Committee (2nd Day)
A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published by the Government Whips’ Office, as have lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments or expressed an interest in speaking on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted.
During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Grand Committee Room, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister, using the Grand Committee address. I will call Members to speak in order of request and call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to move formally an amendment already debated should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments.
When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Grand Committee Room only. I remind Members that Divisions cannot take place in Grand Committee. It takes unanimity to amend the Bill, so if a single voice says “Not content”, an amendment is negatived, and if a single voice says “Content”, a clause stands part. If a Member taking part remotely intends to oppose an amendment expected to be agreed to, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
6: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent peer review
(1) The Secretary of State must commission an independent peer review of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe) project.(2) The review must include consideration of the project’s—(a) environmental impact,(b) costs, forecast revenue and economic impact,(c) engineering, and(d) governance.(3) In this section, “independent” means it is carried out by persons who are independent of—(a) Government,(b) HS2 Ltd, and(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out any of the scheduled works.(4) In this section, a “peer review” is a review conducted by experts of equivalent professional qualifications, expertise and standing to the persons responsible for each aspect of the project set out in subsection (2).(5) A report of the review under subsection (1) must be laid before Parliament and have been debated in both Houses before commencement of the scheduled works.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of the amendment is to require the Government to commission and publish a wide ranging audit of all elements of the scheduled works, costs, forecasts and economic impact and done by professionals who have not links with the Government or the promoters.
My Lords, the amendment is in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. On our previous day in Committee, we discussed regular reporting and had a good debate. This amendment is slightly different, because the emphasis is on independent peer review. I remind noble Lords that this project has been around, discussed in another Parliament, for probably 10 years and things have moved on. We have learned a lot. There have been changes, which we all know about. It is probably time for Parliament to commission an independent review so that it knows what has been asked for, what will be built, how much it is going to cost and so on. In particular, we have had a lot of debate both on the Floor of the House and in the Select Committees on the environmental impact, costs, forecast revenue before and after Covid—well, not after yet—the economic impact, the engineering and the governance.
I do not wish to express any opinion on whether what we have now is good or bad. What is needed is an independent opinion—independent of government, of HS2 and of the various contractors. The experience in the Oakervee review last year was that when we tried to seek independent opinions on whatever we were looking at under the terms of reference, we found it quite difficult to identify people or organisations that were not or had not been in some way linked to HS2 or the Department for Transport. I am not being critical, but it is pretty important if one wants an independent review that those conducting it are independent and not worried about where the next contract will come from, for example.
I shall not say much more except to remind noble Lords that probably one of the most important things that I am focused on is costs. There have been three or four times when Department for Transport officials or HS2 staff have basically said that they do not know what the costs are. One HS2 executive, when asked why they had not been transparent on costs, memorably replied:
“If we’d told Parliament the real costs, they’d probably have cancelled the project.”
That is a very bad reason for going ahead with a project. I know that my noble friend Lord Adonis will say that I am trying to get it stopped, which I am not; I just think that it is time now to get a one-off, independent review so that Parliament and other people can then monitor progress and hold the Government and HS2 to account if they feel it necessary. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not have much to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, so ably said, and the amendment is largely self-explanatory. It will become apparent as further amendments are moved that there is a strong case for an amendment such as this, which is why I added my name to it.
For all the many pages written on matters of safeguards, it seems that few outside the cerebral world of the department, HS2 and its contractors are entirely convinced that HS2 Ltd will honour the spirit as opposed to the letter as it sees it. Too much of this Bill appears to rest on HS2 Ltd’s self-assessment, in which the Government as ultimate funder and promoter are a party. Costs have soared, as we have heard. Budgets for things such as land acquisitions seem to have been woefully inadequate. Timelines have become stretched; procedures have been subject to novel interpretations, and a good deal of unnecessary uncertainty and doubt about aspects of the scheme have crept in as far as those outside but affected by the scheme are concerned.
This is a scheme by the nation for the nation, and it should embed best practice and be seen to be doing so. I am pleased to support the amendment because it goes to the heart of public confidence in the manner in which this truly mighty project is being managed.
My Lords, I oppose the amendment. I do not see any point in it whatever. It seems to me that in this country we can never make up our minds about whether we are going to do anything that is big and expensive. We have constant reviews, and we are constantly cancelling projects that have already made some advance. We have just had the independent Oakervee review of HS2, and we have just had a government decision to go ahead with the line to Manchester—although I share the worries of my noble friend Lord Adonis about what the Government are thinking about the eastern leg. However, I see no purpose in launching another review now.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley says that it is very difficult to get independent advice regarding all these concerns about costs, et cetera. Of course it is difficult to get independent advice, as the people who really know the facts are the ones who are doing the job. Unless the taxpayer is to fund an independent organisation to be critical of a scheme that Parliament has voted for and that the Government have reaffirmed and have cross-party support for, then this is a ludicrous proposal. I suppose that the answer to my noble friend’s legitimate concerns is to have an effective HS2 board. If there is an answer to this problem, it lies in having an effective board to supervise the management of the project. That is the point that the Government ought to be satisfying themselves on. I honestly do not think that this is a matter for legislation at all.
My Lords, I agree with every word that my noble friend Lord Liddle has said, and I hope that the Minister will not give an inch to this amendment and will comprehensively refute it when she speaks. HS2 has been reviewed to death.
I find it utterly astonishing that my noble friend Lord Berkeley should be moving this amendment because he has brought his great, independent wisdom and distinction to the biggest review yet of HS2, which concluded only this February after the best part of six months’ work. When he says that there are no independent people to conduct that review, it is a lot of complete nonsense. The members of the Oakervee review were very eminent and very independent: Doug Oakervee himself, a man of immense distinction in the delivery of infrastructure projects here and internationally, including some of the most successful developed in modern economies, in Hong Kong; my noble friend, who was the deputy chairman; Sir John Cridland, who is the former director-general of the CBI; Michèle Dix, who is responsible for directing Crossrail 2; Stephen Glaister, one of the most eminent transport economists in the world; Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail and former commissioner of Transport for London; Andrew Sentance, of the Bank of England; Professor Tony Travers, who is one of the most independent-minded and distinguished professors of government in the world and holds a chair at the London School of Economics; Andy Street, who is the elected Mayor of the West Midlands; and Patrick Harley, who is the leader of Dudley council. So I ask my noble friend Lord Berkeley to tell us in his reply: what sort of independence does he have in mind? Who are these great independent judges of infrastructure projects who can bring their wisdom to bear and have not already been consulted? At the end of the Oakervee report, which is 130 pages long, there is a list of the people who submitted evidence and were consulted. That list extends to more than 400 people and organisations.
My noble friend then said—because he is being disingenuous, if he does not mind my saying so—that he is not trying to get it cancelled, and he does not wish to express an opinion on whether it is a good or bad thing. However, he has consistently expressed an opinion that HS2 is a bad thing. He says that there should be independent review, but he then says that it is very poor value for money and the costs—whatever they are at any given time—are spiralling out of control. He makes a series of assertions that—although he is perfectly entitled to make them—mostly do not correspond to the actual analysis by independent advisers, and he then calls for another review.
The Oakervee review—which, as I say, has just been concluded, and on which the Government have decided to proceed—is the fifth major independent review of HS2 since I announced the scheme to Parliament in March 2010. What my noble friend Lord Berkeley is seeking to do is to kill the scheme by review. That is what is happening. I hope the Minister will not accede to this amendment. Indeed, I wish the Minister would cancel the current review of the eastern leg, which is doing precisely what my noble friend wants to do: to review to death one-third of the scheme.
I have the highest regard for the Minister, and I thank her very warmly for replying within 24 hours to the points that I made in the previous Grand Committee sitting. With that sort of service she should be put in charge of test and trace—but I am probably ruining her career. The Department for Transport is a great department. It deals with these things efficiently, unlike other departments. I am glad to see that those processes are still in place. However, the big concern I have at the moment is that, under the guise of a review, the Government are essentially seeking to indefinitely delay and quite possibly cancel the eastern leg of HS2. I do not want to reiterate all of the arguments that I made on Monday, although I am glad to see that the Yorkshire Post has picked them up and that leaders of major local authorities in the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east have picked them up as well. The Minister will have to forgive me but I am going to carry on agitating extremely hard on behalf of her department—which, as everyone knows, wants the eastern leg to proceed but is being thwarted by Dominic Cummings and the Treasury at the moment. I am doing my best for her even though she will not be able to recognise my efforts in her reply.
In the Minister’s letter to me on the issue of the eastern leg review taking place at the moment and the announcement she made to the Grand Committee on Monday that the western and eastern legs will definitely be separated in terms of hybrid Bills—which is a hugely consequential amendment—she said:
“As the Integrated Rail Plan Terms Of Reference make clear, more than one hybrid Bill could run concurrently in Parliament. There is nothing to suggest that bringing forward a Western Leg Bill should entail delay to any Eastern Leg legislation”.
The first sentence and the second sentence are in stark contradiction. There is every reason to suggest that bringing forward a western leg Bill will delay any eastern leg legislation; otherwise, why split them up at all? If the aim is to have them running concurrently, they should be in one Bill.
The Minister says that it is possible for the two Bills to run concurrently. If the Government’s intention were to run the two Bills concurrently there would, of course, be no need for separate Bills. There is no gain whatever in having two Bills running concurrently. On the contrary, there is a significant additional workload both for HS2 Ltd and for Parliament in dealing with two Bills rather than one, because of the whole process of petitioning and the need to comprise and set up new committees and so on. The only reason for separating the western leg and the eastern leg into two Bills is to delay the eastern leg Bill. Anyone who knows about parliamentary workload and procedure will be able to judge—correctly—that for Parliament to run two major hybrid Bills at the same time is a near impossibility. It has not been done before and I very much doubt it will be done in the case of a western Bill and an eastern Bill. The whole purpose of splitting the Bills is to delay the eastern leg Bill. It is very important that stakeholders outside, including the leaders of local authorities in the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, and Members of Parliament are aware of that and that the Government statement of policy that they are going to separate the western leg and the eastern leg will of necessity and by design lead to a significant delay of at least five years, in my judgment, in the eastern leg Bill, because that could come only after the western leg Bill has been enacted—and of course, that delay could be indefinite and could lead to cancellation.
Regarding delivery of the project and the argument in the Oakervee review about dividing the project, how construction is managed is entirely a matter for HS2, once it has the powers. There is no need whatever to split western and eastern leg legislation to phase the delivery of the construction; on the contrary, if you want the best possible phasing of the project, including continuous working, economies of scale and so on, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said on Monday, you would actually wish to grant all the powers to HS2 for all the north-of-Birmingham sections of the line—that is, all the way up to Manchester and all the way up to Leeds—in one Bill.
Far from acceding to this request for a further unnecessary review that is intended to stop HS2, I would be much happier if the Minister announced the cancellation of the review already under way and simply reaffirmed the decision that was taken two years ago, complete with a detailed route design, after much consultation and engagement with stakeholders, to proceed with the eastern leg of HS2 on the same timetable and with the same hybrid Bill as the western leg.
I think that the previous two speakers are actually getting a little bit personal, putting words in the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and misrepresenting him. They should both perhaps row back a little from personal comments, which they seem keen to make at the moment.
It is true that HS2 had the Oakervee review but, quite honestly, it was little more than an election gimmick by the Conservative Party. Sure enough, after the election, the Government were absolutely committed again, and they reiterated full support for HS2. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, explained this incredibly clearly in his opening statement, and perhaps it was so clear that people misunderstood it—I am not sure. He proposed a truly independent peer review on the full range of issues. I do not see why this is controversial. You cannot learn lessons if you have no lessons to draw on, and that is the big problem with HS2.
The proposed publication of a cost-benefit assessment of HS2 with annual revisions seems to me like good business practice. I have absolutely no idea why anybody would object to the amendment. It should be standard for any government project to have this sort of truly independent review and a cost-benefit analysis. Rigorous and independent peer-reviewed analysis would give a much more informed public debate; at the moment, we have HS2 blasting out its credentials all the time, when we know that it is doing the most incredible environmental damage and is costing a fortune. How can the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, dare to talk about taxpayers’ money when we are spending billions on this project? In view of the pandemic and people therefore working remotely these days, it is quite likely that there will be less demand for this demand for a project for a year, at least, and for much longer after it has finished.
Everybody says that HS2 is a project for the future, but it is a creature of the past, quite honestly. It was designed for a past that used to be the norm, and we will not be seeing that norm again very soon. For me, the cost far outweighs the benefit. Regrettably, it is perhaps too late to stop it, but really, we should—we should not spend a penny more. These amendments would help to settle that argument. If I saw the results of an independent review that ruled that it was worth the money, I would accept that.
My Lords, we always seem to have a conflict in our country between those who believe that we are far too slow in improving infrastructure, and those who appear to think that we are doing it too quickly, if not recklessly. This can apply to so many things, some of which I have been involved in in the past, as a Member of the House of Commons.
Broadly speaking, it is fortunate that the divide is not simply on a party basis. It is not always that I find myself on the same side as the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Adonis, but I find myself firmly bracketed with them on this issue. I am well disposed to the project of HS2, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is plainly not, whatever his protestations. He has a fairly good track record, even within the confines of this Bill, of trying to find ways of delaying it and pushing it even further into the future.
“We do things in a hurry when there is a war on”— a remark I heard many years ago, which gives away my age. Another comment somebody made to me, which I have no reason to dispute, was that synthetic rubber would probably not have been invented had it not been for the Second World War.
I find it very hard to see anything other than another form of dilatory motion in the amendment we are discussing, which is different from the one that we debated at the request of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on Monday. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, made the point about finding people who apparently would satisfy the opponents of HS2, and it is going to be a difficult exercise. Where would one get a group of people who are sufficiently saintly to be free from ever having tossed out a casual remark at a local drinks party that does not stain them with bias on this subject?
As I say, I am in favour of the project. I want to get on with it—but I am not without concern for people and communities who are disadvantaged. What I saw as a member of the Select Committee was the effort being made to soften the blow and provide compensation, even if it does not go quite as far yet in every case as might be justified.
The important thing about HS2 is the levelling-up potential. Speed is important: the length of time to get from home to work is a crucial factor. I picked up on the fact, as the Member of Parliament who saw a third London airport built in his constituency, at Stansted, that HS2 would mean that Birmingham Airport would be a shorter distance in time from London than would Stansted. That to me was an astonishing fact. Birmingham is our second city, yet its airport could hardly be said to be the second airport of the United Kingdom. I mean no disrespect to Manchester when I make that comment. Surely, it would make it easier for cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham if people could arrive in this country and find that there were fast journeys between cities and towns and the other areas they wish to get to.
Then, we have the pressure on the south-east. As has been spelled out so many times, there is the difficulty of fitting in all the housing we need into an area where, yes, jobs are being created—and that is wonderful—but we want to see jobs being created across the country. The conundrum of a country divided between north and south has remained unsolved for 60 or 70 years, despite the efforts of Governments of all colours to get on top of it.
Therefore, HS2 has a very important part to play in that, and it is already helping to create jobs. If, as can be said, there is a war on—a war against the pandemic—and there are already signs of jobs being created by HS2, then that is the way in which we are going to bring about some real, true levelling-up in our country. We need a decision above all things at this time on HS2—not more inquiries or reviews—because we want to win the war.
My Lords, this is, for me, a maiden speech as far as this Committee is concerned. I will try to confine it to the essentials of the amendment, which quite possibly will make me unique in this debate. My noble friend Lord Berkeley said that he had no opinion good or bad on the question of HS2: well, pull the other one is my response to that. It is a complete coincidence, I take it, that everything he proposes so far as HS2 is concerned has the effect of delaying or cancelling the project, but he has no opinion, good or bad, other than that. I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Liddle, as well as the views of the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley wants a review. He and I know full well that the number of reviews that have been held about the railway industry, for example, since 2000 has concerned us both. Indeed, both of us have been scathing in the Chamber over the years about the number of reviews that have been held: something like 34 reviews into the railway industry are gathering dust on ministerial shelves somewhere, few of them ever being implemented, and yet he wants another one. My noble friend Lord Adonis read out the names of the distinguished members of the Oakervee Committee, which included my noble friend, who was the vice-chairman. Could he suggest, when he comes to wind up, who, other than the sort of people listed by my noble friend Lord Adonis, could possibly carry out such a review with the impartiality that he desires? Presumably, some knowledge of these construction projects is essential unless we are going to cast around for a dozen people whom we meet in the streets to conduct the review. I would be interested to hear from him when he winds up exactly who he has in mind.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has made no secret of the fact that she is against HS2. I am always fascinated by the Green Party: if this project that we are debating today was a motorway, for example, running along the path of the proposed HS2, I would expect to see the noble Baroness and her Green Party colleagues carrying banners saying, “Put it on the railway”. The last thing we need is another motorway, yet she is against this particular scheme because, she says,—and I wrote down what she said on Tuesday when I had to contain myself from replying—this project is about cutting a few minutes off the journey time for travel between London and Birmingham. It is, of course, no such thing. I remind the noble Baroness—and I hope that she does not think that I am being personal when I do this—that this scheme is part of an overall concept of a high-speed network in the United Kingdom, which will obviously benefit other regions as well as the south-east. It will also, of course, create space on the west coast main line, which is another plus, as far as I am concerned, in relation to HS2. It is estimated that such space and availability that it will create on the west coast main line will relieve our road network of some 40,000 or 50,000 heavy goods vehicles. Again, that is something else one would have thought the Green Party would have been in favour of but, obviously, if she has this erroneous impression that HS2 is just about speed between London and Birmingham, that is not the case.
Coincidentally, as we are talking about reviews, only today the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce —I do not know whether that organisation would meet with the approval of my noble friend Lord Berkeley —issued a press release and statement about HS2. The press release is only two hours old, so it is hot off the press—I have not put it up to this, I hasten to tell my noble friend—and it says:
“The West Midlands has already benefited significantly from the prospect of HS2’s arrival— Deutsche Bank, HSBC and engineering giant Jacobs are examples of major businesses that have already relocated operations to Birmingham—with HS2 creating more jobs in the West Midlands than any other region outside of London.”
Again, I address my remarks to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Does the Green Party not appreciate the fact that already, years before the scheme is actually completed and the line opened, thousands of jobs are being created? The chambers of commerce goes on to say that HS2 will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, thousands of apprenticeships and supply chain opportunities and,
“as Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce chief executive Paul Falkner states today, it will provide ‘a much-needed shot in the arm to business confidence’ as the country emerges from the health crisis.”
My noble friend Lord Berkeley has fought a valiant battle, whether he admits it or not, to delay this particular project. He needs to come up with something better than a specious argument about yet another review. We really ought to get on with this, and my noble friend will have some difficulty, I fear, when he comes to wind up, in convincing us that this amendment is designed to do anything other than delay this project.
My Lords, I support Amendments 6 and 8. Amendment 6 deals with the question of peer review, which is absolutely essential. In my remarks to the Committee last Tuesday, I explained that one of the great shortcomings of the HS2 project from the very beginning has been the complete unwillingness of the responsible Ministers to listen to the best and soundest advice coming from outside their department. Amendment 6 would allow these qualified railway experts to examine all aspects of the project in an unbiased way and give the Government the benefit of their advice. It must, of course, be totally independent of Government, HS2 and any company or individual linked to HS2.
We are all aware of the stories of massive financial and time overruns with aircraft carriers, and nuclear power station building disasters. With HS2, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” I remind the Committee that we are talking about £106 billion to date—probably £150 billion —and the sum is confidently forecast by reliable sources to reach £200 billion. Surely it makes sense for us to take steps to put in place the strongest possible oversight; peer review will do just that.
Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, recommends the publishing of a cost-benefit analysis of this project. I totally agree with that, although I fear that we are locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. This fundamental exercise should be undertaken, of course—in private business it invariably is—before any decision to go ahead is made. Perhaps it was; perhaps the Minister will tell us, and perhaps we can see it. It is quite simple to do: you make a list of all the costs and a list of all the benefits. You put one on one side of the scales and the other on the other, and I have done just that.
I chose benefits first and it is quite a short list: high speed, capacity and jobs. I turn first to high speed. For all sorts of reasons, the promoters of the scheme no longer cite this as an important aspect of it, so this cannot go on the benefit side, even though high speed is what it says on the tin and that is how the idea was originally sold to the Government. For a whole variety of reasons, it is no longer top priority. I do not know all the reasons: I understand that certain aspects of the line—embankments, tunnels, et cetera—would not cope with the proposed speed; and energy costs were also an issue. Therefore, it is no longer a high-speed train in the accepted sense, and we cannot put that on the benefit side of the scales.
Lastly, we come to jobs. Jobs are the proponents’ fallback position, guaranteed to sway faltering Ministers. Obviously, any extra jobs are not just welcome but, in these difficult times, invaluable, although it must be remembered that this was sold as part of the deal long before Covid arrived. It is my view that however much we need jobs, they should not be used as a reason to proceed with a project that is manifestly nonsensical.
If you spent this amount of money on regional railways, improving links from Liverpool to Hull or relieving commuter services in the north and in and out of London, you would produce just as many jobs, spread throughout the country—and, at the end, unlike HS2, you would have something really worth while to show for it. So the jobs argument does not work and that leaves precious little to go on the benefit side of the scales.
Let us look at the costs to the taxpayer: a minimum £106 billion and almost certainly considerably more—all those vital projects which are having to take second place to HS2, we could probably rebuild every hospital in the country for this kind of money; massive, irreparable damage to our environment through a huge swathe of the country; damage to the thousands of people whose lives, homes and businesses have been affected; and massive distrust in the Government’s ability to build anything. I mark it: benefits, precious little; costs, enormous. How did we get into this mess? I truly believe that this will prove to be the most monumental infrastructural and environmental blunder of all time.
My Lords, I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, on the issues he has raised in relation to HS2. He dismisses the speed issue, whereas every piece of research reveals that journey times are key to people deciding whether or not to use rail; so journey times need improving.
On capacity, it is the case that existing lines are full. Capacity is about not just how many people are on a train but how many trains per hour there are on the railway, and we badly need extra capacity in order to move the short-distance travellers off the long-distance lines and to allow freight to use the existing long-distance lines to provide enough capacity for all the freight that needs to go on the railways nowadays in order to save our planet. At the moment very low percentages of people in the Midlands and the north choose to travel by train. That is because of the capacity issue—because of problems with the service. We owe it to them to improve the options for them and to make it possible for them to travel in an environmentally friendly manner.
HS2 has often been its own worst enemy. On our Benches there is firm support for the project, as I have made clear today and in many previous debates. But that does not mean that we are not critical of the way the project has been managed so far. The Oakervee report was designed to review the project and point the way forward but that way needs to be a lot less scrappy than the process so far.
I have a general observation to make about this group of amendments, particularly Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. It is long past time for our approach to major infrastructure developments to be fundamentally rethought. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle: for decades we have proved incapable of making clear strategic decisions, costing them realistically and managing them effectively. The National Infrastructure Commission was supposed to give us the longer view required, which short-term government horizons inevitably fail to provide. However, we still do not have a system that works in a modern democratic economy.
At the very least—this is relevant to Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—the Department for Transport needs to develop a new approach to cost-benefit analysis. Its current approach simply counts what exists: the people who currently travel and the current journey times. It does not take into account the regeneration potential of railway projects. The Borders Railway in Scotland illustrates that the regeneration potential and the popularity of new projects can well outpace the counting of the existing situation.
I do not think that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is the right way to ensure that the path ahead is smoother than in the past. HS2 itself needs to reform and it needs to get on with it as swiftly as possible.
Before I call the next speaker, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to be aware that she needs to keep her mute on; otherwise, we will inadvertently see more of her than she wishes us to see.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley has spoken about the purpose of his amendment, calling for an independent peer review of the section of the HS2 project covered by the Bill; namely, the connection to phase 1 at Fradley in the West Midlands and to the west coast main line just outside Crewe in Cheshire.
The most recent review—and it is recent—was the Oakervee review, which started off with my noble friend Lord Berkeley playing a prominent role, which then appeared to be downgraded as time went on, until at the end he seemed to be treated as a somewhat peripheral figure. Presumably this was not unrelated to my noble friend’s views about the review and its conclusions.
My Amendment 8 requires the Secretary of State to publish a cost-benefit analysis of HS2 within three months of the Bill becoming an Act, and then to
“publish a revised assessment in each subsequent twelve month period.”
I imagine that the Minister will oppose that but, if so, I hope she will be able to tell me that that is because this will be covered in the new six-monthly reports to Parliament. Obviously, I await her response.
However, I want to raise some points about costs. Are the committed costs for phase 1 now some £10 billion, with that figure being about a quarter of the Government’s estimated total cost of phase 1? If that is an accurate or reasonably accurate figure, would the Government expect committed costs to have already reached some 25% of the total cost of the phase before the permanent works have really got under way? What is the Government’s estimated cost of phase 2a and how much has already been spent and committed? What is now the expected completion date of phase 2a? Are the Government confident that their latest cost-benefit ratio figure for HS2 could never worsen as the project continues—and, one fears, costs rise—to the point where there would be a serious question about the case for HS2? An assurance on that point would be helpful. Is it the Government’s unequivocal position that once the Bill becomes an Act, phase 2a will proceed—no ifs, no buts?
Our position is, and has always been, one of support for HS2. It was no wonder that my noble friend Lord Adonis sought unambiguous assurances on Monday, which he did not appear to get, of the Government’s continuing commitment to complete the eastern leg of HS2 in full, to plan, from Birmingham through the east Midlands to Leeds. It was a Labour Government who got this project off the ground, thanks in particular to the drive and determination shown by my noble friend. However, there needs to be a proper grip on costs once specific figures for expected costs have been announced, which also means that considerable hard evidence-backed thought needs to be given to what, realistically, those expected costs are likely to be, and the same should apply as far as the benefits are concerned.
I suspect that the Government recognise that. In a letter to me of 16 October the Minister said:
“The Government have strengthened the arrangements for governance and accountability for the HS2 project. There is now a dedicated Minister, a cross-government ministerial group and a six-monthly report to Parliament.”
Is the appointment of a dedicated Minister an admission that there has been insufficient ministerial involvement and oversight of the HS2 project and its costs by the Department for Transport for a significant part of the past 10 years? That is what it sounds like. If so, why did Ministers allow that to happen and to drag on for so long? Does the creation of a cross-governmental ministerial group mean an acceptance that there will have been no proper co-ordinated cross-government policy-making at ministerial level and oversight on HS2, including its costs, for a significant part of the past 10 years? Once again, that is what it sounds like. Again, I ask: if so, why did Ministers allow that to happen and to drag on for so long?
I would like to know why the Government think that these new arrangements will strengthen governance and accountability. In what way is governance being strengthened? What particular deficiency in the previous governance arrangements will be plugged by these new arrangements? What positive impact on the HS2 project do the Government expect to result from these new arrangements? In what way do the Government believe that accountability will be strengthened by these new arrangements? Who and what will become more accountable and to whom? What benefits do the Government expect to arise from this strengthening of accountability for the HS2 project? What will be the impact of the strengthened arrangements for governance and accountability on the costs of HS2? If it is expected to be positive—and I assume it is—why will these new arrangements involving Ministers enable costs to be better controlled than they have been under the existing arrangements?
