HS2 in Hansard 23/01/2015

HS2 Funding Referendum Bill
Second Reading
10.54 am
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to
move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
First, let me thankmy right hon. Friends the Members
for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and for
Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), and my
hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael
Fabricant), for NorthWiltshire (Mr Gray), forWellingborough
(Mr Bone) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner)
for their support for this Bill. I am pretty certain that,
he had been free so to do at the time, my right hon. and
learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve)
would also have been sponsoring the Bill, and I am
delighted to see him in his place today. I am also sure
that if the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras
(Frank Dobson) had been on my radar when I was
collecting the signatures, I would have been able to recruit
him, too.Again, I ampleased to see him in the Chamber.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What
about me? The hon. Gentleman has mentionedmy right
hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras
(Frank Dobson), but I have consistently opposed this
high-speed rail.
Mr Chope: I plead guilty to a serious omission, as I
should indeed have mentioned the hon. Gentleman, as
Coventry is one of the areas that is probably going to suffer
as a result of HS2; not only is it not going to benefit
from HS2, but there will be an adverse economic effect
on Coventry.We may hear a little more about that later.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): HS2 is often seen as
being done in the name of constituencies such as mine
in the north of England. I want to put it record that
although there are undoubtedly some supporters of
HS2 in my constituency, it is clear to me from speaking
tomy constituents that there are far many more opponents.
They would much prefer that the money was spent on
infrastructure in our local constituency economies than
on a grandiose project that is going to waste billions of
taxpayers’ money.
Mr Chope: Any Bill that has the support of my hon.
Friend is obviously a very good one, and I am grateful
again for his support.
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con):
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this Bill
before the House? Let me take him up on the intervention
from our hon. Friend to my left.
Philip Davies: I have never been described as that
before!
Mrs Gillan: Positionally in the Chamber, I should
say—I would not want to be accused of misleading the
House. In Buckinghamshire, one of the organisations
against this project, as proposed by the Government,
has entitled itself “51m”, because it worked out that
£51 million could be given to be spent in every constituency
in this country for the equivalent cost of the project, as
it was at the beginning of the process.
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Decisions) Bill
Mr Chope: Myright hon.Friendmakes a very important
point, and the opportunity cost issue really needs to be
addressed.
I live in hope, because two years ago today my right
hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a change of
Conservative party policy on a referendum on the European
Union—he announced that we would have an in/out
referendum. Two years to the day, I hope that the
Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right
hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The
Deepings (Mr Hayes), whom I am pleased to see on the
Front Bench, will be able to make a similar announcement
to give the people their say on one of the largest ever
“publicly funded” infrastructure projects. It is described
as that, but I would prefer to put the emphasis on it
being a taxpayer-funded project, but because, as the
then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said in 1983:
“There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’
money.”
That point has recently been emphasised by none other
than Alex Rukin, aged nine, who gave evidence before
the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill
Select Committee.He said in his petition that money should
be spent on things that we really need and described this
as a “stupid” project. I see Alex Rukin in a similar cast
to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who
made that memorable speech to the Conservative party
conference at the age of 16. If Alex Rukin comes
forward at the age of nine with such sound ideas, he has
very good prospects politically, as someone who is
going to bring common sense to our discussions.
Throughout our history people have spent money on
vanity projects—follies and white elephants. I have no
problem with that, provided the money they are spending
is their own, rather than somebody else’s and, in particular,
the taxpayer’s. In HS2, we have what is best described as
a vanity project. It was conceived by new Labour and
promoted by the then Transport Minister, Lord Adonis,
on the basis that we needed more high-speed rail than
just that between London and the channel tunnel. It
was said originally that HS2 would link people from the
north directly to the channel tunnel, but that proposal
has long since been abandoned, so HS2 will come only
into a London terminal.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the Conservative
party was seduced by the argument that it would be able
to avoid having another runway at Heathrow by using
HS2 to divert traffic away from it. It was only later that
theGovernment realised that HS2would actually increase
demand for Heathrow airport, meaning that they
immediately decided to stop the connectivity between
HS2 and Heathrow.
Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and SouthRuislip) (Con):
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill.
Does he realise that the so-called Heathrow spur, which
most people realise will be completely unnecessary,
whatever the results of the Davies commission, is still
on the plans? If it were not there, that would not only
save a lot of money, but take away a lot of blight,
mostly from the constituents of my hon. Friend the
Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd)
and, especially, my right hon. and learned Friend the
Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).We should think
about transport projects together.
Mr Chope: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right
that we need to look at proposals on an integrated basis.
That is one of the messages that comes out loud and
clear from today’s report by the Transport Committee,
“Investing in the railway”, which was published just
after midnight. The Committee emphasises the importance
of planned investment right across the railways to maximise
the benefits of that investment. It is critical of the idea
of just putting a certain amount of money into the HS2
project on its own.
When the Government realised that the project could
not be justified on the basis that it would reduce demand
at Heathrow airport, they started the line that it would
reduce long-distance journey times. However, it was
clear that the cost-benefit analysis that was carried out
overvalued business time on the basis that business men
did not spend any of their time on trains working. All
the benefitswere calculated on the basis of an improvement
in speed thatwould mean that 15 minutes could be knocked
off the time it took to get from London to Birmingham.
My constituency is about 100 miles from London. This
morning I got on the train at Hinton Admiral and
arrived here two hours and 10 minutes later. Given the
nature of a lot of our rail infrastructure, people expect
to spend that sort of time travelling such distances.
Mr Jim Cunningham: As a result of HS2, the existing
frequency of services on the west coast main line could
be curtailed, to say the least, while fares would rise.
While we might now have three trains an hour, that
could go down to one an hour or even fewer, and yet, as
the hon. Gentleman knows, fares are far too high—beyond
the public’s reach.
The first person I ever heard proposing HS2 was the
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when she was
shadowTransport Secretary, although the hon. Gentleman
is right that Labour picked up the idea. To return to the
point made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip
Davies), a lot of the money for HS2 could be spent on
increasing nurses’pay and stopping cuts to local authority
budgets, and therefore providing better public services.
Mr Chope: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.
He will be aware that the New Economics Foundation
published a report in June 2013 entitled “High Speed 2:
The bestwe can do? Creating more value from£33 billion”.
The essence of this debate is that if we are to spend that
amount of taxpayers’ money—assuming that that is
affordable—are there better ways in which to do so?
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend referred to speed, but I
have never yet come across anyone from a business in
Shipley who has said, “Unless you can get me to London
half an hour or so quicker, we are out of here and we’re
going to relocate.” In fact, many of my constituents fear
that this emphasis on speed will not benefit the north,
but merely increase London’s commuter belt.
Mr Chope: What my hon. Friend says is not just an
assumption, because there is a lot of academic evidence
about what happened when high-speed rail was built in
other countries. For example, using a high-speed rail to
link Paris with an outlying city generated more traffic
coming into Paris than that leaving Paris to go elsewhere.
That highlights another incorrect assumption behind
the project.
485 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 486
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): My hon.
Friend is right to say that a lot of the economic analysis
of this project has been simplistic. Evidence from France
shows that while the number of visitors to Lille from
Paris increased as a result of high-speed rail, there was a
decrease in the number who stayed the night. The
dynamic impacts of such projects are extremely subtle,
but the economic analysis produced by the Department
for Transport has been very blunt.
Mr Chope: My hon. Friend, who is a strong opponent
of HS2, is absolutely right.We cannot oppose HS2 only
on the grounds of emotion and prejudice. Instead, we
must deploy arguments, but the arguments against HS2
are well established and supported by not only facts, but
sound judgments by academics and politicians.
I am conscious that several hon. Members wish to
speak, but I want to touch quickly on the latest iteration
of the HS2 sales pitch: economic regeneration in the north.
Again, that heroic claim is not borne out by the evidence,
because most of the economic benefits of the project
will probably come to the south-east.
How can we, as politicians and taxpayers—working
together—help our colleagues out of this hole without
humiliating them? That is where the Bill comes in,
because it would allow us to ask the people to express
their common-sense view. I am sure that they would be
against the project, so when they had spoken in a
referendum, the Front Benchers of both main parties,
and indeed our Liberal Democrat friends, could get
themselves off the hook by saying, “The people have
spoken and we got it wrong.” They could then say,
without any humiliation, “We will revise our plans and
spend the money in a different way.”
Sir John Randall: A lot of people say that those who
are strongly opposed to HS2 are the individuals who
live along its route, but one of the great advantages of
the Bill is that it would provide the proof that many
people who are concerned about the amount being
spent live a long way away from the route, It would
therefore give our colleagues in government and Labour
Front Benchers the opportunity to say, “This is not
required and not wanted, and therefore we should stop.”
Mr Chope: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right.
My constituents live on the Weymouth-Waterloo line.
When I held a meeting with representatives fromNetwork
Rail’sWessex route study earlier thisweek, they confirmed
thatWaterloo is the busiest station for passenger numbers
in the whole of Europe, with Clapham Junction the
busiest for rail movements. They said that in 30 years’
time, they will need 60% extra capacity, but how will
that be paid for? People inmy constituency are therefore
worried about spending so much on one particular
vanity project that will not help them at all. Network
Rail representatives said that if HS2 were built, it might
increase demand, ironically, on the already overloaded
Weymouth-Waterloo route. So there a number of very
serious problems.
I shall close by referring to the 28th report of the
Public Accounts Committee which was published on
16 January this year. The Committee recommends that
the Department for Transport should set out a 30-year
transport infrastructure strategy and use it to inform
decisions about investment priorities. The Committee is
sceptical about whether the Department can deliver
value for money for the taxpayer on HS2, and it says that
the extraordinarily large contingency sums that have
been set aside are a way, potentially, of hiding the cost
of overruns and increases in price. The report refers to
the fact that Crossrail 2, which is likely to be needed as a
direct result of this, could cost £20 billion extra, so even
with the enormous sums involved—upto £50 billion—HS2
cannot be considered in isolation. That money would
need to be spent alongside other money, because if
something were not done about the interconnection at
OldOak Common, for example, there would be complete
chaos in the connectivity into London.
There are an enormous number of reasons why people
should be given a say on HS2. I commend the Bill to the
House.
11.11 am
Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It is a great
pleasure to be able to participate in this debate. I thank
my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)
for providing the forum for this debate. I regret that I
was not able to sign his Bill when he introduced it. One
of the advantages of having left ministerial office is that
I now have greater scope to express my views on the
subject.
One of the responses that has been chucked at Members
of Parliament who have raised a whisper of protest
about whether the scheme is desirable is that as they
largely represent constituents who may be directly and
adversely affected by it, the validity of their representations
is diminished. As my right hon. Friend the Member for
Uxbridge and SouthRuislip (Sir JohnRandall) described
so well, the vast majority of letters that I received from
constituents were from people who were not directly
affected by the construction of this railway line, and
who from the earliest stages wrote to register their
concern about whether an infrastructure project, which
in theory is a good thing for aGovernment to undertake,
warranted the colossal amount of expenditure involved
and the environmental damage that must inevitably go
with almost any infrastructure project.
I am a realist. My constituency has a history of huge
infrastructure projects—the M4, the M40 and theM25—
which have all done massive environmental damage, but
I accept that my constituents do not routinely write to
me asking for those motorways to be ploughed up. That
is not to say that we should construct a white elephant.
