“(1) The Secretary of State must publish quarterly reports on the scheduled works throughout the period in which those works take place.
(2) Each such report must contain an assessment of—
(a) environmental impact;
(b) costs; and
(c) progress compared to the scheduled timetable.
(3) The first such report must be laid before Parliament within the period ending three months after the day the scheduled works commence.
(4) Each subsequent report must be laid before Parliament within three months of the publication of the last report under this section.”—(Rachael Maskell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Compensation scheme for tenants—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for a scheme to compensate tenants adversely affected by the scheduled works.
(2) Regulations under this section may contain such supplementary, incidental, consequential or transitional provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient.
(3) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
New clause 4—Independent peer review—
(2) The review must include consideration of the project’s—
(a) environmental impact,
(b) economic impact,
(c) engineering, and
(3) In this section, “independent” means it is carried out by persons who are independent of—
(b) HS2 Ltd, and
(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out the scheduled works.
(4) In this section, a “peer review” is a review conducted by experts of equivalent professional qualifications, expertise and standing to the persons responsible for each aspect of the project set out in subsection (2).
New clause 5—Non-disclosure agreements—
‘(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—
(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—
(a) in the public interest, or
(b) 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).”
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting the new clauses that stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends? When Labour envisaged HS2, it was a very different infrastructure project from what we see today. We recognised that the generations, particularly across the north and the midlands, needed far better connectivity. We wanted to regenerate the northern towns and cities of our country, and we saw the potential in the midlands to spark a new industrial age and how that was not being met.
After decades of disproportionate investment in London and the south-east, it was a Labour Government who saw how improved connectivity was needed to attract vital inward investment and to revitalise economies in the north. That is what Labour is about: creating high-quality jobs and opportunities to inspire a generation. It is in our name, Labour. Of course, we all knew that rebuilding connectivity had to start in the north, particularly with the east-west connections, to truly join up what is now aspiring to be the northern powerhouse. However, without the power of investment in the transport system, that will be nothing more than a soundbite. That is why Labour supports phase 2a, which will be the shortest leg of the route, at just 37 miles in total, and provide that vital north-south link, north of Birmingham to Crewe. Our support is not unreserved, though, and we believe colleagues should join us in the Lobby today to vote for Labour’s new clauses.
As the hon. Lady knows extremely well, I have opposed this Bill and its predecessor Act of Parliament, which inaugurated the first phase, absolutely 100% all the way down the line. Although I have a great deal of sympathy for the new clauses that the hon. Lady has tabled, I cannot quite understand how she can reconcile what she has just said with the origins of the proposals. New clause 4 says that an independent peer review ought to consider questions relating to the project’s environmental and economic impact and its engineering and governance and that that review must be carried out by persons who are independent of the Government, HS2 Ltd and all the rest. It sounds to me like the hon. Lady is not terribly keen on the proposals.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention seems slightly premature, so I ask him to hold his breath as I come to talk about the other new clauses. This is clearly a massive opportunity, not least for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, to benefit from more high-quality jobs, which our country desperately needs. I am sure that his constituents would want him to go through the Lobby to achieve that aim.
Surely, the answer is that, right from the scheme’s inception, there have been serious concerns about the impact on the environment—I do not have time to go through all that—so it is perfectly logical for that to be included among any amendments. However, one of my difficulties with the scheme is that the costs are escalating. Some of my constituents are affected by it but do not get any compensation. From another angle, cities such as Coventry do not get anything out of it because it bypasses Coventry.
I remind my hon. Friend that the whole country will benefit, because this is a national infrastructure project. Indeed, many jobs will be created in the supply chain in his very constituency, which I am sure he will welcome. Of course, the environment is a central plank of why Labour supports the Bill. We want to see modal shift—people moving out of their cars and out of the skies and on to trains—and this project will provide such opportunity.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generosity in giving way. She quite rightly points out that this was a Labour initiative. Given the point she just made about trying to move people away from the skies and on to rail, does she recall that the original Arup proposal would have linked HS2 with HS1, so someone could have got on a train in Manchester and got off that same train in Paris? It was Lord Adonis who actually made changes to prevent that from happening and created an environmental catastrophe in counties such as Staffordshire.
The hon. Gentleman will know that one concern about the HS2 project is the escalating cost, and that is why we have tabled some new clauses. To join HS1 to HS2 sounds like a logical proposal, but it would mean that costs would go up considerably. Perhaps that is a project for the future, but to get that long overdue connectivity in the north, it is vital that we press on and build a network for the future. We will then see serious modal shift, not only of passengers but of goods.
Is the hon. Lady not also worried by the very long delay before there is any additional capacity north of Birmingham? Is it not a paradox that something that was designed to help the northern powerhouse will actually produce only a Birmingham-London additional railway for the foreseeable future?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As I have already said, we would focus on the north and on making sure that we get those trans-Pennine links in place. We see that as a priority over all rail infrastructure projects, because we understand the power of joining up Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and the cities and towns beyond. We want to see that investment coming forward. Electrification will also ensure that we benefit from better journey times, reliability and connectivity, which are vital for building our railways into the future. However far into the future it will be until we see the realisation of new rail, it does not mean that we will neglect that ambition to build more capacity north to south, which is vital if we are to take lorries off our roads and give freight an opportunity to move on the west coast main line.
I will, if I may, finish my point.
Although we all get frustrated because we want projects delivered sooner rather than later, what is crucial to us is that, if we do not start now, we will push the completion date even further away. That is why we are keen to get on with it today.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I share her enthusiasm for this ambitious project. She talks about journey times. To achieve that modal shift, particularly between Scotland and London, we need to get rail journey times below three hours. Does she agree that that requires much more ambition in the future to ensure that we have a UK-wide network, which includes integrating Glasgow and Edinburgh into the high-speed network?
I certainly do agree with those excellent points, because HS2 cannot stop at Crewe. We must build further north and right into the heart of Scotland, particularly into the major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, to ensure that we get the connectivity right in the future. We know the power of infrastructure to transform people’s lives. We want to see inward investment into those conurbations, which is why we believe that, at this point—this is where the Government have been far too silent—we need to ensure that we build that vision for Glasgow and Edinburgh and beyond as we move forward. As my hon. Friend is such an excellent champion for his city of Glasgow, I am sure that he will be making those points to the Government time and again until we see more action.
I wish to make a little more progress, and then I will be happy to take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.
Let me continue talking through a bit of the history of this project. We know that, by 2011, HS2 was being mapped out at a cost of £37.5 billion. We have seen that cost rise to £55.7 billion today. The narrative around the project has also changed. Frustrations have been expressed by the public, and often echoed in this place, because they want to fully understand the benefits that this project will bring. I trust that the Minister will go back and review the communications on this, because clearly people up and down the country have been hearing about the costs involved but not about the benefits. We need far more clarity, particularly when we know that this will be such a powerful instrument in creating jobs. We also want to give hope and new opportunities to businesses in the supply chain up and down the country, and there is work to do on that.
We need to ensure that those people who are making a sacrifice for this project—whether it is their home or their business that they are having to relocate—get the answers that they need. Labour wants far better governance of the project so that the public get their answers in a timely way from HS2, so that they can make their plans in confidence as they move forward.
Scepticism is shared by many of my constituents, especially given the track record of non-delivery for the north. If we genuinely want to power up the north, major infrastructure projects are essential, but we need that Crossrail for the north. I am sick and tired of hearing about Crossrail for the south, and it is great to see some of the southern colleagues on the Government Benches now seemingly speaking up for some constituents in the north as well as those in the south—if only they had done that in the past. So I want assurances that this will be transparent and that investment will go into the north.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and of course constituents right across the north really do want to see that investment, which is so long overdue. Therefore, again, the Government need to bring forward greater commitments in statute that they will deliver Crossrail for the north. We on the Opposition Benches are concerned that Crossrail 2, yet another infrastructure project in London, could well take priority and we will not see the full power being put into the electrification of the trans-Pennine route, which was promised, and let us all remember that that was cancelled by the Secretary of State conveniently on the day that Parliament rose. We want to see that investment for the future for our northern towns and cities, and that is certainly what we would see under a Labour Government.
I totally agree with the hon. Lady: she is absolutely right about there being a need for a Crossrail in the north because the east-west communications are so bad, but I just want to ask her one thing. She is quite right to say that investment in the capital programme of HS2 will generate jobs and skills, which we so much need, but she also says it will create employment opportunities afterwards; does she not fear that Britain might go down the French route whereby jobs are in fact sucked south into London rather than being generated in the north?
France is a very different country from the UK, and we must bear in mind the potential opportunities from improved connectivity across the north given, for instance, the power of the ports in Hull and of course in Liverpool. There is an opportunity for the economy to be built up through those ports, particularly when the Government are looking at our whole trade policy. So there is real opportunity in this project if we get the infrastructure built right, and that is why it is so important that HS2 does not stand alone but is fully integrated across the whole of our transport and rail network to ensure we get the power of the whole project.
I am not sure whether this will come as music to the hon. Lady’s ears, but I am proposing to vote for her new clauses. However, I am really puzzled by new clause 4(4) and (5) and what they say about the independent review, which I am completely behind, as it is to be completely independent of HS2 and the Government and the persons contracted and so forth. Is this not really just window-dressing, however, because the new clause goes on to say the report
In other words, it will be enacted, although I want to see it repealed—[Interruption.] Yes, I do indeed. What is the use of a report being produced by all these incredible independent experts if it will simply not be carried through?
There are two separate points. We want to ensure that we get value out of the project, and it is astonishing that the Government have not put in place the peer review mechanisms over it—both economic and engineering peer reviews—as has been the case for other major infrastructure projects. This is a way to build public confidence and to ensure that we have a real comprehension of the power of these projects. Unfortunately, HS2 is working very much in isolation, and that responsibility sits with the Secretary of State, who is not calling it to account enough; it is a shame not to see him in his place today because he is answerable to the House for this project, and he has not done his duty in ensuring that HS2 fulfils its responsibilities. But perhaps we will get a showing from the Secretary of State later—let us hope so.
I want to talk about the environmental concerns that have been raised and the costs. Many have also questioned the engineering itself. In my experience, senior engineers from across the rail industry—not necessarily involved in the HS2 project—have been making these points and have called for greater scrutiny. It is therefore really important that we identify any fault lines in the project to ensure that amendments are made. Of course, it takes time to ensure that there is a proper review and that the project is built for the long-term future.
Just before the intervention of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, the hon. Lady mentioned that she was in favour of—I think these were the words she used—a joined-up transport project with better co-ordination. At staggering expense, this project will take passengers from my constituency who want to go to Heathrow to a place called Old Oak Common. Now, I have never been there—it might be a most charming place—but I suggest that my constituents will want to go directly to Heathrow. If they wanted to go to HS1 and link up to Brussels, Paris or wherever, as is they would have to go to Euston, and either walk down the pavement, get in a taxi or get on a bus. That does not seem to be very clever co-ordination of the most expensive railway that man has ever yet conceived.
My new clauses are so important to ensuring that we get that desperately needed connectivity built into the infrastructure. The fragmentation across our rail network is incredibly costly; there are delays and there is no joined-up thinking. That is why Labour wants to bring rail together. It is so important to reunite the whole network in one public body, of which we envisage HS2 being a part. We will then get the connectivity that the public would expect from a rail network. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support my new clause later today to take that idea forward.
Labour is very clear that we will be supporting phase 2a that is before the House today, but we have called into question the way in which the Government are approaching the whole governance of the project. That is why we want to drive the project forward in a different way. I call on all hon. Members across the House to join us in the Lobby today to ensure that we get the right scrutiny over this project to drive it forward in the interests of their constituents, the public and the whole economy.
Members who attended the Westminster Hall debate last week will have heard the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne, who so eloquently set out the idea that we measure what we treasure. I heard the powerful case for the east midlands, where over 60,000 jobs—high-quality ones, at that—have already been created, and we know that this project will bring opportunities across the country.
I hear the same expectations from Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester; from Steve Rotheram, the Mayor of the Liverpool city region; from my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis, the Mayor of the Sheffield city region; and from Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council. Not only will 30,000 jobs be developed across the project; hundreds of thousands will also result from investment across the north and the midlands, including in my home city of York. That in itself is a game-changer in tackling social mobility issues and rebalancing national inequality, and will draw investment into places that are in urgent need of regeneration. The issue is not whether HS2 is the right project, but the governance that surrounds its planning and construction.
As I have already said, Labour would integrate HS2 with the rest of our rail enhancement programme and integrate the northern sections of the route fully with the trans-Pennine connections, ensuring the connectivity, journey times and reliability that are so desperately needed. This is what we can achieve with one transformative, public-run rail service, and it is also what we believe the Government can achieve if they are serious about delivering the rail system needed for the future of the country. We also believe that the environmental value of this project needs greater scrutiny.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about why we need to improve the governance and oversight of this project, to ensure that the maximum benefit is realised for the country. I am thinking of the supply chain benefits, particularly in my constituency, which was once a world leader in locomotive and railway manufacturing. We are just about to lose the last railway engineering works in my constituency because of a lack of coherent planning. There is a lack of capacity in the rolling stock overhaul business in this country, because of the failure to anticipate it. That is exactly the opportunity that this new clause presents, to ensure that we can respond better to changes in the market.
I thank my hon. Friend for his point. The jobs in his constituency are vital. Having met some of those workers, I know that many of them have tremendous skill and could participate in this project. I urge the Minister to look at that situation and ensure that the gates do not close and that those jobs can be saved and integrated into the HS2 project. I trust that she will want to meet my hon. Friend, to advance the case that he has been fighting so hard for.
