Moved by Lord Adonis
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—“( ) Within six months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament the Government’s plans for a Bill providing for the construction of a high-speed railway from the West Midlands directly to Sheffield and Leeds.”
My Lords, I had hoped that it would not be necessary for me to detain the House this afternoon because the noble Baroness, whom we hold in very high regard, would accept this amendment. However, I do not think that she is going to accept it so, alas, I will have to detain the House for a few minutes in putting forward the case for it. It is fundamental to the whole of the high-speed rail project that it should serve not just the West Midlands and the north-west but the East Midlands and Yorkshire. If it is a project just for one half of the country, it will by definition leave the other half behind.
If we just build a high-speed line up to Manchester and do not build a new railway up to Sheffield and Leeds and connecting on to the east coast main line, then—coming back to the Victorians—this would be the equivalent of the Victorians building a railway up to Manchester but leaving the canals to serve Sheffield and Leeds. It is fundamental to the project that it serves both halves of the country, and the great danger at the moment is that the Government are on track to cancelling or severely delaying the eastern part of the project. The Minister is not able to accept this amendment, which simply requires the Government to come forward with legislation for the eastern leg at the same time as that for the western leg. It was always integral to HS2 that phase 2b—the extension of the line north from Birmingham to Manchester—should take place at the same time as the extension of the line north-east from Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds.
All that this proposal seeks—there is strong cross-party support for it—is to hold the Government to the original conception of HS2, which they have said they accept and have not actually said they reject. However, they will not take the steps required to deliver it. Those of us who know how government works know that when the Government do not rule out an option but refuse to take the practical steps required to deliver it, we should smell a rat and act accordingly. That is the purpose of this amendment.
The noble Baroness may drag the rug from under my feet and tell me that the Government are definitely committed to introducing legislation for the eastern leg of HS2 to Sheffield and Leeds at the same time as the Manchester legislation. If she says that, I will gladly withdraw my amendment. If she says that she is prepared to consider doing that between now and Third Reading I will go the last mile to reach consensus with her and withdraw this amendment. However, if she cannot give that commitment, then the House would be reasonable in concluding that the reason she will not is because the Government are contemplating cancelling the eastern leg of HS2 outright. This will undermine the integrity of the project. It will not be levelling up. By definition, it will level down for the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east and we should carry this amendment today.
I am very glad to have the support of some of the speakers who will follow me. I would like to call the noble Lord, Lord Curry, my noble friend because he and I spent many months together on the economic inquiry into the future of the north-east, some five years ago. He is a very powerful champion of the north-east and completely understands the vital importance of the eastern leg of HS2, not just to the cities that it directly serves—Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds—but to the east coast main line going further north-east.
My noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, are very powerful champions for the city of Sheffield. I am told that I have managed a near-miraculous feat in uniting them this afternoon, which I am delighted to see. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, to the House, particularly as he has now joined the club of former Transport Secretaries, which is the most distinguished club in the House. He was an immensely distinguished Transport Secretary and carried the HS2 project forward for more than three years. It is in no small part due to him personally that we are debating the Bill this afternoon.
This is not a party matter at all; the rhetoric of the Government is about levelling up and bringing the benefits of high-speed rail. We will hear all these phrases from the Minister in a moment. She is already nodding—she has them in the brief in front of her. The benefits of high-speed rail should be extended to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east. You cannot have the benefits of high-speed rail extended to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east unless they actually have high-speed rail. She will also have in her brief that rail should be integrated; they have this thing called the integrated rail plan, which we will hear lots about. Well, you cannot integrate nothing with something. King Lear had the answer to that one three centuries ago, or whatever it was:
“Nothing will come of nothing.”
If there is no high-speed line going to Sheffield and Leeds and connecting to the east coast main line, there is nothing to integrate. If the Minister wants an integrated rail plan and she wants the benefits of high-speed rail extended to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, I am afraid there is only one way to do it: build the high-speed rail line through to Toton—the junction station between Derby and Nottingham—and to Sheffield, Leeds and the north-east.
I do not want to detain the House unduly. I set out all these arguments in Grand Committee. I even changed my amendment, in intense consultation with the clerks, to meet the objection of the Minister that we might delay the project; there is nothing I would less want to do. The form of this amendment involves no delay to the construction of the railway line from Birmingham to Crewe because it simply requires that “within six months” of the passage of the Act, the Government should come forward with plans for legislation for the eastern leg.
I end with two key points, so that your Lordships understand the vital importance of the proposition we are talking about today. If high-speed rail proceeds only to Manchester, and does not proceed to Sheffield and Leeds, when HS2 is completed the journey time from London to Manchester will be one hour, from London to Sheffield, and to Leeds, it will be two hours, and from London to Newcastle it will be three hours. Do I need to explain to your Lordships what the impact will be on business location decisions and the whole economic future of the country if that situation applies to these cities for most of the 21st century? If we are about building one nation, giving equal opportunity and incentives for all parts of the country to grow, and giving these phenomenally important cities of the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east an opportunity to compete on a level playing field with the western cities of the country, then we must pass this amendment today. If we get into a situation where HS2 is only half-built, it will be the equivalent of the great Victorian pioneers building railways in the western part of the country only and leaving the whole of the eastern part with canals. I beg to move.
My Lords, I remind all noble Lords in the Chamber to maintain social distancing for everyone’s safety. I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whose commitment to HS2 is very well known. I must say that I am impressed with his tie. I have a pair of socks which I clearly need to donate to him to match. As the noble Lord has mentioned, I have the honour of being a member of a commission which was established by the North East LEP and which was chaired by the noble Lord about five years ago. It was a revealing exercise even for someone like myself, who has lived in the north-east all my life.
