High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Andrew StephensonMain Page: Andrew Stephenson (Conservative - Pendle)
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This is indeed very geeky and technical, and all very interesting, but can I urge the Minister, particularly when he responds to the debate, to talk about the benefits of HS2 and how we can bring those benefits online now? May I particularly commend to him the new Siemens rail factory that is coming to Goole, with £250 million of investment, and our excellent steelworks at Scunthorpe, which already supplies Network Rail with all of its railways, thereby demonstrating the benefit to the whole of the country of this Bill?
Order. The hon. Gentleman asks the Minister whether he can make certain commendations. He can try, but I am afraid he cannot, really, because this is a very, very narrow motion on procedure; it is not a debate on the merits or otherwise of the Government’s railway policy.
On a procedural point, my hon. Friend will be aware that there are some experienced politicians who could use various tactics to delay this measure. I would not like to join those people. Can I just mention, though, that if we are spending £100 billion on this, my constituents are very keen on the Government giving £1 million only to London North Eastern Railway for our through train to Grimsby and Cleethorpes via Market Rasen? I would very much hope that the Minister, in terms of procedure and ensuring a smooth passage and support for this measure, could perhaps give a gentle green light to my through train for just £1 million.
As my hon. Friend may know, the amendment that I proposed, which has not been selected—I do not complain about that, or rather I complain about the principle but not about the action—says that these Standing Orders would contradict fundamental constitutional principles. Bills come to an end in the Session in which they were introduced unless a carry-over motion is passed before Prorogation or Dissolution. It is extremely rare, and almost unique, for the process that we are now witnessing to take place. I just put that on the record; I have further points that I am sure the Minister is expecting me to make later.
I welcome the Minister to his place. The Labour party is supportive of the motion—as can be seen from the massed ranks of the Opposition behind me right now!—because we see HS2 as key to boosting regional economies and reducing climate emissions. It is essential for increasing rail capacity and freeing up other lines for freight use. I rather think that some of the troubles we have had with High Speed 2 might have been avoided had we come up with another name for it, but that is by the by.
Successive Conservative Transport Ministers have shown themselves lacking in competence and unable to oversee the finances and governance of HS2, among other infrastructure projects. In recent years, the Government have presented inaccurate information to both Parliament and the public about the cost of HS2. The public need to have confidence in the project, but sadly the Government have undermined that with their failure to exercise any control over not only costs but redundancy payments. There is real concern that the true costs of the project were known to be much higher than the figures that the Government continually promoted. As the project progresses, it is essential that there is much greater transparency.
In addition, when the contracts for phase 1 were being granted, despite hedge fund managers making a packet out of the inevitable demise of Carillion, this Tory Government crashed on regardless, awarding the doomed organisation a valuable HS2 contract.
Break in Debate
My brief contribution will not be about the merits or disbenefits of HS2 but about the novel motion before us. I have not seen anything like it in my 15 years in this House, and I therefore seek two points of clarification from the Minister in his summing up.
First, will passing this motion today, irrespective of the effect on the Standing Orders of the House, pass the budget for HS2, or will there be a further opportunity to vote for or against and to contribute to a debate on the budget and the cost of HS2?
Secondly, have contracts been signed at the figures we have seen thus far? If they have not been signed, does this measure enable the signing of contracts? Will this House have an opportunity to examine those contracts and the amount of money assigned to them before this goes any further?
This is a novel motion, and it is important that the House understands the implications of proceeding via this route rather than the more traditional route for bringing legislation back to the House.
In his remarks, the Prime Minister also alluded to the fact that the Beeching line fund would be £1.5 billion. Can the Minister confirm that, and, if so, will he be able to suggest that more money can be levelled up across the entire United Kingdom, not just in relation to the HS2 line?
Does not the short debate this evening show that the project is very different from the one that the previous Parliament approved, and that the Opposition have invented a magical railway that is very different from the one that the Bill actually captures? That shows that we need to debate this again properly, rather than rushing the thing through and regarding it as settled. It is clearly not settled and is a highly contentious project.
I thank my hon. Friend. The Public Accounts Committee has had two inquiries and we are about to have another. There is universal agreement on this side of the House tonight that we need to get control of the governance of the thing and we need to get control of the cost. Will my hon. Friend give an absolute assurance to the House tonight that he will redouble his efforts to get control of the costs?