There is no future in obscuring the cost benefits or timetable of HS2, so on
The review is under way and will report to me on time this autumn. I will discuss its findings with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and its recommendations will help to inform our decisions on the next step or otherwise for this project.
Colleagues will be aware that on our first day back,
In line with lessons from other large major transport infrastructure projects, the chairman’s advice proposes a range of start dates rather than a specific one. He recommends 2028-31 for phase 1, starting with initial services between London Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street, followed by services to and from London Euston later. He expects phase 2b—the full high-speed line to Manchester and Leeds—to be open between 2035 and 2040.
The chairman is also of the view that the benefits of the current scheme are substantially undervalued. All those matters will now be considered by Douglas Oakervee within the scope of Oakervee review.
When I announced the independent review into HS2, I said that I want Doug Oakervee and his panel to assess independently the findings and other available existing evidence. The review will provide recommendations on whether and how we proceed.
I wish to make one further, wider point. Everyone in the House knows that we must invest in modern infrastructure to ensure the future prosperity of our nation. However, it is right that we subject every single project to the most rigorous scrutiny possible. If we are truly to maximise every opportunity, this must always be done with an open mind and a clean sheet of paper.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his new responsibilities and welcome the review that the Government have set up.
I have three questions for my right hon. Friend. First, in view of this week’s revelation that HS2 is overrunning both its budget and its schedule—something that many of us have been predicting for a long time but that has been systematically denied for years by HS2 Ltd and by his Department—what assurance can my right hon. Friend give about the transparency of both the review that has been commissioned and the Government’s formal response to it?
Secondly, my right hon. Friend will know that enabling works for HS2 are still being carried out along phase 1 of the route. Ancient woodlands are being felled. Productive farmland is being occupied and used by HS2 Ltd. Public money is being spent on these works even though, as my right hon. Friend says, the review may lead to a recommendation to cancel or significantly change the project altogether. Will the Secretary of State now accept that those works are prejudicial to the outcome of the review that he has established and order that they cease?
Thirdly, I have a queue of constituents whose land has been taken by HS2 Ltd for preparatory works, but who have still to receive the payments that were formally agreed with HS2 Ltd. The Government have rightly committed to crack down on late payment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that HS2 Ltd should be setting an example in this regard, not acting as a laggard? As he, as Secretary of State, is the sole shareholder in HS2 Ltd, will he now take responsibility for insisting that HS2 Ltd puts this injustice right immediately?
First, on the budget and the schedule, it is exactly as I said in my opening statement: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no future in trying to obscure costs or in being unclear. It is the case that in a massive, developing infrastructure project—Europe’s biggest—costs just are not known. They are speculated about and then start to firm up, in this case, literally as we start to dig into the ground. I can see how over a period of time things move. None the less, I take the view that as soon as I have the information, I will inform the House—as soon as I got that Cook report and the House returned, I stuck it straight into the Library. I assure my right hon. Friend that I will continue to do exactly that going forward.
Secondly, it might be helpful to colleagues to know that I have asked for Douglas Oakervee to meet Members of Parliament. He will be in Committee Room 2A on Monday
Thirdly, on the enabling works, we are in a position where I have to make a go/no-go decision in December. I know that this will not a delight my right hon. Friend, but it seemed to me that if we did not continue to make preparatory works, I would not even be in the position to make a go/no-go decision. I am sorry to disappoint my right hon. Friend, but that is the current position. We can then take a decision.
I share my right hon. Friend’s concern and anxiety about compulsory purchase order payments. When people’s lives, livelihoods and homes are potentially going to be ripped apart by a project that is supposedly for the wider good, it is right that the state compensates them promptly and efficiently. I would be most grateful to see more details of the cases he mentioned. I have already had one across my desk, which I have sorted out, and I would like to see others. There is no excuse for a CPO for which people are not paid.
I gently remind the Secretary of State that we did ask for regular reports and recommended a peer review when phase 2a was before the House some weeks ago. I am sorry that he was not able to vote for that—or, indeed, that the Prime Minister was not able to express a view at all.
The Secretary of State mentioned that the review that is under way is a cross-party one, but I gently point out that there has been no consultation whatever with me. If it is to be genuinely cross-party, perhaps he might want to take up that invitation.
We have consistently been told by the Secretary of State’s predecessor and the then ministerial team that the 2015 figure of £55.7 billion for the entire project was the full cost of HS2 and that there was no reason to change it. It is hard to conclude anything other than that it has been plain and obvious for some considerable time that this was not accurate. Will the Transport Secretary tell us when his predecessor was told that the figure of £55.7 billion was not accurate or sustainable, and when he was first told that the timetable for delivery could not be adhered to?