It is almost slightly irritating for those of us who live in the far north of England—the north-east or the north-west—that, when viewed from London or the south-east, the north begins somewhere north of Nottingham and stretches to Sheffield and Manchester, while the vast area of England beyond that disappears into a fog and is too often regarded by those who live there as being neglected and ignored. This is the case with the existing plans for HS2. I have never regarded HS2 as just an attempt to deliver passengers from Euston to Birmingham 15 minutes earlier than is the case at present, but as a necessary investment to increase the capacity of the rail network. It is essential that the increased capacity planned is extended further north, beyond the current plan.
The north-east has some interesting and contrasting economic features. On the one hand, the region has one of the highest, if not the highest, proportion of GVA being exported of any English region, thanks to some very large companies such as Nissan. On the other hand, the north-east has some of the lowest indices in England, whether it be unemployment, average income levels, many social indicators, productivity and so on. For all these reasons—whether to support existing successful businesses or to help level up and address the long-standing economic and social issues—we need a commitment from Her Majesty’s Government to extend HS2 from the West Midlands to Leeds, as this amendment suggests, so that Yorkshire and the north-east can look forward to improved connectivity to assist in economic growth and address many of these long-seated social problems.
We all welcome the Government’s relatively recent announcement to invest in a whole range of infrastructure projects in the north. Many of these have been on our wish list for decades and are an important start to address the levelling-up commitment of the Government, but there is a very long way to go to satisfy the residents of the north of England. Supporting this amendment to extend HS2 would be a further, and very important, welcome step by the Government; it would show that they are committed to supporting the north and delivering an integrated rail network, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has very effectively outlined. It is essential to improve access and assist in delivering economic growth. I do hope that the Minister will change her mind and accept this amendment.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and his passion for the north. I probably have to disappoint both the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Adonis, as I do not have the sartorial elegance of the socks of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and I definitely do not have a tie like that of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
It is ironic that the day that we are having to debate this amendment is the first day in the north that we do not have Pacer trains—a change promised for a couple of years, and 35 years later we were still travelling along on “trucks on rails” as they were called. It is ironic that, on the day that we thought things were moving forward, we are here seeking a commitment from the Government—not just warm words but a commitment—to make sure that our railways in the north on the eastern leg are equivalent to what is going to happen up to Manchester.
There is a history of warm words from the Government and then things not happening, particularly on the Midland main line. I remember—I think I was a local councillor in Sheffield at the time—being told that we were going to have electrification of the Midland main line. That was stolen from us. We were told, “No, you don’t need that anymore. We’re going to have some modern hybrid trains running off hydrogen”—trains that do not exist to perform what is actually needed. So, the Minister can stand at that Dispatch Box and give us all the warm words in the world; the fact is, people in Sheffield and Leeds will not believe the promises. They will look at this amendment and wonder why a firm commitment could not be given to bring forward a plan, through law, and why we cannot get the equivalent of what is happening up on the western leg.
The Minister might say, “Oh, we are going to build to a phased approach up to East Midlands Parkway, and then, secondly, up to Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds,” but if you talk to a schoolchild who will be leaving school this year, and tell them that by the time they are 60, there is a possibility that the High Speed 2 railway might give them the opportunities to unleash economic performance that they do not already have, I am sure that they will look at you in disbelief, because that is what phasing actually means. It means that today’s schoolchildren who are leaving will not get what has been promised to generations before them. Therefore, what we seek can be described by a phrase used by the Prime Minister in the 2019 general election. He promised us then that he would stop the “dither and delay” on HS2 and get on and start building it. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, absolutely does that: it stops the dither and delay and it gets on with it. It allows the levelling up to go ahead.
You cannot have an integrated transport system for the north without HS2: the two things are linked completely. Transport for the North has made it very clear: certain stations, junctions and connectivity are all linked. It is no good the Government saying that they want to unleash the power of the whole north or that they want levelling up, because they will be giving us only two or three parts of the total jigsaw. The whole picture will not be brought about. It is really important that if the Government’s commitment is to levelling up and to unleashing the opportunities for businesses and individuals—whether it be in Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham or further afield up in Newcastle—HS2 is an integral part of that. It cannot and must not be delayed; it cannot and must not just be warm words—it actually has to happen.
For the real social benefits of levelling up, I would argue that the east leg is more important than the west leg. That is because, as the HS2 campaign group has shown, along the east leg—Sheffield, Leeds and parts of the Midlands—there is lower productivity than along the west leg. There is less spending per head on transport along the east leg than along the west leg. Really importantly, there are more social mobility coldspots along the east phase than along the west phase. It would therefore be inconceivable to delay this if the Government’s commitment really is not just to a transport system but to what that transport system would achieve as a result of HS2: unleashing the economic opportunities and capacity of all people in the north.
On behalf of many people and businesses to whom I have spoken along the eastern leg, I say to the Minister that it is time to stop the warm words and the false promises. Today we seek firm action and firm commitments, and that is exactly what the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, gives us. That is why, when the Minister comes to speak, I hope that she will give us not only warm words or future promises, but a commitment to support this amendment and allow all of the north to be treated equally and get the HS2 system it requires to bring about the economic and social benefits that we know it can bring.
My Lords, I am very pleased to lend my support to my noble friend Lord Adonis and his well-crafted amendment, and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and—yes—the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. On a number of occasions this year, he and I have found ourselves in agreement: I am not sure whether that is bad for him or bad for me, but on this occasion we are wholeheartedly as one. That is because we have seen what has happened over the years. He mentioned electrification of the Midland main line. Christopher Grayling promised it, and within months he withdrew that promise. It is similar to the picture painted by George Orwell of promising, withdrawing and promising again until people were completely bamboozled and befuddled as to what they had been promised and what had been taken away. I counsel my noble friend Lord Adonis to be very careful in hearing, as I am sure that he will be, the words of the Minister, for whom we have the greatest respect but who has been given a government brief. If the brief is not to say, “Yes, of course we intend to go ahead with this and we will, therefore, be quite happy to publish our legislation,” then I hope we will move this to a Division.
