Clause 4 - Power to acquire land compulsorily

High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 1 March 2016.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:45, 1 March 2016

I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 4, page 3, line 12, at end insert—

‘(6) When land is acquired under subsection (1), and is not otherwise specifically authorised under this Act, the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament setting out the reason for the acquisition before Parliament, and any such report must then also be published on the nominated undertaker’s website within 5 working days.”

If the Secretary of State compulsorily acquires land under subsection (1), and this is not otherwise specifically authorised under this Act, this amendment would require him to lay a report before Parliament setting out the reasons for the acquisition and publish the report on the website of the nominated undertaker within 5 working days.

Clause 4 says:

“The Secretary of State may acquire compulsorily so much of the land within the Act limits as may be required for Phase One purposes.”

We propose an additional paragraph at line 12. Let me draw the Committee’s attention to the wording of sub-section (1), which describes,

“land within the Act limits as may be required for Phase One purposes”,

and to clause 65, which helps us to interpret what phase 1 purposes are. It states:

“References in this Act to anything being done or required for “Phase One purposes” are to the thing being done or required… otherwise for the purposes of or in connection with Phase One of High Speed 2 or any high speed railway transport system of which Phase One of High Speed 2 forms or is to form part.”

By definition, that is a significant and wide-ranging power that is totally outwith the scope of phase 1 works or purposes, given the way that phase 1 purposes are described. I urge caution, because—unless the Minister persuades me otherwise— this is an area where we would be better advised to keep the restriction to phase 1 and not extend it for things that are going to come along in the future. I understand the logic of getting this out of the way now and for ever, but we have just been through an extensive Select Committee process, looking at the lands contained within phase 1 purposes. It is dangerous to introduce a power and authority at this stage that would extend that.

So we accept the need for the Secretary of State to have the power to compulsorily acquire land for the construction of HS2 phase 1, but we have concerns that as it stands the clause would grant the Secretary of State the broadest of powers that would not be subject to satisfactory overview from Parliament and would not be sufficiently transparent. The amendment would not curtail the powers of the Secretary of State that the clause seeks to grant, and would not impede the construction of the railway, but it would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament setting out the reasons for the acquisition of land under subsection (1), if it was not otherwise specifically authorised under the Act.

Compulsory acquisition can sometimes be contentious, and the requirement to compulsorily acquire land also signals a deviation from what is already specifically authorised under the Act. By requiring the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament setting out the reasons for the acquisition, an important element of oversight of the enactment of the power would be introduced. Requiring the report to be published on the website of the nominated undertaker within five working days would achieve a greater degree of transparency and, importantly, it would make the entire process clearer and easier to understand for the general public.

It is imperative that as we proceed through the Bill we do everything to make sure we delineate and specify the scope and range of the Bill. Anything that is to be done in future should have a process and a methodology to produce the greatest possible degree of openness and transparency. A report laid before Parliament and publication on the nominated undertaker’s website would achieve that. I trust that the Minister sees the logic of what we are proposing, but we will press the matter to a Division if it is not accepted.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Labour/Co-operative, Stalybridge and Hyde 10:00, 1 March 2016

I am delighted to be here in Committee. I have served on Bill Committees that have been likened to being on a long train journey in the same carriage with the same people for several weeks. However, at two weeks, this is a high-speed Committee.

I am a supporter of HS2 and have been a supporter of investment in our rail network for some time. HS2 is a very good project for my constituency and for Greater Manchester. That is widely recognised, and the justification is capacity. Even when a lot of publicity was initially given to the speed of the journey time, for me the project was always about capacity. The figures bear that out. Anyone who has caught a train at a particular time  from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly will be familiar with our capacity problems. It is extremely clear when we look at the alternatives that patching the existing network or building a new line that is not a high-speed line will not meet the capacity need. The evidence is that we need a project such as this. We have support for the project from both sides of the House of Commons and we should proceed as soon as possible.

