Before I call the Minister to move the motion, I should inform the House that Mr Speaker has not selected any amendments.
I beg to move,
That if a Bill is presented to this House in this session in the same terms as those in which the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill stood at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the 2019 session—
(a) the Bill so presented shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages in this House, and
(b) the Standing Orders and practice of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with or dispensed with in the 2019 session, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in this session.
That the above Orders be Standing Orders of the House.
I am delighted to be here this evening to undertake my first piece of parliamentary business as the new Minister for high-speed rail. I have been given specific oversight of this hugely significant project.
The High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, also known as the phase 2a Bill, concerns a section of HS2 that will extend the railway from the end of phase 1, just north of Birmingham, to Crewe. Hybrid Bills are unusual and relatively rare. A hybrid Bill is both a public Bill and a private Bill in one—hence, hybrid. The Bill could be characterised as an alternative planning consent process.
The Bill was introduced into this House in July 2017. It passed its Second Reading in January 2018 and moved into its Select Committee stage. Over 300 petitions were received. In response, two additional provisions were promoted that made changes to the Bill to resolve those petitions. That process took over a year. Hearings finished in the spring of 2019, and the amendments were agreed. The Bill then completed its stages in this place and moved to the House of Lords, where it had its Second Reading last September.
It is normal for a Bill like this to carry over from one parliamentary Session to another. The previous Parliament did not make time available to secure carry-over motions, so I am bringing the Bill back today with this revival motion. Private Bills that are not carried over are often revived. Revival has been used before for a hybrid Bill. For those who may be geeky and interested, the process is set out in “Erskine May”, in paragraph 37 of chapter 45 on page 1,162.
This is indeed very geeky and technical, and all very interesting, but can I urge the Minister, particularly when he responds to the debate, to talk about the benefits of HS2 and how we can bring those benefits online now? May I particularly commend to him the new Siemens rail factory that is coming to Goole, with £250 million of investment, and our excellent steelworks at Scunthorpe, which already supplies Network Rail with all of its railways, thereby demonstrating the benefit to the whole of the country of this Bill?
Order. The hon. Gentleman asks the Minister whether he can make certain commendations. He can try, but I am afraid he cannot, really, because this is a very, very narrow motion on procedure; it is not a debate on the merits or otherwise of the Government’s railway policy.
Thank you for that guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can, however, assure my hon. Friend, who is a doughty champion of the Brigg and Goole constituency, that 98% of businesses involved in HS2 are British, and approximately 70% of the contracts already awarded are going to small and medium-sized enterprises. I am sure he will continue to champion the businesses in his constituency to ensure that they get the maximum benefit from this scheme.
On a procedural point, my hon. Friend will be aware that there are some experienced politicians who could use various tactics to delay this measure. I would not like to join those people. Can I just mention, though, that if we are spending £100 billion on this, my constituents are very keen on the Government giving £1 million only to London North Eastern Railway for our through train to Grimsby and Cleethorpes via Market Rasen? I would very much hope that the Minister, in terms of procedure and ensuring a smooth passage and support for this measure, could perhaps give a gentle green light to my through train for just £1 million.
Order. No, the right hon. Gentleman cannot talk about Grimsby. I call the Minister.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Once again, I am tempted to talk about a very laudable proposal from my right hon. Friend. I know that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who is sitting next to me, sees significant merit in that proposal and will hopefully be looking at it in due course.
As my hon. Friend may know, the amendment that I proposed, which has not been selected—I do not complain about that, or rather I complain about the principle but not about the action—says that these Standing Orders would contradict fundamental constitutional principles. Bills come to an end in the Session in which they were introduced unless a carry-over motion is passed before Prorogation or Dissolution. It is extremely rare, and almost unique, for the process that we are now witnessing to take place. I just put that on the record; I have further points that I am sure the Minister is expecting me to make later.
I note my hon. Friend’s concern. My direct reference to “Erskine May” would, I hope, have put his mind to rest as to why we are using this procedure in this rather unique circumstance.
Since the Government have decided that HS2 should go ahead and that phase 2a should be built, we now need to take the next step, which is to revive the Bill. This motion has the same effect as a carry-over motion, and if Members agree it today, the Bill will resume in the same place that it stopped. That means it will pass to the House of Lords, where it would resume its Select Committee stage. Passing this motion therefore allows the progress already made to be kept. It allows those directly affected to continue with the legal processes they still have to complete, safe in the knowledge that the changes they requested to the Bill and previously received will be kept.
I welcome the Minister to his place. The Labour party is supportive of the motion—as can be seen from the massed ranks of the Opposition behind me right now!—because we see HS2 as key to boosting regional economies and reducing climate emissions. It is essential for increasing rail capacity and freeing up other lines for freight use. I rather think that some of the troubles we have had with High Speed 2 might have been avoided had we come up with another name for it, but that is by the by.