There are three sets of people who helped the Government. One set are those who were against HS2 from the start. I understand why: they believe that the money should be redeployed elsewhere. There is a second set who say: “We do not mind you doing the north-west, but we are quite happy for you to give us the money for infrastructure work and other investment in Yorkshire and the north-east.” The third set says, “Do not rock the boat, because we do not want to be seen to be undermining phase 2a and the subsequent leg to Manchester because it would be grossly unfair.” All three are just so naive that it is breath-taking. It is breath-taking to suggest that money that would not be spent on HS2 would, in any way, be spent on other forms of infrastructure in the two decades to come. It is naive to believe that, if you give a fair wind to someone else, they will back you when they got what they wanted and you failed to get what you needed. It is naive to believe that a Government who will not commit to what they originally promised have somehow just mislaid the necessary words and are not intent on changing policy or their programme.
My great fear—and I have had it all along—is that we will, of course, get Crewe to Manchester, and we will get the fast HS2 line from Manchester to Leeds, so that the Leeds leg will be an extremely rapid cross-Pennine addition, but it will not be from Birmingham through the east Midlands and Yorkshire with the spur to the east coast main line and to the north-east. I worry about MPs from the north-east—many of them very new, and this is true of the east Midlands as well—who seem to live in a parallel universe where they believe that words do not say what they actually say, as Alice would have said in Wonderland. Unless you get it on paper and it is absolutely unequivocal, it is not going to happen. The east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east will lose out all over again.
The briefing notes sent out were very interesting. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, talked about people from London and the south thinking that the world stopped at Sheffield. I wish that they did believe that, but they think it stops at Watford. When they use terms, as were included in this briefing note, such as “the north” or “the northern powerhouse,” what they clearly mean is the north-west or Greater Manchester and the surrounding areas. That is what George Osborne believed, which was understandable from his point of view because at the time he represented a seat in the north-west.
It is time for the leaders of councils, the elected mayors and the Members of Parliament of every party from the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east to start collaborating in order to have their voice heard; otherwise, they will find themselves conned. Once again, they will be seen as losers and I am sick of us being losers on the east of the Pennines: I want the north and the northern powerhouse to be right across what is the north of England. I want that promise of 30 million people benefiting to be not some sort of artificial myth: I want it to be a reality. It can be a reality only if we actually get this additional leg, promised from the beginning, through the east Midlands, which has a high density of passenger usage, which will then be accommodated by freeing up the existing services. That is the argument in Stoke and Macclesfield in the north-west; it works just as well for the east Midlands and Yorkshire, where there is high-density passenger mileage in this particular corridor. Let us unite in wanting to do something that at last will put the nation in better balance—not only the levelling up that is so often talked about but levelling up between the north-west and north-east of the Pennines as well.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to address the House on what I believe is a very important infrastructure project, one of the biggest undertaken by any Government in recent years. I have a slight worry about the amendment as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, which is that it would put too much of a straitjacket on the Government regarding the future proposals that need to be ironed out. However, I find myself with a lot of sympathy for it.
I myself as Secretary of State for Transport made many changes to the plans put forward by the noble Lord when he did his initial scoping project, which was then carried on. Not the least of those changes is in the Bill before us. This part of the Bill came about as a result of the review done for me by David Higgins about how we could get it to the north faster, because there was a lot of concern that we would build up to Birmingham and then it would stop there. So I am delighted to be able to partake in these proceedings in this House on this section of the project that I think I started off.
I was fascinated to hear the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talk about the end of the Pacer trains. It reminded me of my time as Secretary of State: it was I who issued the instruction to the Permanent Secretary to override the advice of the department, which said that we could not possibly get rid of the Pacer trains as there was no financial case. I am very pleased that that has been done. It has been delayed slightly, but these things take a bit of time. Still, at long last those trains, which were brought in 40 years ago on a temporary basis, will cease to exist. I have to say I was surprised that there was no “Save the Pacer train” movement, because the rail industry can sometimes become very nostalgic, keeping everything in the past. As far as I know, there has been no such movement.
I did not get the exact wording of the Minister’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but she said it was time to get on with the Bill and not accept any more delays. I reinforce that to her: it is time to get on with the whole project in so far as it goes at the moment, because even the line up to Leeds and Manchester is not really the full project. It is only the start of the project of modernising our railway network. I find it ironic that I can get a high-speed train from London to Paris or Brussels, but not to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh or Glasgow. That is the dream; we have to ensure that future generations get their own high-speed rail.
I regret the words “high-speed rail”. It is not about high speed, but about high capacity. One of the things that this railway does is release a lot of the capacity on other railway lines to fulfil some of the more desirable things that areas want. We have seen a modern revolution in rail travel in this country. At the time of privatisation, 700 million people a year were using our railways. Last year, before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, the figure was something like 1.8 billion people. Railways have become a much more important part of our nation and of our cities. I believe that the Bill and the Government committing to going as far as Crewe is essential, but there is more about it that is essential. The line was always planned to be a Y shape. The most expensive part of the railway was actually building it from London to Birmingham and then its costs fall away a little, although I fully accept that it is still a very expensive project.
Something that annoys me about people who complain about the cost is that they then usually come up with ideas that will make it more expensive, not less. They are the people who want more tunnelling to take place so that it does not disturb their areas, or the like. One of my fascinations when I was Secretary of State was all those people who said that it was costing too much but, by the way, would we tunnel a bit more or make the line move elsewhere? They would then complain about the extra cost if you agreed to that particular change.