It is abundantly plain that there are real doubts about
whether the project justifies the expenditure. The point
has, I am sure, been made in the House on previous
occasions—and I know that all infrastructure projects
have costs that run away with themselves—but it is
remarkable thatwe started in 2009 with an announcement
that this railway line would cost some £16 billion and
we are currently on what we have been told is a fixed,
definitive and final figure of £50 billion, after a process
that took us to £29 billion, then to £32 billion. Why
should any of my constituents have any confidence in
the costings of the project?
Mrs Gillan: The costs that we are referring to now are
at 2011 prices, and there has been no updating of those
costs, sowe could already be talking about underestimates.
487 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 488
Mr Grieve: I agree entirely. One of the difficulties we
have is that when we ask questions and seek further
information, it seems that we extract it by dribs and
drabs. One of the great merits of my hon. Friend’s Bill is
that itwould have the valuable consequence of crystallizing
debate and obliging those who wish to promote the
project to come forward with all the detail that we have
so much difficulty extracting when we write letters and
which the Select Committee considering the hybrid Bill,
which I know is doing sterling work, also has great
difficulty in obtaining.
Let me give the House one example,which is particularly
relevant to my constituency. My constituency will be
principally affected by a viaduct that will be built over
the River Colne. It cuts through a site of special scientific
interest. The Colne valley is a regional park, the landscape
of which, it has long been acknowledged, should be
protected even when development goes on around it.
But the theme that has been put forward consistently by
the Government and the proposers of HS2 is that
tunnelling under the Colne is entirely out of the question.
The two arguments advanced are that the cost would be
entirely disproportionate to the environmental gain—it
was estimated that it would cost around £1.5 billion
more,which I accept is a substantialsum—andfurthermore
that therewould be major engineering problems connected
with it, because there has to be an area which is outside
the tunnel where the Heathrow spur link joins up at the
tunnel mouth going into the constituency of my right
hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham
(Mrs Gillan).
Those are two proper contentions, but the more this
debate has gone on, the more I have come to realise that
those assertions, which have been made to me repeatedly,
do not bear close scrutiny any more. For example, the
latest figure that I was able to glean for the differential
cost between the viaduct, which apparently is a major
piece of engineering of the highest complexity, and
tunnelling under the River Colne is only £200 million.
In the context of a project costing £50 billion and rising,
that starts to make it look almost affordable.When will
we get some clarity about that, without having a referendum
to get people to come out and demand that proponents
of the scheme explain what they are about?
There is ample evidence that the Heathrow spur is
not needed. The mood music is clear that the success of
the Old Oak Common interchange, which may be hugely
advantageous to the borough in which it is located, and
the train times into Heathrow airport mean that no one
is interested in it any more. And if people are not
interested in it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for
Chesham and Amersham said,we could remove planning
blight over a substantial part of my constituency in
Denham and Iver, where properties cannot be sold
because people believe that trains will run either through
them or under them.
Mr Cunningham: The right hon. and learned Gentleman
raises an important point. I have people inmy constituency,
such as Mr and Mrs Elliot of Coventry, who have
invested their life savings in their property but, because
they are outside the formula area, do not qualify for
compensation.
Mr Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is right. I will come
to another point about compensation in a moment.
If the Heathrow spur is not needed, the junction at
the entrance to the tunnel into the constituency of my
right hon.Friend theMemberfor Chesham and Amersham
is not needed, which would make the tunnelling even
easier. I am a constituency MP, wanting to do right by
my constituents and trying to apply myself rationally to
the fact that areas sometimes have to be disadvantaged
to promote national infrastructure projects that may be
in the wider public interest. The House will understand
my frustration at being unable to get any clarity on
these really key issues, which must be resolved if there is
to be informed debate, andmy real anxiety that, although
we will go through the entire hybrid Bill process—through
the Committee, with the evidence taking—when we get
to Third Reading all sorts of issues will just have been
left hanging in the air.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is
going to relate his and his constituents’ frustration,
which he has been eloquently describing, to the specific
provisions of the Bill.
Mr Grieve: Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. The
whole point is that the Bill, by facilitating a referendum,
would enable these matters to be crystallised and discussed
and would largely compel the promoters of the project
to come up with all the answers that have been left
hanging in the air.
I do not want to take up any more of the House’s
time than is necessary. I come back to the point made
by the hon.MemberforCoventry South (Mr Cunningham)
about compensation. Any sensible person in this country
must look at the compensation package, because as a
good citizen they may wish to consider the interesting
issue of their situation if such a thing were to happen to
them in future. I am the first to accept that an adequate
compensation package might go quite a long way as a
palliative to those whose lives are interfered with. The
truth is that the compensation package that we seem to
be creating is, frankly, pretty woeful. It compares very
badly with the sorts of packages produced in countries
such as France.
The hon. Gentleman is right: having the referendum
would enable us to have a debate on the sort of
compensation package we should have. That would go
much further than just this project; it might enable us to
resolve compensation for the future in a much clearer
and more credibleway. Public debate, such as a referendum
would allow, would be immensely valuable in achieving
that.
Mrs Gillan: Does my right hon. and learned Friend
not agree that if the referendum took place it would
force the Government to reveal the risks associated with
the project? I am referring specifically, as he knows, to
the Major Projects Authority reports, which have been
withheld from Members of this House and from the
very Committee that is scrutinising the passage of the
major Bill through the House. If therewere a referendum,
the Government would be forced to let those risks be
seen in public by the public who would be voting on the
project.
Mr Grieve: I agree entirely. It would be to the
Government’s political advantage to reveal as much
information as possible about how the decision-making
process took place. Of course, I am mindful of the rule
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[Mr Grieve]
that Ministersmust have the possibility of confidentiality
so that they can make informed decisions. I am very
respectful of that; my time as Attorney-General made
me understand how important it is, and the matter is
very much for our ministerial colleagues to determine.
However,my right hon.Friend is absolutely right.Wherever
possible, documents should be put forward. Even a
document that might appear disadvantageous to people
would at least have the merit of their being able to
explain why, notwithstanding it, they had changed their
minds. To come back to the Bill, that is exactly why the
public debate at the moment is not adequate for the
magnitude of the project that the Government have
been creating.
Philip Davies: Does my right hon. and learned Friend
agree that the other advantage of the Bill would be to
tease out how much support the project has in the north
of England? Projects such as this are often proposed by
people down south pretending that they care about the
north, when all that actually happens is that those in
the north realise how out of touch those people are with
the north. If we were to have a referendum, we would
know once and for all how popular the scheme was in
the north and whether it was as popular as people in the
south seem to think it is—or as unpopular as I seem to
think it is, from speaking to my constituents.
Mr Grieve: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
I have no idea how widespread the support for the
project is in the north of England; anecdotally, there is
a suggestion that it ismuch less than has been suggested.
Most referendums have regional or local results, which
would be a telling way of showing whether the enormous
expenditure is the bestway of building better infrastructure
for this country in future.
Whoever speaks on this matter in the House will have
no difficulty in agreeing on the benefits of sound
infrastructure; travelling on the London underground,
one can see the need for investment. I also entirely
accept—I make the point again—that infrastructure
development cannot take place without some adverse
environmental consequences.We have to do our best to
minimise those, and one of my anxieties is that I am not
sure that we have really considered that issue properly in
the context of this project. However, I accept that there
are those consequences. I am a realist, but I worry
about this project, which is why I think a referendum
would be so desirable.
I shall now bring my remarks to a close. I must
apologise to the House, and above all to my right hon.
Friend the Minister. There have been changes to the Order
Paper, and unless I fail in my duties to my constituents
in other respects, in a way that would be difficult for me,
I will not be able to remain to hear the end of this
debate.
11.26 am
Frank Dobson (Holborn and StPancras) (Lab): Generally
speaking, I oppose referendums, but that opposition is
slight by comparison withmy opposition to the ludicrous
High Speed 2 scheme, which is, it has to be said, both
amateurish and grotesquely expensive.
It used to be fashionable to say that things had been
formulated on the back of a cigarette packet; it sounds
as though it will be possible to do that on the front of a
cigarette packet fairly shortly. I gather, however, that it
is more fashionable now to say that things have been
drawn up on the back of an envelope—and in this case,
it is a pretty poor envelope.
It is clear that HS2, and all the money it involves, is
unpopular in every part of England and even more
unpopular in Scotland and Wales. I can say without
fear of contradiction that it is certainly unpopular in
my constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, where it
will involve the demolition of the homes of about
500 people and expose more than 5,000 people to living
next door to Europe’s biggest demolition, engineering
and building site for 12 to 15 years, without any
compensation at all.
The boundaries of the compensation scheme are such
that people can live 5 metres—in some cases, 5 centimetres
—fromthe boundary and not get a penny.We have been
told that the situation is not like in rural areas; urban
areas, apparently, are used to noise—“people are used
to railways, you know, in the Euston area.” Indeed they
are, but they are not used to living next to a major
engineering site for a dozen or 15 years.
The five minutes that I was given to speak, under the
procedures of the House, on Second Reading of the
current HS2 Bill were not sufficient for me to do justice
to the insanity of the proposals. The original proposals
were for a total demolition and rebuilding of Euston
station and its extension 75 metres to the west. They
also included a link to the channel tunnel line, running
across the North London line, above ground, from
Primrose Hill to the back of St Pancras station. That
latter proposal was rubbish from the start. No one
thought it was sensible apart from officials at High
Speed 2 and officials at the Department for Transport,
which, even before the proposal was published, had
been warned by everyone, including me, that the North
London line would in effect need to be destroyed and
rebuilt in order to enable high-speed trains to run along
it. They had also been warned by the Institution of
Civil Engineers that it was not a good idea.
Then the original estimate of the costs nearly doubled.
We had warned people of this. They said it was because
of new factors, one of which, apparently—it is in a
parliamentary answer—was the need to widen the route.
If they did not realise that would be needed from the
start, they ought not to be employed in such projects.
Fairly recently, the proposal for the connection to the
channel tunnel link was abandoned, so there is now no
longer any rail connection to the European network, as
had been promised.We were told that passengers could
get off at Euston and then that they, rather than the
trains, would be able to get to St Pancras: they could
walk there in the rain or possibly use a travelator going
along Euston road, which is, in terms of air pollution,
the filthiest road in Britain. Recently, Sir David Higgins,
the great new boss who has been brought in, told people
that they could walk across Euston station, go to Euston
Square tube station, get the tube to King’sCross St Pancras,
and then walk to the international trains. I would have
thought that most people would not fancy that if they
were carrying a bit of luggage. Anyway, that is the latest
fancy proposal.
491 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 492
Let us look at the original proposals for the full-scale
redevelopment of Euston and the bringing in of the
high-speed trains. The original estimate was £1.2 billion.
Just eight months later, the geniuses at HS2 acknowledged
that that estimate—or guesstimate, or back-of-a-fag-packet
stuff—had gone up to £2 billion. An escalation in price
of £100 million a month is not bad, really—you have to
admit that they are quite impressive at spending other
people’s money. Then that was felt to be too expensive
and abandoned, and they came up with the proposal
known as revised option 8,whichwould, roughly speaking,
leave Euston as it is, with a fancy lean-to shed next to
it in which the glories of High Speed 2 would be
displayed.
Those propositions—the link and revised option8—were
in the Bill that was considered on Second Reading in
this House. One of them has been abandoned, and we
are told that the Euston proposition has also been
abandoned, without any debate in this House. Now
HS2 wants to go back to the full-scale redevelopment of
Euston, which has never been put before Parliament. If
Parliament is not doing its job properly, perhaps
the people will need to do their job properly in a
referendum.
I have been tabling questions asking, “When are you
going to come up with the revised proposals for Euston?”