The first of the six-monthly reports to Parliament has reported a further £800 million increase in costs over six months. Are the Government satisfied that the reasons given in the report for the increase in costs could not have been identified much earlier with more extensive preparatory work? If the Government’s answer is that they are satisfied that that is the case, that seems close to an admission that they really do not know what the final cost of HS2 will be since, presumably, further major unexpected developments or problems could continue to arise all the time. If that is the case, we can only hope that such developments and other potential issues affecting costs do not end up exceeding the contingency provision that has been made because, as we have seen and know, opponents of this project are reinvigorated every time there is an announcement of a further non-budgeted increase in costs. That is why controlling costs is important.
I hope that the Government will be able to give some clear answers to the questions I have asked and will explain why and what they believe the new arrangements referred to in the letter of 16 October will deliver in respect of strengthened governance and accountability and much better control over costs of a project we continue to support.
My Lords, when I saw the first group for this second day in Committee I thought, “This is going to be Second Reading territory” and, lo and behold, it was the case. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which went slightly wide of the amendments in the group, which are essentially about reporting, not about whether or not HS2 should go ahead, although we had a little run around that track as well. I note that the last group on the Marshalled List today is about party walls, and I find that a very exciting prospect and very much hope that we will get there.
As I outlined in my previous responses about the Government’s recent changes to transparency and accountability, we are putting these at the heart of everything we are doing on HS2 because we believe that enhanced reporting measures and ministerial oversight will help. That is not to say that there was a significant deficiency previously, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but that with all these things good governance is very hard to achieve and incremental improvements to governance structures should be made when they are deemed appropriate.
On Amendment 6, about another report, I think I share the feeling of some noble Lords who have spoken: “Not another one.” There have been several reports on HS2. I believe it is now time to get on and get it built without having another report. Most recently we had the report from Doug Oakervee and his panel and the recommendations therein. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned some of the people involved in that report, and I think we all agree that they are people of very high calibre. Indeed, they include the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. He was on that panel and, as was and is his right, he published his own dissenting report, which of course the Government read and took note of. Is it time now to have yet another report on HS2? I believe that is not the right thing for us to do. We should be looking at the conclusions of the last report, which was written only recently, and putting them into practice. That is why we have Andrew Stephenson as the Minister for HS2 and why we have put in enhanced reporting requirements to Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, mentioned the HS2 board. It is already a strong board, but it has recently been enhanced by representatives from the Treasury and the Department for Transport. That is to make sure that HS2 remains absolutely focused on our priorities and the interests of the British taxpayer. We also have the integrated rail plan, of which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is such a fan. That plan is in development and will make recommendations on how best to deliver high-speed rail in the north.
Therefore, the Government do not agree that we need a further report or review—call it what you will— into HS2 at this time. There will be a significant amount of scrutiny to come in any event, given the existing arrangements.
On the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, as I have explained, a new reporting regime has just been put in place that commits the Government to report every six months. The first one was published last month and updated the House on costs and schedule.
I will sidetrack slightly, if I may, on the issue of costs and schedule because I am doing a lot of work around this as there are quite a lot of major projects in my portfolio. In this country, we have a slight issue that we expect to know exactly what the cost and schedule will be on day one. That is not even day one of the build. We seem to want to know what they are going to be on day one when someone has only just thought of the project. That is absolutely impossible with these sorts of large engineering projects.
We have to wean ourselves off saying on day one, “It will cost £X billion and it will be finished on X date”. We have to come up with a different system that looks more at ranges of costs and schedules, because it is impossible to define such things from the start. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for example, was talking about costs increasing, particularly in the early stages of a project. That is fairly normal, but you should be able to provide the sort of costs that you would expect —a maximum and a minimum, rather than focus on a single amount.
The Government will publish a full business case for phase 2A before the main tranche of construction work begins. In that, there will of course be a much better idea of the costs, and it will include an updated cost/benefit analysis for the scheme. Furthermore, there is a comprehensive system within the Department for Transport for tracking and measuring the benefits of HS2. It may be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, noted, that we are conservative in measuring our benefits, and I am okay with that. We know that there will be improved journey times and reduced crowding on our rail network, but there are many other benefits, as noted by my noble friend Lord Haselhurst—jobs being one of them—including many apprenticeships and huge benefits for small and medium-sized businesses.
I agreed on Monday that I would write to noble Lords setting out all the things we are doing on improved governance and reporting; I will do that following further contributions from noble Lords today but, for the time being, I hope that on the basis of my intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call—
Sorry: I was not quite sure who I was supposed to email under this complicated regime. I emailed someone, but clearly the wrong person.
Perhaps I could ask the Minister a question. She gave she gave a compelling response as to why we should not have a review. She was less convincing in response to my noble friend Lord Rosser about cost/benefits, because costs and benefits change over time, which was part of the point my noble friend was making. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, was so concerned that we should pay attention to cost/benefits; can the Minister confirm that when it comes to the next review of cost/benefits, it is very important that the costs of upgrading the three principal lines running north from London—the west coast main line, the Midlands main line and the east coast main line—will be set against the costs if HS2 does not proceed? All the estimates made of those costs are that they are huge and should not be discounted in any future cost/benefit analysis.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, but what he notes are the counterfactual opportunity costs of not having to do those upgrades. I am not sure how they would factor into a standard cost/benefit analysis, but it is certainly the case, as he pointed out, that they would be fairly costly and that HS2 brings not only speed but capacity.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, and I will try to be as quick as I can, because I know we have a lot to get through today. The comments by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the need to have an effective HS2 board are absolutely right; that may well be one solution. As the Minister said, things are improving—we must see how it goes, but it is a good start.
It was interesting that my noble friends Lord Snape and Lord Adonis talked about having too many reports on railways. They are quite right but, as they both said, the Minister is undertaking one at the moment on the east side of phase 2B. That follows the Oakervee recommendation; paragraph 3.7 says that the Government should
“establish a further study to be completed by summer 2020”—
well, it is a bit late—
“to develop an integrated railway plan embracing 2B alongside an integrated railway investment programme for the Midlands and the North”.
That is a really good idea, but now to expect to have one enormous hybrid Bill covering the whole lot, as my noble friend Lord Adonis is suggesting, is not really sensible. It would be double the size of the phase 1 Bill, and that took long enough anyway.
I also respond to my noble friend Lord Snape—or perhaps it was my noble friend Lord Adonis—about the people on the Oakervee review. It is worth reminding ourselves that we had only two months to do this, and the terms of reference were slightly unusual for such a study and did not include anything about the environment —we added something, probably at my suggestion. That was one reason for suggesting that another review, done independently, might be a good idea to cover those matters. I will not go into the likely or actual opinions of the members of the review panel, because, as a result of their diaries, they were unable to spend a great deal of time on it, although they contributed a lot. Anyway, we are where we are, and the Oakervee review got published. There is always an issue with independence. A couple of people who I suggested should join or provide evidence to the review said, “If we do that, we might get blacklisted by the Department for Transport for future studies”. I will not name names, but that was a fear that people had.
It is all over now, and we have had a good discussion. Of course, I will not press the amendment and I look forward to continuing discussion on reports and information, cost/benefits and the environment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 7. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that means the clerk in Grand Committee, not the clerk downstairs in the Chamber, who he emailed by mistake.
7: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, must not enter into any non-disclosure agreement with any party in connection with the scheduled works unless the assessor of non-disclosure agreements related to the scheduled works (“the assessor”) has certified that it is in the public interest.(2) The Comptroller and Auditor General must appoint a person to be the assessor.(3) The assessor must be—(a) independent, and (b) a current or former high court judge, higher judge or Queen’s Counsel.(4) In this section, “independent” means independent of—(a) Government,(b) HS2 Ltd, and(c) persons contracted or subcontracted to carry out the scheduled works.(5) The assessor must undertake his or her work with a presumption in favour of transparency and public accountability in matters connected to the scheduled works.(6) The assessor must review any non-disclosure agreement between the nominated undertaker, or any subcontractors thereof, and any party in connection with the scheduled works and in place before this section comes into force to certify whether it is or is not in the public interest. (7) The assessor may not determine that a non-disclosure agreement is in the public interest for the purposes of subsection (1) or (6) except for the reason that it is justified because of exceptional commercial confidentiality.(8) If the assessor certifies under subsection (6) that a non- disclosure agreement is not in the public interest that non-disclosure agreement immediately ceases to have effect.(9) In this section, a “non-disclosure agreement” means any duty of confidentiality or other restriction on disclosure (however imposed).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to require HS2 to subject all proposed NDAs to independent scrutiny.
My Lords, this amendment on non-disclosure agreements is relevant to the Bill but covers a much wider scope of government policy than just HS2 or even transport. This amendment was tabled in the House of Commons and got some very interesting discussion going. There is a lot of interest in NDAs and their scope around Parliament around at the moment. There is a lot of concern in the health service, as some noble Lords may know. An all-party group on NDAs has been formed under the able chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who will speak to this grouping.
I emphasise again that I am not trying to see NDAs banned completely, but I think some limit to who is subject to them and what they are used for might help transparency in discussions taking place, particularly in Select Committees on the Bill. The worry from people trying to petition has been that businesses and local authorities have been asked to sign NDAs that have prevented them from getting the information they feel they need from HS2 to be able to petition effectively.
This includes denying information to the elected members of councils. I gather that 31 local councils had NDAs on HS2 in place. It is important with issues that concern local areas, such as road movements, which we will come on to as well, and the effect on industrial estates, to ask how the public interest can be served if information is limited and councils cannot tell even their elected members what they are discussing. I do not know whether the withholding of all this information was intentional, but it is important that access to it is not denied to councils, landowners and businesses to prevent them discussing options and issues.
The idea of banning NDAs completely is obviously not very sensible and I am not proposing that, but what I am proposing is—I am sorry to use the word “independent” again—a process not only for HS2 or its successor but for other railways and projects, as well as the NHS, to make some kind of assessment of whether or not something is in the public interest. I suggest that the assessor should be a current or former High Court judge or someone similar.
I am sure that we will have a lot of debate on this. It is not a showstopper, but a lot of people would gain comfort from knowing that they are able to get the information they need in order to hold a debate on what they want to talk about. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has withdrawn from speaking to this amendment, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
My Lords, I apologise for my ineptitude with the mute button. I am afraid that I have been infantilised by the previous system, but I promise to do better.
I strongly support this amendment because this is another thing that ought to be standard in public life. Government works are for the public good and private contractors are there to perform that role for the Government on behalf of the public good. It is about trying to achieve that outcome and transparency should be a central pillar of all public works. Lack of transparency breeds distrust, fuels conspiracy theories and undermines whatever public good the Government are trying to and might achieve in doing the work. In particular, non-disclosure agreements should never be used for political purposes; for example, to avoid embarrassment or controversy. Perhaps the Minister could give us an explanation of the full range of NDAs being used in relation to HS2 and precisely why they are being used. That would help us move forward on this issue.
My Lords, while I recognise that there is a fixed order of speakers, I really want to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, because I know that in the past she took up the case of a particular whistleblower. I think that it relates to the time when she was the Minister responsible for HS2. In thinking how I can use creatively the processes of the Grand Committee, now that I know which clerk to email in order to speak after the Minister, if I have anything to say after the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, has spoken, I shall do so by those means.
What the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said about non-disclosure agreements not being used for political purposes is of course completely correct and all noble Lords would agree with that. I am very keen to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, because I think that she is going set out her concerns about a particular case or cases, and obviously I am also keen to hear the Minister’s response to those.
The noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, has withdrawn from speaking to this amendment and so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
My Lords, I am worried that in these discussions I am going to fall out with my noble friend Lord Berkeley, for whom I have great respect, but I hope that that is not the case. However, I think that this is a very odd amendment to attach to a Bill on HS2. There is much wider public concern about the use of non-disclosure agreements, but to add this to an HS2 measure just confirms conspiracy theories about the way that HS2 has been operating. I do not think that there is any great evidence for this and therefore my noble friend should withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am happy to support Amendment 7 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, relating to non-disclosure agreements. What on earth does an organisation such as HS2 want non-disclosure agreements for? MI5 and MI6 need secrecy for our national security and Ministers are bound to sign the Official Secrets Act for obvious and long-accepted reasons. It is understandable that employees working at the sharp end of research in companies that are competing with each other might be asked to keep their findings confidential. However, to insist on non-disclosure agreements for those working on a civil engineering project is ridiculous and must be seen as rather sinister.
Is this designed to ensure that no one is allowed to discuss the shortcomings of the project? That must have been hugely harmful to the whole construction process. Greater transparency and honesty might have prevented the problems that have arisen. Transparency leads to discussion and consultation, which eventually lead to efficiency and confidence. Secrecy breeds distrust, lack of communication, incompetence and, inevitably, mistakes, which, in a project the size of HS2, can be disastrous. It is no coincidence that this project encapsulates the worst aspects of both secrecy and incompetence. No one outside HS2 has any up-to-date facts and figures to work with and no one knows how bad things are. The truth will come out in the end, but the acceptance of this amendment might allow some fresh air in sooner rather than later.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Adonis has said, we need some more information and it might have benefited all in the Grand Committee to have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, if she feels that there is a particular problem with whistleblowing on this project. I am rather inclined to agree with my noble friend Lord Liddle that this is not the right legislation in which to include such detail, but let us wait and see.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to the Oakervee review, of which he was such a distinguished member, and said that the process was too short and the terms of reference too narrow. He felt that some members did not want to hear witnesses he wanted to call in case they fell out with the Department for Transport as a result. Like my noble friend Lord Liddle, I have a great deal of time and respect for my noble friend Lord Berkeley, so I do not want to fall out with him either, but this is all a bit President Trumpish, in a way. You sit on a commission and there are various aspects of people’s involvement in that commission that are not quite what they should be. If my noble friend feels that something untoward is going on, he ought to tell us about it when he winds up the debate rather than make the implications that he has.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham. If I might compliment him by saying so, at least it was a different tune he was playing. The end was pretty much the same, but it was a different tune. We had heard his previous speech, I think, twice on the Floor of the House, once in the Moses Room and at least twice during this Committee. We all knew what he was going to say. The Minister knew what he was going to say. I suspect that the mice in the Members’ Tea Room had an idea about what he was going to say. He is against the project. When I look at the history of his title, I rather think that a lot of his opposition comes from the fact that Framlingham station was closed as long ago as 1952 and the noble Lord has come to the conclusion that if he cannot have any trains, no one else can either. But I will reserve the rest of what I have to say and, like my noble friend, listen with interest to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
My Lords, I think I will have to disappoint at least three Members of the Committee. First, the work on NDAs, which is an area that does exercise me a great deal, is being carried on under the umbrella of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Whistleblowing—a very effective group, chaired by Mary Robinson MP. It is very cross-party—it includes the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, among its distinguished members—and is doing an incredible amount of good work. That is the right place for this to be pursued because it puts it in the very important and powerful context that most of those who personally suffer from NDAs—or, rather, the individual version, normally called a settlement agreement—are whistleblowers.
I am also not going to bring up the individual cases. I would ask the Minister to meet me—although I suppose we will always have to do this virtually—because there are cases of individual whistleblowers that need to be much more central to the attention of the Government. But this is not really the venue to go in detail through their individual cases. They need proper and long discussion. I am also not the right person to put words into those individuals’ mouths—they need their opportunity to make their position understood.
I support this excellent amendment because I think it is rather skilful. It identifies that non-disclosure agreements have long since lost their original purpose. They were meant to be arrangements which would provide confidentiality for proper commercial interests, such as protecting intellectual property or preventing unfair competition. There might be times when they give scope for private discussion, but I think most people can see that that would be very limited.
The amendment also gives primacy to the public interest. What has happened with NDAs is that people are asked to sign them almost as a matter of course in order to get into a meeting, and they have come to be used very widely now simply as a way to make sure that incompetence and wrong behaviour do not get into the public arena.
A number of journalists have done FoIs to try to get a sense of how many NDAs have been signed for HS2, and I was quite shocked to see—looking just at local authorities and civil society-type groups—that there have been some 340. This is just a strategy to prevent transparency in a project that is being paid for by the taxpayer. There should be a presumption of openness and of closure only in those circumstances where it is absolutely required for a valid reason. Right now the assumption is that everything will be secret unless there is some mechanism for opening it up.
As I said, I am particularly concerned about the NDAs which are being used to silence whistleblowers. Again, for people who may not be familiar with this, “NDA” is actually an American term. For individual whistleblowers, these are part of a settlement agreement. As noble Lords know, most whistleblowers are fired pretty much immediately; they lose their jobs and end up in employment tribunals. That drags on for years and then there is a settlement, or they are threatened with retaliation unless they come to a settlement which includes this vow of silence.
Quite a number of whistleblowers on the HS2 project have gone public—at great personal sacrifice. I feel that they should have proper protection, and that is one of the issues I want to discuss with the Minister. Like many in the transport world—including, I am sure, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—I am aware of many more people who have accepted settlement agreements, including those silence clauses, because they were afraid for their personal livelihood and for their family. Whistleblowers are canaries in the mine. They should be nurtured, not silenced. Serving staff should never be afraid to raise concerns. HS2 has not been exemplary—to put it mildly—on this issue. It has behaved very badly, frankly, to quite a number of its own staff. If anyone doubts that, they should look at the way that information on issues around costings and land ownership compensation has finally surfaced. Instead of government and others being aware early on that there is a problem, the whole issue festers and by the time it reaches the ears of anybody in government, as far as I can tell, it is very difficult to correct a lot of the underlying damage.
I have to say this; it is important. Most of the whistleblowers on HS2 are great supporters of HS2. I am a supporter of HS2. But we want the project to be judged on its genuine merits and not incorrect claims. I do not believe that the project is being helped by the way in which information has come out—delayed, challenged and finally admitted. It has scarred the reputation of the project. It has undermined public trust, frankly, in any information that HS2 now provides and that is a real tragedy.
We politicians have to shoulder responsibility for some of this. There is a pattern whereby the Treasury pressures departments to understate project costs. That has infected not just this project but a lot of major infrastructure projects. Crossrail strikes me as another of these tragedies which have suffered from the need to come up with an attractive claim in order to get approval at various stages. Those who are running projects—and sometimes this includes the Ministers, frankly—are really afraid to admit when costings are shown to be wrong because they are afraid they will then be vilified.
In complex, difficult, long-term projects, attempting to assess the issues and the costs up front is extraordinarily difficult and we need to take that on board and understand that information will change, that facts on the ground will change and that in this very complex situation not everybody will get it right, but we need that correction to happen as soon as possible and for the information to be available in the public arena as soon as possible. Open kimono is really the only way in which to generate trust and sensible decision-making. Frankly, we will never get that kind of transparency unless we deal with this NDA problem and the silence clauses in settlement agreements. Change that framework and people will speak out, we will hear the canaries, and it will be possible to take action in a way that is beneficial to the project and fair to the taxpayer and all the various stakeholders.
We have heard already today about government steps to bring in new arrangements to improve governance, so I hope the Minister will be able to be tell us a bit more about non-disclosure agreements in relation to HS2, because one presumes that has something to do with good governance. My information is that HS2 currently has 342 non-disclosure agreements—that is the figure I have been given—including with businesses and landowners, but that not even a list of the parties with whom those agreements have been made is published, let alone their contents.
Who decides that information relating HS2 is so sensitive that its non-disclosure takes precedence over transparency and the public interest, including, I presume, some information relating to expenditure of taxpayers’ money? Is it the Government who make these decisions? Is it HS2? Is it a party with whom HS2 has a contract or an agreement? What happens if there is a disagreement between parties on whether there should be non-disclosure? Who has the final word?
In response to a Written Question, the HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson, defended the agreements, saying:
“Non-disclosure agreements … are used to protect both HS2 Ltd’s information and the information of the other signatory party and are in accordance with typical business practice. These agreements help to avoid placing homes and businesses in unnecessary blight, protect commercially sensitive information of both parties and the personal information of those potentially affected by any proposed changes to the scheme.”
So he has broken it down into three categories: avoiding placing homes and businesses in unnecessary blight; protecting commercially sensitive information of both parties; and protecting the personal information of those potentially affected by any proposed changes to the scheme. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us—I doubt that it could be today—of the 342 NDAs, how many come into each of those three categories that the Rail Minister said in a Written Answer was one of the justifications for an NDA. What was significant in that Answer was that he did not mention that they would ever be used in relation to whistleblowing—that was not one of the categories that he listed.
This is a very murky and secretive area of NDAs. I share the view expressed that there are circumstances when they are needed and are fully justified—I am sure there are—but when one sees the number in relation to HS2, one is entitled to ask whether they have not got a bit out of hand and are being used in instances for which NDAs were not originally envisaged. Are they perhaps being used for the interests of the parties concerned, and have we forgotten that, where there is any doubt, transparency and the public interest should take priority, which is surely what good governance is in part about and which the Minister has said in earlier debates is what the Government want to strengthen in relation to this project?
My Lords, non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are entered into voluntarily with the consent of both parties. In the case of the HS2 programme, NDAs are used for good reason and in the public interest. For example, NDAs may allow HS2 to have open and frank conversations with stakeholders, including local authorities and businesses, on a range of plans and proposals—these are not firm schemes but plans and proposals; they are things that may come to pass or may not. By doing so, it has better access to the information it needs to inform the proposals then put forward. If all possible developments are public at all times, the alarm and concern created in local communities would be simply extraordinary.
NDAs provide huge value to the taxpayer and local communities by reducing generalised blight that would happen otherwise. HS2 entered into agreements with local authorities as part of the very early stages of exploring the different route options. This protected swathes of the country from suggestions of new infrastructure. What would have happened had those suggestions come out? Property values would have plummeted, yet most of those suggestions were just that—suggestions—and they would never have come to fruition.
The private nature of such conversations is helpful. It reduces worry and uncertainty for those affected by the scheme. The use of NDAs also protects the public’s private and personal data. Sometimes, it is necessary to share information between organisations. For example, there might be concerns about somebody’s welfare. HS2 has a duty of care but also needs to share such data in compliance with the law. NDAs allow this to happen. Protecting personally sensitive and project-related data in this way allows the project to avoid affecting property values unduly and to protect individuals’ rights. I am confident that the use of NDAs by HS2 is in the public interest. It is not a way to avoid transparency; it is a way to ensure that HS2 is able fully to scope the costs of the various proposals in a confidential manner and to ensure that whatever proposals are eventually put on the table are those most likely to succeed, while minimising the alarm caused in areas which, frankly, do not need to be alarmed because they were not in the end chosen.
The need for an independent assessor to testify to the public interest has been discussed extensively and considered by the Secretary of State for Transport during the passage of this Bill, including whether it might be pertinent to appoint further observers or implement a new complaints procedure. The conclusion has been that it is right that those who wish to do so should have the opportunity—they do not have to do it—to enter into an NDA with HS2 Ltd. In this sense, people who are affected by the scheme should be allowed to protect themselves and their private conversations with HS2 without concerns that their data will be shared with a third party. Just because these private agreements are just that, private, does not make them invalid or an illegitimate form of protection for the parties—it does not make them shady, as has been the impression I have been given by the speeches of some noble Lords. They are voluntary agreements that can be entered into for various reasons.
If an independent assessor were appointed to scrutinise such agreements, they would be breaching the privacy of those agreements. The appointment of an assessor would effectively prevent the sharing of information on a confidential basis. This would cause delay, which noble Lords tend not to like. It would increase uncertainty —again, a bad thing—and costs for those affected by the project and the cost of the project itself, which is ultimately paid for by the taxpayer.
I want briefly to mention that there are established complaints procedures for members of the public who wish to have their concerns considered through independent scrutiny. As noble Lords are aware from day 1 of Committee, there is Sir Mark Worthington, the independent construction complaints commissioner. There is also the residents’ commissioner, Deborah Fazan, who is in place to hold HS2 to account for the commitments in the residents’ charter. She produces periodic reports on HS2 performance against those commitments. Within HS2, there is an established whistleblowing hotline, called Speak Out. Speak Out provides a route for staff, contractors and members of the public to raise concerns about any potential misuse of taxpayers’ funds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, mentioned that she would like a meeting. I would very much appreciate a meeting with her, although I might perhaps offer my colleague, Minister Stephenson, as the HS2 Minister. He would be better able to hear her concerns, because we need to get below the whole “Ooh, it’s a bit shady; 342—isn’t that too many?” I do not know: is it too many or is it too few? The whole point is: are the non-disclosure agreements the right ones, and are they reached voluntarily and for the right reasons?
I would like the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, perhaps to have a meeting with my colleague, the HS2 Minister, to talk through some of the evidence and some of the things that may have happened in the past, which we have been able to remove, because of the steps that have been taken, and to discuss any ideas that she has for steps that we can take in future to ensure the requisite level of transparency—but also to protect the taxpayer and ensure that confidential conversations can take place when appropriate.
On the basis of my intervention, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
The Minister’s response has been compelling. She is right to point up the importance of HS2 Ltd being able to discuss with local authorities confidentially different route options, treatment of works, and so on. That is completely correct. Of course, if that was not possible, HS2 probably would not be able to have some of those conversations, because the issues raised would be too sensitive. Therefore, I do not think that the case for this amendment has been made even in principle.
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is going to come in after me. If she is going to try to persuade the Committee that there should be some more different and onerous process for HS2 Ltd in respect of non-disclosure agreements, she will have to be franker with the Committee about that. I do not think that we should have general statements made that would lead to substantive changes in a non-disclosure agreement that could impede the work of HS2 Ltd, unless we are given instances that we find compelling to justify that.
Thank you. I would very much like to take up the Minister’s offer of a meeting with the HS2 Minister, Mr Stephenson. That would be extremely helpful. I hope she might have the opportunity to spend a little bit of time looking at some of the cases. I want to challenge the myth that signing a non-disclosure agreement is essentially voluntary. I think that she will find that it is just standard practice, or a meeting is not offered.
The Minister will also recognise that the non-disclosure agreement then covers everything contained within the meeting. As I say, there may be nuggets that genuinely should remain confidential, but there is a great deal of information that should be out in the public arena. It is a mindset, in a sense, for how organisations conduct themselves—whether it is transparency around information not disclosed on an exceptional basis, when there has been careful thought about whether or not that information should be disclosed, or whether the presumption is that everything will be kept behind the closed kimono and information will made available only on an absolutely must or need-to basis. We need some rethinking on this, because that has not served us well.
The Minister will know from her own experience of looking at infrastructure projects that they come up with shocks. We are probably both very aware of Crossrail, which appeared to be completely on track almost until the very final moments, when we were all expecting the announcement of its opening, when we discovered that it was several years behind.
This issue has to be tackled. The issue of individual whistleblowers is one that I would very much like to take up with Ministers, because a salutary conversation between Ministers and senior management at HS2 could make very significant improvements in that arena.
