Report (2nd Day)
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once in each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged. A Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk. The groups are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group. We will now begin.
9: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Security provision and public safety during the scheduled works
(1) The nominated undertaker is responsible for maintaining the security of the scheduled works, including public safety.(2) The Secretary of State must publish quarterly reports on the security provision and public safety in relation to the scheduled works throughout the period in which those works take place.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to probe the security and public safety provision of the works.
My Lords, this is my last contribution at this stage of the Bill. Although I had originally intended to take part in the debate on the next group, there are more than enough committed Members of the House to speak to those amendments, so I will listen and cheer them on.
I will take this opportunity to thank my noble friend the Minister most sincerely for her patience in dealing with my concerns and for writing to me with various points of clarification.
I will not detain your Lordships for long on this amendment. Perhaps I should say at the outset that I do not propose to divide the House; rather, this is another of my attempts to draw attention to how HS2 Ltd should look at how it conducts itself to avoid the mistakes that have been made previously, and indeed are still being made. Those mistakes have seriously alienated many local residents along the line and I would not want them to be repeated on the phase of the project that is the subject of this Bill. My proposed new clause would clarify who was responsible for security and public safety. More than that, it would make the Secretary of State publish quarterly reports on the security provision and public safety around the scheduled works.
I do not condone unlawful protests, and I often think that such campaigns do more harm than good, although I admit that I did once say that I would stand in the path of the bulldozers if a third Heathrow runway was built—a line repeated by my successor in the Uxbridge constituency with, I believe, more controversy than I ever engendered. However, in the scheme of things, I am always more of a suffragist than a suffragette.
However, lawful protest is something else. Because of several incidents that have occurred, I would want to ensure that, however frustrating such protests might be for those doing the construction, legal protests were allowed and dealt with appropriately. Noble Lords might have seen recent reports, and indeed video footage, of a security guard who seemed to place his knee on the neck of one such protester. I do not know the full circumstances of the incident, but I do not need to emphasise the sensitivity of such action in these days. My honourable friend Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield, has, rightly, raised this with a Minister in the other place.
There have been a number of other examples of excessive use of force on protesters, which, in my layman’s eyes, seem very close to assault. I believe that training is given but I am not sure that it is always observed. I am also rather concerned that one or two individuals, given a uniform of sorts, feel that they are above the law.
Another area of concern that I hope will not be repeated in this phase of HS2—it should not be, as it relates to the pandemic—is where HS2 construction workers at the height of the lockdown were entering local food shops and other places along the line of transport while completely ignoring social distancing.
There is also of course a need to ensure that the boundaries of the project are secure, so that not only protesters but inquisitive young people cannot enter the site. I recognise that the issue of public safety goes both ways. I therefore feel that HS2 must be properly accountable both in theory and, more importantly, in practice. I ask my noble friend—who, as I said, has been very patient in dealing with this particular Grumpy, as opposed to Swampy—where the public can go to register their concerns, as I am afraid that our confidence in HS2 is at rock bottom. I hope that this will be rectified without the need for my new clause.
My Lords, safety levels in industry in general in the UK are very high. These days, we take rail safety more or less for granted, but that was not the case two decades or so ago. Last year, we had a harsh reminder that we should not take it for granted, with the tragic accident in south Wales.
The noble Lord is right to raise this issue. I put my name down to speak because I was curious to see whether it was a general concern about safety or a specific issue that sparked the amendment. It is clear from what he has said today that his interest centres on the behaviour of employees towards residents and protesters.
Looking at the issue from a different direction, HS2 is a giant linear building site and, as such, is very difficult to supervise, especially outside working hours. It is a building site that abuts literally thousands of residential sites. Therefore, in some ways, I am surprised that we have not spent more time talking about this issue in these debates, but we should certainly be interested in ensuring that, through these proposed reports or any other mechanism that the Minister is able to propose today, regular assurances are given, via us, to local residents that the highest standards are being taken and used and used on a regular basis within HS2 sites. Along with high standards of safety come high levels of convenience for local people. It is easy for safe and unsafe practices to spill over into inconvenience to local people, and inconvenience then spills on towards danger. Therefore, the noble Lord is right to raise this issue and I shall listen to the Minister’s answer with great interest.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising these issues. I take his point about the safety of the public and protesters, and I hope that he will get appropriate assurances from the Minister.
The issue is one of corporate culture, particularly on safety. With the permission of the House, I will take this as an opportunity to say a word or two about safety. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was quite right to say that HS2 is a linear building site. She referred to safety standards two or three decades ago. Those were decades when I was responsible for parts of railway safety. I became managing director of London Underground nine months after we had killed 31 people at King’s Cross. That made safety my highest priority for the next 12 years. Essentially, I discovered that safety comes from personal leadership by the people at the top.
Subsequently, I was chairman of the Rail Safety and Standards Board for five years. During the early period of my responsibilities, the Channel Tunnel was completed. That cost 10 lives. We were about to start building the Jubilee Line extension and, pro rata, we would have expected to kill some people, but we decided that that was unacceptable. We set as a major objective of the project that we should kill nobody—and I am delighted to say that we succeeded.
It was a £3.5 billion project, built in extremely difficult conditions under some of the most sensitive, complex and little-understood parts of central London. Leadership was key to conducting the programme to the highest safety standards, which were not traditional in the construction industry at that point. We achieved that by involving the very top people among the contractors. As part of their contracting process, they had to turn up with their managing directors and understand, and commit to, high standards of safety. A key feature of our whole safety philosophy was that London Underground always retained principal responsibility for safety, whoever was doing the work. You cannot subcontract responsibility: you might be able to join other people in that responsibility but you cannot subcontract it.
In preparing for this debate, I looked at the HS2 health and safety policy. It is fine as far as it goes, but I do not know whether there is a real safety culture. Can the noble Baroness take back to the Minister in charge of HS2 my strong recommendation that he makes it his top priority to assure himself that a health and safety culture exists in HS2? I freely offer my help and advice in this task.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Randall for tabling the amendment on this very important topic. The health, safety and well-being of the communities along the route of the new railway, of HS2 staff and of protestors is a primary concern for HS2 Ltd, which has a “safe at heart” approach, putting health, safety and well-being at the heart of the project. That ethos is carried through those employed by HS2 Ltd and those in its supply chain. This goes beyond the worksite itself. People must be safe when they are working on large, complex HS2 construction sites; they must be safe when they live, work or travel near the worksites; and they must be safe when travelling on roads affected by HS2 works and traffic. That is why HS2 Ltd already reports on health and safety in its annual report and accounts, using standard industry metrics. The overall health and safety index score increased throughout the 2019-20 financial year.
We recognise that, given the nature of the works on HS2 and the profile of the project, it is necessary for security personnel to be a part of the project. They ensure the health and safety of those who work on HS2 and those who live and work near it. Those security personnel are held to strict standards. It is a contractual requirement that all security guards working on the HS2 project must hold a licence issued by the Security Industry Authority. Additionally, the companies that they work for must be part of the Security Industry Authority’s voluntary approved contractor scheme, which acts as a quality assurance scheme for the private security industry.
HS2 Ltd has been very clear on the values that it expects to be followed by all staff in its supply chain, and on the behaviours of those in public-facing roles, such as security guards. Actions or behaviours that fall short of these expectations are dealt with firmly but fairly after a thorough investigation. My noble friend Lord Randall asked how members of the public can bring forward concerns. HS2 Ltd operates a freephone community helpline, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, where anyone can register their concerns. HS2 Ltd has committed to respond to questions and complaints quickly and efficiently, with an acknowledgement within two working days and a response within a maximum of 20 working days if the query cannot be answered straightaway.
Of course, there are also those determined to obstruct the works, with the aim of halting the progress of a project authorised by Parliament. We recognise that members of the public have a right to protest peacefully and in a lawful manner, but it is entirely proper that once Parliament has authorised a scheme, contractors should be allowed to get on with building it. Where any protestors refuse to leave land needed for construction and must be removed, HS2 Ltd works with specialist security staff, the police, the fire service and the ambulance service to do this safely.
Health and safety on worksites, and in the workforce, is of vital importance, especially when it comes to Covid-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the HS2 Ltd supply chain has stipulated to all staff and subcontractors the requirement to comply with government and industry guidelines. Where works cannot be delivered in accordance with Public Health England and industry guidelines, sites have temporarily closed to ensure the safety of staff and local communities. Nevertheless, some staff may have to be present to make the safety assessments and to ensure that the sites remain safe and secure.
I was very interested to hear the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and certainly I will take his suggestions back to my colleague Andrew Stephenson MP, the Minister for HS2. It was heartwarming to hear of such a large project being constructed so successfully. The amendment is welcome. It is an opportunity to raise these issues. HS2 Ltd must be held to account by the high standards that it has set. I hope that my noble friend is reassured by what I have said, is less Swampy or Grumpy, is happy, and on that basis is able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I echo what the Minister said about the opportunity to have such expertise from him, which we should be making use of on this project. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that a lot of these sites are round-the-clock. There are a lot of issues around light pollution and so forth, but it is very difficult to keep an eye on all aspects of it.
