Quarterly reports on environmental impact, costs and progress

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 Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 5:45 pm, 15th July 2019

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.