I will continue for a little bit, if I may.
HS2 provides a crucial opportunity to create a significant number of freight paths on the west coast main line, thus moving freight from road to rail, with additional capacity, which will attract more passengers to move from air to train and car to train, due to the attractive journey times. That is a crucial shift if we are to reduce our emissions, which are currently at 29% in the transport sector, and our carbon footprint. Of course, that means saving lives, due to the poor air quality that so many people experience because of the use of poor fuels on the transport that many people use to get about our country.
Labour’s new clauses seek to address something that is vital to rebuilding public confidence in the project: a transformation in the way that the governance works. We truly believe that the Secretary of State has failed in his obligation to hold HS2 fully to account and certainly has not brought the level of transparency we would expect from a Secretary of State to such a major infrastructure project. He cannot and must not hide, such as he is today.
Indeed. In the light of concerns expressed by Members from across the House, Labour’s new clauses 1 and 4 seek to drive greater transparency and accountability for the project.
Does the hon. Lady agree that early and rather more moderate expenditure on digital signalling could greatly increase capacity and, along with short sections of bypass track, could improve reliability of fast train services, which is needed?
I am honoured to have a centre for digital signalling in my constituency and have seen the power of it, but sadly, to achieve the capacity that we will need for the future, we have to build more routes. That is what this project will do. It is not either/or—both are required for the future of our rail network, but the right hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
First, we are calling on the Secretary of State to bring quarterly reports on the environmental impact, costs and progress of the HS2 project to the House. This is far too important a project for the Bill to be passed and then for us to read in the press that the costs have gone up and there are delays. The project must be far more accountable to the House, as should the Secretary of State.
Secondly, Labour believes that the scheduling, the integration, the engineering in places and the scope of the project need review. We cannot simply have HS2 Ltd saying, “This is what it is.” There are major issues to be resolved, not least the vital Yorkshire hub and getting the right connectivity into Sheffield. Members and community groups have undertaken detailed work on how improvements can be made to parts of the route, and that is one such example. Labour is calling for the whole of HS2, including phase 2a, to undergo a complete peer review appraisal by independent engineering and economic specialists. We believe that that is the only way that Parliament and the public can have full confidence in the HS2 project. Such a process will ensure that the scope is right, that the integration with the wider network is right, that governance is put right and that the maximum environmental gain is harvested while the cost of the project is minimised. It will not delay the project but enable it to proceed in a way that delivers maximum benefit.
Ensuring that the best modelling of the wider economic benefit is properly appraised is also urgently needed on this project, while at the same time proper security can clearly deliver a focus and confirm that north-south connectivity—and, I trust, east-west too—is really integrated to deliver and to ensure that we get maximum benefit from it. I trust that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the new clauses, which would answer many of the questions that they have been asking and enhance the Bill and the project.
I just want to emphasise the question asked by my hon. Friend Sir William Cash. I understand the logic of what the hon. Lady says about peer review and so on, but supposing that says that the project must be done in a completely different way, for example using the original Arup route to which I referred earlier. That will not be possible if the Bill has become an Act. Surely she should oppose the Bill, have a peer review and then decide whether to support the legislation.
The hon. Gentleman appears not to want to see the line built in his lifetime, my lifetime or the lifetime of any hon. Member. The reality is that we believe that the route needs tweaking, changing and integrating, but that does not mean ripping everything up. We will never be able to satisfy everyone, because in the history of the railway there has always been a farmhouse, a field or a golf course in the way. Indeed, 27 vintage trees will be in the way on this section, and we are very concerned about them.
It is important that we press ahead, but that we review the project—especially the governance. That is about the management that we proceed with.
Would it not be right to think about my hon. Friend’s proposal in new clause 4 as an attempt to learn the lessons as we go along? It is not as though this is a project without review or evaluation. Already it has oversight from the Department for Transport, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and it is subject to National Audit Office review. It is hardly as though people are completely deprived of information. What we need to do is pull together that information and learn clear lessons as we proceed.
My hon. Friend speaks eloquently and is right. We need to pool the information, including the scrutiny the House has put over the project and the external scrutiny, to ensure that we get the project right. That is what will build public confidence as we move forward.
My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job in making the case. Does she accept that the information that is available to the House through the various bodies and institutions that my hon. Friend Steve McCabe mentioned is massively undermined by the number of non-disclosure agreements that have been applied to former members of staff of HS2? More than 270 NDAs prevent people from saying what they really believe about the capacity and costs of the scheme. What does she think about that in terms of transparency and openness?
Not at this time—I am going to move on.
As raised in Committee, there is a major issue with compensation for those who rent. For example, a tenant farmer who works on the land may be moved and have to work away from their farm. People who rent privately consistently miss out when infrastructure projects force them out of their homes or away from their businesses. We believe that they must receive compensation. The issue was raised at the petition stage of the Bill and it would be right to respond today. The new clause would enable that to happen when the statutory instrument is laid.
Let me briefly move on to new clause 5. I am looking forward to the contribution from Antoinette Sandbach, and I confirm that Labour supports her new clause. There has been a lot of learning around non-disclosure agreements, as my hon. Friend Mr Lewis alluded to. I know from my time as a trade union official, and from my time on the working party on bullying and sexual misconduct procedures here, that these agreements are used to see that commercially sensitive information is not shared with external parties, but they are also used around failures of management, and bullying would be one such example.
If the culture is wrong, it is not right to put money into it, and the management should be held to account. My hon. Friend said that 270-plus non-disclosure agreements have been signed, so we need to ensure that there is proper scrutiny and transparency. New clause 5 addresses that issue very comprehensively, ensuring that commercial sensitivities are not undermined, and also that all of us can have a real grasp of what is happening in the culture of HS2. It is a sensible way of addressing the serious amount of money that is being spent on these agreements. We certainly believe that the culture in HS2 must move forward.
We will listen to the debate to decide how we handle the new clauses I have laid before the House. I hope the Minister will give us assurances on them, and I will be listening carefully to determine whether to proceed to a vote. With these enhancements to the Bill, the whole HS2 project could proceed with far greater confidence and far greater support.
I made it clear in my remarks to the shadow Minister that I am minded to vote for these new clauses. However, towards the end of what she said, serious doubt began to descend on the House as to whether she would actually push them to a vote. She is therefore welcome to come back to the Dispatch Box to tell me whether she in fact intends to do so.
On new clause 1, it would be eminently sensible to have quarterly reports on environmental impact, costs and progress. One thing that has been completely lacking is any proper analysis by the Government or HS2 of all three of those issues.
On the question of environmental impact, does my hon. Friend think that we were too obsessed by speed in the early years of this project? The Government now justify it on the basis of capacity, but there would still be much less environmentally damaging ways of increasing capacity—for instance, by laying more of the line along existing motorways such as the M40. Will my hon. Friend and other hon. Members also bear in mind counties not directly affected by the line, such as Lincolnshire, which are being starved of resources for our rural and commuter lines?
I entirely concur with my right hon. Friend. The very fact that he is in the House, as are other Members who are not directly affected by the line, is a reminder of the fact that, on the last occasion the Bill was voted on—on Second Reading—the number of people who actually voted was very small compared with the number of people who could have voted, from which one might infer that the enthusiasm for this proposal is minimal. I think as many as 200 MPs did not vote, which was quite extraordinary.
On the question of environmental impact, I would simply say that my constituents will be deeply and profoundly affected not only by the havoc that will be created by forcing this juggernaut through my constituency from top to bottom, but by the dislocation, the highways and the impact on businesses. A quarterly report is, quite frankly, a very good idea, but I am more interested in getting an answer from the shadow Minister—it is not forthcoming at the moment—because there is no point in putting forward the proposals if they will not see the light of day in a vote.
Cost is another issue of monumental importance. I do not need to go into it all now—I made my case in a nutshell in the Westminster Hall debate I secured on this issue—but I would be grateful if the Minister could give us a clearer indication on cost, to unravel the mysteries of the continuous failure to be able to give an accurate idea as to what the project will actually involve.
We started off with a figure of about £35 billion or £36 billion. The latest figure is somewhere around £55 billion. My hon. Friend and I have seen credible estimates upwards of £80 billion. Should the House not know what it is actually voting for tonight? How much will it be?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend—a real friend, quite apart from being an hon. Friend—and I would add that we only have to look at clause 61 to realise the financial implications and how costs will be dealt with. There is talk about the overall cost being about £51 billion—there has been an upgrade in the amount of money intended to be applied to this part of the proposal. We cannot separate out the cost of distance between London and Birmingham, and then leave out Birmingham to the ultimate destination. The reality is that we are faced with a proposal under the Bill that is excessive in its totality and unjustified in the unbelievable havoc it will cause my constituents.
The other point I would make on new clause 2 relates to the compensation scheme for tenants, an idea I put forward on a number of occasions. There is no doubt that a huge number of people will be adversely affected by the scheduled works. It is not just tenants who will be affected but property owners. They will be severely damaged. Many of my constituents have been put under the most incredible stress and anxiety. There have been suggestions that some people, elderly people in particular, have been under such intense stress that they have died prematurely.
There are some unusual cases in my constituency. There are a number of people with canal boats who pay for moorings. They are very hard to locate, and they will get no compensation. There are those with farm tenancies that give them security in their home, which is very difficult to replicate under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. Those are the kinds of tenants who need to be compensated, are they not?
They certainly are, and there are also freehold properties. People who own property, as I have just described, are being put under the most intense anxiety, so I understand the reasons that lie behind the principle of new clause 2.
On new clause 4, I made my point in my intervention on the shadow Minister. I simply cannot understand it. Notwithstanding the intention that appears to be behind the first part the new clause—I am grateful to my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant for backing me up on this—it is inconceivable that the report should only come into effect within 12 months of the Act receiving Royal Assent. It is nonsense. I ask Rachael Maskell to note that although I shall vote for the principle of an independent peer review, it will be on the strict understanding that that is without prejudice to my concern that the Act will need to be repealed.
I make this point now and may do so again on Third Reading: we are about to experience a new Government, effectively, with a new Prime Minister, depending on the outcome of the leadership election. The two contenders for the leadership have differing views on HS2: one is in favour and the other says that he wants to put it under review. Although rumours are like bats that fly in the night, the fact is that there are very strong feelings in favour of abandoning this entire project. We understand that it has already cost about £5 billion or £6 billion. That is enough money in itself, but to subject this country to unbelievable havoc as the project goes through constituencies such as mine, with all the attendant problems and anxieties that I have described, and to say, at the same time, that the proposal will go through and that the Labour party, by all accounts, will vote for it seems to be completely at variance with all the evidence and reports—I referred to them in the Westminster Hall debate and on many other occasions—which indicate that this is not a viable project. It was dreamt up by a Labour peer. I am never quite sure what the noble Lord Adonis’s allegiance is these days, but he was certainly a Labour member of the Government when this was proposed, and he deserves to be thoroughly condemned for it.
Did my hon. Friend notice that while Labour says that it wants a 12-month review of fairly fundamental things, it made it very clear that it does not want any material changes to the project that might delay it? I do not really see what the point of the review is.
The hon. Member for York Central is smiling as she looks across the Chamber—[Interruption.] She says that it is unbelievable, but it is anything but unbelievable—it is entirely true and entirely credible. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield backed me up on this. What is the point in having a first-class, independent review of the kind that is being advocated and saying that it will come into effect only after this has been made into the law of the land? [Interruption.] I see the Opposition Front Bencher, Andy McDonald, chuntering, but perhaps he would like to come to the Dispatch Box and explain the nonsense that lies behind that reasoning.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that this is just good governance? If we are spending this amount of taxpayers’ money, we have to have decent oversight to make sure that the money is being used to the best effect. That should perhaps have been built into the process earlier, but the fact is that it is being brought forward at this stage. Presumably that is why he supports it, but let us be honest: whatever is introduced, he will never support this project, which I do strongly, because this is about not just rebalancing the UK economy but connecting the north to great opportunities across the whole of mainland Europe.
The hon. Gentleman is completely right to say that I will never accept this project. I have made that abundantly clear not only by my votes, but by the arguments that I have presented. I come back to this point: we cannot say that there is transparency if this is turned into the law of the land. It is one of the most nonsensical new clauses that I have seen, notwithstanding the fact that I strongly believe that an independent peer review would be a good idea. However, it should come before Royal Assent, not after.
My hon. Friend is making complete sense. He mentioned Lord Adonis earlier. Is my hon. Friend aware that the original plan for HS2, designed by Arup, would have gone up the M40 and connected with Heathrow, as my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson said, and it would have connected with HS1 not by linking in the south at great expense, as Rachael Maskell suggested, but by going directly through St Pancras?
That all sounds frightfully interesting, but I am afraid that it is not what we are dealing with. We have this Bill and a project that is the biggest white elephant that has ever been seen in modern history, as far as the United Kingdom rail system is concerned. It is a complete outrage that my constituents should have this perpetrated on them.
I am serious when I say that I shall be campaigning not only for a review of these proposals but in pretty short order to have the Act repealed, because that is the only way this can be sorted out. It is a complete disgrace that the Government have introduced the Bill in the dying days of this Government. [Interruption.] Laura Smith is laughing because she knows I am right. These proposals almost certainly would not survive the review that will be taking place under a new Prime Minister. I am making a fair assumption about who that person will be.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not feel energetic. Is it not the case, though, that the zero-based review, which the Chief Secretary to the Treasury proposed, is not a genuine review of the project but is about creating a war chest to buy the support of Conservative shire candidates? It has nothing to do with HS2; it is about clawing back the money for a fighting fund.