I was struck by the noble Lord saying that the leadership at the top must take responsibility and that you cannot subcontract responsibility. Although, as always, I am charmed by the Minister and her warm words, I am not entirely convinced that the practice matches the theory around some of the security personnel. They do a difficult job in difficult circumstances, but one or two—not all of them—are overstepping the mark. It happens in every walk of life, and they must put up with a lot from some of the protestors, especially those protesting illegally. It is not an easy job.
Regarding the Minister’s comments about Covid-19, I hope that this will not be an issue for phase 2A, which we are discussing, but I must say again that whatever security was instructed to do, the practice was not as specified. There were numerous incidents where all the things that we were trying to do at the height of the first lockdown—social distancing et cetera —were not being observed. However, I have aired my worries. It is true that we do not so much look at the safety aspect of this but take it for granted, which we should never do. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 10. 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 the other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
10: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Impact on ancient woodland
(1) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report every six months throughout the period in which the scheduled works take place, detailing the impact on ancient woodlands.(2) This report must include—(a) direct impacts including, but not Ltd to, the loss of ancient and veteran trees and felling of trees designated as ancient woodland;(b) a comparison of actual works carried out on ancient woodlands, including those covered by additional planning permissions, and works detailed within the Act; and (c) indirect impacts including, but not Ltd to, noise, dust, vibrations and hydrological or ancient woodland soil contamination.(3) Upon publication of each report a four-week period is instigated for interested parties to respond and make recommendations for improvements which must be addressed in the subsequent report.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State provides regular reports to Parliament on the effect of the HS2 Project on ancient woodlands.
My Lords, I find myself in the slightly unusual position of introducing an amendment that I did not have anything to do with. I signed up to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on this, and about 10 minutes later she told me that she was withdrawing her name because she had been made an offer that she could not refuse from the Minister. I am carrying on with the amendment because it is an exceptionally good one. The Minister has already written to everybody saying that the Government will accept Amendment 13, but it is worth describing the difference between the two amendments. Amendment 10 is a pretty good amendment and something to work towards, even if it is not accepted today.
There are three main differences between the two amendments: first, Amendment 10 would require a report every six months, while in Amendment 13, the reporting would be annual; secondly, “indirect impacts” are explicitly mentioned in Amendment 10, while there is no mention of them in Amendment 13; thirdly, Amendment 10 would require a report to Parliament by the Secretary of State, with a four-week consultation period, while Amendment 13 would require no consultation at all. Noble Lords can see that these are quite big differences, although the amendments are along the same lines.
I will describe them a bit more. On six-monthly reporting versus annual reporting, six-monthly reporting would obviously allow closer observation of what exactly is going on. You could follow issues as they arise, as opposed to trying to mop them up, say, a year later. It also allows lessons to be learned, which is not always easy, and would allow those lessons to be learned quickly and before the same season of works starts the following year. That would be quite a big bonus. Also, the report would be to Parliament itself.
HS2 Ltd does not formally recognise the indirect impacts of the development on ancient woodland. I had to find out exactly what “indirect impacts” means. It is the sort of the thing that would be near any construction site, such as dust, debris, light, noise and that sort of thing—the sort of thing that nobody, whether human, animal or insect, likes near them. In fact, it has quite an impact on ancient woodland. It disturbs bats, nesting birds and all sorts of creatures that like the dark and thrive in it.
The ancient tree strategies contain lists of the woods directly affected, but no such list exists for the woods that HS2 considers indirectly affected. The Government’s forestry policy document, Keepers of Time, explicitly recognises the need for indirect effects to be identified. For HS2 not to do this is very concerning.
Furthermore, correspondence between HS2 and Natural England in 2014 clearly showed that Natural England considered that HS2 Ltd had failed to assess adequately the indirect impact of the original scheme on ancient woodland. The Woodland Trust has kept a list of the woods that it considers indirectly affected; it gave this information to HS2 Ltd in every consultation response that it sent. It allows comparison between what is happening on the ground and what is being proposed by HS2.
Current analysis shows that 10 ancient woodlands will be directly affected by the phase 2a works and that a further seven ancient woodlands will be indirectly affected; in phase 1, there were about 29 in that category. Each of these woods has been assessed on a case-by-case basis and not by drawing an arbitrary line on a map, as HS2 Ltd has done. Sufficient clarity on this would enable further assessment of whether the project is proceeding as planned or is in fact more environmentally damaging than HS2 Ltd admits.
By not publicly accepting that some ancient woodlands are indirectly affected, it is impossible to have an open conversation with HS2 Ltd about these woods and what measures it could put in place to ameliorate, minimise or eliminate the damage that it might be doing. Amendment 10 would enable that conversation to happen and would clearly demonstrate the wider impact of this scheme on both the natural environment and, potentially, humans.
Finally, after the report to Parliament, a four-week consultation period would enable any new and troubling developments to be given an airing so that they could be addressed and reported on in further reports. It would also provide an official mechanism for the centralised collection of public information about what the works look like on the ground compared to what was written in the various environmental statements. At present, this information is gathered in an ad hoc fashion, making it difficult to obtain a clear and accurate picture.
Overall, Amendment 10 is stricter, clearer and— I think—more likely to be accepted by the general public, who do actually worry about bats, nesting birds and insects. And they do worry about the impact dust, debris and general construction mess has on their immediate environment and on ancient woodlands. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak on both Amendments 10, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and 13 in my name. They both reflect on the need for better reporting from the HS2 project on its impact on ancient woodlands. I give my apologies to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for leaving her holding the baby of her amendment, but she has done a grand job of that.
On my Amendment 13, an annual report on ancient woodland impacts, published by the HS2 undertaker, would enable Parliament and interested parties to see clearly the actual impact on ancient woodlands, and it would allow comparisons with the estimations of ancient woodland damage that had been indicated by the undertaker at the time of the publication of the Bill or in any additional planning applications. It has frequently been difficult to extract such information from the undertaker, and what happens on the ground is sometimes very different from what was indicated at the outset. The report would enable learning to take place and be recorded. That would help reduce the damage to ancient woodlands across successive works. Also, it has the value that it covers all phases of HS2.
This amendment also provides for the Secretary of State to be able to require such other information as he may specify. I urge the Minister to explain how such reporting would operate and what requirements would be laid upon the undertaker to strengthen that reporting duty as outlined in Amendment 13. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has already done a good job on outlining what improvements need to be made, and I am asking for those assurances to be given by the Minister to ensure that the more modest amendment I am putting forward would, in fact, deliver the same impact as the original one.
I want to seek assurances from the Minister on four things. Firstly, I seek that the reports will be provided to the HS2 ecology review group for consideration so it can properly assess their findings, since it is the expert group supporting this work. Secondly, I seek that the reports would, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has said, consider both direct and indirect impacts, covering noise, dust, vibration, hydrological impacts and soil contamination. These can have a major impact on the biodiversity of ancient woodlands and the viability of ancient woods. Thirdly, I seek that the reports would be specifically required to outline how variations in delivery are different from any original published intentions. Fourthly, I want to seek assurances that the Government will respond formally to issues raised in each report and indicate what changes to future practice would be required from the undertaker. Several of these assurances are laid out in Amendment 10 and have been well put by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
I do intend to move my Amendment 13 when it is called in its place, but, ideally, the Minister will accept my amendment as she has indicated today, by email, that she will. I hope she can also give the further assurances I have just sought, because that would make the reporting duty meet the requirements more effectively, as well as the requirements the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I have sought.
I have observed that over the past 18 months the Minister has been on a kind of journey towards greater understanding of ancient woodland. Indeed, I detect almost a growing feeling on her part for ancient woodland and its importance. I am confident that we will pervert her yet. However, for the moment, I thank her and her team, and the HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson, for rolling up their sleeves on this particular issue. I hope that she will accept my amendment and give me the assurances that I am seeking.
My Lords, I have to say that I was thinking more of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, than the softer one, if I may say that—not in any derogatory sense—tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I am entirely in favour of trees and would not want anything that I say to leave your Lordships to think otherwise.
Wanton destruction of ancient woodland or, for that matter, indirect damage to it is a deplorable prospect. However, ancient trees and forests, by definition, have grown without any expectation that they would find themselves in the way of such things as road or rail and ought not to be a permanent block on modern need. We should respect antiquity but not become prisoners of the past. It is inevitable that a high-speed railway needs to be laid straight, which makes it very difficult to plan a course for it that avoids unfortunate clashes. It is therefore a matter of trying to strike the right balance between modern and future needs and what has been gifted to us from the past.
My impression of HS2 is derived largely from close sight of its representatives during the proceedings of the Select Committee. I certainly did not find them to be unaccommodating of many of the arguments put forward in criticism, or qualified criticism, of the project. However, HS2 has to be warned—I hope that it has learnt something from what it came up against during phase 1—and watched over.
