more than one—was these idiots bringing in bugs to bite people who are camping in Wales. What an irresponsible, stupid, ridiculous thing to do. I have never watched the programme, but it ought to be entitled “I’m an idiot… Get me out of here!”
There was a programme that I watched last night—it is one that I watch quite often as gentle, Sunday evening viewing: “Countryfile”. The theme last night was trees and planting. There was a very splendid testimony given by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, there were young people planting trees in Bradford, and there was great emphasis on the need to increase our woodland coverage. Only 13% of our land surface is forested in this country, which compares very unfavourably in percentage terms with virtually every other country in Europe. Only 3%, or slightly less, deserves the designation of ancient woodland.
Although nothing is foolproof and nothing is guaranteed to bring an absolute result, I believe that my noble friend Lord Blencathra is entirely right in the three targets that he sets. I have to admit that I am not a great fan of HS2, but I accept that it is going to happen—but I am not persuaded, and do not accept, in spite of the honeyed words of my noble friend the Minister, that those in charge of HS2 are such wonderful champions of consultation.
I have heard far too many stories about that from friends in Staffordshire, where I was a Member of Parliament for 40 years. HS2 does not touch my constituency, but I had the honour to be a deputy lieutenant of Staffordshire—I am still on the retired list, in fact—and I know that many of the people whose livelihoods and property are affected in parts of the county were less than impressed by the sensitivity of those to whom they had talked. Consultation often seemed to be the giving of information rather than the requiring of comments and views.
Only this weekend I spoke to one of our colleagues in your Lordships’ House who lives in the Chilterns, who told a similar story, and also bemoaned the loss of ancient woodland in that particularly beautiful and sensitive part of our country. I used to drive through the Chilterns every week during my last 25 years as a Staffordshire MP, and one of the great sights was, of course, the soaring of the red kites above those wonderful hills.
It is far too late to oppose the building of HS2—although not too late to regret it. I think that it may well prove to have been the visionary answer to a problem as it was seen in 2010, but to be rather obsolete by 2050—because it will be 2050, not 2040, by the time it is completed.
Looking individually at my noble friend’s amendments, I see that he is entirely right to insist on a biodiversity net gain. As has been said, the Government are imposing this plan in many places. Should not the greatest infrastructure project of our times be subject to such an edict? It certainly should be.
I have already touched on the subject of ancient woodlands, and one of the most specious, fallacious arguments I have heard in recent years is the suggestion that we could preserve ancient woodlands by preserving the soil and transporting it. How fatuous can you get? As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, we cannot replace ancient woodlands. When they are dug up, they are dug up; when they have gone, they have gone. I can tell my friend the noble Lord, Lord Snape, that it will be 200 years before a woodland planted tomorrow can qualify for the description “ancient woodland”. Many of the ancient woodlands that we are talking about contain trees dating back between 500 and 1,000 years. Think of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra is right to stress how prodigal a waste it is to get rid of ancient woodlands. His third amendment is about native British species, and how integral the flora and the fauna of our native land are. He is right to say that there should be a requirement to replace native plants and trees with native plants and trees. That was one of the rather encouraging things in last night’s “Countryfile”, because that is precisely what they were doing, deriving both knowledge and enthusiasm in the process.
My noble friend the Minister has been working incredibly hard. She paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I pay tribute to her. I hope that she will just take on board how very serious these subjects are, and the comments not only of my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall, but of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and, of course, the noble Baroness Lady Young of Old Scone, who has enormous experience in such matters. They are making serious, valid points, to which I hope I have added just a tiny bit. When we have lost something, we cannot get it back. The Prime Minister has talked about the importance of planting. Well, here is a challenge for him—to ensure that HS2 plays its part in rejuvenating our glorious countryside.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I too watched “Countryfile” yesterday evening; in these gloomy days I found it really quite inspiring. I wish to speak in support of Amendments 5, 6 and 7. Although much has been said already—the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, have comprehensively dealt with the issue—perhaps something I say may be of interest.