Last year we were told that those revised proposals
would be out for consultation in October last year. The
most recent answer to parliamentary questions that I
have is that it is hoped they will be available in September
this year. However, these people still have no idea of
what the cost will be, and they cannot work out a viable
scheme for the rebuilding of the station. I personally
believe that they have been unable to overcome a lot of
the engineering problems that would be caused by major
works in the area. Parliament has not been doing its job
properly; it has not had the opportunity to do so
because it has been denied information by theGovernment.
That is why we need a referendum.
To say that this is an unpopular idea is an understatement.
In March last year, polling by ComRes showed that
52% of the UK population generally were against it and
30% were in favour. Last autumn it got a bit worse, from
the point of view of those who are in favour of this
ridiculous scheme, because, in a YouGov poll, 53% were
against it and its supporters had gone down to 25%. A
breakdown of the figures shows that no group anywhere
in the country is, on balance, in favour. Among all men
and all women, more are against than for. People in
every age group are more against than for. All social
classes are more against than for.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) talked
about the views of people in the north. I have the
polling figures here. In the north-east, 62% are against
and 20% are in favour. In Yorkshire and Humberside,
48% are against and 37% are in favour. The nearest
thing to majority support anywhere is in the north-west,
where there has been a lot of banging the drum for the
wondrous likely impact on Manchester. To be fair,
though, it is still quite close, with 43% against and
39% in favour, and the majority are still against.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South
(Mr Cunningham) talked about the west midlands,
where 50% are against and 34% are in favour.
Mr Jim Cunningham:Myright hon. Friend mentioned
disruption caused by this proposal. If it went ahead in
Coventry, it would seriously affect some of the finer
scientific measuring equipment that is used at the university
of Warwick
Frank Dobson: Yes, indeed.
Apart from those who are paid supporters of the
scheme, it has virtually no supporters.When I say “paid
supporters”, I amincluding some of the civil engineering
advisers and consultants who are producing reports in
favour because they are paid to do so. There is a danger
that they are damaging the reputation of British civil
engineering consultants.
Mrs Gillan: People watching these proceedings will
probably be remarking that there are not many MPs in
the Chamber, but historically we do not get many people
here on Friday morning for debates on private Members’
Bills. Is it not remarkable that so far there have been no
interventions in support of this project onwhich £50 billion
of taxpayers’ money, at the very minimum, is being
spent? I am sure that the Front Benchers will support it,
but no other voices have rushed here to do so.
Frank Dobson: That is so. I think that the right hon.
Lady is probably regarded as being in the south-east,
where 51% are against and 30% are in favour. In the
London area, 48% are against and 34% are in favour.
And so it goes on. The supporters of every political
party are, on balance, against.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I
was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman might give
the figure for Somerset. I have a feeling the project is
not enormously popular there, either.
Frank Dobson: I think that for these purposes Somerset
is probably part of the south-west, where 60% are
against and 25% are in favour. I should also add a late
wire from the course: as of yesterday, a Daily Mirror
poll showed that 80% are against and 20% are in favour.
There is something amiss if Parliament is not reflecting
the views of the public, especially when they are so
overwhelmingly in one direction. In the absence of
Parliament reflecting those views, it seems to me that
there is a case for a referendum, or possibly local
referendums, on the proposals.
Dan Byles: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree
that, althoughwe do not have referendums on infrastructure
projects across the board, this is a unique infrastructure
project, and that because every party capable of forming
a Government is in favour of it, it is impossible for any
party to claim a mandate for it?
Frank Dobson: There are mandates and there are
mandates, are there not?
One of the problems is that as each argument in favour
of this ludicrous proposition fails, the proponents come
up with another. The first one was speed. Oh, it was
wonderful! People would be able to speed to Birmingham
—or speed from Birmingham to London, but that
tended not to get mentioned too much. Time would
also be saved for business people. The first calculations
were based on time saved when using motorways, but
493 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 494
[Frank Dobson]
people are not supposed to read when they are driving,
so there is a considerable gain in getting from A to B as
quickly as possible, whereas on a train they can do some
work. The calculations were modified, but even then
they were wrong.
The next argument was that the proposal was going
to add to train capacity. The proponents then had to
admit that sorting out two or three particular bottlenecks
on the west coast main line, which they intended to do
anyway, would add considerably to the line capacity.
They have never done a calculation—this would be of
interest to those who use the west coast main line—of
the incapacity that the massive engineering works at
Euston will force on the line. These works will result in a
lot of interference to access to and egress from Euston.
People’s journeys from the midlands and the north-west
will be interfered with one way or another for the best
part of 15 years, but that is not part of the capacity
argument.
Mr Jim Cunningham: Although the situation inCoventry
is not exactly the same as that in Euston, there will still
be major effects on the traffic flow and major disruption
in Coventry. That could go on for many years, and
blighting is another issuewe will have to address somewhere
along the line.
Frank Dobson: The other problem is that the people
behind the proposition live from hand to mouth. They
said, “There’ll be a way around this, because we’ll be
able to divert quite a lot of the local services that come
into Euston to Old Oak Common and therefore relieve
the pressure on Euston during the works period.” They
have now admitted, however, that they cannot divert the
local services to Old Oak Common to bring about that
relief, so they are still lumbered with the fact that they
will louse up access to Euston station for the next dozen
to 15 years.
I amsuremy hon. Friend will agree that an alternative
option for improving the passenger service from London
to Birmingham would be substantially to improve the
performance of the Chiltern line and thus relieve a lot
of passenger need on the west coast main line. All over
the country, minor improvements to the track, signalling
and electrification could bring about big improvements
for passengers. As a lad originally from just outside
York, I am always conscious of the fact that the east
coast main line is electrified from King’s Cross to Leeds
and from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, but that the link
betweenYork and Leeds is not electrified. Consequently,
anyone who wants to go to Leeds from Edinburgh,
Newcastle or Durham cannot do so on an electrified
train; they have to change at York or find one of the
trains that are still diesel.
Philip Davies: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely
right. Is it not the case that it takes almost as long on
the train to get from Leeds to Liverpool as it does to get
from Leeds to London? It is, therefore, bizarre that so
much money is being spent to try to make it quicker to
get from Leeds to London when many people would
prefer it to be quicker to get across the north of England.
Frank Dobson: Indeed. When the capacity argument
fell through—the proponents threw in the towel—they
turned to economic growth. However, if they look at
virtually all the foreign experience, they will see that when
a high-speed line is put in to a capital city, that capital
city sucks in business and jobs from the other places on
the line. That is significant to those who live in smaller
towns near the cities where HS2 stations are proposed,
because there is considerable evidence that those smaller
towns will lose business to them. If a station is built in
Manchester, towns in Rochdale, Oldham and other
surrounding areas could lose trade, jobs and prosperity
to Manchester. That might be okay for Manchester, but
it would not be too good for Greater Manchester.
Rail improvements are needed in the north of England.
The time it takes to travel from York to Manchester and
from Leeds to Liverpool is a disgrace. High Speed 3 is
now being talked about, but I think there would be a bit
more support for High Speed 3 if it became High
Speed 2. A lot of local services in the north of England
need to be improved, as well as the interconnections
between the big cities.
People talk about the economic benefits that High
Speed 2 will bring to cities in the midlands and the
north. The cost will be £50 billion and it is intended that
five cities will benefit: Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield,
Leeds and Manchester. As I suggested in one debate, if
that £50 billion were split between those cities, giving
them £10 billion each, and the people of, say, Manchester
and Sheffield were asked in a referendum what they
would do with their £10 billion, the chances are that
they would not say that the first thing they needed to do
was to club together for a high-speed railway. That
would be pretty unlikely. Perhaps there should be local
referendums.
Some of us are decried for being neanderthal and
opposed to progress.People say,“What about thewonderful
progress thatwas made by the great railway entrepreneurs
of the 19th century?” A lot of those projects in the
19th century were characterised by bankruptcy, fraud,
deception, thieving from shareholders and God knows
what else. George Hudson of the Great Northern railway
invented the Ponzi scheme about 100 years before Ponzi
was born.
Those entrepreneurs did get the things built—that is
a fair point—but if we want to rely on 19th-century
examples, and if High Speed 2 is such a good idea that it
could be put to a referendum and people would agree to
it, surely we should be asking why the private sector is
not desperate to build this new railway.Why should the
taxpayer have to find the money, when historically in
this country it is not the taxpayer who has done so?
There seems to be no rush to come up with the dosh
privately to invest in this scheme. Perhaps that is because
outfits such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and
the Institute of Directors—not organisations I usually
quote, I freely admit—think that it is a total waste of
time. Broadly speaking, they think it is crackers.
That brings me to the most recent report of the
Public Accounts Committee, to which the hon. Member
for Christchurch (Mr Chope) referred. To say that it is a
lukewarm endorsement of High Speed 2 is to wildly
exaggerate the Committee’s enthusiasm for it. I need my
glasses to give you the full benefit of the report, Madam
Deputy Speaker. It says:
“The Department for Transport is responsible for a number of
ambitious, expensive transport infrastructure programmes including
the planned High Speed 2 programme.We are not convinced that
these programmes are part of a clear strategic approach to
495 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 496
investment in the rail network… The Department told us it will
deliver the full High Speed 2 programme within its overall funding
envelope of £50 billion.”
For a start, it is not £50 billion, because HS2 admits
that if the scheme were to work, Euston station would
not be able to cope with the extra passengers and would
be overwhelmed. Crossrail 2 would then be needed, at
an additional cost of £20 billion. If the scheme were to
work—if all the optimistic prognostications of those
who are in favour of it came to be—it would require a
further £20 billion. Quite frankly, it is deceptive of the
Government and High Speed 2 to talk about £50 billion.
Usually, they do not even like to talk about £50 billion:
they talk about £43 billion and then reluctantly admit
that they need another £7 billion for the locomotives—it
was perhaps going to be a train-free railway at one
time—and we have to bear that point in mind.
I want to express my own views and those of the
people who live inmy constituency. Crossrail 1 is causing
a bit of trouble here and there, but, broadly speaking,
people have been willing to go along with it. Originally,
the proposal for the channel tunnel link was that it
should come into a huge concrete box under King’s
Cross station. The sort of people who are now proposing
HS2 said, “This is the only way to do it. There is no
possible alternative. We are the experts. We know
everything.”They ended up having to admit to a Committee
of this House that was considering the Bill that their
concrete box was too short for the proposed train. That
was the quality of thought that went into the proposal.
When I first suggested to the planners that the best
thing to do would be to use St Pancras station, which
was grotesquely underused, I was treated like a total
idiot: “Pathetic! How could he possibly come up with
such a silly idea when our concrete box under King’s
Cross is a masterstroke?” They eventually abandoned
the masterstroke and we now use St Pancras station. I
am pleased that if someone gets a train from St Pancras
to the Gare du Nord, they really know that Britain
is best, because the Gare du Nord is horrible and
St Pancras is a credit to everybody except the railway
planners, because they were not in favour of using it
originally.
Similarly, despite the problems that have been caused
inmy area, there has been, broadly speaking, full support
from nearly everyone there, including myself, for the
massive improvements at King’s Cross station, all of
which were started under the Labour Government, with
the support of myself and local people.
I believe that it is necessary to say to Parliament,
“Look, you are letting people down.” The proposals are
a disgrace: they are amateurish and grotesquely expensive.
Parliament has not been doing its job properly. I mean
no criticism of the people who are serving on the
legislative Devil’s island that is the Committee stage of
the hybrid Bill. Those people should, at the very least,
receive double salaries and free passes on the railways
for ever. Our procedures let people down and do not
reflect the views of people in this country.
Mrs Gillan:Would the right hon. Gentleman also like
to mention in dispatches the excellent Clerk, who is
doing a first-class job for that Committee and has gone
a long way to ensuring that people feel that they have
been or will be listened to?
Frank Dobson: Yes, I endorse that. Everyone who has
had dealings with the Clerk, and with the other Clerks
who have been involved from time to time, pays tribute
to the help that they have been given in making their
representations and getting their representations in order.
However, try as they might, our procedures in relation
to such matters are ridiculous.
In the absence of proper parliamentary scrutiny, one
of our own Committees, the Public Accounts Committee,
is saying of the Department for Transport—I will put
my glasses on again:
“The Department still lacks a clear strategic plan for the rail
network, and it is unclear how the Department makes decisions
about which programmes to prioritise for investment…We remain
concerned about the Department’s ability to deliver on time and
budget… We are sceptical about whether the Department can
deliver value for money for the taxpayer on High Speed 2… There
is a risk that industry does not have the capacity to deliver all
current and proposed programmes… The Department has a long
way to go to prove that it is being more active in realising benefits
from major programmes.”
Surprise surprise, all sorts of benefits were supposedly
to result from the station at Ebbsfleet and the channel
tunnel link, but—lo and behold—they have not been
realised. That might be because they were unrealisable
from the start and were basically a bit of fantasy
infrastructure dreaming, but that is alsowhat this proposal
is. Parliament is letting down the people of this country
and we should let them have a say with a national and
local referendum.
I want economic growth and development in the
great northern cities, and the towns and villages that
surround them, which have contributed so much in the
past to our economic strength. In future, we cannot
possibly compete in the world as the cheapest on price
because we will always be undercut. All we can do is
compete with the best on quality and economic initiative.
For example, graphene was developed at Manchester
university and is the strongest material the world has
ever known. I think it would be better forManchester if
we put £1 billion into developing applications of graphene,
rather than putting the money into this railway. Because
I am a Yorkshireman I will also mention Rotherham,
which is famous for its special steels and still does great
work developing them. It would probably be a good
idea to put money into graphene in and aroundRotherham,
so that the development of the strongest material in the
world is done in league with the steel industry and does
not try to replace it. We should invest in those sorts of
things, not throw money away on this railway.
We should allow the people of this country to have
their say, but not in a general election in which everybody
has—allegedly—signed up to the project. Indeed, I suspect
that if there was a secret referendum in the Cabinet and
shadow Cabinet, the vote would probably be 80% against
HS2 and 20% in favour, because lots and lots of people
recognise just how stupid this project is.
12.3 pm
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con):
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for
Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson). If we had a
secret, unwhipped ballot across the House, I think we
may find less support for this project than those on the
Front Benches would like.
497 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 498
[Mrs Cheryl Gillan]
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for
Christchurch (Mr Chope) on bringing this Bill to the
House and giving me andmy colleagues the opportunity
to sponsor it. My right hon. and learned Friend the
Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was not free to
sponsor the Bill, but it is good to have his affirmation
that he would have added his name to it had he not been
on the Front Bench. I have been liberated for some time,
and fortunately I have been able to speak about this
matter. For the first two years of this Parliament, however,
owing to Cabinet collective responsibility and observing
what is right and proper in the House, I was unable to
air my views about this project on the Floor of the
House.
Friday mornings are never convenient for Members
who want to spend time in their constituencies, and it is
commendable that colleagues have joined the debate
this morning, probably on theirway to their constituencies.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury
(Mr Lidington) has asked me to mention the strong
feelings in his constituency about the huge cost of this
project, particularly because the lack of any interim
station means that local people are set to gain no
benefit from the line, while facing massive disruption to
their lives for years to come. I echo that point for my
constituency and constituencies in Buckinghamshire
that will be severely disrupted should the project go
ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy
Lefroy) supports the Bill but is unable to attend the
debate, and I am pleased to put that on the record to
show that many Members up and down the line—and
nowbeyondthe line—feel uncomfortable with the proposals.
That we are debating giving people a vote on this
project is absolutely right, and if the Minister, my hon.
Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings
(Mr Hayes)—
TheMinister of State, Department forTransport(MrJohn
Hayes): Right honourable.
Mrs Gillan: I do apologise; I meant no disrespect. If
my right hon. Friend realised how unpopular this project
was, he might not make the speech he is about to make.
I recall that I was driving—I think I was listening to
“Any Questions”, and one of the questions involved
HS2. The audience on the radio booed, and I thought,
“Well there’s a popular project for the Government to
pursue, particularly in the light of its so-called limited
cost.” This project has not captured imaginations up
and down the country, and it is certainly not held dear
by the people I talk to, including those way beyond
those who are affected directly by the line.
The trouble is that HS2 is slipping under the radar in
many ways. The organisation led by Buckinghamshire
county council is an amalgam of many other organisations
and, as I said earlier, it has called itself “51m”, because
the equivalent cost of HS2 at the moment, if spread
among our constituencies, would give each Member
£51 million to spend in those constituencies. The right
hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras said that if
we gave £10 billion to the five cities, they would not
immediately club together and want to build HS2. In
the same way, if constituencies up and down the country
received £51 million, they would not immediately club
together to build HS2.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I wanted to find out
what people thought about HS2, so I went along to the
Institute of Directors. In Transport questions last March,
I raised that issue because the IOD—the very business
people towhomthe project is supposed to appeal—surveyed
more than 13,000 directors for its spring report last year
to get their views on HS2. More than half those directors
thought that HS2 was poor value for money, and more
than 60% thought that the budget earmarked for the
project would provide a better return if it were used to
improve existing road and rail networks. Frankly, when
our business community comes out against a project to
that extent, I do not understand why the Government
do not listen. I am not afraid of asking people what
they think, and neither are most of my colleagues in the
House. I therefore believe that the proposal for a referendum
is well made and should be put, not least so that the
business community can express its views.
It is all very well for the companies that are already
earning highly from the project. I was amazed at some
of the sums that have already gone to potential advisers
and contractors on this project, all of which have been
printed in Hansard in response to questions—I will not
go into the details of the company, but they are there if
people want to look at them. Those companies are in
favour of the project, as areManchester and Birmingham,
which see vast swathes of taxpayers’ money coming in
their direction. Sir Albert Bore and Sir Richard Leese
will be absolutely delighted and will put pressure on
Labour Front Benchers to go along with the proposals,
because taxpayers’ money will go into those Labourcontrolled
authorities, but what does that say to the rest
of us?
Frank Dobson: Even in Birmingham there are doubts.
There is a site called Washwood Heath. Everybody in
Birmingham ranging fromthe far-leftTrots to the chamber
of commerce was in favour of redeveloping it with
about 3,000 modern jobs in IT and bio-engineering,
but—lo and behold—HS2 says, “Tough. We need it for
some sidings. Total employees: 30.”
Mrs Gillan: The right hon. Gentleman is right. A
constituent of minewho owns a business in the Birmingham
area will be adversely affected by the project. He will
have to re-site a profitable factory, which will involve
losses and a great deal of interruption to the business.
It is five years since the announcement of the project.
Its genesis has been well documented by other hon.
Members, including in this debate. We are five years in
and we do not know what the costs are. Inevitably, those
costs are rising. In 2009, the costs for HS2 were identified
as £16 billion. A year later, they went up to £29 billion.
By 2010, they were £32 billion. As everybody knows,
the cost now stands at £50 billion, particularly if we want
the luxury of a few trains running up and down the lines.
What worries me is that I do not believe the costs will
stop there. First, there is the unknown quantity of Euston
and the implications, which could run into millions, nay
billions, of pounds if the right hon. Member for Holborn
and St Pancras is to be believed—he is to be believed.
There are unforeseen costs after that. For example, I
am not convinced that the countries that make up the
United Kingdom will not press for Barnett consequentials
on that spend, not least because, as I know, there was a
dispute with Wales on whether Barnett consequentials
499 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 500
would be applied on the transport elements of the
Olympics and the Olympics project. It was decided that
the transport spend elements would be Barnettised, and
therefore extra funds had to be found to pass to Wales
and Scotland and so on. The first phase of HS2 is
Birmingham to London. There is a powerful argument
to make, and there is no reason to think that more funds
will not have to be found to deliver those Barnett
consequentials to the other countries that make up the
United Kingdom.
Naturally, the costs have risen. As I mentioned, the
costs quoted are at 2011 prices. I sit on the Select
Committee on Public Administration. Last week, the
Treasury permanent secretary was before us. During the
course of our investigation, I asked him about the costs
of HS2 and pointed out that we were dealing in 2011
prices. I have asked him for an up-to-date costing of the
project, which I believe he has agreed to provide by
means of a letter to the Committee. I hope that, very
shortly, the House will be better informed as to the real
costs—the costs as of today’s date. It is hard for people
to understand the full implications of the costs of the
project if we do not keep pace with current prices. The
assumptions that have been made about the benefits of
the project are grossly overestimated. The benefit-cost
ratio for phase 1 of HS2 has dropped to 1.4 from 2.4, as
it was when the first business case was issued. For
phase 2, the ratio stands at 2.3, which is down from 4.
One thing is not highlighted: the business case includes
an £8.3 billion cut to existing inter-city services. When
HS2 was first announced, my colleague the Foreign
Secretary, who was Secretary of State for Transport,
said it would be necessary to “seriously review the
viability” if the BCR dropped below 1.5. That has
happened, but as far as I know there has been no review.
The reliability of the assumptions are widely questioned,
but in a project of that size that will cost the taxpayer so
much, we need to be certain before we press ahead.
If we strip out from the assumptions the questionable
elements—for example, the overvalued benefits for the
reduction of journey times, which are questionable
because people do valuable work on trains—we calculate
that the more realistic BCR is 0.5. If that is the case, the
project will be one of the poorest value for money
projects that this country has ever seen. It compares
unfavourably with many other infrastructure projects.
Many road improvements have BCRs of as much as 10.
The optimised alternative to HS2 originally proposed
by “51m”, the group of councils that have lobbied
against HS2, had a BCR of 5.
Basically, by anybody’s reckoning, the project is based
on dodgy assumptions. We do not know the real costs.
It is five years in, but we do not have the final route and
the final plans.We do not know what the risks entail. It
bears repeating that the Major Projects Authority was
set up to identify the risks of such projects. As far as I
was aware, it was supposed to be transparent. As I
understood it, we were going to be one of the most
transparent Governments ever. Those reports, which we
know are classified as amber/red, have not been released.
I repeat that it is not right or proper that the House can
be said to have scrutinised the project properly on
behalf of our constituents and the taxpayers if the
Committee that considers the project Bill in detail does
not have access to the clearly identified risks laid out by
the Major Projects Authority. If Members of the House
are not allowed to have them, members of the Committee
at least should have them. If the project is to be done, it
needs to be done properly. People need to see that each
of those risks have been addressed by the Government,
and by HS2 Ltd or whatever organisation delivers the
project.
Mr Chope: Is there an analogy with people seeking
investment from shareholders? They have to produce a
proper, transparent and open prospectus for shareholders.
In this situation, taxpayers are in the role of shareholders,
and they are not getting a proper prospectus from the
Government.
Mrs Gillan: As far as I am concerned, it is “Don’t do
as I do, do as I say”. We are always dictating to the
banks and corporations that theymust have transparency
in their dealings, but we are not doing it ourselves. I find
it rather disturbing, and it is certainly not fair on my
constituency and the other constituencies that are going
to pay the ultimate price for the delivery of this project
if it goes ahead.
If one is going to put in a piece of infrastructure that
disrupts an area of outstanding natural beauty—that is,
an area of the country that has been nationally designated
as something that is precious—it is not right that it
should only be half protected. I am very grateful to my
colleagues, because following my representations I was
able to increase the tunnelling that protectsmy constituency.
It was originally to come out in the middle of a football
field at the back of old Amersham. I was able to
persuade the then Secretary of State for Transport that
we needed more tunnelling. I envisaged that that tunnelling
would carry on to the end of the area of outstanding
natural beauty, but it was moved to a place called
MantlesWood. There is no logic for why it should come
out at Mantles Wood. If we are going to spend this
money, I think it should go to the end of the AONB, so
that that nationally designated area of the country is
fully protected.
Frank Dobson: I think the right hon. Lady will confirm
that she was present when our colleague, my hon.
Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge
(Angela Smith), asked Sir David Higgins about the fact
that they were going to tear through two bits of ancient
woodland in her constituency. He reassured her that it
was all right, because they would replant it!
Mrs Gillan: The depth of ignorance knows no bounds
in some instances. I am very depressed by the fact that
people actually believe that one can replace ancient
woodland. I have worked with the Woodland Trust.
When I was first elected, PennWood, inmy constituency,
was one of the first major woods that the trust purchased
and saved for posterity. The complexity of ancient
woodland, with its soil and the way in which it is made
up, cannot be replaced. We can have substitute woods
put somewhere else, but they can never be replaced.
Once they are gone, they are gone for ever. I am grateful
to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention.
If one is going to spend £50 billion and disrupt
the lives, businesses and homes of a number of people,
money ought to be spent fully on compensation, as well
as on protection of the environment. If one cannot
afford to compensate people properly, as my right hon.
501 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 502
[Mrs Gillan]
and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said,
it is a crying shame, because they are paying not once
through their taxes but twice with the blight. It is unfair
that the burden should fall disproportionately on those
nearest to the ultimate route.
Another aspect that worries me, and which the Bill
plays to in putting a referendum on this project before
the people, is that I do not feel new technology and
developments have been taken into account fully. I put a
question to the Department for Transport on whether
the impact of driverless cars had been taken into account
when looking at the future development of the railways
and other forms of transport. The written answer came
back that they had not been taken into account, but
that a study was going to be carried out. One cannot go
ahead with a costly project over such a long period of
time without looking at the impact of new technology.
When I first came into the House, my secretary worked
on a golf ball typewriter. I now carry with me an iPad
on which I can FaceTime the world—all my e-mails
come in and I can go on Twitter. The change in technology
over 20 years has been absolutely phenomenal. That
is the time scale of HS2. There will be all sorts of
developments, not least if we can finally get good, firstclass,
rapid broadband into all parts of Buckinghamshire
and all points north, east, south and west. There are
going to be changes to business patterns, patterns of
travel and style of travel. It is important that we look at
horizon planning holistically before we commit to this
sort of expenditure, and that we give people the chance
to saywhat theywant through a referendum, as envisaged
in the Bill.
The Public Accounts Committee report was quoted
extensively by the right hon. Member for Holborn and
St Pancras. He produced the summary, which is exactly
the part I had underlined to read out to myself. What
struck me is that the Department takes a piecemeal
approach to rail investment. That is one of the most
damning aspects of the report. It is important for the
Department to go back to the drawing board and do
some real horizon planning across the whole piece,
looking at all our methods of transport, interoperability
and connectivity. Otherwise, the white elephant that has
been adopted as a sign of the anti-HS2 campaigners,
will come to fruition. The PAC and the National Audit
Office have consistently criticised the project, and that
counts for a great deal. The NAO and the PAC are set
up to scrutinise the type of expenditure envisaged here,
and to tell it warts and all. The PAC is a cross-party
Committee, so there is no political bias. Once again, it is
not being listened to seriously at the highest levels of
Government.
I will not go on for much longer, but I will leave the
last words to my constituents. I have received literally
hundreds of e-mails about the Bill. My hon. Friend the
Memberfor Christchurch has been mentioned in dispatches
many times. E-mails have come not just from my
constituents; they have come from around the country.
Many people would like the Bill to come to fruition,
although I know that at this time of the electoral cycle
we do not have much of a hope of it going any further. I
will leave it to my hon. Friend to decide what he wants
to do with it.
Mr Chope: I do not know whether my right hon.
Friend is in the habit of responding to such e-mails, but
one point she might be able to make is that people
should challenge candidates in the forthcoming general
election on whether they would support such a Bill in
the next Parliament, so that there can be a popular vote
on whether we should spend this amount of money on
HS2.
Mrs Gillan: I certainly will. I stand proudly as a
Conservative andwill be standing proudly as a Conservative,
but I think my Front Benchers and my party know that
I cannot subscribe to this project, will be speaking out
against it and will continue to speak out against it. I am
sure there will be opportunity-politicians who will try
to claim their opposition to this project. I am well aware
that there is one party that claims it is the only party
that opposed high-speed rail. I seem to recall that it had
three high-speed rail promises in its manifesto at the
previous election. I have no reason not to believe that in
areas of the country that perhaps welcome this project
it will be singing a different tune. As far as I am
concerned, this is a policy I cannot agree with and will
not agree with.
I want to give the last word to John Gladwin, from the
Chiltern Society HS2 team. The Chiltern Society is an
excellent local organisation set up to praise and cherish
the Chilterns,which is an asset not just formy constituents
but thewhole country, particularly Londoners. He writes:
“While the country is running a substantial deficit, requiring
restrictions on spending on the NHS and forcing local government
to cut services, is it sensible to invest in a project that offers a poor
Benefit Cost Ratio, and takes forever to deliver benefits to the
North and the Midlands? Add to this the fact that the Government
does not have a coherent Transport Infrastructure Plan, as evidenced
by there being no Airport Commission Report until later this year,
and Sir David Higgins coming up with HS3 as a way of delivering
the benefits of HS2 to the North. Would it not seem sensible for
the taxpayer to decide whether to fund this project or not?”
The Bill is simple: it allows for a referendum to be
held on whether the UK taxpayer should financially
support the HS2 railway. The referendum must be held
before the commencement of construction of the railway,
although I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for
Christchurch that nearly £1 billion will already have
been spent by the time we get to the general election.
The simplicity of the Bill appeals to me and I know that
it will appeal to amuch wider audience. Although this is
a Second Reading debate, I know that the Bill will not
progress much further, but I wish it a fair wind as it
would mean that the people could decide on this project.
12.30 pm
Dan Byles (NorthWarwickshire) (Con): It is a privilege
to speak in the debate, and I pay tribute to my hon.
Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for
bringing the matter before the House. It is a pleasure to
follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham
and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who eloquently outlined
many of the arguments and concerns. I share those
concerns 100% and I do not propose to repeat the
arguments, merely to endorse them, and I will not take
up much of the House’s time today.
I endorse the comments made earlier about the Clerk
to the Committee. Many of my constituents have come
down to petition the Committee directly, as did I, and
the Clerk has been extremely helpful to my constituents
503 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 504
and to everybody who has taken part in what can be a
daunting process for those who are not used to the
somewhat arcane workings of this place.
My views on this project are well known and I have
voted against it in this House at every opportunity. I am
opposed to it on three levels: nationally, as I do not
believe that there is no argument that stands up to
scrutiny that shows this is the right way for the nation to
spend some £50 billion; regionally, as I have deep concerns
about its impact, thanks to strong evidence from around
the world that smaller regional economies linked to
larger regional economies suffer what is known as a
negative agglomeration effect, whereby economic activity
is not pushed out from the centre but is sucked in; and
as Birmingham and the west midlands are the closest
regional economic centre to London to be linked by
high-speed rail, I am deeply concerned that potential
investment that might have come to Birmingham and
the west midlands will instead be pulled into London;
and locally, as my constituency of North Warwickshire
is almost certainly theworst affected constituency outside
London—I add that caveat—as we have phase 1, phase 2,
the delta junction and the Y junction as well as an
enormous railhead close to Kingsbury. Although that
railhead is technically a temporary structure, it will be
there for a minimum of 15 years. The idea that people
living next to the structure will not qualify for compensation
because it is temporary, even though it will be there for
15 years, is staggering.
As I mentioned earlier, the economic analysis used
for the case is woefully simplistic. It seems as though
thosewho support the project believe it to be self-evidently
good, given the woeful lack of sophistication in the
economic analysis used to demonstrate that it is good.
During the later stages of the argument, when the
earlier bits of the case started to fall apart, the question
of whether HS2would help resolve the north-south divide
started to be elevated as a key argument, even though it
was not mentioned at the beginning. The north-south
divide suddenly became a major selling point, and I
remember the Select Committee on Transport’s ringing
endorsement that
“only time will tell whether or not HS2 will…help…reduce the
north-south divide.”
What a ringing endorsement of what has become a key
plank in the project!
When the budget miraculously increased significantly,
I noted that in order to maintain some semblance of a
benefit-cost ratio that worked, the benefits had to be
increased significantly almost overnight. I recall watching
a Transport Minister—I will not mention which one,
although I hasten to add that it was not the one who is
sitting on the Front Bench now, my right hon. Friend
the Minister of State—struggling on “Newsnight” to
explain howthey had suddenly found billions in additional
benefit almost out of their back pocket in order to
maintain some semblance of a benefit-cost ratio that
looked right, given the costs that had been added to the
budget.
Frank Dobson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept, as I
am afraid I do, that the economic arguments from those
in favour and those against are pretty thin and are
based on guesswork about who might be using a train
and why in the year 2040?
Dan Byles: I agree absolutely with the right hon.
Gentleman. One need only look back at some of the
guesswork relating to the channel tunnel and HS1 to see
just how woefully wrong almost every prediction of
passenger numbers and so on turned out to be. I agree
that we should have a healthy dose of scepticism about
the large numbers involved in this project. As my right
hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham
has pointed out, now that the benefit-cost ratio is so
thin those assumptions become really important. We
are balancing on a pinhead the question of whether this
project will get over the threshold of being worth doing.
It only takes one or two of the assumptions to be out by
relatively small amount for the benefit-cost ratio to
collapse even further.
Although it is not central to the argument for or
against HS2, it is essential that we mention the conduct
of HS2 Ltd as an organisation—[Interruption.] The
right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank
Dobson) indicates from a sedentary position that he
agrees with me. Anybody who has had to deal with HS2
Ltd will have found it a terrible organisation whose
conduct towards many ordinary people has been nothing
short of scandalous. I am not pointing to any particular
member of HS2 Ltd—I understand that the people who
work for it have a job to do and many individuals go
above and beyond the call of duty to try to do that job
well—but somehow, as an organisation, it is far less
than the sum of its parts. Constituents of mine have
been driven to despair by the way that they have been
treated by HS2 Ltd. That is not how we should be doing
business as a modern country.
The entire country is paying for this project. People
are paying directly through taxes, and through the
opportunity cost of investment that will not now go
ahead in transport infrastructure in other areas; and
unfortunately, far too many people directly along the
route are paying for the project with their homes, their
communities and in many cases with their health and,
virtually, their sanity. Referendums on infrastructure
projects are not the norm, of course, but as every party
who has any likelihood of forming aGovernment supports
HS2 Ltd, there is nowhere for those who do not support
it to go if they do not wish to vote for some crazy fringe
party. It is impossible for any party to claim a democratic
mandate for this project,which is the largest infrastructure
project since the second world war. There is therefore a
legitimate argument that this is a special case as it is
unlike other infrastructure and transport projects, so a
referendum strikes me as a very sensible way to go. I do
not wish to add anything further but simply endorse all
the comments made so far today.
12.37 pm
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Although
I countmyself as a supporter of HS2, I congratulate the
hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on securing
a Second Reading for his Bill. I know that he has a
long-standing interest in these issues as a former shadow
transport spokesman, and it is always important to debate
how public money—taxpayers’ money, if you will—is
spent and to subject major public projects to close scrutiny.
The hon. Gentleman has said outside this place and
has contended today that the House has not had an
opportunity to scrutinise HS2’s funding and the costs
and benefits of the project, but speaking as a veteran of
505 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 506
[Lilian Greenwood]
the Public Bill Committee that considered the High
SpeedRail (Preparation) Act 2013 and as a Front-Bencher
during the introduction of the phase 1 hybrid Bill, I am
not sure I can follow him that far. The truth is that the
House has already imposed tighter spending controls
on HS2. I submitted an amendment to the preparation
Act that was accepted by the House and introduced a
duty on the Government to declare any overspend,
against both the annual and the total budget. The noble
Lady Baroness Kramer conceded in the other place that
that was
“a very vigorous reporting process under which the Government
must report back annually and record any deviation from
budget…which has put in place a very intense scrutiny process
around the budget.”—[OfficialReport, House of Lords, 19November
2013; Vol. 749, c. 949.]
Of course, there can be no room for complacency.
Delays after the election and substantial cost increases
have not been to the Government’s credit, and I would
agree that the Government, perhaps distracted by their
rail franchising fiasco, failed to communicate properly
the reasons why the project is necessary. Of course, the
overall figure, the £50.1 billion, includes a sizeable
contingency buffer—as well as funds for new trains,
some of which will run on existing lines—but that is not
money that we want to see spent. We need to have a
laser-like focus on bringing down the project’s costs.
There cannot be a blank cheque for this or any other
project.
Nevertheless, I do not see the case for such a dramatic
course of action as that proposed in the Bill.We did not
have a referendum on Crossrail, which is due to cost
£16 billion, nor did we have a referendum on HS1,
which cost £6 billion. I am happy to be corrected, but I
am not aware that the hon. Member for Christchurch
called for such a referendum at the time. On a day when
an important Transport Committee report called for
“a fairer allocation of rail investment across the country”,
it would seem very strange to set such a precedent for a
railway that will primarily benefit the midlands and the
north.Moreover, a referendumwould itself cost £85 million,
given that that was the cost of the AV referendum.
Finally, and importantly, the phase 1 Bill Committee
is now deep in its work. Three days a week, in Committee
Room 5, mitigation is being agreed and the project is
being improved. I cannot accept that further and prolonged
uncertainty would benefit people on the route. Labour
Members—albeit with one or two right honourable
exceptions—believe that, provided costs are kept under
control, HS2 will bring enormous benefits to the country.
Mrs Gillan: As was expected, the hon. Lady is in
favour of HS2 and against the Bill, but would she care
to tell us at what cost point her party would decide to
abandon the project? She said that we must keep costs
under tight control, but given that she must now know
what the limits are, will she share them with the House?
I think that that information is important.
Lilian Greenwood: The right hon. Lady has, of course,
been a strong advocate on behalf of her constituents,
and I know of her long-standing opposition to the
hybrid Bill. Labour’s position is clear: we support HS2.
It was a Labour proposal, and we want that Bill to be
passed. However, I can do no better than quote what
was said by the hon. Member for Christchurch, who,
when he was an Opposition Front Bencher 10 years
ago, said in the context of Crossrail
“no serious prospective Government—such as we are—would be
prepared to write a blank cheque for any project, however desirable
people might think it is.”—[Official Report, 7 April 2005; Vol. 432,
c. 1607.]
Abudget has been set out for this project, which includes
a significant contingency element. We must maintain
our focus on ensuring that the project is delivered
within that budget, and, I have said, itwould be preferable
for the contingency money not to be spent.
Mr Chope: Does the hon. Lady’s support for the
project extend to the £20 billion for Crossrail 2?
Lilian Greenwood: I have already said that the necessity
for Crossrail 2 and whether it would attract a favourable
cost-benefit analysis should be investigated. Crossrail
needs to be considered on its merits, as do all other
investments in transport infrastructure. A case must be
made on the basis of the benefits that it can deliver and
whether it represents a good use of taxpayers’ money.
Mrs Gillan: The hon. Lady said that my hon. Friend
the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) had not
called for a referendum on Crossrail 1. I understand
that Crossrail 1 is funded partly through the rates and
partly by businesses in London, and not entirely by the
Treasury and the taxpayer’s purse.
Lilian Greenwood: I agree. Nearly all rail projects’
capital costs are publicly funded, although there are
sometimes opportunities for private investment. I have
no doubt that there will be opportunities to attract such
investment in, for example, over-site development of
stations in connection with HS2. However, when we
need investment in our infrastructure,wemust be prepared
to commit public money. As I have said, I do not think
that we should set a precedent in this regard.
HS2 will unblock the congested arteries of our ageing
rail network, will provide vital additional capacity, and
will transform the connections between the great cities
of the midlands and the north. Our message to both the
Government and HS2 Ltd is clear: take the phase 1 Bill
to Third Reading, present the proposals for phase 2,
and get this important project back on track.
12.45 pm
The Minister of State, Department forTransport (MrJohn
Hayes): This has been an interesting debate to which a
number of Members have contributed. I congratulate
my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)
on enabling us to explore these important matters. They
involve HS2, of course: that is the matter of substance,
because the essence of the proposal in the Bill is that it
is of such significance that it should be supported only
on the basis of the consent of the people, sought and
gained by means of a referendum.
I do not want to delay the House unduly, but the hon.
Gentleman would expect me to deal with the question
of why a referendum is an inappropriate vehicle for such
a decision. The hon. Member for Nottingham South
(Lilian Greenwood) focused on that—and, while I speak
of focus, let me reassure her that no one’s focus is more
507 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 508
laser-like than mine. She explained why she thought
that a referendumwas an inappropriateway of proceeding
in respect of HS2. I intend to speak about that in some
detail and at some length, and also with considerable
respect for the argument advanced by my hon. Friend,
the essence of which is that very big projects that have
an environmental effect of this kind and an economic
value of this type, and which involve costs of this scale,
are of a character that necessitates a referendum.
Since I became a Transport Minister, straddling No. 10
and the Department, I have been associated with—indeed,
I would like to say that I contributed to—our road
investment strategy. The ideas for that began before my
arrival, but I have been pleased to be very much a part
of its formulation, and look forward to being part of its
delivery. The road investment strategy, the biggest of its
kind since the 1970s, looks forward to many decades:
the effect of its provisions will last throughout my
lifetime, and well beyond. It commits some £15 billion—
indeed, a little more than that—to a plan that will affect
places throughout Britain, consisting of 100 schemes.
Did we take the view that a referendum was necessary
for that plan to proceed? Did my hon. Friend suggest
that a referendum should be held in respect of a very
large infrastructural scheme, which involved transport
and would affect tens of thousands, or hundreds of
thousands, of our countrymen in connection with the
works that would be carried out and the value that would
result in the form of easier and better communications
and safer and better roads? I have to say that the answer
to that is no, at least as far as I am aware. The same
might be said of a number of other infrastructural
projects to which the hon. Member for Nottingham
South drewour attention, Crossrail being a good example.
I am not sure that a case can be made for a referendum
in one policy area—indeed, one transport policy area—but
not in others, when the drama, significance and scale
involved is as great aswhatwe sawin that road investment
programme.
Mr Chope: My right hon. Friend surely needs to look
at his own situation, because the Government say in
respect of local authorities that may, for example, want
to spend money on subsidising buses that if the consequence
is that they are going to increase their council tax by
more than 2%, they must have a local referendum. So it
is good for local authorities, where the sums involved
might be as little as £28 per household on average, if we
take the average council tax.Why, therefore, is he saying
that it is essential to have a referendum in that situation,
but not in the situation we are addressing today?
Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend draws attention to the
idea of holding a local referendum or plebiscite in a
very particular area and on a very particular proposal.
He does not propose in his Bill a referendum for those
directly affected by HS2. He is not suggesting that we
hold a referendum of the people of Birmingham,
Warwickshire or Chesham and Amersham—or even
Christchurch, although I am not sure they will be as
directly affected as those in some of those other places.
He is suggesting a national referendum, where people
from Northern Ireland, for example, would have a vote
on these matters, and he is doing so not because they
are affected directly, but because of the cost.
Mrs Gillan: I think my right hon. Friend has lost his
rapier-like focus, because every taxpayer in every corner
of the UK is going to be paying for this project. Every
single taxpayer will be making a contribution and, as I
pointed out before, the sum is £51 million for every
constituency, so I am afraid his argument falls at the
first hurdle.
Mr Hayes: And that is true of the road investment
strategy, too. It is certainly as true of the road investment
strategy as it is of HS2—it is as true of the £15 billion-plus
we are spending on roads across the whole country.
That £15.2 billion for the road investment strategy does
not just affect people in terms of the value it brings; it is
also funded by taxpayers in exactly the way my right
hon. Friend suggests.
Dan Byles: If the Minister is suggesting that there might
be more justification for holding a referendum simply
of those directly affected by HS2, may I wholeheartedly
endorse that and support him entirely?
Mr Hayes: What I am saying is that a referendum on
this kind of matter is wholly inappropriate. The only
referendummy hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch
cited in his speech introducing the Bill—and I understand
why he has introduced it; itmakes a perfectly understandable
contention—was the referendum on what is now the
EU. I have the Referendum Act 1975 with me and I also
have a copy of the Second Reading debate when it was a
Bill being discussed in this House. The arguments made
thenwere that thiswas amatter of immense constitutional
significance that affected the future of our nation as a
whole in respect of its governance. That is a very
different set of arguments from those, howeverwell made,
about the cost of a particular area of policy and the
effect of that on a number of our constituents—and I
include in that the effect, in the broadest terms, it has on
the taxpayers contributing to it. That it is a very different
kind of argument my hon. Friend knows very well.
That kind of referendum has only been used in the
way I describe. Indeed, my hon. Friend also mentioned
the referendum by 2017 that has been pledged by the
Prime Minister on our association with the EU, and
which is of a similar kind to the 1975 referendum. There
are many of us, including my hon. Friend, I imagine,
who would argue that that new referendum is absolutely
necessary because getting the fresh consent of the British
people on the terms of our relationship with the EU is a
matter of some urgency. I do not think, however, that
one can argue that it is equivalent to the proposal he
makes today.
Mr Chope: Are not the EU referendum and the
referendum proposed in this Bill a lot closer than my
right hon. Friend says? All the leading political parties’
Front Benches support our continued membership of
the EU and it is time that the people had a chance to
challenge that consensus in a referendum. Similarly
with this Bill, the Front Benches all support HS2 funding
to the extent of £50 billion-plus, but the people outside
do not. Is this not a chance for them to express their
own view on this matter?
Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend is a distinguished and
experienced parliamentarian, but he is much more than
that: he is both a wise man and a clever man—he will
509 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 510
[Mr Hayes]
understand the difference between wisdom and cleverness
—and he knows the argument he has just made is an
argument not about equivalence, but about political
coincidence. It is certainly true that the Front Benches
at that time took a similar view, and the Front Benches
do so now, too, as he heard when the shadow Minister
spoke. That is amatter of political coincidence, however;
it is not a matter of governance. I am arguing that the
difference between this Bill and the 1975 Act that gave
rise to the referendum in that year is that the advocates
of that referendum made absolutely clear that the
referendumwas necessary because itwas on a constitutional
matter of profound significance. I am not sure we
can say that about a particular area of policy, however
important it is. It would be unprecedented, as my hon.
Friend knows, and in my judgment it would, for that
reason, be ill-judged. Once we open up that hornet’s
nest, I see the ugly prospect of plebiscites on every kind
and type of subject. There are those who might welcome
that, but I, as a confident exponent of the role of this
House, would not do so. I think it is important that
representative democracy is served by those who believe
in—who have confidence in—the power of this House
to take big decisions: to be bold, and to be sufficiently
original to excite and inspire the people.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab) rose—
Mr Hayes: And there are few more original than the
hon. Gentleman.
Stephen Pound: I did not wish to interrupt the right
hon. Gentleman as the cloak of Chesterton falls about
his shoulders, but would he not agree with the former
Baroness Thatcher in her comment that these referendums
and plebiscites are devices of dictators and demagogues?
Mr Hayes: I had that quote to hand—
Stephen Pound: Sorry.
Mr Hayes: There is no need to apologise, but the hon.
Gentleman anticipates what I was about to say, and I
did think, rather mischievously, as he intervened, of the
Chesterton line that
“He who has the impatience to interrupt the words of another
seldom has the patience to”
devise good ones of his own, but that is certainly not
true of him, I have to say.
The point the hon. Gentleman is making is a perfectly
decent one: once one gives way to the contention that
every major matter—and I accept that this is a very major
matter—not only requires the consent of this House,
but furthermore, between elections, requires the consent
through a referendum of the people as a whole, we have
the dangerous beginning of a set of arguments which
leads to the place suggested by the blessed Margaret
Thatcher and the hon. Gentleman, which is almost one
might say anarchic.
Mrs Gillan: I think that my right hon. Friend is
taking this line because he is afraid that if a referendum
on HS2 was offered to the people of the UK, they would
vote firmly against it. Is he actually saying that an
institution such as the City of Edinburgh council, which
held a postal ballot referendum in February 2005 on its
transport strategy,was wrong? Iwould say itwas absolutely
right.The people voted and rejected the proposals by
74% to 26%. The voter turnout was 62%. That vote gave
people a chance to say how they wanted their council to
spend money on a transport project. Is the Minister saying
that Edinburgh council was wrong? Is not the truth that
he is afraid that people would vote this project down?
Mr Hayes: It is not out of fear that I resist this
proposal; it is out of courage. I am courageous enough
to believe in the power, wisdom and efficacy of this
place. I am not one of those politicians who is prepared
to give ground to that destructive modern insecurity—that
guilt-ridden doubt about our ability to originate, to
invent, to inspire and to enthral—that so many of the
governing class are said to feel. I believe that politicians
can make a difference, and that they can take big
decisions and be ambitious for what they can achieve
for the country. So it is not fear that drivesmy resistance
tomy hon.Friend theMemberfor Christchurch’s argument;
it is courage, and the willingness to be bold and to have
confidence in the decisions taken by this House. I
emphasise the point about the decisions being taken by
this House, because this kind of project can succeed
only on the basis of consensus.
Frank Dobson rose—
Mr Hayes: I am coming to Euston in a moment, but I
will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in anticipation
of that.
Frank Dobson: Lots of people pull into Euston, and
they want to continue to do so without being interrupted
for the next 15 years by the works on HS2. In relation to
the impact on my constituency, surely the point is that
although all the proposals in the Bill—which the House
has apparently seriously considered—have been abandoned,
the work around Euston has not. There are no proposals
for the people or for this House to consider at the moment,
and no such proposals are expected until September,
even though they were originally promised for last
October.
Mr Hayes: The people of Holborn and St Pancras, in
their wisdom, have chosen the right hon. Gentleman—for
whom I have a great deal of respect, as he well knows—to
speak for them. Members of this House are elected to
voice the concerns of their constituents. My right hon.
Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham
(Mrs Gillan) finished her speech by saying that she
would give way to her constituents and allow them to
have the final word on this matter. Other Members have
argued that they speak boldly for their constituents.My
right hon. and learnedFriend the Member for Beaconsfield
(Mr Grieve) said the concerns of those who have doubts
about HS2 were being disregarded because they were
seen solely as concerns about the constituency. I do not
disregard them on that basis; those Members are doing
their duty and their job in making the case for the
people they serve, and they do so in the spirit—the
Burkeian spirit, dare I say—that should drive all of us
who believe in representative democracy and the role of
Parliament.
511 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 512
The intervention by the right hon. Member for Holborn
and St Pancras brings me to the matter of Euston, about
which he spoke at considerable length—understandably,
given his long association with that place. He will know
that part of the advantage of the HS2 project is that it
involves the redevelopment of Euston. He will also
know that that will, in turn, involve the rebuilding of
the Euston arch. There are those in Warwickshire, and
in Chesham and Amersham, who might say that their
local concerns are far greater than any consideration of
what might happen at Euston, but I say that the emblematic
significance of rebuilding the Euston arch will send a
signal out across the whole nation that the Government
are doing the right thing.
Frank Dobson: The Euston arch could be rebuilt
tomorrow. We do not need a huge engineering project
to justify it. We could simply dig the stones out of the
canal and rebuild the arch where it used to stand, and
we could do that tomorrow.
Mr Hayes: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the
rebuilding of the Euston arch is associated with the
redevelopment of Euston station, which is at the very
heart of the HS2 project. Of all the London stations,
perhaps the one that demands redevelopment most of
all is Euston. I know that he would not eschew the
opportunity to see the benefits of that regeneration not
only for rail travellers but for the whole of that part of
his constituency. I know that he was not dismissing the
redevelopment of Euston or the rebuilding of the Euston
arch. I think that, at heart, he is something of an
aesthete. Surely he knows, however, that if the project
does not go ahead, Euston will not be redeveloped in
the way that it could be.
Frank Dobson: I fear that the right hon. Gentleman
has been very badly briefed by his officials, because he
ought to know—his officials certainly ought to know
this, although they probably do not, if my experience is
anything to go by—that there were outline proposals
for the redevelopment of Euston station that virtually
everyone in the locality approved of. They would like
that particular redevelopment to go ahead, because it
would not involve a vast amount of redevelopment
around the station. Sir David Higgins appears to believe,
based on his experience with the Olympics in east
London, that the area around Euston is a brownfield
site, but it is not. It is full of people, and they want to be
left alone.
Mr Hayes: I want to say two things about that. First,
the right hon. Gentleman knows that those redevelopment
plans have been given life only as a result of this project.
Secondly, I concede that it is important that any
redevelopment should take full account of the interests
and wishes of the people in the immediate vicinity. He
made a strong case for them in his speech. It is critical
that the communities that will be directly affected by
that development should be integrally involved in what
takes place there. He has been making this argument for
some time and, as a result of the overtures that he has
made today, I will commit the Government to engaging
with those communities, to ensuring that what is done
matches the local interest, and to involving him in that
process. I ammore than happy to have further discussion
on the detail of the development of Euston, given what
he has offered this debate today. In that spirit, I say to
him that its development can be a good and indeed
glorious thing; it does not have to be bad news for him,
his constituents or the people in that vicinity.
Mrs Gillan: I am sure everybody, particularly the
right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank
Dobson), appreciates the assurances the Minister is
trying to give him. However, I understand that the
designers have downed tools on Euston, because they
were trying to do it within a £2 billion budget and they
cannot redesign and deliver anything meaningful within
that. So I would love to know what budget the Minister
has set in the Department for the redevelopment, because
this is a golden opportunity to informpeople of the new
budget for any redevelopment at Euston.
Mr Hayes: Let me tell hon. Members what I think
about the redevelopment of Euston. This will perhaps
come as news to my right hon. Friend and others, but I
am absolutely determined that the development of Euston
should be ambitious and bold in the way she described.
I am absolutely determined that we should end with
something that takes its inspiration from the arch. We
do not want some vile, low-budget, modern monstrosity.
We want a building that is grand and fit for the future,
that is a landmark destination and that is as glorious as
the new redevelopment of St Pancras or the addition to
King’s Cross.We have a good recent record on what can
be done at these large London stations. Let us do
nothing less than that at Euston—indeed, let us try to
do more. So, I will not be constrained in my ambitions
in the way she says, and I could hardly be so, given that I
claimed earlier to believe that politicians in this place
should be bold, courageous, ambitious and inventive. I
want a neoclassical building on a grand scale at Euston,
and it does not take a lot of working out to realise that
the inspiration—the genesis for that—should come from
the redeveloped arch.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras
was saying that although he understands that there will
be a totemic significance to that building, we also need
to consider its environs. I have pledged to him that we
will engage with the local community, with local
representatives and with him to make sure that the
views and representations of the people in the surrounding
area are built in to our thinking. I do not think we can
say fairer than that.
Frank Dobson: The sort of thing the Minister is now
saying is what HS2 has been saying endlessly to people
and then ignoring them. The people in the area—not
just theirMPbut the people themselves—were promised
that the revised proposals for Euston would be made
public for consultation in October last year and are now
being told that these things may be available in September
this year. That shows the quality of the consultation
that has been going on—it has been listen and ignore.
Mr Hayes: The right hon. Gentleman understands
that those are not matters for which I was responsible,
but I amhere today and I can seize the responsibility for
saying to him that we will make those proposals available
for local consideration and consultation, and I do not
think it is unreasonable to say that we should do that by
September. What I do not want to get to is a further
statement in September saying that they have been
513 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 514
[Mr Hayes]
further delayed. He is a very distinguished and experienced
local representative. The way these things work best is
when draft ideas—plans—are put forward, to which
people can then add, and they then develop incrementally.
That cannot be done until the conversation is started in
the way he describes. So I think we need to move ahead
with greater alacrity than he suggests has been the case
so far.
Mrs Gillan rose—
Mr Hayes: I have a lot more to deal with and I do not
want to delay my progress, but I will give way to my
right hon. Friend.
Mrs Gillan: I am sorry to press the Minister further,
but I am interested in what he is saying at the Dispatch
Box because the rumours are that the budget for any
development at Euston is going to increase to about
£7 billion. I stress that that is a rumour, so I hope he will
be able to comment on it. He seems to be adding
another layer of consultation and another delay to this
project, which will of course add cost to it. So I would
like him to set out the timetable for that consultation on
Euston and tell me what sort of delay there will be on it.
Will it be delivered in September? What is the budget?
What are the proposals? If he is going to be able to say
what he has said so far at the Dispatch Box, he must
have that detail available. I think it is only fair he does
this because any changes at Euston will, of course,
delay the entire project between Birmingham and London.
Mr Hayes: Let me leave Department for Transport
officials quaking when I say that I will give these
commitments: the arrangements I have set out in respect
of the further discussions and consultation with the
people in the area that the right hon. Member for
Holborn and St Pancras represents should be completed
speedily; they should certainly be done within existing
budgets; and the proposals should be brought forward
no later and the measures I have set out should begin no
later than September, as he requests. That seems to me
to be perfectly reasonable, and I am happy to confirm
that that has become the Government’s position, because
I have said that it is the Government’s position.
I have clearly made the case that the Bill is an
inappropriate means to consider HS2 further on the
grounds that a referendum is not the best way of moving
forward. I think that I have begun to offer some reassurance
to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras
(Frank Dobson) about Euston. I know that he is not
entirely convinced, but I hope that he will count it as
progress that the Government have recommitted to the
kind of proper discussion with the local community
that will allow it to shape plans as they move forward.
Although I do not wish to delay the House unduly, I
shall now move on to other matters arising from this
wide-ranging debate that need to be explored.
As she has done a number of times, my right hon.
Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham made
a spirited case on behalf of her constituents, and she
cannot be criticised for inconsistency in her argument.
She suggested that we were—I hesitate to use this phrase,
but I will do so, for the sake of clarity—hiding costs by
using 2011 prices. She will know that estimates are
presented in 2011 prices to ensure that costs can be
consistently compared as the project progresses. That is
a standard approach for large projects that stretch over
many years.
My right hon. Friend also talked about VAT.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs recently confirmed
that HS2 Ltd can reclaim VAT. As she will know, that
took effect at the start of 2014-15. As the National
Audit Office has pointed out, VAT is an internal transfer
within government, rather than an additional cost, so it
would not be right to include VAT in construction cost
elements.
Mrs Gillan: I did not raise the matter of VAT, but it is
always good to have that information. However, the
permanent secretary to the Treasury has given evidence
to the Public Administration Select Committee and
undertaken to provide us with the costs at today’s
prices.
Mr Hayes: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for
clarifying her position.
My right hon. Friend did speak about ancient
woodlands—at some length, and understandably so. I
agree that it is vital that we value ancient woodlands.
Whenever possible, it our intention not to destroy ancient
woodlands. Furthermore, it is important that we take
whatever mitigating measures we can along the line as a
whole to deal with environmental effects. I will be
speaking shortly at a platformprovided by the Campaign
to Protect Rural England about aesthetics and
infrastructure, and the importance of ensuring that
good design characterises all that we do in major projects,
whether rail or road. For too long we have assumed that
the ergonomic argument was enough or, worse still, that
it was enough to make the case just on the basis of
utility, but all great infrastructure projects should have a
positive effect with regard to what is built and what that
looks like. Of course, it is not possible to avoid all
destruction of existing landscape, but I nevertheless
value my right hon. Friend’s contribution on ancient
woodlands and I have something exciting to say in a
moment about a particular tree about which there has
been a national campaign.
Mrs Gillan: The Minister is going down a route
which encourages me. Will he support me in calling for
the full tunnelling of the area of outstanding natural
beauty, and can his Department say now that it accepts
full tunnelling of the AONB, as it is a precious piece of
landscape that he obviously would want to protect?
Mr Hayes: There is already an immense amount of
tunnelling in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. I have
the map here. Although I cannot give any further
commitment today, the Government always have at
their heart a desire to do the right thing by the environment.
In that spirit I shall speak about the Cubbington pear
tree.
As I said, ancient woodlands are an important part of
our natural heritage so they need to be protectedwherever
possible. The best way of doing that is to avoid them in
the first place, as my right hon. Friend argued, where
that is practical. I repeat that a robust assessment of
environmental factors must accompany all aspects of
515 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 516
this scheme. As part of that, there has been considerable
debate about the 250-year-old pear tree in Cubbington
wood. It is not in my right hon. Friend’s constituency
but in Warwickshire, but I know she will care about it
because she is a great admirer of ancient trees. That
pear tree, the second oldest in Britain, I am told, has
been the subject of a considerable campaign.
I have asked for a new arboreal study to see whether
the Cubbington pear tree can be moved. I do not know
if that can be done, but as the rail Minister for the day, I
am delighted to say that we will commission that study.
If it can be moved, the Cubbington pear tree will be
saved. We have already committed to take cuttings if it
cannot be saved, but I want to go further and make that
commitment in the course of this debate.
The other central element of the debate has been cost.
The question that has been raised is why the scheme is
going to cost somuch and why the target price for phase
1 has gone up. In fact, the target price for phase 1 has
come down. It is now£16.34 billion, not the £17.16 billion
figure that was originally published. I know that my
right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for
Christchurch will intervene in a moment and say yes,
that is because of the removal of the HS1/HS2 link, and
that is true. None the less, although we have increased
the scope of the work that HS2 Ltd must deliver for the
target price—the target price now has to include rolling
stock, for example—we are determined that despite that
bigger ask, there should be a new laser-like focus, to use
the words of the shadow Minister, to ensure that this
project is conducted as cost-effectively as it can be.
The Department and HS2 have a constant strong
focus on ensuring that the project will deliver maximum
benefit for minimum cost. The development agreement
continues this focus on cost control by making it a key
requirement of the delivery arrangements. So yes, this is
a very significant project; yes, the costs are very great,
but we can deliver it within budget as cost-effectively as
possible. Again, perhaps I believe that partly because I
am a confident Minister in a confident Government. I
am bold about what we can do. I am ambitious. I do not
by any means disregard the concerns of Members about
these matters because it is important that the Executive
are held to account, particularly on issues of cost. But I
do say this. Governments and politicians can take one
of two views: a reductionist view of politics—a dull,
rather mediocre view—or the view that I hold, which is
that big projects, with all their economic value and
effect on wider well-being, are what characterise big
countries.
Mrs Gillan: I assure the Minister that I have never
had any poverty of ambition either for my constituency
or my country in all the years I have served both. He is
claiming that the costs have now come down on phase
1. Will he tell us the new cost-benefit ratio?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo):
Order. The Bill suggests that we pose this question in a
referendum:
“Do you support the use of …taxpayers’ money to pay for the
construction of the HS2 railway?”
We are now drifting well away from the subject of the
referendum and the total costs. We are discussing not
the individual costs, Minister and Mrs Gillan, but that
principle. I am listening carefully to the Minister, who
could never be accused of not being ambitious and
confident. I would like him ambitiously and confidently
to return to the central proposition of whether there
should be a referendum.
Mr Hayes rose—
Mrs Gillan: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker; I
have been leading the Minister astray. However, my
points have been in the interests of the taxpayers who
would be consulted in the referendum. I do apologise.
Madam Deputy Speaker: No apology is necessary; I
am sure that nobody could lead the Minister astray
even with the skills you show in representing your
constituents, Mrs Gillan. Your points may be relevant,
but we have been discussing only the minutiae and we
need to return to the big picture.
Mr Hayes: If I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker,
you have done me a great service aswell as the House—and
not for the first time. Until now your generosity in
allowing me to range widely has movedme. I anticipated
that you would want me to return to the core of the Bill,
and I will do so without further delay.
The core of the Bill is the proposal that a project—in
this case HS2, but it could be any large infrastructure
project—should proceed only on the basis of a further
reference to the British people through a referendum. I
flatly disagree with that, and it will not be accepted by
the Government.
I was about to come to the end of my introductory
remarks, but I am now inclined to make them my
concluding remarks, given your advice,Madam Deputy
Speaker. I am minded to draw, as I briefly did earlier, on
Edmund Burke, who said in 1774:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his
judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it
to your opinion.”
Weigh those words—
“if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
In other words, the representative must not lack the
confidence, vigour, energy and vision to make a case on
behalf of his constituents for the common good and in
the national interest. It has been the business of this
House for more than 150 years to usher in some of the
greatest projects that the world has ever seen. Those
include the railways built by the Victorians, which have
stood the test of time and still prove themselves as the
veins and arteries of this country. In their day, the same
criticisms were made.
I have the railways Acts of 1833 and 1837 with me
here today. I have seen the Second Reading debates. I
know the criticisms faced by those who proposed that
first generation of great railways—those big infrastructure
projects; they were very like the criticisms made in the
House today. Those debates were very like those that we
have enjoyed about whether these things represent a
threat or an opportunity. Those politicians, thoseVictorian
leaders and those Governments did not duck their
responsibility—they did what Britain needed. Today we
remain grateful for their decisions, because we still
benefit from them.
Let me be clear: the west coast main line, which despite
having been upgraded since those Victorian times, has
at last reached its capacity. Even on moderate forecasts,
that line—the nation’s key rail corridor—will be full by
517 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 23 JANUARY 2015 HS2 Funding Referendum Bill 518
[Mr Hayes]
the mid-2020s, despite the £9 billion-worth of improvements
in recent years. We cannot continue to make do and
mend. We must make a bold decision worthy of our
nation’s future, in the spirit of those great leaders of the
past, as ambitious and confident for the next generation
as they were for us. As parliamentarians, we are elected
to serve not only the constituents that live now but
those yet to come, for the decisions we take will affect
them too.
We have a duty to support this kind of infrastructural
investment—to make the difference, to shape the future,
not to hesitate to do the right thing—and that is precisely
what we will do. That is why I ask the House to reject
the arguments, however well meant and well articulated,
made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch,
and reject the Bill he has put before us.
1.31 pm
Mr Chope: With the leave of the House, Madam
Deputy Speaker.
I thank everybody who has participated in this debate.
It will not have escaped the House’s notice that the only
speeches against the Bill came from the two Front
Benchers. In a sense, that sums it up. The only way we
are going to be able to break out of this cosy consensus
between those on the Front Benches is to allow the
people their say.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras
(Frank Dobson) gave the House some fascinating statistics
on exactly how unpopular the HS2 project and the
associated expenditure of taxpayers’money are. Established
politicians, whether they be with great ambition, like
my right hon. Friend the Minister, or not, should
listen very carefully to the views of the people on these
issues.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the
Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), my right hon.
Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham
(Mrs Gillan) and the right hon. Member for Holborn
and St Pancras for their contributions. My hon. Friend
the Member for NorthWarwickshire (Dan Byles) made
a very telling speech inwhich he emphasised the problems
in his constituency. We have also had interventions
supporting the Bill from the hon. Member for Coventry
South (Mr Cunningham) and my hon. Friends the
Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for North
East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I am delighted that
my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William
Cash) is here as well.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I totally support
everything that has been said and my hon. Friend’s
efforts on behalf of all the people who are opposed to
this project.
Mr Chope: I also want to thank a lot of people who
have helped to raise awareness of this debate, particularly
one of my constituents, Penny Gaines, who moved into
my constituency relatively recently, having been forced
out of the constituency where she lived before but
unable to sell her house at a reasonable price because of
the blight of HS2. She remains very strongly opposed to
the project, as do large numbers of my constituents.
The question people ask at this stage of a debate is,
“Where next?” I am reliably informed that if we pushed
the Bill to a Second Reading, it would not receive the
Government’s support for a money resolution and would
therefore be unable to make any progress. It would not
be able to go into Committee or be dealt with before the
end of this Session—the last Session of this Parliament.
However, this issue is not going to go away. Our
country is still running an annual deficit of close to
£100 billion a year. The HS2 hybrid Bill is still in
Committee and will be there beyond the general election.
Come June, after the general election, there will be a
fresh ballot for private Members’ Bills and I hope that a
successful colleague will promote a Bill along the same
lines as mine. We will then be able to drum up the
necessary support to give the Bill a Second Reading,
take it to Committee and, I hope, get it on the statute
book.
As the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras
has said, it is obscene for such a proposal to waste so
much public money when taxpayers’ money is so scarce,
and the Front Benchers, in a cosy alliance, are trying to
force it through against the will of the people.
Finally, the £20 billion for Crossrail 2 is an additional
cost to that for HS2.Without it, people getting off HS2
would not have anywhere to go because it would be so
congested. My right hon. Friend the Minister gave no
answer to that and there was no clear answer from the
Opposition representative, the hon. Member for
Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). I am afraid
that typifies what has almost become a dialogue of the
deaf on this issue. Ultimately, this is costing the taxpayers
money, and the Government need to be brought to
account.
I look forward to this Bill, or something like it, being
reintroduced later in this calendar year and, ultimately,
making it to the statute book. I beg to ask leave to
withdraw the motion.
Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.
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