HS2 has been reasonably generous regarding the number of trees that it is prepared to plant to counter- balance those that may be lost. As regards the concerns about the indirect effect on trees, as described, expert opinion varies. Some of those trees and the wildlife that frequents them are more resilient than perhaps everyone would believe. It is possible to see this argument against the background that we have become an increasingly tree-loving nation. The Government have provided encouragingly large funds for the spread of trees throughout the country. Newspaper campaigns have been run to encourage everyone, particularly young people at school, to have regard for this aspect of the environment. Even Network Rail has a programme of tree planting, although it may well be closer to urban areas—nothing wrong with that—than going through rural Staffordshire or rural Cheshire. So, I think we can be encouraged by the fact that it is not going to be an easy ride for HS2 and its contractors simply to do what they want: the public are watching them, as, indeed, Parliament should.
We do not want to be at the level I thought of when reading the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, where we could risk, by frequency of inspection and reporting, having bands of inspectors lurking behind every tree. Yes, there has to be continuing oversight by Parliament, and not just by annual review. I suspect that Members in both Houses are going to ask questions and have short debates, including adjournment debates, and pepper the Order Paper with queries if they are aware of matters going wrong. My noble friend Lord Randall has demonstrated that all eyes, and there are many eyes, are peering in the direction of what is going on and whether those in charge of HS2 are conducting themselves in a proper manner.
I thought six-monthly reports was overdoing it; I am prepared to be accommodating towards annual reports, which will be a focus. In fact, there needs to be more frequent vigilance and I am sure that noble Lords and honourable Members of the House of Commons will continue to provide it.
My Lords, as with the last amendment, when the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, spoke, I shall speak from experience. I was involved in all three stages of the route from London to the Channel Tunnel, which subsequently became HS1. We were subject during that time to a ferocious barrage of quite unpleasant attack. A mild phrase, “the rape of the garden of England”, was used, but many less pleasant things were said, and threats of violence were made to the people constructing it.
I make this point because later, much later, I became acquainted with a Labour MP who represented a constituency in Kent adjacent to HS1, and I asked him “How many complaints do you get about noise, visual intrusion and the like from HS1?”, all of which were made great play of during the inquiries. He looked at me a bit quizzically and said, “Well, I don’t get any, but I get sackfuls of mail about the noise, the dirt and the pollution from the M20.” I think we have to bear in mind that these construction sites, as the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, said, have to be unpleasant while work is happening but do not have to be unpleasant afterwards. The provisions that have been made by HS2 in terms of planting trees, accommodating various animals and other things go a long way to make up for the environmental damage that it is doing. I am quite sure that the HS2 railway, when it is built, will be a quiet and efficient railway and a much better neighbour than many people find who are have motorways and new roads built close to them.
My Lords, I sincerely hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is right. I would hate to see aggressive or arrogant behaviour on the part of anybody.
I pay tribute to three noble Baronesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has a short fuse, but a wonderful way of exciting our affection and admiration for her campaigning skills. She has total belief in what she says, even when she is wrong. I really do congratulate her on the way she has promoted the cause of ancient woodlands, done with a burning sincerity and not a little good humour—because she is very good- humoured.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has as much knowledge on this subject as anyone I know. She tabled a more modest amendment. I have a certain preference for the first one, but hers was a sensible amendment.
Here is where I pay tribute to my noble friend on the Front Bench; it is very good to be able to do so in a wholly unreserved way. I was delighted when I received the email this afternoon telling me she had a good mind to accept the amendment. It is good to be able to support the Government unreservedly on anything at present. Therefore, I thank her very much indeed.
I want to add to what was said by my noble friend Lord Randall in moving Amendment 9. I do not want to talk about those in charge of security—rather, those who are higher up in HS2. There have been examples of very arrogant behaviour towards people whose homes were threatened. I know of a case of a public servant who gave unstintingly to his county and was badgered and bullied when it came to the compulsory purchase of his much-loved family home. I do not want to identify him by saying any more.
It is important that those in charge of driving this great project—and while it does not have my unreserved support, I do believe that it is a great project—display a degree of sensitivity. I am delighted we are putting this amendment in to the Bill, but it is up to those higher up in HS2 to ensure that they handle issues and people with a degree of understanding. It is for the Minister to keep a beady eye on them all the time. When people are effectively driven out of their homes, seeing the countryside they love and in which they have lived—in some cases for generations—despoiled, although it might be true what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has said, that when it is all over and done with, it will be quiet, or quieter than people fear, nevertheless something will have gone for ever. It is important those in charge of this project are conscious of the wider public responsibility. I hope the Minister will have a gentle word with them on that subject.
I warmly welcome what is being done this afternoon. Again, I am most grateful to the three noble Baronesses.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a landowner, as set out in the register. I am also directly affected by HS2 south of Birmingham. I had not intended to speak on these amendments, but the groupings changed at some point, and my name seems to have been retained. Now, on further research, I think it worth making some basic observations.
HS2 claims that only 43 out of 52,000 ancient woodlands will be affected, and 80% of the 43 will remain intact. Therefore, we are talking about just 0.005% of ancient woodlands. We should also remember that, as we heard last week, some of these ancient woodlands are far from being ancient. I happen to own and manage such a designated wood. It was owned by the Forestry Commission, which felled and replanted it almost entirely with Corsican pine shortly after the last war. The wood failed: Corsican pine was the wrong tree to grow on heavy Oxford clay. I have replanted it with hardwood, and it is thriving, together with all the flora and fauna. I did not need a special report to do this—I just got on with it. HS2 will have a similar responsibility and opportunity.
My real comment is that although these amendments are well intentioned and harmless, they are unnecessary and a further bureaucratic exercise, something that most woodland owners and managers dread. The compilers and others involved in these suggested reports would be better occupied in actually managing these woodlands on the ground with planting, weeding, pruning and pest control. Erecting hides to help manage the barking deer population as well as removing squirrel dreys with poles and setting humane traps for this worst of pests would be a more constructive use of everyone’s time.
Having said this, I would certainly not oppose Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, but I believe that Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is a little over the top.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow on from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, because he picked up on an issue that I raised in the previous debate on this. Ancient woodland does not necessarily mean ancient trees—they are of variable quality. However, of course, they include a number of fine pieces of woodland that have rich ecosystems because they have been on that site for a very long time.
I am pleased that the Minister has indicated that she will accept Amendment 13. The previous debate was characterised by very vigorous discussion between Members of this House with a considerable knowledge of environmental issues. There was an obvious level of disagreement among the experts and, therefore, Amendment 13 enables this not to become the subject of the debate. One assumes that the reports concerned will follow on from expert advice.
I hope that these annual reports will not be yet another bureaucratic process but a mechanism to enable public scrutiny of how HS2 is performing in practice and to ensure that there is progress and improvement in standards of land and woodland management as the project progresses. This is a massive project and there is no excuse for getting anything other than the most expert advice on woodland issues. In financial terms, the cost of woodland replanting and improvement is very small indeed in comparison with the costs of the engineering aspects of the project.
I will repeat a question I have asked before and come back to a topic I have dealt with before. Our rich environments—areas of outstanding environmental importance—are not just limited to ancient woodlands: wetlands and meadows can be every bit as important in terms of environmental and ecological significance.
I ask the Minister, given that the amendment that she has indicated that she will accept is a very gentle amendment and will hardly stretch either the Government or HS2 in terms of complying with it, whether she would consider extending the reports concerned to include other aspects of environmental significance, such as wetlands and meadows. If we look at subsection (2)(b) of the proposed new clause, we see that it says that the reports might include
“such other information as may be specified by the Secretary of State.”
So I invite the Minister to consider whether those annual reports indicated as part of this amendment should be wider than just reports on woodland. They should be environmental reports in the general sense of that term, because, while the importance of the woodland is obviously significant, so are the other aspects of our very outstanding countryside.
My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for long. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone on achieving a positive result for her amendment on an issue that she has pursued with great tenacity and persuasiveness, not least during the passage of this Bill. I hope that the Government will also feel able to provide the assurances that my noble friend is seeking. It is very helpful that the Government are accepting the amendment in the name of my noble friend, with its requirement for the nominated undertaker to prepare and publish annual reports about the impact of the construction of each phase of High Speed 2 on ancient woodland. Hopefully, this will raise the profile of the actual adverse impact on ancient woodlands of the construction of HS2 and, by doing so, help achieve a better result as far as the protection of, or damage limitation to, such woodlands is concerned than would otherwise be the case.
My Lords, there are two amendments in this group, the first in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to which I cannot agree, and the second in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, which, if she chooses to move it, I will be pleased to be able to support. Turning to the first amendment, this might at first glance appear to be very similar to the second amendment—indeed, some noble Lords have referred to it as being “soft” or “gentle”. I would like to reassure noble Lords that Amendment 13 is not in any way less good. From my perspective, I would like to highlight the important differences, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. In putting my perspective on them, I hope that noble Lords will agree—and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in particular will agree—that their fears are unfounded, and that Amendment 13 is certainly a very good amendment indeed.
