High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival

(Bill reintroduced: House of Commons)
(Bill reintroduced: House of Commons)
(motion to revive Bill: House of Commons)
William Cash Excerpts
Monday 2nd March 2020

(12 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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2 Mar 2020, 8:42 p.m.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Once again, I am tempted to talk about a very laudable proposal from my right hon. Friend. I know that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who is sitting next to me, sees significant merit in that proposal and will hopefully be looking at it in due course.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 8:43 p.m.

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.

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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2 Mar 2020, 8:43 p.m.

I note my hon. Friend’s concern. My direct reference to “Erskine May” would, I hope, have put his mind to rest as to why we are using this procedure in this rather unique circumstance.

Since the Government have decided that HS2 should go ahead and that phase 2a should be built, we now need to take the next step, which is to revive the Bill. This motion has the same effect as a carry-over motion, and if Members agree it today, the Bill will resume in the same place that it stopped. That means it will pass to the House of Lords, where it would resume its Select Committee stage. Passing this motion therefore allows the progress already made to be kept. It allows those directly affected to continue with the legal processes they still have to complete, safe in the knowledge that the changes they requested to the Bill and previously received will be kept.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
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2 Mar 2020, 8:51 p.m.

I think the hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. The issues of governance and communication have to be improved, and I think everybody in the House would agree with that.

On modern and ancient woodlands, I just make the point that the commitment to the speed of this project may have to be reviewed. I think the commitment to going in straight lines at 250 mph has to be taken into consideration. If we look at the TGV in France, the average speed of that high-speed link is 187 mph, and that does not impact on its efficiency.

If the project is to have full public support, the fares on HS2 must be affordable and comparable with the rest of the fare system on the rail network. It has previously been intimated that for HS2 to gain the confidence of the public, it cannot be a premium service. If HS2 is successfully to replace so many long-distance journeys, it has to be an integral part of an affordable and accessible railway.

The Transport Secretary should ensure that the procurement of HS2’s rolling stock is conducted in a way that makes sure the trains will be manufactured in the UK and will benefit the UK supply chain. Could the Minister inform the House of what steps the Secretary of State is going to take to ensure that the delivery of HS2 is closely co-ordinated with Network Rail’s ongoing work programme and the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail?

Given the amount of public money that is to be spent on delivering HS2, it is essential that the Government ensure that HS2 services are run under public ownership, so that British taxpayers can see a return on their investment in supporting the UK economy, rather than in enriching private companies or foreign state-owned companies. Her Majesty’s Opposition are indeed supportive, and we look forward to the progress of the project.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 8:53 p.m.

In a nutshell, I am seeking an assurance from the Minister, which I hope I will be able to get before the end of these proceedings, that phase 2a should be reviewed by Sir John Armitt at the same time as phase 2b, for which he has already been given terms of reference. Basically, it boils down to this: it is being suggested that the construction of phase 2a should follow quickly after phase 1—this view has been reinforced by the Oakervee review, which concluded that the Government should consider merging the construction of phase 2a with phase 1—but this is not only an unnecessary but an undesirable idea, and furthermore it is unrealistic.

I refer now to the actual motion before the House, which says that the Bill

“if…presented to this House in this session in the same terms as those in which the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill stood at the last stage of its proceedings…the Bill…shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages in this House, and…the Standing Orders”

adjusted accordingly. Given this motion and the arguments I am presenting, that means that we are bound to have regard to what the Bill says, and the extent to which it will be dealt with under the procedures that follow these novel and unique changes to the Standing Orders.

As we heard from the Minister, phase 1 of HS2 received Royal Assent in February 2017. It has not progressed because the main works civil contractors have been unable to come up with a design that can be delivered for the budget available. Phase 2a has not yet received Royal Assent, so we are at least a couple of years away from all this happening. Given the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and the manner in which it is deemed that the Bill is being carried forward, is important to note that phase 2a is required only if phase 2b west is constructed according to current proposals. Crucially, those proposals could be changed by the Armitt review, and all that phase 2a would effectively achieve would be to connect HS2 to the west coast main line approximately 58 km further north—at Blakenhall, south of Crewe—rather than at the Handsacre link. With the estimated cost of phase 2a now rising to £6.6 billion, it is not wise—this is the crucial point—to commit to phase 2a without knowing what Sir John Armitt might conclude regarding phase 2b.

This project will cause immense damage to my constituents, although I will not expand on that at this juncture as that point is related to ground conditions and matters that I could go into in more detail only if I had more time. In a nutshell it comes to this: HS2 Ltd produced a report in 2019, and it is clear that it faces a shortfall of fill along the entire length of phase 2a. Such fundamental questions can be taken into account under the proposed changes to the Standing Orders now being discussed only if realism prevails.

Will the Minister use this opportunity to give an assurance on the Floor of the House that phase 2a will be treated, in some shape or form, in the context of what Sir John Armitt will consider with regard to phase 2b? The two things are interlinked, and as this is a railway that goes from north to south, it is essential that it all fits together. If phase 2b is to be reviewed by Sir John Armitt, for the reasons I have already given it is essential that phase 2a is also considered in the review by Sir John Armitt. Otherwise—I say this with a great generosity of heart—the Minister may find that if he does not do what I am suggesting, they will get to phase 2b and find that phase 2a does not work. If that does not work, we will end up with a railway that is not be capable of being constructed.