The hon. Gentleman has very sensibly tempted me into saying something else that I believe. I am completely against these proposals in relation to my constituents and the national interest—it is the biggest white elephant of all time, as all the reports I referred to in my Westminster Hall debate demonstrated. There have been even more since, including one from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which rated the whole thing as amber—although in fact it probably thinks it is in the red. If only, it said, we could get rid of this ridiculous proposal and put the money where it deserves to go, which is across the country, east to west, which I happen to agree with very strongly. On that point, I had some sympathy with what the shadow Minister said.
There is another factor. This incredible waste of money could make an enormous difference to this country’s coffers in the not very distant future. It seems absurd to be wasting money like this. We hear all these ridiculous arguments about Brexit, but this is the kind of thing that is bringing the country to its knees by virtue of wasted expenditure on projects that are no more than a white elephant.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir William Cash. We disagree on almost everything, but I do sympathise massively with people’s concerns about their property and will always support them as their constituency MP.
This is a significant Bill of vital importance to our future prosperity and a key feature of any strategy to build a more balanced economy. My contribution to this debate will outline the reasons why I believe we must support the Bill and also the vision that underpins HS2. Without that strategic outlook, we risk losing the bigger picture to narrow debates about direct benefits such as commute times or becoming distracted by false choices, such as whether to spend on HS2 or northern powerhouse rail.
Of course, it is important that any publicly funded project be wholly transparent and subject to proper scrutiny. Let me begin with my own constituency of Crewe and Nantwich. It goes without saying that Crewe is famous for being a railway town. In fact, it has been suggested that Crewe was actually named after the railway station, rather than the other way round. Before the Grand Junction Railway company chose Crewe as the site for its railway station and works, Crewe was reportedly a tiny village with as few as 70 residents. That was until our current station was completed in 1837. About a decade later Crewe works was producing one locomotive a week. Our communities flourished around the works and ours is now widely recognised as one of the most historically significant railway stations in the world.
The hon. Lady might anticipate what I am about to say. The proposals put the railhead down at Yarnfield, which itself is an absolute and total disgrace. It was originally going to be in her constituency. She has just been rightly praising the people of her constituency for their wonderful work over the last century and a half. Would it not have been so much better had the proposal been to put the railhead in Crewe, as was originally intended, and not down in Yarnfield, where it will destroy so much of my constituency?
I personally believe that the hon. Gentleman needs to look at the benefits of HS2 for people in his constituency, such as the jobs that it will bring. I do not think that it is all doom and gloom for his constituents, and I will continue to speak positively about my own constituency.
The railway went on to open a cheese market and a clothing factory, and donated the land that would become Queens Park, which to this day attracts visitors from outside the town. At its height, Crewe Works provided employment for more than 20,000 skilled workers in a vast span of workshops stretching for nearly two and a half miles: forges, carpenters, boilermakers, machinists and apprentices. It was common for several generations of the same family to enjoy fruitful careers there, and the sense of pride in our works is still felt today.
By 2019, the workforce had fallen to fewer than 400, a fraction of its former size, and much of the former site has now been sold off. In its place stand icons of the modern economy, a supermarket and a cinema. Now the wall on its western boundary has been selected for demolition. For many local people, that will be a visual metaphor for the sense of loss and decline that has afflicted too many families.
However, it is not all bad. The railway still plays an important role in our local economy. Now owned by Bombardier, Crewe Works still offers quality employment opportunities to local people. Crewe is also home to Bentley Motors, a global success story providing thousands of skilled jobs. In addition to the large employers, we have many small and medium-sized businesses that are punching well above their weight, and a number of them are already benefiting from HS2.
I am not one for looking back on a fictional past through rose-tinted glasses. Change—for the better—is not only welcome, but must be pursued. It is in all our interests for the UK economy to produce the goods that people need and want. Nevertheless, the narrative really does matter, and the way in which our economy has changed has not benefited everyone. Decades of inaction by successive Governments have left the north to the mercy of market forces, and those forces have themselves been turbo-charged by aggressive globalisation. Many northern towns and cities are still struggling to recover from the industrial decline of the 1970s and 1980s, and the north-south divide threatens to hold back our national productivity.
The median wage in Crewe and Nantwich is literally thousands of pounds less per year than the UK average, despite the existence of well-paid jobs such as those that I mentioned earlier, which will be pushing up the average. Many workers in my constituency have seen little or no improvement in their living standards over the last decade, and some have even seen their living standards fall dramatically. Relatively high employment levels mask the reality of an increasing number of people finding themselves in precarious jobs, or working for poverty pay in low-productivity employment. As a result, more people in poverty now live in working households than in non-working households, after housing costs are taken into account. Consequently, our economy has become reliant on household debt, which has grown to worrying levels.
We have been told that inequality was the inevitable price of economic growth, but such arguments are now outdated, and a body of research now finds that economies in which income and wealth are shared more equally tend to have more stable paths of economic growth. If we are to build an economy that prioritises both sustainable growth and economic justice, addressing regional inequality must be part of that strategy.
Order. What the hon. Lady is saying is important, and I presume that she will be linking her remarks to the new clauses.
I am not for one moment suggesting that HS2 will solve all these problems alone, but it can and must play an important role as part of a wider strategy. As I said on Second Reading:
“My vision for HS2 is not as an end in itself, benefiting only businesses and commuters, but as a catalyst for the radical rebalancing of our economy”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 635, c. 741-2.]
I firmly believe that we need to shift our economy towards investment-led growth. The choice that has been presented between HS2 and better east-west links in the north is an entirely false one. In any case, Northern Powerhouse Rail services will, at two of their most important regional links, run on HS2 infrastructure.
Some businesses choose to pay almost four times as much per square foot for premises in London and the south because of the poor connectivity in the north. Last year, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research North indicated that planned transport investment in London was two and a half times higher per person than in the north of England, and productivity in London is reported to be some 40% greater than in the north, demonstrating a strong correlation between connectivity and productivity. In its recent report, High Speed Rail Industry Leaders set out why it believes that improved connectivity will lead to greater regional productivity, and enhanced specialisation that will help us to bring about a more balanced economy.
My hon. Friend makes the case eloquently for her constituency. This independent review is so important because it is not about the pounds being spent globally; it is about the impact on jobs and local communities, economies and supply chains.
Absolutely. The review is incredibly important. What does the review mean for places like Crewe? Crewe has the potential to build on the 360° connectivity it already has to become the key regional hub bridging the north and the midlands. The local enterprise partnership is working alongside Cheshire East Council on a proposal for a Crewe HS2 growth corridor that will bring together strategic development sites in Crewe, Middlewich and Winsford, so that they can build on their traditional strengths in high-value manufacturing. As for the model through which the LEP proposes delivering that corridor, it will invest up front to unlock development, and will be repaid through the generation of new business rates. Any surplus income will be used to help finance station improvements.
I am coming to the end of my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker; I get the impression that I might have pushed my luck a little, but I am still fairly new to this process, so please excuse me. I reiterate that the passing of this Bill is not nearly enough to unlock my constituency’s full potential. I would like the Government to commit to seven HS2 trains per hour stopping at Crewe, and more frequent regional train services to and from Crewe on each of the lines radiating out of the town. A northern junction at Crewe is essential to allow Birmingham-Manchester HS2 services to stop at Crewe, and to allow Crewe to be part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail network, which would open up the possibility of direct service to Leeds and other destinations east of the Pennines.
I am concerned that some appear to be flirting with the idea of scaling back HS2, either through short-sightedness or, worse, for political gain. HS2 has shaped our local planning framework, and so much work has gone into bringing all stakeholders together to realise the potential of HS2 in Crewe that it would be nothing short of tragic if the Government failed to deliver.
It is always interesting to follow the hon. Lady, who is my neighbour. She extols the virtues of HS2, but it is not her constituents but mine who will feel an impact. The rolling stock depot and the northern Crewe junction that she speaks of are not in Crewe; they are in Eddisbury. Largely owing to the extremely hard work of her Conservative predecessor, Edward Timpson, who argued for a tunnel under Crewe, a massive amount of the local impact will not be felt in Crewe. Perhaps the hon. Lady ought to spare a thought for constituents whose homes and lives are being destroyed.
I absolutely agree. Constituents and businesses have come to me, as they have done to the hon. Lady, and we have dealt with them. I also agree with her new clause. I am not saying that what is happening is simple, and I have every sympathy for everybody affected, but I am looking at what benefit can come to Crewe and Nantwich, and the whole area, because of HS2. Without doubt, this is a huge project, and there will be winners and losers, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.
Sadly for Eddisbury, the number of losers there is very large. It will cost an extra £100 million just to do the extra 20 km of track from Crewe past Winsford. The geotechnical engineer’s report that was served on HS2 many years ago has not yet been answered. I would much rather see that money going into improving public services and housing stock in my area.
New clause 5 seeks to restrict use of non-disclosure agreements by HS2. The reason that I tabled it is that a business in my constituency has been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and it potentially affects the jobs of 166 of my constituents. I do not think it right that Members of Parliament are being denied information that is being stitched up by HS2. This relates not only to private businesses but to councils, in relation to denying elected members information. That is why the new clause is necessary.
Scarcely a day passes without a discussion on non-disclosure agreements. Last week, there was a discussion on NDAs in relation to the Labour party, but we have also seen questions about their use by businessmen and others to keep former employees and others quiet about information or personal conduct within a company. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr, who sits with me on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, for his work on the all-party parliamentary group on whistleblowing. The group has today launched a report calling for reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. What concerns me most is that HS2 appears to be stepping up its use of NDAs. Last Wednesday, Mr Lewis described HS2 as having signed more than 270 NDAs, and the New Civil Engineer reports that the figure could be as high as 280, with 40% of them having been signed in the last year.
Last week, the hon. Lady’s party rightly called for Labour to do something about non-disclosure agreements in relation to staff employed in the Labour party. Does she agree that, to be consistent, Ministers should instruct HS2 to release people from their obligations under non-disclosure agreements so that they can share with the House the truth about their experience of the capacity and cost issues when they were working for the organisation? Her new clause deals with the future, but does she agree that it should be able to deal with the past, too?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. He will see from the drafting of my new clause that it would allow an assessor to assess NDAs that have already been signed, and to allow them to be retained only in circumstances of exceptional commercial confidentiality. I would argue that that is the only ground for retaining them, and that an independent assessor—either a QC or a former High Court judge—should be appointed to assess those NDAs.
Could my hon. Friend give us some idea of what kind of information she thinks might be suppressed that we ought to know about? What is the inducement being offered to make people sign these things?
So far, HS2 has refused to answer freedom of information requests. It claims, in answers given to me as a result of FOI requests, that it is unable to provide answers because it does not know how many NDAs its lawyers have got people to sign and because it would cost too much to provide a Member of Parliament with details of the number of NDAs.
Is it not true that a number of former senior HS2 employees who have expressed concerns about financial information provided to the House and other appropriate oversight bodies were soon asked to leave the organisation on the basis of non-disclosure? Does the hon. Lady agree that that is incredibly serious, which is why Ministers should instruct that those people be released from those non-disclosure obligations as soon as possible?
I completely agree. I am worried that NDAs are used to cover up wrongdoing in HS2, particularly in relation to redundancy payments, which have been discovered by the National Audit Office, and it has been agreed that the scheme was inappropriate. The difficulty is that without such provision being included in the legislation, that statutory protection is not available to those who wish to blow the whistle or otherwise highlight failures.
NDAs are also used for local authorities. I know that, because it applies to my own local authority. In answer to a written question, my hon. Friend Ms Ghani, the HS2 Minister, reported that 31 local councils have an NDA in place with HS2, including Cheshire West and Chester, and Cheshire East Councils, which cover my constituency. Apparently, they are required to discuss advanced planning issues and matters of a commercially sensitive nature. However, the councils also sit on the implementation advisory group which feeds back to my community what HS2 plans to do in my area. Matters that go beyond planning and commercially sensitive information are being withheld on the basis of those NDAs signed with HS2, denying me as the Member of Parliament the ability to quiz HS2 on what it plans to do in the area. How, for example, will road movements be affected, and how will that affect my industrial estate? How is the public interest served by those NDAs, which limit the information that councils can give to my constituents?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. I am shocked by what she has revealed. Does she have any idea what is driving those NDAs, and how long are they valid for? What is the intention behind this?
I have asked for details, and for a copy of an NDA but, again, there was a refusal to disclose that to me. The claim is that that is exempt from disclosure, because it is commercially sensitive information, but I am afraid that I simply do not agree that all those NDAs are required just for commercially sensitive information. As I said, 40% have been signed in the past 12 months, and I am concerned that they are used to withhold from the public and from elected representatives information that the organisation may not wish to go into the public domain.
I do not know, but presumably for the length of the project.
That has an impact on Members representing constituencies on phase 2b of the route, because we cannot get information from HS2 about how it will impact our constituents. Any Member of the House who has had dealings with HS2 knows that they have an approach to secrecy unparalleled since the cold war. If our councils are prohibited from telling us details of their discussions, we struggle to assess local impacts. Clearly, there is a problem. My new clause tries to steer a path between an outright ban and the current approach of issuing NDAs as a matter of course. It tries to operate within boundaries already established for HS2 best practice and it gives discretion where necessary while erring on the side of transparency and the public interest.