Well, okay, I thank the noble Baroness for her further intervention. I am not wholly the wiser as to what she is trying to do here. She has mentioned the shock of Crossrail. I was not aware that that was anything to do with NDAs. But she was a Transport Minister, so she knows how projects work, and I was actually discussing Crossrail earlier today and asked exactly the same question about how on earth that happened. It is the case that sometimes, for whatever reason, costs increase, but I was not aware that with Crossrail there was an issue with NDAs. If she has information in that regard, I would be happy to receive it, because it would be news to me.
I am trying to get beyond the sweeping statements that, “These things are bad, information is being hidden, and therefore we have to crack down on them.” That is one side of the argument—but the other side, of course, is as I have set out, that they can be hugely beneficial and are entered into voluntarily. The noble Baroness said that they were not entered into voluntarily, as if everybody was evil, but I need more understanding of what the evidence is around that and what information she feels is therefore not getting out into the public domain that should be. She said that you do not even get a meeting unless you sign the NDA. That may often be the case—and, yes, about 80% of the meeting may be absolute nonsense and could be public information. But, again, I would appreciate in the meeting that we have with her if we could get underneath the skin of this a bit and find out what information she feels is being covered up, the consequences of that cover-up, and how the NDA process is fuelling that cover-up, because I am not there yet. I have heard sweeping statements, but I am not quite fully understanding.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. I think we are in grave danger of having a debate about what is black and what is white; these are the kinds of things where there is actually a lot of grey in between. I do not think that a sweeping statement saying that all NDAs are wrong is at all helpful, and I do not support it. Similarly, as my noble friend Lord Rosser said, if there really are 340 NDAs for HS2, there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that they are not all necessary for the good promotion of HS2 and its ideas and discussions. How many of them are more to avoid embarrassment? I do not know whether the Minister will be able to respond to my noble friend Lord Rosser’s request for the reasons but, if not, perhaps I could join the meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and talk about it further.
It has been a useful discussion, but I emphasise that, however it is taken forward, public interest and transparency have to be looked at alongside confidentiality. What I thought was really inappropriate was when I was told that the borehole information at Wendover was confidential. Why should borehole information for anything be confidential, especially when we have a very good geological survey of the whole country?
With those comments, I thank noble Lords who have spoken and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendments 8 to 10 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 11. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
11: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State must conduct an annual review of the impact of this Act on the connectivity of the UK Rail Network. (2) The review under subsection (1) must make reference to—(a) the impact of HS2 on connectivity in relation to—(i) the existing rail network, and(ii) new parts of the network constructed during the process of HS2;(b) future connectivity planning.(3) The review under subsection (1) may make reference to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on future connectivity planning.(4) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the review under subsection (1) before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, and each calendar year thereafter until 2035.”
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 11, I shall refer to the amendment in the name of the Labour Party.
The finances of HS2 do not stack up, unless it is used as a spine from which to hang a network of substantial improvements to existing rail services and a programme of new lines and stations. Amendment 11 in my name is designed to cover this by way of an annual review by the Secretary of State. The frequency is intended to keep the process of future planning under constant review because, for the sake of efficiency and cost effectiveness, it is essential that there is a steady flow of work for the rail manufacturing and construction industry. The Department for Transport needs to move away from the cumbersome feast-and-famine approach to railway building which has so hampered the industry in recent years.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, queried whether the eastern leg of HS2, phase 2b, would be built following the Minister’s confirmation in our previous debate on Monday that Bills for the eastern and the western legs will be separated. I invite the Minister to tell us whether there is any truth in the rumour that the National Infrastructure Commission, which is developing the strategic rail plan, might recommend that HS2 as a new line should be built only from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway, and that thereafter trains would join the existing main line to Nottingham, Derby and Leeds. Even if that line is improved and electrified, this would mean that there will be no gains in capacity and speed, and it will mean the loss of the economic development potential of HS2 which we have seen so well illustrated already in Birmingham. If there is truth in this rumour, it illustrates the UK’s fatal flaw: our failure to raise our eyes to the horizon, to build for the future, to plan for the future.
The work of Midlands Connect, for example, and its Midlands Engine Rail plans illustrates perfectly the way in which HS2 can and should be used to stimulate major improvements in rail services across the area and, beyond that, further to the north. It has planned three packages of improvements. Package West uses phases 1 and 2a as well as capacity in existing lines which is released by HS2. It would enable 20 more trains per hour into and out of Birmingham Moor Street station, improving links with the south-west, Wales and the east Midlands. There are plans to improve connectivity at Birmingham Airport and for faster trains on existing lines between Birmingham and Manchester. Then there is its Package East: a multimodal strategy to connect towns across the region into the HS2 hub station at Toton. But possibly most significant is its Package Connect. It has plans to enhance the east-west connection between, for example, Crewe and Derby, Nottingham and Lincoln, and so on, significantly improving journey times in an area where the percentage of commuters who travel by rail is woefully low. Why is that? It is largely because the speeds of the trains—the services at the moment—are low, and the services are infrequent. I must also not forget the importance of freight. Putting more goods on to the railways is important, and essential to a green future and to avoiding climate change.
The single unifying factor in all these plans is that they all depend in some way on the impetus that HS2 will provide. A high-speed long-distance railway leads to improved services for commuters, shoppers and leisure travellers as well as additional capacity for freight. Despite the falling numbers of rail passengers, and despite the fact that the pandemic has made us think again, there is every reason to believe that people will return to travel in the future. Indeed, they already have. Already, we are at roughly 100% of pre-pandemic road traffic levels, at a time when only 59% of us are back in work in our offices. If we were all to go back to work as we have done before, that would be an additional 2.7 million cars and other vehicles on the road per day. It is simply not possible and sustainable in terms of congestion, let alone the impact on air quality and emissions. For a green future we have to plan for a modern, fast and efficient railway.
I remind the Minister that in the general election last year the Government received a huge boost from electors in the Midlands and the north, who put their faith in the Government’s levelling-up rhetoric. Now the Government have to deliver on that, and HS2 is a key part of that deal. But as I hope I have illustrated, HS2 must be used as a catalyst for much more—for much greater change—and the north of England and the Midlands will have a pretty dim view of government promises if that does not go ahead as planned. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has made some powerful points. She has also teed me up splendidly because her amendment raises the issue of connectivity. I can see that the Minister is much looking forward to the fact that I am going to speak again about the connectivity of the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, which is imminently threatened by this review and potential cancellation of HS2 east.
Lest noble Lords think that I am unnecessarily alarmist on this, I am doing my public duty to see that this catastrophic and historic error is not made. Every time I raise this issue and engage with stakeholders, my concerns become greater. Since I made my remarks on Monday I have had a number of private representations, which it would not be proper for me to reveal because I gave non-disclosure agreements in response to those, but I have also had a very significant public representation —which I have forwarded to the Minister to give her an opportunity to respond in her reply—from Professor David Rae, who is a professor of enterprise at De Montfort University in Leicester, an area which would gain enormously from the benefits of HS2 east. Perhaps I may read the key part of his letter to the Grand Committee, because it specifically responds to the points I raised in our previous sitting on Monday. He writes:
“Consistent with your Twitter messages”—
I tweet summaries of my speeches because they are far too long to inflict on the public at their full extent—
“regarding the threatened axing of the HS2 Eastern link, a well-informed source tells me that the National Infrastructure Commission, which is preparing the Rail Plan”—
the one that the noble Baroness keeps referring to, and which she rightly says I do not like because it is the disguise for delaying or cancelling it—
“which will recommend the future investment, is more likely to propose that HS2 East is only built from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway (EMP) and there to join the existing Midland Mainline and follow existing … lines to Nottingham, Derby and North to Leeds. Even if this is approved, there are multiple negative effects. In terms of rail, there will be few gains in either rail capacity or speed, and none north of EMP. In effect the Leeds and Northern HS2 link would be via HS2 to Manchester and thence via Transpennine Rail”.
I should say in parenthesis that that means that the east Midlands would gain very little out of HS2 and the journey times to Leeds and the north-east would be significantly delayed because all of their HS2 journeys would need to go via Manchester. That presupposes that a tunnel is built under the Pennines at high speed to take the line from Manchester to Leeds, which itself, as I know from having looked at the costings, is a hugely expensive and very problematic project.
Professor David Rae continues:
“There is also a large economic development loss to the region. As you will know, the development of the Toton ‘Garden of Innovation’ new community and innovation district around the HS2 station—
the junction station between Derby and Nottingham that is proposed as part of HS2 east—
“is of strategic importance to the region and is one to which the Councils in Derby, Nottingham and respective Counties as well as the Local Enterprise Partnership … are committed. This is crucial to grow the high-value and high-skill capacity of the region, predicated on HS2, and if lost will set back the region’s economic development by 5 years. We simply cannot afford this loss, set against the effects of COVID-19 job losses and anticipated Brexit impacts.”
I could continue to quote, but the noble Baroness has the letter. The point underlying this is that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is absolutely right to highlight the wider connectivity issues at stake in HS2. HS2 is a network, not simply a single line, and it is essential that the network benefits of HS2 are secured to the eastern side of the country as well as the western. If HS2 proceeds only to Manchester, with some stunted version ending either at Birmingham or going on only to East Midlands Parkway station, north-east of Birmingham, we will essentially have two nations in England in the century ahead. We will have the prosperous, dynamic, western side of the country, which will have the benefits of 21st-century technology, capacity and railway engineering, and the eastern side of the country, which will be stuck in the 1830s and 1840s in terms of its rail technology and capacity and will inevitably fall behind.
So, I make no apology for raising the alarm again. I give the Minister another opportunity to confirm that HS2 east will proceed, and I hope I will at least have alerted the local authorities involved—Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and York being the primary ones affected—that their economic prospects for the next generation and beyond are about to be blighted by this review. The only consolation I have is that the review is being conducted by the National Infrastructure Commission, which I had the honour to establish and to chair, and I cannot for a moment believe that my colleagues on it would be so unwise as to recommend the scaling back of HS2 east, with all the damage that would do to the long-term infrastructure and economy of the eastern part of England.
My Lords, that was a very powerful speech by my noble friend Lord Adonis, and I have very little to add to it. I support this amendment. I think it is sensible that Parliament look regularly at how the HS2 scheme is being used to promote greater connectivity at local and regional levels, and of course I agree with my noble friend’s concerns about the eastern leg of the HS2 plan. The only other point to add concerns the work of the Select Committee. I have sympathy with the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser, on the capacity of the county councils to deal with the consequences of the HS2 plan. The Select Committee felt that in one or two cases where we had petitioners making perfectly reasonable points, the county council had not responded to them in the way we would have hoped. There should be a strong message—although I doubt an amendment would be appropriate—that the councils need to gear up to cope with this major project.
My Lords, while I support everything that has just been said on this amendment, I do not want to repeat anything. There is a connectivity problem with HS2. If it were decided—wrongly, as has been amply outlined by my noble friend Lord Adonis—to truncate the eastern leg of HS2 somewhere in the east Midlands and, presumably, electrify the existing line so that HS2 trains will join the existing main line at some unspecified point in the east Midlands, there would be an immediate connectivity problem.
In the days when I worked for the railway, on the operating side, the regulation of trains was a fairly simple matter. Trains were broken down into various classifications: A, B, C, et cetera. Class A was an express passenger train, and signallers would normally give priority to such a train, regardless of circumstances —late running, bad weather, et cetera. Since privatisation, of course, things are somewhat different. It never ceases to amaze me sometimes, standing at Birmingham New Street station, to watch a late-running Pendolino train for London Euston being held in the station while a local train booked to leave behind it leaves on time and therefore in front of it, delaying the express passenger train even further. When I ask signallers and people responsible for operating the railway these days why these incidents take place, I am told, “Well, the lawyers will say that that was its booked path and if we delayed it further, there would, of necessity, be compensation payments”.
I raise that technical side for this reason, as far as this amendment is concerned: in Clause 34, “Objectives of Office of Rail and Road”, there are details about railway matters. If we are to have high-speed trains mixed in with existing passenger and freight trains, I just remind noble Lords on both sides that this will happen regardless of the completion of the Y-shaped layout planned for HS2. There will be another regulation problem thrown up by the addition of such trains to the existing traffic. Without going into any great detail, the Select Committee discussed the provision of an altered junction on a short stretch of the west coast main line that would have meant that high-speed trains, instead of joining the “down” fast line on their way to Crewe, actually joined the “down” slow line—again, as the result of the understandable desire to reduce expenditure—cutting over to the “down” fast line some small distance further north. That adds another complication so far as train regulation is concerned, on, as we have already discussed, an already crowded west coast main line. That situation, of course, would be repeated and worsened if the Y-shaped east Midlands leg of HS2 were truncated, as my noble friend Lord Adonis fears.
I have a question for the Minister, going back to Clause 34. I quote from the Explanatory Memorandum:
“The Railways Act 1993 imposes on the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) a duty to address certain objectives in the execution of its non-safety functions. These objectives do not currently contain any explicit requirement for the ORR to facilitate the construction of Phase 2a of High Speed 2. Subsection (1) adds such a requirement and thereby clarifies the ORR’s role for the benefit of the ORR and rail operators.”
My question to the Minister is, what role will the ORR have as far as connectivity and train regulation is concerned? I do not expect her to have the answer off the cuff, and I would be grateful if she would write to me. It is an appropriate matter, I hope she agrees, to raise in connection with this amendment and I hope we can find some way of answering this particular problem concerning the role of the ORR in future.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of these two amendments. They are vital to getting the best out of HS2. Amendment 11 was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who mentioned 20 trains an hour in and out of Moor Street, and there is a great deal that needs to be done around Birmingham to improve local services there. She and other noble Lords mentioned the problem—or the not very good services—and the tracks that head from Birmingham eastwards towards Nottingham and Derby. I think there is quite a strong argument for either upgrading the existing lines or at least building HS2 section 2b there.
I have more of a problem with making decisions now about what should happen to HS2 between Derby and Nottingham towards Leeds and Sheffield. There are various ways of doing it, such as just upgrading the existing routes or improving the east coast main line, which I know my noble friend Lord Adonis is greatly against, as he said on Monday. However, all these things need to be looked at because when we were doing some of the consultation, such as it was, for the Oakervee report, it was quite clear that the demand for services in the Midlands and the north was primarily for shorter distance and to a large extent east-west, and therefore getting across the Pennines somehow is very important. Whether it is HS2, Network Rail or Transport for the North does not really matter as long as there are services there and further south from Birmingham to the Derby area. The key is to have frequent, reliable services going faster, but whether they need to be separate or together with HS2 is something I think the Minister is looking at in her study.
For me, HS2 is, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, not a network but a line which starts in London, splits in two and goes to Manchester, and perhaps a little further north to connect with the west coast main line, and to Sheffield and Leeds. The network is there to connect with much improved local services, and therefore the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is very important. It needs to link with, I hope, improved local services.
I also support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Rosser to some extent. It is very important, but we are almost going back to the discussion we had about the Transport and Works Act and hybrid Bills and whether local authorities in the present set up have enough resources and are given enough time in Committee to make their arguments. That is something that I am sure we will continue to discuss over the next few weeks.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Lord Bradshaw? We will move on and I will call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and return to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, if we can connect with him. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
I shall be relatively brief. My amendment is on a similar theme to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, but mine relates more specifically to transport provision in Shropshire and Staffordshire. It refers to the construction and maintenance of the HS2 works and to changes to general passenger movement caused by the works and the implications for railway stations in order to keep it within the scope of the Bill.
Shropshire and Staffordshire are not particularly well placed when it comes to public transport, and it looks as though HS2 phase 2a is going to present considerable upheaval for some residents during construction, and perhaps to a degree afterwards, when there is no direct subsequent benefit to them from HS2 phase 2a, as there will be no stations nearby that will give them easy access to the new high-speed service.
At Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe raised the lack of transport infrastructure in Oswestry. Since Second Reading, it has been announced that the bus station in Oswestry could close. On the other side of the coin, there are rumours of the Government supporting the reopening of a railway station in Oswestry. Can the Minister say whether the Government would support such a station and obviously then the restoration of a rail link to Oswestry?
The Foundation for Integrated Transport has examined bus services in Shropshire and called for new services in the north-east of the county in Ellesmere and Whitchurch. With the relatively poor public transport infrastructure, many people are reliant on roads, including to reach the railway network. Roads in Shropshire are in need of improvement. For example, the A5 trunk road near Oswestry is still not dualled. Do the Government intend to address that situation? In Staffordshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme has a population of some 75,000 but does not have a railway station. Do the Government intend to improve transport links by addressing that deficiency?
It would be helpful to have responses to these questions and also to the general point about whether it is the Government’s intention to take a serious look at improving transport links generally in Shropshire and Staffordshire as an associated part of the HS2 phase 2a project, which will pass through the area but be of little benefit to those most affected if transport links to gain access to and from the new high-speed services are not also considerably improved.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Lord Bradshaw, I think you are muted. You have to unmute yourself with the new system. Lord Bradshaw, I am sorry, but as we cannot connect with you, we will move to the Minister.
My Lords, connectivity between HS2 and the wider network and the impacts of HS2 on that network are critical concerns. The central aim of HS2 is to improve connectivity along its length and to ensure that it integrates with all modes of transport, including local rail and bus networks.
On rail specifically, noble Lords will be aware that Crewe, at the northern end of phase 2a, has a long history as an important hub on the railway network. Construction of phase 2a will allow passengers who connect through Crewe currently also to connect to HS2 services. This will significantly improve rail connectivity, and we expect regeneration benefits at the station and in the surrounding areas. The details of those services cannot be defined now but will be worked out in due course through existing rail operations processes.
The time to assess the connectivity benefits of phase 2a, whether by rail or indeed any other mode, will be when the railway has been built and the services have been planned such that other services can be connected to them. In the meantime, the Government continue to invest in local and longer range transport infrastructure in the UK to improve connectivity and capacity, and we continue to identify and assess problems and possible solutions.
We continue to talk to local communities and railway operators and to invest in infrastructure and services that level up opportunities for everyone across the country. For example, the Restoring Your Railway programme includes an ideas fund that provides development funding for early stage ideas to explore options to restore lost rail connections. Ten proposals are already being funded at the development stage so that they can move from the first round of the ideas fund to the subsequent stages.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, asked about the role of the ORR, and I shall be honest with him that I will have to write, but I will happily do so.
Many noble Lords have tried to lure me into a discussion of connectivity and services beyond phase 2a, but I fear that I would only repeat myself and I cannot countenance repetition, so I will not be lured at this point. We are talking about phase 2a, and I believe that there are huge opportunities for its connectivity, many of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and of course the Government take into account those sorts of opportunities whether or not one is building HS2 in the area because local connectivity is always important.
Turning to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the question of the impact of construction on the transport networks in Shropshire and Staffordshire has been considered quite extensively in the environmental statement. The majority of the phase 2a route passes through rural Staffordshire. As I can confirm from my own visit to the route, some of the sites are accessible only by very minor roads. The environmental statement that accompanies the Bill therefore gives significant consideration to the issue of getting workers to and from the worksites in the most efficient and least disruptive manner.
The draft code of construction practice sets out that workforce travel plans will be developed with the relevant highway authority and these will take into account public transport and cycling and walking routes. It is our expectation that the existing railway network will not be used much on a daily basis by workers on HS2 phase 2a. The environmental statement, taking a reasonable worst-case approach, assumes that all workers will commute either in a car or in a van, with some element of ride-sharing. Worker accommodation will be provided at some locations, and this will reduce the volume of journeys. We also expect many of the workers to travel outside peak hours.
I therefore do not see the merit of requiring an annual review of rail connectivity, as suggested in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. There will be ongoing discussions about connectivity that will develop over time. The provision of transport in Staffordshire and Shropshire has already been looked at, but, of course, we will continue to be open to opportunities for further improvements. I hope that on this basis, the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.
My Lords, my comments are about connectivity and probably relate more to Amendment 11 than to Amendment 14. The Minister has just spoken about connectivity, so it seems to be an appropriate moment to follow that point. I declare an interest in that I have close family living near the place where the trains will pass.
HS2 is a hugely expensive and long, drawn-out process; it should be viewed in that context. I am a supporter of high-speed rail, with the qualification that it is not satisfactory that direct travel between London and the north will still not be possible. Instead, travellers and their baggage will need to leave the station in Birmingham that they arrived at and swap to the new terminus, which, I understand, is to be called Birmingham Curzon Street, and is some distance away. This is not good enough for the 21st century; people are used to travelling with less disturbance and more convenience than that. This is an opportunity not to be missed to make a better connection.
I also concur with noble colleagues who have commented on trains, speeds, tracks and their suitability. There really is not much more that I need to say, because so much has been said, and I have been very impressed and interested, but I am a supporter. I hope that in the end this line will provide excellent connections and direct travel from London to the north. I wish it well.
I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for joining the Committee and sharing her thoughts with us. I am pleased that she supports HS2. She raised some issues about Birmingham, and I do not have the information to hand. I will write to her with further information about connectivity and the issues she raised about access to Birmingham Curzon Street.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in this short debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for the impetus he has provided to us all with his points about the eastern leg and the whole issue of connectivity. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, pointed out, the importance of getting across the Pennines is one of the main points here. He also emphasised the demand for shorter-distance travel, which, of course, is what is freed up on existing lines by the building of HS2.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, deals specifically with issues in Shropshire and Staffordshire, and we might return to that later in the debate on road transport. There is clearly a very important need to improve transport links there. I say to the Minister, who said she wanted to stick to phase 2a: some of the examples I gave her from the Midlands Engine deal specifically with phase 1 and phase 2a and initiatives that flow from the existence of phase 2a. I am disappointed that she has failed to address in detail the point of my amendment, which is to force continued planning on HS2 as we move forward, and to integrate HS2 with other infrastructure developments in the areas through which it passes.
The rail industry is crying out for a smooth flow of future planning. It does not prosper from the stop-start approach, and there is a need for a smooth process in order to maintain skills and capacity within the industry generally. Having said that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 12. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
12: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Mitigation of loss or inconvenience to owners or occupiers of land used in these works
In any matter relating to the entry on, occupying or acquiring of, private land, the nominated undertaker must take all necessary steps to mitigate the inconvenience or loss to any owner or occupier of that land.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that best practices in minimising loss or inconvenience are followed by HS2 Ltd and its contractors.
My Lords, it is fortuitous that this amendment follows the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about Amendment 7. I stumbled across this matter almost by accident in discussion with various bodies and individuals over the operation of the HS2 Ltd land acquisition regime. I am particularly indebted to Andrew Shirley of the Country Land and Business Association, of which I happen to be a member, and Kate Russell of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, of which I am not a member. I have also spoken to other chartered surveyor practitioners of the dark arts of compulsory purchase and compensation who have been prepared to share their experience with me. To some extent, the amendment builds on earlier amendments before Grand Committee on day one.
Kate Russell forwarded me a copy of a lengthy letter she sent on 1 June 2020 to Thomas Barry at the DfT in response to the general question—I paraphrase—what could be improved? Noble Lords will be glad that I paraphrase the seven pages of that letter, but I have permission to show it to any noble Lord who may be interested and to whom I have not already forwarded it to, but I have sent it to the Minister and those who spoke to Amendment 5. Bear in mind that this is sent by an official of a professional body, not a disaffected claimant’s agent. Even so, I would not have attached such importance to a single letter had it not encapsulated many of the same sentiments independently expressed to me by others. Please also bear in mind that phase 2a naturally follows the procedures laid down for phase 1.
Kate Russell first explained that the issues being encountered over land and property acquisition went far beyond the normal range and severity that she would have expected. In her letter, she encouraged the department to pause for reflection—a figurative pause, that is, because of course she did not ask for everything to be stopped—because of uncertainties due to design refinements, consequential to the reality of land acquisition and the implications for and disruption to claimants. She outlined the significant stress levels not only for claimants but also to professionals involved and that this has been directly due to the manner in which HS2 Ltd had been handing cases. So bad was this that the very notion of working on HS2 cases has become an issue in professional recruitment and retention, with her members seeking guidance because requirements of their tasks seemed to be at odds with professional codes of conduct.
Her letter goes on to cite several underlying causes. I truncate this, but there was the scale and timeframe of the undertaking and the implications of that, the highly impersonal manner in which the claims were handled and HS2 Ltd’s apparent desire for total consistency above all else in what is a sea of highly variable individual cases—in other words, uniformity in preference to fair balance to individual circumstances.
Of course, everyone recognises the need for value for money in these huge schemes, but the underlying sense expressed to me by another commentator was that the Treasury’s hands were around the financial throat of the department, which in turn has its around the neck of HS2 Ltd and so on, with HS2 Ltd acting in a similar manner towards its suppliers, professionals and, last of all, at the end of the supply chain, the claimants. This, in varying terms, was reflected in the views of everyone I spoke to on the point. The suggestion is that the structure and chain of command of this project is in large part to blame.
Ministers have publicly professed “compassion, fairness and respect” as objectives—or did, until the terminology changed to “compassion, dignity and respect”. When I heard the comments of noble Lords on Amendment 2, I wondered whether this terminology had been intended to refer to the graves and memorials of the long dead rather than to the pressing imperatives of the living. But the word fairness none the less seems to have disappeared.
The visible symptoms of this malaise are these: shifting the burden of proof and justification on to claimants even when it is plain that there must be a reasonable case in principle; challenging every claim line by line; the adoption of the unique HS2 Ltd “take” on matters such as injurious affection and then claiming that this is established practice; delaying payment for as long as possible by these means, or seemingly so; and claimants being driven to the point where they will give up and take whatever is offered to them because they simply cannot go on any longer. We have already mentioned the temporary access provisions which appear to have been used to occupy land first and deal with claimants’ costs at leisure. There is also the demand for professional service suppliers to adhere to these objectives as a priority over their professional rules of conduct, as I explained earlier, as well as overturning their recommendations if it suits. Finally, there is control from the centre to ensure uniformity with no delegation of any decision-making, regardless of the rigidity that results from the process.
Some of these tactics are commonplace and are easy to slant either way. For instance, if you make an internal, unminuted decision to apply a “beyond reasonable doubt” criminal proof standard to compensation claims in what should be a balance of probabilities civil test, that requires no new laws or regulations and can easily be defended as financial control, but which does lasting injustice. Similarly, if you ask for clarification for further and better details, not just once but drip-fed one after the other and each taking a turnaround time of several weeks, that can paraded as diligence. The timeframe can be endlessly spun out and, where payment is involved, delay the pay-out. Another tack when confronted with anything like a complaint is to deny everything to the point of calling black white.
These things are not unique to HS2 Ltd; they are part of the standard pattern of behaviour of large organisations which think that they are beyond the need for customer care or are too big to fail, or have only themselves or a government parent as a regulator, or believe that the noble purpose of their mission is more important than conduct, ethics and fairness, or perhaps all of these.
In our debate on Amendment 5, the Minister took a particular dislike to my reference to the perception of coercion: I did use that word. Perhaps she would prefer “strong-arm tactics” as an alternative, but this does seem to be what is going on here—not yet on an industrial scale, I suspect, but significant enough to matter and important enough for measures to be taken to reduce it, as suggested by Miss Russell. Please understand that this has nothing to do with the adequacy of the compensation claim; it is about the mode, culture and characteristics of implementation.
