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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:17 pm on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Parliamentary Under-Secretary 4:17 pm, 14th April 2016

My Lords, first, I join other Peers in thanking everyone for their most interesting, detailed and expert contributions to the debate. I will seek to answer all the questions that have been raised, but, in the interests of time, in respect of those that I am unable to cover, I will of course review them and write to noble Lords.

I acknowledge, first and foremost, the widespread support across the House for this important project. In his concluding remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said that ultimately it is the Government’s responsibility and that the Government need to have vision and leadership. I assure him and all noble Lords that that is exactly what the Government believe. The project requires accountability and, ultimately, the Government remain accountable to your Lordships’ House and to the other place for ensuring that this project proceeds on track—excuse the pun.

I also acknowledge that this has evoked great passion and emotion in certain respects, both for and against the Bill’s provisions and progress on HS2. My noble friends Lady Pidding and Lord Framlingham, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, among others, raised concerns about the environment, and I will come to them in a moment. It is understandable and right that they raised those concerns but, equally, it is promising to see such support for HS2 across the House.

I am indebted to my noble friends Lord Fowler and Lord Young for their strong support and also to others—I notice the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has now taken up a different position in his capacity as Deputy Speaker, but I thank him for his support. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has an important role on the National Infrastructure Commission. I pay tribute to his work in securing the progress that we have made on HS2 and thank him for his expert—as ever—contribution today.

I am sure that other noble Lords will not mind me singling out the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mair. I listened very carefully to his contribution and various people have been passing me notes about the current status of Big Ben. I am sure that the last time I looked, it was standing straight and erect as a great beacon of our democracy, our capital city and country. I think that we all acknowledge and greatly appreciate the efforts and expertise of the noble Lord in ensuring that that remains the case. I know that all noble Lords will have been encouraged by his contribution today. His knowledge of civil engineering and of underground construction will provide great insight into and scrutiny of this project, and his broader expertise will be of great value to your Lordships’ House going forward.

We have heard various contributions from noble Lords about how we are progressing on infrastructure. One thing I briefly share is that through projects such as HS2, the development of other catalyst issues, such as the HS2 college and—a few noble Lords alluded to the completion of Crossrail 1—the tunnelling academy that has emerged through Crossrail 1, demonstrates to me the expertise that we are developing in infrastructure, and transport infrastructure in particular. This was a point recently acknowledged by Ministers in Singapore who are currently embarking on a project with Malaysia to build the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore link. We are exploring how we can share common practices and expertise in these areas, and that is something that we should all be encouraged by.

The lack of engineers was also noted. The Government recognise this; indeed, I have a particular responsibility within the Department for Transport as a Skills Minister. In two years’ time, 2018 will be the year of the engineer, but there is much to be done across the board and we all share the responsibility for ensuring that we have the engineers not only to meet our challenges but, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, to export our expertise in years to come.

I turn now to the questions that were raised. Various noble Lords raised the issue of the Select Committee process. The noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Berkeley, Lord Stevenson and Lord Tunnicliffe, raised the issue of what the responsibilities of the Select Committee will be. It is important to note that the powers of the committee are not set by the Government; they are set by the conventions of the House. I was asked a specific question about the difference between the Houses. The convention is that the Commons Select Committee can hear additional provisions but the Lords committee does not. This is because the procedure follows that of an opposed Private Bill.

For your Lordships’ information, an additional provision is effectively a mini hybrid Bill; it is a change that requires additional land to be taken or changes to the Bill’s powers. The difference in powers is, I think, entirely in keeping with this House’s role as a revising Chamber. An additional provision—again, to remove any doubt and to provide greater clarity—is a change that leads, as I have said, to additional land being required and/or breaches of the environmental envelope for the project set out in the environmental statement. I trust that that provides the greater detail that noble Lords have requested on this, but if further details are requested of course I will be pleased to write in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked when we will outline our plans for HS2 in the Midlands and the north. As I mentioned, we have brought forward the planned opening of phase 2a by three years to 2027. In terms of phase 2 as a whole, the Government consulted on the proposed route between July 2013 and January 2014.