During our discussions in Committee, I was accused by one noble Lord of making a Second Reading speech. I cannot possibly agree. I contend that if a project is as fundamentally flawed as HS2, this flows over and contaminates every aspect of the Bill. It is impossible to escape the basic facts. If you are unwise enough to try to build a house on shifting sand, every time you discuss the doors or windows, you will be forced back into recognising that you have made a dreadful mistake from which there is no escape.
These proposed new clauses, which I support, are about damage limitation. The effect of HS2 on our natural environment will be, and is already, catastrophic. To insist, as Amendment 5 does, on a “10% biodiversity net gain”, rather than the very unambitious “no net loss”, seems the least we can do. The Government insist on these standards for other people and ought to insist on them for HS2, particularly as the damage is being inflicted by the Government and intentionally.
Amendment 6 deals with ancient woodland. I declare a long-standing and non-pecuniary interest in the Arboricultural Association, the foremost organisation in the country in the planting and care of our urban trees. I was for some years its president and am now an honorary fellow. The amendment is about doing all we can to protect and preserve our ancient woodlands. Let no one pretend that HS2 is not doing irreparable damage. The woodlands, with all the benefits and joy they bring, will never be replaced. It is futile to suggest it. It is even more ridiculous, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has just pointed out, to suggest that they can be moved, as anyone with any understanding of trees, soils and their interaction can testify. Protection, not replacement, is the key.
I come back to the point I made earlier about the relationship between the Second Reading of a Bill and its later stages. Whoever dreamed up HS2 either did not care or did not understand the effect of driving a high-speed train through the heart of England. If you want to travel at the kind of speeds originally used to sell the project, you must travel in a straight line. You cannot have bends or curves, for obvious reasons, so you draw a straight line from London to Birmingham, or Birmingham to Crewe, and if anything happens to get in the way—towns, villages, farms, businesses, people’s homes or ancient woodland—I am afraid that is just too bad. A massive amount of damage is inevitable and, one would have thought, foreseeable. This is not how you build roads and railways in a relatively small country. It is possible to travel at reasonably high speeds on railways which have been constructed, as far as reasonably possible, to avoid doing the kind of damage that I feel has been inevitable from this scheme’s conception.
The irony of all this, as I understand it, is that, for a variety of reasons, the originally dreamt-up speeds are not going to be possible. Indeed, the accent has now shifted, and the argument has moved to other things, so time may show that our ancient woodlands have been sacrificed in vain, if we are no longer going at the speeds we projected. Some 108 of our ancient woodlands have already been affected and, nationally, only 2.4% of the original woodlands remain. We simply must do all we can to protect them. When the Minister comes to wind up, I would be grateful if she could tell us—if she can—what the top and average speeds of HS2 are now projected to be.
The new clause proposed in Amendment 7, in its excellent brevity, encapsulates the two most important issues facing the future of trees in the United Kingdom today. Basically we need, first, to keep diseased trees out and, secondly, to grow more of the trees we need. The two propositions are entirely complementary. If, through the problems created by HS2, we can make progress on these two issues, some good will have come out of the difficulties. For many years, I have been advocating tighter restrictions on imported trees and eventually, perhaps, a total ban. Certainly, we need an immediate ban on certain species, such as oak. We are an island and have phytosanitary advantages that brings; we cannot afford to take the risk of more admission of serious diseases.
We have suffered from Dutch elm disease and ash dieback, both of which are imported diseases. The first came from Canada and has almost completely wiped out our precious elm population. How many ash trees will be left when dieback has run its course remains to be seen. The latest fiasco has been the oak processionary moth, which does such damage to our oak trees. It had been present in this country for some time and was presumably imported, but it remained confined to London and the Home Counties. Recently, however, we allowed it in on a consignment of oak trees, and, saving the moth the inconvenience of spreading itself, we distributed it all over the country. There have been excuses aplenty but not the fierce action the situation demands.
We have Xylella fastidiosa, capable of infecting over 300 different plant species, and plane wilt, capable of wreaking havoc on all London planes—both diseases are in Europe, just waiting for the chance to invade. At the moment, our stance on imported trees is awareness and reaction. It should be much more aggressively defensive. As a country, we are becoming more tree-conscious, and mass tree-planting schemes are under way. Without adequate biosecurity, all that effort could be for nothing.