HS2 already has a residents commissioner and a construction commissioner who, together, act as impartial monitors of HS2 and offer advice to those affected by the scheme, be they residents, businesses or other groups. My amendment would add an assessor, who would be a QC or a High Court judge. This individual—appointed by the National Audit Office, Parliament’s spending watchdog—would be required to approve as in the public interest any future NDAs that HS2 seeks to enter. The assessor would also have the power to review all previous NDAs and assess whether they, too, are in the public interest. If the assessor judges an existing NDA to be not in the public interest, it would cease to have effect.
My amendment would unshackle whistleblowers and elected officials to discuss HS2 freely and honestly. If, after any revelations emerge, Members wished to continue with the scheme, they would at least make that decision on the basis of the facts, and not the partial picture we see today.
I make no secret of my approach to HS2, but my amendment should appeal to everyone, whether or not they support the project. Those who see HS2 as a grand success should want to see it shouted from the rooftops, not swaddled in secrecy; and those of us who believe the costs will continue to spiral until the game is not worth the candle would be able to see for ourselves the full costs involved.
As my hon. Friend knows, I take a personal interest in this matter. I am sorry that I have not been here for the debate, but my parliamentary duties elsewhere have prevented me from being in the Chamber to support her. Does she agree that the precedent for this secrecy on HS2 was set when it was revealed that the main reports on the project were going to be kept not only from the public but from this House, when the then Secretary of State for Transport refused to publish the reports from the Major Projects Authority? That, in itself, was very damaging. By setting that bar for secrecy, and through the NDAs, the largest infrastructure project in Europe continues to be concealed from Members of this House and from the public.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, which is why I tabled new clause 5. NDAs should not be used to shut people up and prevent them from saying what is happening inside the organisation. Not only that, but NDAs are being used to deprive elected Members of this House and other officials of important information about some of the impacts and problems, which we should be scrutinising.
I absolutely respect that the hon. Lady is giving voice to her constituents, but she has been fairly negative so far. Can she think of one positive that HS2 will bring?
I am glad to be giving voice, because I sound a bit croaky—I am losing my voice.
I agree that there are potential benefits, but the question is whether those benefits are worth the cost and whether the business case stacks up. I would much rather see the east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail connection happen as a priority.
When a rolling stock depot is moved from another constituency to mine and put next to a school, thereby requiring the whole school to move, there seems to be either a level of incompetence or staggering complacency in the management of the project. I have been at events where my constituents have asked questions and not received answers.
There have been ministerial orders to provide mock-ups of the rolling stock depot so that we can understand the scale and impact, and HS2 has just ignored them and said that it will not provide the mock-ups. Then there has been a change of Minister, who has taken a different approach.
My concern is that, unless this protection is in the legislation, we will potentially see a change of Secretary of State, and that we will then not have the protections in relation to this kind of infrastructure project that all our constituents deserve.
I rise briefly to support new clause 4 and the call for a full peer review of this project. I will also call for the review to go wider, particularly to look at the geographical impact of the HS2 investment and the impact on cities and towns. I raise this because, like most Members of this House, I strongly support the need for substantial investment in our transport infrastructure. I think it needs to increase; we should be spending more capital investment on transport, particularly on our railways, especially given the climate change challenges we face.
The more we look, however, at the current Government’s transport infrastructure budget, the more doubts we should have about the continued focus on cities, rather than towns, and about the continued concentration of the capital budget on cities, rather than towns. HS2 and its plans raise those serious questions, which is why serious issues need to be reviewed about whether or not HS2 is the right priority now, given the need for investment in our towns. According to the National Infrastructure Commission, the Government propose to spend £4.5 billion a year on HS2 between now and 2025, but only £200 million a year on Northern Powerhouse Rail. We must bear in mind that Northern Powerhouse Rail is also predominantly focused on cities.
I want to set out the impact on my constituency, but the towns there could reflect many across the country. It is not clear that HS2 will have any benefit for Normanton, although Ministers say that it will mean faster trains to Leeds. Normanton used to be at the heart of the rail network. We used to have 700 jobs on the railways alone in Normanton and 700,000 passengers used to go through it. Normanton used to be a central railway town, but now there is only one train an hour to Leeds, even though it is less than half an hour away. Therefore, any benefits from speeding up journey times for anyone in my constituency just disappear, because the connections into Leeds are so rubbish. From Castleford, Pontefract and Knottingley, there are a few more trains, but they are often cancelled or late, or there are just too few carriages and so people cannot get on.
After the May timetable changes, things got worse. One constituent told me that on his regular trains the seating capacity was reduced by between 58 and 130 seats, making it impossible for many passengers to get on, so they were just stuck on the platform. Some trains currently run to London from Pontefract Monkhill, but it has no disabled access. So I have had constituents with wheelchairs who have been stranded on the platform as a result or who, in one case, have had to crawl over the bridge. Yet there is no sign of the investment in our station just to get basic disabled access. This is the capital investment we need in our towns.
We are told in other parts of our area that the regular trains cannot go any faster because the lines need upgrading, but there is no sign of it ever happening. Time and again we are told that HS2 will mean better connections for our country and for our towns, but we never see it—we never see any credible plan. My hon. Friend Rachael Maskell, who spoke from the Front Bench, has rightly talked about boosting the connectivity between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. I strongly support that, because I believe that it will hugely benefit the north. Indeed, I think the House of Lords report was right when it said that investment in improving the rail links in the north of England would deliver greater economic benefit for every pound than HS2 would.
Having those connections between our northern cities would be substantial, but the economic benefits from better connecting our northern towns with neighbouring cities would be huge. That would boost our towns; give employers in our towns and our cities a far bigger catchment area, for staff and for customers; and build the size of local markets. Those town connections should be done first, before any of this, but we do not see it ever happening. We do not see it ever coming. As a result, we do not believe it is ever going to come. We get all these promises from these massive national infrastructure projects, which always concentrate on our cities, but we do not believe this is ever going to benefit our towns.
In 2017, Northern rail should have been delivering two trains an hour from Northwich to Manchester on the mid-Cheshire line; it is still not doing that. When we hear of HS2’s costs spiralling from £57 billion up to even £106 billion, people look at the northern powerhouse slogan as a real damp squib.
Order. I am just a little worried: we are obviously talking about new clauses to the Bill, and as much as we have all suffered with Northern rail, I want to try to keep the debate where it should be.
Mr Deputy Speaker is completely right: we could go on for a very long time about the problems with Northern rail. My hon. Friend is also right. The review in new clause 4 should focus on the geographic impact and the impact for towns, because time and again we just see our town services go backwards and our chances of getting any capital investment in towns disappear, while the Government always talk about these huge billions of pounds going into connections for the cities. The compact between different parts of the country, particularly between our cities and towns, has now broken. I do not think anybody quite recognises the seriousness of that. This debate about HS2 is carrying on while we ignore that serious and growing divide.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the Department for Transport needs to update its national rail travel overview survey report, on which so much of its planning is dependent? It has not been updated since 2010. I received a written answer that said the Government are
“currently considering updating the National Rail Travel Survey”.
Does the right hon. Lady think that that needs to be done as a matter of urgency, so that the survey reflects the exact points she is making?
If there has simply been no updated assessment, that might explain why so many of my constituents get stuck on platforms in Leeds, trying to get back to Castleford, or on platforms in Castleford, trying to get into Leeds. So many more people are commuting for work, yet the commuter infrastructure for them is just not there. It is continually our towns that are being let down.
How would a review help, given that the right hon. Lady’s Front-Bench colleagues and the current Government are united behind the current scheme, which does nothing to help our towns?
Nobody has done a proper assessment of where transport infrastructure investment is going and what the impact is on cities and towns. Some assessment has been made of the impact on different regions of the country, and that is important. Actually, it is significant, because I think the New Economics Foundation cites HS2’s own figures showing that 40% of the benefits from HS2 will go to London, whereas only 10% of the benefits will go to Yorkshire. I want to see a broader assessment of the impact on cities and towns.
Job growth is twice as fast in cities as in towns. New digital jobs, service jobs, university-related jobs and cultural jobs are all being concentrated in cities, but manufacturing, distribution and retail jobs are disappearing from towns. That is a result of automation or changes to our economy, but public sector investment decisions, including on transport priorities, are making that worse. Public services are shrinking back from towns into cities, and the new infrastructure investment is always concentrated on cities rather than towns.
I took the hint from Mr Deputy Speaker that he was relaxed about interventions.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her work to give a voice to towns, which is important. Does she accept that the capital focus of HS2 is one thing, but it is revenue spend that has massively affected towns? In Greater Manchester, we have lost 30 million bus miles because of central Government revenue cuts. One thing we could do today is reinvest the revenue that has been lost.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Certainly, for bus services, which are crucial for our towns, the loss of revenue has been particularly crucial and devastating. This debate is about towns getting their fair share of both revenue and capital investment. Currently, I do not think we are getting either.
The campaign to power up the north led by some of our regional newspapers is immensely important, and I strongly back it, but I also think that it is time to power up our towns, as they have immense potential and are not getting their fair share of investment. Time and again, whether through HS2 or Crossrail 2, too much money—the big billions—is still going into the cities rather than the towns. That is why I support this review, but ask for it to be broadened.
I urge the Minister to broaden it as well, because the truth is that Members from our towns have been respectful, we have asked sensible questions, we have been patient, and we have waited and waited and, frankly, we have got nothing. We see no sign of anything improving for our transport infrastructure. We see no sign of anything other than warm words about promises in the future. We need that review of the geographic benefits and we need a proper towns plan—a proper plan for major infrastructure investment. Until we have that, the Government’s transport infrastructure plan is simply not in the national interest.
My worry about the Labour new clauses is that they will not achieve the objective that Labour seems to think they will achieve. The truth is that, with the legislation already in place and the likely passage this evening of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, all the legal powers are there to proceed with the scheme as originally designed. As the contracts are settled, the scope for any fundamental changes arising from a review is either limited or non-existent. As the project develops, there is less and less scope to make any changes to it.
I speak as someone who, when we were first faced with the decision about HS2, decided that it was not the right project. I fully share the ambition of practically everybody in this House that we need an even more successful northern powerhouse and better transport and connectivity throughout those northern cities and towns. As someone who represents a very fast-growing and hard-pressed area of the country, just outside London, I would love to see an even more effective counter-magnet to London elsewhere in the country to pick up some of that growth and some of that prosperity, because we have the difficulties of managing so many people coming in and so many people moving around on transport systems that are woefully inadequate for the task. I share the ambition for the northern powerhouse, but I accept that a decision has already been made in principle, that a lot of money has now been committed and that various works have been undertaken in the name of the project, so it would become more and more difficult to make fundamental change or to think about cancellation.
As it happens, I think that there will be another decision taken quite shortly about this mighty project, because the very likely next Prime Minister has said that he wishes to review it and to think about it again, and I wish him every success with that. It would be a very difficult task to do, and it would need to be done with reasonable speed. Given that we have committed so much and that there is some reasonable merit in the project, he may conclude that he wishes to go on with it. If he were to make a more fundamental decision, all that we are talking about this afternoon in this House is a waste of time, because, clearly, the project will be cancelled and everything else will lapse.
I work on the assumption that, after review, the new Prime Minister may continue with the project, and that we are in the business of trying to mitigate the difficulties and damages. My colleagues who represent constituencies who are very badly affected by this project deserve special treatment over how it can be ameliorated and improved and how compensation can be paid and businesses dealt with.
Certainly, we need transparency. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach for raising the issue. I want to hear from the Minister about what is going to be done on transparency, so that those who are most adversely affected, should the project go ahead in full, are able to see why the decisions are being made and also have access to the information that they need to get proper compensation.
I myself will not be voting for the Labour amendments, because they simply do not bring any advantage either to those who support the project in full or those who have the problems of handling the disadvantages of the project in their constituencies. I do not see how a further review suddenly will make this a better run project. If the project goes forward, this Minister and any future Minister will have to deal with how the costs will be controlled, how the works will be carried out in a speedy manner and to a high quality with safe standards for the workforce, and how the impact of those works can be minimised on those most affected by them as they go ahead. These remain continuing management problems. An additional independent review is not going to solve any of that. We are now getting to the point where it needs individual management solutions. It is about managers on the ground, how contracts are handled on the ground, and the extent to which Ministers can and should have proper oversight of those contracts, given their commercial nature and given the technical expertise of those actually running the project.
I do not see how an independent review can help at all. I do not believe that any serious change could result from it, because the contracts will be let, and we will be told that the contractors have to get on with it. There does remain the issue of whether a new Prime Minister wishes to reopen the whole question, but assuming that he does not we will need proper answers from Ministers about what action they have taken to control the costs, improve the quality and deal with the safety, and about how much power they will have in future given the commercial nature of the operation.
I am generally very supportive of additional high-speed capacity between London, the north-east, the north-west and Scotland, but I have consistently opposed HS2 and the plans for it because this is not the right way to go about it. It is not a question of whether or not my constituency is affected; I would be happy to see a sensible route through my constituency. I and my hon. Friend Sir William Cash were quite happy to see the very large Norton Bridge junction project in our constituencies, because although it caused quite a lot of disruption, we could see the benefit for the west coast main line—for improving capacity and for increasing speeds to the benefit of everybody. He and I and other colleagues do not see such benefits from HS2 as a whole. However, I personally would like to see a different design and lower maximum speeds—not the 400 km per hour that is projected but something more sensible between 250 km and 300 km per hour. That would allow for a route that is not straight as an arrow, but that has some bends in it that could avoid the villages in my constituency. That kind of route, which would also be more consistent with the kind of trains that we currently have running on the west coast main line, would be infinitely preferable to what we have at the moment. Contrary to my right hon. Friend John Redwood whom I greatly respect on this matter, I do not think that it is too late to think again about some changes that would make this or a similar project more acceptable to my constituents.