Is this not yet more evidence that this Government have totally failed to exercise any control over the project—not just over costs, but with regard to redundancy payments and key appointments that transpired to be unsustainable? In addition, when the contracts for phase 1 were being granted, despite hedge fund managers making a packet out of the inevitable demise of Carillion, this Tory Government crashed on regardless, awarding the doomed organisation a valuable HS2 contract.
It is beyond doubt that the Government have been totally incompetent and reckless, but, worse than that, there hangs over this Government the unpleasant smell that Parliament may have been misled—however unwittingly—given that it is stark staringly obvious that when the Minister responsible for HS2 stood at the Dispatch Box a matter of weeks ago to tell the House that there was only one figure and one figure alone for HS2 that assertion was completely and totally inaccurate. If there is going to be delay, what assurances can the Secretary of State give to the 9,000 people currently employed by HS2?
This Government continue to be characterised by a lack of transparency. I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks that he intends to put that right, but it still remains, as does a lack of candour. Once we can be assured that there is no prospect of the Government reneging on the legislation to avoid a no-deal Brexit, Labour relishes the prospect of a general election to turf them out.
On regular reports, I will come back to the House as many times as it is prepared to hear about this matter, and I will continue to update Members in every possible way. It might be helpful if I were to make the introduction—if the hon. Gentleman has not already had it—to Doug Oakervee; perhaps I could organise for the hon. Gentleman to meet him separately. Of course, there are cross-party members on the review panel and it is genuinely full of sceptics. I think people were surprised when we launched a review of this project that had such a broad, cross-party view.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that prices have changed over time. I seem to recall that this was originally a project by the previous Labour Government, and that when it was conceived the whole thing was going to cost about £13 billion. One of the issues that we have, which is a wider issue than just HS2, is that these things start off being fixed at a price of a particular period of time—the figure of £55.7 billion was about 2015 prices—and that does not actually allow for inflation. We therefore end up quoting prices that are just out of date. On that basis, every project will always be said to have overrun on cost, although of course the benefits probably improve as well. We have to find better ways of doing all this.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the first time that I received advice on this matter was Allan Cook’s final report on
As colleagues will be aware, there is pressure on time today, because there are several further pieces of business to follow, but equally and understandably there is intense interest in this monumental mess and I know that the Secretary of State is very keen, to his credit, to answer questions, so I shall do my best, as always, to accommodate the understandable interest of colleagues.
Mr Speaker, I was just about to say that there are Members affected by this project who do not have a voice, and I was going to include you, but clearly that is not the case. Of course, there is also my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom, who has always joined me in the fight against HS2.
In welcoming the Secretary of State to his position, may I also welcome my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington? It is so good to hear his voice raised in this Chamber against this dreadful project, and I endorse everything he said. It applies to my constituency as well.
The Secretary of State also needs to look at the national rail travel survey, on which one of the raisons d’être for this project is based, but which has not been updated since 2010. In answers to me, the Department does not appear to know how much it would cost to update it. That, coupled with the fact that we are still not allowed to see the passenger forecasting documentation, means that transparency is far from the watchword of HS2. Pages right the way through the chairman’s stocktake have been redacted. Transparency is not the order of the day.
The Secretary of State should grasp with both hands this opportunity to review the project entirely and review the nationwide transport and communication policy. I urge him to take a deep breath and carry out a comprehensive assessment across car, bus, train and air, as well as new technologies such as 5G and broadband, because it is essential that we look at the technological advances before we let this project go any further.
As the carriages being built for Crossrail pile up in Worksop because we cannot get that project right, let us draw a deep breath, cancel this project, start again and get a decent comprehensive transport policy.
I know that Douglas Oakervee will have been listening to my right hon. Friend’s words with great interest and will no doubt take into account the national rail travel survey information. She will of course meet him as well. I will just reflect on her final point—because of course Douglas Oakervee is looking at all this—about all forms of travel across the country. I entirely agree with her. Having ordered it two years ago, I recently got an electric car. It finally arrived a couple of weeks ago. It is clear that transport is changing in this country and that we have to take a more holistic view of it. Rail is one part, but there is much else to consider.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. He must be so thankful to have inherited another failing Grayling legacy.
We know that the increased costs and delays have been covered up since 2016 and denied at the Dispatch Box, so, while I welcome the review, should there not be an inquiry into this hiding of key information from the House? While I welcome the review, I find it strange that about a third of the document that sets out its terms has been redacted. Can he explain why?