Successive Conservative Transport Ministers have shown themselves lacking in competence and unable to oversee the finances and governance of HS2, among other infrastructure projects. In recent years, the Government have presented inaccurate information to both Parliament and the public about the cost of HS2. The public need to have confidence in the project, but sadly the Government have undermined that with their failure to exercise any control over not only costs but redundancy payments. There is real concern that the true costs of the project were known to be much higher than the figures that the Government continually promoted. As the project progresses, it is essential that there is much greater transparency.
In addition, when the contracts for phase 1 were being granted, despite hedge fund managers making a packet out of the inevitable demise of Carillion, this Tory Government crashed on regardless, awarding the doomed organisation a valuable HS2 contract.
I am curious. The hon. Gentleman says that he does not believe the figures for the cost of HS2 reflect reality. He may well be right. What does he think HS2 will cost?
We are told that the cost has risen from £57 billion to £80 billion, and rumour has it that it is now more than £100 billion. I am not in a position to make an informed judgment because I am not in possession of the information that Ministers have, but people are understandably concerned about costs increasing at such a rate.
In fact, the Carillion collapse meant that all the Carillion liabilities for the contract were transferred to the two other contractors. Where was the harm in that? Was that not a rather skilfully let triple contract?
On the contrary, it was one of the most cataclysmic episodes of the HS2 story. When everybody and his dog knew that Carillion was in difficulties, and hedge fund managers were making millions on the demise of Carillion, this Government ploughed on with it, regardless of the information that was in the public domain. It was clear evidence of utter incompetence.
The Oakervee review was correct to say that HS2 must be a fully integrated part of the modern railway system and must extend to the great cities of the north, linking up with Crossrail for the north and on to Scotland, to curtail the demand for domestic flying in this country at the earliest opportunity.
One issue that many people like me on the south coast have, which I hope Ministers will look at, is that the average speed from London to Portsmouth and Southampton has not changed since the 1920s. At the moment, we are seeing vast amounts of money going into a project of mixed popularity, to put it mildly, while people in Southampton, Portsmouth and my constituency of the Isle of Wight will be struggling with speeds—
Order. We are not talking about the Isle of Wight. We are talking about a procedural motion.
I take that admonishment, Madam Deputy Speaker, and simply satisfy the hon. Gentleman by saying that the Labour party entered the last general election with a fully costed regional plan that would have served his area adequately.
The dividends in reduced emissions are immense, and I encourage the Government to articulate that argument better at every opportunity. We are concerned that the links to Manchester and Leeds are now under review and could even be downgraded. The Government have repeatedly broken their promises of investment in the north, with the region set to receive just a fraction of the investment to be made in London, and a northern powerhouse simply has to be much more than a slogan.
HS2 must be developed with more sensitivity to local communities and much more sensitivity to the environmental impact, particularly on modern and ancient woodlands across the country.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I will give way, save that I may incur your wrath, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have a very specific point on this issue. One of the lessons from my constituency about the first phase of HS2 is that commitments given to this House on earlier phases have simply not been honoured by HS2 Ltd. I would encourage us, and ask the Minister, to consider how we can hold it robustly to account on this second phase to ensure that, when commitments and promises are made to this House about how local communities and individual families will be treated and supported sensitively and they are not honoured, there must be consequences.
I think the hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. The issues of governance and communication have to be improved, and I think everybody in the House would agree with that.
On modern and ancient woodlands, I just make the point that the commitment to the speed of this project may have to be reviewed. I think the commitment to going in straight lines at 250 mph has to be taken into consideration. If we look at the TGV in France, the average speed of that high-speed link is 187 mph, and that does not impact on its efficiency.
If the project is to have full public support, the fares on HS2 must be affordable and comparable with the rest of the fare system on the rail network. It has previously been intimated that for HS2 to gain the confidence of the public, it cannot be a premium service. If HS2 is successfully to replace so many long-distance journeys, it has to be an integral part of an affordable and accessible railway.
The Transport Secretary should ensure that the procurement of HS2’s rolling stock is conducted in a way that makes sure the trains will be manufactured in the UK and will benefit the UK supply chain. Could the Minister inform the House of what steps the Secretary of State is going to take to ensure that the delivery of HS2 is closely co-ordinated with Network Rail’s ongoing work programme and the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail?
Given the amount of public money that is to be spent on delivering HS2, it is essential that the Government ensure that HS2 services are run under public ownership, so that British taxpayers can see a return on their investment in supporting the UK economy, rather than in enriching private companies or foreign state-owned companies. Her Majesty’s Opposition are indeed supportive, and we look forward to the progress of the project.