There are four basic principles that need to apply here. First, there has to be a high degree of accountability in the areas of ethics, fairness, transparency and professionalism, and that has to be embedded in the very culture of the organisation with a comprehensive and effective code of practice. Secondly, there has to be independent oversight and monitoring. Thirdly, there has to be an effective and accessible redress system. Fourthly, there have to be meaningful sanctions for poor practices in appropriate circumstances. The amendment would pave the way for this approach, but I acknowledge that it would require proper resourcing.
In particular among large construction enterprises and administrative organisations, there is a belief in spending much fine gold in defending the process in which they are engaged. Directors get together in order to defend the principle of their existence and what they are involved in. With that comes the question of the exercise of power for its own sake instead of making that process more efficient and transparent. I cannot count the number of times I have pointed out that this is a false philosophy that merely increases friction, although I do not doubt that it gives the impression of being busy, however fruitlessly.
With HS2 Limited I am getting the message that whatever form of corporate social responsibility is at work, it is not one that professionals or citizens universally recognise as a modern or effective duty of care or that it is confined to handling claims. The resultant delays, lack of trust, uncertainty, added disputes, blame shifting and financial loss and so on are capable of being mitigated to good effect were there, as Miss Russell suggests, a claimant strategy document that is worthy of the name, incorporating the four principles I have mentioned. Miss Russell has also told me that in September she inquired of the Department for Transport about such a strategy, having mentioned it in her letter, but she was told that it would be out “soon”, a word I have heard used so often by Government Ministers but which is then followed by no visible action, so that it has nearly lost all meaning and value. However, confirmation that this is somewhere in the pipeline does underline my general point about the need for action.
I invite the Minister simply to confirm that the production of a claimant strategy document is imminent, that it will be independently assessed and not just some internal box-ticking exercise, and that it will be available for us to scrutinise in draft at any rate before the Bill leaves this House. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has withdrawn from speaking to this amendment so I call the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst.
My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. In general, while of course one should uphold the idea of best practice in these circumstances, we are never going to get to a situation where best practice is perfect practice.
I have seen the law on compensation tightened over many years and become more rigorous and more extensive. The present situation is that it is backed up, in the case of the hybrid Bill procedure, with the opportunity for an individual, community or business to bring their grievance to Parliament. The HS2 Bill has been through that process in the Commons and in the Lords.
One should remember that there will always be two parties to any negotiation. Our committee listened with great sympathy to many of the points that were made to us. Our job was to try to push both sides together to reach an agreement. Many an agreement was made, some of them without the petition having to be brought as far as the committee. Some claims seemed slightly far-fetched—that must be honestly admitted—whereas others were deeply emotional and it was difficult to find the absolutely correct way of addressing them.
I have seen various things in my political lifetime relevant to a discussion of this kind. In my first constituency, Middleton and Prestwich, those two towns were suddenly separated by a six-lane highway, the M62. That project finally tipped the Government of the day into recognising that it is not just land-take that should be measured in circumstances of that kind but that there are various other factors, such as noise disturbance, obviously. That led to the Land Compensation Act 1973.
For most of my political life I was the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which it was designated that London’s third airport should be established, at Stansted. The battle over where the third London airport should be put was fought for over 40 years. I was the unlucky person who was finally overridden in the campaign by the Government of the day. But I saw a whole host of types of grievances that arose and there is nothing more potent than aircraft taking off a mile or two away from where you live. One understands that the very concept of a high-speed railway gets people on the defensive, quite rightly.
However, I honestly do not recognise that from my recent experience on the HS2 hybrid committee. I think a great measure of justice has been done, as far it as can be when you are talking about the construction of a railway of this magnitude. I say to the noble Earl that I do not recognise too much of what he has just described to the Committee. What other colleagues who were alongside me on the committee would say I do not know but I think it was our general recognition, as may be judged from the report, that we were able to get accords in many difficult situations. Not all of them—maybe one or two of the claims were extravagant —but by and large petitions kept being withdrawn because an agreement was reached.
I just do not know whether it is possible at this stage to put into legislative form a compensation system which will ever be universally acceptable. There will always be consideration of the other side. If there is going to be wider public complaint about the rising cost of great infrastructure schemes of this kind, there has to be some sort of control on the level of compensation given, which will not, alas, fully satisfy every single person affected by the project. So I honestly do not see the need for an amendment of the kind proposed.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
I then call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Snape.
My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst. As members of the committee, we heard some familiar feelings from many of the petitioners. During my time in Westminster, I have served on committees on four hybrid Bills. Without exception, people affected by works of this kind go through various stages of concern, fear and outrage that their property could be taken, altered or knocked down. It is an inevitable consequence of projects of this size. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, I thought that those who appeared in front of the committee were treated pretty well by HS2 and its representatives. Like him, I saw many of them withdraw those petitions before it was necessary for us to come to a decision.
On all the hybrid Bills that I have served, without exception and across party, Members of both Houses have been aware of the sense of loss that people go through when their property is affected. We buy houses, too; we cherish our own homes and feel terribly strongly when projects such as this affect us.
Dealing with large organisations is never easy; I speak with some feeling here. I spent last night and the best part of about two hours this morning trying to get some sense out of Virgin Media, so I know how people feel and how irritated they become at saying the same thing to different people in the same organisation, but, by and large, it seemed to us on the committee—I think I speak for all of us who were on it—that HS2 did its best.
When Theo Clarke MP appeared before the committee on behalf of her constituents and others affected by this project, the chairman handled the matter in an exemplary way. The committee chairs on all the four hybrid Bills in which I have been involved have been pretty good, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, given his experience, was excellent in the way he handled both petitioners and HS2. Without knocking any heads together, and in his calm way, he got them to come to some sort of compromise. Therefore, like previous speakers, I do not see any need for this amendment. I just say to the Minister that if she can satisfy the noble Earl’s correspondent on every single one of those complaints, she will not be an Under-Secretary for very long.
My Lords, I have heard many noble Lords say that there is not a problem because the Select Committee, if it received complaints, dealt with them. I suspect that, if there was a problem and people got as far as petitioning about it, the committee would have made sure as best it could that it was solved, and that is very good.
However, I have also heard many examples of people not being paid, and some landowners who have found that HS2 was trespassing on their land, and maybe doing damage to it, not being paid for months or even years. That has been a common thing—and I suspect that both examples are equally valid. The real issue here is that, if there is no problem, the amendment does no harm to anybody. If there is a problem, it will encourage HS2 to behave, and pay for what it intends to occupy permanently or temporarily.
I suspect that the issue may have been something to do with the timing: the Select Committee sat for a certain time and the HS2 Bill has been around for several years. In the intervening period, what do people do if they suffer hardship? There is a lot of evidence, which I think that the Committee has heard before, that the budget that HS2 was given for land purchase by the department, and which the department was given by the Treasury, was woefully inadequate—probably about 50% of what was needed. That is probably one of the reasons, apart from having too much work to do, and maybe incompetence—I do not know—for late payments. HS2 and Ministers will have to do all in their powers to make sure that that it does not happen again for the next phase or two. There may be lessons to learn. In the meantime, I cannot see what is wrong with the amendment, which might incentivise HS2 and other businesses to behave in what is normally thought of as a normal business relationship.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue. In a way, this amendment goes alongside the previous one on NDAs. You wonder why the use of NDAs is apparently routine in an organisation on this scale. The problem with routine use of NDAs is that, while no individual one is possibly downright wrong, the whole oversight of the scheme gets suppressed. Therefore, it becomes difficult to see those early symptoms of things not working as they should.
We must also bear in mind that it is very easy for an organisation the size of HS2 to look overbearing, unfeeling and unreasonable. It is therefore very much in everyone’s interests that it operates as a good business with the highest ethical standards. It is, after all, a programme and a business for the future, producing something that will be at least 10 years in the making. Therefore, it needs to have modern, responsible business practices.
I suggest to the Minister that, while I am sure she will not want to accept the amendment, it would be an idea for the business practices of HS2 to be given a good look, with this amendment and issue in mind.
I will be brief. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, this amendment is about the attitude and approach of HS2. I tried to make a note of some of the things that he referred to. I think he referred to a highly impersonal manner and to the level of control to ensure uniformity of approach when not all cases are similar. I think he referred to the shifting of the burden of proof, to the delaying of payments and to the challenging of decisions line by line. I think he also referred to how it seemed that the Treasury put pressure on the DfT, which put pressure on HS2 regarding finances, and to how eventually all that financial pressure being applied was reflected down the line in the approach to claimants.
I will listen with interest to what the Minister says in reply and, in particular, to whether she accepts that there is validity in what is being said. The noble Earl clearly believes that there is, and I imagine that he is far from the only one who thinks that that is the approach of HS2. I know the Minister will take what has been said seriously. However, I hope very much that she will be able to offer some words that will at least indicate that she will look at the issue and seek to address the concerns raised.
My Lords, before I turn to this amendment I need to apologise. There was an error in my speaking note on Monday which I need to rectify. The error was in the statement that I made in relation to Amendment 13, dealing with advance payments of compensation for temporary possession of land. I stated that the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 provides for advance payment of compensation in relation to the temporary possession of land and that the amendment was therefore redundant. While it is correct that Section 24 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 will provide for advance payment of compensation in relation to temporary possession, these provisions will not apply to temporary possession of land under the powers of this Bill. This Bill, like previous hybrid Bills and previous orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992, has a bespoke regime for temporary possession of land which does not provide for advance payments. In my detailed response to the noble Earl, which I have already promised to provide, I will give further details as to the practice of HS2 in respect of the timing of payments of compensation for the temporary possession of land. I will circulate this to all noble Lords who spoke in Committee and place a copy in the Library of the House. I reiterate my sincere apologies that that happened. It will not happen again.
I turn to the amendment. We have heard the underlying concerns which may have led to this amendment and I will set out what the Government are doing about them. Land is needed for the HS2 scheme to build the railway. Some of this land is purchased by agreement but most of the land is acquired through compulsory purchase. This is an unavoidable fact of building most new transport infrastructure and I recognise that, to those affected, it can be devastating. Most individuals affected will accept what the coming of this scheme means for them, come to terms with it and find a way to come to an agreement with HS2 as to when their land will be acquired and what compensation they will receive under the compensation code. For some, they will be happy with the arrangements and agree that their treatment by HS2 has been fair and proper.
However, a few landowners will feel that they have been unfairly treated. They may feel that there is inadequate compensation or that HS2 has not taken due note of their specific individual circumstances. The Government have taken note of those individuals and have been reviewing how they can improve the way in which the project is delivered for all those affected. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked if we would have a good look at the business practices in this area, and we have already committed to do so.
My colleague Andrew Stephenson has instigated a rigorous land and property review to assess the wider concerns that the amendment seeks to ameliorate. The letter provided by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will form part of the evidence for that review, and I am pleased to be able to say that this review will be published very shortly. Of course, Sir Mark Worthington OBE, the Independent Construction Commissioner, deals directly with the complains of individuals affected by the project.
Going back to the amendment itself and its effect, I am not convinced that it addresses the concerns that may have led to it. The HS2 project already has a policy to attempt to reach early access agreements with owners and occupiers and, further, a policy to be a good neighbour and to treat all with respect. These policies already go beyond the requirements in law. Compulsory purchase legislation does not require the nominated undertaker to seek to reach agreement with the owner or occupier to enter land where powers are to be exercised, but the Government have put these additional policies in place. It is the sincere hope of the Government that the land and property review and the role of Sir Mark combined deliver meaningful change on HS2 that puts affected people and businesses at the forefront of what we do.
As I have already intimated, I recognise that not everything has been perfect for every individual affected by this project—perhaps we will never achieve perfection. Building a railway requires the acquisition and possession of private land and, as I have already mentioned, much of the time this is on compulsory purchase terms. As I said before, for some landowners this is not a problem, but for some affected landowners this railway is an unwelcome intrusion into their lives, and we understand that. It is one of the reasons the Government put those additional policies in place in the first place, and there are safeguards where these are not adhered to.
My colleague Andrew Stephenson is there to help us make sure that people are being treated with the respect and dignity that we would wish and that they deserve. These concerns are not just about money or inconvenience; this is about making sure that people are treated properly. I do not agree that the amendment achieves the outcome of respect, dignity and fair treatment, but adherence to the policies that are already in place and the work that my colleague Andrew Stephenson is doing will. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will join me and Minister Stephenson—and any other noble Lords with an interest in land and property—to discuss these matters further, and that, on that basis, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken; those who have been in favour of this amendment and those who think it is unnecessary. This was essentially a probing amendment—a fishing expedition, if you like—to discover the existence of or progress towards a document that I considered important.
I have noted what noble Lords said about the compensation code. I said in my opening remarks that this was not about the fact of the compensation code, and I tried to steer clear of any question of the quantum of compensation, because that is really quite outside my brief and my knowledge. I do know a fair bit about large projects, because when I worked in a public service, I had to deal with something called the A27 Folkestone-Honiton trunk road. I advise noble Lords that it has reached neither Folkestone nor Honiton, and there are large gaps on the way, but, hey-ho, that is what happens with these things. I also know very well about Part 1 of the Land Compensation Act 1973—the compensation for physical factors where no land is taken, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst. The point here is that I had identified that the Department for Transport had something in train. I do understand that no compensation system can cover everything and no set of procedures in a large organisation can deal with every eventuality.
I am not sufficiently familiar with the process of how petitioners come to appear before the Select Committee. I do not know whether that happens after the point at which they have been in negotiation on compensation matters or beforehand in the prospect of something happening. Certainly with regard to phase 1 of HS2, I am not sure how much of the land acquisition and the acquisition of rights has actually taken place; I suspect that it is not a great deal and that a lot of design work is going on that needs to be sorted out before that can happen. The point I am getting at is that the Department for Transport seems to have admitted that it is doing something and I want to draw out the facts on that and find out what is happening, to provide some background to the reason why that was important.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their comments. I note also what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said about whether the validity of these things is appropriate or not. I turn now to the comments made by the Minister. I did wonder about the question of advance payments and I accept entirely her correction. However, I would say simply that there is an issue here. I am glad that the Government are looking at ways of improving the position and that they are committed to the land and property review, but I am not sure that I am encouraged by “very shortly” as a term of art and whether it is materially better than “soon”, “presently” or whatever other terminology is used. I am particularly interested in the point made by the Minister that there is no requirement to conclude an agreement before entry, or at least that is what I understood her to say.
I will say this: if you do not settle and get an advance compensation payment before entry, you will have someone who has had the use of their land removed, with all the disruption that that entails, but who does not have the money for restructuring or anything like that. In some cases, that may be harmless and inconsequential. After all, you do not earn much by depositing money in the bank these days. In other circumstances, however, I can see that it would be absolutely mission critical for the operation that is being compensated, so that needs to be looked at closely.
I welcome the opportunity of a meeting with the noble Baroness and Mr Stephenson. With that, although I may return to this matter later on in the progress of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Clauses 59 to 62 agreed.
Schedule 1: Scheduled works
Amendment 14 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 15. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
15: Schedule 1, page 29, line 25, at end insert—
“(5) The scheduled works may not commence until the Secretary of State has published a report considering the impact of road traffic resulting from the works.(6) The report must include—(a) an assessment of estimated levels of road traffic resulting from the works;(b) an assessment of the conditions of any roads which may experience an increase in traffic as a result of the works;(c) results from a consultation of residents and local authorities likely to be impacted in each Parish in which the works take place.”
This amendment provides that the
“scheduled works may not commence until the Secretary of State has published a report considering the impact of road traffic resulting from the works”,
and goes on to stipulate certain issues that the report must cover, including the
“results from a consultation of residents and local authorities likely to be impacted in each Parish in which the works take place.”
I want to refer to a specific case, which is one reason for my amendment. The Select Committee report contains a reference to a petition from Woore Parish Council, Woore being on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border. The petition focused on the impact on the village of construction traffic, primarily to service the works at the Madeley tunnel site, that would run via the A51 and the A525, which meet at a crossroads in the village itself. This would entail the widening of those roads and other works at certain points. The village shop is right where the lorries will turn and during the day there is likely to be a lorry every five minutes. The Select Committee said that there were important matters affecting the safety of the public and that these needed to be discussed between the parish council, HS2 and Shropshire County Council. It urged all the parties to have those discussions as soon as possible.
I understand that until now engagement by HS2 has been felt locally in Woore to be less than satisfactory. This is far from the first occasion when local communities that are going to be heavily affected by the impact of HS2 construction traffic over a lengthy period have felt that HS2 has been less than understanding and sympathetic to their valid concerns or willing to engage fully with local residents and local authorities to address those concerns and minimise impacts. I am aware of issues of this kind in relation to phase 1, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred on Monday when he said that even his successor as Member of Parliament for Uxbridge, namely the current Prime Minister, had just as much trouble getting answers out of HS2 as he did. What lessons do the Government think have been and are being learned by HS2 from phase 1 on this key issue of effective and meaningful engagement with local communities? Will those lessons learned be properly applied in phase 2a?
HS2 is a company whose basic purpose is to get the new line built. For it, I suspect, engaging with and addressing concerns raised by local communities about the impact of construction works in particular is a secondary issue compared to what must be major engineering issues associated with construction of the line which it has to address. However, to local communities the impact of construction works on them and their daily lives is the issue associated with the construction of HS2, particularly so when the opening of HS2 brings no obvious direct benefit to their community. Whatever the reality may be, HS2 does not always give the impression to local communities directly affected that it recognises this reality.
My amendment seeks to deal with this point. If the Government decline to accept it, I would like to know why they think it is not needed and why they are so confident that the kind of feelings felt in the village of Woore towards HS2 and its perceived lack of engagement and understanding of the impact of construction traffic on the village will be addressed and how.
The impact on Woore of the construction of HS2 is far from the only concern. Three parish councils have raised major concerns relating to HS2’s plans for the Stone railhead/infrastructure maintenance base. The Select Committee called for discussions as soon as possible between HS2, Shropshire Council and Woore Parish Council. The body most directly affected by the impact of the construction of HS2 is the parish council.
There is now a dedicated Minister for HS2 and a cross-government ministerial group. What will their involvement be in ensuring that HS2 engages properly with local communities such as Woore? Will the impacts on local communities and how they are being addressed be dealt with fully in the six-monthly reports to Parliament? Can the Minister assure me that if Woore Parish Council feels that the discussions which the Select Committee has called for are somewhat delayed or are not being entered into in the spirit and with the intent that the Select Committee clearly envisaged, as the body most directly affected by the impact of the construction of HS2 it can take its concerns about the discussions direct to the dedicated Minister for HS2? I hope the Minister will be able to go some considerable way towards addressing the issue to which my amendment relates. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rosser. We had a considerable discussion at the Select Committee about this matter; we felt then, and I certainly feel now, that these are matters for the local highway authority rather than a Committee of the House or the Minister herself. If the representations made by the parish council to Shropshire Council as the highways authority are powerful enough, surely they will be acted on. If they are not acted on, obviously the remedy is in the hands of local people at the next council elections. Beyond listening with some degree of sympathy to the petitioners at the time, we felt that, and I certainly feel now, that these matters are best discussed and debated and agreed at local level, and that this is a matter for the local highway authority. From that point of view, I do not see why the Minister should accept an amendment that would delay construction until these discussions have concluded. Given the Covid epidemic, I presume that that will be the reason why things have not progressed as quickly as we might have hoped. Still, I repeat, these matters are best debated and agreed at local level rather than in Parliament.
My Lords, there is a lot of merit in this amendment. As my noble friend Lord Snape says, it should not be necessary because local authorities should be required to deal with HS2, but clearly, in some cases, this does not happen. There is a similarity between what my noble friend Lord Rosser is trying to achieve with this amendment and what we will probably be discussing under Schedule 23 stand part. That is that, before any work starts, there should be a condition survey of the road and the traffic so that one can see what changes, if any, have been brought about by the construction and then, as necessary, deal with it. It is easy to say that local authorities should deal with it, but there needs to be a fallback that, if that does not work, the Minister’s door is always open so that he can deal with it and, if he thinks it is a reasonable request, he can instruct or advise HS2 to do a little more local engagement and respond to what may be justifiable complaints or concerns from the local authorities or residents.
My Lords, the road traffic issue is one of the thorniest problems associated with this project. When you look at many of the objections or petitions to the Committee, they are actually objections to the building process. That is not surprising: people do not want heavy traffic going past their door when they are not used to it. On the one hand, of course, residents and environmental groups have pressed for more tunnels. There are expensive lengths of tunnels planned. However, with more tunnels and long tunnels, every mile of tunnel adds greatly to the amount of site traffic, with lorries having to remove soil as well, of course, as lorries carrying heavy equipment to the site.
A series of initiatives and techniques is proposed by HS2 to mitigate the impact of the traffic. However, I fear that the use of local roads—and the M6, for example —is bound to impact on travel times and convenience for people way beyond the area close to the line of the project. Schedule 17 ensures that construction routes are submitted to local planning authorities for approval, so I have some questions for the Minister. First, the Committee’s report says in paragraph 69:
“Construction routes used by large goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes would require the approval of the local highway authority, except where they were using motorways or trunk roads and access to compounds with less than 24 two-way trips per day”.
That is 48 HGVs rolling past your window on a daily basis, which may not make much difference if you are on a major A road but would make a huge difference if you were on a quiet back road. Is this exception in relation to compounds, of the 24 two-way trips a day, a standard provision in construction contracts of this sort?
Secondly, given that it is the local planning authority that will make the decision on routes like this, what happens if the local planning authority withholds approval and cannot reach agreement with HS2 on a reasonable alternative route? Who then decides and where does the decision go? I hope that the Minister can provide us with some answers on that.
My Lords, the impact of the works on local communities is of critical importance to the Government, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for tabling his amendment to allow us to have this discussion.
The environmental statement for phase 2a runs to some 17,000 pages and, within it, there is set out in great detail the impact of the proposed scheme on local traffic levels. To manage traffic flow, the phase 2a Bill includes powers for the control of construction traffic, requiring qualifying authorities to approve the local roads to be used by large goods vehicles—and this was noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—where the number of large goods vehicles exceeds 24 trips per day, to or from a site. That is in total, yes, 48 trips, which over a 12-hour period is one every 15 minutes. The noble Baroness asked whether that was a standard provision in contracts. I shall have to write to her on that matter.
In addition, in the Bill there is a statutory duty on the nominated undertaker to have regard to the potential traffic disruption that may be caused and seek to minimise such disruption so far as reasonably practicable. I suspect that local communities will use that to make sure that action is taken, if there are measures that could be taken but which have not been taken.
As the project progresses and construction plans are finalised—and at the moment we should remember that this railway is not being built; there is no construction at all, so plans are still in development—local traffic management plans will be developed alongside these plans with local authorities, agreeing approaches to highways and public rights of way so that the impact on local communities is minimised.
Members of the public were able to petition the Bill Select Committees of both Houses. Further local mitigation measures have been introduced to the scheme to remove or reduce traffic and transport impacts on the basis of recommendations made by those Select Committees. In some cases, that included restricting and reducing construction traffic, maximising the use of rail and haul roads, and undertaking further traffic surveys.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised the village of Woore. I took some time to look at my phone and see on Google Maps where Woore is, and it is at the junction of the A51 and the A525. While I have every sympathy for those who will be impacted, because there will be an increase in traffic and construction traffic, it is not the case that at the moment they do not have any traffic going through their village, which is at the confluence of two A roads. We need to make sure that they get the sort of measures that they are expecting. My understanding is that there has been no failure of engagement with Woore and that traffic-calming measures have been offered. Perhaps there has been a mismanagement of expectation here. As construction plans are developed, traffic management plans can be developed; without them, we can have all the engagement in the world, but that will not actually achieve anything until there are construction plans to put into play.
I am sure that Minister Stephenson, when we meet him next week, will have something to say about his ongoing commitment to community engagement and how he intends to be involved with it, since it is a very important part of his work. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
There are no questions to the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
I first thank the Minister for her reply and all noble Lords who participated in the debate. I just comment that I made it clear when I made my contribution that it was at the junction of the A51 and the A525 in the centre of the village. I also said that what would be entailed was widening of those roads and other works at certain points and that that junction was right at the centre of the village.
I have perhaps made some progress. It was after all the Select Committee that said that there needed to be further discussion as soon as possible—because safety issues were involved—between HS2, Shropshire Council and the parish council. I was not asking the Minister—nor do I think she took it this way—to immediately intervene. I asked that, now we have a dedicated Minister for HS2 and a cross-government ministerial group, what would be their involvement in ensuring that HS2 engages properly.
This is not the first occasion that we have had local communities saying to us that in their view—rightly or wrongly—they do not feel that HS2 engages as well as it should. I also asked whether, if the discussion with the parish council was either delayed or not being entered into in the spirit and intent that the Select Committee envisaged, it could take its concern to the direct dedicated Minister for HS2. I think that, in her closing comments, the Minister referred to the role of the Minister for HS2 in making sure that there was community engagement. I appreciate that that was on a general basis—she was not talking specifically about this case—but I hope that this is one where, if the parish council still believes that the discussion is not being entered into with the right spirit and with the necessary intent, it would not be dismissed by the dedicated Minister for HS2 if it made an approach to him with its concerns. It is then obviously up to the Minister what he would or would not do in the light of that approach.
Having made those comments, I again thank the Minister for her reply and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
I just want to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, because I did not hear him mention the road names and now I feel very silly that I did not. I also want to say that in my role as Roads Minister, for example, if a local community feels that Highways England is not engaging with them, they bang on the door of their local MP, the local MP comes to see me immediately and tells me off, I go to tell off Highways England and something gets done. The HS2 Minister will play precisely the same role that I play in making sure that local communities are dealt with properly by whichever delivery body is working with them. We can obviously discuss this with Minister Stephenson shortly, but if I did not explain that particularly well, that is exactly the role I expect him to play.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Schedules 2 to 22 agreed to.
We now come to the group consisting of the question whether Schedule 23 be the 23rd schedule to the Bill. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
Schedule 23: Party walls etc
Debate on whether Schedule 23 should be agreed.
My Lords, given the Minister’s earlier remarks, I am delighted to provide a vehicle for what I detect she thought might be some excitement, and I see that I have a little more than an hour to do so. With a bit of luck, it will not take that long, but here goes.
Schedule 23 to the Bill makes fundamental changes to the long-established procedures for dealing with party walls, works at the line of legal property boundary and adjacent excavations, all of which are covered by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, which I took through this House. However, the Bill does so for HS2 phase 2a purposes only.
By way of explanation, under the Party Wall etc. Act, a building owner wanting to do certain types of work is required to serve advance notice on the adjoining owner, spelling out the intended work. Following notice and in the absence of express consent, a dispute is statutorily triggered after 14 days, at which point Section 10 of the Act provides for a dispute resolution procedure whereby either the parties agree on the appointment of a single agreed surveyor, or, more commonly, each appoints their own surveyor to negotiate the matters not agreed. These two surveyors will then identity a third surveyor who will be called on as much or as little as needed to act as an adjudicator on any points that they cannot agree. The surveyors produce an award that can be appealed, although I am glad to say that very few are. Further awards can be made subsequently as necessary.