I will support new clauses 1 and 2, certainly, and new clause 5. My hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach has already eloquently set out the reasons why we should support new clause 5, and I will certainly do so.
I stress that I do not want to stop my hon. Friend getting a better deal for his constituents; I wish him every success in doing that. I was saying that once the contracts had been signed for this project, he will not be able to get change.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am not a believer in breaking contracts if contracts have been signed and if they do not have get-out clauses. I would strongly recommend that we put in get-out clauses, because there will be massive changes over the coming months and years. I accept, however, that once a decision has been taken by this House, if we are in a minority, we are in a minority and it will go ahead. I am just flagging up some of the problems that may be encountered in the future.
In respect of new clause 1, I welcome the quarterly reports. This is a very sensible approach and it is something that has been lacking. We have had intermittent reports from HS2 to constituency MPs who have been affected. We have had the occasional statement from the Minister—and I welcome the work that the current Minister and indeed previous Ministers have done to keep us informed—but what we have not had is an honest assessment of the cost of this project. We were told originally that it was in the £30 billion to £35 billion range, and then a Minister came forward a few years ago and said that it was going to be about £56 billion, but since then we have had nothing. They have stuck to the figure, and what we are being asked as a House today is to vote on a figure that I simply I do not believe.
The figures I have seen, calculated by experts in the field, indicate that the cost will be in the region of £80 billion. I have heard it might be more, but let us stick at £80 billion. This House is being asked to agree today to a not insignificant part of a project for which we do not have an accurate cost estimate, and which could be as much as £24 billion a year more. I agree that this is a capital rather than a revenue project, but that is two thirds of what we spend on defence every year; that is an enormous sum of money about which we are not being given any indication. If these estimates are wrong, let the Minister come forward and say that they are wrong and prove that they are wrong. Of course estimates are estimates, and we know that we cannot pin them down to the last million or so pounds, but it is possible to try to disprove the credible figures that have been put in the public domain, and so far they have not been disproved.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there could be massive revenue losses once the railway is up and running, because if it turns out that the number of seats provided is greatly in excess of demand, which some people think will be the case, there will be heavy discounts and lots of empty seats, and therefore a very major demand for a taxpayer subsidy?
As so often, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and what has also not been forthcoming is a proper business case. We have had the business case for HS2, but we have not had—I have asked for this time and again—a business case for the remnant west coast main line, which will still be a much larger transport network than HS2. We are told that there will be freight on it, and it is good that there will be additional freight, but freight is a very competitive market and will not replace the extremely lucrative premium revenues that come from high-speed trains.
What we will be left with on the west coast main line, which is absolutely vital for my constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Stone (Sir William Cash) and so many others, is a line which takes freight, which of course is heavy and causes extra maintenance, and with suburban and stopping services such as the London Northwestern Railway. That is an excellent service and I use it frequently, but I often pay £15 or £20 for a single ticket from London to Stafford. I welcome that, but it is not possible to run a proper, profitable railway on income like that. What it relies on of course is the incredibly expensive £106 or £108 single peak fare from Stafford to London—my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield will probably be able to quote the figure from Lichfield. These are the fares that pay for the railway at the moment.
Yes, I do. I think the Pendolino fleet, introduced by a previous Labour Government, has done a great job, and I am therefore very disappointed that Virgin Trains and Stagecoach are not going to be involved in the next phase of this service. In the nine years in which I have had the honour to represent my constituents in this House, I have used that service between two and four times a week, and it has been late a handful of times. It is an excellent and reliable service; others may have had different experiences, but that is my experience over the past nine years.
I am glad to confirm everything my hon. Friend has said, but I am a little puzzled that he left new clause 4 out of the list of amendments on which he was intending to cast a vote. I wonder if he could throw any light on that: is it because of the point that I and others have made about the report coming into effect only after the Act has received Royal Assent, or is it because of something else? Most of the measures in new clause 4(2) would give rise to the business case my hon. Friend is calling for, and with which I agree.
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend and Rachael Maskell said, and in principle I support the proposal, but I also recognise the points made about the fact that a review is needed now rather than in a year’s time or a year after Royal Assent, which of course will not come until a few months after their lordships have considered the Bill.
I say to the Minister, for whom I have great regard, that there should be a proper business case for the west coast main line post the introduction of HS2. Although I do not know the east coast main line or the line out of King’s Cross nearly as well, similar questions about the loss of premium fares might apply to it, although I recognise that the geography and the areas served are slightly different.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point, although I am not convinced that the new clause is the right way forward. He talks about business cases, and my concern is that there are indirect impacts that should also be considered. For example in my constituency, on the midland main line, there will be an impact on the Chesterfield Canal Trust’s attempt to regenerate our area; that has been held up now for nearly six years because we cannot get a guarantee from HS2 that it will not be impacted. Those kinds of costs must also be considered.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I will come on to such matters in a moment. He makes a very important point about the eastern side of the network, which is absolutely vital; we are obviously concentrating today on the west midlands to Crewe line, but we will come to that area later this year or next year.
Finally on this matter, I ask for my point to be seriously taken into account, because at the moment large subsidies are paid into Network Rail by the operators of the west coast main line, and in my view that will no longer be the case after the introduction of HS2.
Turning to other matters, I have serious concerns about the way in which HS2 has handled two or three areas in my constituency. Ingestre Park golf club has given evidence to the Committee and has been listened to by the Committee; however, it has still not reached an agreement with HS2 over what is going to happen. It is seriously concerned about the impact on the club and its employees—is it still going to exist? I ask the Minister to urge HS2 to reach an agreement as soon as possible with the golf club, as it did with Whittington Health golf club in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield under phase 1.
I would also like to raise the village of Hopton, which will be grossly affected by HS2 in the phase we are currently considering. It has constantly asked for more mitigation against the impact of the line, which goes pretty much straight through the village. Because of the impact on Hopton it is the village with possibly the highest proportion of houses that HS2 has had to purchase, certainly in this phase. We are asking for more mitigation. I know that the villagers will attempt to petition their lordships about this, but I ask the Minister to instruct HS2 to be more sympathetic than it has been so far to the needs of the village of Hopton.
The position of Hopton is very similar to that of my own villages, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that there does not seem to be any co-ordination within HS2 itself. On occasions villagers will get advice from engineers or liaison people from HS2 telling them what route HS2 will take, and then only a week later somebody else from HS2 will give a completely different answer. This only exacerbates the worries of constituents.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have had a number of similar cases. In fact I was about to refer to one involving a constituent of mine who does not mind being mentioned: Mr Jim Prenold has a farm that is bisected by HS2 and has been trying to negotiate a proper solution to the problem caused by HS2. After several years—it is now more than six years since the route was initially published—there is still no solution for Mr Prenold and his family. Again, I urge the Minister to instruct HS2 to sort this out. That can be done very easily and quickly, and with good will.
Let me return to a matter that has an impact on costs and is therefore relevant particularly to new clauses 1 and 4: the whole question of the reuse of soil from the line, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is very knowledgeable. HS2 considers that it can reuse on the line something like 80% of the spoil from cuttings and other excavations. If that is the case, I welcome it, because it would cut down the number of lorry and truck movements required to take away the spoil and to bring in the new spoil needed for embankments and other works. But what we understand—this needs to be proven or disproven—is that the percentage of excavated soil that can be reused on the line is in many cases as low as 20% and possibly even less. Hon. Members can do the maths and understand that we are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tonnes of spoil that have to be taken off site because they cannot be used on site, and which then have to be replaced by millions of tonnes of spoil for use on site. That has two major implications: cost, and impact on the transport network in our neck of the woods.
If my hon. Friend Jack Brereton were here, he would refer to junction 15 of the M6, which is already one of the most difficult junctions on the motorway network and needs to be remodelled. The number of truck movements through that junction will increase enormously if the figures about the use of spoil that are built into the provisions of this phase are not correct. The A51/A34 Stone roundabout would also be affected, because it is directly on one of the routes used by vehicles, as would many other parts of my constituency and the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Stone and for Stoke-on-Trent South and the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly).
May I take my hon. Friend back to his remarks about his constituent’s farming problem? When I was on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill Committee, we had some problems like this and representatives of the National Farmers Union gave evidence to the Committee. The NFU is constantly in touch with HS2 Ltd. There are well-known valuation techniques for dealing with all the problems relating to land that may be taken; it is just a question of getting HS2 round to actually doing it. May I suggest that if my hon. Friend’s constituent were to contact the NFU, he might get some action?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. My office has been in touch with the gentleman in question for many years and we are also in touch with the NFU. I agree that there are many cases in which the course of action that my hon. Friend describes has been successful. The NFU has done a great job, as have local land agents and my constituency office. I particularly want to mention my chief of staff, James Cantrell, who has done a fantastic job on this for many constituents over six years. However, there are unfortunately still too many exceptions to the rule. I do not want to do down HS2’s staff, a lot of whom work very hard and try their best to work for my constituents, but they are often frustrated by decisions higher up that do not give them the latitude to make sensible decisions locally on behalf of my constituents.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. On the Committee, we also found that cases tended to get resolved much quicker when a Member of Parliament got involved on behalf of a constituent. I say to the Minister, who I hope is listening, that HS2 should have sufficient staff that it should not be necessary for a Member of Parliament to get involved in every single individual case, whether it involves the taking of a house, a bit of a farm or whatever. Unfortunately, it is all too often necessary for a Member of Parliament to get involved, as my hon. Friend has demonstrated with his examples.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but sadly we have had to get involved in almost every case, and some cases have taken far too long to resolve partly because of the lack of delegation.
Only a few days ago the Stone Railhead Crisis Group, which represents the interests of my constituents around Stone, met the regional director of Highways England and discovered that there are some very serious problems for Highways England at both Hanchurch and the proposed HS2 junction at Yarnfield Lane that really require re-evaluation, which I intend to go into a bit on Third Reading. Is my hon. Friend aware of those conversations and the fact that Highways England is in fact very concerned indeed about the situation?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I did in fact refer to junction 15, which is also known as the Hanchurch junction. It is actually a series of junctions that are critical to the national road network, not just the local road network. Junction 15 is one of the most difficult and congested junctions on the motorway network because of the topography of the area, and it finds it difficult to handle the current amount of traffic, let alone the vastly increased amount that there will be under phase 2a of HS2.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know that I am not a controversial person. Far be it from me for one moment to cause any internecine warfare between my two great friends on the Back Benches, my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), but I am afraid that I am going to have to take the side of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford on the case of the NFU. I have been involved both with phase 1 and phase 2a. My staff and I personally have been involved in trying to get people to meet HS2 and to have meetings with the NFU and HS2; it just does not often happen. HS2 has seen a huge turnover of staff, including managing directors and chairmen, so trying to get any form of co-ordination between one lot of HS2 people and another lot—let alone their meeting at the NFU locally—is often impossible. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Sadly, I have to agree that what my hon. Friend says is sometimes the case, but I would hope that with the Minister’s intervention—she has been kind to intervene in a number of cases—matters will speed up.
Given that the Chair of High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Committee, my hon. Friend James Duddridge, is in the House, let me just say that it has been remarkable how some matters have been settled just when they were about to go to his Committee. It is therefore a matter not just of an MP getting involved, but sometimes of an issue actually coming before the Committee. That should not be the case. Common sense should prevail; getting common-sense matters put in place should not depend on pressure from a Member of Parliament or the Committee.
I am most grateful for the forbearance of hon. Members, but there are several very important matters that the House needs to be aware of and which I have tried to summarise. The first is the overall cost, about which we need the Government and HS2 to be honest with the House. The second is the question of the use and reuse of the spoil from the railway, another matter about which HS2 needs to be frank and honest with the House because of the consequences for the transport network and costs. The third is a plea that HS2 is open and transparent with all those affected, that it deals with things on the spot and that it delegates authority to its staff on the ground so that decisions can be made without the great distress that has been caused to so many of my constituents.
I have never voted for any motion relating to HS2 in the House, over many years, and that will be my consistent position today. That is why I will not even be voting for any of the amendments or for the Bill in due course. I cannot condone any expenditure in relation to this project, and I do not believe that the further reviews and reports proposed in new clauses 1 and 4 will do anything other than reinforce my view and that of so many of my constituents that the business case for HS2 has simply not been made.
It is a hugely expensive project. It will not proportionately benefit my constituents, who time and again say to me that the huge amount of money involved would be much better spent on improving local transport services, whether it is the cycleways; the bus services, which have been reduced and need reinstating, particularly for the elderly; a bypass for Holmes Chapel; or better facilities at Sandbach station.
I need hardly mention the catalogue of concerns about local rail services that have been brought to my attention. I held a surgery a little while ago at Congleton railway station, and almost 40 constituents turned up to express their concerns about local rail services. They want to see better local rail services. That is a particular concern. If money is going to be invested in some form of Crewe hub, that will simply not be of benefit to my constituents unless there are appropriate local rail services fanning out from Crewe to Alsager, Congleton, Sandbach and Middlewich. That assessment needs to be done. I find myself in agreement with Yvette Cooper, who said that we need an assessment of the benefit of these proposals to local towns, not just cities. That is what my constituents have been saying for many years—what is the benefit to them?
