Bob Seely contributions to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill 2017-19 to 2019-20

Tue 30th January 2018 High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Allocation of time motion: House of Commons
Carry-over motion: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
17 interactions (1,332 words)

High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Allocation of time motion: House of Commons)
(Carry-over motion: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Allocation of time motion: House of Commons)
(Carry-over motion: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Allocation of time motion: House of Commons)
(Carry-over motion: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Allocation of time motion: House of Commons)
(Carry-over motion: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
Bob Seely Excerpts
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:20 p.m.

One of the main points about this project is that it will allow us to build resilience into the network. That is not an either/or; this is not simply about building HS2. My hon. Friend is right say that we need to build greater resilience into our network. On the point about compensation arrangements, it has been noted on both sides of the House that we need to ensure that proper compensation is paid. These are really sensitive issues, and people should not be left wondering whether compensation arrangements will come forward. My hon. Friend is right about that as well.

I am keen to hear the Minister’s views on striking the right balance between HS2 services and freight on the parts of the network where high-speed trains will run on conventional tracks. HS2, the Department for Transport and Network Rail need to resolve the important concerns that are being expressed by freight operators. Elsewhere, there are significant questions to be answered about how the new high-speed railway will integrate with the existing rail network. During the Second Reading debate in 2014, the previous Secretary of State for Transport boasted that

“upgrading Britain’s rail infrastructure is a key part of this Government’s long-term economic plan”.—[Official Report, 28 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 567.]

He also said:

“we will be electrifying more than 800 miles of line throughout the country”.—[Official Report, 28 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 561.]

It is quite clear that the Government have broken those promises over the past four years. They made commitments on rail ahead of the 2015 general election, only to break them days later. The reality is that the last two Transport Secretaries have cut upgrades to rail infrastructure and cancelled the electrification of rail lines. Of course, HS2 is but one piece of the jigsaw. I am therefore concerned that if the other pieces are not right, the whole thing will not fit together properly.

The current Secretary of State for Transport came to the House in November to announce his strategic vision for rail. The problem was that his plan was neither strategic nor visionary. It was a smokescreen to cover up a blatant multibillion pound bail-out of the east coast main line franchise. It is clear to passengers and taxpayers that this Government are defending a broken franchising system. Under this Government, protecting private companies comes before the public interest. Giving Carillion a contract for HS2 last July while that company was imploding was an appalling decision, and the Minister’s legal justifications for that decision were risible. His bail-out of Stagecoach-Virgin on the east coast was yet another serious misjudgement in which his dogma won out over pragmatism and common sense.

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con) - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:23 p.m.

I think the hon. Gentleman has wandered into the wrong debate. We are talking about HS2, not about Carillion. Can we stick to the subject, please?

Dame Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton) - Hansard

Order. That is a matter for me, actually.

Break in Debate

Sir Patrick McLoughlin Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:34 p.m.

More than £200 million is being spent in Derby on re-signalling and a new platform to ensure that London trains no longer have to cross the lines going to other parts of the country, thereby enabling those trains to go straight through on the main line. That is the kind of investment that is already happening in our railways up and down the country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been successful in securing extra investment not just for HS2, but for all the other railway lines that so badly need the kind of upgrades that we will see in Derby. We will no doubt complain when the station has to be closed for a period over the summer, but such a thing is inevitable if we are to achieve such overall benefit. We saw something similar just a few years ago at Nottingham station.

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Seely - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:34 p.m.

My right hon. Friend speaks eloquently about busyness, capacity and bottlenecks on the west coast main line. Does he have anything to say about the south and south-west rail routes into London? Those routes are busier and have more capacity problems than many northern routes, but they will be unaffected by HS2 and might have their funding skewed because of it.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:35 p.m.

I do not think that that is the case, but there is nobody better than the Secretary of State to answer those points. The tremendous investment at Reading station has improved the whole network to the south-west. The investment at that station alone was in the region of £800 million or £900 million. Extra flyovers were put in to improve capacity down to the south-west.