I urge my noble friend to take this message back to the Secretary of State and the Government: I worry particularly about the blight that will be served on areas that will get HS2, and on the eastern leg too. It is not just Sheffield, as championed by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, but Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Yes, there is Leeds, but what has not been mentioned is that it will also have quite a big impact on Chesterfield, again because of the changes that have been brought about as a result of the improvements that have been made. Initially the line was going to stop not in Sheffield directly, but outside Sheffield, at Meadowhall. That was changed as a result of the campaign led by Sheffield to have it go right into the city. This project is evolving as we find better ways of serving our cities.
As we have said time and again, it has to be a case of levelling up the north—and by “the north” we are referring not just to Manchester, but to the eastern section. I hope that those thoughts can be taken on board by the Government, and that when the Minister responds she can give some encouragement over when the full plan will be announced and moved forward. The sooner that is done, the better.
My Lords, I put my name down to speak on this amendment because it seemed the one opportunity that I would have today to give general support to HS2, the Bill and this amendment, obviously, as opposed to the other amendments, which I consider to be wrecking amendments. I would be somewhat more negative about them. I did not have the opportunity to speak in earlier debates.
It gives me pleasure that, having spoken some years ago in favour of the London to Birmingham part, I have an opportunity to support the idea of the total concept outlined by my noble friend Lord Adonis and the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, who we have just heard from: the one-nation aspect of the project. It was never about London to Birmingham, but something much bigger. As has been said, it was not about speed either, but about capacity. However, for the first couple of years the PR was somewhat negative.
The Minister has heard pleas from others and I join them, although I understand the position that she is in and what she will want to say. By the way, I found there were occasions when it was possible to make policy at the Dispatch Box when replying in the Lords because of the pressure that you were under, and it helped to stave off a defeat. I always used to tell my Secretary of State when I went back, “I had to give way on that otherwise we would have been defeated.” By and large that was generally accepted, so there is a capacity to do that.
What the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said about the last days of the Pacer trains is ironic. I remember that when I travelled around the country as a Minister, I was on one of those Pacer trains. I had never heard of them or seen them before. I cannot remember when it was; it was in my MAFF days so I am going back 20 years. I could not believe there were carriages like that on the railways, and of course there still were 20 years later. In some ways this is a bad day, because without the amendment the people of the north and north-east will feel as though they have been left behind.
I do not intend to speak for long. One of the most powerful points that the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, just made was about the blight. Everybody knows what the original plans were; they have seen the Y shape of the line. All of a sudden that has disappeared. The blight that that will leave on housing, industry, the movement of people and investment in particular will be massive. It is very difficult to put a cost on blight but it is very negative. Whatever the outcome is today, the Minister needs to point out to the department and the Government that it is in no one’s interest to have part of the country blighted in the way that that part will be if there is no government plan.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, entirely and all other noble Lords who have spoken. There are two things I want to mention because of my knowledge of the railway. If we do not get this addition to HS2 to the north-east, journeys will be very much slower than they would otherwise be. An HS2 train going from Toton through to Leeds will take 27 minutes; at the moment it takes 85 minutes by conventional railway. For Newcastle, the difference is between 93 and 160 minutes. It really is about putting the country together. There is no way that the existing infrastructure will be able to provide anything like what will be offered by HS2.
The second issue, which is very pertinent, and to which other noble Lords have referred, is the appalling standard of social mobility, education and health that pervade the area north of Toton, going up toward Sheffield and Leeds. HS2 will bring great opportunities. Lots of people will locate their industries and research institutions alongside HS2. It does not even have to built; it has to be promised, but promised faithfully, and people will move there in anticipation. The flow of education and training will bring hope to many people in that area who have abandoned hope. Some of the comments that people make about what it is like to live in these towns and villages show that they are pretty hopeless.
I implore the Government, for the sake of sensibly levelling up, to give this scheme the approval that it needs. I am afraid that if it is turned down, people will give up hope as their hopes have been so often dashed in that part of Britain.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who is a most distinguished retired railway manager. He was working for the railway for many years in the last century, and he was a very prominent figure in the industry when I was working for the Board in the 1970s and 1980s.
This has been a remarkable debate in that every single speaker has spoken in favour of the amendment tabled by noble friend Lord Adonis, with cross-party support. I find it very heartening that there is such support for High Speed 2 across the House, and indeed in the other place as well. It is right that the Minister has been praised for backing it so wholeheartedly. I hope that she will not disappoint us when she responds to the debate and gives her view on what happens to this amendment.
May I correct one thing that the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, said about Pacers? He may not be aware of it, but there is a Pacer rail group, dedicated to buying at least one of these trains. There are Pacers in use on heritage railways now, and there will be one in the National Railway Museum. If he redevelops a wish to see Pacers, they will be around for some while yet, although happily not on the national network.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on supporting the railways of Britain, not just through the present emergency but committing to their expansion in the future as well. That is why it is important that these good intentions are not undermined in the case of the eastern link of High Speed 2. There is a cross-party consensus that increasing the capability, the capacity and the use of the national electrified rail network is crucial to delivering the Government’s zero carbon agenda. No other transport project comes as close to achieving that goal as High Speed 2. Travelling on High Speed 2 will emit almost seven times fewer carbon emissions per passenger kilometre than the equivalent car journey, and 17 times fewer than the equivalent domestic flight.
Part of the essential case for High Speed 2 is the need to create new capacity on the three main lines going north from Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross to allow substantial numbers of extra freight trains to run on them. The eastern branch of HS2, connecting Birmingham and the cities of the East Midlands with Sheffield and Leeds is, therefore, vital. We know from the 10-year experience of modernising the west coast main line earlier this century that attempting to create a 21st-century railway by tinkering with a Victorian one creates years of disruption, delay and increased cost. The situation would be as bad or worse if the same were to be tried with the Midland main line and the east coast main line, rather than building the eastern leg of High Speed 2.