In a nutshell, I am seeking an assurance from the Minister, which I hope I will be able to get before the end of these proceedings, that phase 2a should be reviewed by Sir John Armitt at the same time as phase 2b, for which he has already been given terms of reference. Basically, it boils down to this: it is being suggested that the construction of phase 2a should follow quickly after phase 1—this view has been reinforced by the Oakervee review, which concluded that the Government should consider merging the construction of phase 2a with phase 1—but this is not only an unnecessary but an undesirable idea, and furthermore it is unrealistic.
I refer now to the actual motion before the House, which says that the Bill
“if…presented to this House in this session in the same terms as those in which the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill stood at the last stage of its proceedings…the Bill…shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages in this House, and…the Standing Orders”
adjusted accordingly. Given this motion and the arguments I am presenting, that means that we are bound to have regard to what the Bill says, and the extent to which it will be dealt with under the procedures that follow these novel and unique changes to the Standing Orders.
As we heard from the Minister, phase 1 of HS2 received Royal Assent in February 2017. It has not progressed because the main works civil contractors have been unable to come up with a design that can be delivered for the budget available. Phase 2a has not yet received Royal Assent, so we are at least a couple of years away from all this happening. Given the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and the manner in which it is deemed that the Bill is being carried forward, is important to note that phase 2a is required only if phase 2b west is constructed according to current proposals. Crucially, those proposals could be changed by the Armitt review, and all that phase 2a would effectively achieve would be to connect HS2 to the west coast main line approximately 58 km further north—at Blakenhall, south of Crewe—rather than at the Handsacre link. With the estimated cost of phase 2a now rising to £6.6 billion, it is not wise—this is the crucial point—to commit to phase 2a without knowing what Sir John Armitt might conclude regarding phase 2b.
This project will cause immense damage to my constituents, although I will not expand on that at this juncture as that point is related to ground conditions and matters that I could go into in more detail only if I had more time. In a nutshell it comes to this: HS2 Ltd produced a report in 2019, and it is clear that it faces a shortfall of fill along the entire length of phase 2a. Such fundamental questions can be taken into account under the proposed changes to the Standing Orders now being discussed only if realism prevails.
Will the Minister use this opportunity to give an assurance on the Floor of the House that phase 2a will be treated, in some shape or form, in the context of what Sir John Armitt will consider with regard to phase 2b? The two things are interlinked, and as this is a railway that goes from north to south, it is essential that it all fits together. If phase 2b is to be reviewed by Sir John Armitt, for the reasons I have already given it is essential that phase 2a is also considered in the review by Sir John Armitt. Otherwise—I say this with a great generosity of heart—the Minister may find that if he does not do what I am suggesting, they will get to phase 2b and find that phase 2a does not work. If that does not work, we will end up with a railway that is not be capable of being constructed.
In light of the changes to the Standing Orders, I am offering a realistic appraisal that will make possible a proper review not only of phase 2b, but of phase 2a, which is what the Bill is about. I do not need to expand on that any more. I am concerned about compensation for my constituents, and about a range of other matters that lie outside the motion before us. In a nutshell, it is essential that phase 2a and phase 2b are somehow brought within the framework of the terms of reference issued by the Government for Sir John Armitt to consider. If we get that, we will at least be able to have a proper consultation, and on that I rest my case.
The most interesting speeches in this place are always given when one does not expect to make them. I am sure that what I am about to say will not find favour with a lot of my colleagues, but sometimes one has to stand up in this place for what is right. I spent over a year on the phase 1 hybrid Bill Committee. We delved into that railway in enormous detail. I am sure that my colleagues who served on the phase 2a Committee, which also took nearly a year, delved into that in huge detail as well. I commend the motion to the House. This resurrection motion is the correct thing to do.
I started my service on that Committee opposed to the railway on the grounds that it was high-speed rail. However, it is nothing to do with high-speed rail; it is all about capacity. Unless we take passengers and freight off the east coast and west coast main lines, our roads will clog up, journey times will become completely untenable and we will fail to meet our carbon targets in 2050. The revival motion is therefore right and we need to build this railway. We need to build not only phase 1, but phase 2 and phase 2b.
As deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I want absolute value for money. I have already seen, in the phase 1 Committee, some of the horrors that took place. The evidence before us was, in many cases, disingenuous. The costs of the things we were doing were not fully costed. Nor was it fully understood how they could be delivered. I would be very concerned if the motion led to the same things on phase 2a.
