Before I begin, I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend and neighbour Dehenna Davison for her service in government, and to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Jacob Young) and for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra) on their elevation.
Spades are already in the ground for HS2 and we remain focused on its delivery. The Minister for rail and HS2, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, is in the Czech Republic today to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Czech Government and tomorrow he will be in Poland to attend TRAKO, supporting UK rail supply chain companies at a major European rail trade fair. For that reason, I am responding on behalf of the Government. Construction continues in earnest, with about 350 active construction sites, and we are getting on with delivery, with high-speed rail services between London and Birmingham Curzon Street due to commence in 2033, with the re-scoped stages following. This will specifically drive the regeneration of 1,600 acres, delivering 40,000 homes and supporting 65,000 jobs in outer London. The benefits of HS2 for Birmingham are already being realised; the area around Curzon Street station is already becoming a focal point for transformation, development and economic growth. The Government provide regular six-monthly reports on HS2 to the House, and we will continue to keep the House updated on the project.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, but if the rail Minister is not available, you would think that the Secretary of State would be bothered to turn up to the House on an issue of this importance.
Here we are yet again: 13 years of gross mismanagement and chaos coming home to roost. First, the Government slashed Northern Powerhouse Rail; then they binned HS2 to Leeds; then they announced that the line would terminate at Old Oak Common for years to come; and now it looks as though they are considering cutting the north of England out in its entirety. If that is true, what are we left with? We are left with the Tories’ flagship levelling-up project that reaches neither the north of England, nor central London: the most expensive railway track in the world, which, thanks to terminating in Acton, will mean a longer journey between Birmingham and central London than the one passengers currently enjoy. What started out as a modern infrastructure plan, left by the last Labour Government, linking our largest northern cities will, after 13 years of Tory incompetence, waste and broken promises, have turned into a humiliating Conservative failure; a great rail betrayal—£45 billion and the least possible economic impact from the original plan, £45 billion and the north left with nothing. But frankly, what else would we expect from a Prime Minister who does not travel through the north of England on rail? He only ever flies over it. Today, communities and businesses do not need yet more speculation and rumour from the heart of this broken Government—they need answers.
Will the Minister urgently explain if the photograph leaked last Friday reflects his Government’s position to slash phase 2 altogether? Will he confirm the commitment his boss made in this House just a few months ago that high-speed trains will reach Manchester by 2041? Are his Government planning for trains to terminate at Old Oak Common for good, detonating the business case and overwhelming the Elizabeth line? Having run our economy, our public services and our railways into the ground, will the country not now conclude that this is proof, once and for all, that the Tories can never be trusted to run our country again?
In response to the hon. Lady’s question, the Secretary of State is on urgent ministerial business with other Government Departments.
At the Department for Transport, we were delighted to see the hon. Lady survive the recent shadow Cabinet reshuffle, albeit she appears to be shadow Secretary of State for Transport in name only, as that job now appears to be covered by Mr McFadden. Even the Liberal Democrats caught the hon. Lady napping this morning by putting in their urgent question request before she did.
“I want to see what this costs and we’ll make those decisions when it comes to the manifesto.”
That came only two days after a leaked Labour party policy document said that the Opposition are committed to
There was no mention of how they will pay for that combined £140 billion spending commitment—same old Labour. While the shadow Chancellor tries to talk up Labour’s “ironclad discipline”, Louise Haigh goes around the country, promising hundreds of billions of pounds of unfunded spending on rail alone.
We cannot trust a word they say on transport spending, immigration or housing. All have unravelled over the last week, as the Labour party says one thing and does another: on immigration, an open door for Europe’s illegal immigration; on housing, backing the blockers not the builders. [Interruption.] This House will remember the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies back in May—
Order. I granted the urgent question so we could hear the answer, so less shouting. Carry on, Minister.
The House will remember the report by the IFS in May, when its director said that it was hard to see how the Labour party could bring forward any further policy without tax rises, and that Labour’s plans would increase inflation and drive up interest rates. But this Government, under this Prime Minister, have made it a priority to halve inflation by the end of the year. That is why I am proud that buses have introduced a £2 fare to help hard-working families with the cost of living, which the Labour party has not done during the 25 years it has been in charge in Wales.
This Government are getting on with delivering on rail. We have delivered 1,200 miles of electrification over the last 13 years, compared to a pathetic 63 miles under the 13 years of the last Labour Government.