I finish with a comment from the director of Transport for the North, Tim Wood, in an interview with Modern Railways magazine in the current edition. He said that the eastern leg is as important as the 2b route to Crewe, Manchester and Liverpool:
“We all welcome the move, as further progress in delivering a step change for rail travel in the north. The plans to integrate the network on the east of the Pennines need full commitment and to be progressed at speed as well.”
I do hope that the Minister will agree, and that she will accept the amendment.
My Lords, I am a supporter of this project and congratulate previous speakers on their support for the amendment. I suspect that the amendment comes about as a result of almost a throwaway line from the Minister in Committee. She said, to my surprise—and, I note, the surprise of my noble friend Lord Adonis and, I suspect, some other members of the Committee—that the eastern leg of the high-speed network would mean more than one Bill. I think she said at least two Bills would be needed in order to go ahead. That rang alarm bells, certainly so far as my noble friend Lord Adonis was concerned, and he questioned the Minister. Like my noble friend Lord Blunkett, who spoke earlier, I fear that if we were to have more than one Bill to take the eastern leg forward, there could be not just a delay but a cancellation of part of what was proposed as part of the original Y-shaped HS2 system. That, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, in his memorable speech, would be disastrous for cities such as Sheffield and Leeds, and also for those of us who want to see HS2 continue beyond there and on to the east coast main line, and then further north.
There are worrying rumours, which I hope the Minister can deny, that, as was also said earlier, the intention will be to run a piece of the eastern leg as far as Toton and expect those travelling to Leeds and Sheffield to go via Manchester, through a connection between the proposed HS2 western leg as far as Manchester, and a new HS3—or whatever name one likes to give it—taking the railway forward across the east of England towards Sheffield and Leeds. I live in the city of Birmingham and, although hardly a native of it, as one might be able to tell from my accent, if I were going to Sheffield and Leeds I would not necessarily want to go via Manchester—a city for which I have great admiration, as I was born and brought up in the Manchester area and served on a local authority there.
If we are to have the alternative which I have just implied we might—of a connection between a western, Manchester leg of HS2 and the existing railway, perhaps a tarted-up one—then we will need to do some tunnelling under the city of Manchester. Forty years ago, I was a member of the passenger transport authority in Manchester when we proposed a tunnel between Manchester’s Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Alas, the legacy of railway competition in the 19th century meant that trains from the south terminated on the south side of Manchester and that those to and from the north started and terminated on its north side, and never the twain shall meet. They still do not; there is a tram connection between the two these days, but that is about the best we have been able to manage. If that is the proposal, I would regard it very much as a retrograde step.
I rely on the Minister to tell us one way or another whether such a proposal exists and, I hope, to bring some reassurance to this debate. That would undermine the critics of HS2—even those critics as friendly as my noble friend Lord Berkeley, who tells us on each and every occasion how much in favour of HS2 he is before throwing yet another rock at the train driver as it passes, in the hope of either slowing it down or cancelling the project completely. It would give more ammunition to those who criticise the scheme as just a way of getting from London to Birmingham even faster—a phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on behalf of the Green Party during Committee.
We can criticise HS2 as much as we like, as the noble Lord said earlier, but surely we have to acknowledge the fact that it is about connectivity. In the West Midlands, we are surely as entitled to that connectivity from Birmingham to Leeds and Sheffield as we are to London. I need only remind the House that organisations as diverse as the chamber of commerce in Birmingham, Midlands Connect and the northern powerhouse have all spoken strongly in favour of the eastern leg of the project. Whether it is about having one Bill or two—the amendment is clear that it must be one Bill within six months—I hope that the Minister can reassure us on that point. If she cannot, I know that my noble friend Lord Adonis will take his amendment to a vote later. I feel sure that that vote will be supported by noble Lords on both sides of the House who care about the detailed nature of this project.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, would accept that I am as enthusiastic as he is about the potential of the HS2 project. I recognise the intention behind his amendment but, despite the softened wording, it seems to have “delay” written all over it. That is not because he intends it but because it is something which opponents will feel invigorated by. We shall have the arguments developing again, with new and ingenious ways found of suggesting difficulties so far as phase 2a is concerned. I am doubtful about the amendment’s wording and the Government should not be imprisoned by it.
However, from a practical point of view, first, if we agree to put into law the phase 2A project from the West Midlands to Crewe, this will add to momentum as we are already beginning to see the benefits in the West Midlands through investment and job creation. It will enthuse more people on the east of the Pennines to expect that these benefits should come their way, and that the people who represent them should recognise that as well. Secondly, there is a political imperative for the Government here. So much has been said about levelling up that to level only one side of the Pennines and not the other would be seen as a considerable let-down, to use as mild a word as I can.
I understand that one of the principal arguments about having more railways is to deal with the capacity issue. At the same time, we should not brush aside the importance of the speed of journeys. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, reminded us a short while ago, there are some pretty horrendous journey times between east and west and these need to be improved, because of the barrier that they represent. Yes, but so too is the difference between north and south; the more we can shorten times there, the more chance we have of levelling up and spreading investment, jobs and housing, at the same time as easing pressures off the south-east while bringing huge benefits to the north of England.
Quite frankly, the Government must indicate that they accept this logic of dealing evenly with Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire on the one hand, and the East Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond—further north—on the other. For those east and west of the Pennines, this must be seen to have equal benefit. It will be a great shame if the Government do not make it clear that that is exactly what they intend by developing the whole of HS2.