Let me, with a little bit of latitude, give the Chamber some examples of what we found. The chief finance officer for HS2 Ltd asked permission in writing to pay enhanced redundancy payments. He was told not to, but he went ahead and did it anyway. That cost the taxpayer nearly £2 million. On Wednesday, the Public Accounts Committee will examine the costs. We will consider why £2 billion of savings—most of this is expected to come from phase 1 and phase 2a, which is what we are negotiating tonight—are probably undeliverable. Whatever the costs at the moment, they will be higher than whatever anybody says.
We need to build this railway. We need to increase capacity on our railways. We need to get cars and freight off our roads, otherwise they will clog up. That is why I support the motion.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, because this matter is hugely important to my constituency. I welcome the revival of the Bill, and hopefully its imminent passage, as evidence of the Government backing Crewe and backing the north. If you will allow me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to explain why I support the revival of the Bill.
I was glad to have had the opportunity to host the Minister at Crewe station just last week, where he got to hear first-hand about what is already happening locally: businesses opening up in Crewe and the plans Cheshire East Council has to create a new economic hub around the station. The revival of the Bill will accelerate the positive changes we see locally.
Does my hon. Friend accept that originally the railhead was going to be in Crewe? It was only frustrated by decisions on housing grounds taken by the district council. In fact, it was dumped on Stone in my constituency without any notice.
I cannot pretend, as a new Member, to have my hon. Friend’s knowledge of the intricate detail and the history of the development of the railway line. However, whether we support or oppose it, we all have a duty, when decisions on individual stations are looked at in detail, always to be open-minded to change if things are undergoing scrutiny. Ultimately, as I will come on to say, if we are building a major new railway it is inevitable that some people will face a negative environmental impact and some will have some part of the railway deposited on their patch, which they are not happy with. If we allowed that to, in effect, put a moratorium on the development of major infrastructure, that would not be the right decision for this country, even if individual Members were unhappy with it.
On what does work for my constituents, they are not very interested in getting to London 30 minutes quicker; they really are not very interested in that. What they are interested in, and what we must remind them of in terms of what we get from HS2, is that it opens up capacity as we shift inter-city traffic on to HS2 so there are more routes and journeys available to them. Faster routes tend to push the local services off the track. They welcome HS2 because it means we can transport more freight by rail. Local businesses in my area cannot get freight on to rail. When they can do that, they will be more competitive and we will move congestion off the roads. If you drive around the A roads in Crewe at night, you will see lorry after lorry after lorry parked up. That is how things are moved around and we need to switch back to the railway.
Does my hon. Friend not realise that there is a danger that for constituencies such as mine that are not directly served by HS2—of which there are many along the west coast main line—moving freight on to the west coast main line could result in a diminution of passenger services to cities such as Lichfield?
I go back to my original point: at the moment, those more local services are hampered by the use of the west coast main line for freight and inter-city services. We will see an opening up of local routes if we move ahead with HS2, not a diminution of them.
On passengers and peak-time travel, at the moment price control is used to control peak-time travel. People cannot come down to London at 8 o’clock because the tickets are extortionate, primarily because that is the only way that we can manage the over-capacity at peak times. If we move the inter-city journeys at peak times on to HS2, there will be more, cheaper, accessible peak-time travel on the west coast main line and it will still get people to London in an hour and a half.
Another thing that my constituents will welcome is the link to the northern regions through Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Many people have framed this argument as being between having only HS2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail. Does my hon. Friend agree that we can have both, and both can work together?
Absolutely. It is not either/or; it is about working together. High Speed North is a rebranding and a new way of organising this—we should firmly hammer that point home—and it is about making this project one that is led in the northern regions by the northern regions, for the northern regions. I welcome that change in the governance.
Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) pointed out, people in London were not forced to choose between Crossrail and Crossrail 2. It is completely wrong to try to force people in the north to choose between HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other key infrastructure projects.
Absolutely. Inevitably, projects overrun. That is unfortunate and not something that we welcome, but they do, and the fact that this has overrun should not mean that we therefore cancel it, because other people have not had to make the same choice in the south.
HS2 is a fantastic opportunity for Crewe. We have an amazing heritage and enormous local expertise in the rail industry. Crewe is and has always been a fantastic railway town. Passing the Bill and the delivery of the railway will create thousands of skilled jobs in Crewe for people helping to build the railway line.
I understand the concerns about the natural environment and I commend colleagues from constituencies where the impact will be greatest for speaking up on behalf of their residents. That is absolutely the right thing for them to do, but as I mentioned, any new major railway line connecting our cities and towns will have some degree of environmental impact. That is inevitable. We must be realistic about whether some of the strongest critics—they are not all in this House; some are outside this place—will ever really be satisfied. If we listen too closely to the voices of opposition in terms of trees and the environment, we will put a moratorium on creating major new rail and road infrastructure in this country, and that cannot be the right decision.