Break in Debate

Laura Smith Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:09 p.m.

I agree, and I will come on to connectivity shortly.

Such short-sightedness would be a huge strategic miscalculation and a missed opportunity to future-proof towns such as those in my constituency from the troubling economic trends that we face. This cannot be about helping to expand the cities at the expense of squeezing out growth in the communities that I represent.

Limiting the service to two stops per hour at Crewe is simply a nonsensical proposal that will not only hold back my constituency for generations but will have consequences for areas beyond the north of Crewe and north Wales. For Government to overlook the clear business case for seven stops per hour at Crewe, or to act as a barrier to the strong local and regional ambitions, would be unforgivable.

Regional inequality is a major threat to the UK economy. Despite talk of a northern powerhouse, we are being presented with further evidence that the north-south divide remains as deep as it has ever been. Many living in left-behind towns look to the past with nostalgia and to the future with cynicism—and who can blame them? Their communities have suffered all the worst consequences of aggressive globalisation, and for very little reward. In Crewe and Nantwich, there are almost 4,000 children living in poverty, and wages are below the UK average. In fact, 28% of workers are paid less than the living wage, which is worse than the average for the north-west. Young people struggle to see a future filled with opportunities, and work no longer provides an escape route from poverty for struggling families.

In many ways, it is getting worse. A report this month by IPPR North suggests that the attainment gap between the north and the rest of England has widened to 5% at NVQ4 level, setting the north up to be the worst affected by an adult skills crisis. Another report this month by the Centre for Cities predicts that the rise of robots will deepen the economic divide if current trends continue, with almost a third of jobs in the north and the midlands vulnerable to automation and globalisation. Another report by IPPR North this month indicates that planned transport investment in London is two and a half times higher per person than in the north of England.

Many northern towns and cities are still struggling to recover from the industrial decline of the 1970s and 1980s, and this north-south divide threatens to hold back our national productivity. Some businesses choose to pay almost four times as much per square foot for their premises in London and the south because of poor connectivity in the north. Decades of inaction by successive Governments have left the north at the mercy of the markets.

There is no greater example of the need for Government intervention and strategic economic planning than the unsustainable situation we find ourselves in. The market has failed to provide any answers for the north, and HS2 provides one way in which the Government can begin to address this problem as part of a wider strategy. If delivered properly, this project will place my constituency at the heart of the UK’s most vibrant economic area, providing a successful and sustainable future for the next generation. Britain’s future in the world is surely as a knowledge-based economy, excelling in areas such as high-tech manufacturing. Such an economy will require a national transport strategy that prioritises high levels of connectivity. This requires increasing capacity and reliability, not just decreasing journey times.

Crewe is already a gateway station for the north-west, with regional and long-distance connections to the wider north-west, the east midlands and Wales. The phase 2a link will help to provide much-needed additional capacity for freight and will improve reliability for commuter services. It should be welcomed that the Government have brought forward the opening of the phase 2a link to 2027 as that will provide benefits to the north-west and beyond. Making the most out of connecting HS2, classic rail and the motorway network at Crewe could create 120,000 jobs across seven major local authority areas. Work undertaken by the Constellation Partnership indicates that 20,000 jobs would be created at the Crewe hub campus alone, with 17,000 additional jobs in the wider area.

My vision for HS2 is not as an end in itself, benefiting only businesses and commuters, but as a catalyst for the radical rebalancing of our economy, redistributing wealth from London to places such as Crewe and Nantwich and the rest of the UK. I must stress that this is not about asking London to lose out to the north; it is simply about achieving sustainability for London while allowing the north to achieve its full potential, which will benefit our entire country.

