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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:28 pm on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:28 pm, 14th April 2016

My Lords, I am certain that no one doubts that the United Kingdom and the future economy need a more efficient and speedy transport structure, whether it be our roads, our airports or our railways. We have heard some very interesting speeches today, including the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mair.

The question we have to address is whether HS2 is the correct solution to our railway problems. Is it financially viable and will it deliver the Chancellor’s dream of growing his much-vaunted northern powerhouse? The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in his fantastic speech, mentioned that the Bill is 25,000 pages long. I suspect that I am not alone in admitting that I have not read it.

There may well Members here today who have studied logic. That particular skill seems to have deserted the champions of HS2, and some noble Lords have raised some concerns today, including my noble friend Lord Berkeley, who is an expert in these matters.

Many people to whom I have spoken have formed the extremely logical conclusion that this faster rail link will inevitably carry certain people to their businesses in a very timely fashion. But will it carry business people from London to the north? I suggest exactly the opposite will happen. There will be a rush of businessmen and women from the north going to the City of London, where they will invest, do deals and then go back to Birmingham for supper. Who benefits from this? London. The line will certainly be used by many passengers.

I do not understand why little consideration has been given to an alternative scheme that has been developed, I am told, by two eminent railway engineers with decades of service between them. The facts and figures provided by HSUK, to which the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, referred, indicate a lower cost on a like-for-like basis. It avoids the Chilterns in its entirety and has a vastly reduced overall environmental impact, and it would also have a far greater effect in reducing transport CO2 emissions.

Many people believe that there has been a failure in due process in arriving at the present proposals for high-speed rail in Great Britain. This has resulted in the HS2 scheme apparently failing every test of network performance. However, the Bill cannot be changed to take advantage of the major changes—such a pity.

These proposals were virtually nodded through by all Members involved immediately before the Easter recess, which, to me, is unbelievable considering the obscene costs involved during a period of austerity, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the misery for thousands of citizens from Camden to the Chilterns. It is imperative that we consider what we are putting in place for the future, including modernising parts of the country, which some noble Lords have mentioned. This is not like a country across the water, where trains travel long distances at fast speed. This is the United Kingdom—totally different.