First, Amendment 10 calls for the frequency of reporting to be every six months, whereas Amendment 13 proposes that it be annually. I will explain a bit later why that is appropriate. Secondly, the amendment restricts the reporting required to only those works authorised in this Bill—phase 2a—where we believe, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, believes as well, that all HS2 phases could be and should be included in this report.
Thirdly, in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the report required is narrowed by the definitions of direct and indirect impacts. Again, I will go on to explain how that will be covered in the report that we propose, because we believe that we can go broader than that. Finally, there is a difference with regard to the requirement for a mini-consultation associated with each report.
I do not believe that these differences augment the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb; rather, they restrict it and place limitations on the value that more reporting on the impacts on ancient woodland could bring. On this basis, and given the knowledge that I am able to support Amendment 13, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, will withdraw her amendment.
Turning to Amendment 13, one of the aims of the HS2 project is always to try to reduce its impact on ancient woodland. As has been said before, some impact is inevitable. The environmental statement gives an assessment of the reasonable worst-case scenario. Although impacts on ancient woodland cannot be fully compensated, losses will be addressed through a range of measures, as I have outlined previously.
Through extensive engagement on phase 2a, HS2 Ltd has already found ways to protect some veteran trees which were previously expected to be lost. Furthermore, through the redesign of embankments in the Whitmore Wood area, HS2 Ltd has been able to commit to some reduction in impact on the ancient woodland there. Wherever possible, the Government will continue to push HS2 Ltd to go further on this matter.
I am so grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for her engagement on this matter; she brings vast knowledge and experience. I recognise that her amendment may not go quite as far as she would ideally have liked, but I hope she will agree that the outcome is a significant step forward. Her amendment places a requirement on HS2 Ltd to publish reports annually on the impacts on ancient woodland across the whole of HS2, not only phase 2a. This has the benefit of committing to reporting on phase 1 of the project as well as phase 2a, and, of course, on future phases. The annual nature of reporting fits well within the life cycle of trees, as the works undertaken follow the seasonal pattern of trees, as required by other legislation. But just because the reporting is annual, it does not mean that the monitoring is annual, or that lessons learned are put in place on an annual cycle—it can be more frequent than that.
Furthermore, by not defining the term “impacts”, HS2 Ltd will report on a wide range of issues relating to ancient woodlands, including those that could potentially be caused by non-compliance with the code of construction practice. The reporting will include measures undertaken relating to breaches of assurances for ancient woodland and lessons learned, should they occur—and, of course, we all hope that they do not.
The phase 2a draft code of construction practice sets out the management measures that HS2 Ltd will be required to follow during construction of the scheme. This includes measures designed to control and prevent the impacts on which noble Lords have raised specific concerns, including the protection of habitats such as ancient woodland, and the control of dust, water quality, noise, vibration and lighting. I believe that these are the sorts of indirect impacts sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
But, of course, there is more. There are also specific measures designed to minimise adverse ecological effects, including: developing a programme of ecological surveys to be undertaken prior to and during construction, including on bats; the relocation and translocation of species, soil and plants; the reinstatement of any areas of temporary habitat loss; restoration and replacement planting, for example of trees, hedgerows, shrubs and grassland; and using by-products of construction to enhance mitigation provisions, for example using felled trees to provide dead-wood habitats. There is also a requirement to consult with Natural England, the Environment Agency, local wildlife trusts and with relevant planning authorities prior to and during construction.
By committing HS2 Ltd to report on non-compliance with the measures set out in the code of construction practice, we are ensuring that all these impacts are captured and are not limited to the narrower definition of impacts in the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. Further, the reporting will include the variance between what ancient woodland the environmental statement has assessed will be lost or impacted by HS2 and what actually occurs. The environmental statement is a reasonable worst-case scenario; in effect, it is an educated estimate of the impact. I hope very much that reporting on the actual outcome in comparison to the baseline in the environmental statement will have a positive impact on helping future programmes and projects improve their assessments for their own environmental statements and reporting.
I will go further. I am pleased to commit HS2 Ltd to reporting on the volume of metres cubed of ancient woodland soils that have been translocated, and to reporting on the number of hectares of ancient woodland compensation and restoration that have been included in the detailed design of the scheme. I am also pleased to commit the company to reporting on the number of hectares of ancient woodland creation and restoration delivered through all HS2 funds that deliver woodland creation. The intention is to publish the ancient woodland impact reports in the annual environmental report. Ancient woodland mitigation and impacts are discussed in the ecology review group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, tried her luck in seeing whether we could go further on wetlands and meadows. Of course we recognise the importance of those environments so, if she is in agreement, I will write to her on the steps being taken to make sure that those impacts are also minimised.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for Amendment 13, and for taking me on a journey. I am not quite at the same point as she is on it, but I am not quite where I used to be. I hope that she will move her amendment when the time comes, and it will give me great pleasure to support it.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, which has been quite interesting for me as well. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that I am absolutely thrilled to be left holding the baby. It is a beautiful baby and I am honoured to do so.
I found the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, to be appalling. I was quite staggered to hear him say things like we must not be held prisoners of the past. Images came to mind of students pulling down statues of slave owners and I wonder if he supports those as well. It is absolutely fantastic if he does. He made comments about how the railway must be straight. It does if trains are going at 250 miles an hour, which is the planned speed for it. Of course, the railway will not do that at first—it will be 225 mph or something—but is still exponentially far less environmentally friendly at that sort of speed. Yes, it has to be a straight railway line because it cannot go around corners, which means that the line will go through a lot of extremely valuable land.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, talked about replacement trees. I congratulate them on wanting replacement trees, but there is also the fact that in the drought of summer 2018, tens of thousands of trees that HS2 Ltd had planted died. It said that it was cheaper to replace them than to water then, which means that 89,000 trees died and were replaced with, again, small trees. What is needed as a replacement is large trees; if you have to keep replacing them, you will keep on getting small trees. I would argue that HS2 is not entirely reliable about planting its trees.
As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was extremely kind to me, apart from the comment about my short fuse, which is sadly true. I am glad that he likes Amendment 10, which is a credit from him and I thank him for it. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on planting hardwoods instead of pines. I am not sure that I liked his description of Amendment 10 as “well intentioned and harmless”. I would like to think it is tough and radical. I also congratulate him on pronouncing my name correctly, which many Peers do not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about the rich ecosystem that exists in ancient woods. That is the whole point: it is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate that when such biospheres are very precious. This is not just about preserving the past; it is about making sure that our whole environment stays healthy. Sometimes we do not know, until we have lost them, what the precious things we have do overall. I am also glad that she talked about wetlands and meadows, which of course are just as important. Had there been amendments concerning them, I would have supported them fully.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on her incredibly important work on this. I thank the Minister. It was good that she talked about direct and indirect impacts. That was valuable, but I am not clear how the lessons learned will be dealt with by the Government and am not sure if the Minister is able to let us know. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 10.
Would the Minister care to respond at this point? She will do so later.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Amendment 11 not moved.
We come to the group consisting of Amendment 12. 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 amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
12: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, must not enter into any non-disclosure agreement with any party in connection with the scheduled works unless the assessor of non-disclosure agreements related to the scheduled works (“the assessor”) has certified that it is in the public interest.(2) The Comptroller and Auditor General must appoint a person to be the assessor.(3) The assessor must be— (a) independent, and(b) a current or former high court judge, higher judge or Queen’s Counsel.(4) In this section, “independent” means independent of—(a) Government,(b) HS2 Ltd, and(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out the scheduled works.(5) The assessor must undertake his or her work with a presumption in favour of transparency and public accountability in matters connected to the scheduled works.(6) The assessor must review any non-disclosure agreement between the nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, and any party in connection with the scheduled works and in place before this section comes into force to certify whether it is or is not in the public interest.(7) The assessor may not determine that a non-disclosure agreement is in the public interest for the purposes of subsection (1) or (6) except for the reason that it is justified because of exceptional commercial confidentiality.(8) If the assessor certifies under subsection (6) that a non-disclosure agreement is not in the public interest that non-disclosure agreement immediately ceases to have effect.(9) In this section, a “non-disclosure agreement” means any duty of confidentiality or other restriction on disclosure (however imposed).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to require HS2 to subject all proposed NDAs to independent scrutiny.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate non-disclosure agreements again. I have tabled the same amendment that we debated in Committee to get a little more information from the Minister concerning some of her answers. I am grateful to her for the meetings that we have had and the answers that she has given. We have to remember that an NDA goes much wider than a particular project —HS2 or any railway.
It is worth pointing out that this amendment, proposing an independent assessor, is something which would be voluntary. She said that NDAs can be entered into voluntarily, but I understand from the way that HS2 has developed the process that if you want information, you have to sign an NDA. It is voluntary if you want the information. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out that some local authorities like signing NDAs with other organisations, so that a small group or maybe even one person on the council can keep all the information to themselves and not inform their colleagues.