My Lords, I add my support for my noble friend Lord Adonis’s amendment. I remember that when he first brought forward HS2 as Transport Secretary it was as a concept for this new Y-shaped spine, which would dramatically transform connectivity between London, the Midlands and the north. This concept has stood 11 years of the most severe examination. This afternoon, we have an opportunity to tell the Government that they cannot replace a north-south divide in this country with an east-west divide, and that both parts of this scheme should go ahead.
We were in economic difficulty at the point when my noble friend Lord Adonis first proposed HS2. We had just been through the financial crisis and the banking meltdown yet, at a time of great fiscal difficulty, here were a Government putting forward a transformative scheme for the country. One of the great things about it was that my noble friend Lord Adonis was able to secure cross-party backing for the whole concept. That is why it survived throughout the decade of the 2010s, first with the coalition and then with the Conservative Governments.
The need for this giant step forward in connectivity in Britain is even more compelling today than it was in 2009, because, since then, regional inequalities have grown. We have Brexit, which, whatever we think of it, will cause problems for regions in the north and Midlands that are heavily dependent on manufacturing. Now we have the prospect of permanent scarring of our economy as a result of the Covid crisis. One thing on which I think we can all support the present Government is their aspiration for levelling up. If we take that aspiration seriously, what on earth is the case for losing heart on this tremendous concept of transforming connectivity in England?
The economic argument holds true. Across Europe and North America, cities are the most dynamic places of productivity, growth, innovation and opportunity. Bringing cities together through better transport connections will increase and multiply those benefits. I saw some data the other day that suggested how the big cities of Britain were all much less productive than their comparators on the continent. This transformative proposal for connectivity would help reverse that. The imperative to go ahead is as strong as it ever was.
I speak as someone who does not live directly on the line. My dad was a railway clerk in Carlisle. When I was a lad, I think there were four express trains during the day from Carlisle to London. The first one left at 8.30 am and got you into Euston just before 5 pm. It was quite nice, of course, because if you could afford it, you could have both lunch and tea in the restaurant car, but it was an exceptionally long journey in the 1950s. Now, as a result of the west coast main line modernisation, the journey time has been reduced to three hours and 20 minutes. With HS2, it should be reduced further to around two and a half hours. Just to show how these things link together, one of the proposals of the borderlands project, which the Government last week agreed should be accelerated, is to spend the money on making sure that the platforms at Carlisle station are long enough to take HS2.
This scheme can affect most parts of Britain in a positive way. We should not go back on it now.
My Lords, I join every other noble Lord who has spoken in reminding the House that services between Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds are pretty awful at the moment. They are very slow, they are probably unreliable, and they do not help with the levelling-up agenda, “one nation”—as my noble friend Lord Adonis called it—or anything else. It is easy to reflect now on whether the Government should have gone for phase 2b east before they went for 2a, but it is too late for that, and does it really matter?
My noble friend Lord Snape said that if he was going from Birmingham to Leeds or Sheffield, he would not go via Manchester. Well, he might if it was faster and if he was keen on speed. I say that because, in addition to improving the route of 2b east, there is a strong wish among people living in the towns all the way from Liverpool to Hull and everywhere in between to improve the east-west links, which are very much worse than those to London. We could debate whether that matters, but I think it does. For the communities along that route and all the towns beside it—we can call it the northern powerhouse area or whatever—the line needs electrification and higher-speed running to help economic regeneration. Both need doing, but we should not say that we do not want to do an east-west improvement for fear of making it more difficult to go from Birmingham to Sheffield via Manchester.
I understood from the announcement of the Prime Minister earlier this year that the route of 2b east would be the subject of a study by, I think, John Armitt, as to how to integrate it with the existing lines. To my knowledge, that report has not yet been published. It would be unsatisfactory to go ahead with preparing a Bill for the whole thing until that report had been published and debated.
The distance of phase 1 of HS2, from London and Birmingham, was about 120 miles, while the distance of 2b, from Birmingham Interchange up to Leeds, is about the same. Some people might think that it goes through virgin countryside and it does not matter, but that is total rubbish. It goes through many conurbations; many people are interested in being able to use the line or improved lines that connect in with it. From what I have seen of the time it takes to prepare hybrid Bills—I am sure my noble friend Lord Adonis would agree—I think that, if you have not yet decided on a route, to publish a Bill in six months is pushing it. If the Minister says, “Well, it’s got to be done in stages and we’re not ready for the whole thing,” on this occasion I would support that. I want something done to improve the lines, but to do it all in six months without any proper consultation even having started would be a little optimistic.
My Lords, we received a useful briefing from HS2 prior to this debate. The final sentences read:
“Legislation to complete the Western leg of HS2 into Manchester is expected to come forward in 2022. Extending the line to Crewe is the first step to making this happen.”
There is a total absence of any reference there to the eastern leg. Other speakers have talked about the regenerative impact of HS2. This has already been demonstrated in Birmingham despite the line not being built yet. It is already a hotspot for inward investment, with high-quality jobs being created in major banks—HSBC and Deutsche Bank—as well as, importantly, in Jacobs Engineering.
The Government’s election rhetoric on levelling up won them seats in the north-east, and HS2 is an essential part of that. It is integral to delivering the plans of both the northern powerhouse and the Midlands engine. That means the whole of HS2; as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, without the eastern leg it will be unable to improve the transport links across the country and to create new freight capacity.
This is all essential if the Government are to be able to decarbonise our transport system. Much more important than higher speeds is the capacity that HS2 will unlock. Only a very small percentage of commuters currently use rail in the north of England. For example, 7% of people commuting from Liverpool to Manchester, and 3% going from Hull to Sheffield, use rail. That is because services are slow and unreliable. HS2 will provide additional capacity on existing lines by freeing them up to enable faster, modern trains to provide many more services. Trains are the most carbon-efficient mass transport system available.
