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High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:13 pm on 26th June 2013.

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 3:13 pm, 26th June 2013

I will make a little progress and then give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The fact is that it is only now, four years on from Lord Adonis’s initial action, that the Government are introducing the legislation required to enable money to be spent in advance of construction. The legislation needed to actually begin construction is still nowhere in sight. The Secretary of State’s own departmental plan continues optimistically to claim that Royal Assent on the hybrid Bill will be secured in May 2015, yet in The Times at the weekend he could not be any more confident than to say, “I hope it will.” I know he does not want to admit it, but is it not the truth that there is absolutely no prospect of securing Parliament’s approval for phase 1 before the next election?

Despite its inclusion in the Queen’s Speech, Ministers cannot even guarantee a Second Reading for the hybrid Bill in this Session, leaving just one year to secure its passage through both Houses. It took two years and one month to take the hybrid Bill for High Speed 1 through Parliament, and Crossrail took three years and five months. Neither of those schemes was on the scale, or came with as much controversy, as this new rail line. The Government’s inaction in the past three years requires them to rush the Bill at the end of this Parliament. The National Audit Office has warned that this compressed time scale poses even greater risks to the project:

“Faster preparation for the bill may increase the extent of petitions to Parliament which may make it less likely that royal assent is granted by the planned date of May 2015. It may also divert the Department and HS2 Limited from focusing on the deliverability of the design.”

With construction due to begin in January 2017, less than two years into the next Parliament, Ministers know full well that they are now cutting it very fine indeed.

The fact that Royal Assent will no longer be achieved for phase 1 in this Parliament raises the question of why the new line was split into two Bills in the first place. We all know that that decision was taken to ensure that at all costs Conservative MPs did not have to go into the next election with pressure from their constituents to vote against it. The Government have failed to achieve that goal, and have completely unnecessarily opted for two hybrid Bills, when taking the proposals forward as one scheme would have provided greater certainty and ensured that there was no doubt about the Government’s commitment to the whole north-south line, as Ministers claim.