The gap in the market created by tighter import restrictions must be filled by our own nurseries. Urgent consultation should take place, involving government, tree nurseries, landscapers, contractors and local authorities to plan how this can be done and provide the long-term financial commitment badly needed by growers, the lack of which is the reason for so much of our imports. The Woodland Trust has already taken the lead on this issue and will plant only home-grown native trees. It is to be congratulated, and I agree with it when it says that it makes sense to insist that HS2 is required to source all its trees, shrubs and seeds from the UK. It says, and I agree, that to argue otherwise is to deny the seriousness of the situation we are facing.
If both the proposals made in the new clause in Amendment 7 can be put into action, this will be a huge step forward for our trees, and I believe that any noble Lord who really cares for our trees must support it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner with ancient woodlands in the Chilterns. That is set out in the register. I am also directly affected by HS2 south of Birmingham.
I would like to speak against Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, as it fails to take into account one of the three major threats to our woodland—that of climate change, the others being, of course, pests and diseases. It would be short-sighted and damaging to restrict in this manner the plants and trees that are planted under the provisions of the Bill. It also flies against the science and recommendations of the Forestry Commission, set out comprehensively in its report of November 2019 entitled Managing England’s Woodlands in a Climate Emergency, and the UK forestry standard which sets out the Government’s approach to sustainable forestry management with regard to climate change. I should mention here that the Forestry Commission is not just concerned with commercial woodland; it is concerned with all sorts of woodland.
The ancient woodlands of England cannot be set in aspic as they are as affected by climate change as any other type of woodland. We therefore need to ensure that a wood’s genetic viability is enhanced by including not only native species with local provenance but others which are successfully grown from seeds sourced from the Forestry Commission’s 2 to 5 degrees south rule. Avoiding pests and diseases is obviously paramount, so such trees should be grown from carefully selected imported seeds from selected stands, but in UK nurseries. Amendment 7 would be a backward and unhelpful move in the important development and expansion of UK nurseries, leaving aside potential climate change consequences to HS2 woodland.
Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, achieves much more than Amendment 7 in the sourcing of trees from UK growers, but unnecessarily seems to stop the importation of seed to enable the growing in the UK of trees to achieve the genetic provenance that is so necessary and comes from the areas 2 to 5 degrees south, which is the clear recommendation of the UK forestry standard and the Forestry Commission, which says that:
“Naturalised tree species should be considered to increase species diversity where appropriate”.
That may be necessarily limited in ancient woodland due to other factors, but we are looking at much wider tree planting. The Forestry Commission goes on to recommend the consideration of re-stocking from more southerly origins in the right conditions. Proposed new subsection (2) flies in the face of the Forestry Commission’s advice for the reason of biosecurity. I cannot and do not believe that the Forestry Commission ignores biosecurity, but it also correctly takes into account climate change. The importation of tree seed from carefully selected stands should be actively encouraged.
The other part of this amendment which I greatly welcome is the encouragement given to UK growers and the expansion of the domestic industry. I thoroughly agree that everything should be UK-sourced, but perhaps the amount of time specified for replanting should be extended if an unrealistic timeframe has been given, as supplies from the UK growers are likely to be initially limited in view of the enormous size of potential planting over the next few years. Any clause on those lines must bear in mind that there needs to be joined-up thinking on all tree planting, and in particular that arising from the ELMS in the Agriculture Act, the provisions of the Environment Bill and, of course, the English tree strategy.
One slightly mischievous thought, however, occurs. Perhaps this proposed new clause, suitably amended, should form the missing subsection in Clause 100 of the Environment Bill, which is entitled “Tree felling and planting” but currently covers only felling. Perhaps the Minister could mention that to Defra.