There is more to public transport than trains. Over the last 10 months, I have been around the country supporting new road schemes funded by this Government, from the A303 to the Preston western distributor road. Some £500 million has been invested to protect bus services across the country, while we have delivered on our commitment for 4,000 zero-emission buses. Last week, I announced new funding for HGV truck stops; meanwhile, Labour has expanded ULEZ in London and banned road building in Wales, as well as putting a 20-mile-an-hour speed limit right across that place. [Interruption.] I am proud that this Government are—
Order. The Minister could have made a statement. I did not have to grant the urgent question, so please bring statements forward—I will always support you.
I call the Chair of the Transport Committee.
While one should always take with a pinch of salt newspaper speculation in advance of budgets as to what may or may not be in them, may I put on record that if what has been reported is true, it would be an enormous false economy? Whether people support or oppose HS2 in principle, starting at Old Oak Common and finishing at Birmingham would not realise the full benefits of the line and communities will have been enormously impacted for no great benefit. Old Oak Common does not have the capacity to handle all the services and just a couple of weeks ago Network Rail, in its West Coast South strategic advice, noted that even with HS2 to Manchester, the west coast mainline will not have the capacity in the decades to come. Will my hon. Friend take the message to the Treasury to either do it properly or not to do it at all?
I call the SNP spokesperson.
I hope the Minister has had time to calm down and perhaps take a breath after that astonishing performance. In attacking Labour on costs, he seems to be admitting what we all know, which is that phase 2 is an utter shambles—financially, operationally and politically. First, it was the north-east and Yorkshire that were let down by this Government on HS2. Now it seems to be the turn of the north-west, let alone Scotland and Wales. In a similar timeframe to that of HS2, Spain has managed to install 624 km of high speed rail for a fraction of the cost. This includes tunnels and bridges through far rougher terrain than that which HS2 passes through. Since June 2018, 233 kilometres of this track has come into operational use. What we have is a gold-plated commuter line of just 100 miles between two cities on the south of this island costing nearly £50 billion, while the rest of the country is expected to fight for scraps from the table. When Philip Hammond was Transport Secretary he gave commitments on HS2 infrastructure reaching Scotland, but that infrastructure is barely getting to the midlands. Can the Minister tell me in which decade HS2 infrastructure will actually get anywhere near Scotland? How does any further cancellation, postponement or watering down of HS2 commitments fit with the so-called levelling-up strategy and when will Wales receive its rightful share of Barnett consequentials?
I thank the Member for his question. As he will know, this Government have delivered more than 1,200 miles of electrification—over 20 times the amount delivered in the 13 years of the last Labour Government. I would also say to him that, just last week, I met my third Scottish Transport Minister in 10 months and they did not mention HS2 at all.
I call the Chair of the High Speed Rail Bill Committee.
It should not surprise people that building a high-speed railway line on a very small island through large, populated areas with lots of infrastructure was always going to be complex and expensive—that should be a surprise to nobody. If these decisions are taking place, may I ask my hon. Friend to remind his colleagues in the Treasury that HS2 also delivers important connectivity infrastructure for Northern Powerhouse Rail, connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and, perhaps the greatest city of the north, Hull. I urge him to remind his colleagues who may be looking at this of that important fact.
I thank my hon. Friend and other colleagues for the work that they did on the Select Committee. I will, of course, take that message back to Treasury colleagues.
Will the Minister give an unambiguous answer to this question: is this Government still committed to building HS2 to Manchester from Euston? People in the north need to know whether they are being abandoned, because it looks like that to me from press reports, which have not been made up by journalists. Is it not the case that the Minister is fronting a Government who will not dare tell the electorate that they are abandoning the north?
There is no question of this Government abandoning the north. We have put in huge amounts of funding, including on buses and new roads. I was in Preston a few weeks ago to open the new Preston Western Distributor road. The Government are hugely investing in the north of England—on rail, on roads, and indeed on our important bus network. As I said earlier, Ministers will continue to update the House regularly on HS2, as we have done throughout.
Even when this project had arms and legs and eyebrows going across the whole country, it was always accepted that the business case was very weak and that, as a nation, we cannot really afford it. I hope the Government do scrap HS2 north of Birmingham and save many more communities from the human misery that my constituents endure every day of the week from the construction. If they do scrap it, it would leave the quite literally legless stump from outside central London to outside central Birmingham. Will my hon. Friend take the message back to his colleagues and to the Treasury that we cannot afford it and that what is left of phase 1 should be scrapped as well.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Spades are already in the ground for HS2, with over 350 active construction sites, and with high-speed services between London and Birmingham Curzon Street due to start between 2029 and 2033. However, I will pass on his comments to Treasury colleagues, as always.