The consensus on the merits of the project means that we have to be particularly diligent in Committee to make sure that the powers granted to the Government in the Bill are proportionate and effective. As has been said, the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill went through an extremely good process and garnered more support for the project as it proceeded. I read clause 4, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough did, as a wide-ranging and permissive set of powers, particularly subsection (4). My reading of it makes it, in legal terms, the same as a compulsory purchase order. There will be understandable concerns that it will weaken accountability and the scrutiny that we gave the provision in the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill. We need to be careful that we do not lose some of the good will that we have garnered so far in this process. I hope that the Minister will make clear why the clause is drafted as widely as it is. Will he tell us the benefits of the clause over the reasonable amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As we have already discussed, clause 4 refers to powers to acquire land compulsorily. Compulsory powers are needed because they are a tried and tested method of delivering major infrastructure projects. We have provided safeguards for property owners that go beyond the statutory requirements under normal compulsory purchase rules. For example, we have introduced the voluntary purchase scheme for properties between 60 and 120 metres from the centre of the railway and the need-to-sell scheme for those who have suffered perceived blight due to the railway. The latter has no geographical limit.

The detail of the modifications is set out in the schedule. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde talked about the importance of capacity. We need to be clear that when we talk about capacity, we are talking about people standing on trains. On most weekday mornings about 4,000 or 5,000 people are standing on trains into Euston and a smaller but still significant number are standing on trains into Birmingham New Street.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough mentioned clause 65(c). This does not seek to purchase land specifically for phase 2; it relates only to land within limits and does not give a general power to acquire land. While I am not against the flow of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, I believe that we have already addressed his fears in the way we have drafted the Bill. Indeed, clause 4(1) contains the power to acquire all land required for the scheme. The Bill divides that land into different categories. The main category is land within the limits of deviation for the work set out in schedule 1. Other land needed for construction and ancillary purposes is specified and identified in schedules 5, 7, 8, 11, 12 and 16, together with the purpose for which that land is required. There is, therefore, no land within clause 4(1) that is not specifically authorised for compulsory purchase.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

Just before the Minister loses the thread of that line of argument, I am particularly concerned with the definition and interpretation at clause 65(c). I know that the Minister is advising us this morning that the works we are talking about are delineated and specified opposite the schedules and the lands within them for phase 1, but by any reasonable interpretation, in my view, if we are now extending that to any high-speed rail transport system, of which phase 1 of High Speed 2 forms part, the necessary conclusion of that is that we are now getting into lands potentially for phase 2a and phase 2b, and we should not be creating a power in a Bill entitled High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill that will ultimately cover lands elsewhere. As the Minister has acknowledged, it is a wide-ranging power. Does he accept the point that it extends it too far?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Before we continue, for Members’ interest and observation, clause 65(c) will be reached later and while reference can be made to it now, we are dealing with amendment 10 to clause 4 and we should keep our comments to the general issues around that.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the clause relates only to land within limits and does not create a general power to acquire land. Indeed, as I already mentioned, the land needed for construction and ancillary purposes is already identified in schedules 5, 7, 8, 11, 12 and 16, together with the purpose for which that land is required. I understand why the hon. Gentleman might be concerned that this could be interpreted as giving more general rights, but the actual powers for compulsory purchase are very limited by those schedules. I respectfully suggest that this amendment is essentially an unnecessary duplication of the Bill. I hope that this clarification will reassure the hon. Gentleman so that he can withdraw it.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I note your words of caution about cross-referring, Mr Hanson. I will limit my comments to saying that I do not think we have heard sufficient reassurance from the Minister that the powers will not be extended to lands and plans that have not been specified at this stage. In the absence of the reassurance I had hoped for, I wish to press the matter to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Division number 1 Christmas Tree Industry — Clause 4 - Power to acquire land compulsorily

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I hope the Opposition will understand that, although we appreciate their concerns, those have been addressed and the reassurances, which I hope they will look at again, do stand the test of legal scrutiny.

Clause 4 involves a power to acquire land compulsorily. It provides the Secretary of State with a power compulsorily to acquire land outlined in the Bill plans, and within the limits where such land is required for phase 1 of HS2. Compulsory purchase is always contentious. Many people will already be aware that their land might well be acquired in that way.

Subsection (2) introduces schedule 5, which describes the land to be acquired and the purpose for which it may be acquired. That is not the land required for the scheduled works but land required for ancillary works, including environmental mitigation, utility diversions and the re-provision of diverted public rights of way.

The clause further provides that the normal legislative regime relating to compulsory acquisition is to apply, subject to the modifications set out in schedule 6. The purpose of the modification is to streamline the acquisition process, as Parliament will already have given approval to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 5 and 6 agreed to.