My Lords, I am very lucky to be following my noble friend Lord Carrington because he said a great deal that I would have wished to say myself. A proper, healthy, temperate forest contains about 1,000 different tree species. That is true of North America and Asia. It is not true of Europe because the last ice age crushed the European flora against the Alps and we lost a lot of species and genera at that time. The ice ages also had a significant effect on us. At the peak of the last ice age we had only two trees species: pine and birch. Looking at things on a slightly longer than human timescale, those are the only two native British trees. Everything else has come in, but we still have only 31. It is a ridiculously small number and makes our forests extremely vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Pests and diseases travel easily. Even without our help, they blow in on the wind and come in on migratory birds. We have already experienced a number of these diseases. Round where I live in Eastbourne, most of the ash trees have gone. It looks as if as a continuing flow of disease is the future that we should expect. The right response to that is biodiversity. We should be striving for biodiversity in the number of species we are using in our new planting and in the origin of the seeds that we are using.
If we are careful and import seeds under proper conditions, the risks of bringing in disease are extremely low. I have seen the way Kew makes sure that what it brings in from around the world for its Millennium Seed Bank is safe to have and to store. It is not impossible and you do not need a huge weight of seed to supply a very large number of trees.
I very much favour what my noble friend Lord Carrington advocates. We should follow the direction that the Forestry Commission advocates and seek to increase our biodiversity—to get gradually towards a forest with more natural resilience and a more natural species than our current 31. That will give us resilience against incoming disease which we currently, quite clearly, do not have.
Where we face the regrettably small proportion of ancient natural woodlands, which are a great haven for established wildlife communities, we should not think that we cannot do anything to increase that. We need to plant the right kind of trees next door. It has always been the case that species move from one bit of wood to another. As I say, there were only two species here at the peak of the ice age. Everything else has come in. All the communities that live with them have come in. All these species are used to moving. If we create the right conditions next door, then in 100 or 200 years—the sort of timescale you are looking at if you plant trees—we will have a good community of woodland species in our new plantations.
We should not think that we can do nothing to increase our proportion of high-quality woodland. We should strive to increase it next to the woodland that we are damaging with HS2. To return to one of my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s earlier amendments, we should absolutely require that HS2 achieves biodiversity net gain.
My Lords, I too support these amendments, particularly Amendments 5 and 6. The destruction of ancient woodland has been exacerbated by the frankly disastrous public relations of HS2 on phase 1, which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned. It has done nothing to endear HS2 to residents up and down the line of phase 1. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has outlined the problems very well, along with my noble friend Lady Young.
I will concentrate on something that my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone asked, which is whether you can avoid ancient woodland by slowing the trains down. It is a rather simplistic explanation on my part, because there is nothing to be done on phase 1. The line is there, HS2 has started clearing everything and we have seen the results. When it comes to the next phases, 2b west and 2b east—if it happens—which we have debated at length today, it would be possible to avoid much ancient woodland if Ministers look at the routing of the line. My noble friends Lady Young and Lord Snape talked about speeds, but obviously the faster a train goes, the straighter the line it goes on must be, not only on plan, but on profile. When you do not want too many humps and bumps, your cuttings and embankments get bigger and you take more land, including, possibly, a lot of ancient woodland.
Many noble Lords have been on the French high-speed line between Paris and Lyon, which was the first one built. I once had the privilege of being in the driver’s cab and found it to be rather like a fairground switchback. It was designed to avoid not only woodlands, also valleys and hills, to save on the cost. Even so, it goes at 270 kilometres per hour, which the French thought was fast enough. We prefer 400 kilometres per hour, because obviously we are a bigger country than France and want to be the best in the world, which is total rubbish. Even if we stuck to 270 kilometres per hour, the French speed, we could probably do something, but I hope that when HS2 and the Government plan phase 2b west, to Manchester, and phase 2b east, to Leeds and Sheffield, if it gets built that way, they look at the speeds and see how the alignment can be done to avoid ancient woodland, at an early stage before the Bill is published.
That is why I could not support my noble friend Lord Adonis’s amendment saying that everything had to be done in a hurry and within six months. As the Minister explained in her response, these things take time, and during that time, those of us who have an interest in avoiding ancient woodland and anything else that we feel needs preserving must look at it and relate it to the design speed of the alignment.