The reasonable costs of the administration of this process are normally met by the person doing the works, who is statutorily liable for any loss or damage to the adjoining owner. This, of course, is the reasonable loss—the loss that flows from the works notified. The Act contains safeguards and default provisions and, given that this has been around in central London since the 1930s and in England and Wales since 1997, most people understand the process. As it is investigative, the surveyors use their skill and expertise in construction, building condition, property title and tenure, as well as in the functioning of the Act and the professional guidance issued by their various bodies, to resolve matters.
Schedule 23 to the Bill would change much of that for HS2 phase 2a purposes. I am indebted to party wall experts Michael Cooper and Andrew Thompson, who first alerted practitioners to the issues with phase 1 of the HS2 Bill series in an article for the Property Journal. If the Minister or any other noble Lord has not seen that article and would like to do so, I will arrange to send it through by email. They concluded that serious adverse consequences would likely ensue from the operation of the schedule. I am also indebted to Shirley Waldron, another eminent party wall specialist, for her comments which were partly based on her long experience dealing with Crossrail. I am grateful also for the comments of barrister Alex Frame.
The Bill removes the need for any notice under Sections 1, 3 or 6 of the party wall Act. It attempts to disapply the Act for HS2 purposes, but in fact it also appears to override some common law elements by permitting works thereby on neighbouring property without notice. One of the definitions of party wall—although it is not the only one—is that the line of legal boundary bisects the wall or structure in question, making it party. The purpose of notice is of course to alert a neighbour to what is about to happen and to provide details. But it also provides the trigger for a counter notice. It seems impossible that there can be a counter notice facility if no trigger notice is possible in its original form. The disapplication of Section 3 of the party wall Act, which is what Schedule 23 would do, effectively disables the notification process for an extensive list of rights set out in Section 2 of the Act, which begs the question of which of those rights remain. Those rights are important because they exceed common law rights.
The Bill refers to
“(right to repair etc party wall)”.
This formula of words is lifted from the marginal notes to the Party Wall etc. Act, but they are not part of the legislation. This might be taken to mean that Parliament intended something different from the Act, especially shorn of the further recitals of the full list of rights under Section 2(2). Seemingly, the neighbour has no say in all this.
Parts of the Party Wall etc. Act where counter notice might be applicable, as I have mentioned before, seem to be rendered inoperable, particularly where one serves a notice to reduce the height of a party wall under Section 2(2)(m). This has an allied provision in Section 11(7), for the service of a counter notice. However, you cannot serve a counter notice unless the originating notice is there, so the drafting appears defective.
Section 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act, which relates to adjacent excavation and construction, is disapplied for any purposes related to phase 2 work. This is perfectly logical for a major underground scheme in an urban area such as phase 1, or, for that matter, Crossrail, but it is much more questionable for this and later phases, for construction and above-ground work. It is not clear what the definition of “Phase 2a purposes” might be in any given instance and it does not appear to be limited to the type of works specified under the Party Wall etc. Act, though doubtless it will be interpreted liberally in HS2 Ltd’s favour. Party wall legislation, after all, is driven by certain clearly specified types of work and not their purpose.
Moreover, it is not clear whether paragraph 5 of Schedule 23, which refers specifically to “(underpinning of adjoining buildings)”, is consistent with the application to
“anything, for Phase 2a purposes”
as opposed to those defined by Section 6(1) and (2) of the Party Wall etc. Act, which are the two tests governing the degree of proximity of works to another person’s building which require notice.
Protective underpinning of neighbouring structures is at Section 6(3) of the Party Wall etc. Act, but it is disapplied in the circumstances of paragraph 6(2)(a) of Schedule 23 and it is not clear what this part of the Bill seeks to achieve. It seems to be the intention to absolve HS2 Ltd from the obligations while retaining the benefits. I am entirely unclear that it achieves this.
Paragraph 6(2) of the schedule proposes the insertion of new subsection (6B) where underpinning to HS2’s structures is involved. This appears to be an additional requirement, but it then goes on to refer to a procedure for a “consent notice”, as opposed to the normal term, “counter notice”, which inter alia may make further demands on a neighbour wanting to do works. This is misleading terminology because the consent notice can in fact be a notice of dissent.
Save for where the private neighbour needs to carry out work of underpinning to HS2 structures, the power to execute the work is reserved wholly to HS2 Ltd, but at the sole expense of the other neighbour wanting to carry out the works. HS2 Ltd can presumably dictate such terms as it likes, regardless of reasonableness, causes, need or cost of the work.
There is a complicated provision under the schedule’s paragraph 6(2)(b) in relation to new subsection (7A)(b) for notice where a dispute is deemed to have arisen. It seems curious to have a notification process regarding a dispute once the matter is already in the dispute mode. The occasion triggering the requirement of such a notice appears unstated.
The overarching adjoining owner right to be reimbursed for any loss or damage under Section 7(2) of the Party Wall etc. Act is apparently unamended, but it would appear to cut across other matters proposed in this schedule.
Section 7(5) of the Party Wall etc. Act, which is to do with the appointment of surveyors, is disapplied by Schedule 23 in so far as it relates to surveyors acting on behalf of the parties, leaving the matter of any subsequent deviations from the work—which is what that section of the Act refers to—to be settled between the parties. There is no brokerage arrangement for this other than by further arbitration.
The major change is that the resolution of disputes provision under Section 10 of the party wall Act is replaced by a provision for arbitration by a single arbitrator. Again, there is no obvious trigger giving rise to a dispute to which arbitration relates, nor any contractual agreement to refer to. The circumstances are undefined. What if HS2 encounters an unresponsive owner? There is no appointment of surveyors by the owners, nor any third surveyor. There is no process of post-appointment negotiation because no surveyors have been mandated to handle the matter in that way.
No duty applies to the process of investigative brokerage of matters in dispute which no arbitrator can perform, being bound as they are by the Arbitration Act procedures. There is no express obligation on the proposer of the works to meet reasonable or any costs flowing from the proposals, bar the general party wall Act Section 7(2) provision, or the arbitrator’s award, and what happens when one differs from the other I just do not know.
The HS2 Bill goes on to make an insertion at new Section 10(5), referring to
“the notice in respect of which the dispute arises”
suggesting that somewhere in this cat’s cradle, a formal notice of dispute procedure is intended after all, but no provisions for it seems to remain, all the other notifications having been stripped out of the Bill.
This is just a selection of the issues which the Bill raises. More broadly, the basic symmetry of process under the party wall Act would be substantially damaged for the purposes of the Bill, along with the established party wall guidance and precedents. A statutory but fluid framework, focused on consensus, would be replaced by a single-stage legalistic and inflexible one where contention is assumed. It will create rather than defuse divisions and antagonism and is very likely to involve substantial additional costs. It significantly overrides adjacent owner rights, long granted by Parliament and the common law, and even, on one interpretation, fundamental rights granted under international conventions. In other words, the proposed process reverses the very workable arrangements that have been in place for many years and seems to up the stakes unnecessarily.
The suggested engineer-led solution is flawed. Engineers are of course splendid people, but boundaries, title, land law and occupational rights, neighbour impact, specification and remediation of minor works, consequential losses, and compensatable interference with homes and the operation of businesses are not generally within their professional scope. That is why party wall matters are customarily dealt with by surveyors with the necessary training, experience and professional indemnity cover for such work. This gives the impression of an attempt to graft statutory party wall procedures on to an Engineering Council standard form of contract dispute resolution—equivalent to a “cut and shut” in the second-hand car market.
Nobody would dispute the need to govern works being done by a neighbour that would undermine or damage essential operational HS2 infrastructure. Neither would it be unreasonable to disapply Section 6 of the party wall Act for subterranean works. After all, this was done with Crossrail, and it avoids serving innumerable notices. However, if that is the intention, then this is a convoluted way under Schedule 23, and almost certainly ineffective in achieving these aims. Can the Minister reassure me that this is not some pretext for using powers in lieu of the party wall Act provisions? If that is the case, I suggest that it is an entirely improper use of the legislative process.
My assumption is that in amending the party wall Act, it was not the intention to disapply it completely. That might have been one approach, but at no time did those drafting this schedule make any contact with me, as chairman of the relevant RICS professional panel, nor apparently did they consult any other specialist party wall practitioner group, such as the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors or the Pyramus & Thisbe Club. These are the reasons I oppose the Question that Schedule 23 stand part, and I hope the Minister will be able to put my mind at rest, although I sense that she may need to write.
A lot of professionals outside are very worried about the effect of this and think that it will create all sort of problems, with litigation to work out what it actually means. The Minister might like to tell the Committee on whose advice the drafting was concluded. In any event, I suggest that she arrange a specific meeting between the Bill team and experts, including at least one of the specialist barristers working in this field, to discuss this special point about the impact on party wall procedures. Subject to knowing exactly what the Bill seeks to achieve, we can then see if something workable can be put in place so that it does not become a litigators’ paradise. Meanwhile, I ask that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who has put his name to this amendment, and I could meet the noble Baroness and her team to discuss how this should be dealt with in line with trying to achieve the timely progression of the Bill.
My Lords, the Committee will be very much indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for that very full, comprehensive and interesting introduction to the party wall legislation as it applies to HS2. I have been involved in party wall disputes, but on a domestic basis. I assure the Committee that, even at a domestic level, people get very upset about it. It is really important that fairness and transparency is identified all the way along: the result may not be everything that all parties want, but there is definitely a feeling that a fair hearing has been had, that those who caused the problem are having to pay for it and those who suffer are given reasonable but not undue benefits.
I read the article in the Property Journal and I recommend it to all noble Lords, because it is a simple introduction to what I think the Committee must believe is quite a complicated subject. My purpose in speaking now is to try to ensure that a reasonable and fair solution is found to this, because we run the risk, I am told, that if it is not sorted out, there could be some class actions around for people who live adjacent to or above bits of HS2. The example I will quote comes from phase 1, but it is not surprising, because many party wall issues will not appear until the construction is getting close to starting. The text in the legislation is the same in both Bills, so I can give an example to explain what the problem is from my point of view.
I was alerted to this legislation by an eminent engineer, Sam Price, who petitioned against the phase 1 Bill about the approach to Euston, and I helped him a bit with other things, as some noble Lords may remember. One example was a house on the west side of the approach as trains come into Euston, a road called Park Village East. There is a very high brick retaining wall which has stood there for many years, but HS2’s current scheme—I appreciate that it is one of two current schemes—was to excavate down from the footing of that wall, about 10 metres down, and create something that, in cross-section, looked a bit like a birdcage, but of course it was very much bigger than that, with lots of concrete walls, diaphragm walls, concrete structures and everything. There is a fear that this high brick wall, which basically supports the road and the Queen Anne houses behind it, probably does not have any foundations, because it has been there so long.
The owner of one of the houses discovered that HS2 was planning to support this wall, before it started the excavation, by drilling horizontal soil anchors underneath the house, from the wall towards the back of the house, over the length of about 10 houses, and they are big houses. These holes, which might have been two levels of holes at about 1 metre centres, were designed to hold the house up and stop it settling. We can have views about whether that would be suitable, but that does not really matter. My friend Sam Price asked where under the party wall Act is the obligation for the residents of those houses to be given notice that HS2 wishes to do this work. The answer is that they have not been given notice. They hear about the work on the gossip, but not much else.
We looked at this a bit more with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who is a real expert, as I am sure the Committee has understood. It seems that the legislation in the HS2 Act has been developed from the Crossrail legislation—of course, much of Crossrail was underground —which itself was developed from the party wall legislation that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, mentioned. From a quick reading of some of the issues that went on with Crossrail, it appears that there was a major problem near Hanover Square with party wall legislation. I suspect that has something to do with the two or three-year delay to Crossrail and Bond Street station because that has not been resolved. I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that that is it. The problem is that this legislation on HS2 removes the obligation of an adjacent developer to serve advance notice on an owner whose property might be affected and removes the need for a joint condition survey undertaken by a professional surveyor. That is the first nub of it.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, commented that when it comes to being the final arbiter engineers are splendid people, but—. I speak as an engineer, and I think he is absolutely right. Engineers are very good at engineering but they are not surveyors and they are not party wall surveyors. That is an error in the Bill, because the final arbiter should be from the RICS, as in the 1996 legislation. I do not know whether the drafters consulted the RICS but I doubt it.
As it stands, this legislation is very unfair on residents. They will have no alternative but to go down the legal route. They should not be trying to stop HS2, and I do not think they will, but they deserve to be treated fairly. I am afraid I compare it to this. If we think about phase 1—just the section between Euston and Old Oak Common, although there are many other tunnel sections near Birmingham in phase 1 and further up the line—under this legislation the only remedy these people have is a class action, if they can afford it, against HS2. That will be a horrible delay. I am not trying to delay it, but I am trying to get fairness. I refer to our debates over the past few years on the postmasters scandal, which ended up as a class action. It was finally decided that the Post Office had acted illegally and £60 million was awarded against the Post Office, but the lawyers took £58 million of it so the poor old postmasters got nothing. We really do not want that.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has described the problems very well. I have met some of the experts he has read and I commend them. They are really looking for a solution to this that will not delay the project but will stop people trying to go to court because they feel badly treated. I think there is a solution, but I echo noble Lords’ requests for an urgent meeting with the Minister and whoever so that we can take this forward.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Berkeley persuaded me to add my name to this amendment. Having listened to the debate so far, I do not owe him any favours. I suppose that we should congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on his comprehensive knowledge of these matters. He mentioned the Crossrail Bill, which I served on. Fortunately, we did not get involved in the realms of the Party Wall etc. Act at the time, which is perhaps surprising. It also enabled my noble friend Lord Berkeley to return to another of the many other bees in his bonnet, which is the early part of HS1 between Old Oak Common and Euston. I do not think that that has taken the Committee any further forward as far as the debate is concerned.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, why was this particular schedule added to the Bill, bearing in mind the rural nature of the line that we are supposedly discussing, phase 2a of HS2? I repeat that no mention was made of any party wall difficulties during the passage of the Bill through the Select Committee. Perhaps the noble Earl can tell us how many properties he thinks will be affected by Schedule 23 if it is included in the Bill. However, it seems to me that we could be discussing the vagaries of the property world for some considerable time without taking forward the Bill that we should be discussing, which covers phase 2a of HS2.
My Lords, I will not take long, but I want to say simply that when a noble Lord raises an issue of this complexity and technical detail, it deserves to be taken very seriously. While I fully realise that the issue is not really appropriate for debate in Grand Committee because it is much too technical and detailed to encompass within the form of our debates, that does not mean that it is not important. Therefore, I ask the Minister to make sure that when she has had her meeting with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, about the issues concerned she will set out in some form the outcome of those discussions in a letter to all noble Lords who are participating in this part of the debate today.
My Lords, I can only agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, because I too would value a letter that gives some explanation. I have always been rather curious about party walls when looking at buildings, and I have often wondered how the issues are sorted out. I am absolutely delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and no doubt his colleagues at the time, created the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. How to overcome all the conflicting desires of the parties concerned seems to be quite a difficult concept. That legislation has lasted for 24 years and, given the number of party walls you see every day as you move around cities, it must work pretty well.
Surely the essence of taking this forward to this particular application should be to maintain the philosophy of the Act by working with what it says and making the minimum number of modifications and certainly not making modifications that would change the philosophy behind the Act and the fairness that has obviously been worked into it for it to have worked so well.
It seems to me, by just a cursory examination of the Explanatory Notes, that we almost have a cultural issue here. Paragraph after paragraph of this schedule removes various requirements; it takes out ensuring that the landowner does not acquire any rights over phase 2a works under the 1996 Act, et cetera. It is almost a bludgeoning approach to the particular problems of the railway. That goes back to many of the comments made in the debates on this Bill and the almost cultural idea that HS2 seems to need powers that are bullying in nature and very one-sided. I will be interested to hear what the Minister says in response, but I would have thought that this really needs some modification, because it is, in its present form, going to end up involved in massive litigation. That would be bad news for the project, and almost certainly bad news for the private citizens involved. In my business experience, my number one objective has been to try never to go to litigation and to solve problems by agreement. The mechanisms in the 1996 Act that worked towards seeking agreement are removed by this schedule, and I cannot believe that is a good way of going forward. It could well cause delays, expense and unhappiness. I hope that the Government will look at it again.
My Lords, I knew there was a reason why I was looking forward to this one. I would be very grateful if the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, could send me the article about party walls; I am sure that all noble Lords would very much appreciate reading it.
On the Motion to remove Schedule 23, rather than address each of the noble Earl’s points in detail, as I do not feel properly qualified to do that, I shall put forward the Government’s reasons why the schedule should stand part of the Bill. We agree with him that the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 works in most circumstances. However, for major railway projects authorised by Parliament, it is appropriate to modify its provisions to streamline its processes, but also retain its protections for neighbouring owners. This was the approach taken by Parliament for the phase 1 Act and the Crossrail Act 2008, and it is the approach being taken here.
The modifications to the party walls Act in Schedule 23 have developed from those included in the Crossrail Act. The experience from the construction of Crossrail was that compliance with the party walls Act process, even as modified, raised risks to the project programme. It is therefore appropriate to alter the process for the HS2 project, as agreed to for phase 1, to avoid construction delays and associated cost implications.
The provisions in Schedule 23 are identical to those already agreed in the phase 1 Act, so this Bill ensures consistency across the HS2 project. Before I outline the proposed modifications in Schedule 23, I wish to make something clear. The regime I will outline does not apply where the underpinning works to adjoining buildings are due to HS2 excavations. Given the more intrusive nature of such works, a different regime is required. This regime is set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill and provides for the giving of notice; the right for adjoining owners to serve counter notices; for disputes to be referred to arbitration; and for payment of compensation. Similar provisions as regards the underpinning of buildings were made in the phase 1 and Crossrail Acts. I hope that goes some way to reassuring noble Lords that the protections for adjoining owners, where major excavation works are needed, are comprehensive.
I shall now continue briefly to summarise the effect of the proposed modifications in Schedule 23, and their purposes. First, the nominated undertaker, HS2 Ltd, would not have to serve notices under the party walls Act to carry out works to which the Act relates. Therefore, the adjoining owner does not have the opportunity to serve a counter notice. This simplifies the process and time taken for agreeing the works. However, the works would still have to be carried out in accordance with the plans and sections agreed with the adjoining owner, as is the process under the current party walls Act. If they are not agreed, the matter would be referred to a single arbitrator for determination, which I will refer to later.
Secondly, a neighbouring owner carrying out works under the party walls Act would not have an automatic right to place footings or foundations on HS2 land or to carry out works required to safeguard HS2 buildings and structures. The nominated undertaker could elect to carry out any such agreed safeguarding works instead of the neighbouring owner at the neighbouring owner’s expense. These modifications are necessary to protect the railway.
Thirdly, any disputes would be determined by a single arbitrator appointed in default of agreement by the president, at the time, of the Institution of Civil Engineers. This would replace the more cumbersome disputes determination process provided by the party walls Act. The purpose of this modification is to provide a speedier and simpler process for dispute resolution. It would ensure that, in a case involving complex railway works, the dispute was determined by a civil engineer with relevant skills, while leaving flexibility for a surveyor to be appointed where that was appropriate. In other respects, the provisions relating to the dispute process, including costs and appeals to the county court, would be the same as under the party walls Act.
The modifications would still provide safeguards for the adjoining owner including the right to compensation and for expenses to be paid in accordance with the party walls Act; the requirement to be given at least 14 days’ notice of the nominated undertaker’s entry on to land to carry out works, except in the case of emergency; that works are to be executed in accordance with such plans, sections and particulars as may be agreed between the nominated undertaker and the neighbouring owner or, in the event of a dispute, are settled by arbitration; and for disputes to be determined by a single arbitrator under the dispute resolution provided by Schedule 23.
These safeguards protect adjoining owners appropriately. To be clear, under the provisions of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, which still apply, any works required to a party wall would be undertaken at the project’s expense, and compensation would be payable for any damage to the adjoining owner’s property caused by the works to the wall. These safeguards also go alongside the other protections for adjoining owners inside and outside of the Bill. The environmental minimum requirements, through the code of construction practice, provide for the necessary protections to manage and control any potential impacts on people, businesses and the natural and historic environment that may arise from the construction of the works authorised by the Bill.
Finally, we come to the point raised with great insight by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. Are there any party walls on the phase 2a route? The route is rural in nature. It is therefore not expected that many, if any, disputes requiring arbitration under the modified procedure will occur due to the works authorised by this Bill. Where necessary, the modified process would provide a safe and speedy resolution for both the project and the adjoining owner, if indeed there are any party walls on the route.
I shall write in response to the issues raised by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I would be grateful if the noble Earl could give some consideration to, and perhaps clarify, exactly what he would wish to change and why. It is very difficult to deal with a long list of, “I don’t like this, I don’t like that”, rather than understanding, given where we are in the process, what would make the difference to this Bill if it were to be changed.
Following all that, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his objection to the schedule being agreed.
There are no questions to the Minister, so perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, might want to comment briefly on what has been said.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Perhaps I may deal with a few points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. My understanding, having spoken to Shirley Waldron—who I mentioned earlier, and who was closely involved in Crossrail matters—is that Crossrail disapplied only Section 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996; it did not disapply Sections 1 or 3, as the Bill seeks to do. She also told me in a phone conversation that the party wall matters had been completed so long ago that they could not possibly have been responsible for the current delays that have recently come to light. However, that might be only her view. I can confirm on good authority, because I checked today, that no one consulted the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors regarding the drafting of this Bill or, for that matter, the phase 1 Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, raised an interesting point about how many properties might be affected. It is difficult to know because the party wall Act provisions apply not only to party walls but to adjacent excavation and construction near to adjoining owners’ properties. Even with phase 1, in many instances the detailed design has not yet got to the point where an accurate quantification of all those affected in a densely urban area can be calculated. So I have to say that I just do not know. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked the Minister to report to the Committee. I am sure that there will be more to come out of this, and that point is noted.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, gave due praise to the operation of the party wall Act—of which I was not the architect; I was simply what is known in the trade as the parliamentary midwife of a private Bill. However, the provisions have been in existence in the metropolitan area of central London since the 1930s, and the principles of party walls have been with us since the year after the Great Fire. So in enacting legislation in 1996 that was going to apply to the whole of England and Wales, one was drawing on a cadre of very experienced specialists in central London. That experience has been rolled out across the country. It is a philosophical issue and a situation where all the provisions of the party wall Act hang together as a whole. The notification, the counternotification and all that follows, up to the conclusion of the dispute resolution procedure—the way in which it is appealed and the safeguards—are of a piece. They all interrelate. It is quite difficult to unpick bits of the Act without doing some serious mischief to the rest, and I think that that is what this Bill threatens to do.
Turning to the Minister’s comments, I shall certainly send the article out and copy in all noble Lords who spoke in this part of the debate. She referred to the fact that major railway projects authorised by Parliament needed the modification of the Act. I admitted in my initial comments that, certainly in connection with Section 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act, that was done in connection with Crossrail. I do not believe that it went any further than that, and I also believe the fact that the notification provisions in Sections 1 and 2 were still extant and available to Crossrail enabled it to deal with a number of matters that otherwise would have been much more difficult to conclude.
I note what the Minister said about the provisions in other parts of the Bill. Like her, I will have to go away and consider carefully what she actually said, but I think the operation of the Party Wall etc. Act has been misunderstood to some extent, and wide disapplication of Section 3 unravels things that disapplication of Section 6 alone would not. On the question of what would be changed and why, I think the substitution of a heavyweight arbitration process in lieu of what has actually been a very slick and relatively low-cost operation, understood by a large number of people, in terms of the operation of Section 10, is something you dump at your peril.
I think the reason we have not had much blowback, if I can call it that, from phase 1 is because we have not got to that level of detail of design to even get to the point where, if the Party Wall etc. Act had applied, a notice would have been served, because there is still a lot of design work being done. I welcome the opportunity to talk further with the Minister and the Bill team about this. I will endeavour to provide the answers that she seeks, but for the time being I withdraw my objection to the schedule being agreed.
Schedule 23 agreed.
Schedules 24 to 32 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.
That concludes the Committee’s proceedings on the Bill. I remind Members to sanitise their desk and chair before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 7.02 pm.
Committee (1st Day)
Clause 1: Power to construct and maintain works for Phase 2a of High Speed 2
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) The commencement of the scheduled works may not take place until the Secretary of State has presented a bill to Parliament providing for the construction of a high-speed railway from the West Midlands to Leeds.”
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to start the Committee stage of the Bill. On behalf of all noble Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his colleagues, some of whom are here today, for the extraordinary work they did on the Bill in the Select Committee that considered the private interests at stake, which are considerable, given that we are building an entirely new railway. I had the privilege of sitting in on part of the Select Committee’s consideration and was extremely impressed by the way it handled this business. The House is enormously indebted to the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues.
We now come to the public interests at stake. The most important is clearly how the line from Birmingham to Crewe interacts with the wider plan for HS2, and that is what my amendment refers to. The key issue now is the scope of HS2 as a full project. This is clearly the extension of the first phase of HS2, London to Birmingham, which is currently being built. I am glad to say that it is now beyond the point of no return, with 250 construction sites between London and Birmingham, more than £10 billion having been spent and thousands of workers on-site. This is a critical national project for building better after Covid and enhancing the nation’s infrastructure.
However, the question is what the scope of HS2 will be north of Birmingham. Here, I wish to probe the Minister. The plan for HS2—which has been accepted by the Government and is the one laid down by the Labour Government, in which I was privileged to be Transport Secretary—is a 330-mile HS2 scheme extending to Manchester in the north-west and to Sheffield and Leeds in the north-east, in both cases connecting to the main lines going further north: the west coast main line, going on to Liverpool and Glasgow in the west, and the east coast main line, going on to Newcastle and Edinburgh in the east. However, the big issue now arising is what will happen to the eastern leg. By pursuing this measure, the Government are making clear their determination to go on to Manchester, since obviously, a high-speed line is not going to stop at Crewe. Indeed, the Government reaffirmed the detail of the route going into Manchester, including the quite tricky issues regarding the layout of the station and track at Manchester Piccadilly station a few weeks ago.
At the same time, the Government also raised a very big question mark about the line going to Sheffield and Leeds. They did not reaffirm the route. They could have done so because the route was agreed in detail when I was Secretary of State and has been reaffirmed several times since, with amendments to take account of further consultation, in which the biggest issue was the treatment of Sheffield, particularly the genuinely difficult question of whether the eastern leg should go through Sheffield or through Meadowhall, to the east of Sheffield. That has now been resolved, with the plan being to go through Sheffield itself. No one has so far produced a better plan than that, but the Government said a few weeks ago that they intended to consult further on that issue. A whole load of acronyms come into play at this point, with reviews of different lines in the north and how Northern Powerhouse Rail might interact with them. Given that, with any of those different schemes, the ultimate question is whether or not HS2 is built, in a sense they are irrelevant. Obviously, HS2 has to be integrated properly with other lines when it is built, but that does not affect the fundamental question of whether it is built or not.