What changes will be made to the cost-benefit criteria, and why? While the Secretary of State said that many of the benefits of the scheme were previously underestimated, I would remind him that the business case rested on the assumption that time business people spent travelling by train should be treated as downtime, meaning that shorter train journeys were treated as increasing productive time, when clearly that is not the case now that we have wi-fi on the go. Will he confirm that that aspect of the business case will not be over-egged?
The current proposals also mean that journeys north of Crewe to Scotland will be slower than the existing Virgin service. Will the review look at that and perhaps a different type of rolling stock? If it does, what will that mean for the existing rolling stock and ongoing procurement? What further reviews and cost-benefit analyses will be done of track design that could mean slower high-speed trains but reduced costs? What is the contractual status of the recent contract awards to First Trenitalia, given that the Government might now be doing a full stock decision? What would that mean for that contract? What is the committed spend, to date, in the Barnett allocations to Scotland, and what will happen going forward? We were promised at the Dispatch Box that on day one of the high-speed trains operating they would go all the way to Scotland, and that is now not the case. Will the Secretary of State answer those questions and, if not, please put his responses in writing?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I write to him on some of that, rather than detain the House on all of it. He is absolutely right about the Allan Cook report. I should have mentioned that in response to my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan. I am unhappy about having any of that report redacted. I have read the rest of it. It is not hugely exciting. I pushed back on that with the Department, and apparently it is just that the lawyers are saying that it is commercially confidential stuff that I cannot force to be released. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be much better if we could read every single page, but that is the law. [Interruption.] I do not disagree—it is just that lawyers will not allow it to happen.
On downtime when travelling, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Lots of people work very productively when travelling. It is my favourite time to work uninterrupted. I can assure him that Doug Oakervee will look at that. Allan Cook referred to some of the build benefits where there could be new industry, homes and so on in an area where a line runs.
The last point I will comment on—I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the rest—is the implications for the west coast partnership. That is very important. Under the contract, I think in 2026—it would be in line with if HS2 went ahead—the company would become a shadow operator, so it is built into that contract if the thing goes ahead.
Order. There is a further urgent question after this and there are then three ministerial statements before we get to the Backbench business. Therefore, there is a premium upon brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike. For the avoidance of doubt, what I am looking for from colleagues is not dilation and not preamble but single-sentence questions, which will be brilliantly exemplified, I feel sure, by Sir Patrick McLoughlin.
Thank you for that challenge, Mr Speaker. May I first welcome my right hon. Friend to his position?
The easiest thing for the Government to do is to cancel this project. That would be easy to do, but it would be the wrong thing to do, for this reason: I would find it ironical that, as we leave the European Union, I can get a high-speed train to Paris or to Brussels but not to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds or Sheffield. My right hon. Friend talks about the overspend, but we seem to be able to accommodate at the drop of a hat the overspend on the Crossrail project, which is overrunning. That is a London project that is incredibly important for London, but we do not take a similar view of a project that has been long thought out and is absolutely essential for the major cities outside London.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place.
The Secretary of State must understand the huge disappointment in the east midlands that HS2 phase 2b —which will, as Sir Patrick McLoughlin said, transform connectivity between Birmingham and the economies of the midlands, Yorkshire, the north-east and Scotland—is now facing a delay of up to seven years, or even cancellation. That is particularly the case when the Chancellor failed to even mention the midlands rail hub in his spending review, and when the Secretary of State’s predecessor not only repeatedly assured us that HS2 would happen but cancelled the electrification of the midland main line. I know that the Oakervee review is due to report, but the disappointment will turn to deep anger if the Secretary of State does not ensure that the midlands receives the investment in its transport that it needs.
I thank the hon. Lady; it is a pleasure to have a question from the Chair of the Transport Committee. The one thing I can assure her of is that there will be £48 billion of other unrelated rail investment over the next few years, so both the midlands and the northern powerhouse rail side of things will certainly have huge—massive—investment.
Reiterating my plea for brevity, I hopefully call Sir William Cash.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. First, I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. Secondly, I entirely endorse the views of my right hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) and for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). The reality is that this whole project is completely out of control. The costs have gone up repeatedly. I voted against it. There is a petition in the House of Lords, which my constituents were absolutely right to pursue. This whole project is a complete white elephant and should be cancelled.
I will try to be brief, Mr Speaker. I have always been against this. I was reviled by Ministers when I said that the cost would end up at £100 billion. I wanted the investment in a network across the north of England in preference to this. Will the Secretary of State assure me that we will learn the lessons? This is a great sector that we do wonderful things in. We built the Olympics on time, and it was magnificent. I understand that there are 12 gagging orders for senior former employees of HS2 Ltd. Can they give evidence to this inquiry, and can we ensure that we learn the lessons? We are good in this sector, so why has this gone wrong?