I want everybody in my constituency to feel the benefits of HS2, even if they never ride a train in their lives. Rail lines from Crewe reach out across to the smaller towns of Cheshire, to Warrington and the Wirral, to Manchester and Liverpool, to Lancashire, Shrewsbury, Derby and Stoke, and even to Scotland and Wales. A proper regional hub at Crewe, with a new northern junction to allow for maximum onward connectivity, will provide unrivalled opportunities for the whole of Cheshire, north Staffordshire and beyond. It is imperative that Crewe has direct high-speed services to key destinations, including London, Old Oak Common, Birmingham, Manchester airport, Manchester Piccadilly, Preston, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

As such, I support not only this Bill, but expanding the scope of the current HS2 programme to enable the interventions needed to deliver the services I have described. Although the services that run on our high-speed network will not be determined by statute, our legislative framework will determine what we are capable of achieving. It is vital that this Bill is supported today, and that future Bills do not limit our options. A proper regional hub could take advantage of existing connectivity and extend the benefits of HS2 to millions of people in the north, including those in our often forgotten towns beyond the major cities.

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:14 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith). May I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) to her new role and wish her all the best? It is very good to see her on the Front Bench.

I welcome the Government’s very considerable investment in our rail system—it is very good to see—and I support their ambitious railway agenda. There are lots of good things happening in our railway system. However, I find it hard to believe that the £52 billion being spent on HS2 could not have been better spent more broadly across the system.

I am not opposing or voting against the Bill, because I think there is little point: HS2 is going to happen. However, I think it would have been significantly better for our economy to have prioritised HS3, which is a good idea and clearly important for the north of this country, and then, if HS2 was to be built, to have started in the north and worked south, rather than the other way around.

What seems to be clear is that HS2 is extraordinarily expensive. There are poor returns, and by the Government’s own admission, a 1:2.3 ratio of return is extremely poor. HS2 harms the environment. It seems to be a bit of a muddle. Once we had straight lines and we were going superfast. Then we had bends and we could not go superfast. Then the stations did not quite integrate, and there does seem to be a problem with that integration up and down the network, which other Members have rightly spoken about.

However, my main concern is the cost to the other parts of the rail network. Again, Members have spoken eloquently about the need for greater capacity. HS2 does nothing for capacity for southern rail or for south-west rail. The south-west rail network is crying out for investment. We need rail flyovers at Woking and at Basingstoke to get more services on that line. We need to update the signalling system between Waterloo and Woking, and eventually elsewhere on the line, to improve speeds and services. We need infrastructure on the Portsmouth line, to increase capacity. Getting from London to Portsmouth, you travel at an average speed of around 45 miles an hour, and the idea that we are spending billions building a rail network to go superfast up north when we are still travelling at branch-line speeds on mainline routes in the south of England is very galling to very many constituents in constituencies across southern England.

We need also, probably, to double the track between Southampton and Basingstoke. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about a bright new future for the railways. We do not see that on southern, and we do not see it on south-west rail main lines. If I remember correctly, my right hon. Friend, whose agenda I very strongly support and for whom I have a high regard personally, has assured me that south-west rail projects are not affected by the HS2 project. So can he—or can she—put on record a confirmation that HS2 has not delayed, or has not affected the funding and supply of, south-west rail mainline improvements, or of Crossrail 2, which will benefit the users of south-west rail, if they use Clapham?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:17 p.m.

I agree, and I want to see benefits to connectivity in my constituency, including a new station in Corsham. But will my hon. Friend accept that HS2 does benefit the UK as a whole, in the form of jobs, as I said, or because we all have a wealth of SMEs in our constituencies whose supply chains and customers are based throughout the UK, and they can only benefit from this extra connectivity?

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Seely - Parliament Live - Hansard

In principle, my hon. Friend makes a very good point and I thank her for her intervention. The problem is this. I return to the profit ratio—or the cost-benefit ratio. If any of us were to go to a Minister or Government Department and say, “This is a fantastic project and it has a ratio of 1:2.3,”—which are the Government’s own figures for HS2—we would get laughed at. To get a project off the ground, according to Green Book assessments, a ratio of 1:5 upwards is needed, and preferably 1:7. So 1:2.3 is a very poor return for Government money by the Government’s own figures. Anything that helps, within reason, expenditure and our economy is to be welcomed, but by the Government’s own figures this cost-benefit is dubious. I thank my hon. Friend for the intervention.

