High Speed Rail (London–West Midlands) Bill - Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 31st January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:45 pm, 31st January 2017

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I recognise the strength of feeling expressed by my noble friend in raising this issue. Indeed, I met him again only yesterday to see whether we could allay some of his concerns. I do not share the experience that he cited of the passage of the Bill in your Lordships’ House; I am sure that most noble Lords across the House share my sentiment. Several noble Lords have rightly, at various stages of the Bill’s passage, challenged aspects of cost and detail, but—I look across the House to the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Bradshaw—they made it clear that, while challenging key aspects of the construction of HS2, they did so with the understanding and absolute assurance that they were committed to the project.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, clearly articulated the benefits of HS2 and I thank him for putting the whole project into context and correcting some of the history of railways in our great country. He talked about the time pre-1838, before Queen Victoria’s coronation. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord West, is no longer in his place, but I am sure that he made a particular note of that.

My noble friend Lord Framlingham rightly raised the issue of costs and the control of costs. It is right that your Lordships’ House challenges the basic element of costs. However, given the recent experiences of infrastructure projects and the intense debates, discussions and scrutiny in Select Committees of both Houses on the Bill, it was very clear that that issue would be addressed. Noble Lords from across the House quoted the positive nature of projects such as Crossrail that are running to time and budget. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, talked about the brave new world in which our country finds itself. It is projects such as Crossrail that we are taking to the world to showcase the best of British engineering, supply chains and apprenticeships. I believe earnestly that HS2 provides opportunities of this magnitude. For example, the training facilities associated with the skills element of the HS2 project are an important legacy of any infrastructure project.

I assure my noble friend again that the scrutiny of costs will not only be internal. As I am sure he is aware, the Commons Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have already produced several reports on the costs of HS2, which are publicly available. These bodies will continue to examine the cost of HS2 as we move forward and as more detailed costs on the project become available.

I am mindful not to detain your Lordships’ House longer than necessary. It is important that this project is supported across your Lordships’ House, as it is in the other place. My noble friend Lord Framlingham raised the issue of the CBI and the BCC. They are fully supportive of HS2 and have gone on record to say that the additional capacity it will create is vital.

We have debated, discussed and scrutinised this Bill and this project in the true traditions of parliamentary democracy. In closing I again pay tribute to the incredible work that the Select Committees of both Houses have done. My noble friend has been a Member of both Houses and is testament to the incredible work that Select Committees do in scrutinising petitions to ensure that, whoever the petitioner is, their voice is heard, considered and validated. If valid concerns are raised, Bills and projects can be amended—and the same is true of HS2. If you look at the course of the Bill and its progress through your Lordships’ House—I commend the Select Committee analysis of the various petitions—you will see the detailed scrutiny, analysis and recommendations of your Lordships’ Select Committee, all of which the Government have accepted. As I said, there were differences of opinion and we have sought to resolve them. I thank all noble Lords who worked on a constructive basis in that sense.

As I said to my noble friend, both in your Lordships’ House and in other meetings we have held, I appreciate that he has been consistent in his position in opposing this project. However, we have addressed and scrutinised this issue and the project and we have put in place the checks and balances necessary to ensure that the costs implications of the project have been fully considered and will continue to be so. I implore my noble friend, even at this late stage, to consider carefully the responses I have given and the valid processes, checks and balances that we have put in place. As we have heard, this project is not only necessary for investment in our railways but is important to ensure connectivity, capacity and that our country is truly a 21st century country on the world stage.

My noble friend has made his consistent position absolutely clear. He knows that I have respected his position throughout the process, as I assured him again yesterday. However, when he reflects on the debate this afternoon, the other debates and scrutiny that have taken place and the assurances that the Government have given, I hope he will be minded to withdraw his amendment.