Even with the Olympics, the cost changed over a period. The hon. Gentleman will know that big projects require management, and the process is designed to ensure that this is properly grasped. I agree with him—we need to deliver that transport infrastructure across the north. I am surprised that no Member has mentioned it yet, but these two questions are not entirely unrelated, so we must get it right for the north and for all our country.
I am not sure it is the entirely appropriate expression to congratulate my right hon. Friend on inheriting responsibility for HS2, but I wholeheartedly congratulate him on becoming the Secretary of State. In agreeing entirely with what my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington said, may I press the Secretary State on the point he made about enabling works? As he knows, there is more than one kind of enabling work currently under way. Some of the enabling work is the destruction of ancient woodland sites. There are seven of them in my constituency, along with a very old and much valued pear tree in the village of Cubbington. Given that he has announced an all-options review, including the possibility that this project will be cancelled or significantly revised, surely it is possible and sensible to categorise those types of enabling work that will do irreversible damage and postpone them until the review has concluded. He has already announced a substantial delay in this project. Surely a delay of a few weeks more would be sensible, to ensure that we do not do irreversible damage.
As I said before, to have a proper go/no-go decision, we need to continue to allow enabling works. However, I can ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Paul Maynard, who is handling these major projects, to meet my right hon. and learned Friend to discuss that specific concern.
Unlike Derbyshire Dales, HS2 goes through many villages in the Bolsover and north-east Derbyshire area. The result is that there are a lot of people in those villages—more than 100—affected by HS2. I want to know as soon as possible just exactly what is going to happen to this £100 billion project. It goes through Derbyshire on two separate lines. Not only does it go past Sheffield; it also stops at a Sheffield station, so there is a slow track and a fast track in Derbyshire. The idea that HS2 is based upon getting to London 30 minutes sooner is a joke and, for that reason, the Secretary of State should start over again.
I know that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is affected in a big way. I refer to what I said before. This project affects a lot of people’s lives, with demolitions and the rest of it in his patch. He asked me to do this as soon as possible. I have Douglas Oakervee on an unbelievable timetable, supported by a fantastic group of people, to get this done and reported back this autumn. The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait before the end of the year.
Long Eaton, Sandiacre and Stanton Gate are grossly affected by the eastern arm of HS2 but, as the Chair of the Transport Committee has already indicated, it brings advantages as well—jobs and growth as well as the pain. I will say two things. One is that any delay causes further stress and uncertainty not just for residents, but for businesses. They will be blighted for ever more, even if my right hon. Friend takes the easier way out and cancels the eastern arm. My plea to him is: do not cancel that eastern arm. I will not allow the east midlands and Erewash to be the poor relations yet again.
I think every exchange indicates that, while everyone is able to welcome a review, when we get to the announcement of that review on the other side the House will not be quite so united, but I absolutely hear my hon. Friend’s comments.
Inflation aside, this multi-billion increase in cost betrays nothing other than sheer incompetence in the management of this project. In the west midlands, 100,000 jobs are now in jeopardy; hundreds of millions of pounds of new rates are now in jeopardy; and the future prospects of the younger generation are now in jeopardy. I want to know from the Secretary of State what compensation has been sought by the Mayor of the West Midlands, because my understanding is that he has asked for precisely nothing?
We have a range of different people on the Doug Oakervee board, including Andy Street, and we are making sure that all the representations go into it. As I say, I do not want to rush to prejudge this. We do know certain things. We know from the Allan Cook report about the range of £72 billion to £78 billion. I do not have confidence in the data I have been provided with to know yet whether the benefits have outstripped or under-stripped these various different costs. I just start with a blank sheet of paper. I just want the data: give me the facts and then we will be in a much better position to decide, including for people throughout the west midlands.
I am sure I was as pleased as you were, Mr Speaker, to hear about the review undertaken by the new Secretary of State. Can he reassure me that, as part of the new cost-benefit analysis, the review will take into account that many people work very hard while on trains, as I am about to do as I return to my constituency on a high-speed train run by Chiltern Rail?
Absolutely. Travelling on a train can be a fantastic way to chomp through constituency work or anything else that people are doing on business or for pleasure. It is one of the most civilised ways to work—when we have our trains running on time, which is another related priority.
Will the Government widen this review not just to their complete lack of grip on the HS2 project, but to the continued failure of the Department to remember that there are towns as well as cities in this country? It is continually locking billions of pounds into ever-delayed, ever-escalating projects for cities, while towns such as Castleford and Pontefract have inadequate trains—overcrowded, old Pacer trains, with no disabled access to our trains—and, once again, we are just expected to accept a trickle-down of benefits many decades into the future. It is not good enough. When will we actually get a fair deal for our towns?