I suppose my last, rather facetious, comment—or maybe it is not facetious—is about phase 2a. The Bill is published, we are debating the Bill on Report tonight and it will probably get Royal Assent quite soon. Of course, if there are any ancient woodlands in the way—and I am afraid I do not know whether there are—one could suggest to Ministers that they make a slight deviation on the route of the line, using a Transport and Works Act order, which I also spoke about earlier. I am sure the Minister will not like that idea, but it is an option and it could be looked at.
My Lords, fighting climate change is a giant carbon calculation, and HS2 is firmly on the plus side. Rail is the most carbon-efficient form of transport and, in 2017, the transport sector overtook the energy sector as the UK’s largest carbon emitter. This debate has produced some extremely interesting and very expert speeches. They have revealed the complexity of the issue because those who know a great deal about these issues do not agree with each other.
On Amendment 5, HS2 itself claims that more than 33 square kilometres of new and existing wildlife habitat will be created or improved. That is a 30% addition compared with what is there now, and I hope the Minister can reassure us that this is accurate, that HS2’s claims are accurate and that there will be a substantial biodiversity net gain.
Turning now to Amendment 6, I read the committee’s report with great interest, and I have just re-read it while listening to this debate. HS2 says that 0.005% of ancient woodland will be affected by its project. As the committee noted, “ancient woodland” does not necessarily mean old trees, but rather that woodland has existed for a long time on that patch of ground. Some such areas were replanted after the two wars and were not necessarily planted with native species, so ancient woodland is not an amorphous mass of very important sites. There are varying levels of importance. Obviously, any loss is significant in terms of ecological diversity, but it is worth pointing out that new, young trees are more efficient and vigorous in dealing with climate change. Avoiding ancient woodland entirely would mean more tunnelling, which produces spoil which, in itself, destroys habitats when it has to be dumped somewhere. The tunnelling process creates noise and local disruption for residents and in itself creates carbon because of the vehicles that are dumping the spoil. It is not quite as simple as it sounds.
I have some sympathy for Amendment 7 and Amendment 11. It is, however, as noble Lords have capably illustrated, on an extremely complex subject. Trees sourced from the UK are most likely to succeed, and they avoid the importation of diseases, which have repeatedly caused serious problems in our landscape. Of course, diseases also come to this country through other routes. I hope the Minister can reassure us that this work is being undertaken by HS2 and will continue to be.
The committee looked in detail at all these issues and did not make an adverse report. It is important we take account of the points being made today. The Minister has a crucial job to do in reassuring noble Lords this evening that HS2 has made progress in the way it approaches its environmental commitments and responsibilities and will be going forward in tune with the sentiments expressed in these amendments.
I think we have reached the stage at which noble Lords would like to hear the Government’s response to an interesting debate. A significant number of noble Lords has spoken on the basis of considerable experience and knowledge in this field. We have agreed an amendment today providing for consultation and a report to Parliament on the impact of HS2 phase 2a on the natural environment, including the impact on ancient woodland, which could enable local residents to be engaged in decisions affecting their environment.
As a general point, we could not support an amendment if the effect of it was—and I do not know whether this will be the case in this instance—to delay progress of HS2 phase 2a. I note the requirement in the amendment that scheduled works must not destroy any ancient woodland, either directly or indirectly, and I am not entirely clear what the impact of that would be on the progress of HS2 phase 2a.
I also note that my noble friend Lady Young has indicated she will not seek to push her amendment in this group to a vote. Like other noble Lords, I will listen with considerable interest to the Government’s response and the extent to which they can offer assurances acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for what turned out to be a very interesting debate. I was interested in the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, when she noted the complexity of these arguments put before noble Lords today. Many people do not agree on this, yet when one looks at it at face value, it is easy sometimes to reach an automatic conclusion that it must be a bad thing to cut down a tree, but people start talking about where the replacement tree would come from, and it is complex. I would like to reassure your Lordships’ House that HS2 takes its environmental obligations very seriously and follows the advice of the experts, recognising also that that advice may change as more scientific work is done in this area.