I am entirely in agreement with many of the comments made by my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy, in particular regarding the current west coast main line. We need a proper business case for what will happen post-HS2 for the west coast main line. I use it every week, and I know that I am not alone among my constituents in thinking that the service currently supplied by Virgin is perfectly satisfactory. My constituents cannot understand why there is a need for them to contribute to the huge expense of HS2, particularly as only a tiny proportion of them are likely to use it.
My hon. Friend will know that the Government argue, as indeed does the Labour party, that the reason for HS2 is to relieve the congestion on the west coast main line. Is she aware that double-tracking from just north of Rugby down to Euston, where two extra platforms are being prepared anyway, would resolve that problem?
My constituents have often argued that solutions can be put forward using the west coast main line as it stands and that it should not be necessary to have the additional infrastructure that HS2 necessitates.
Moreover, there is real concern about the high—possibly too high—ticket prices that HS2 is likely to incur, when many rail charges are already very expensive for those who want to travel down to London. Speaking of London, many of my constituents are concerned that all this will do is draw business down to London. For a constituency like mine, which will not have a direct connection with HS2, there will still need to be local connections, whether it is from Crewe or coming up from Birmingham or down from Manchester. There is no confidence that HS2 will attract business to our area. There are many other reasons why business would be attracted to my part of Cheshire. It is a wonderful place to live—it is very attractive, with great schools and a good quality of life—but there is no confidence that the huge expenditure of HS2 will lead to increased business in our area. A proper business case has never been made for this.
Unlike my hon. Friend, I have in the past supported measures related to HS2, but this evening I shall no longer be doing so, because the escalating cost estimates and the lack of apparent accountability for those increases is now quite frankly ridiculous. Does she agree that a fraction of this amount could be much better spent on improving connectivity within the north of England, rather than wasted on this vanity train set?
That is exactly the point that I am seeking to make. I agree. It is very interesting that the Lords Economic Affairs Committee found evidence that the costs of HS2 appear to be out of control. That does not inspire confidence in my constituents. If there is going to be improved connectivity outside our constituency, many of them would prefer to see it across from Manchester towards Leeds and Yorkshire, rather than further connectivity down to London, which they already think is quite satisfactory for their purposes.
The case for speed has never been made. People work on the train and, because my constituents will have to make a connection—whether it is from Crewe or elsewhere—they are not convinced that the slim time saving justifies the expenditure that will be incurred. If the aim of the project is to narrow the gap between the north and London, the investment needs to be in the north.
I accept that Governments need to balance the books—they cannot spend the same pound twice. Quite a few times in this debate, we have heard northern MPs call for the money to be shifted across, but when has the same been done in London? When does London have to choose between good infrastructure and capital investment on the one hand, and affordable, efficient transport at a local level on the other? London does not have to choose. Why should we?
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford referred to the series of junctions on the M6. Junction 17 of the M6 at Sandbach in my constituency needs improvement to take the additional traffic that is increasingly burdening it, particularly because of the additional house building. It is one of the few junctions in the country without a roundabout serving it. Each morning, we see huge pressure, in particular from those commuting from Sandbach to Manchester and elsewhere. It is highly unsatisfactory and another priority that needs to be looked at—in my constituents’ view, looked at in preference to the proposed investment in HS2.
There is going to be an impact in my constituency, because while HS2 does not pass through it, it passes within yards of it. It will pass through Stanthorne and the Bostock Hall estate, literally within yards of Middlewich. Many of my constituents will be impacted—the quality of their lives will be impacted—by this without any compensation being available to them.
The hon. Lady is making a compelling case. As a London MP, I want to point out that people on Wells House Road in my seat, which HS2 will pass through, do not welcome this development at all. They are already living on a building site seven days a week, and that will carry on for 10 years. The streets are not paved with gold, and even in London, people do not want this.
I fully empathise.
Of course, there are also environmental concerns. New clause 1 proposes a review of those concerns, but they are self-evident. The Wildlife Trusts says that hundreds of special wildlife habitats are under threat from HS2, including ancient woodlands, lakes, meadows and other important habitats. We do not need an assessment to tell us that—it is obvious.
Does my hon. Friend not find it extraordinary that the original proposal by Arup for HS2 was that it should travel parallel to the M40 on an existing transport corridor that would have connected with Heathrow and the channel tunnel, but the Labour Lord, Lord Adonis, changed it to an incredibly environmentally damaging route?
It will do so much damage at a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of how important it is to address issues such as environmental protection and climate change.
My constituents are frustrated that HS2 will effectively terminate at Euston. So many of them would prefer not to fly to the continent from Manchester airport, but to take a train, but it would be impractical to have to trundle heavy suitcases across London.
We started with a cost of £35 billion and the latest figure is in the region of £56 billion. No one believes that the costs will not escalate, and there are now credible reports of up to £80 billion. Those are still only estimates, and that is unacceptable. My constituents do not see HS2 as a value for money enterprise.
In the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said:
“Commuter services in the north of England are badly overcrowded and reliant on ageing trains. Rail connections between northern cities are poor”— and between northern towns—
“rail infrastructure in the north should be the Government’s priority for investment, rather than improving north-south links which are already good. The north is being short-changed by the Government’s present plans, especially as construction on HS2 is starting in the south. Any overcrowding relief from HS2 will mainly benefit London commuters.”
If we are to have any assessments, reviews or reports, we need to look at how we can ensure a fair and proportionate benefit to constituents such as mine from an investment of this size.
I am happy to support the new clauses as they make a lot of sense in terms of accountability, evaluation and transparency, as well as ensuring constant review of a project as massive as HS2. It is also important to acknowledge the scandalous inequality of investment in the north of England that has been the case under successive Governments.
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, deserves some credit for the concept of the northern powerhouse and the whole principle of devolving maximum power, but that has to be accompanied by resources. Since the change of Prime Minister and because it was the former Chancellor’s project, the Government have taken their eye off the ball when it comes to devolution and the northern powerhouse, and it is even less a central component of the Government’s agenda than it was in the past. So I will actually say that the Conservative Government did more in terms of devolution in principle in England than previous Labour Governments had done, but it was not accompanied by investment and, since the change of Prime Minister, that agenda has been sidelined.
I should say that I think Labour has a good track record on devolution and devolving power. Does my hon. Friend accept that the concept of the northern powerhouse is like the concept of a cake without the ingredients?
I know exactly what my hon. Friend is saying, although I do not watch “The Great British Bake Off” regularly. He is right and he was in the vanguard as one of the local government leaders in Greater Manchester who were the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in looking at the potential of devolution to transform the communities that he now represents in this place. He demonstrated that local leadership in that capacity could make a transformational difference and I pay tribute to him for that.
My hon. Friend also articulated, more than most, the risks of the northern powerhouse model that was presented, in terms of the lack of resources and investment, and the failure to transfer adequate powers. He is right that the Labour Government did some good things on devolution. I remember attending seminar after seminar at No.10 Downing Street about how to improve buses outside London. Every time we were asked the question and at every opportunity we said, “Reregulation and integration”, but that was refused by the then Government. While it is true that many good things were done, that Government were reluctant to devolve in the way that they should have done.
Hon. Members have expressed concerns about the specific nature of HS2, but it is sad that we do not hear enough from them about the centrality of rebalancing the economy if we are to achieve our potential on a long-term basis. Whether we are for or against Brexit, that is a fact. If we continue to ensure that swathes of this country are not supported to fulfil their potential through investment, we are not only damaging those communities and preventing individuals from having the opportunities and life chances that others have, we are damaging UK plc by failing to see that it has a massive dampening effect on our productivity, our competitiveness and our capacity for innovation.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House and representing all areas of the country should acknowledge that this issue is about the national interest. It is not just about the interests of the north of England, although we are here to represent and articulate those interests, but about the long-term interests of the country. Our constituents have been short-changed for far too long in terms of the share of the cake that is available to be distributed under any Government.
I say gently to one or two Conservative Members that Lord Adonis has not been a Transport Minister for about nine years, so Conservative Ministers have had opportunities to make one or two amendments to the scheme if they are uncomfortable with it. I wonder whether their concerns about Lord Adonis have something to do with other factors than his tweaking of the route—
I am bemused by the hon. Gentleman’s talk of one or two amendments and tweaking. Does he not think it is more than a tweak when the railway line was originally proposed to use an existing transport corridor up the M40 and then suddenly was changed with a ruler to go straight through the most virgin of countryside? That was more than a tweak.
I have been following instructions from you for 20 years, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will continue to do so in this debate. The hon. Gentleman used his usual colourful language, but my point was that for nine years Lord Adonis has been nowhere near this scheme or the Department for Transport. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely feels that a massive mistake was made, Lord Adonis’s successors have had plenty of opportunities to address those concerns.
I want to put on the record that I believe that in the last nine years our Transport Ministers have taken a lot of cognisance of the needs of northern constituencies. My own constituency has funding for bypasses in Congleton and in Middlewich. Ministers are also looking favourably on reinstating Middlewich railway station. It is not as though our Ministers have not taken note of our requirements: it is simply that we feel that the HS2 project could provide better value for money if spent differently.
I respect the hon. Lady’s views on some of those issues in the context of the debate, but I have to say assertively to her that, in the context of austerity, those at the bottom of the pile have suffered more than everyone else. When we look at the impact of austerity on the country and on communities, we see that many northern communities were starting at an incredibly low base. The impact of austerity, therefore, is not simply that we have not been able to catch up; the inequality and disparity in terms of the investment in skills, jobs, infrastructure and public services have actually made the situation far worse. That combination of austerity and the low base of investment, which has been an historical reality under successive Governments, is having a devastating effect on many northern communities.
The hon. Lady therefore really cannot afford to be complacent; she may have had some funding for a bypass in her constituency, but the reality in many of our constituencies in the north of England is that this has been an incredibly challenging and difficult period. If any business had 50% reductions to its budget in a four or five-year period, it would go bankrupt; that is what is happening to many local authorities in the north of England, and especially in Greater Manchester.
I want to come on specifically to the new clause on the non-disclosure agreements tabled by Antoinette Sandbach. My view, having come reasonably late to this topic, is that what we have seen in terms of non-disclosure agreements in the context of HS2 is nothing short of a public scandal. Essentially, many of these agreements have been used to silence people inside that organisation who are concerned that Parliament has been misled on a regular basis about financial information. Let us be clear: people have been given redundancy from HS2 because, internally, they have articulated concerns about misleading information that has been presented to this House in terms of finance and capacity.
Ministers have a responsibility to disinfect this issue. They should now make it clear that, where former members of staff were subject to non-disclosure clauses and paid redundancy simply because they felt Parliament was being misled, those individuals should be released from those non-disclosure responsibilities and should be able to share their views with Parliament and to put them in the public domain. It is totally hypocritical to talk, quite rightly, about the outrage of the Labour party imposing non-disclosure agreements on its staff, but then for Ministers not to release members of staff in HS2 from such requirements.
I would like to reveal to the House today that a consultants’ report costing at least £1 million was commissioned from a well-known consultant, which did not say what HS2 wanted it to say. That report was more or less shredded; it was certainly never put in the public domain or shared with Parliament.
We know that the costs have escalated time and time again and that some people in the organisation have alerted the HS2 board and other senior executives to the difficulties. I am not saying that HS2 should be scrapped, but for parliamentarians to make a rational, proper judgment on its viability, desirability and achievability, we have to have full possession of the facts. There is absolutely no question but that Ministers have not always been given full information by HS2. As a consequence, Select Committees and the House itself have not been given the full information that we and the public are entitled to in any debate about the desirability of this scheme.
If a Government had decided to offer all the northern councils involved their proportion of the original budget for HS2 as capital spend, to spend as they saw fit, does the hon. Gentleman think they would have spent it together on the railway or on something else?
I say genuinely to the right hon. Gentleman that that is a false choice. In Greater Manchester, thanks to changes the Government have made, we are seeking finally to have the capacity to reintegrate, re-coordinate and, where appropriate, re-regulate our buses. However, the level of subsidy per commuter in Greater Manchester, compared with London, is frankly shocking in terms of the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s capacity to radically improve bus services across the conurbation. I genuinely say to the right hon. Gentleman—this is not a party political point—
Order. We are straying way off. We are not about bus services. We are not about subsidies. I am sure the Member for Bury South will not be tempted. That is what Members are trying to do: they are trying to tempt him into a debate that we are not having at this stage.
I entirely accept what you say, Mr Deputy Speaker. I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that he was talking about a genuinely false choice, and we should not go down the road of such false choices.
I am agnostic about HS2. The reason I have become agnostic is that I am absolutely convinced that Members of this House and people in this country are not being given full, appropriate and adequate information on cost and capacity, both of which are central to whether this project, compared with other projects, should go ahead and whether it can be delivered in budget and on time, in the way that Ministers have suggested.
I want to conclude by saying this to the Minister. It really is time for Ministers to insist that there is maximum transparency and maximum disclosure of information in terms of the amounts paid and the number of non-disclosure and similar agreements issued. Ministers also need to go further and instruct HS2 to ensure that people are released from these non-disclosure responsibilities where it is clearly in the public interest to do so. It is most definitely in the public interest to do so when senior members of staff were made redundant simply because they articulated concerns within the organisation that false financial information was being put in the public domain, which is not in the public interest. In those circumstances, Ministers have a duty and the right to instruct HS2 to release people from their obligations. For us to make considered and measured judgments about the future of the scheme, we need all the facts in the public domain, as do the people of this country.