Another part of the Minister’s answer in Committee was that:
“If an independent assessor were appointed to scrutinise such agreements”—
“they would be breaching the privacy of those agreements.”
That is a circular argument. I am sure there would be a way of resolving it if both parties wanted to. My final comment is to question what she stated later:
“I am confident that the use of NDAs by HS2 is in the public interest.”—[Official Report, 12/11/20; col. GC 528.]
I agree that some certainly are in the public interest. We would not want to have every detail of every contractor whose contracts are being negotiated, or for them to be unable to have an NDA. Clearly that is confidential, but there are over 300 NDAs. HS2 Ltd is also quoted as signing an NDA with its own training body. If that cannot be kept confidential to the extent wanted, it is a bit sad.
I have taken a lot of useful evidence from a report by the former Construction Minister Nick Raynsford, who reviewed the process of NDAs. He concluded that they “undermine public trust” in major infrastructure projects and he criticised the
“widespread use of confidentiality agreements by the HS2 company”
and stated that they had a
“corrosive sense on the part of the public, that planning is no longer protecting their interests.”
This issue cannot be resolved today, and I have no intention of dividing the House. Personally, I think that having an independent assessor to review all the HS2 NDAs, and, with the presumption of transparency and public accountability, to check whether they are in the public interest, would be a useful thing. I suspect that it would cost very little and would delay things very little once it got over the initial stages. I end by asking the Minister: what do all these companies have to hide? I emphasise that I do not suggest that there should be no NDAs but that there should be some means of limiting them to those which are for good commercial reasons rather than possibly to avoid embarrassment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in coming back on Report to the issue of confidentiality agreements, more commonly referred to as NDAs. Thanks to more recent news articles, we now know that HS2 has required 339 bodies to sign confidentiality agreements, and that is required because otherwise they get no access to the information necessary to discuss HS2-related issues. I therefore hope that HS2 is now beginning to take on board the concerns of the public and many Members of Parliament, local authorities and civic groups, that confidentiality agreements are hindering the transparency which should underpin such an important project. I say that as a strong supporter of the project; I always have considered HS2 vital to economic growth across the UK.
Of course there are issues of commercial sensitivity which need to be covered by confidentiality agreements, and this amendment both accepts that and provides for it. However, the presumption should always be for transparency, with confidentiality on an exception basis. I have some hope that the Minister, Andrew Stephenson, recognises the problem. Gagging of any kind cuts Ministers off from the information they need. The late and slow leak of information, especially related to cost, land purchases and compensation, has harmed HS2 and generated suspicion. We need to be very open in explaining that, in any project on this scale, projecting costs and timetables is very difficult and will always change. I personally believe that the biggest problem we have with HS2 is understating its benefits, since it will serve us for generations, and most of the longer-term benefits and regeneration benefits away from the stations are not included in the official analysis.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, for organising a Zoom meeting between interested Lords, herself, Andrew Stephenson, who is the relevant Minister, DfT staff and HS2 to discuss the issue. I and others have received a follow-up letter. The letter does not exactly allay concerns, but it makes it clear that the risk assurance committee of HS2 will now review the matter and will, I hope, recognise the damage to trust and reputation that has been and is being caused. I have to say that HS2 is not alone. Organisations public and private across the globe are having to revise their notions of appropriate confidentiality. No entity any more can rest in the comfort zone of just releasing good news.
As we made clear in Committee, this amendment does not deal with the settlement agreements usually used to manage whistleblowers. The idea I have heard that settlement agreements do not act as gags is nonsense. Why does the Minister think that Doug Thornton—the best known whistleblower on HS2, who was HS2’s director of land and property until he was dismissed when he raised concerns internally—did not sign one? He could have saved himself years of agony if he had.
HS2 has provided me and others with copies of its whistleblowing policy. On paper it looks fine, but pretty much every financial institution, private sector company, hospital, care home, prison, social services department or bank that has been caught in appalling behaviour has an exemplary tick-box whistleblowing system. The system just does not work in practice. That is why the whole issue of whistleblowing needs an overhaul. Following the Zoom call I talked about earlier, I realised that some parties do not understand why the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I have spoken directly to only a few whistleblowers. It is because we are not prescribed persons. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, is not a prescribed person—the Minister, Andrew Stephenson MP, is a prescribed person, but it is a very narrow group. Any whistleblower speaking to me or to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is not protected by PIDA, the Public Interest Disclosure Act. I stop any whistleblower from speaking to me who is not going public anyway, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Berkley, does the same. It is much too risky for them.
I hope very much that when the audit and risk assurance committee of HS2 looks at confidentiality agreements, it will also do a deep dive into its internal “Speak Out” whistleblowing system, including talking to professional bodies such as the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors from which members often seek advice when they run into an issue like this. I also hope that it talks to civil society groups such as WhistleblowersUK and Protect. Those of us who are concerned with these issues are now relying on the Government to make sure that the flaws in the use of both confidentiality and settlement agreements at HS2 are sorted. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, the issue goes far wider than HS2 and far wider than rail, but we will be watching and listening because issues that are concealed never actually go away and, when they emerge, they come back to bite a project.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I thought at one point that I would scratch myself from the remaining amendments. However, as I noticed my name was still there today, I thought I would do noble Lords the courtesy of not pulling out, although I do not have a lot to say on the detail. I am not familiar with what happened on this in Committee, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley said that it was the same amendment. However, subsection (6) of the proposed new clause looks to me as though it is retrospective. Are the promoters of this amendment seriously contemplating a change in the law to retro- spectively have all the current arrangements that, one assumes, have been mutually entered into reviewed by this independent assessor? Have I got that right? I do not quite see where the benefit of that would come from.
I fully accept, of course, that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is in support of HS2, but there are people who could look at this amendment and say, to be honest, that it comes from a desire for disclosure of sensitive information to damage the project. I know she does not have views in that respect and I can remember her support when she was a Minister, but the fact is that this amendment could turn into that problem. I am not familiar with all the details, and I was surprised at the number of non-disclosure agreements; there have been over 300. On the other hand, when one looks at what is involved here—at the scale of the project, the number of contractors, the number of people involved in it or affected by it—that turns out, on reflection, to be quite a small number.
Of course, if it is true that this helps to avoid placing homes and businesses in unnecessary blight, as HS2 claims, that is a good reason for such agreements and for protecting the personal information of the people involved. I am not in favour of curtailing the activities of whistleblowers, but I fully take the point that Members of the House of Lords are in a different position from Members of the House of Commons—rightly so, frankly.
I will leave it there, but I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this amendment, which is ill thought-out and does not have my support.
My Lords, I want to speak to the principle behind the amendment rather than its exact terminology.
There was a time when NDAs were exceptional, but well over 300 of them for HS2 show that we have moved a long way from that in terms of commercial procedure. Why do we have FoI questions and FoI legislation? In many cases, processes such as NDAs were being used to hide inconvenient pieces of information. Information is power; it always has been and always will be.
My noble friend Lady Kramer excellently outlined the complex issues associated with this, particularly on proscribed people. That picks up on the Minister’s response when we discussed in Committee the issue of the number of people coming forward as whistleblowers.
However, the issue goes far wider than HS2 and will, I am sure, be aired in this House on other occasions. The Grenfell inquiry is totally separate, but that public inquiry has revealed how important the detail of commercial arrangements is and what motivation there may be for such hiding that detail. There is commercial realism, but nevertheless, there is a balance to be struck. When individuals sign these agreements they often do so without fully appreciating the complexity of what they are signing up to.
My Lords, I too attended the Zoom session on this issue. I thank the Minister and those present for organising it.
I can see that NDAs were necessary in the consultation stage, but there is a question mark, which is difficult to debate, over whether they were necessary in such volume. More importantly, was there possible misuse to suppress whistleblowers? We were given some assurances about that, which, once again, I found at least partially convincing. I hope that the Minister will repeat those assurances for the record.
There is a more general point as to whether NDAs are overly used in public procurement. I believe that there may be a case for more transparency and that the Government should consider launching a general investigation into transparency in public procurement. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that that is a bigger issue and it would be inappropriate to pursue it further at this point.
My Lords, I recognise that transparency is a key issue in relation to HS2. It enables oversight by Ministers and Parliament, and provides accountability to the public on how we are spending taxpayers’ money and on how the project is being delivered. This amendment is trying to get to the heart of this issue of transparency. However, I do not recognise that it is of any aid in this endeavour. I am not sure that I can add much more to what I already said in Committee or in subsequent meetings, but I will happily go round the track again to put the Government’s position on record.
HS2 enters into two types of agreements—confidentiality agreements and settlement agreements. Confidentiality agreements enable the exchange of information between HS2 and other individuals or organisations, including local councils and businesses. With such an agreement in place, HS2 Ltd can have open and frank conversations with the other party about a range of plans and proposals, some of which may not come off. These could include early considerations of different design options that, if made public, could cause unnecessary alarm and blight local properties.