Phase 2a has been designed to avoid or reduce adverse significant effects on habitat, protected species and other features of ecological value, where reasonably practicable. However, it is not possible to build a major public transport infrastructure project without creating some adverse significant effects on the environment on or near the proposed route.
One of those effects is on biodiversity, the subject of my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s first amendment. Where adverse significant effects cannot be avoided, mitigation and compensation measures are included to reduce effects on species and habitats. These include the translocation of species, the provision of replacement habitats, and special measures, such as ecological underpasses and green bridges, to facilitate the movement of species across the route. My noble friend Lord Randall mentioned that rail corridors are often good wildlife corridors.
I am proud to say that HS2 was the first major transport project in this country to seek no net loss in biodiversity on a route-wide basis. The phase 2a Bill has been in Parliament since 2017 and, in that time, there has been a step change in our national ambitions to protect and enhance our natural environment. This has not passed HS2 by. During the consideration of the Bill by the Select Committee in this House, HS2 demonstrated greater ambition on the environment. A commitment has been made to enhance the phase 2a scheme’s no net loss objective, by identifying and implementing appropriate opportunities to move towards gains in biodiversity. HS2 Ltd’s green corridor initiative will create a network of habitats along the phase 2a corridor. The Government have also committed £2 million of funding for biodiversity improvements, £5 million for the community and environment and the business and local economy funds, the phase 2a woodland fund and two area-specific funds. These funds total £11 million and they will improve biodiversity.
The legislative commitment sought by my noble friend Lord Blencathra simply goes beyond what can and should be committed to at this stage of the Bill. Casting in iron a commitment to 10% net gain, when land take on the scheme has already been fixed, would be disproportionately expensive, would entail extensive redesigns of the scheme and may lead to significant delays. In all likelihood, further land purchases would be required, going beyond the existing boundaries of the phase 2a scheme and requiring the return of the Bill to the House of Commons.
I know that some noble Lords believe that land purchases may not be required and, as I said earlier, sometimes people disagree on this, but we believe that it would probably be one of the approaches we would have to ensure to reach this legislative goal. However, there are no assurances that we would be able to do this quickly, and the Government would have no alternative other than to get additional compulsory purchase powers to deliver this requirement—if it became a requirement.
I believe that the steps that HS2 has taken, the assurances that have been given and the funds that have been provided to improve biodiversity are the correct approach for the phase 2a scheme. I reiterate that the phase 2a scheme and HS2 as a whole are already committed to no net loss of biodiversity. I hope that, on this basis, my noble friend is able to withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord’s second amendment is on ancient woodland. We will be returning to this topic further down the track, with some amendments on reporting. I am afraid—and I believe my noble friend knows this—that I simply cannot support his amendment. When designing a complex transport infrastructure scheme, such as HS2, it is necessary to balance competing priorities. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made this point. Ancient woodland sites are fragmented and scattered across our countryside. They can be difficult to avoid without incurring substantial adverse effects to other environmental sites or local communities.
The phase 2a scheme has been designed to avoid or reduce impacts on homes, businesses and heritage sites, to reduce losses of our most valuable agricultural land and to prevent impacts to other protected sites. The scheme must also be mindful of wider issues, such as safety and affordability. Noble Lords understand that it is extremely challenging—it may be impossible—to design a scheme of this scale that avoids impacts to ancient woodland entirely, but this does not mean that we do not take this seriously. Where impacts to ancient woodland sites are unavoidable, HS2 Ltd has sought to reduce them by changing the scheme design to reduce the amount of woodland taken.
Although impacts on ancient woodland cannot fully be compensated, its loss can be addressed and somewhat mitigated through a broad range of measures, including planting native broad-leaved woodland to enhance linkages between current ancient woodlands and salvaging ancient woodland soil to be used in new sites.
I return briefly to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, who asked me to define ancient woodland. It is quite a tricky beast. Ancient woodland is defined as an area that has been wooded since 1600, but a lot of other things go into that. It could of course be the case that an ancient woodland, as currently defined, consists almost entirely of new trees. They are not necessarily old trees; it has just been woods for a long time.