I rise to support the HS2 rail development and to support the Government ahead of the votes this evening. The name HS2, as many have said, is somewhat misleading, because the project is clearly more about capacity. The greatest gain will be in terms of capacity and therefore improved resilience, allowing us to connect the north to the south and, I hope, the east to the west.
As it is Monday, I feel particularly able to talk about rail, because I have just enjoyed my twice a week, five and a half hour commute. I travel from Bootle village to Barrow, and change. Then, I move from Barrow to Lancaster, and change. Then, I move from Lancaster to Crewe, and it was lovely to hear Laura Smith talk about her constituency, because I enjoyed a most memorable 25 minutes on platform 5, before moving again, from Crewe to London Euston. That is a journey I may twice a week—a round trip of 11 hours.
I can see for myself how vulnerable the infrastructure is and how one train being delayed impacts, with cancelled trains, thousands of inconvenienced commuters, thousands of pounds in compensation claims and, most importantly, lost confidence. That is at a time when the ability to travel by public transport is so vital if we are to decarbonise our transport systems and try to hit that 2050 target.
The Minister for HS2 rightly argues that it is critical to unlocking Northern Powerhouse Rail by providing the foundations on which Northern Powerhouse Rail can be realised. It is also planned that HS2 will link over 25 towns and cities, from Scotland through to the south-east, joining up nearly half the UK. It is important to recognise that the funding for HS2 does not come at the expense of wider investment in the railways; it is not either/or—from my perspective in the north of England, it is in addition. That is about the investment in the Cumbrian coastal railway, but I also welcome the fact that the Government are investing billions of pounds across our railways between 2019 and 2024—the most significant such investment since Victorian times.
Just last week, we celebrated the confirmation of an £8 million investment in the preliminary works on the Cumbrian coast line. Living on the train line as I do, I see from my living room window the increase in services. There are 21 trains on a Sunday, which is a first between Whitehaven and Millom. Never before have we had trains on Sundays. It has made a huge improvement to our tourist economy. We now have 205 services between Whitehaven and Millom. After the tricky situation with the timetable change in May 2018, we have seen huge improvements in reliability on our line —now up to 93.5% reliability. Since the new timetable was introduced last year, the extra services have been running at record reliability, thanks to the intervention of the Department for Transport. That is great news for commuters.
We have seen an end to the very unreliable Class 37 locomotive. I am pleased it has been relegated to the scrapheap—or possibly the museum. We are also seeing an end to the very uncomfortable Pacer trains, or “nodding donkeys” as they are more commonly known in my area. As long as that investment continues locally, with the recently announced millions of pounds to develop preliminary works on the Cumbrian coast line to improve the rolling stock and to ensure that a reliable service connects people to places seven days a week, then I welcome the additional infrastructure investment that the Government propose with HS2 and, critically, Northern Powerhouse Rail. We have in the past referred to HS3 as a follow-on from HS2, but that northern connection is now termed Northern Powerhouse Rail, with a focus on connectivity from east to west from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester.
New clause 1 refers to quarterly reports on environmental impact, costs and progress. However, the environmental statement, at 11,000 pages, is already incredibly extensive, so I do not believe we need another layer of reporting on a statement that is already out there. The environmental statement has been scrutinised independently and by the Select Committee, which has made its own decisions. It is important to recognise that not all scrutiny must take place in public. Ministers can maintain pressure through a co-operative, sensible, business-like environment, rather than having to shame a contractor on the Floor of the House for the sake of political point scoring.
Surely, the point of scrutiny is not political point scoring, but accountability for the billions of pounds for this project. We are not yet entirely sure about the total amount. Surely, that is the point of accountability, rather than political point scoring?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I refer him to the 11,000 pages of the environmental statement. We need less pen pushing and paper shuffling, and more progress and more connecting people to places.
We already have compensation schemes in abundance. A plethora of schemes are available: in a safeguarded area, the express purchase scheme and the need to sell scheme; in a rural support zone, we have the cash offer, voluntary purchase schemes and the need to sell scheme; and in the homeowner payment zone, we have the homeowner payment scheme and the need to sell scheme. Outside the zones, we also have the need to sell scheme. How many layers of payment schemes do we really need? Surely, we can recognise that the current compensation packages are sufficient for those affected by the project?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the complexity of the compensation schemes, and no compensation scheme is perfect, but in my part of the world, which is in phase 2b, there are problems with the compensation scheme in the town of Staveley because it does not adequately reflect what is happening on the ground. We have to accept that there are many issues on the ground. There are tenants who are renting from their parents. There are people in trusts to support their elderly parents living there. I hope that the Government will consider those kinds of nuances, on an ad hoc and case-by-case basis, in a way that I have not seen so far.
I do not have HS2 or, indeed, any significant infrastructure projects in my constituency, but I look forward to doing so. In my constituency, we are looking forward to the Moorside development, which will have similar kinds of inconvenience and unintended consequences. I served the Minister in the past. I am confident that she will work with Members across the House and that, where there are issues, she will work with communities.
The independent peer review is another raft of bureaucracy and scrutiny that has been more than adequately covered by this House, its Committees and the Government. The four points addressed—environmental impact, economic impact, engineering and governance—have been reviewed time and again over the past five years. It is time we got on with this project and recognised that this country is crying out for greater north-south capacity.
I am very interested in the point my hon. Friend is making. Can she tell the House why, if the reviews she mentions have taken place, the costs of this project have escalated by many billions of pounds?
Any large-scale project, particularly a first like HS2, will see unintended costs, resulting in an increased budget. “You don’t make an omelette without smashing some eggs,” is a common phrase in my Copeland constituency. Regardless of that increase, for every £1 spent on HS2, £2 will still go back into the economy.
The north-south and east-west divides have for far too long separated our nation and stifled our economy. I am not interested in even more bureaucracy. This is about connecting people and places. That is why I will support the Government this evening, and look forward to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail being delivered.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I have listened carefully to the arguments. Rachael Maskell might be interested to know that I was actually minded to support her new clauses until she spoke. Her new clauses would have no consequences: they would just lay a report and nothing would happen.
I have gone on a journey on this issue. I voted for the project when I was in Cabinet, and I have become more and more sceptical about it. At one stage I thought it might just die, because the finances were becoming less and less sensible. Now, however, I have real concerns. There are problems with it in my own constituency and nationally. I would have supported new clause 1 on assessing environmental impact, costs, progress on the timetable and economic impact, but I realise that all that would happen is that a report would be laid and there would be no consequences.
In an earlier intervention—I am not sure whether you were here, Mr Deputy Speaker—I raised the issue of the route. My hon. Friend Michael Fabricant pointed out several times in interventions that originally the route was going to follow an existing corridor up the M40, but is now going to smash through virgin countryside and cause huge damage at vast cost. One thing I have in common with my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison—it is a great pleasure to follow her—is that we both went to platform 5 at Crewe this morning and changed trains. I moved on to platform 11. I do that every week, twice a week. I raised this point in an intervention: my constituents want to go direct to Heathrow. I am sure Old Oak Common has many attractions and is a lovely place with charming people and wonderful things to do, but my constituents do not want to go to Old Oak Common. They want to go direct to Heathrow or direct to HS1.
Order. That is for me to judge. I have been very lenient to Members on both sides throughout the debate. To try to stop these remarks at this late stage would be a bit unjust. I have tried to stop Members being tempted, but everybody is trying to build on the debate that took us out of scope, and I recognise that at times, we have gone out of scope. We have been in this area once already and it would be remiss of me not—
I totally get that point, but one cannot get from Crewe to the end destinations in phase 1 without getting this part of the project done, and the point is that Labour’s amendments do not allow any action. If the hon. Lady compelled the Government to do something, I might be minded to support that, but as I said, I have become increasingly disillusioned by the cost and the damage to my own patch.
The first I knew about the damage to my constituency was when a notice went up in the village of Woore, which the hon. Lady is probably not aware of, in the most extreme north-eastern corner of Shropshire. It is a salient that sticks out to the east between the counties of Cheshire and Staffordshire. Woore is a village of 1,200 people, with a nursery and a primary school of about 60. People walk every day to school and to work. In parts of the main road through the village, there is no footpath and some of my constituents have to cross the road three times, so the situation caused major consternation.
We have had a significant number of meetings with HS2, and I pay credit to the HS2 officials who have been assiduous in coming to meetings and providing information. We have looked at a whole range of alternatives to what could happen. It seems perverse that the original plan to move 600 vehicles a day through the village has come down to 300 by simply doubling the time—it was going to be 600 for three months and now it is 300 a day for six months. They are doing that because they are going to travel three sides of a rectangle. Every alternative that we have looked at has been turned down, and that is why I do not support these amendments. It is the sort of issue that the hon. Lady’s amendments could have flushed out, and there could have been concrete action.
I am going to come to that in a minute. I am wholly amazed by the revelations from my neighbour, my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach, and I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that, because I was really shocked by what my hon. Friend said. Given my experience of having a series of meetings with HS2 officials, all of which have been—at face value—thoroughly satisfactory and an open exchange of views, but have got absolutely nowhere, it now appears that there might some other reasons why that is. Given what she is saying, I cannot find out why, so if she presses her amendment, which I very much hope she does, I would like to hear from the Minister whether the Government will accept it. If they do not, I will be very happy to vote in favour of it. My hon. Friend has flushed out a most serious issue.
I absolutely accept the constituency issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises, and the poor consultation cannot be excused, but he must accept that with a route and project of this scale, the minor changes that are made in one part of it will have a massive impact if that is held across the whole route, and that has an impact on the budget and the timescale. Whether he supports the project or not, he must accept at some point that it is either time to back it or scrap it. There is this idea that we can keep throwing on hundreds of small, different issues and take that as a measure of the project, but that is just not a way forward. This is a major project for this country and it should be debated in that way.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interventions. He has been busy making these points throughout the debate and I understand that he is fully in favour of the project. I began my working life by spending 25 years on Merseyside. I am fully aware of the need for transport connections for the north, particularly including west to east across the north of England. I began wholly in favour of this broad idea, but the more I look at it, the more worried I become.
Let me finish my points on my local issue in the village of Woore. We cannot just dismiss these as tiresome little irritations in a huge juggernaut of a project. These are real people: 1,200 people live in Woore and they will have 300 trucks a day going through a village where, in some places, there is no footpath. In schedule 1, on page 48, Members can see some proposals on mitigations, such as a “realignment of the A525” in a few places. These are just passing places. They in no way satisfy my constituents with regard to what they are looking for and are not good enough at all.
Will the Minister, who is beginning to get her notes together, comment on the proposals from Woore Parish Council that section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 should be invoked? As I understand it, under that section, the unitary council’s—in my case—permission is required if there are heavy vehicle movements exceeding 24 a day. In Woore, we were faced with the horror of 600 movements. As a result of stretching out the length of the project, we are now looking at 300 a day, so we are massively over the threshold. I would like to know what would happen if Shropshire Council did not give permission as required under section 17 of that Act. Where would these trucks go? As I said, they are already taking a perverse route, over three sides of a quadrangle, to go from Baldwins Gate to Madeley.
I want to pick up some points that, again, could have been flushed out if the amendment had been properly drafted. Let me look at the economic impact. My worry about this project is that this is actually Victorian technology. Large steel boxes rolling around on steel wheels on steel tracks is not modern technology. [Interruption.] My neighbour, Laura Smith, is laughing at that. We are looking at the most expensive railway ever imagined. The original proposals were set in 2010 and the projected cost was £32.6 billion. That is now up to over £60 billion. Some estimates are talking about £80 billion, while others suggest £100 million. Let us compare that with what we could do on broadband, where we are miles behind other countries. We have only 4% full fibre connections at the moment. Spain has 71% and Portugal has 89%.
That is a perfectly fair point, but there is no money tree. There is a limited amount of private and public money. I put to the hon. Lady that her constituents and mine have suffered for generations from the innate disadvantage of living in a remote rural area, 200 miles from London. With this new broadband technology, they can suddenly be level pegging with someone in the middle of Manchester or the middle of London. They can be just as competitive when talking to a customer in Ulan Bator or San Francisco. We are all absolutely level, but we have to have broadband. A spokesman from Openreach, picking up on the comments of my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, said last week that
“building full fibre technology to the whole of the UK isn’t quick or easy. It requires £30 billion and a physical build to more than 30m front doors, from suburban terraces to remote crofts.”
Think of the benefit to our constituents if we had full fibre for £30 billion, which was the original estimate for HS2. This project is getting out of control.
People call this project an investment. Now, one aims to get a return on an investment. If we wanted a very modest 3% real on this £55 billion slug of capital, it should be generating profits of £2.75 billion every year. I do not think it will make a single penny. The case for investment has not been made.
I agree. There were questions at its original cost of £32 billion. We are now at £55 billion and looking at £100 billion. We know categorically that we would massively improve the productivity of every single human being in this country if we had full fibre broadband.
I am not prepared to vote for the Labour party amendments. I thought they were good when I first skimmed through them, but they place no consequential requirements on the Government. If the Government do not support my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury’s amendment, I will vote for it, if she presses it. I am also minded to change my opinion of the whole project, mindful that my constituents have not been given satisfaction and mindful that their lives will be turned upside down for a long period by this project, and to vote against the Bill on Third Reading unless I hear otherwise from the Minister.
It has been a pleasure to hear so many passionate speeches about the power of transport to transform the outcomes of our constituencies and our country. Even though there have been some strong speeches from Members who have HS2 running through their patches—obviously they defend their patches and constituents—we have heard too about the transformative nature of HS2.
