High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:54 am on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 11:54 am, 14th April 2016

My Lords, we support the Bill. As the Minister said, HS2 is the project to build a high-speed rail line from London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham and the east Midlands, with operation due to begin in 2026 and to be completed by 2032-33. At the beginning of 2009, then then Labour Government set up HS2 Ltd, with the principal aim of advising the Secretary of State on the development and proposals for a new railway from London to the West Midlands and, potentially, beyond. The scheme taken forward from 2010 was based on the outcome of the work conducted for the then Government by HS2 Ltd and was initially proposed by the Labour Government in a March 2010 Command Paper. This was subsequently taken up by the incoming coalition Government.

In February 2011 it was confirmed that phase 1 would take the line from London to the West Midlands by 2026, while phase 2 would take the line from the West Midlands to the north of England by 2032-33. It was not until January 2013 that a decision was taken on the configuration of the route from Birmingham north to Manchester and Leeds. Then, in November 2015, the Government announced their intention to bring forward the route to Crewe before the remainder of the route to Manchester and Leeds, with the expectation that this part of the route would be operational by 2027. The Government were due to confirm the phase 2 route at the end of 2014, but that did not happen, prolonging uncertainty and delaying private sector investment decisions. When will the Government confirm their plans for high-speed rail in the Midlands and the north?

HS2 is a Labour project, in which my noble friend Lord Adonis, as Secretary of State for Transport, played a key and vital role. I look forward to his speech, as well as to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mair. Our high-speed rail Command Paper, published in March 2010, set out the urgent need for increased capacity on our rail network. Since then, passenger numbers have grown by a third. Our case for HS2 was based on the assumption that passenger demand would grow by just over 2% a year. As the reality since then has proved to be an average increase of some 5% per annum, the case for HS2 has grown stronger and more urgent over the last six years. Our existing main trunk north-south rail routes face capacity issues today that have to be addressed if they are not to have an adverse impact not just on the ability of an increasing population, and increasing freight, to move within the UK, but on future economic development and expansion, on which our prosperity as a nation in the years ahead depends.

The line from London to the east Midlands and Sheffield has been officially designated “congested infrastructure”. The train operator on the main line from London to Leeds and Newcastle has said that the route “faces track capacity limit”. The existing route with the most pressing shortfall capacity, though, is the west coast main line from London to Birmingham and Manchester. We have reached the practical limits of the existing infrastructure on a route where intercity commuter and freight services all compete for scarce train paths and where commuter services are already at less than the required level in the West Midlands and on the approaches to Manchester because of lack of track capacity at key points.

The money for HS2 might, of course, be spent instead on a further conventional modernisation programme of the existing west coast main line. However, leaving aside the years and years of weekend and other closures, diversions, misery and extended journey times for passengers and freight services, and very significant compensation payments for the train operators, a conventional upgrade would deliver less than half the additional capacity of a new line, which will also enable the integration of high-speed rail services with existing lines and thus significantly improve journeys and journey times not only between cities on the new route but beyond it. That improvement is reflected in the support for HS2 from local government and other leaders of not just Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds but also Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow. Strategic planning decisions are already being made or considered based on HS2.

A number of recent major rail transport projects have been located in London and the south-east, such as Thameslink, High Speed 1 and Crossrail. HS2 is also about improving our rail transport infrastructure in the Midlands and the north, as well as in London and the south-east. HS2 has the very public backing of both the CBI and the TUC because of not only the favourable impact it will have on economic development and growth—inadequate, overstretched links retard growth and expansion—but the many thousands of additional skilled jobs that will be created directly and indirectly from the construction and operation of HS2.

At Third Reading in the Commons, the Secretary of State said that HS2 was about not only jobs but also materials. He said that HS2 would need approximately 2 million tonnes of steel over the next 10 years and that the Government were already holding discussions with UK suppliers to make sure that they were in the best possible position to win those contracts. Quite a lot has been happening in and to the steel industry since Third Reading in the Commons and that statement by the Secretary of State. I want the Minister when he responds to be a bit more specific. Will the steel for HS2 come from the UK steel industry or is it in whole or in part to come from outside this country?

Not surprisingly with a major project of this kind, real concerns have been raised, not least before the special Select Committee in the Commons, about the impact of the construction of the new route when it is opened on those communities and areas through which it will run. In many cases the new high-speed line is likely to bring little or no direct benefit to them since there will be no station anywhere near their locality. There are concerns, for example, about the impact on the Chilterns through which the new line will pass. There is also the disruption for residents and businesses, including demolition and loss of homes, around the Euston area, and the need for a comprehensive rather than piecemeal redevelopment of Euston station that will be consistent with the plans and objectives of the relevant authorities, including the London Borough of Camden. The redevelopment of the existing station at Euston is unfunded and unplanned. What action do the Government intend to take to address this issue— and when?

I am resident in a community that will certainly be affected by the construction and operation of HS2. It was depressing to read in the very helpful briefing pack prepared for this debate by the House of Lords Library that the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, in a report published last month, said in reference to HS2 that the,

“continuing existence of a culture of defensive communication and misinformation within a public body, responsible for the delivery of such a large and highly controversial project, is not acceptable”.

Since the Department for Transport is the promoter of the Bill, what action do the Government intend to take to address the point made by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee about HS2 Ltd?

The Minister made reference to the special Select Committee process. The special Select Committee of the Commons heard more than 1,500 petitions during 160 sittings, lasting more than 700 hours and with more than 15,000 pieces of evidence. There will be a similar—though I understand much shorter—special Select Committee process in this House following Second Reading. The Crossrail Bill took approximately 21 months in the Commons Select Committee and only three months in the Lords equivalent, and the HS1 Bill —which became the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act—took approximately 12 months in the Commons Select Committee and less than two months in the Lords equivalent. That suggests the special Select Committee in this House will not have the same powers and role as the Select Committee in the Commons.

I know that the Minister has already addressed this issue in part, but it would still be very helpful if he said in his closing speech whether or not this is the case—in other words, that the committee in this House will not have the same powers and role as the committee in the Commons—and, if it is, what powers and role the special committee in the Commons had which will not be available to the committee in this House; and, likewise, what powers and role available to the special committee in the Commons will be applicable as well to the special committee on this Bill in your Lordships’ House. I do not think that that was an issue to which the Minister referred in the comments he made about the special committee process.

Coming into the Lords on the London Underground, I see a poster to which the Mayor of London is a party on some of the stations, which states that Transport for London does not make a profit because it reinvests all its income on running and improving its services. That seems a pretty sensible approach, bearing in mind the enormous benefits an efficient and reliable Underground system delivers to the London economy and London residents. The case for HS2 that the Government—and, indeed, we on this side—are making is also based on the benefits it will deliver to the economy of this country and to economic growth and development in the Midlands and the north.

The London Underground, under a hardly left-wing mayor, is in the public sector and reinvests all its income in running and improving its services. So, too, should HS2. Public ownership delivered record passenger satisfaction and punctuality scores on the east coast main line, and that successful model should be extended to HS2. At the very least there should be an option to run HS2’s services under public ownership, reflecting the provisions made in the Crossrail Act, which had cross-party support.

I conclude by reiterating our support for the Bill. We want to see HS2 built for the reasons I have set out. However, there is also a continuing responsibility on the Government to listen to the concerns being expressed by communities affected about the impact on them of the construction and operation of HS2, and to ensure that everything that can reasonably be done to address those concerns is done.