This returns us to the soil translocation measures. Again, there is some disagreement as to whether it will work, but you know what, my Lords? It is worth giving it a try because, if an ancient woodland can be new trees and it is all about the fungus and the soil—I am feeling like David Bellamy—perhaps it is worth looking at the soil translocation measures. HS2 Ltd has committed to translocating soil but then spending 50 years managing and monitoring in all locations where the translocation of soils has happened. In this way, we will actually know: we will be able to determine the effectiveness of these measures and learn lessons for future infrastructure projects.
The design within the phase 2a Bill is at a relatively early stage of maturity. The area of ancient woodland loss is currently reported in various documents and is set out as the reasonable worst-case assessment. We believe that there may well be improvements as detailed designs come to pass. As I mentioned in other places, more steep cuttings and so on can help to retain ancient woodland. All sorts of things that can be done will be looked at by HS2.
This amendment would result in lengthy delays and costs to the entire phase 2a scheme as, clearly, it would have to go back to square one. There would be a significant redesign. I reassure my noble friend that I will be accepting an amendment later on relating to reporting on ancient woodland, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I hope that he will take comfort from that, and I request that he does not press his amendment.
I have an answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Framlingham. HS2 trains will run at 360 kilometres an hour. The track is designed to a slightly higher speed of 400 kilometres an hour, but of course that is pretty much within the same ballpark.
I turn, finally, to biosecurity. I will address the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, together. The amendments seek a commitment that all seeds, trees and shrubs planted on the project be sourced within the United Kingdom, due to concerns about biosecurity. That all seems fairly straightforward; various other noble Lords were then able in their contributions to provide some insight as to why it is not as straightforward as that. Biosecurity is an issue that we should, and do, take very seriously. We know the tremendous harm that can be wrought—we have heard about it today—however, it is not the only relevant concern. As some noble Lords have noted, we have to think about climate change and of other challenges that our woodlands may face. This balancing act was given detailed consideration by the House of Lords Select Committee, and I thank it for that.
Assurances have already been given that the nominated undertaker will grow all trees for the phase 2a scheme in the United Kingdom. It is not the case that HS2 Ltd will procure mature plants from abroad—only seeds. At least two-thirds of the required seed stock for phase 2a planting will come from Great Britain, with the remaining third being procured from an appropriate region of provenance within Great Britain and from non-British sources.
DfT officials agreed to consult with the Forestry Commission and Natural England, of which my noble friend Lord Blencathra is deputy chair, because these are the sorts of experts that we need guidance from. We are consulting with them to ensure that this seed stock is from an appropriate region of provenance and to secure stock from within Great Britain as far as is reasonably possible.
All planting for ecological mitigation and compensation will use native species and will be tailored to the individual sites during detailed design of the scheme. This portfolio approach is recommended by the experts—the Forestry Commission and Natural England—for new woodland planting, not just for commercial woodland. It is designed to help spread the risks associated with making any one tree provenance choice and increase the likelihood that woodlands will thrive in our changing climate.
I recognise that science may change and that experts sometimes change their view. If there is new guidance published by Natural England or the Forestry Commission that specifically recommends a different approach to seed provenance for woodland planting, HS2 Ltd would, of course, consider tailoring its approach accordingly. On biosecurity controls, all seed stocks and suppliers are required to comply with the latest biosecurity certification standards. This includes the use of plant passports for stocks sourced within the EU.
I hope my intervention has provided some clarity to the House, and that my noble friend Lord Blencathra is feeling satisfied and will therefore withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, naturally I am grateful to all noble Lords, both here in the Chamber and online, who have spoken both for and against my amendments. Since I spoke at length in moving them, I shall be as brief as possible now.
On Amendment 5 on net gain and Amendment 7 on native-sourced trees, I feel that the Government have not really won the argument. I have seen a note from the Government today—and my noble friend the Minister repeated the point—saying that Amendment 5 would be disproportionately expensive, could entail redesign of the scheme and would turn valuable farmland into biodiversity sites. That really is a bit desperate. Disproportionately expensive? We estimate £35 million out of a total HS2 cost of £106 billion; £35 million is just a four-month wage bill for HS2 staff.
