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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Rowe-Beddoe Lord Rowe-Beddoe Crossbench 3:10 pm, 14th April 2016

My Lords, I rise to express my concern and great disappointment that the unanimous conclusions of the Economic Affairs Committee of this House, published just over a year ago, largely remain ignored by this Bill. Some of your Lordships may recall that we entitled the media release:

“The Government has yet to make a convincing case for a £50 billion investment”.

We were not satisfied, as the detail of our report illustrates. I regret that I am the only member of that committee here today, but I remain dissatisfied, not with the objectives of the Bill, which I strongly support, but with the amount of money being spent. It has not been proven to my satisfaction that a case has been made.

I endorse some of what the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said about the planned sequence, for example, of the construction of HS2 and HS3, which the committee also made reference to. Further, I agree with my noble friend Lord Birt that Liverpool must be included, and a very strong representation was made by the elected mayor of that city to such effect to the committee.

We really must be satisfied that such a capital sum of proposed investment is appropriate and is better value than any modification or alternatives to the route proposed. Your Lordships’ committee commenced deliberations in October 2015—I point this out just so the House knows that time has been spent on this; I know the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, had great experience of this with committees in the other place—and spent some six months in the close examination and questioning of both written and oral evidence. We received the Government’s response in July—I assume that the general election intervened—and the report itself was not debated until September, some nine months after we started to take evidence.

In my opinion, nothing in this Bill takes on board or responds to the concerns we raised at that time—or indeed in the subsequent letter from our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Hollick—with the Government following their response. The noble Lord raised 10 issues, which received no response at all. This suggests to me that, on HS2, the minds of officials and government Ministers have been firmly made up for some time and that they are determined to proceed with this enormous investment in the form this Bill proposes. Sadly, I must repeat what I said in last September’s debate. The attitude is:

“Here is your answer; what is your question?”.—[Official Report, 16/9/15; col. 1876.]

I know from some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that he has experience of such obfuscation.

Let me be clear: I am greatly in favour and supportive of much-needed infrastructure projects and, indeed, the objectives behind this specific project. However, I am not satisfied that a less expensive alternative has been fully examined and quantified.