If HS2 will cause no delay to south-west rail projects, will my right hon. Friend commit to prioritising the necessary work on the south-west rail route that could speed up journey times between London and south coast destinations such as Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth and, yes, the Isle of Wight—my constituency? I know that my right hon. Friend is a user of south-west rail and feels the pain of the half a million people who travel in to Waterloo every day. Will he—or will she— consider setting Network Rail and the new franchise a speed target of a 60-minute service to Southampton and Portsmouth? You can get two trains an hour down the main line to Southampton. They take about one hour 17 at the moment. If we are interested in high-speed rail, can we set a new target of getting people to Southampton and Portsmouth within the hour?

In addition, I will write to my right hon. Friend tomorrow in connection with the Island. He has been kind enough to sound positive about the needs of my constituents for better public transport, especially since we get precious little infrastructure money. In my letter, I will ask about the programme of reopening branch lines and investing in the Island line. Earlier this month, Isle of Wight Council voted to support a feasibility study on extending the branch line in possibly two directions and, working with our wonderful heritage line, the Havenstreet steam railway, to get people into Ryde, which would be very important.

My letter will cover support for investment, support for a feasibility study, and, dependent on the results of that study, support for the branch line and capital work on Ryde Pier Head to ensure that the railway line there stays feasible, continues and has a future. I am supportive of my right hon. Friend on his agenda, which is excellent, but will you assure me, considering that you are spending £52 billion on one line, that the Department will not tell me that you cannot afford a feasibility study?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:21 p.m.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Minister, he must say the Minister, not you. I apologise for interrupting him, but this is becoming a widespread habit of Members all around the House and it must not go on. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is the person who is hearing this, and I am sure that other people will now be rather more careful. He is not a consistent offender; he is normally very proper in his behaviour.

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Seely - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:22 p.m.

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do apologise; I had noticed that I had written a few yous, and I scrubbed them out and put hes and shes. If my notes still contained a few yous, I apologise. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not here, I was trying to work out whether I should be using he or she, or whether we have reached a post-gender age for Ministers as well as for the rest of us.

Madam Deputy Speaker - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:22 p.m.

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman and the House. The word “Minister” is very useful, because it covers just about everything and anyone, no matter which gender they might be on that particular day.

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Seely - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:23 p.m.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. On that point, I will wind up.

I am very supportive of the Minister’s agenda, whichever one we are talking about, but given that we are spending a great deal of money, will the Minister assure me that the Department will not be telling me that a feasibility study is not possible because of cost? Will the Minister assure me that if a feasibility study recommends extension of our lines, that will be supported, given that the costs involved, £10 million to £30 million, are margins of error in Government accounting in the Department of Transport? Will the Minister assure me that there will be support for infrastructure projects both for the South Western Railway network and the Island line, notwithstanding the considerable amounts of money that are been spent elsewhere?

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab) - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 4:23 p.m.

What a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely). If he will forgive me, I might disagree with him on one point. In my view—the figures are overwhelming—the investment in infrastructure in London and the south-east, although it perhaps does not extend entirely down to his patch, is around nine or 10 times as much as that in my area in the north-west and the north of England. Plenty of people will look at the HS2 expenditure and say it is about time that the north-west of England got some expenditure.

In principle, I am very much in favour of HS2—and HS3, HS4 and HS5. Infrastructure spending is good for the economy; it generates growth, it drives growth and connectivity, and it is a good thing for the whole country. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), however, I share the concern that what we might get is, to coin a railway phrase, the wrong type of HS2, on the basis that all we will have is a fast line linking London, Birmingham and Manchester, and no benefits will accrue to the surrounding areas. In terms of growth in this country, the cities are already overheating, whereas towns and counties—