The suggestion of redesign of the scheme is just nonsense. There is no redesign of the scheme involved in offering incentives to farmers and NGOs to voluntarily do some biodiversity schemes, either near the route or elsewhere. What redesign is involved in giving the Woodland Trust, say, £2 million to restore some ancient woodlands—or in giving the RSPB £2 billion to develop wetlands somewhere else? There is no redesign involved at all. God help us if that is what the Department for Transport officials think “net gain” means. At this stage, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson: HS2 boasts that it is trying to achieve no net loss. I have never seen anything that says that HS2 will achieve net gain. If it were achieving net gain, none of us would be speaking in favour of these amendments; they would not be necessary.
The other argument against Amendment 5 is that we would lose valuable farmland to biodiversity. Does the Department for Transport never talk to Defra? Today, Defra has launched the most massive scheme in our history to incentivise farmers to use land for biodiversity purposes. The Secretary of State, my right honourable friend George Eustice, said that it is the most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years. All my Amendment 5 on achieving 10% biodiversity net gain seeks to do is to replicate that voluntary scheme for HS2 phase 2a, and get other volunteers near the route or somewhere else to do some biodiversity net gain.
With regard to Amendment 6 on ancient woodlands, I accept that if every ancient woodland were to be avoided, that would result in route changes. That is unlikely to happen, and I accept that; I accept that this was my weakest amendment. However, I want to vote on it to signal to HS2 that we do not want this to happen with further legs. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and maybe the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, we will be here in a couple of years’ time—or six months’ time, according to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—looking at the next leg, another leg that will bulldoze through more ancient woodlands, and when we complain about it the department will say “Oh, it’s too late to change it now, it would mean route redesign and greatly increased costs.” I would like Peers to vote for Amendment 6 as a signal to HS2 that we do not want more ancient woodlands destroyed, up with which we will not put.
On Amendment 7, I just do not understand where the Government are coming from. We are talking about woodland to support native wildlife, not simply planting commercial forestry for timber. I accept that the advice of the Forestry Commission, on one-third of seeds from warmer climates to guard against climate change in future when you are looking at a crop lasting 50 or 70 years, may be perfectly valid to support commercial timber growing, but in the woodlands we are looking at a lot of trees that will be short and stumpy things, since Network Rail hacks down anything above 20 feet in any case if it gets too tall and interferes with the lines, which is fair enough. Is it seriously suggested that we need trees from warmer climates since one-third of our species will not survive the next 20 or 30 years? In this sort of planting for native wildlife, we are looking at the natural regeneration of rowan, holly, birch, wild cherry, hawthorn, blackthorn, alder, crab-apple and things like that. I have seen no evidence that climate change—which I agree will happen—will be so drastic that the species I have mentioned will not survive the next 20 to 30 years or so.
I listened with great care to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Lucas. I am happy, if we can guarantee that no plants come in from abroad, that we are going to get biosecure seeds that will be grown in this country. That is an improvement. I simply do not trust HS2 to go for that option. If some big supplier in the Netherlands does a deal for plants that are a fraction of the price—I have bought plants from the Netherlands for my gardens over the years at dirt cheap prices; unfortunately, half of them died but that was probably my fault—then HS2 will go for that. So I would like to push that amendment to a vote too.
My noble friend Lord Caithness was right: I should not have said that by taking nothing from abroad we are 100% guaranteed not to get new diseases, but we will have severely diminished the risk. I accept that some may come in airborne or in timber, but if we do not import plants or trees from abroad, at least we will 100% guarantee that we will not get soil-based or plant-based bugs or diseases, although the risk of airborne ones is still there. We cannot catch every disease that we may import but we can severely reduce the chances.
It is with regret that, for the first time in nine years in this House, I wish to push my Amendment 5 to a vote—against the Government’s advice—as well as, I am afraid, the two amendments afterwards.
6: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Preservation of ancient woodlands
The scheduled works must not destroy any ancient woodlands, either directly or indirectly.”
Amendments 7 and 8 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.