It is simply not feasible to suggest that we can deliver significant new capacity on our railway networks through a piecemeal approach. Network Rail estimates that it would take almost 30 years of weekend closures for even less of a result in terms of increased capacity. When this was last done on the west coast main line, the budget exploded. It might be harder to track and there might be fewer newspaper-worthy headline figures, but hundreds of smaller projects are at just as big a risk of overrunning and overspending. We need to get better at controlling costs when building infrastructure, full stop. The answer is not to halt the big-ticket items where the failings are most easily seen, because they are there on small projects, too. It is just not so easy for a journalist to add up the figures over 100 different projects and put that in a newspaper. We should not listen to that kind of criticism; it is not valid.
I recognise the significant costs involved, but this is being spent across two decades. It will work out as approximately £4.4 billion a year. The context of the timescales is too often lost when we use the headline figure. Network Rail spends around £6 billion a year on maintaining and making much smaller upgrades to our rail network, and we are planning to spend £40 billion over the next five years on other projects outside HS2. The idea that we could build a brand-new major railway line for much less than the £6 billion a year already being spent is fantasy. Let’s be ambitious for our nation. Let’s look forward, not down at our feet, get on with delivering this project and send the message to the world that the UK is open for business.
I note with interest that the motion talks about revival. To me, it is the revival of a corpse; it’s like a Hammer movie. We talk about connectivity. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) talked about the need for additional capacity, and I agree, but let us at least do it properly. The aim was to get people off aircraft—people who want to fly to Paris from Manchester, for example—but that isn’t going to happen, is it? Instead of going to St Pancras, connecting with HS1 and going straight through to Paris, people will have to change in London. It will not replace air travel. Yes, it will provide extra connectivity, as far as Crewe and London are concerned, but it will not meet the guidelines of what was originally intended for HS2.
Why is it going in straight lines? It is going in straight lines because it was intended to go at 220 mph, but the Oakervee review says it will not go at that speed; to save money, it will go at about 150 or 160 mph instead, in which case it could have gone alongside the M40 or the M1, as Arup originally proposed, which would have saved at least £20 billion of taxpayers’ money and been less environmentally damaging.
When it comes to a vote, if it does come to a vote this evening, I will vote against revival, but not because I am against extra capacity. Of course I want extra capacity and of course I recognise that the west coast main line is working at near-100% capacity, but I totally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who completely misunderstands the situation. It is fine for Crewe, but not for all those towns, such as Stone and others, along the west coast main line; extra freight on that line will mean less passenger traffic. Anyone with an ounce of mathematical or engineering skill can see that.
I am very angry about this. When I see a project that could have been done so well destroyed by people such as Lord Adonis and then rather stupidly adopted by a Conservative Government, when we could have had an HS2 based on the Arup plan, which would have been cheaper, connected better and been environmentally less damaging, I ask: has the House lost its mind? When I see the Labour party supporting the Government, I know the House has lost its mind, because whenever there is agreement between both sides of the House we know something is wrong.
Some might call this a revival, but for me it is a dead, rotten corpse that we are trying to bring to life. Despite the Government’s support—and despite the fact that the former Mayor of London said that Euston was not capable of moving traffic away from it now, let alone with HS2, because there is not enough capacity on tube trains or for buses for all the people coming down now—I am afraid I have to oppose it, not just for the sake of the people of Lichfield, but in the hope that maybe some day someone in this House will say, “Enough is enough. If we are going to do something, let’s at least do it properly”.
I am pleased that the Government have finally made a decision on HS2, and I welcome the fact that the uncertainty over the project is now at an end. Many of my constituents who are directly affected disagree with the project but have told me over the last few weeks that the overwhelming feeling now is that if we are going to do it, we should get on with it but do it properly. However, throughout my constituency, compensation claims remain unresolved, house purchases have entered another year of limbo, and farms and local businesses have been left wondering whether they can prevent themselves from becoming insolvent before HS2 will agree to a settlement.
Let me give some specific examples. Mr and Mrs Tabernor have told me that their farmhouse may be demolished, and they have been told by HS2 Ltd that they cannot retire and move to their farm cottage, allowing their son to live in the farmhouse, because that would invalidate their blight notice. They have already been waiting for years for a resolution, and that, in my view, is simply unacceptable. After five years or more of negotiation, Ingestre Park Golf Club is also still waiting for HS2 to come to the table and finally thrash out a reasonable agreement, and that too is not acceptable.
Residents of Hopton, Marston and Yarlet, whose house sales remain in limbo, have told me that they cannot make an offer for a new home because some Stafford estate agents now refuse to deal with anyone selling to HS2. It concerns me that they view HS2 as either too unresponsive or too difficult to deal with: that hardly gives confidence to me or my constituents.