The general view among stakeholders is that the Government are separating what was going to be a single phase 2b, which would have been Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds, into either a phase 2b and phase 2c—that is, building Crewe to Manchester first and then Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds—or, which I think is much more likely if the two are separated, cancelling the eastern leg. That might not be for ever; I suspect that once the line is built through to Manchester, the wave of concern on the eastern side of the Pennines will be so great that ultimately, we will end up building a line to Leeds. But it will not be part of the original HS2 scheme, and it could be opened 20, 30 or even 40 years after the Manchester line is opened.
So, I am keen to press the Minister on what the Government’s position is. I am expecting her to give me a lot of waffle: words that do not mean anything in terms of a firm commitment. She will tell us that there is a further review—she is nodding—and that it will report by the end of the year. I know all the stuff that is likely to be coming from the civil servants but, because I am still fairly well connected with her department and what is going on, I can say that at the moment a battle royale is taking place within Whitehall as to whether the eastern leg will proceed.
There is a confluence of forces that, unfortunately in this case, are extremely malign. Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, has never liked HS2 and tried to get the whole thing cancelled. He was unable to persuade the Prime Minister of that in respect of the first phase, which is why the Government announced in February that London to Birmingham would definitely go ahead. It would have been truly perverse to have cancelled it at that stage because it was already being constructed, so it is proceeding. Because the part of the Bill dealing with Birmingham to Crewe was already in play and the implied commitment to Manchester was therefore simply too great—there are also some very powerful Conservative forces in Greater Manchester that want the line to proceed—he did not feel strong enough to oppose that.
What he is doing now is seeking to axe the eastern leg by means of endless review, and in this, of course, he has an ally in the Treasury, which has always been sceptical of HS2 because it does not like making big, long-term infrastructure commitments of any kind. With Covid-19 and all the pressures arising thereafter, having a long-standing and further review will, of course, suit its purposes in any event. That is the situation that we face now.
I am not expecting—I am a realist in these matters—that the power of my rhetoric this afternoon will change the Minister’s mind and enable her unilaterally to make declarations that she would not otherwise make. I am well aware of what is going to come in a few minutes’ time. I am making these remarks—and will repeat them on Report—and hoping to build a coalition of supporters, particularly those who are affected by what might happen on the eastern leg, in order to build up public pressure on the Government. As with the first phase of HS2, it is only public pressure, particularly in relation to the impact on the levelling-up agenda—which the Government themselves say they believe in, and which will, of course, be wrecked if HS2 goes only one side of the Pennines—that will force the Government ultimately to commit to building both the eastern and the western legs.
In that cause, let me make clear, as the original architect of the scheme, why the eastern leg is so important. The three big arguments for HS2—capacity, connectivity and speed—are interconnected and apply equally to the eastern leg of HS2 through to Leeds as they do to the western leg through to Manchester. The capacity constraints of the Victorian railway—or, I should say, in large part the pre-Victorian railway, because the London-to- Birmingham railway opened before the coronation of Queen Victoria and is nearly 200 years old now—were just as great over time, although not immediately as great, on the Midland main line, which goes to Sheffield from St Pancras, and the east coast main line, which goes to York and Newcastle from King’s Cross. This was an absolutely critical factor in persuading Sir David Rowlands, the first chairman of HS2, and me, as Secretary of State, to proceed with the integrated plan for both the eastern and western legs. If we do not proceed with HS2 going through to both Manchester and Leeds, ultimately we will have to upgrade the Midland main line and the east coast main line, which would be ferociously expensive.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is speaking after me; he is a very eminent railway engineer and manager. My noble friend Lord Berkeley is in the Grand Committee as well. They might not be aware of it, but they were hugely influential in my making the decision to go east as well as west, because when I was Secretary of State, they came to present to me a plan for the upgrade of the east coast main line. The east coast main line, as noble Lords who know about the layout of the railways may know, has massive capacity constraints. In particular, the Welwyn Viaduct, which is very close to the beginning of the line at King’s Cross, is a huge and really problematic bottleneck on the line. It is one of the biggest viaducts in the country and can take only two tracks of what is otherwise a four-track railway, going all the way through to the Midlands. It would be ferociously expensive to widen, quite apart from the big planning battles that would ensue and the fact that there are big commuter flows across that line; Welwyn North station is actually on the edge of the viaduct.
When the noble Lords presented their plan to me in 2009, it entailed a £12 billion incremental upgrade of the east coast main line. I hope that I am not telling any stories out of school when I say that the moment that the two noble Lords left my office, the chief engineer of HS2, who was present with me at the meeting, said, “You can double all of those figures immediately” and that was then, in 2009. The chief engineer said that the cost of replacing Welwyn Viaduct alone—which is what would have to be done—would be several billion pounds. The cash cost is only the beginning of the problems that would be faced in upgrading the east coast main line, because, of course, the cost of disruption of one of the busiest main lines in the country would also have to be faced.
The cost of disruption was a big factor in the decision to go ahead with HS2, rather than carrying through yet another upgrade of the west coast main line. As noble Lords will be aware, in 2009 we had only just completed the previous upgrade of the west coast main line, which cost—in 2000 prices—£9 billion. It would be significantly more than that now to conduct a further upgrade. Of that £9 billion, £1 billion was needed to pay train operating companies not to run trains, because there were very complicated and expensive compensation payments. That did not begin to compensate private individuals and companies for the inconvenience and disruption costs of not having a railway for this period, which had been going on for the best part of 10 years. All those arguments will apply to the Midland main line and the east coast main line if there have to be upgrades because it is not possible to extend HS2 through to Leeds.
A final significant factor is connectivity and the economic benefits. In the original White Paper on HS2 in March 2010 there is, to my mind, an absolutely critical table giving the gross value added by town and city relative to London, since London is the economic, as well as the political, capital of this country and has by far the highest gross value added—that is straightforward wealth—of any settlement in the land. This shows that the areas with the highest gross value added in England are almost without exception those that are, by travelling distance, an hour or less from London. Travelling distance is the key determinate here: it is not geographical distance; it is travelling distance by rail from London. That is why most of the major commuting centres that are so wealthy in and around London are within an hour of commuting. This is an absolutely critical premise on which HS2 is founded and is why speed and connectivity come into the argument about capacity and economics as well. The key factor of HS2 is that it brings our three greatest Midlands and northern cities—Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds—all within an hour of London. Because of some route changes that have been made in the cases of Manchester and Leeds, some are slightly more than an hour, but they are still basically within an hour. Once we get faster running of the trains on this line, they will all be within an hour.
If we do not proceed with the eastern leg of HS2—and that is dependent on the existing conventional lines being upgraded in due course—the travel times from London to these great cities will be as follows: half an hour from London to Birmingham; an hour from London to Manchester; two hours from London to Leeds; and three hours from London to Newcastle. There is therefore a factor of two and three in respect of Leeds and Newcastle. This will decimate the economies of the eastern Pennine cities and the north-east if they suffer that degree of disadvantage in connectivity and time-distance from London. It is not just London either: the integrated nature of HS2 means that the north is integrally connected not just with London but with Birmingham.
Birmingham is the second city in the country, but because it was linked by Victorian railways, all of which were competing and separate, Birmingham is effectively a branch line on the west coast main line. That is why it takes almost as long to get from Birmingham to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds as it does to get from London to Manchester and London to Leeds. An integral part of HS2 is that Birmingham will be the first stop on it; it dramatically reduces the journey times from Birmingham to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds to half an hour in both cases. However, if the HS2 eastern leg is not built, we will have a half-hour journey time from Manchester to Birmingham, but a one-and-a-half to two-hour—depending on where you are going from—journey time from Leeds and the east Midlands through to Birmingham.
All of these factors combined would be catastrophic for the economies of Yorkshire and the east Midlands if the western leg of HS2 proceeds without the eastern leg. These are hugely important issues—and I apologise for detaining the Committee for longer than normal—that go to the whole future economic and social geography of this country. It is vital that we proceed with the eastern as well as the western leg of HS2. Although I do not think that my remarks this afternoon will have persuaded the Minister to make any dramatic statements in her reply, I hope that they will strongly encourage the political and business leaders of the east Midlands and Yorkshire to campaign ferociously for the eastern leg of HS2 to proceed alongside the western leg; otherwise, we will proceed with, in effect, just half of the project for levelling up the Midlands and the north. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I was in the House when he introduced the original high-speed rail proposals. I think I appended a plaudit to his name then: I said that he was a sort of second Brunel, because at least he had the vision as to what could happen rather than thinking how difficult it was to do everything. It is extraordinarily difficult. I do not applaud the way in which HS2 has gone about it. It has been slow, it has been extravagant and it could have done the job better, but there remain important things to be done.
I wish to start by talking about the east Midlands, which has the lowest attainment and the lowest social mobility of the whole country. It is low down in the Government’s plans for investing any money anywhere, and it is extremely important that it be brought back into the fold, because much of the area is shamefully neglected. Train journeys from places such as Lincoln, Leicester and Derby into Birmingham average only about 30 miles per hour. That sort of speed would be quite unacceptable to people in other parts of the country.
This morning we saw published an RAC motoring report which somewhat joyfully hailed the death of public transport and the fact that at some point in the future we would have cars that emitted no pollution. It said that people would flock to their cars. In fact, congestion is caused by the vehicles being there, and previous attempts to build our way out of congestion on the roads have generally been an abject failure and have cost the country huge sums of money.
In Birmingham is an organisation called Midlands Engine, which reports up the various channels to a mayor in Birmingham who I believe is an avid Conservative. But go and talk to him about what he thinks about cutting a large part of the east Midlands out of the benefits which come from having a high-speed railway.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned the Welwyn viaduct. It is an impossible obstacle. I have tried many times in my railway career to see how it might be overcome, including by going to New Zealand at my own expense to see how the Japanese had attached wings to Auckland Harbour Bridge to make the road wider. That sort of thing cannot be done on a railway. Nothing but destruction would be wrought over the whole valley for a long time if anybody were to attempt to rebuild that viaduct.
As the noble Lord said, there is an extremely complicated compensation system, designed at privatisation, that perversely means that when you set out to improve a railway, the people you are improving it for get compensation for your efforts. It is a most ridiculous system which I hope might be one of the things addressed in the review of the railway which Keith Williams started—but I do not quite know where that is now.
One good thing to come out of recent developments in HS2 is the concept of a through station at Manchester. When we talk about the north-east, we see the need for a through station at Leeds, because the concept of terminus stations in the middle of high-speed lines is a very stupid one. I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has said. It is incumbent on the Government to come clean, particularly with the large number of people in the east Midlands, many of whom voted for them at the last election, and to say, “Yes, we are going to build better, a lot better, because, by rebuilding, we can not only restore fast services but free up local services, which are so awful, and bring them up to modern standards”. I hope that the Minister might have some encouragement for us at the end of this debate.
My Lords, it would probably be quite difficult to find two people who think more differently about the first leg of HS2 than me and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I disagree with a large part of what he said: the first leg is a dinosaur of a project. It is economically and environmentally disastrous. That it has gone ahead in spite of the Treasury and Dominic Cummings being against it staggers me—something has clearly gone wrong there.
However, I support the amendment, because it is important that there is a shape to the future. At the moment, I know that people in the north are extremely worried that HS2 will be seen by the Government as something that serves London, with the north forgotten. The Government have said that a Bill for the northern part of HS2 will not be brought forward until they have developed their overall strategy for rail transport in the north. That means that they could abandon that part of HS2 as well as the east-west railway, which Boris Johnson specifically promised as part of the Conservative manifesto and probably helped him win the election and the seats in the north. Without extending to the north, HS2 has zero hope of delivering on the already questionable value-for-money assessment conducted by the Government. Quite honestly, the north will judge the Government on whether its railways go ahead.
My Lords, I want to say how much I agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in his comprehensive speech. I was on the committee and, of course, I want this Bill to go ahead, but it is pretty pointless unless we see it as part of a much bigger project, which is to close the gaps between the north of England, the Midlands and London. I strongly support the argument that the eastern arm must go ahead, but I also support the idea that massive rail improvements must be attached to HS2. There must be an HS3-style cross-Pennine route; there must be a lot of investment in the provincial services that would link the towns of the north to the cities with HS2 links. This is a very grand project for Britain, but we have to face the fact that in terms of regional inequality we are one of the worst cases, if not the worst case, in western Europe. We have to do something to address that.
The Government have made a lot of their commitment to the levelling-up agenda. My view is that that agenda is not scattering around odd tens of millions in trying to brighten up town centres in the north of England; it should be a comprehensive plan for improving connectivity across the whole country, of which HS2 is a fundamental part.
I am speaking to your Lordships from Cumbria, and I am a Cumbria county councillor. A lot of my colleagues say to me, “Why are you so keen on HS2? That’s not going to do anything much for us.” I think it is. Those who say we should be spending our money instead on improving the Cumbria coastal line—well, yes, of course we should, for instance, be improving that; it is a provincial railway that needs much improvement—but the whole point of these local improvements is that we have to have much greater connectivity with the cities, London and the south-east.
I would like to make one point about poor connectivity in the north of England. There was a little flurry of debate over the summer about whether the House of Lords should be relocated to York. It would take me longer to get from Carlisle to York on the train than it does from Carlisle to London, so poor is the connectivity in the north of England. I would like to see very fast connections to London but also, as part of this, fast connections across the Pennines. This would make the journey to York, and places in the east Midlands, an awful lot quicker as well. We have this comprehensive plan for improving transport connectivity, and we are either serious about this levelling-up agenda or we are not. We need to know from the Government what their position is.
After the next speaker, I will call the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who is present in the Grand Committee.
My Lords, first, I must pray for your indulgence, as a Member of your Lordships’ House who has not been here long enough to understand in depth all our procedures in handling legislation. My experience of procedure was gained in the other place. It was perhaps that background which made me think, as I looked at the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that it had all the smack of the Second Reading debate about it. Indeed, in the content of the speeches made already, we have ranged pretty far away from the literal purposes that could be ascribed to the amendment. However, I doff my metaphorical hat in the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, recognising that he probably has greater paternity rights for HS2 than any other colleague.
It is a project that does excite me, for all sorts of different reasons. I am a Yorkshireman, and I certainly would be stung by any possibility that the full concept of HS2 was not to be completed, and that east of the Pennines was going to be neglected. I represented a Greater Manchester seat for a number of years in the House of Commons, and I also have great feeling for the mood that, somehow, the north—be it one side of the Pennines or the other—has been left behind. Therefore, I am heartened by the commitment that the Government have shown so far, even if it does not go as far as some noble Lords would wish.
I could also extend my geographical connections to the Welwyn Viaduct. I worked in Welwyn Garden City for about 10 years and it was a sight I saw every day. I recognise the tremendous constraints that presently exist on that railway. But I do not see how this amendment—although it has been the spark for the wide-ranging debate we have been having—actually helps matters, so far as the construction of phase 2a is concerned. It would be a danger, in fact: if we were to have prolonged debate about the necessity of HS2 phase 2b, that could actually delay progress on the West Midlands to Crewe section of the railway.
My last point is that the Government cannot afford to waste the political capital that they may be said to have gained in the last couple of years by their commitment, now confirmed, to this railway. It is fundamental to their credibility that progress must be made. I do not think that any lingering doubts that have been legitimately expressed by my noble colleagues should stop us cracking on with HS2 phase 2a. That in itself will create a momentum to see that, in due time, the whole job gets done.
My Lords, I thank the Select Committee and the chair for the report. At least two colleagues who are speaking to this amendment—the noble Lords, Lord Snape and Lord Liddle—were on the Select Committee and I think it did a good job. My only concern is that the House has not had the opportunity to receive the report formally and debate it, but that is something for a different day.
I do not support this amendment, but not for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, might think. Whatever the timings of phase 2a—we can debate those at length—I think the Government are right to think again on 2b, particularly the east side. I hope they will also think again on the last part into Manchester. Several noble Lords have talked about the importance of regional services and I suppose my vision would be to see the north—and the Midlands—get a rail service that is as good as the commuting service around London. I think most noble Lords would agree that there is a big difference between them at the moment. That really affects the customers. You have to remember that most rail customers in those areas are doing short or medium journeys every day—or they were before coronavirus—and a lot of them are doing them by car. If the services were better, more reliable and more frequent, maybe, I think a lot of them would transfer to rail, which is good for the environment.
We have to debate whether it is more important for people in those centres to get to London more quickly or to go elsewhere. I was struck, going around with a short consultation for the Oakervee report, how many of the people we talked to in the regions were actually just as interested in going north—from, say, Leeds to Newcastle—as they were in going to London. As my noble friend Lord Liddle has said, he can get to London very quickly but he could not get to York quickly if the House ever moved there. He is actually arguing, with me, that the importance of regional services needs to be incorporated into the rethink of HS2—if this is what is happening.
The other thing about the present HS2 design is that it is wrong to terminate at buffer stops at Manchester and Leeds. The trend across Europe for many years has been not to have buffers if you can run trains straight through, because that saves a lot of space and perhaps a lot of cost, and gives much more flexibility. Of course, it is better for the passengers, too. Brussels, Lille and Lyon Satolas are examples. I could explain them all, but I do not think I need to. I hope that the Government will therefore take the time to listen to the various interests in the north and the Midlands and come up with a plan that integrates local and regional services with any faster link to London that they plan.
My other reason for wanting to speak today is to do with money. I am not going to start arguing about how much HS2 might or might not cost, but there is a question about how it might be financed. My understanding has always been that government would like to see HS2 financed in the private sector, certainly when the construction has moved forward. Of course, this is what happened with HS1, which, I think, was sold off to the private sector for about £2 billion.
HS1 is now in quite serious financial trouble because its revenue from Eurostar is evaporating, as are the Eurostar services. I am told that there will be only one return journey a day to Brussels and one to Paris from the beginning of December. Okay, the Javelins are still running, thanks to government support for domestic services, but I have to ask what the Government are doing to preserve the Eurostar service and HS1 while the coronavirus is stopping people travelling.
As the Minister will know, I have been asking for a long time how much money the Government are giving to the different modes of transport internationally from the UK to other parts of Europe and the Republic of Ireland. I am always told that that is confidential, but I can help her with that if she does not want to tell me. I can tell her from publicly available information that the Government are spending about £1.4 billion on helping the ferry services and the ports support Brexit, which I have no complaint about. There was the £12 million for the non-existent ferry service, which noble Lords will remember. Ministers seem very keen to spend a lot of money on the airlines. The Secretary of State made a speech on 19 October on sorting out airport slots. I am not sure why we need to sort out the slots, because nobody is flying much these days. The Government are spending £55 million on furlough for aviation employees, deferring loans and taxes, and providing £1.8 billion through Covid corporate financing, which, apparently, is 11% of total national funding under that programme, covering the whole sector.
We have to ask: why are the Government not doing anything to help the cross-channel passenger rail service? Noble Lords may know that, across Europe, the Commission has recommended that every member state reduce infrastructure charges or eliminate them entirely. France has done it for freight, and I hope it will do it for passengers. Eurostar, however, is losing £1 billion in revenue this year. This really cannot go on. What will it do? If it goes bust, presumably, it can sell the trains to the Germans because they work in Germany quite well. If ever anybody wanted to start going by train across the channel, it would probably take five years or so to get new trains. Surely there is a solution. HS1, when it was owned by the state, made about £2 billion for the Treasury. Surely the Treasury could give a little bit of it back.
I raise that issue in the context of this amendment to question gently: what is the point of building a new high-speed line north of London—be it 1, 2a, 2b west or 2b east, in any order we like—if the Government show so little support for high-speed rail as to allow HS1 possibly to go bust? If that happens, who in the private sector will invest in HS2 when they see the shabby way the Government are apparently treating the investors and owners of HS1 and Eurostar? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I support the principle behind this amendment. We need a clear statement from the Government endorsing the full HS2 project. Anything less would fundamentally undermine the economic and social case for HS2.
Building only phase 1, from London to Birmingham, would simply make Birmingham a suburb of London, bringing it within the commuter belt. Building only phase 2a would destroy much of the economic case for high-speed rail, because only the more southerly parts of the western route would benefit from the regenerative impact of HS2, and the possibilities for improving local rail connectivity in the Midlands and the north would be much diminished. Put all this together and HS2 becomes much more questionable as an investment.
Sums that seemed eye-watering only nine months ago seem rather less daunting now that we have experienced in recent months the short-term government expenditure necessary to save us from catastrophe. But the pandemic has proved that we now need to invest for a greener future and a more sustainable way of living, and HS2 is a vital part of that.
Reference has been made in this debate to a recent lack of passengers on the railways and other impacts of the coronavirus. We are going to move on from this; there will be a time when people get back on to the railways, and the buses. It is important that the Government encourage people to do that. Therefore, HS2 and its progress need to be part of that picture.
Nevertheless, we still have to ensure value for money, which you do not get if you abandon the full concept of HS2 in the name of cost-cutting. Instead, you destroy the economic case and undermine the environmental benefits, because you are not producing a high-speed railway that is able to compete with internal flights and long-distance car journeys. HS2 will provide additional capacity, taking long-distance passengers off existing lines and leaving spare capacity for more freight and for shorter journeys and commuter trips.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, raises the key issue of continuity. Building a railway is rather like having a mobile factory. The equipment and the skills move along the line with you as you build. Pause the process and the skilled workers disappear to other jobs and the equipment is repurposed, sold off and so on. Getting it all together again costs a lot more than just moving seamlessly on.
Behind this are the lessons of the electrification of the Great Western line, which reveal that message clearly. Expensive mistakes were made in the early stages because it was so long since any electrification of the railways had been done in UK that the expertise had to be built up from scratch. Further projects will inevitably be more cost-efficient, because the expertise, materials and equipment are all available now.
HS2 is, of course, already running well behind the original schedule, so there is a need to build it as quickly as possible. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, addresses that issue in its intention. There is already talk that phase 2b might not be complete until 2040. That is totally unacceptable. The north-east, and the north beyond Crewe in the west, need regeneration now. HS2 is a large piece of the jigsaw of initiatives that are needed.
On 7 October, the Government announced a consultation on several aspects of phase 2b. That closes on 11 December. Can the Minister tell us when the results of that consultation are likely to be made public and what she thinks will be the timescale for the Government’s decisions on it?
We can already see the regenerative impact of HS2 in Birmingham, and shovels are hardly in the ground. The north-east leg via Nottingham to Leeds, and the further part of the western leg to Manchester, need the certainty of the Government’s unequivocal commitment to the whole of HS2 now. I will listen to the tone of the Minister’s response with great interest.
My Lords, in general, we view the amendment favourably. It seems to have two points to it. The first is to try to secure some continuity, as spelled out by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. The concept of continuity in railway construction is a sound one. Unfortunately, it is a sound principle that we tend not to keep to. The key part of the amendment seems to be the question of whether Her Majesty’s Government will commit to building HS2 phase 2b to Leeds in full. For the avoidance of doubt, Labour’s answer is that we fully support the HS2 concept and the concept that phase 2b should be built to Leeds in full.
I think we already know what the Minister will say. Andrew Stephenson was asked this question in the other place on 22 October. He said that
“when the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead to HS2 in February this year, he said that we were committed to delivering phase 2b but how phase 2b was delivered would be subject to the integrated rail plan. We have been making significant progress with the integrated rail plan. Sir John Armitt and the National Infrastructure Commission have already published their interim report. We look forward to their further recommendations and to responding to them before Christmas.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/20; col. 1213.]
That caused me to look up the interim report, since it seems central to how the question posed in the amendment will be answered. When I found it and skimmed through it, I came up with two questions. The first is very simple: when will the final report on this issue be published? The interim report promises that it will be published in November. It should be noted that Andrew Stephenson said that it would be published by Christmas. If it were published in November, it might be available before we get to Report, which would be extremely useful. When does the Minister expect the report to be published and when does she expect the Government’s response?
The other perhaps disturbing feature of the interim report is the commitment to a very different methodology from that used in the past. Essentially, what is said about a plan depends on the methodology and assumptions in the analysis that answers the question, to what extent and to what standard should the railway be built? Can the Minister assure the Committee that the methodology and assumptions will produce an answer no less favourable to the Leeds branch than those used in HS2? Put another way, if the criteria used in the original HS2 decision would say yes to Leeds but the new criteria say no, surely, this cannot be levelling up. I have seen precious few examples of levelling up, and a failure to build HS2 phase 2b to Leeds—indeed, a failure to build HS2 in full—surely is a statement that the commitment to levelling up is meaningless.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for tabling the amendment and all noble Lords who have taken part in this first debate in Committee on the HS2 phase 2a Bill. Before I go any further, on behalf of the Government, I extend my sincere thanks to the Select Committee. I am particularly grateful that its members agreed to undertake hearings for petitioners virtually. That was the first time this had been done and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the other committee members did an incredible job in the most challenging of circumstances. Where petitioners chose to appear in person, the committee undertook hearings in a hybrid fashion and handled all the different ways of working with ease. I therefore put on record my thanks, and those of the Secretary of State and the Government as a whole, for its work and ensuring that we maintained momentum on this incredibly important Bill.
Turning, then, to the debate on this first amendment, I note that many noble Lords know what I will say. I hope I will not disappoint and that I will get my words right. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is a great and very knowledgeable advocate for HS2 and I thank him for his continuing support for and dedication to getting the railway built, and for setting out so passionately his reasoning. Despite my appreciation for the noble Lord’s tenacity, I do not see that the amendment is needed. I also feel that potentially, it is very unhelpful.
There is simply no benefit or technical justification for making the progress of work on this section of railway—a very short one of just 36 miles, going from the West Midlands to Crewe, also known as phase 2a —contingent on the deposit of a Bill for the eastern leg of phase 2b. While the Bill is part of a much bigger project, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, the amendment would delay works on phase 2a by a significant period, given the scale and complexity of hybrid Bills and the time needed for their preparation.
All being well, if we can get this Bill through your Lordships’ House, we expect work to commence in the early part of next year. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that there is a window in the early part of next year in which the work needs to start; much of it is environmental work that is sometimes limited by the time of year in which it can take place. We do not want anything to delay the passage of the Bill and, therefore, the start of the works for phase 2a. Secondly, those works are intrinsically linked to work going on in phase 1. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, noted, continuity is really important. The two works will eventually proceed alongside one another. Therefore, it would be better to get the Bill through.
We have come a long way in the last 12 months or so since Second Reading. We had the Oakervee review, in which Douglas Oakervee said that the whole of HS2 should go ahead, but that the Bills for phase 2b —there will be Bills, not a single Bill—should not be introduced to Parliament before the publication of the integrated rail plan, which, as noble Lords will have heard me say before, is due to be published by the end of the year. Delaying the beginning of works on phase 2a until an eastern leg Bill has been deposited in Parliament would serve only to delay the phase 2a works and the benefits of HS2 reaching the north and the Midlands.
When this section of phase 2a was brought forward ahead of the rest of phase 2 of HS2 back in 2015, the idea was to accelerate the benefits that this 36-mile section secures. Events since that acceleration announcement in November 2015 have conspired to delay this Bill, which is why it is so important that we maintain momentum now. Nevertheless, I reassure all noble Lords that plans to provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond will be confirmed following the publication of the integrated rail plan. Both the Prime Minister and the Transport Secretary have been clear that it is not a case of “2b or not 2b”, and that a properly connected line from the Midlands up to the north will be a key part of the HS2 project.
