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Part of High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 5:45 pm, 15th July 2019

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.