May I tactfully suggest to my hon. Friend—my friend, indeed, whom I congratulate on winning her seat—that this may be the moment of maximum leverage for her to secure a settlement on behalf of her constituents, and that she should send all the details to the Minister and ask him to look at them carefully?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall be doing that.
On a general note, when it comes to negotiating, let me make something clear. When people from HS2 visit the homes of my constituents, say that they are there to listen to their concerns, sit there having a cup of and a biscuit, and then tell them that they are being over-optimistic to expect to be paid the price at which their house or business has been valued and give them the silent treatment when they do not agree, that is not a negotiation; it is a bullying tactic. I was pleased when the Prime Minister, responding to my recent question to him in the Chamber, acknowledged that compensation needed to be paid, and I agree with him that we need an overhaul of HS2 Ltd, which, in my opinion, has managed the project poorly.
I was devastated to learn from so many of my constituents that they had agreed to sell their homes—in some cases, their long-standing family homes, where they had raised their children—for less than the market value, and that their mental health could not cope with the pressure that they felt they were being put under by HS2. If I sound angry, it is because I am. Let me provide some context for that
My very first piece of constituency casework on HS2 involved a member of my team who was counselling, and helping to secure mental health support for, one of my constituents who had told me that he could no longer cope with the pressure he was under. He said that everything was going to the wall because HS2 had refused to finalise negotiations. After lengthy and protracted work in an attempt to reach an agreement to move his family business, he was told by HS2 that it would prefer to “extinguish” the business. If a private company were operating in that way, it would be featured on the BBC’s “Watchdog” programme. HS2 must be held to account for its actions.
Let me be very clear. If my constituents are forced to take the strain of this project, they should also reap the rewards. I am pleased that the Government have finally committed themselves to the Handsacre link, which is vital now that the project is going ahead in Staffordshire.
I fully understand my hon. Friend’s stance on the Handsacre link, but, given that it is in my constituency, does she understand the distress that it is causing people in Armitage with Handsacre?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
When people in my constituency say that they are opposed to HS2, it is not because they are nimbys—as some have accused them of being—and I have not met a single resident who has not told me that that they want more investment in the north, and specifically in the west midlands. However, those residents are opposed to being treated as an inconvenience because their homes happen to be in the way of a railway that the Government want to build. They shudder when they hear that savings need to be found, because if past experience is anything to go by, it will not be HS2 salaries that go down; it will be the purchase prices and compensation paid to my constituents. However, I hope I am proved wrong.
Let me be clear: HS2 is going to happen, and if there is a vote tonight, I will reluctantly support the Government, but if HS2 is going to hang over the heads of my constituents, we must get on with it as soon as we can. Our first priority must be to finalise all the negotiations that are taking place and let my constituents get on with their lives. The advert once said “Let the train take the strain”, and I hope it does, because at present the strain that it is putting on my constituents is unacceptable. I support the Government in building national infrastructure, but the lack of adequate compensation for my constituents and the delays by HS2 are simply unacceptable. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his assurances on compensation, but I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for clarity on when it will be delivered. I also want to ask the Minister and his departmental officials to sit down with me to go through every single outstanding case in Stafford to ensure that my constituents are no longer left in HS2 limbo. They deserve that from the Government.
I will be brief, because I am sure that others want to speak. I remember hearing the news about this when I was in the Cabinet. In 2010, we were told that the project was going to cost a little over £30 billion, that it would give a direct link from the north straight to HS1, opening up all the opportunities of the continent, that it was going to go directly to Heathrow, with all the advantages that that would bring, and that it would cut out short flights from Manchester and Liverpool down to Heathrow. That is not going to happen. Instead, we are going to go to somewhere called Old Oak Common. This might be a very charming place. It might have many attractions, but my constituents do not want to go to Old Oak Common. They want a direct link to HS1 and the continent, or they want to go to Heathrow.
And what has happened to the money? The money is absolutely out of control. It was £30 billion. Then we were told it was £80 billion. The latest estimate is £100 billion. The very worst figure I saw in a Sunday paper was £230 billion. Put brutally, this is Victorian technology: rolling around the country in steel boxes on steel wheels on steel track is Victorian technology. It was revolutionary at the time, but now we have broadband. The chief executive of Openreach has said that for £30 billion, the original cost of HS2, we could provide superfast fibre to every single one of the 30 million properties in the country. That would deliver far greater social, educational and economic benefits than spending this titanic sum.