Existing rail freight services are far too slow. Freight is the most challenging part of our transport system to decarbonise. Road freight accounts for 5% of our nation’s CO2 emissions, so it has to be tackled. For example, it now takes 11 hours to send freight by rail from Liverpool to Selby, for the Drax power station. That is an unrealistically long time. It takes only three hours to take the same load by road. The Government cannot hope to improve productivity and create well-paid jobs in the north, while meeting our climate commitments, without revolutionising the infrastructure of the region. HS2 is the key to that—freeing us from reliance on a 19th-century rail system that is literally buckling under the strain.
What we need from the Minister today is a firm and unequivocal commitment to the eastern leg, with a timeframe that puts it on an equal footing with the west. We will be listening very carefully but, much more importantly, the people of the north-east are listening. They will not forgive, or forget, any attempt to renege on election promises. As noble Lords have made clear this afternoon, the case for the eastern leg has been made perfectly over the years. It is now well overdue for work to start on the details of this project.
I do not intend to repeat all the points made so persuasively by my noble friend Lord Adonis and other noble Lords in support of his amendment. The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 election said that:
“HS2 is a great ambition”, but, as we all know, great ambitions are not always realised in full. The manifesto went on to say that HS2,
“will now cost at least £81 billion and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040.”
Continuing, the manifesto said that:
“We will consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome”.
In other words, there was no unambiguous commitment in the 2019 manifesto to complete HS2 via the East Midlands to Leeds, since the “optimal outcome” was dependent on government consideration of the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings.
In Committee, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe invited the Government to commit to building HS2 phase 2b to Leeds in full. In reply, the Government said that:
“Plans to provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond will be confirmed following the publication of the integrated rail plan”, and,
“that a properly connected line from the Midlands up to the North will be a key part of the HS2 project.”—[
As we know, that reply was not a commitment to build HS2 phase 2b via the East Midlands to Leeds in full.
It would thus be helpful if the Government could clarify in their response what the phrases,
“plans to provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond”, and,
“a properly connected line from the Midlands up to the North will be a key part of the HS2 project”, actually mean. Do they mean that the Government are committed to building HS2 phase 2b via the East Midlands to Leeds in full, or do they mean not that the high-speed line will be built the whole way from Birmingham via the East Midlands to Leeds but that HS2 services could, for all or part of that journey, run over existing routes calling at existing stations?
The indications are that the Government are either looking to abandon or scale back the eastern leg of HS2 through to Leeds or, at best, seriously delay its construction and completion. The lack of a clear commitment to the HS2 project in full calls into question the Government’s declared commitment to levelling up, since the eastern leg is just as vital as the delivery of the western leg. Levelling up cannot just mean levelling up the north-west and the West Midlands. It is just as vital to communities in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the north-east. Indeed, only proceeding with the western leg would leave the cities and areas that would have been served by the eastern leg at a disadvantage.
The Government now have the opportunity to put to rest any concerns over their commitment to the eastern leg by saying, in their response today, that they are committed to the construction and bringing into operation of HS2 phase 2b to Leeds via the East Midlands in full, and giving the date by which they intend it will be completed. The Government can also accept the terms of this amendment. We will now have to see if they intend to take that opportunity. It will be for my noble friend Lord Adonis to decide whether he is satisfied with the Government’s response but, if he does decide to call for a vote, we will be supporting him.
My Lords, I did a tally the other day; there are currently nine former Transport Secretaries in your Lordships’ House and I appreciate the wisdom of each and every one of them, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I thank him for his amendment and hope that I will be able to satisfy him today. I will go as far as I possibly can. I hope that he will listen carefully to my words and take as much comfort from them as he is able. All noble Lords will recognise his enthusiasm for and commitment to HS2. I have read the amendment extremely carefully, but suggest that there is no need for it, as I hope to explain. The Prime Minister has been very clear that the Government’s plans for the HS2 eastern leg will be set out in the integrated rail plan and that this will be laid before Parliament within the timeframe referred to in the amendment. I make that commitment to the House today.
The Government have already said that the integrated rail plan—let us call it the IRP, because it is a little quicker—will be informed by the yet to be published National Infrastructure Commission’s rail needs assessment, and that the IRP will consider how phase 2b is designed and delivered alongside other major rail investment in the north and Midlands, so that the improvements are felt as soon as possible.
Most noble Lords recognise that HS2 will be a transformational investment in our country’s infrastructure. The Secretary of State for Transport and the Prime Minister have both made it clear that they support the Oakervee review’s recommendation of a Y-shaped network. Given the very purpose of the IRP, and the analysis being undertaken by the independent National Infrastructure Commission, it is important that the outcome of the IRP is not prejudged.
I can reassure noble Lords that work is, of course, well under way. The amendment asks for a plan for a Bill. As the noble Lord well knows, I have previously indicated that this is not the current direction of travel. Preparations are already under way for phase 2b to be done in smaller multiple Bills; these smaller Bills may run concurrently. This can give us greater agility and enable faster construction, and this will allow the supply chain a steady plan of work and a suitable and sustainable pipeline. Splitting phase 2b into multiple Bills will also make it easier for Parliament and, as importantly, for others to scrutinise the extraordinary amount of detail that goes alongside these pieces of legislation. I would like to reassure noble Lords that plans for legislation—and as I have said previously, it is unlikely to be one Bill; it may yet be, but I am fairly sure that it will not be—covering the eastern leg of HS2 phase 2b will be confirmed following the publication of the integrated rail plan.