Confidentiality agreements also enable those other parties to share information with HS2 Ltd without it being made public. These agreements are being made not because HS2 Ltd wants them, but because the other party does. For example, a small local business could share its accounts to determine the compensation available to it. This could not happen if confidentiality was not ensured.
As a number of noble Lords have noted, in the history of HS2 since 2011, 339 confidentiality agreements have been signed. Not all will have been required by HS2; some will have been required by the other contracting party. I know that some feel this is too many. I have to disagree. Thousands of landowners, businesses and councils are involved with the project, so I do not think this is disproportionate. I have the feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, does not think it is disproportionate either.
Confidentiality agreements are not entered into with staff members at HS2 Ltd. There are confidentiality obligations within staff members’ employment contracts, but this is standard business practice, consistent with that in other public sector organisations.
Settlement agreements are a completely separate form of legal undertaking. They are entirely voluntary and include confidentiality provisions in line with the guidance set out by the Cabinet Office. These agreements can be signed only when an individual has taken independent legal counsel and fully understands their rights and obligations. Settlement agreements are entered into with a small minority of staff who are leaving HS2 to document mutual actions that avoid tribunal claims, or to keep private the sums involved in certain redundancies.
Neither confidentiality agreements nor settlement agreements can be used to gag those who wish to raise concerns about HS2. Whistleblowers are protected by law and none of HS2 Ltd’s business practices contravenes or frustrates this. HS2 Ltd has a whistleblowing procedure called Speak Out, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, noted. This provides a route for staff, contractors and members of the public to raise concerns. The operator of this line is independent of HS2. Queries or concerns raised through this process are investigated by HS2 Ltd’s counterfraud and ethics team, and any necessary action is taken. Where necessary, suitable independent third parties will be brought in to investigate the issues raised. Updates are provided regularly to senior HS2 leaders, including non-executive directors, who act within the seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
A number of noble Lords have noted that there may be one or two deficiencies in the amendment. It states that an independent third party should have control over how HS2 Ltd uses what it refers to as non-disclosure agreements—NDAs—which are those two previous agreements I spoke about. We do not feel that this is appropriate, necessary or, indeed, helpful. This issue was considered by the Secretary of State for Transport during the passage of this Bill in the other place, including whether it might be pertinent to appoint further observers or implement new complaints processes. The conclusion was that the use of these standard agreements should not be constrained by the imposition of a third party. There is simply no evidence that such an imposition is necessary or in the public interest.
If a party wishes to enter into a confidential agreement with HS2 Ltd, they should be free to do so. Indeed, they should also have the option for the very existence of that agreement to be private. I tried to follow the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, earlier, and I thank him for it, but I was a little confused. On the one hand, he said that he wanted an assessor for the public interest and to look at all the agreements that have happened in the past—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed out, is slightly problematic—but on the other hand he noted that the use of a third party should be voluntary between the two parties. I could not figure out how that would work or, certainly, what problem it would solve.
I do not believe that the amendment has merit but I recognise that transparency is important. HS2 Ltd already publishes the number of settlement agreements it has signed in its annual report. In addition, HS2 Ltd will begin reporting the cumulative number of confidentiality agreements it has signed in that same report. I believe that HS2 Ltd is using these agreements in the public interest, and I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate, particularly the Minister, for the meetings, the letter and other comments she has made. I shall respond very briefly to some of the comments made by noble Lords.
I say to my noble friend Lord Rooker that this amendment started in the House of Commons probably two years ago. As the Minister said, it was rejected at that stage, but there seemed to be quite a lot of support in some parts of the House, which I thought was interesting.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned balance. I think that goes to the heart of what I believe is necessary. Of course, there have to be NDAs. My point about NDAs being voluntary was that companies or individuals did not have to sign an NDA if they did not want to—that was the voluntary bit. On the question of balance, we have talked about more than 300 NDAs that have been listed, but I suspect there are very many more among landowners that we have not discussed. Of course, it is perfectly reasonable that they should sign NDAs as part of their negotiations.
This is an issue that will go on. It is helpful that the risk assurance committee set up in HS2 will look at some of these things. I am not actually suggesting that we go back to square one and look at every NDA that HS2 has signed, but one could say that one would look only at new ones signed after the Bill gets Royal Assent. However, this has been a very useful debate and I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, for her support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
13: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The nominated undertaker must prepare and publish annual reports about the impact of the construction of each Phase of High Speed 2 on ancient woodland.(2) A report must contain— (a) information about the impact on ancient woodland of the construction of each Phase of High Speed 2 during the period to which the report relates;(b) such other information as may be specified by the Secretary of State.(3) The first report must be published before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which this Act comes into force. (4) Subsequent reports must be published before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which the previous report was published.(5) A report is not required in relation to a Phase of High Speed 2 in respect of a period during which no construction works take place for that Phase.(6) The nominated undertaker must publish reports under this section in such manner as the nominated undertaker considers appropriate.(7) In this section “Phase of High Speed 2” means—(a) Phase One of High Speed 2 (within the meaning of section 1 of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Act 2017);(b) Phase 2a of High Speed 2;(c) any other railway line which forms part of the high speed railway transport network referred to in section 1 of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the nominated undertaker to prepare and publish annual reports about the impact of the construction of each phase of High Speed 2 on ancient woodland.
Amendment 13 agreed.
Schedule 20: Burial grounds
Amendments 14 and 15 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 16. 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 amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Schedule 23: Party walls etc
16: Schedule 23, page 188, line 16, at end insert—
“9 (1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument make such alterations as may be necessary to the provision under this Schedule for—(a) the notification to adjacent owners, and(b) disputes and their determination.(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under sub-paragraph (1) must be laid before Parliament in sufficient time to allow the regulations to come into force not later than the commencement of works authorised by this Act. (3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under sub-paragraph (1) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to commit the Government to producing statutory guidance to resolve an apparent gap between safeguards under the Party Wall etc Act 1996 and those remaining following the partial disapplication of that Act by Schedule 23 and the alternative measures in Schedule 2.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 16, I will speak also to Amendment 17, both relating to party-wall procedures. I thank the Minister and the Bill team for hearing me out on this quite narrow issue and for convening several online meetings. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and a number of external experts in this specialist field for their advice and support. I remind noble Lords of my own professional involvement in party-wall matters. I hope the Minister will be able to suggest something here, and therefore I trust that it will not be necessary for me to press these amendments.
I proceed by making an apology. In Grand Committee the Minister asked about the numerical incidence of cases in phase 2a that might be subject to party-wall procedures. The estimate of numbers that I provided informally to her was produced by someone else and is probably a mistaken figure, so I confess that I am no further forward. However, I have put out further inquiries and will let her know what the situation is. Of course, cases relating to party-wall procedures under the existing phase 1 are only now beginning to trickle in, so there is a long time lag between setting the Act in motion and cases emerging.
I will summarise for the record the current situation, as follows. First, the Minister told us that Schedule 23 to Bill as drafted, while removing key sections of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996—which I will refer to as “the 1996 Act”—for HS2 purposes, would none the less leave the main elements of the 1996 Act procedures intact. I must beg to disagree. If the claim to entitlements under the 1996 Act is not formally notified, it is incapable of agreement or dissent and there is no default to the dispute procedures or a party-wall award, so the entire rationale and balance of a process that impinges on common-law rights is thereby lost.
Secondly, the Minister suggested that for HS2 arbitration would be simpler and quicker than the 1996 Act dispute procedure, which she claims would delay HS2. I have to say that in all my years of practice I have never heard such a claim, even less seen substantive evidence supporting it.
Thirdly, the Minister averred that Schedule 2 to the Bill provides an adequate replacement for Section 6 of the 1996 Act—the bit relating to adjacent excavation—which is otherwise disapplied by Schedule 23 to the Bill. Replacement in part I can acknowledge, but I have to point out that it is on distinctly less than equal terms. I point in particular to changes in which consent, if a notice is not responded to, is deemed to have been given, instead of the 1996 Act protection of deemed dissent.
Safeguarding adjoining property and the notification of that is, it seems, the sole option of a nominated undertaker—which I will refer to as the NU—whereas this would be challengeable and potentially liable to counternotice under the 1996 Act. To explain further, safeguarding practices may be followed where risks to adjacent buildings arise from HS2 works, but based on internal assessment by the NU in which up to 10 millimetres of building movement is considered acceptable. However, in combination with natural subsoil shifts, this may well be mutually exacerbated and is therefore of considerable significance to owners of nearby buildings even if unimportant in engineering terms.
Fourthly, the Minister stated in Grand Committee that the NU would have to get agreement before commencing work falling under Schedules 2 and 23. However, there is no apparent mechanism for that in the Bill.
Neither external experts nor I agree entirely with the Minister’s analysis, but we do agree on some things: namely, that identical measures already exist in the phase 1 Act, that they were not challenged at the time, and that there was no consultation with expert practitioners on them. I suggest that practitioners were accordingly largely unaware of the proposals. In any event, accepting that phase 1 provisions exist does not make the risks go away.
