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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:48 pm on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Glasgow The Earl of Glasgow Liberal Democrat 1:48 pm, 14th April 2016

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, whose knowledge of railways is second to none. I, on the other hand, will speak simply because I am a great enthusiast for HS2. It is the most exciting engineering project since Crossrail and it is expected to benefit the Midlands and north of England as much as, if not more than, London and the south-east. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, also said, it shows that our country can commit itself to ambitious projects that are not expected to be fully operational for 20 years or more. Most importantly, it demonstrates that we are committed to the railways as our main form of transport for the foreseeable future, or that is the way I see it.

The railways—potentially, anyway—are by far the most civilised and pleasant method of travel. It is also the one that least pollutes the atmosphere. We must stop building more and more motorways and releasing those aircraft into the skies that go only from one part of Britain to another. HS2 will eventually connect most of our major cities, and I see it as part of a new railway revolution. At least, that is what I hope. It is so important that the Government do not lose their nerve and get swayed by those, particularly on the right of the Conservative Party, who regard HS2 as an unacceptable waste of money and are still campaigning to have the whole project aborted.

However, my enthusiasm for HS2 is tempered by a few concerns on which I need government assurance. First, I want an assurance that HS2 has its own ring-fenced budget and that essential improvements to the rest of the network will not be compromised. I need to be sure that HS2 is not a vanity project, as many of its detractors like to put it, but an integral and essential part of a greatly improved railway network for the future.

Secondly, I want to be assured that the Government see the completion of building HS2 not as an end in itself but, rather, as the beginning of a greater scheme for the future of railways in Britain. I should like to know that the Government are already planning HS2’s extension into Scotland, presumably with the Scottish Government contributing their share of the cost. I would like to think that HS3 is also on the drawing board. As has already been said, this is the new proposed east to west line joining up Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, and on to York and maybe Hull. Or is this just some vague aspiration associated with the northern powerhouse concept? Is the proposed link with Heathrow still at the planning stage or is it ready to go ahead? And are the Government still working to resolve the problem of joining HS2 and HS1? Surely we do not want to have to change trains and stations, as my noble friend has suggested as a possibility.

Most of us here will be dead by the time all this has been realised, but I like to think we are planning for the distant future. The high-speed element of the project will prove its full potential only on a journey of over 250 miles. We Scots would much prefer to come to London every week by train than go through the hassle of airports, but the journey from Glasgow to London needs to take at least an hour less than it does at present to get us to change our ways.

My third concern—a point flagged up by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw—is the rebuilding of Euston station and HS2’s approach into London. This is as yet far from resolved. Although High Speed Two Ltd prides itself on its consultation with interested parties and its success in coming to arrangements with hundreds of interested parties, it has resolved nothing with the people of Camden. It has not even firmed up the line’s route into Euston station, so the anxious people of Camden do not yet know what they are objecting to, and they are certainly going to object. This issue must be resolved quickly, otherwise the whole project could be seriously delayed. I would like to know that the Government are fully aware of this danger and intend to give it urgent attention.

To recap, I would be grateful for an assurance that the essential improvements to the existing network will not be affected by HS2. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has said that it will not, but he must understand that there is quite a lot of scepticism about this. I would also be grateful for an assurance that the Government are, even now, planning a more effective railway service for Britain well into the future, and that they will waste no time in resolving the problem of the route into Euston station and the reconstruction of Euston station itself, or, as has been suggested, possibly the abandonment of Euston station altogether as the London terminus for HS2.