It is with some regret that I have seen this project slip and slip. I have seen it with my own eyes, locally, in the village of Woore. It is effectively a salient of Shropshire sticking out into Cheshire and Staffordshire—a village of 1,200 people, a large primary school and an already busy main road, quite a lot of which has no pavements. This means that small people go to school without a pavement to walk on. HS2 announced suddenly—notices were put up in Woore, and we were told this at a meeting—that there would be 600 vehicles a day passing through the village during the construction phase. At 24 vehicles a day, a project has to get permission under section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, but we are talking about 600. We have had numerous meetings with HS2. I give all credit to HS2: it has always come along, but it has not budged an inch. All that we have done is double the time of the construction phase, so that instead of 600 vehicles a day, there will be 300 a day—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, because we are getting very short of time.
So on that local issue, I have got absolutely not an inch out of HS2. It has been completely inflexible. It is insisting on taking traffic round three sides of a rectangle, with a journey of about 14 miles, although it could have used a direct route of 6 miles. I am completely disillusioned with this project at national level, and I cannot see how we can justify this titanic sum of money. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said, the original plan was for the track to go up the M40. We were going to have very fast trains that would deliver a substitute for flight times, which is not going to happen.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the fact that Lord Berkeley has sent a letter to the Chancellor of Exchequer giving full details of the £231 billion to which he has referred?
I am aware of that, and what is so worrying about the review is that it was totally split. Someone who is hopefully very respected by the Labour party, Lord Berkeley, is obviously strongly opposed to this.
Looking at the clock, I will finish quickly. At local level, I am totally opposed to this, and I have not had a single bit of flexibility out of HS2. This is a real threat to my constituents in Woore and, on their behalf alone, I will vote against it. At national level, I cannot possibly vote for this titanic expenditure on what is now a very flawed project, so I will vote against it tonight.
As someone who worked in the railway industry for 20 years, I come to this debate from the opposite direction to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). I was a firm supporter of HS2 and believed it was the right thing to do, but I am afraid I have become much more sceptical of the project.
That said, the Government’s decision has been made, and so has the strategy for HS2. West Dorset has one of the worst rail frequencies in the country—the line between Yeovil, Dorchester and Weymouth has one of the worst frequencies—and, for those of us in the wider south-west, it is important that the Government Front Bench understands we have great concerns that HS2, and particularly phase 2a, should not deflect the Government’s attention and their requirement to deliver the infrastructure projects we require in the south-west.
Warm words for the south-west are welcome, but cold, hard cash is what is needed. The south-west voted for this Government en masse, and it is time we also saw the chequebook.
Order. There is very little time left, and I made it clear at the beginning that this is not about other constituencies. The hon. Gentleman can refer to his constituency, but this is about a very specific matter.
I equally want to make sure that we are as supportive of the Government as possible. Those of us who are moving in this debate need to be absolutely assured so, in his summing up, I would like to hear the Minister give us the confirmation and assurance that HS2, particularly phase 2a, will not affect the Government’s previous commitments to deliver schemes such as the A303 and Great Western diversion resilience for the people who supported them.
My brief contribution will not be about the merits or disbenefits of HS2 but about the novel motion before us. I have not seen anything like it in my 15 years in this House, and I therefore seek two points of clarification from the Minister in his summing up.
First, will passing this motion today, irrespective of the effect on the Standing Orders of the House, pass the budget for HS2, or will there be a further opportunity to vote for or against and to contribute to a debate on the budget and the cost of HS2?
Secondly, have contracts been signed at the figures we have seen thus far? If they have not been signed, does this measure enable the signing of contracts? Will this House have an opportunity to examine those contracts and the amount of money assigned to them before this goes any further?
This is a novel motion, and it is important that the House understands the implications of proceeding via this route rather than the more traditional route for bringing legislation back to the House.
I should like to reply to as many of the issues raised today as I can while discussing the motion. First, I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate this evening. In his speech, the Prime Minister made it clear that things at HS2 need to change, and decisive action is being taken to restore discipline to the programme. I have been appointed to oversee High Speed 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the trans-Pennine route upgrade, ensuring that there is one Minister dedicated to focusing on this project, allowing many of the other issues that have been raised in the debate, such as the issues in the south-west, to be focused on by my ministerial colleagues in the Department.
In his remarks, the Prime Minister also alluded to the fact that the Beeching line fund would be £1.5 billion. Can the Minister confirm that, and, if so, will he be able to suggest that more money can be levelled up across the entire United Kingdom, not just in relation to the HS2 line?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. He will be aware that we have officially launched our £500 million Beeching reversal fund and details about additional funding will of course be made available in due course, but the Prime Minister has been crystal clear about our intention to invest heavily in bringing back rail routes and stations and to level up all parts of our country.