I submit that for HS2 purposes the 1996 Act process does not remain intact; the essential balances of powers and responsibilities, of investigation and brokering of practical outcomes, cease to exist in the HS2 world. In the 1996 Act, it is a combination of the defining notice, a response and a challenge, followed by an award that gives rise to the rights—not a simple statement in Section 2 of the 1996 Act. The 1996 Act provides that the person proposing works meets the reasonable costs of the neighbour. This follows the obligation to make good any loss or damage occasioned. I am not clear what happens under the Bill, as notice under the 1996 Act customarily sets a clock ticking on costs and expenses. The removal of the requirement for notice, or perhaps a predilection for leaving notice under Schedule 2 to the last moment, might well mean that a prudent neighbour could themselves potentially incur an irrecoverable cost in obtaining advice on physical aspects, possibly before the NU had started to engage.
Of course I accept that we cannot have neighbours running up needless costs for reimbursement or, worse, undermining or destroying essential HS2 works. But this is a far cry from disapplying the provisions for everything that HS2 Ltd may happen to own or control and removing established protections. Hollowing out the 1996 Act and cherry picking the bits that suit HS2 is, of itself, questionable.
I do not see the Bill’s arbitration solution covering anything like the same process as the 1996 Act, in which surveyors negotiate the outcome based on a broad investigative process. Arbitration, after all, is a quasi-judicial process of a scope that needs to be defined. It used to be relatively cheap and quick, but a common criticism now is that it has become legalistic, expensive and slow, and so, I suggest, a good deal less flexible than party wall procedures. I think there will be arguments over the scope of arbitration.
It is clear to me that the Bill, by virtue of Schedules 2 and 23, and for HS2 purposes, does a great deal more than harmlessly disapply parts of the 1996 Act. It is a profound change of procedure and balance and will make the Act scarcely recognisable to most practitioners, especially when the customary consensual process is replaced with an essentially an adversarial one in which previous precedents are not a given. In short, it will require a significant realignment of skills and is likely to involve greater legal input. Awards of the type that occur under 1996 Act will not apply, and the intervention of the courts seems more likely. However, I accept that the bird has largely flown here. It is apparent that the Government will not accept any material changes to the Bill in respect of this matter. Fortunately, it is limited to HS2, but it makes for a bad precedent.
In discussions with the Bill team, the desirability of guidance was raised. I see three justifications for this: first, as a guide to professionals, given an unusual procedure and a significant departure from current established practice; secondly, as an indication of what an adjoining owner can expect; and, thirdly, as a means of fostering good order, cost control and consistent administration.
In the hope that there might be a partial solution in this direction, I took the liberty of asking the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, of which I am a fellow, if it would be prepared to set up a working group, as consultee. I am glad to say that it has agreed to do so if the principle is agreed. I hope this will be welcomed. I have already flagged 14 initial points of my own which I believe any guidance should cover.
I now turn to Amendment 16. I recognise the implications of amending the Bill and the potential practical outcomes for the phase 1 Act of so doing, although of course phase 1 represents the greatest likelihood of issues arising because of the urban nature of some of its route, but future phases of HS2 might also benefit from sorting things out now. However, I believe that there ought to be a statutory hook for any guidance, and that is why Amendment 16 is so framed. The purpose will, I think, be entirely clear—namely, to put on the face of the Bill the requirement for guidance, to identify the means of parliamentary scrutiny and, lest it be forgotten or overlooked, to establish a clear timeframe for its coming into force.
Amendment 17, which I shall speak to extremely briefly, is the fallback. If nothing is agreed, this is “exit without a deal”. It would leave the 1996 Act provisions largely intact, but I accept that it is far from a perfect fit in the Bill simply to disapply Schedule 23.
Therefore, I invite the Minister to confirm what is intended. If she cannot agree to Amendment 16, might she commit to bringing forward a government amendment at Third Reading or, if not, to guidance?
Finally, on an allied matter, I remind the Minister of the query that I raised earlier about the form and final repository for long-term liabilities and obligations arising from works in, adjacent to or beneath neighbouring properties. HS2 Ltd is a delivery vehicle and, I assume, will at some point cease to exist. Can she indicate where long-term legal responsibility will lie and how it will be enforced? I appreciate that she may need to write to me on this subsequently, but it is an important matter, whatever agreements or arbitration awards are reached. I look forward to her reply. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to support the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on these two amendments. We had some useful discussion in Committee, and I know that the Minister and her officials have been working very hard on seeing what the problems are and what the best solution is. Amendment 16 is certainly a way forward, because the status quo is, unfortunately, very unsatisfactory.
One problem, which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, alluded to, is that party wall issues come only well after the legislation is completed. We are now beginning to see some problems with phase 1. It will be a long time before we see similar problems, although of a smaller scale, with phase 2, but I hope that we can really move forward on this. The RICS and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, have offered to take this forward, with the hope of creating some statutory guidance, but, if not, there needs to be some other means of ensuring that there is fair play without the project being delayed. I think we all agree that this should not be a way of delaying the project; it should be a way of getting party wall issues resolved quickly and cheaply to everybody’s satisfaction. As the noble Earl said, if we do not get it right, the prospect of litigation and even class actions, with knock-on effects for the cost of HS2, would be very real, and I am sure the Minister will agree that we do not want that.
It is clearly the Government’s view that Schedule 2 to the Bill would be an alternative way of dealing with access to carry out investigations and notifying owners, particularly before carrying out safeguarding works, given the disapplication, by Schedule 23 to the Bill, of Section 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, which relates to adjacent excavations for construction. In a minute I shall come up with an example which I fear rather indicates that this is not working at the moment.
Similarly, paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 refers to Part 7 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, and is concerned with compulsory acquisition of rights in land. This is not what the party wall Act is designed to do—that is compulsory acquisition, not the party wall issue.
Paragraph 2 and the subsequent parts of Schedule 2 provide for notice, and might in theory extend the spatial limits of Section 6 of the party wall Act, but this seems to be based solely on HS2’s assessment of what is necessary. It leaves things permanently on or under an adjoining owner’s land or building, all without any test of reasonableness of the proposals, and no process of negotiations or for the reimbursement of professional costs of the adjoining owner in attempting to do so. So, if a consensus is reached, is there any mechanism for setting in place a binding agreement? The answer presumably, if somebody does not agree, is “Take us to arbitration”, but, as we have heard many times, that could be very expensive.
My concern is that it is difficult to give an example of what could happen on something where the work has not started. I make no apology for going back to the example I used in Committee of Park Village East outside Euston, where there is a row of listed- building houses next to a road supported by a very high brick wall, which has uncertain foundations because it is very old. The plan is for HS2 to build a 10-metre deep trench below the base of the wall. HS2 does not seem to know what the effect of this work is going to be on the houses, and it has not even told the residents that some time early next year these horizontal ties which I mentioned will be drilled from beside the wall underneath the houses. There will be two rows of them, probably at 1 or 2-metre centres. Then there is the question of what effect that will have on the properties.
Under normal party wall Act legislation, the undertaker would have to submit and get a schedule of conditions undertaken so that both parties—the resident and the nominated undertaker—would know what the state of the building was before any work started. This is absolutely fundamental. There is no evidence of this being done yet, and the residents are getting quite worried. There are various reports, which I do not think I can go into now, which explain how this should be done—but I just want to say a few words about the issue of settlements.
One employee of the nominated undertaker or its contractor asked a resident at a meeting quite recently why the residents needed a condition survey now, since everyone knew that ground anchors would not cause settlement. In my dim and distant past as a civil engineer, I have been involved with a few things like ground anchors. But that is an extraordinary statement, produced without any evidence, when there is, however, strong evidence from HS2’s papers that there will be settlement. The question really is: how much, when, and what can be done to stop it?
No design of the trench and the railway has yet been given to the residents. I have heard that the contractors—it is a Skanska, Costain and Strabag joint venture—have not yet been able to obtain insurance against any settlements. However, look at the risk registers submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee, and particularly an entry called C220-P1S1-237. The hazard description talks about the ground movement effects on the unknown condition of the existing asset, which is also a brittle service; the risk description potential for local instability or collapse of existing, weakened or defective basements; close proximity of works or associated ground movements; and—worst of all—risk of serious injuries or fatalities from crushing, engulfment, entrapment of workers or collapse on to and obstruction of the operational Network Rail tracks, causing train derailments, gas explosions or electric explosion. The risk is called high.
This is a serious issue and there is no outcome that we can yet see. How can one of HS2’s employees say to a resident who is affected that there will be no settlement? Residents have not been told officially about Schedule 23, let alone the public work implications of the party wall Act. They have heard about ground anchors and have not been given any detail of the design of the anchors that are supposed to hold up the wall. If the residents are concerned about it and want to employ professionals, the professionals must have the technical details to advise the residents on what they can do.