As the Prime Minister recently confirmed, there will be a doubling down on the strategy to level up across the country. Delivering HS2 is a major part of it and the integrated rail plan, which looks specifically at connectivity, is a major part of getting it right. While I empathise with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and other noble Lords in wanting to have a debate about the broader aspects of the HS2 project, that is not for now. It is not for Committee on the phase 2a Bill, but I will write if there is further information on some of the points raised by noble Lords.
I want to see works on this section of the railway under way as soon as possible. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, wants to see that too and, on the basis of this reassurance, I trust he feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister.
I am grateful to all colleagues who have spoken, and to the Minister for replying to the debate. To be absolutely clear, I have no intention whatever of seeking to delay phase 2a. This amendment is a device to get a debate on what is to happen to the scheme as a whole. I am completely with all of my colleagues who have said that the importance of this is that we cannot see phase 2a in isolation. We obviously would not build a 36-mile high-speed railway in isolation; the interaction between phases 2a and 2b is the essence of the project, and I therefore make no apology for tabling this amendment.
A lot of good points were raised in the discussion. I fully respect the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, did not support the project to start with but she made the critical point that to build a railway stopping in Birmingham, and therefore to deny the north the benefits of the scheme and extend them only to the Midlands, would be perverse and counterproductive.
The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the importance of continuity and mobile factories was very well made. One reason why our infrastructure costs are so high in this country is because of the stop-go attitude we have adopted historically to the building of major infrastructure. She mentioned the electrification of the Great Western Railway, which I also authorised when I was Secretary of State. The estimate that I was given then, in 2009, for the entire cost of the electrification of the Great Western from London right through to Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea was £1 billion. The noble Baroness can probably tell me what the latest estimate is, but when I last checked I think it was heading towards £4 billion, and it has been substantially descoped. For example, it is not going to Bristol Temple Meads but will now stop at Cardiff, which I would be very concerned about if I was in south Wales, and it has been massively delayed. That goes to the heart of the point the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, made about continuity in projects. If we separate Birmingham to Leeds from Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester, and turn it into a separate project with discontinuity between the two, that alone would probably ultimately double or triple the cost of the project, as well as delaying it and therefore delaying its economic benefits.
My noble friend Lord Liddle said that there is a debate in the further north-west, going up towards Scotland in Carlisle and Cumbria, about the benefits. He is absolutely right that there will be direct benefits because it will take an hour off the journey time to Carlisle from London. However, he said that the saving in journey time would be to London and the south-east in that respect. It is absolutely crucial to understand that there is also a massive journey time saving to the Midlands, because the first stop on the line out of London is in the West Midlands and that is a huge benefit to the north-west, as it would be to the east Midlands and to Leeds if the eastern leg is built.
I am not going to respond to all the other points raised, except to congratulate my noble friend Lord Berkeley on his massive ingenuity in bringing in the services to Paris and Brussels. The Minister did not rise to that challenge but I assume that she will address it in due course.
Coming to the Minister’s response, I am now much more concerned. She speaks with such elegance that she is of course beguiling, but what she actually said in the content of her speech left me much more concerned after than before. She said something which I was not aware of before, but which I will take up and probe significantly on Report. She said that there will be Bills—plural—for phase 2b. I have never seen that stated by the Government in the past. It was always the intention, and I thought it still was the formal intention of Her Majesty’s Government, that phase 2b —that is, Crewe through to Manchester and Birmingham through to Leeds—would be encompassed in one hybrid parliamentary Bill, not more. Because I have sat on both sides of the fence, not just as Secretary of State but when in more recent times I was privileged to be on the board of HS2, I know that three years ago we were then preparing for a single Bill to take HS2 from Crewe through to Manchester, and Birmingham through to Sheffield and Leeds. I think that under the constrained proceedings of the Grand Committee, the Minister cannot respond to me again but maybe she might respond me to in writing.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will know that because the hybrid Bills sometimes prove so challenging to get through, if they are too large, it was one of the recommendations of Oakervee to produce smaller Bills. It is, therefore, yes, one of the things that the Government are looking at.
I was not aware that the Government had stated that it was now their policy. The Minister has said that it is a matter of government policy this afternoon and that there would definitely not be a single Bill, so is it now the Government’s policy to separate the two?
My Lords, I say to my colleagues and friends who lead local authorities and are MPs for constituencies in the east Midlands and Yorkshire that they should take careful note of that extremely significant statement, because what it means is—and just at that point, the Division Bell rings.
But that is not for us.
Is it not? It is the Commons? It is so confusing. What that means is that the east Midlands—which has all the challenges of deprivation and economic growth referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in his opening remarks—and Yorkshire will now definitely be downgraded relative to the north-west in the construction of HS2.
The important point about the separation of the hybrid Bills is that it will not just mean that the phasing is now separated, which risks the continuity referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe—he has huge experience of constructing railways, as a former managing director of London Underground, so he absolutely understands this point. If the Bills are to be handled and passed separately, it is also very likely that there will be a substantial period between what is now to become phase 2b and phase 2c—Birmingham to the east Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds—even if the Government proceed with phase 2c. The separation of the Bills makes it all the more likely that phase 2c will be delayed for a substantial period beyond phase 2b.
I am grateful to the Minister for replying to the debate but I am more concerned after her remarks than I was before, and I hope that local authority and political leaders in the east Midlands and Yorkshire will have taken very careful note of what the Government have said today—a categorical statement that they intend to downgrade and possibly deny entirely the benefits of HS2 to the east Midlands and Yorkshire.
As I said, there is a problem of language here. The Minister said it was the Government’s policy to provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands and Yorkshire. There is no way you can provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands and Yorkshire unless you provide high-speed rail to the east Midlands and Yorkshire. The Government are using weasel words such as “benefits of” without making the commitment which must flow from that if these words are to have real meaning—actually to build the high-speed line. The Minister is smiling at me but the one thing she will not do, and has not done today, is make a commitment actually to build this railway. I say to her, as I say to the local authority leaders and MPs in these regions, that they must not accept a shedload of waffle from the Government about benefits, reviews, staging or integrated plans if there is not a commitment actually to build the railway.
At the end of the day there will either be a railway or not be a railway and the whole tendency of government policy at the moment is not to build the railway from Birmingham to Leeds, and that will have a really devastating impact on the society and economies of the east Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east if that is the case. I make no apology for raising this issue. I will return to it on Report. But at this stage—does the Minister wish to come back? I am very keen that she does.
She would like to very briefly come back. I will not take a shedload of waffle from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, either. He has taken a simple statement—that a very large and complex Bill may be broken up into smaller Bills to make it more manageable—in a direction which certainly was not the intention of those words and I cannot believe he has been able to read that into them. Be that as it may, all I have done is confirm that one big Bill may be split into smaller Bills. That is it.
We cannot have a debate. To clarify the procedure: if the proposer of an amendment, in their winding-up remarks, asks a further question of the Minister, the Minister may respond to those remarks. There is not then the opportunity—
Minister? You are fine?
Just to clarify again: if the proposer of an amendment, in their winding-up remarks, raises a question for the Minister, the Minister may respond to it. We cannot have a further debate in Grand Committee under the current system.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clauses 2 to 22 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
2: After Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on the excavation of burial sites and removal of monuments
(1) Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a review of the excavation of burial sites and the removal of monuments undertaken in the process of construction relating to works authorised by this Act.(2) The review must make an assessment of how successful the operations listed in subsection (1) were, in particular with reference to—(a) consultation with local residents; and(b) the response from the wider public.(3) The report may make a recommendation as to how the operation of future excavations and removals of monuments relating to works authorised by this Act can be improved.”
My Lords, this is very much a probing amendment, designed to give the Minister the opportunity to place on the record a description of the approach that HS2 intends to take to a very sensitive issue and to explain the lessons it feels it has learned from the experience of phase 1.
Briefly, Schedule 20 deals with the removal of remains and monuments from burial grounds. This featured as a major issue in phase 1, in both Euston and Birmingham. It attracted a great deal of publicity and aroused some public concern that on occasions the approach was rather heavy-handed. In Birmingham 6,500 skeletons were exhumed from a 19th-century graveyard; in Euston it was 50,000 skeletons. It took three years to do this and it counts as one of the UK’s largest ever archaeological programmes. We have learned a great deal about the past, not just from the gravestones but from various other artefacts.
There are no known burial grounds on the route up to Crewe for HS2 but there is always a possibility that one might be found and, assuming that 2b is built—as I hope—there are likely to be similar issues there.
The provisions in the Bill set out the procedures required of HS2 and there is an assumption that if remains are more than 100 years old, there is unlikely to be an objection from relatives of the deceased. There are provisions in the Bill to allow archaeological examination where appropriate and to allow all this to be done within an appropriate timescale, so that relatives may apply to remove and rebury remains, if they wish. Can the Minister assure us that this worked smoothly and sensitively in relation to phase 1?
Then there are provisions on how the monuments should be dealt with, including their removal and re-erection, the right to move them to another place—I assume that this means a museum, in general—and the right to deface them or break them up. That is an issue on which I wish to press the Minister. How exhaustive will the searches and historical studies be before what are historical records, in essence, are defaced? Do we have guarantees that it is not left just to HS2 to decide whether or not these gravestones are important? Are academics, genealogists, local records offices and other relevant people fully involved and are full records kept and placed in the public domain?
We should bear in mind that when you visit a graveyard, that is always a public domain. You are free to look round, consider and view the history that is there. It is important that if, for example, photographs are taken, they are public and easily accessible to those wishing to research history. The historian in me always worries when the destruction of historical records occurs. I accept that keeping thousands of gravestones may be impractical, but we need the record of what they were so that the lives of the people concerned are not completely erased from our history. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will be brief. I have enormous sympathy for what the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is saying, as a sort of historian myself, who appreciates wanting to understand our past and to conserve it as best we can. However, I sat on the committee that heard the petitions and, to my recollection, we did not have any requests or complaints of this kind. I would have thought that this would have come up in our deliberations if there were serious issues of this kind on this section of the line.
My Lords, I would like to see huge, wholescale changes made to the high-speed rail programme but in the meantime, reporting and reviewing its impact is important so that Parliament and the public can properly scrutinise HS2. The burial and disposition of the dead has a deeply symbolic and important status in every culture. I might be alone in those contributing to this debate in, as a new archaeologist, having dug up a skeleton—a Roman skeleton that was nearly 2,000 years old. However, the skeleton was still treated with respect and dignity. I imagine that most of us would accept that that is normal when dealing with the remains of the buried. I would say also, as an archaeologist, that the information you can get from bones is fantastically useful.
There is an inherent aversion to disturbing the dead. Amendment 2 seeks to improve the excavation of burial sites by HS2 through a process of reporting and evaluation, which is utterly sensible. I hope that the Government will pick up this amendment and use it as an indication of respect for the remains that are being disturbed.
My Lords, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton, for their kind words about the work of the committee which I had the honour of chairing. This allows me the opportunity to thank the members of the committee who served with me through the various stages of our protracted proceedings. They were all a pleasure to work with, and I owe a great deal to their experience and the thoughtful contributions they made to our debates as we listened to the various petitioners whose concerns we had to deal with. It is also right to thank the broadcasting team, who had a very difficult job not only in dealing with us when we were sitting virtually, but when we came back to the Committee Room and sat in a hybrid fashion. They were with us in the room and I had first-hand experience of their difficulties in trying to set up those communications. I offer them my sincere thanks, as well as to the members of the committee.
Turning to the amendment, I am very much in sympathy with what lies behind the request of the noble Baroness for great care to be taken in dealing with artefacts of this kind, in particular historical monuments and remains. Like the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I have to say that our attention was not drawn to any burial sites or monuments at any stage during the proceedings. I would have expected the relevant parish council to have done that if there were any burial sites of substantial size, and certainly monuments. One thinks of war memorial monuments, for example. I am pretty sure that we would have been told if any were on the line of the route or within the trace—the areas to either side of the route that will be used for construction purposes. There was no suggestion that problems of that kind were likely to occur.
I think the noble Baroness would wish me to say that there is always the unexpected. As soon as you start digging up ground, you find out what is beneath it. One has to be alive to the fact that in the course of the works, things may be discovered that no one knew were there before, but which turn out to be of historical interest. So, like the noble Baroness, I expect an assurance from the Minister that great care will be taken if, by any chance, something of this kind is discovered. The works should be stopped so that an assessment can be made by qualified persons of how the remains, monuments or historical artefacts, if there be any, can be best preserved before they proceed any further. I do not imagine that that would cause a great deal of delay; it is important that we do not lose these historical records before they are gone for ever.
I agree with everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has just said. I would just add one point. Crossrail has considerable experience of burial sites and monuments and is generally acknowledged to have dealt with them sensitively and to have made a significant contribution to the archaeological history of Britain. In respect of dealing properly with human remains, it has been extremely sensitive at every stage and has arranged for reburial as appropriate. I would have thought that the Crossrail experience offers a good example to HS2.
My Lords, I generally support this amendment, which is really about tone.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Adonis have touched on the question of the treatment of any burial sites and monuments that we come across. I felt sure that there was something, somewhere that requires HS2 to show some respect in this regard. My research shows that an information paper on burial grounds was published on 15 February 2019 for the Bill before us. Paragraph 3.1 states:
“Any human remains affected by the Proposed Scheme will be treated with all due dignity, respect and care. Any impact caused by works to construct the Proposed Scheme on human remains and associated monuments is an emotive and complex matter and HS2 Ltd and the Promoter recognise their duty to address the concerns of individuals and communities.”
The essence of that assurance is that any remains should be treated with
“all due dignity, respect and care.”
Had that been carried into the Bill, perhaps through some wording in the Explanatory Notes, one would feel that this would be handled sensitively. During the works for the Jubilee Line extension we did end up building through burial sites, and we were sensitive to how that was managed. I think that we caused no offence as a result.
Unfortunately, no reference is made to “dignity, respect and care” in the rest of that document. Nowhere in Schedule 20 is there any sense of that, nor is it set out in the Explanatory Notes. I hope that the Minister will find some way of assuring the Committee that those key cultural attitudes to burial sites will be carried through in the execution of the project.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for tabling this important amendment. As she will be aware, I wrote to her on this matter at the end of last week and I have shared that letter with other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. When I am not taking HS2 Bills through the Lords, I am the roads Minister and am well aware that one can make finds at any point in the construction process. Highways England has very good systems to deal with this, and I am very pleased to be able to tell noble Lords that HS2 does, too.
However, it is worth pointing out that no gravestones, monuments, burial grounds or human remains have so far been identified along the phase 2a route. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, mentioned that they had not come across this issue in the Select Committee, and that is why we do not expect to make such finds. However, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that does not mean that such artefacts will not be there. Human remains and monuments are often discovered during construction and if this happens, requirements are already in place for HS2. They are set out in great detail in the Heritage Memorandum, which is one of the Environmental Minimum Requirements. There is also the phase 2a burial grounds, human remains and monuments procedure. These documents ensure that the right approach is taken—one very much in line with that set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.
Unsurprisingly, given their importance, these documents are lengthy and extensive, but I am happy to share links to them or the documents themselves with Members of the Committee if they have an interest. The procedure goes into great detail about what happens to human remains and associated monuments if they are discovered during HS2 work. Obviously, a large number of archaeologists work for HS2, as is always the case in transport infrastructure projects.
The procedure that has been set out for phase 2a very much builds on that prepared for phase 1. It has been developed in consultation with stakeholders, most notably the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, Historic England and the Ministry of Justice, and it includes ongoing monitoring by those stakeholders. In the first instance, where a monument is required to be moved as a result of the works, the nominated undertaker must comply with any reasonable request of a family member or personal relative of the deceased. Where a relative or representative does not come forward, the conversation then goes to the Archbishops’ Council and the relevant diocesan advisory committee in the case of the Church of England, or the relevant religious organisation in the case of other Christian denominations or other religions. Working together, a suitable alternative site for the monument will be sought.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I was concerned about why you would ever break up a monument. In most circumstances, one would hope that an appropriate site would be found, whether a museum or a churchyard—all sorts of different sites are appropriate. However, one cannot risk these items being used inappropriately, because that would be extremely disrespectful, and one would not want to see that. What HS2 does is in line with existing ecclesiastical law and church practice.
There are many papers and documents which accompany the Bill, including a series of memoranda which explain much more about this in detail. They set out the programme of archaeological work that goes on, including the recording of human remains and associated monuments and gravestones of historic interest. The records are available to the public, and at all stages of any finds, HS2 engages with local authority specialists, notably archaeological advisers and conservation of historic buildings staff, and of course Historic England. Certainly, what is set out at the moment is a continuation and a refinement of what has happened in phase 1, and it takes account of best practice across the transport infrastructure investment community.
I trust that I have reassured the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and that she feels able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received no request to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.
I very much thank noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I was particularly pleased that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, spoke with such assurance about this issue because of the importance of their committee. I have looked at their excellent report to see whether there was reference to this, and of course the reason it did not deal with something that was consuming me was because it had not concerned anyone else in this specific case. As far as I am concerned, that is very good news.
However, I accept entirely what other noble Lords have said, which is that there could well be an unexpected find of this nature. As a teenager, I spent a very interesting and productive summer chipping away at the ground and sweeping with a small brush at the Fishbourne Roman villa, which many noble Lords will recall was in itself a very unexpected find at the time. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I did not find any skeletons, but I found a very small piece of pottery, which made the whole summer worth while.
I emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who pointed out the impact and importance of Crossrail, and the archaeological finds and burials, for example, that have been found as part of the Crossrail construction. It has been a treasure trove of additional historical knowledge about that route through London, so it is very important historically indeed.
The Minister has been very helpful, and I thank her for her assistance in her letter and for her reassurance today. My intention was exactly as has transpired this afternoon. I have now on the record in Hansard clear points about the process, where you can find information on it, and an assurance that it will not just be left to HS2 or any other undertaker to decide what is or is not of historical value. I am therefore happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Clauses 23 to 48 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 3. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
Clause 49: Power to apply Act to further high speed rail works
3: Clause 49, page 20, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) A TWA order which relates to an extension or works referred to in subsection (2) may also provide for any provision of this Act to cease to have effect to the extent that the content of the TWA order replaces it.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is intended to clarify the extent to which a Transport and Works Act Order may be used to alter the proposals under the Bill, and the means by which one may be obtained.
This is very much a probing amendment so that we can have a debate about the role that Transport and Works Act orders play in and around a hybrid Bill. I will talk about one or two examples but I want to stick to the principle. This has been raised many times during the passage of many previous hybrid Bills, and the problem does not go away. This particular Bill and the transcript of the Select Committee hearings give us some interesting issues to debate.
As I think all noble Lords know, a hybrid Bill is a public Bill which includes private interests. A Select Committee is therefore appointed in each House and follows very similar procedures, except that if anyone—including the Government or a petitioner—wants to propose small changes to the Bill, in the House of Commons, which is usually the first House on these occasions, that is quite often done by an additional provision. However, it cannot be done in the Lords, for very good timetabling reasons. The only other option is for it to be done by way of a Transport and Works Act order process. That is provided for in Clause 49, and my small amendment seeks to clarify the extent to which it could be used. However, to some extent that is not really the question I want to debate and put to the Minister.
Going back to the phase 2 Bill, which is what we are talking about, we have talked before about the Stone railhead. It has been discussed in the House of Commons and in debates here, and when the Minister kindly had a meeting with a number of noble Lords last week it came up then. However, I do not want to discuss that—except to say that some people, the promoters, believe that it will save £98 million and could be completed three years earlier, but that is a question for debate. Something similar has happened on phase 1 regarding Wendover, which has also been rejected by the Government because they will not do a Transport and Works Act order there. It is said that that would save £300 million and save between one and three years, with enormous environmental benefits; I know that because I used to live around there.
I do not want to discuss the pros and cons but I want to explore why the Government have decided that there should be no alterations to hybrid Bills in the second House, even arguing that alternatives that require a Transport and Works Act order, the only option open to petitioners to the second House, should not even be discussed in the Select Committee. I understand why they might not want that, but the extent to which Mr Strachan, the government counsel in the Select Committee, went to long and repeated lengths to tell the committee that it really should not go for a Transport and Works Act order was extraordinary. I could read out several paragraphs but I will save the Committee, except to draw attention to paragraphs 146 and 165 on 16 March. I can find no instance in the transcript of the Government instructing the committee that it should not use the Transport and Works Act, but I would say that it was almost threatened by the government counsel that it really should not do so. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who chaired the committee so well, said in paragraph 9 of Appendix 2 in the committee’s report that
“certain petitioners have suggested that changes similar to those that might be made by additional provision might instead be effected through an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992; that would involve a process which is separate from the parliamentary process on this Bill, and it is highly unlikely that we could be persuaded that there was any recommendation that we could … make.”
I find that extraordinary, given that the Transport and Works Act option is included in Clause 49, something that Mr Strachan did not draw to the committee’s attention. Since he spent the whole day introducing the project to the committee, which I am sure was necessary, it is surprising that he did not raise it.
Even more surprising is the precedent in phase 1 where the Government are proposing a tunnel in place of a viaduct, I think, at a place called Bromford by a Transport and Works Act order, claiming that the tunnel will increase its length by almost double, remove the need for complex engineering and so on. I believe that the Government are proposing another one at Calvert. My contribution is going to go on for some time, incidentally, so if the Chair wants me to stop then I will. These procedures that the Government are doing are exactly the same as the Wendover one. It seems to me that the decisions are taken out of the hands of the committee in order to be made by the Government and their own promoter, who have very good reasons for resisting change. That limits the ability of petitioners, who on the whole do not have highly paid lawyers, to put their case against what I would call guerrilla warfare by government counsel to close down debate, making the Government both judge and jury. I have been involved in Transport and Works Act processes and hybrid Bill processes and I find that conflict very odd.
I have been debating with the Minister, Andrew Stephenson MP, over probably six months about the Wendover case because, quite surprisingly, the petitioners are proposing a tunnel under the hillside behind Wendover through chalk, which is exactly the same material—chalk, clay, lower chalk and upper chalk—that we had in the Channel Tunnel, which I was involved in, as my noble friend Lord Snape will probably remember. Having been told for the last six months that the geological information was confidential, the petitioners have finally got hold of it. Even more surprisingly, their technical advisers are the same contractors who built the tunnel through Castle Hill and the Channel Tunnel using the same methodology with no problem at all. However, Andrew Stephenson’s letter to me, dated 21 September this year, says that the short-line tunnel, as it is called, is not a viable or safe method of construction. I just give that as an example; I may be wrong and the petitioners may be wrong, but it is not a fair assessment for the Government to make statements such as that, supported only by the people they are paying, without some kind of independent assessment of how it could be done, with both parties being treated equally.
My question is: how can Parliament force Ministers to think again and accept that some petitioners’ views can be accommodated without a loss of face, time or money? I want to propose one or two options, if I still have time. The nuclear one in terms of House of Lords procedures is for me to move a Motion on Report to commit a part of the Bill to a new Select Committee to examine certain bits that could be taken forward by a Transport and Works Act order if the committee thought that was a good idea. That is allowed within paragraph 8.118 of the Companion, which I am not going to read out as noble Lords can read it for themselves. That process would allow petitioners to make their case in a more balanced environment, request and receive the necessary evidence with no problem of confidentiality and bring in experts to support their case. As we all know, Transport and Works Act orders can be processed very quickly if Ministers want them to be; equally, they can take several years if Ministers do not. We all know that and I do not want to comment on it. I say to the Minister, in the pursuit of some intention of fairness towards petitioners, that this needs resolving, not just now but for future Bills.
I have three questions. First, does the Minister accept that the Transport and Works Act option is available for use with a hybrid Bill? Secondly, does she agree that the committee and the petitioners appear to have been misled by government counsel into thinking that they should not really consider a Transport and Works Act option unless the Government thought of it first? I expect that she will say no to that one, but it is worth trying.
Thirdly, and more constructively, will she arrange a meeting with HS2 and her department on those two issues and on the principles of how we could take this forward in a more inclusive manner? That would bring benefits to petitioners who have so far failed to have their petitions accepted, and I believe there are others as well. Does she agree that if the arguments for the alternatives are positive or balanced then the Government could agree to take forward these two examples along with others through the Transport and Works Act order process in place of the relevant parts of the Bill?
I hope that she will agree some or all of those because I could seek to persuade the House to set up a new Select Committee, as I have outlined, but I do not really want to and I hope that we can have some meetings first. I beg to move.
My Lords, I was having some difficulty following the arguments of my noble friend. He could of course move the motion he referred to on Report, but I can confidently predict that it would not be accepted by the House. Indeed, I am not sure that many other noble Lords would give it the time of day, precisely because we have had this exhaustive procedure up until now. Essentially, cutting through what my noble friend said—he has of course wanted to stop the scheme all the way through and has been a deep contrarian in that regard—he wants to create new avenues for opponents to stop the scheme. I recognise that, and it is a perfectly honourable thing to want to do.
What Parliament has to judge is whether the processes we have are robust and fair. My view is that they are very robust and very fair. They give complainants and people presenting petitions ample opportunity to make their case. The arrangements that pertain between the two Houses are there to keep a proper sense of proportion in the consideration of the petitions, so that all of the issues raised—the petitioning process is exhaustive and expensive—are not repeated ad nauseam in the second House. That is why the Private Bill arrangements are in place: so that you cannot re-open in the second House, as fully as my noble friend would wish, issues that have been considered by the first House. That seems to me to be perfectly reasonable. It does not withdraw the rights of petitioners to have their concerns properly assessed by Parliament. What it does is put in place a procedure that is fair and proportionate for the consideration of those petitions, which is very different.
The reason why my noble friend Lord Berkeley wants the TWA process to apply is that he is not content with parliamentary consideration of these petitions, and he therefore wants petitioners to be able to create a wholly new and additional process: the TWA process. That is grossly disproportionate. The point he made about changes to the first phase of the project, from London to Birmingham, confuses apples and pears. If you are going to make changes to legislation that has already been agreed by Parliament, you have no alternative but to go for a TWA-type process, unless you are going to produce an entirely new Bill. That is a completely separate issue from seeking to layer on top of parliamentary consideration of the Bill a wholly new process—the TWA process—while this legislation is going through and petitions are being considered. I do not think, having had close acquaintance with the processes, that petitioners are treated in any way unfairly. The arrangements between the two Houses give them ample opportunity, and the power is there for Parliament to make fundamental changes in respect of petitions that are raised between the two Houses. The allocation of responsibilities between the two Houses is laid down by convention.
What my noble friend Lord Berkeley wants to do, essentially, is to stop the scheme; I accept that. He wants to create as many possible avenues of further appeal and expense—this would add to expense—to delay it. Any reasonable observer, particularly those looking at the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his committee and the committee in the House of Commons, would think that Parliament has struck a fair and proper balance between the power of the Executive to propose a major project of this kind and the duty of Parliament to see that all private interests are properly considered before agreement is reached.