There is no denying that HS2 is a large infrastructure project—it is the largest of its kind in Europe—but it is also absolutely key as it links up eight of our 10 great cities. It will be transformative not only because it will increase capacity and reduce the time it takes to reach eight of our top 10 cities, but because, along the way, it will smash the north-south divide, creating jobs and opportunities for people in the midlands and the north.
I need to respond to quite a few Members and go through each of the new clauses, so I will be as swift as I can. I thank the shadow Minister for her comments supporting the project as a whole and her recognition of the number of jobs that will be created along the route and in the supply chain. At the peak, there will be 30,000 jobs, most of them outside London. I also welcome the comments about the urgent need to get on and deliver this vital infrastructure project and about how it is about not just speed but capacity.
I could talk about my passion for the project, but I thought it might be relevant, considering that we are sitting here in the middle of London talking about those who are supportive of HS2 and those who are critical of it, if I mentioned voices that do not often get mentioned in the Chamber. The Birmingham chamber of commerce has said:
“HS2 is a game changer for our region as Birmingham will proudly sit at the centre of a brand new network”.
“HS2 will be transformational for Leeds and the region”.
Leader of Derby City Council, Chris Poulter, said:
“Whist I’m aware that there have been some concerns about the impact of HS2;
we mustn’t lose sight of the benefits to Derby, and the wider Midlands area.”
There was also a fantastic article put together by the leaders of Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle and the Mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool city region. These people represent 15.4 million people, and they say there is no realistic alternative to the delivery of HS2, which we know is key to delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail as well. I am concerned that sometimes the criticism comes from so far south. We should focus on the needs and aspirations of people in the midlands and the north.
I am probably as much from the north as Andy Burnham—I am from Greater Manchester—and I am critical of HS2 today. Although my constituents are unaffected, they are none the less aware of the scale of the increase in the expenditure and would consider it a waste of money as much as any Member from the south.
The people I mentioned have all made it very clear that they do not think it is a waste of money. I can confirm for my hon. Friend and others that there is only one budget for HS2, and it is £55.7 billion. The bit we are talking about today, phase 2a, is £3.5 billion. The benefit-cost ratio is £2.30 for every £1 spent. There will always be people—we have heard some today—who will never support the project because of its impact in their constituencies, but we must not deny the positive impact it will have on the whole of our country.
I want to take a moment to refer to some of the contributions to the debate before I get to the new clauses. I know that hon. Members will be listening very closely to the words I use. My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy has been an incredibly passionate advocate for his constituency. I wanted to mention his staff member who has spent years dealing with constituent complaints, but I forgot his name.
I want to put on the record my thanks to James for doing such fantastic work. My hon. Friend raised an important point. It should not be up to Members and their staff to continually liaise between HS2 and their constituents. It is HS2’s job to ensure that the community engagement is appropriate and done with humility and that cases are dealt with swiftly.
My hon. Friend once again challenged the budget. As I said, it is £55.7 billion. It is the job not only of the Department but of the chairman and the CEO to keep budgets tight. He also talked about spoil and its impact on traffic in his constituency. It is expected that 92% of excavated material generated by phase 2A will be used across the HS2 route and that 4% will be directed to local placement along the route. I am more than happy to meet him again to go through his issues and will make sure that Highways England is in the room as well. He mentioned three cases—the golf club, Hopton and Hanchurch. I have an update on all three and am more than happy to put them in writing to save time on the Floor of the House. If he wishes to meet, I can also provide him with an update then, but progress is being made. I understand from my notes that they are more or less satisfied with the arrangements made with HS2.
I welcome the support of my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison. I agree about the transformative nature of public transport and its impact on national prosperity, which is why we are making such a significant investment in our railways. I remind her, because I know it is incredibly important to Copeland, that there will be more than £2.9 billion of trans-Pennine rail upgrades—the single biggest project commitment in control period 6.
My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce asked repeatedly what HS2 would do for her constituency. At its peak, there will be more than 300,000 people travelling daily on this line. It will connect eight of our top 10 cities. Two technical colleges are already in place to make sure that our youngsters and older people who want to reskill have a job for life. It will connect our country. I completely understand, as a constituency Member, how Members should and must fight for the best deal for their constituents, but this will be a transformative project. All the cases raised today by Members on both sides of the House of where HS2 Ltd is not acting as swiftly as it could be have been put on the record, and I will do my best to take forward any cases that remain undealt with.
I hesitate to respond to my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant in case he makes a passionate intervention, but I cannot see him in the Chamber. No doubt he will come back in. I thank Laura Smith for her support for the Bill. She referred to businesses. There are 2,000 businesses already involved on the line and 9,000 people working on the line, and 98% of the businesses involved in HS2 are small and medium-sized enterprises.[This section has been corrected on
Yvette Cooper spoke about investment in the north. I was lucky enough to be in the Chamber earlier with the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, and I can confirm that we are investing more than £40 billion in our existing network. Network Rail estimates that about 100 cities and towns could benefit from new or improved rail connections as a result of HS2. As some of the passionate speakers have noted today, it is not an either/or project; we need HS2 as well as continued investment in our rail and road network.
I do not see my hon. Friend Sir William Cash in the Chamber, so I will move on. As I am running out of time, I will now deal with the new clauses. I welcomed what Rachael Maskell said about new clause 1, but I do not recognise the need for quarterly reporting. I think that once I have explained why, she will agree with me.
Let me first say something about the environment. The project is already bound not to exceed the likely significant environmental effects that were assessed and reported to Parliament. The environmental statement clearly sets out our approach to the monitoring, reporting and mitigation of environmental impacts during the construction of the phase 2a scheme, and follows industry best practice. Most important, the monitoring and reporting of individual environmental impacts must be tailored to the impacts in question. During phase 1 we are already publishing monthly and annual reports setting out compliance with air quality and dust commitments, and similar monthly reports on noise and vibration impacts are published.
Subject to Royal Assent, local environmental and management plans will be developed for each local authority along the phase 2a route. They will explain how the scheme will adapt to and deliver the required environmental and community protection measures in each local authority area. If we make a decision here today, we will tie the hands of local authorities, which will not be able to engage in important discussions. We should not, here in London, impose something separate and arbitrary that may not be locally appropriate. When authorities have those conversations with HS2 Ltd, they can make arrangements to receive monthly reports.
Contractors working for HS2 Ltd will be required to comply with the measures in the local environmental management plans in order to meet the environmental minimum requirements. HS2 Ltd will also consult statutory agencies and independent experts, such as the HS2 ecological review group, which will advise on the monitoring regime and report impacts on ecology and biodiversity. The hon. Lady said a lot about the need for local engagement, local empowerment and monthly reports. All that can and will take place if we allow it to happen, as it has in relation to other parts of the line. She may not have been aware that that was happening, but I think she will agree that if we accept her new clause we will not only increase costs, but create an unintended consequence whereby local authorities will lose their monthly reporting.
New clause 2 proposes a compensation scheme for tenants. We discussed that in the Public Bill Committee on
Most types of tenancy are already provided for under existing compensation, if they are impacted by the scheme. When they are not, the Government can use their flexible, non-statutory compensation arrangements to provide support where appropriate in a typical case, which is the category into which most of these cases will fall. The amount of compensation payable is set by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It applies to all Government-led infrastructure projects, and not just to HS2. Those arrangements have been debated, agreed and set by Parliament, together with a vast body of case law on the subject.
The hon. Lady may not be aware that HS2 Ltd has published a useful information note—“C15: guide to compensation for short term residential tenants”—which covers atypical cases. I am more than happy to sit down with her and explain it. I am also more than happy to ensure that, if necessary, the position is communicated to local community engagement forums as effectively as possible. I have previously hosted events in the House to enable Members on both sides of the House to manage particular scenarios with their constituents.
Can the Minister assure me that the property registers and the holdings of properties will be accurate? I was recently given two lists of properties in my constituency that had been bought by HS2 Ltd, and they did not match. Properties that were missing from the second list had appeared on another list some years earlier. Can the Minister assure me that she will update the property registers, and will ensure that they are accurate in the first place?
My right hon. Friend has raised the important issue of transparency and the need for data to be up to date. Members of Parliament who are working hard for their constituents need to know exactly what data they are speaking about. I shall be happy to ensure that any case that my right hon. Friend raises is dealt with by HS2 Ltd, and also to ensure that there is even greater clarity about the compensation packages that are available.
Let me now deal with new clause 4. Phase 2a has been under independent scrutiny since its conception. All elements of high-speed rail have been subject to scrutiny since the outset, not least in the House, through the petitioning process, through Public Bill Committee scrutiny and debate, and also through independent scrutiny conducted by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the National Audit Office.
Let me assure the House that, while HS2 is making huge progress in supporting 9,000 jobs across the country and being backed by businesses and business leaders in the midlands and the north, we will continue to scrutinise the project. HS2 will boost economic growth across the UK, and we are already seeing the benefits in the midlands and the north. However, I do not see the benefits of a further environmental assessment, given that we have already consulted extensively. That includes a seven-month consultation on the route back in 2013, a scope and methodology consultation in preparation for the environmental impact assessment in 2016, a consultation on the working draft of the environmental impact assessment—also in 2016—a consultation on the environmental statement deposited alongside the Bill in 2017, and two more consultations on the environmental statement and supplementary environmental statement alongside the additional Bill provisions in 2018 and 2019.
I hope Members agree that a huge amount of scrutiny has already taken place. There is also a board, which was strengthened last year by a new chairman, Allan Cook, who works closely with the executive to review the capability and capacity of HS2. It is the job of the chair and the board to ensure that the entire programme continues under scrutiny. I do not see what more another review will achieve, apart from adding another layer of bureaucracy and another cost, given that there have already been so many.
Let me now deal briefly with new clause 5. I thank my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach for being so patient. She has cited some very complicated cases, some of which have taken a long time to resolve. I can only apologise on behalf of HS2 Ltd if it has not worked as efficiently as possible with her constituents, or in providing information about local schools.
If my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach presses her new clause, will the Government encourage other Members to support it? While I have the Minister’s attention, may I also ask her to address my point about schedule 17, which deals with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990? The local council must give permission for more than 24 heavy vehicles per day to travel down a route. My constituents in Woore will be afflicted by 300 per day.
I completely understand my right hon. Friend’s frustration with the impact that the build is having on his constituency, but I am sure that he and his council would agree that this is better done sooner rather than later. I am more than happy to sit down with him to go through the lorry movements in his constituency.
On new clause 5, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury that non-disclosure agreements are used for good reason, and not for any underhand purposes. I hope that when I list some of the good reasons for their use, she will understand—[Interruption.]
Order. The Minister is trying to address points made in the debate, so it would be appreciated if we could listen to what the Minister is saying; there is a lot of chatter.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The NDAs that HS2 has are fundamentally to ensure that it can continue to work with businesses, communities and local authorities on issues that are competitive and sensitive. They enable conversations with companies and local authorities about options under consideration. They allow HS2 Ltd to make better recommendations to Government, and to develop better proposals, because it has had access to the right information when making decisions.
We must not forget that NDAs provide value to the taxpayer by reducing uncertainty and by helping to reduce generalised blight. For example, HS2 Ltd entered into such agreements with local authorities in the early stages of exploring route options. I am more than prepared to ensure that HS2 Ltd, if it is able to, sits down with my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury and goes through every NDA case that she wants to bring forward. HS2 Ltd is not exempt from the national whistleblowing policy in primary legislation. It has not entered into any NDAs with any HS2 staff.
HS2 has a number of subcontractors and contractors, and it has entered into NDAs with them. Under my new clause, an independent assessor would assess past NDAs. HS2 is incapable of even saying, in reply to a freedom of information request, how many NDAs it has. Given that it cannot comply with that request, I am concerned that the Minister is not in receipt of full, accurate information.
I would uphold my hon. Friend’s concerns if they were valid. As I have said to her, HS2 Ltd has not entered into any non-disclosure agreements with HS2 staff, but when it is business-critical, it needs to be able to have confidential conversations. Agencies have to agree to NDAs. There are also processes in place; two sets of legal teams provide review. I am not sure that my hon. Friend wants an outcome in which a third legal team is put in place. That will not really help what she is trying to achieve, which is ensuring that HS2 does not have one-on-one NDAs; there are none of those with staff on the project.
I cannot speculate on why people are made redundant. I can confirm that no member of staff is subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
The Minister has explained why it is important for the efficiency of HS2 that it should have NDAs, but does she think that is right if it comes at the cost of constituents being able to respond to consultations? What if, for example, a council is withholding information under an NDA, or if employees who are at risk of losing their jobs at an affected site find that their company is covered by an NDA, and information cannot be disclosed to them? The NDA must surely be subject to a public interest test.
I feel that my hon. Friend is talking about particular cases in her constituency, on which I am more than happy to provide further information. I will work with her to ensure that she is able to represent her constituents, and that they get satisfactory responses from HS2 Ltd. It takes part in many local engagement events; it has met several thousand residents up and down the country. I do not believe that new clause 5 will deliver what she is asking for.
I am running out of time; forgive me.
New clause 5 would slow down the process, and I do not think that it would work effectively. There is already a statutory framework in place for HS2, which includes the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The new clause is designed to prevent HS2 Ltd from acting as a commercial organisation, and tries to prevent it allocating most of its money, which, I remind everyone in the House, is from the public purse, directly to the programme. Unfortunately, I therefore cannot support the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury.