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Economic Case for HS2 (Economic Affairs Committee Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:22 pm on 16th September 2015.

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Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 4:22 pm, 16th September 2015

My Lords, I have no interest to declare, except that I once was an Under-Secretary of State for Transport, but that was many years ago. There will always be difference of opinion between sides when it comes to major infrastructure projects, but there should be clarity of facts and evidence for the rest of us to decide which side is right and whether we are going in the right direction. That evidence and those facts should be respected by both sides and agreed. On that basis, people can make valid judgments. I do not believe that one can make a valid judgment as an outsider on the evidence that we have in front of us today.

Coincidentally, I travelled on the west coast line last week—I do not travel on it as often as the right reverend Prelate. It was fascinating, having heard the stories of how overcrowded it was. It was wonderfully empty. People were working on their computers on both the way up and the way down. On the way up, the train was absolutely on time and very quick; on the way down it was not quite so good, but that happens on every line. On the question of whether one needs HS2, one probably needs HS4, 5, 6 and 7 if HS3 is to be built, to satisfy the point made by noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, because it is not only people from the Midlands and the north-west who need better access into London, it is people from the west, because Paddington is hopelessly overcrowded.

The reason I decided to speak in this debate was that I was appalled by the response from the Government; it is not satisfactory. In the other place, the day after a big, detailed House of Lords report was published, the Under-Secretary of State, my honourable friend Robert Goodwill, said,

“I most heartily disagree with their report”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 25/3/15; col. WH533.]

He must have had it on his desk for less than 12 hours. To make a comment like that demeans the enormous hard work of the committee, on which I congratulate it. The written response is not much better. We have heard that it has not answered the specific points of the committee, and that is what prompted me to speak today.

I therefore want to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench a number of questions. We are all in favour of promoting regeneration, but what has been the growth in east Kent since HS1 opened? How does this compare with other areas in the south-east? What are the cost benefits on that line? If we have that sort of information, we can perhaps transpose some of it to HS2.

For every plus, there is a minus, and there are undoubtedly pluses coming from HS2. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said that there was a huge demand for it. That is not what people have told me: people in Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, Chesterfield, Wakefield, Durham, Chester, Lancaster, Carlisle, and Berwick-upon-Tweed have told me that their services will be reduced as a result of HS2. Their services will be less good. What savings will be made from the reduction in services on those lines?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, about Euston station—it is a more detailed matter of city planning. It is very confusing for those of us who are interested in this subject to find that HS2 has changed the plans that it submitted two years ago, and that Euston station is going to take seven years longer to redevelop than was predicted two years ago. Where does that leave those of us who are trying to take an independent view? Does it give us any confidence in what is proposed? No, it does not. It seems to me that there will be considerably more blight for a longer time, for more people and for more existing passengers, as a result of what HS2 has decided.

Could the Minister clarify the situation on the trans-Pennine link? I mentioned it in my remarks on the gracious Speech, as I think it is the most important piece of infrastructure, linking east and west, which needs improvement, rather than north and south.

In conclusion, given the confusion and the polarisation on both sides, why do the Government not have an independent cost-benefit analysis? If we had that, we could at least refine our discussion and make up our mind, with clear facts agreed by all.