Frankly, it is a real shame that we have to put up with an ill-prepared office junior instead of the boss, because these are really significant decisions. Let us be clear: the case for HS2 was always flawed, but ballooning construction costs and changing business travel patterns post covid now make it unsustainable. I understand that it would be hugely embarrassing for the Government, and for the Minister’s Department, to write off somewhere between 10 billion and 15 billion quid, but surely that is better than spending £100 billion on this ill-fated project.
My constituents have been through absolute misery for 13 years now, ever since the hybrid Bill first started and they tried to defend their own area. Unfortunately, HS2 has not provided continuity of support, has not provided good customer liaison and has not provided proper compensation. People have been made miserable, and their mental health has been severely damaged by this project. They deserve the right answer: is this project going ahead or is it not? My constituency looks like an industrial site right now.
We had a meeting about HS2 with the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, a few weeks ago. It was a very good meeting, led by myself and other Members of Parliament, and various options were put forward. I pay tribute to Trevor Parkin in my constituency for all his work on the matter.
Can we have a straight answer about this white elephant? Will there be a continuation of the line from Birmingham to Manchester, or not? Will the Minister be good enough to let us have a proper analysis, in line with all the reports that have come out showing that, unless the entire project is radically changed or scrapped, it will continue to be a white elephant? People in my constituency have been suffering for far too long, to no good purpose.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has had great engagement on the issue from the Department and from the rail Minister. As I have said, Ministers will continue to keep the House updated regarding HS2, as they have been doing. I am sure that when the rail Minister returns he will be happy to have further such conversations with my hon. Friend.
Ministers will continue to keep the House updated regularly regarding HS2, as they have done to date. As we all know, the first stages are set to be completed by 2033, linking London with Birmingham.
As a member of the Bill Committee, I have had the good fortune to visit a number of sites involved in the construction of HS2, so I appreciate what a major project it is and how many people are involved. Companies up and down the country are reliant on the project for the continuation of their business. The future of hundreds of jobs and businesses depends on it. Can the Minister give an assurance that that will be taken into full consideration in discussions with the Treasury?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. There are thousands of people working on site at the moment, with more than 350 construction sites up and down the country, and companies will be updated. Even from today this project will last well into the 2030s, if not beyond, so those construction jobs will be secure for a long time.
The Minister said that the Government are hugely investing in the north. For Hull, the decade of northern powerhouse saw a privately financed scheme to electrify our railways blocked by Ministers in 2016 and, in the Government’s 2021 integrated rail plan, blocked for the next 30 years. Funding apparently was needed for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, which are now being cut. Levelling up is not just about being nice to northerners; it is about boosting an essential part of the UK economy. Am I right in thinking that in these ever-shrinking plans we are just seeing the economics of mismanaged decline and an inbuilt vicious circle of stagnation under this Government that is affecting the north?
I remember using Northern Rail under the last Labour Government, which had a zero investment strategy for the railway network in the entire north of England. This Government have already delivered more than 1,200 miles of electrification, 20 times what the right hon. Lady’s party did when they were in government. She should also look at the huge amount of investment we have put into bus networks right across the country, including in Yorkshire, over the past few months.
May I remind the House, journalists and the Chairman of the Transport Committee that the area under discussion is beyond phase 1? It does not end in Birmingham—it goes beyond Birmingham and then joins the west coast main line at a place called Handsacre, just by Lichfield. If HS2 is abandoned at that point, high-speed trains can still run down from Manchester and join the high-speed line at Handsacre. Does that not make good economic sense? Will the Minister please pass that on to the Treasury?
My hon. Friend is quite right; that is exactly what would happen in that scenario. I will pass on the point he makes to the Treasury.
HS2 has just applied for planning permission for works to enable Old Oak Common station to serve as a temporary terminus. “Temporary” previously meant the 2040s, but now it means forever. The works proposed block the eastern access to the station—just one example of a total lack of coordination. Will the Minister commission a report on the implications for HS2 of Old Oak Common’s being the London terminus?
In order to unlock economic growth and power up northern productivity, our region must have improved connectivity, both to our capital and through a Northern Powerhouse Rail connecting our cities across the North. Our country will only be truly levelled up with our connected northern region reaching its full potential. Uncertainty around phase 2 is unhelpful. I urge my hon. Friend to consider the importance of northern infrastructure commitments to businesses across the region.
As a northerner myself, I certainly take note of my hon. Friend’s comments and I am sure they will have been heard across Government as we reflect on the future.
As I have outlined, the Government will update the House, as we have done consistently, on HS2. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on what is already being delivered, with 350 construction sites already across the country and thousands of jobs. There is a huge amount of transport investment going on, and it is not all about rail. Greater Manchester has received more than £1 billion of city region sustainable transport settlement, which includes potential rail investment.