As the representative of two towns—one, Welwyn Garden, calls itself a city, but it is actually a town—I absolutely agree with the idea that towns have a significant part to play in the economic and social life of our country. One good piece of news: those Pacers are finally going by the end of this year.[This section has been corrected on
As I say, it is not just a question of the expenditure. As I mentioned before, it is also what the benefits are. May I ask my right hon. Friend just to be patient enough so that the data is covered on both sides of that, and we can come to a rational and sensible decision?
Colleagues should now follow Dr Lewis with single- sentence questions. If they do not—let us be absolutely clear—they are stopping other colleagues taking part. It is as simple as that.
Will the Secretary of State commit to look at any new major transport infrastructure projects in line with the 2050 net zero carbon target that this House has set itself?
What is the status of the review if we go to the polls this autumn? My constituents see this as a pre-election bribe for the Government’s voters in the shires.
This project is too serious to be thinking in those terms, and I certainly was not when I asked Douglas Oakervee to carry out this review. As I have now said twice, this is about people’s lives and livelihoods, and the ability of this country’s economy to function. Regardless of what happens when we finally get that election call, I hope there will be cross-party consensus to continue this important work on a cross-party basis and get the job done.
As the terms of reference, which I encourage right hon. and hon. Members to read, make clear, this review is wide ranging and takes all such matters into account.
Given the delays to the southern section of the route, will the Secretary of State ask the review to consider the possibility of starting the northern sections before the southern section is finished, so that there is a degree of working overlap?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that spiralling costs must be challenged and held to account, but this project is vital for the northern routes, which are already overstretched. Will he assure me that this review is not just a smokescreen to cancel the project, which many of our current Executive do not like?
My hon. Friend’s question reminds me of a clip that I made on the day of announcing this full, thorough and open review. When the camera was switched off they said, “What do you really think?” What I really think is that we should have a full, thorough and open review.
Business leaders in Sheffield are deeply concerned about this review. Does the Secretary of State recognise that, whatever else he is considering, cancellation would damage the northern economy?
HS2 is vital for the economy of Manchester and the north. As the chairman’s stocktake says:
“HS2 is not a standalone railway but rather an integral part of ambitious regional growth plans,” and it is already attracting investment. Will the Secretary of State assure us that those wider benefits will fully be taken into account in this review?
I can. I have met the Mayor of Manchester and Mayors across the north, and I am due to meet them again shortly. Those things absolutely will be taken into account.
Will the Secretary of State commit to investing in the costs of places with collateral damage, such as villages such as Woore in my constituency that will suffer grievously during the construction process? Will he also commit to look at the value of spending £100 billion, which this project is cantering towards, on full-fibre broadband for every household?
We must have full-fibre broadband in every household, and that is a commitment of this Government regardless. My right hon. Friend describes devastation to villages, and I agree that we must find a better way of doing this. We must look after people properly when great national projects drive through their homes.
That is very effective lobbying. My hon. Friend has already secured a great achievement with regards to the railway on his own Island. He proves that we can do both things simultaneously if we need to.
I would extend that further to Sheffield, Hull, Newcastle and other cities in the north. We can do both things and we will do both things: both upgrading the national rail infrastructure and—the Prime Minister mentioned this in his first speech, which he made in Manchester, so I think it would be a bit churlish not to recognise it—linking northern cities.
I do not know in what form this will or will not take place, but I do know that the jobs, skills and supply chain affect the entire nation. There is almost not a constituency in the country that would not benefit in some way. As with any big national infrastructure project, we need to ensure that the benefits of that work and supply chain are spread across the nation.
Given that the entire review will be completed in a matter of weeks, can the Secretary of State really have confidence that it will have thoroughly considered the impacts that scrapping or changing phases 2a and 2b would have on Crewe and Nantwich, as a significant centre of economic activity for the wider region?
Yes, I think I can reassure the hon. Lady that, although the review is reporting very quickly—within weeks, as she says—the experience on the panel adds up to years. I have not added it up, but it is possibly hundreds of years of rail experience. I think they will really take that into account. Again, I invite and welcome her to speak to Douglas Oakervee to make sure 2a and 2b are fully represented in her terms.
I do not want to disappoint the hon. Lady, but I cannot give her a date on the initial phases, let alone on that extension. I do think there is a very good point here about linking up our Union. I am pleased to see the nationalist side so onside with that project.
Again, I think this comes into the wider picture. The £48 billion of rail investment over five years means that we should be able to do lots of different things at the same time—and indeed, we are. I think that is part of the wider infrastructure project for improvements on rail throughout the country.