At this point I have an offer for the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. If he will withdraw his amendment, I will commit to him that we will publish the plan for legislation at the same time and as part of the IRP. I think that pretty much covers the noble Lord’s intention. The Government are doing all they can to deposit the phase 2b western leg Bill as early as possible, but I would like to reassure all noble Lords that bringing forward the western leg Bill will not delay the deposit of an eastern leg Bill; we are simply taking advantage of the western leg because it is shorter, and the section of route for the western leg is actually broadly agreed. This is all about getting things into your Lordships’ House and through your Lordships’ House as soon as we can so that we can deliver.
I am fully aware that there are concerns—and I have heard concerns—about what the National Infrastructure Commission is likely to suggest in its report. I would argue that, as an independent body, it is right that it looks at all of the available evidence when undertaking its assessment. But it will then be for Ministers to consider the National Infrastructure Commission’s conclusions and make final decisions on the IRP.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is a great supporter of this project. I applaud the noble Lord once again for his tenacity and his diligence, and I remind him that the Prime Minister has been clear that the Government’s plans for the HS2 eastern leg will be set out in the integrated rail plan, and that this will be laid before Parliament within the timeframe of his amendment. I hope I have made the noble Lord sufficiently content, and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, there was a rare degree of unanimity in the House, and I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken with a very great degree of passion. I think there is a great sense among noble Lords that the future of the country is at stake in the way that we proceed with HS2, just as the country that we live in today was to a very substantial extent shaped by those great Victorian railways and the way that they connected—or, in some cases, failed to connect—the great cities of our nation. The decisions that we take in Parliament over the next year or two on HS2 will shape the whole future of this country over the next century. Therefore, even though this has been a lengthy debate, I think it has been an important one, and hugely important for the direction of the country.
I said there has been near unanimity. I am afraid that the noble Baroness’s words do not go far enough; let me just do an exegesis on her words so that noble Lords are very clear about what she said. She said: “The Government have been very clear that the Prime Minister’s plans for the eastern leg will be set out in the integrated rail plan.” However, the key question is: what are the Prime Minister’s plans? Giving a commitment to set out the Prime Minister’s plans is absolutely pointless, unless those plans commit to building the eastern leg of HS2, which the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, his successors as Transport Secretary and I, on behalf of the then Government in 2010, committed to bringing forward as an integrated plan. Absolutely central to the whole philosophy of HS2 for the future of the country from the outset was that it should serve both the western and eastern parts of the country, and not, as one noble Lord said, replace a north-south divide with an east-west divide.
If the noble Baroness, who, as I say, we hold in very great respect, could commit to bringing forward legislation on the eastern leg at the same time as the western leg—that there will be definite legislation at the same time—I will withdraw my amendment. Is that a commitment the noble Baroness can make? Alas, my noble friend Lord Rooker invited her to rise to the occasion, seize the moment and make a declaration from the Dispatch Box—
The noble Lord knows quite well that you could not do that in terms of the time taken to prepare the legislation. You could not do it.
My Lords, you absolutely could commit. The noble Baroness could commit now to introducing legislation for the eastern leg. If she is telling me that the problem is the precise time it takes, but that there will be a definite commitment to legislation to build HS2 to Sheffield and Leeds at the same time as to Manchester, she could rise a second time, since she has already risen once, and I will withdraw my amendment. Alas, silence reigns, I am afraid, on the Government Front Bench.
I shall come to the quick, since it is important we understand the gravity of the issues at stake. The situation, which is well known in the Department for Transport and among those with whom I speak, is as follows. Dominic Cummings tried to cancel HS2. To be blunt, he does not much like Governments of any form doing big projects, but he certainly does not like big state projects of this kind. He wrestled very hard with the Prime Minister after the last election to get him to cancel HS2 outright. The Prime Minister believes in big infrastructure projects. When I was Transport Secretary, I had big discussions with him. There are many things he has no fixed belief on, but he has been prepared to commit to big transport infrastructure projects that will connect the country. He was persuaded of the case for HS2, and when the decision had to be made in February about going ahead with the first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham, he gave that commitment. What then happened was that Dominic Cummings moved on to the eastern leg, because the weakest of the BCRs—benefit to cost ratios—is for the eastern leg. The reason the weakest BCR is for the eastern leg is very straightforward: the cities served in the east of the country are smaller than those in the west. But we are supposed to be about levelling up. That is the whole philosophy of the Government. So the fact that the BCRs are lower for the east is not a reason for not proceeding with HS2 East; it is an essential reason for proceeding.
Dominic Cummings is no more. That is a great step forward, which is why the tone of the remarks from the noble Baroness is much more positive than it would have been if he was still running No. 10. We now have a problem with the Treasury. The Chancellor is wrestling with a difficult situation in the public finances—we all understand why—and he wants the option to cancel the eastern leg. This is what this big argument is about. It is the reason the Government will not proceed and give a firm commitment at the moment. This is what is at stake at the moment. That option is being exercised through the integrated rail plan. It would be short-sighted and a catastrophe for this country if the Government were to exercise that option, because it would mean we had 21st-century infrastructure serving the western parts of this country and 19th-century infrastructure serving the eastern parts. As much as I like the history of this country—I am delighted the Pacer trains are going to appear in the National Railway Museum—history belongs in history, and we should be seeking to address the present and future in this House.
The noble Baroness’s department is entirely at one with me. Indeed, in the secrecy of this House, I can say that the Government themselves, in respect of this Minister, are at one with me. This afternoon, this House has an opportunity to tell the half of the Government that agrees with me to use their heft to persuade the other half to come into alignment. The join between these two is the Prime Minister. That is the reason for backing this amendment today. It is not a small matter; it is fundamental to the future of this country that we build HS2 both east and west. If we are going to be one nation in the future, we need a one-nation transport and infrastructure system, and that is why I beg to move.
Ayes 265, Noes 274.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 22: Burial grounds