HS2 is behaving outrageously by not paying my Stafford constituents on time. It is unacceptable that affected residents are paying outstanding bills on behalf of HS2—for their agents’ fees, for example—in order to have representation. Will the Secretary of State for Transport please write to me to clarify that HS2 will treat all my residents fairly, and that we expect compensation claims to be paid in a timely manner?
The Government’s excuse for denying Wales our fair share of HS2 funding is that the phase 2 connection at Crewe would cut journey times between north Wales and London. We can now only conclude that the Government are planning to scrap the phase 2 connection altogether. Welsh taxpayers are funding this fiasco and getting nothing back. Will the Minister admit that HS2 is an England-only railway project and that his Government owe Wales money?
I do not think the right hon. Lady is reflecting on what the Plaid-Labour Government are currently doing in Wales: costing taxpayers billions with their ridiculous across-the-board 20 mph scheme, and not delivering for the people of Wales. They are even banning any form of new road programme across all Wales.
It is sometimes right to ask our constituents to take local pain for national gain, but does my hon. Friend agree that the national gain of HS2 has always been argued to result from its being a network of high-speed rail lines, not a single line? If it is a single line, are we not in danger of the national gain being extraordinarily limited, and the local pain, including to my constituents, being extraordinarily extensive and long lasting?
A huge amount of work is already going on with HS2 at the moment, creating tens of thousands of jobs and supporting more than 1,700 apprenticeships. There is a huge amount of benefit, right across the country, to the investment going into HS2. I will pass on my right hon. and learned Friend’s broader comments to Ministers in both my Department and the Treasury.
Is this not an example of a very bad national planning process? HS2 does not link up with HS1; all the pain and disruption around Euston will have been for naught; and if it is completed as far as Birmingham, all it will do is join an already overcrowded rail network. Surely we have either a high-speed network or nothing at all. The Minister seems unable to answer any questions at all.
I say to the right hon. Member that a huge amount of investment is already going into HS1, which will deliver transformation, particularly at Old Oak Common, as I have mentioned, where there will be a huge boost to economic growth in quite a deprived area of London as well as that massive investment. I do not know whether he has been down to Curzon Street and seen the transformation happening in central Birmingham. I would have thought that jobs, housing and general prosperity were outcomes that he would welcome.
For rail and for HS2, it is all about capacity: we need to get capacity into the rail industry. Certainly, in my Sedgefield constituency there was no investment in rail by my predecessors. Whether it is HS2 or regional rail—as with the Leamside line and Ferryhill station—delivery and certainty are necessary for supply-chain businesses. This constant change is not helpful. Will the Minister go back to his Department and encourage certainty and clarity, whether about HS2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail? We need certainty for everybody.
I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for his question. He is absolutely right: the Prime Minister uses those trains regularly—in fact, I think they are made in my hon. Friend’s constituency, or very nearby—to travel right across the country. I welcome my hon. Friend’s continued fighting for his constituents on rail and transport projects not just in his area but across the wider north and north-east of England. I shall take his comments back to colleagues.
We have seen the Government give up on the eastern leg; we have seen them give up on connecting to central London; and we have seen the downgrading of Northern Powerhouse Rail. We are now seeing the Government give up on connecting to the north-west and Britain’s second city of Manchester. Why are the Government giving up on the north?
As I have said in answer to other hon. Members, this Government have put unprecedented investment into our transport infrastructure right across the country. I have no idea at all what Labour’s policy in this area is: it seems to flip-flop from one thing to another daily, making hundreds of billions of pounds’ worth of unfunded spending commitments. We are a responsible Government who are going to make the right decisions in the long-term interests of the country, just as we have in supporting Greater Manchester and the Mayor’s new upgraded bus network, which we have been delighted to invest in over the past few months.
Having chaired the Select Committee on the first phase for 20 months, I always privately had the view that Old Oak Common was a more sensible place to stop, because the Elizabeth line runs straight through Old Oak Common and can deposit people from Heathrow into the city. As for anything to do with Euston, it is a very small site and horrendously expensive. However, the logic of the railway is that it does have to go to Manchester and beyond, otherwise it was not worth starting.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am sure that the Treasury, No. 10 and the Department will be listening to those wise words from somebody who served on the Select Committee.
Huddersfield is a proud railway town. Is the Minister telling my constituents and the rest of the country that this is an abysmal failure of the country—the country of Brunel and Stephenson, the pioneers of railway building? Is he telling us that the £100 billion was for nothing? Is that what he is saying today?