In light of the changes to the Standing Orders, I am offering a realistic appraisal that will make possible a proper review not only of phase 2b, but of phase 2a, which is what the Bill is about. I do not need to expand on that any more. I am concerned about compensation for my constituents, and about a range of other matters that lie outside the motion before us. In a nutshell, it is essential that phase 2a and phase 2b are somehow brought within the framework of the terms of reference issued by the Government for Sir John Armitt to consider. If we get that, we will at least be able to have a proper consultation, and on that I rest my case.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 9 p.m.

The most interesting speeches in this place are always given when one does not expect to make them. I am sure that what I am about to say will not find favour with a lot of my colleagues, but sometimes one has to stand up in this place for what is right. I spent over a year on the phase 1 hybrid Bill Committee. We delved into that railway in enormous detail. I am sure that my colleagues who served on the phase 2a Committee, which also took nearly a year, delved into that in huge detail as well. I commend the motion to the House. This resurrection motion is the correct thing to do.

I started my service on that Committee opposed to the railway on the grounds that it was high-speed rail. However, it is nothing to do with high-speed rail; it is all about capacity. Unless we take passengers and freight off the east coast and west coast main lines, our roads will clog up, journey times will become completely untenable and we will fail to meet our carbon targets in 2050. The revival motion is therefore right and we need to build this railway. We need to build not only phase 1, but phase 2 and phase 2b.

As deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I want absolute value for money. I have already seen, in the phase 1 Committee, some of the horrors that took place. The evidence before us was, in many cases, disingenuous. The costs of the things we were doing were not fully costed. Nor was it fully understood how they could be delivered. I would be very concerned if the motion led to the same things on phase 2a.

Let me, with a little bit of latitude, give the Chamber some examples of what we found. The chief finance officer for HS2 Ltd asked permission in writing to pay enhanced redundancy payments. He was told not to, but he went ahead and did it anyway. That cost the taxpayer nearly £2 million. On Wednesday, the Public Accounts Committee will examine the costs. We will consider why £2 billion of savings—most of this is expected to come from phase 1 and phase 2a, which is what we are negotiating tonight—are probably undeliverable. Whatever the costs at the moment, they will be higher than whatever anybody says.

We need to build this railway. We need to increase capacity on our railways. We need to get cars and freight off our roads, otherwise they will clog up. That is why I support the motion.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 9:02 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, because this matter is hugely important to my constituency. I welcome the revival of the Bill, and hopefully its imminent passage, as evidence of the Government backing Crewe and backing the north. If you will allow me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to explain why I support the revival of the Bill.

I was glad to have had the opportunity to host the Minister at Crewe station just last week, where he got to hear first-hand about what is already happening locally: businesses opening up in Crewe and the plans Cheshire East Council has to create a new economic hub around the station. The revival of the Bill will accelerate the positive changes we see locally.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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2 Mar 2020, 9:03 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend accept that originally the railhead was going to be in Crewe? It was only frustrated by decisions on housing grounds taken by the district council. In fact, it was dumped on Stone in my constituency without any notice.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Mullan
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2 Mar 2020, 9:03 p.m.

I cannot pretend, as a new Member, to have my hon. Friend’s knowledge of the intricate detail and the history of the development of the railway line. However, whether we support or oppose it, we all have a duty, when decisions on individual stations are looked at in detail, always to be open-minded to change if things are undergoing scrutiny. Ultimately, as I will come on to say, if we are building a major new railway it is inevitable that some people will face a negative environmental impact and some will have some part of the railway deposited on their patch, which they are not happy with. If we allowed that to, in effect, put a moratorium on the development of major infrastructure, that would not be the right decision for this country, even if individual Members were unhappy with it.

On what does work for my constituents, they are not very interested in getting to London 30 minutes quicker; they really are not very interested in that. What they are interested in, and what we must remind them of in terms of what we get from HS2, is that it opens up capacity as we shift inter-city traffic on to HS2 so there are more routes and journeys available to them. Faster routes tend to push the local services off the track. They welcome HS2 because it means we can transport more freight by rail. Local businesses in my area cannot get freight on to rail. When they can do that, they will be more competitive and we will move congestion off the roads. If you drive around the A roads in Crewe at night, you will see lorry after lorry after lorry parked up. That is how things are moved around and we need to switch back to the railway.

Break in Debate

Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Paterson
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2 Mar 2020, 9:24 p.m.

I will not, because we are getting very short of time.

So on that local issue, I have got absolutely not an inch out of HS2. It has been completely inflexible. It is insisting on taking traffic round three sides of a rectangle, with a journey of about 14 miles, although it could have used a direct route of 6 miles. I am completely disillusioned with this project at national level, and I cannot see how we can justify this titanic sum of money. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said, the original plan was for the track to go up the M40. We were going to have very fast trains that would deliver a substitute for flight times, which is not going to happen.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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2 Mar 2020, 9:25 p.m.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the fact that Lord Berkeley has sent a letter to the Chancellor of Exchequer giving full details of the £231 billion to which he has referred?

Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Paterson
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I am aware of that, and what is so worrying about the review is that it was totally split. Someone who is hopefully very respected by the Labour party, Lord Berkeley, is obviously strongly opposed to this.

Looking at the clock, I will finish quickly. At local level, I am totally opposed to this, and I have not had a single bit of flexibility out of HS2. This is a real threat to my constituents in Woore and, on their behalf alone, I will vote against it. At national level, I cannot possibly vote for this titanic expenditure on what is now a very flawed project, so I will vote against it tonight.