The first issue here is a schedule of condition that should preferably been done by surveyors who can agree on the condition before the work starts—obviously funded by HS2. It is disappointing that HS2 does not even seem to have started the process some six months after the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead. I doubt whether HS2 knows what it is going to build yet. I do not know the answer but I worry that this will be a poor example of what has gone on, which has largely been caused by the mixing of Schedule 23 and bits of the party wall Act.
I have to conclude, for the moment, that this example is a story of incompetence, ignorance and cover-ups that have sadly become too common. I am not going to refer to NDAs again but people need to see what is being built. I do not know what can be changed on the design, or whether there is a design even, but several thousand people are affected by party wall issues. They are more than ever likely to go to arbitration, obstruction and, in the end, the High Court because of a combination of a lack of consultation with the party wall experts, inappropriate legislation and poor communication.
I know that this is all about phase 1 and it cannot be changed now, but we should learn from this lesson. I do not know what can be done about phase 1. We should learn from this lesson for HS2 phase 2. It is a smaller project although, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, there will be some party walls. It would be a good opportunity to try out what he suggested to achieve something that can deliver proper party wall-balanced solutions without delaying the project. I fully support the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his sterling efforts to help us poor lay men understand the complexity of the topic involved in these amendments. I have a rather unfashionable approach to experts; I tend to think that we should listen to them. On this occasion, I also urge the Government to do so.
Having reread the Minister’s response to the last debate on this, I did not gather from that a good, clear reason why the well-established practice is being abandoned. It is clear that the 1996 Act is well established and has worked well, and it seems strange to replace a consensual approach to a problem with an adversarial system. In my experience, adversarial systems always cost more in the end. They can also prove very unfair to those who do not have the nature or the money to embark on an adversarial fight, which can often last months and years, and who therefore decline to press their case when indeed they should be doing so. I urge the Minister to ensure that HS2 is approaching this in a sensible manner for the next phase of the development.
My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. It seems that the 1996 Act covers these issues, and I am very suspicious of why HS2 needs such a significant change to the provisions of that Act for its project. I am not convinced that it needs these powers. I believe that, with modest alterations, good management should be able to overcome any problems. However, one faces the classic dilemma of a specialist area in an important Act, which is that I cannot know that I am right because we have not been able to listen to various points of view other than the expert knowledge of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and it is possible that the project needs these powers. As I understand it, there are likely to be few party walls in this phase of the project. He may be right that a dispute might significantly delay the project. Hence, I am unwilling at this stage to support the amendment if there is a Division.
My Lords, as I know the noble Earl is already aware, the Government cannot accept either amendment to the Bill. I will address the first amendment in this group and then move on to the second.
At the outset, I extend my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for the time and effort he has taken to work so constructively with department officials over the last few weeks. He has painstakingly explained his concerns both in writing and over the course of several meetings, as well as in the debate today. I am pleased that this work has been productive and that the first of these two amendments today recognises that we have moved on from the discussions in Grand Committee.
Schedule 23 to the Bill amends the operation of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996—which I too will call the 1996 Act—to enable the railway to be built as swiftly as possible. At the same time, Schedule 23 retains many of the protections for adjoining owners found in the 1996 Act. This schedule exists to reduce delay in construction due to any disputes which could otherwise arise if party wall matters were sorted out solely under the provisions of the 1996 Act. It also ensures the safety of the railway itself by providing for the railway to be constructed to the right engineering standards next to neighbouring properties. Lastly, it ensures that affected adjoining owners are afforded the protections and compensation due to them.
Referring to Amendment 16 and why the Government cannot accept it, I say, first, that it is not usual to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to make regulations in this way. Secondly, if such regulations were to be made, it would not be a good idea to make commencement of the works authorised by this Bill contingent on those regulations; that would risk delaying the building of phase 2a. Thirdly, Schedule 23 already makes provision for the determination of any disputes which may arise. Lastly, it is not clear how the making of any regulations will help with the concerns raised, which, as I understand it, centre around a lack of consensus among expert practitioners about how the schedule should be interpreted.
I now come back to the real matter at hand. Schedule 23 is relatively new, when it comes to party wall matters. The same provisions and ways of working are in use in phase 1 of HS2 and were agreed to by this House in 2017. When we think of the history of party walls legislation, which has an origin stretching back to the beginning of the last century, a process from 2017 is virtually brand new and, so far, little used. Therefore, for many expert practitioners in party walls, advising adjoining owners on the provisions of Schedule 23 is an unfamiliar art.
I appreciate that these matters can be legally and technically complex. That is why I am pleased that the noble Earl has been liaising with departmental officials as they start to develop non-statutory guidance on how Schedule 23 is designed to operate in relation to phases 1 and 2a of HS2. Furthermore, I am delighted to hear that the noble Earl has already been in touch with his colleagues at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and that they are very happy to be involved. Of course, my officials will work very closely with it, and they will also work closely with officials in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the draft guidance, which is intended to set out how Schedule 23 applies and to make the legal effects clear. Officials are keen to include areas of best practice, and, if possible, officials would like to include advice from the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers on how to appoint the most appropriate professional should a dispute arise.
It is hoped that this guidance—I remind noble Lords that it will cover phases 1 and 2a—can assuage any uncertainty among professionals who are used to the Party Wall etc. Act as it normally applies. It could assist those involved, both those working for HS2 and those affected along the line of route, in finding the right advice. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in his assessment of the purposes of the guidance. It will certainly also help to avoid legal disputes.
I turn to Amendment 17, the other amendment in this group, which proposes that the schedule should not stand part of the Bill at all. This was discussed in Grand Committee, and I do not propose to repeat in full all the reasons why this schedule is necessary. However, I will summarise in brief the effect of the proposed modifications and their purposes, reminding noble Lords that this schedule also appears in the phase 1 Act.
First, HS2 Ltd would not have to serve notices under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 to carry out works to which the Act relates. This means that the adjoining owner does not have the opportunity to serve a counternotice. Nevertheless, works would still have to be carried out in accordance with the plans and sections agreed with the adjoining owner, and, if they are not agreed, they can go to arbitration, of course.
Secondly, a neighbouring owner carrying out works under the Party Wall etc. Act would not have an automatic right to place footings and foundations on HS2 land or to carry out works required to safeguard HS2 buildings and structures. Agreed works could still be carried out, but it is likely they would be fulfilled by HS2 Ltd instead of the neighbouring owner, at the neighbouring owner’s expense. Of course, these modifications protect the integrity of the railway.
Thirdly, any disputes would be determined by a single arbitrator, appointed in default of agreement by the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. This process provides for a much speedier dispute resolution, but it does not remove the right for each party to seek their own representative or expertise should that be needed, and I hope that they would do so. It would ensure that, in a case involving a very complex railway, the dispute is determined by a civil engineer with relevant skills—and a surveyor could be appointed where that is appropriate. In all other respects, the provisions relating to the dispute process, including costs and appeals, would be the same as under the 1996 Act.
As noble Lords will be aware, the route of the phase 2a scheme is rural in nature. Therefore, it is not expected that many party walls will be created by the works authorised by this Bill. I reiterate that, where necessary, the modified process would provide a safe and speedy resolution for both the project and the adjoining owner. I will write to the noble Earl on the question of long-term liability, but, on the basis of my contribution, I hope that he feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who participated in this short debate. In particular, I thank the Minister for her generous comments towards me and, most of all, for agreeing to the principle of guidance; I am sure that many professionals will be extremely relieved by that. With that in mind, I can certainly confirm that I will not press this amendment, in the light of what she said.
On the nature of guidance, again, the Minister may not be in a position to respond to me today but perhaps she could guide me on that. I ask her to comment on how non-statutory guidance will sit alongside the Bill’s specific provisions, in the knowledge, of course, that we are all seeking best practice and not just the cheapest and quickest procedure available.
I thank the Minister for agreeing to write to me on the question of residual liabilities. As I anticipated, this matter obviously requires further thought and consideration.
I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his continued support. He gave the interesting example of Park Village East, which is in the phase 1 scheme. I want to explain in non-technical terms my take on this, which is as follows: are the ground anchors being placed underneath a nearby owner’s property for the purposes of restraining something else that is not part of that property, or are they to safeguard the adjacent property itself from the HS2 works? If it is the former, I suggest that it is a question of compulsory purchase to acquire the necessary rights. If it is the latter, it might fall under Schedule 2 to the Bill. This highlights the need to clarify what procedure is being engaged in any given instance. That is what I suggest formal notice should do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, kindly lent me her listening ear; I am extremely grateful to her for her confidence. She asked what I will call the $96 question, which remains unanswered. I am grateful to her for raising that issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked why significant changes to the Party Wall etc. Act were needed. Crucially, he pointed to the question of good management. I agree with that, but I also note his caveats and reasons why he would not have been in a position to support the amendment had it been pressed to a Division.
I finish by paying tribute to the group of party wall specialists who have put in hours of time to help and advise me. I say this to them: I could not have done it without you. I thank them very much indeed.
On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Amendment 17 not moved.
The Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing.