High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 7:23 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 7:23 pm, 28th April 2014

That is exactly what people are asking all over the country: why is £50 billion going on this particular method of improving capacity and speed? I am very lucky, as I can walk to my constituency in five minutes and drive in four, so I do not travel on trains much, but when I do so, I do not find them crowded. Many carriages are empty and I discover that they are first class—there is nobody in them. All sorts of things could be done to increase capacity.

We should also be clear that once we start this project there is no guarantee that the costs will not spiral. I am worried that once we start the project and the costs start to go up, more and more money will be taken away, and not just from other parts of the transport network. Oliver Colvile is unlikely to have extra money spent on railways in his area if we go ahead with this project, as everything will be geared towards the super-project. Everyone will say that that is what we must spend the money on. We are being very short-sighted. This sounds like a sexy project, it sounds like we are being modern and trying to compete with the rest of Europe, but there is not a lot wrong with our railways that could not be dealt with if we had spent money over many years, if we had invested properly and if we now invested across the country rather than in one particular vanity project.

The compensation must be much stronger and greater. It is all very well saying that people can be compensated, but if someone has built up and worked hard on a business or home in the country only to see it blighted or destroyed, compensation might help but it does not take away the pain. It will not do so for the many people who will suffer if the project goes ahead.

As my right hon. Friend Mr Darling said some time ago, the scheme risks draining much-needed investment away from other railway infrastructure projects for the next 30 years. I want to know why, if the former Chancellor of the Exchequer said that, my party has suddenly changed its mind on the project.

The case for HS2 is flimsy. No amount of spin or the Front Benches being nice to each other will change the basic truth that this is potentially a huge white elephant that will not heal the north-south divide. If we wanted to heal that divide, we would be starting in the north, not the south. Money will be sucked away from all the other desperately needed upgrading schemes all over the country once the project starts. The money that goes in will have no long-term benefit for vast numbers of people in the United Kingdom. I hope that if there is a Labour Government after the next election, our Chancellor of the Exchequer will reconsider the issue and not be tied into saying that whatever happens we will go ahead with the project. The project could be doomed and we want to ensure that this Parliament has a say in whether the money is spent or not.