Does not the short debate this evening show that the project is very different from the one that the previous Parliament approved, and that the Opposition have invented a magical railway that is very different from the one that the Bill actually captures? That shows that we need to debate this again properly, rather than rushing the thing through and regarding it as settled. It is clearly not settled and is a highly contentious project.
I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has been a long-term opponent of the scheme, but I would say that the motion before the House tonight is very limited. There will be many future occasions to debate the issue, I am sure.
There are about six minutes left, so, Mr Speaker, if you will allow me, I must make some progress in responding to some of the comments made by right hon. and hon. Members. The Prime Minister has made a firm commitment that we will get hold of this project and have a firm grip on it. It goes alongside a programme of wider transport investment. The Prime Minister outlined a vision for a revolution in local transport to ensure that our towns and cities in every region have the modern joined-up network needed to fire up economic growth.
Let me turn to the points raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has been a vocal opponent of HS2 for many years, speaking frequently and eloquently on behalf of his constituents, and I understand the concerns he has expressed tonight. He asks whether I would consider not providing phase 2a until the phase 2b review has been completed, so that phase 2a can be looked at again in the light of the integrated rail plan. What I would say to him is that in giving his go-ahead to HS2 in this House on 11 February, the Prime Minister committed the Government to getting on with building phase 2a immediately and this has been reflected in the terms of reference set out for the integrated rail plan. However, I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concerns, and although I cannot change the terms of that review I am keen to work with him to ensure that the views of his constituents are heard throughout this process. I am therefore happy to commit to working with him and facilitating meetings with HS2 Ltd to address the deep concerns that I know he still holds as the Bill completes its passage.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am sorry, but we are perilously close to running out of time. My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) spoke eloquently in support of the motion. He is right on capacity and he is right in what he said on carbon. I want to reassure him that the Government are taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme and I welcome the oversight that will be brought by the Public Accounts Committee to that project.
On that point, will the Minister give way?
I thank my hon. Friend. The Public Accounts Committee has had two inquiries and we are about to have another. There is universal agreement on this side of the House tonight that we need to get control of the governance of the thing and we need to get control of the cost. Will my hon. Friend give an absolute assurance to the House tonight that he will redouble his efforts to get control of the costs?
Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) talked eloquently about the benefits to his constituency, and it was great to visit his patch last week. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) has been consistent in his opposition to High Speed 2, but I am afraid that I agree with his good friend Andy Street; this scheme has huge benefits for every part of the west midlands and we need to move forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Theo Clarke), despite being elected only in December, has already raised with me the concerns of her constituents by phone, text, WhatsApp and letter, in face-to-face meetings and again in the Chamber today. I have been left in no doubt about the strength of feeling in her constituency and about the fact that she will work tirelessly to represent all those directly affected by this section of the line. I share her concern about the way some people and communities have been treated by HS2 Ltd, and it must improve, as the Prime Minister said on 11 February. She asked about a timeline for compensation. As she will know, HS2 Ltd is required to pay landowners 90% of HS2 Ltd’s valuation within three months of receiving a claim or the date of possession, whichever is the later. The time taken to agree a settlement will often depend on the time parties take to negotiate and agree a property’s valuation and other statutory compensation. However, this is an area where I want to see real improvement, and I will be happy to meet her to discuss specific constituency cases and what more can be done to end the uncertainty that has hung over people for far too long. I thank her for the tone of her remarks tonight.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) raised his concerns about cost. We have made it clear that we are committed to drawing a line under the past problems of cost control, and the Government recognise that things must change going forward. The latest cost estimate, as outlined in the Oakervee review, indicates that the full network cost will be between £72 billion and £98 billion, in 2019 prices. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) raised issues relating to the south-west. I can reassure him that we will not take our focus off other issues, particularly those he raises. That is why the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) is here with me tonight, and it is why the Government are spending £48 billion between 2019 and 2024 on the conventional rail network. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) asked a few questions, on which I may come back to him, but this measure does not pass the budget—there will be many more debates.
Finally, I wish to remind the House of the reasons for bringing forward this motion to revive the Bill. By reviving the Bill, we allow those who are directly and specifically affected by the building of this section of HS2 to get the earliest possible resolution to their petitions. We prevent the need to restart this Bill, saving time and money for those who have already petitioned and protecting the investment already made by the taxpayer. This Government want to get on and provide certainty to those affected by phase 2a, the west midlands to Crewe section of the line. By reviving this Bill tonight, we provide that certainty to people as quickly as possible. I commend the motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That if a Bill is presented to this House in this session in the same terms as those in which the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill stood at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the 2019 session—
(a) the Bill so presented shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages in this
(b) the Standing Orders and practice of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with or dispensed with in the 2019 session, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in this session.
That the above Orders be Standing Orders of the House.