As my hon. Friend knows, I am proud to host the UK’s fastest-growing ports in my constituency, and one of the things that those ports are investing in is more freight connections to transport more containers by rail, rather than road. Achieving the full potential of those connections absolutely requires HS2 to free up capacity elsewhere on the rail network, so will the Minister assure me that all the implications of any changes to the timetable for HS2 will be considered? It impacts on net zero, the demand on our road infrastructure, and where things will arrive.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point—I was delighted to visit some of those freight services in her constituency with her just last week. Getting freight on to rail is obviously an important objective of the Government, as is supporting those on the road network, and I will ensure that that is taken into consideration in any future decisions that the Government take.
What I would say is that the Government are putting a huge amount of money into stage 1 of the scheme. Thousands of jobs have already been created, as well as hundreds of apprenticeships, and it is going to deliver transformation to central Birmingham and to a deprived community in outer London. That is investment very well made in those areas.
For the record, the roads Minister is a very good one, who has had to swap lanes today at short notice. How many of the HS2 stations will have ticket offices? Last Thursday in Westminster Hall, there was a train crash of a debate in which not a single Back Bencher from any political party backed the Government’s proposals. As many people have asked the Minister to pass on messages today, could I add one more, in all good faith? “You are under enough pressure on HS2 as it is. Do yourselves a favour and drop the bonkers proposals to get rid of our ticket offices.”
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments—he has always been a champion of our road network, and now he is a champion of our rail network as well. I will certainly take his thoughts back to the Department.
I used to live in Wigan in the north-west of England, and I am very disappointed for my family and friends who are still there that this project is not going ahead—disappointed, like the people in Swansea are disappointed that the electrification never got to Swansea. HS2 is an England-only project, so will the Minister stop talking down the Welsh Labour Government and give us what we are due?
I do not need to talk down the Welsh Labour Government; they do it themselves. They talk down Wales constantly. They have introduced 20 mph speed limits costing tens of millions of pounds a year to the local economy. They are doing no road building—no M4, no Llanymynech bypass, nothing invested in the road network. The Welsh Labour Government have been in office for 25 years. They are not even delivering a “get around for £2” bus fare like we are doing in England.
HS2 is already being built in Buckinghamshire, unfortunately, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is a blight on the lives of my constituents in Aylesbury. Just last Saturday, residents in Walton Court told me that HS2’s contractors are now working well outside their contracted hours. Normally, we would think that was a good thing, but it is causing massive disruption, especially from noise. Will the Minister make it abundantly clear to HS2 Ltd and its contractors that they must comply with the agreements they have made and minimise the harm and distress they are causing?
For over a decade, I have been highlighting in this House how the Welsh taxpayer is being fleeced as a result of HS2. The spurious response I receive from Ministers is that north Wales will be linked via Crewe. Considering that it is highly unlikely that the line will make it north of Birmingham, is it not time for the British Government to ensure that Wales receives its fair funding for phase 1 of HS2?
I just point out to the hon. Member that I think Welsh taxpayers will feel fleeced by the Welsh Labour Government, with the longest waiting lists in the country, no new road schemes and falling school standards right across the board. When it comes to it, the UK Government deliver better value for the Welsh taxpayer than the Plaid/Labour Welsh Government.
Of course it is right that we discuss investment in our rail network in the north and the midlands, but we also have to have a discussion about East Anglia. Time and again, Ely North junction and Haughley junction have been deprioritised. Both those projects would cost a fraction of the cost of HS2 but deliver transformative benefits to the east of England. Will the Minister have discussions with his colleagues and the Treasury to see how we can get those two key projects back at the top of the agenda?
I certainly will. I was delighted to be in East Anglia just last week at the opening of the new A11 road, where there has been £65 million of investment, and I have been delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency on multiple occasions, including to see the investment that is going into his local bus network. I will certainly pass on his representations on behalf of his constituents regarding Ely junction.
We had great news a while ago when the Government said they would scrap the 2b arm of HS2, which would have devastated hundreds of homes across Rother Valley in Bramley, Wales and Aston, but many of those homes are still under safeguarding measures, meaning their owners are stuck in limbo. I know that the Government still want high-speed trains through the area, but the only financially viable way of HS2 getting to Leeds is by using existing track. Why is it taking so long to release the land when everyone knows and accepts that we will not be building a new track through Rother Valley to Leeds? Will the Minister release the safeguarding and release people’s homes?
I know that my hon. Friend has raised this issue multiple times with the rail Minister. I will certainly take it back to the Department and discuss what can be done.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. It is sometimes difficult to know what the Leader of the Opposition supports or does not support. We have had a three-way flip-flop in just the last few days. It is interesting that Louise Haigh, from the Opposition Front Bench, raised the fact that I am here today rather than the Secretary of State, given that the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster seems to have a very different opinion from the hon. Lady about what is going on with Labour policy.