My Lords, I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Adonis has just said and disagree with my noble friend Lord Berkeley. As a member of the Select Committee, I did not feel bullied by the government counsel on this question. We considered the issue in depth, and the reasons why we said we would not consider such orders seemed valid in the light of that discussion. I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, can give a much more elegant legal explanation of these issues than I can.
When the Bill goes through the Commons, the Select Committee can recommend fundamental changes to the route of the line by making additional provisions, but the convention has been established that the Lords does not revisit these questions on petitions that are made to it. Therefore, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, announced at the start of our proceedings that we would not be recommending additional provisions and would be sticking with the convention. Then, of course, people say, “You could use transport and works orders”, but, in effect, they another form of additional provision. As I understand it, if this point were conceded, the decision-making process would be taken out of Parliament and put into the hands of the Secretary of State. It would then be subject to all the arguments about judicial review and whether things have been done properly that have bedevilled plans for airport expansion in this country, for example.
As a non-lawyer, I was totally persuaded by the argument that we should not contemplate these orders. We listened to the argument that was made in the infamous case of the Stone depot, and I was totally unpersuaded that, even if we had had the power to make such an order, it was actually sensible.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his kind words when he spoke in support of his amendment, although I did detect a hint of criticism. I am not going to respond to that, but instead offer, if I may, the Minister some guidance in responding to this issue, based on my experience as a lawyer.
Everything that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has said, I agree with. He set the scene very well indeed, but I would like to make it clear that there is a good deal more substance to the point he made, which I would like to touch upon. Before I go further, lest there be any misunderstanding, I should make it clear that in my view, the petitioner who raised the issue about the Stone IMB-R—the railhead at Stone—was not in any way attempting to delay the scheme or have it cancelled. It was a genuine attempt to put forward an alternative method of dealing with the very complex issue of how the railhead should be constructed. It raised all sorts of other questions, such as ground conditions. They put forward a genuine issue in good faith. The question is: should we have gone further, to the point of making a direction? It should not be forgotten that a committee like ours, after hearing a petition, either makes an order or does not. In this case, it would have been a direction to HS2 to proceed by a TWA.
Proceeding by way of a TWA is not a simple matter. It is not a foregone conclusion that, just by asking for an order to be granted, it will be granted. The statute lays down a procedure that involves the making of objections, for obvious reasons, because people whose land would be taken have to be given a chance to be heard, and it would result in the holding of a public inquiry. One has to bear in mind, given the stage at which the issue was raised with us, that there is the very considerable question whether the time and effort involved, were we to make such a direction, would be justified.
The procedure the Select Committee operated was devised particularly for those whose property interests are directly and specially affected, who should be able to make representations one way or another for their position to be carefully considered. The Stone railhead issue was not one of those cases where individuals were directly and specially affected in bringing forward issues for us to consider. What was brought before us was an interest on behalf of a community.
This raises issues as to how a committee of that kind should deal with issues brought forward by a community that will give rise to a substantial amount of expert evidence and debate as to the side of the argument on which the issue should be decided. If we had proceeded with the invitation that we should deal with this in detail, I would have foreseen that we would have to consider the issue in much greater detail than was available to us on the day we heard it. I say that as someone who has dealt with many public inquiries, and private legislation procedure too, when issues of this kind have been raised. It would involve hearing expert evidence, hearing expert evidence in reply, assessing that evidence and making a detailed judgment as to how the issue should be finally resolved. For a committee in the second House to engage in that kind of procedure would be a major hurdle in the way the whole process would be handled, which we would simply not be prepared to contemplate, given that the opportunity to raise issues of this kind was available in the House of Commons as the first House.
I hope I have made it clear that these issues are very difficult and that it is not enough for somebody to argue a case as forcefully as was indeed argued before us to think they should be given what they wanted. It would require careful assessment. If it went to the point of an TWA order there would be considerable expense of time and money in getting the issue debated. I do not wish to underestimate the importance of the issue, but it was not one we could properly contemplate given the nature of the proceedings we were dealing with.
I recognise that we will need to consider at some point—not now, of course—how the procedures we are dealing with should be reformed or improved. I come back to the point that they were devised primarily to deal with individuals whose property interests were directly affected. This case is not one of them. There may be other ways of dealing with details of this kind that we can perhaps discuss at a later stage.
I have one final point. I researched, with the assistance of the committee’s clerk, whether there is any example of a Select Committee making a direction that a TWA should be resorted to. I am told that there is no example that a committee in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords has made such a direction. There was a TWA order for Bromley, which HS2 will know about because it asked for it. There is of course power in the Bill for it to do so in the case of the Stone railhead should it decide, having made further investigations, that it is necessary. That is not a matter for the committee I sat on and I respectfully suggest it is not a matter for the House.
As for the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that the matter should be remitted to a fresh Select Committee, I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis: I cannot see that that would get anywhere. It would get back to the same problem I have been suggesting: that committee would have to consider whether it would make a direction that a TWA should be ordered. I regard that as a very difficult decision and any further committee would hesitate long and hard before it made such a direction. I would be hugely surprised if it reached a different conclusion from that which we reached.
I leave it there, stressing that I recognise that a genuine point was raised and it was not an attempt to delay or bring the project to an end. That was not the point, but it was not one we could properly deal with as we were being asked to do.
I say simply that I accept entirely the arguments advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I agree that the procedure is cumbersome and expensive and I would be very pleased to see some reforms brought forward in due course, but I am sorry, I cannot agree with the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.
My Lords, I have to admit that I barely understand this debate. I did my best to research it and it seemed to be about giving the promoter considerable flexibility to exercise powers under the TWA procedure to create opportunities for activity on land that might be outside the Bill, as well as other rights to do things. I am sure the Minister, briefed by her excellent team, fully understands what this is all about and I will be very grateful if she explains it to me, ideally in words of one syllable.
My Lords, I thought that the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Liddle, did a very good job of making many of my points for me. Then, of course, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, came in and did a proper job on the matter in hand. I will play this with a straight bat and read out what I have here, which I thought I understood when I read it through over the weekend. I hope this will be helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. It was certainly helpful to me. When I got to the end of it I thought, “Right, I get this,” so here we go.
It is normal practice on major infrastructure projects such as HS2 or Crossrail that, during construction, further planning consent needs to be sought for details of the scheme that were not anticipated when it passed through Parliament. One of the means for doing this in relation to railway works is an order made under the Transport and Works Act 1992, known as a Transport and Works Act order.
During its construction, Crossrail has had three such orders, addressing changes in station design at Whitechapel, stabling arrangements at Plumstead and connections between platforms at Paddington, all of which arose from continuing discussions on the design and operation of the railway after the Crossrail Bill was enacted. Phase 1 of HS2 has had one Transport and Works Act order so far, in that case for new sidings near Calvert Green for use by a waste-to-energy facility. This was to honour an assurance given to the operator of the facility during the passage of the phase 1 Bill. The facility could not be included in the scheme because of the time needed to develop the proposals, which would have unduly delayed progress. As we build phase 1, it may be found that there is a need for more orders.
I will mention briefly the process that such a Transport and Works Act order goes through. The application for the order is submitted to the relevant Secretary of State—in England that would be the Transport Secretary and in Wales it would be the Welsh Government. The applicant must then make the application public by publishing notices in local newspapers, by writing to people directly affected, by posting notices near the works and by notifying specified organisations. If the scheme is large, the applicant may be required to hold public information events. It is clear that such orders go through a large amount of consultation.
People who wish to object then have six weeks to notify the relevant decision-maker of their objections. If there are many objections or if there are statutory objectors—those who are considered directly affected because their land is being bought compulsorily, for example—there may be a public inquiry. A recommendation on the application for the order will then be made to the Secretary of State, who will ultimately make the decision as to whether it should be approved. There may also be a need for the applicant to apply separately for planning permission, but that is another process.
If an application for a Transport and Works Act order were to be made in relation to phase 2a of the railway, Clause 49 would allow such an order to adopt, as necessary, any provision of the Bill so that the works were constructed within the same legal and planning framework as the rest of the scheme. Further, Schedule 1 to the Bill allows any engineering work shown on the plans and sections that were submitted alongside the Bill to be substituted by a work not so shown. Any such work would still be bound by the environmental minimum requirements of the scheme. What this amendment seeks is already addressed in the Bill.
However, we know that the amendment is not entirely about that. I know that the hybrid Bill process in this House can be a little frustrating. As I said to the noble Lord when discussing his amendment with him last week and as I will repeat now, it is accepted practice on the basis of fairness that, as the second House to consider the Bill, it cannot make amendments that would extend the powers in it; for example, to acquire new rights over land to change the route. This practice was confirmed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, as chair of the Select Committee that considered this Bill and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker, who chaired the Select Committee that considered the phase 1 Bill in 2016. The Select Committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, also considered the suggestion that instructing the promoter to make an amendment to the scheme through a Transport and Works Act order would provide a valid alternative to taking powers in the Bill. The committee did not take this view.
I agree that this is the right approach. Such a committee directing the outcome of an application for a Transport and Works Act order without the formal application being made and therefore without any such change going through the process I described would be unfair. It would take away the opportunity for those who wished to object to have their concerns heard.
I agree with the conclusions of both committee chairs. It is right that if a Transport and Works Act order was necessary, any such order should be entirely outside the scope of the Bill, but I would add that any such order, being associated with phase 2a of HS2, should attract the environmental protections that this scheme offers. The amendment would do nothing to change the ability of the nominated undertaker to use a Transport and Works Act order to amend the scheme; nor would its use in a future HS2 Bill allow the Select Committee in the second House to adopt a different approach. The Bill makes sure this is the case. I trust that this fully explains the stance that the Government take on this matter.
However, I am given to understand that the House authorities are considering a further consultation on the hybrid Bill process in the near future. If the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has an issue with that process, he may wish to participate in those discussions—I am sure that his input would be welcome. As such, I wonder whether he might withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have had no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.
My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am sure that he can hear that a Division is under way. The Committee will adjourn for five minutes to allow noble Lords to register their vote.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I had not intended this to be something on which to divide the House; it is a probing amendment. I said that I would never convince my noble friend Lord Adonis that I am not trying to stop this; I am just trying to suggest some ideas of how to ensure that petitioners feel that they have been treated fairly, because there will be many more of these hybrid Bills in the future.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his comments and to the Minister for her explanation of Transport and Works Act orders. We all agree on the process and whether it is fast or slow does not make any difference. For me, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, put his finger on it. The question is whether, if a committee wished to see a change that could not be done by an additional provision and would therefore have to be done by a Transport and Works Act order, the committee would be able to give a direction either to the Government or to the House. I have taken advice on this from some of the experts and we do not have an answer, as the noble and learned Lord said.
As the Minister said, there will be a consultation on the hybrid Bill process generally. These are the kinds of issues that we should be looking at. We all want to see railway improvements, subject to a few criteria here and there; if a railway needs a new bit of line and it needs a hybrid Bill, so be it—that is the process that we use. It will help everyone, however, if it is done in the least confrontational and least expensive way, so that the petitioners can feel that they have had a good hearing and have been treated fairly and can be reasonably happy with the result. I look forward to discussing this further, not as part of this Bill, and I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Clause 49 agreed.
Clauses 50 to 58 agreed.
My Lords, we come now to the group beginning with Amendment 4. I inform the Committee that it is intended to propose a short break in proceedings for 15 minutes after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
4: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Quarterly reports on environmental impact, costs and progress
(1) The Secretary of State must publish quarterly reports on the scheduled works throughout the period in which those works take place.(2) Each such report must contain an assessment of—(a) environmental impact;(b) costs, including costs of land acquisition;(c) progress; and(d) revenue forecasts and Cost Benefit Analyses,compared to the relevant information contained in the Bill documentation.(3) The first such report must be laid before Parliament within the period ending three months after the day the scheduled works commence.(4) Each subsequent report must be laid before Parliament within three months of the publication of the last report under this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to require the Government to provide consistent, regular and complete reports to Parliament.
My Lords, after I put this amendment down, it was slightly taken over by events in the form of an interesting letter from the Public Accounts Committee to the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport dated 4 November. I was interested in the comments made during the various stages in the Commons on this Bill, when many Members of Parliament were critical of the way HS2 handled issues in their constituencies. This came from all parts of the House. From what I have read and heard, this criticism was much more justified because the situation seemed to be much worse than in the case of the promoters of HS1.
One issue was the lack of information, so I thought that it would be reasonable to ask that HS2 and the Government provide quarterly reports that include overviews of the project, the programming schedule, the community and environmental impact of the whole project and more details of each phase. Since then, or probably at about the same time, Ministers have started to produce six-monthly reports, which are a great step forward. I thank Ministers for that. Whether they should be quarterly or six-monthly can be debated, but certain things are missing from all of them—they are identified strongly in the Public Account Committee’s letter. I will summarise one or two, because I think that they could go into the reports. I hope that Ministers will agree to do this, because we do not want to have to divide the House on something like this.
The PAC talks about the programme uncertainties within HS2. There seems to be evidence of that and it is frustrating that there are so few signs that HS2 and the department are taking PAC concerns about transparency seriously. It asked for information and did not get it. There were questions about phase 2b—my noble friend Lord Adonis mentioned this—and the implications for rail connections in the north as well as decisions on Euston Station.
Then there is the question of value for money. We have talked about that before, but it relates to the post-Covid potential demand for travel. The letter points out that, in giving evidence to the committee, the Permanent Secretary, Bernadette Kelly,
“appeared to assume that travel patterns and growth will return to, or be the same as, those before the pandemic. This assumption should be thoroughly tested and explicitly justified, if it remains the Government’s best estimate.”
There was then something that one does not often see in letters from the PAC: a recommendation, although some people would call it a demand. It suggested that,
“you perform an up to date assessment of the different scenarios that could affect the long-term business case of HS2 as a result of the pandemic … Please write to us within six months”.
I have raised in the House on various occasions the question of future demand for all railways. My impression is that Ministers are not taking it seriously at the moment, or perhaps they do not have an answer. Well, nobody has an answer, but I suggest that at least it should be part of some scenario planning: we are not going to get one answer, but we can probably get a range. It is reasonable to ask for the revenue forecasts and the cost-benefit analyses, whether it is every three months or every six months. I hope that the Minister can say that, as part of the six-monthly reports that they are now providing, they will in future add in some of the things that I suggest are missing. They would fit in nicely with the response that, presumably, Ministers are going to give to the PAC. I beg to move.
My Lords, I perfectly understand the need for the Committee to have a break and a stiff drink after any of my speeches; it is just a pity that we cannot get the stiff drinks any more. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on this group. I wish the Government had implemented his report rather than the Oakervee one, but that train has long since left the platform.
I will speak first on Amendment 9, on which I declare my interest as in the register. I am embarrassed to be so high up in the speakers’ list when there are so many experts, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and my noble friend Lord Randall, who are better qualified than I am to talk about ancient woodlands. This is a modest little amendment, calling simply for an annual report on the impact of the work on ancient woodland. I also support Amendment 4 in this group, which is much more demanding than the modest request in Amendment 9.
I have some substantial points to make today but I assure the Committee that I shall not trouble it again either today or on Thursday. First, I congratulate HS2 on its promise to plant new woodland. I want to see even more, not just trees but a similar habitat on the embankments of the areas of line that the line cuts through, and not just random bushes but appropriate replacement flora.
Why do ancient woodlands matter? They are not just all trees that you can replace with new ones. Ancient woodlands have been mapped for over 400 years, and some have origins going back to the last Ice Age. These woods support a whole range of other species, from mosses to lichens, from plants and fungi to insects. Since they have been completely undisturbed by human action, they contain the most biodiverse species that we have lost in most of the rest of our cultivated land. As the Woodland Trust says, you can restore ancient woodlands by stopping the spread of rhododendrons, Himalayan balsam and other invasive species but you cannot plant new ancient woodland once it is gone. We cannot wait another 1,000 years in the hope that the multitude of species in our current ancient woodlands will replicate themselves in new woods by 3021.
As I said earlier, I welcome the fact that HS2 will plant more trees, but its policy of “no net loss” does not go far enough; it must be changed to “net gain”, as will apply to every other major development in this country except national infrastructure projects. Indeed, I pay tribute to the Government for adopting the policy of 10% net gain for all developments—except for national infrastructure ones. Frankly, I find that exception bizarre. Every private developer building no matter what in this country will have to create 10% biodiversity net gain in order to get planning permission, but not the Government on big projects. Of course I accept that if all one is doing is electrifying the line from London to Swansea or boring Crossrail or the Thames Tideway tunnel, these things in themselves bring net environmental gain and we need not demand that they do more to achieve net gain. Indeed, Crossrail has used 3 million tonnes of spoil to create the massive nature reserve at Wallasea, while I am always impressed by the number of trees that Highways England plants on the embankments alongside every road that it constructs; road verges are excellent wildlife corridors and I would be surprised if Highways England did not already achieve 10% biodiversity net gain.
There is thus no good reason why these large above-ground national construction projects should be exempt from the net-gain requirement. In this area the Government should be setting an example, as they have been doing on so much else—the 25-year plan, the marvellous 2030 pledge and the announcement last week of the first massive Nature Recovery Network. So I suggest that it is inconsistent, and a bit of shooting in the foot, for a Government who have driven forward a dynamic environmental agenda to settle for “no net gain” for national infrastructure projects.
Railway lines are potentially the best wildlife corridors, with no interference from humans. That requires careful tree selection so that Network Rail does not hack everything down; on my train journey down today, I saw it cutting down trees that were nowhere near the track. Of course, we cannot have trees that bring down lines or deposit the wrong leaves, but even I could select the right native and indigenous trees and bushes that would keep Network Rail happy and create excellent habitats for native wildlife.
Admittedly, HS2 has gone further than the Government require by promising no net loss. You can cut down 20 acres of 50 year-old trees and replace them with 20 acres of new trees with no real net loss. If you cut down 10 ancient woodlands in phase 2a, including 14 acres of ancient trees at Whitmore Wood in Stafford, you get big net loss, no matter how many acres of new trees you plant. It is not a matter of one ancient acre out and one new acre in; HS2 needs to go much further than that. We need the information that the excellent amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, calls for. Even the experts in the Woodland Trust are unsure of the actual acreage that will be lost, so we must have accurate reports from HS2.
I urge the Government to insist that HS2 achieve biodiversity net gain for this section and, indeed, the whole line. I understand that if HS2 upgrades its policy from no net loss to net gain, the overall cost would be 0.1% of the total cost of the railway, which is £106 million out of £106 billion to create a fantastic wildlife corridor and potentially create one of our finest new nature reserves. I ask the Government to insist that, if one acre of ancient woodland has to be lost, HS2 should fund the Woodland Trust or Natural England to restore at least two acres of ancient woodland that is under threat.
On Report, I intend to table an amendment stating that all the works in Clause 2 must achieve 10% biodiversity net gain. We cannot create new ancient woodland, but we can act decisively to restore and protect what is left. I therefore support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.
I turn to Amendment 4. My remarks here have nothing to do with my interests as registered. In 2017, the then Secretary of State for Transport presented a paper to Parliament on the costs of phase 2a. It stated that the cost of HS2 phase 2a would be £3,479 million and it was signed off by the chief executive of HS2 Ltd but with a note that said that all the figures were at first quarter 2015 prices and that the estimate included an “optimism bias” of 40 %. Surely that is a bit of a misnomer. Should it not be called a “total fantasy bias” of 500%?
Let us recall that the cost of HS2 in 2015 was £32 billion but is now £106 billion—a 300% increase. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has produced evidence that the costs will be £170 billion—an almost 600% increase. I am afraid that the noble Lord is wrong; I reckon it will be well over £200 billion. However, let us leave that aside and run with the current figure of £106 billion. If HS2 has had a mere 300% cost increase since 2015, only a fool or HS2 would argue that the costs of HS2 phase 2a will not have a similar increase, making the costs over £10 billion, or almost £20 billion on the figures of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.
The intriguing thing about the phase 2a cost is how HS2 Ltd can apparently build this part of the line 700 times cheaper than the London to Birmingham part. As I understand it—I am happy to be rubbished if I am wrong—London to Birmingham is 140 miles and costs £106 billion, which is £750 million per mile. Birmingham to Crewe is 36 miles and costs £3.5 billion, which is less than £100 million per mile. Surely my noble friend the Minister should sack those building phase 1 and replace them with those who are going to build phase 2 at a price 700 times cheaper.
We know now that, like all railway costings, these figures are based on pure fantasy from rail enthusiasts who know that no Government in their right mind would ever agree to a project if they told the truth about the real costs up front. They know that once they can con the Government into laying the first mile of track, there is no going back. Designers, contractors and all involved can start ramping up the costs, claiming that they were unforeseen and ripping off the taxpayer with impunity.
I was in government in 1996 when we were assured by the railway buffs at the Department for Transport that the cost of upgrading the west coast main line would be a maximum of £2 billion. It turned out to be £12 billion and the National Audit Office says that it cannot find where £1 billion of that went to. This was not a new route where marshes, solid granite or any other unforeseen hazards were suddenly encountered. It was known backwards, as the engineers have worked it since 1880, but the truth about the cost of the upgrade simply was not told. You cannot be 600% out and claim that that is because of cost overruns or unforeseen difficulties.
Take the Great Western main line. In 2012, the Government announced that it would be electrified from London to Swansea at a cost of £900 million. By 2014, that cost was £1.6 billion and, a year later, it was £2.8 billion. After the lopping-off of the last 60 miles from Cardiff to Swansea, it finished four years late at £2.8 billion. What were the excuses this time for the cost increases? They discovered—after the project was approved, of course—that 137 tunnels were a bit leaky and that water dripping down on to the electric wires was not desirable. We are asked to believe that railway engineers, technical experts and the contractors who bid for the work did not know beforehand that these tunnels have had leaks since Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed the line in 1841. He built the whole thing in five years, whereas Network Rail could not even electrify it in seven.
I quote these examples as justification for supporting Amendment 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. We know what HS2 is like. The Government will give approval and HS2 will crack on. A couple of years later, it will tell the Government that there is a little problem with phase 2 and the costs have gone up a bit. The Government will then call for a report and we will find that the costs have doubled or trebled.
We cannot leave it to HS2 to come clean or for the Government to call for reports. HS2 must be under an obligation to publish figures as per Amendment 4. It is bound to have the figures; it would be a scandal if it did not. It must have monthly and quarterly expenditure tables. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is not asking it to create large new databases that it does not have already. All he is asking is that it publishes its managerial cost and other control figures. It cannot say that this is commercially sensitive, as it has a monopoly on running this contract and no competitor can step in.
I conclude by saying that, over the past 30 years, the history of railway construction and upgrading in this country has been one of massive cost overruns and taxpayer rip-offs. The amendment would not stop the construction or hinder it by one day, but at least the taxpayer would get a regular update on the extent of the rip-off.
It is high time now that your Lordships had a break. I regret that you can no longer get a stiff drink after my contribution.
My Lords, our break has given me time to absorb the wise words of my noble friend Lord Blencathra. It is always a pleasure to listen to him. He is far too modest but made some very good points.
I wanted to be someone who could support HS2, but my experience as a constituency MP led me to the decision that as a company, HS2 is probably one of the worst to deal with. Its people are their own worst enemies. While accepting that phase 1 has happened—it breaks my heart to see how it has ripped through so much of our countryside—I want to make sure that the people who live along the line of the proposed phase 2a have a better deal all round. I shall speak to Amendments 4 and 9.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra spoke eloquently and correctly about ancient woodland, and I know that I am to be followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who will be able to tell us much more about the merits of this debate. Anyone who has an interest in biodiversity will know that ancient woodland is one of the treasures of this country, as it is all over, and we are losing too much of it. It is therefore important to look at exactly what is happening. He mentioned the replacements proposed by HS2, but of course you cannot replace an ancient woodland. I have to say also that some of the trees that have been planted in the Colne Valley and elsewhere are just sticks with a bit of plastic around them. HS2 did not water them, saying that it was not economic to do so when the weather is bad. We have to watch HS2 like a hawk on all these things.
I should draw attention to my interests not only as the president of the Colne Valley Regional Park, which is technically not a part of this project because it was in phase 1, but as a trustee of the Bat Conservation Trust and a council member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Noble Lords will know of my great interest in preserving biodiverse areas.
In phase 1, which was 240 kilometres long, 34 ancient woodlands were directly affected and 27 indirectly affected. “Indirectly affected” can mean anything from light pollution—there are ongoing problems in the Chilterns with the effect that has on bats, including on endangered and listed species—but I refer to the 34 woodlands that were directly affected. The phase we are now talking about involves some 64 kilometres in which 10 ancient woodlands will be directly affected and seven indirectly affected. As a proportion, more woodlands will be affected by phase 2a than in the first phase.
What can we do about this? I have to try to put myself in the position of those people, many of whom are with us in the Grand Committee today, who are such firm advocates of this project. What I want them to understand is that HS2 Ltd must deal with these subjects in a measured way by being honest and coming forward. I am not even going near the issues of inflation that my noble friend Lord Blencathra raised so eloquently. HS2 does not listen to the concerns of NGOs, Members of Parliament or ordinary members of the public. As an example, when I ceased to be the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge, I was succeeded by no less than the current Prime Minister, but he has just as much trouble getting answers out of HS2 as I did. It was not just because the company did not want to answer me, although it may have felt like that, so this is very important.
That is why Amendment 4, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is absolutely crucial. We have already heard that the Government are saying there should be a review every six months, while the amendment asks for one every quarter. I think that a quarterly review is better because a lot can go on in those other months. I shall say this to the fans of HS2: if they want to get people on side, they have to be able to convince them that HS2 is a listening organisation and will do what it must to try to remedy the damage that it is doing, and indeed to avoid doing damage.
It is no good HS2 just riding roughshod. It is pretty obvious to me, and I hope to many noble Lords, that this project is deeply unpopular not just among those along the line, living in the countryside, whose lives are affected —it also affects urban areas, of course—but among a large part of the whole nation. They are concerned about the spiralling costs. It is time for us all to have a really close look at how this project is going, and I therefore support both amendments.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Woodland Trust, as previous noble Lords have indicated. Like other noble Lords, I thank the Select Committee, chaired so admirably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for its work. It made some valuable recommendations on behalf of ancient woodland protection.
I speak in modified support of Amendment 4, in the name of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, and Amendment 9, in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. I will focus on the impact of HS2 on irreplaceable ancient woodland. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra; I support everything that he said on Amendment 9. His defence of the importance of biodiversity and ancient woodland were quite lyrical and based on his huge in-depth knowledge of the policy framework for these areas and the practice on the ground. It would behove us all to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, especially when he is offering us large drinks afterwards.
Phase 2a of HS2 is, in terms of ancient woodland, a bit like
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”,
that inimitable phrase from “Jaws 2”, because phase 1 is working out badly enough in its impact on ancient woodland—those natural cathedrals of biodiversity and trees. Phase 1 of HS2 directly affects 34 ancient woodlands and indirectly impacts 27. Phase 2a, which is covered by this Bill, is one-quarter of the length of phase 1; it directly impacts 10 ancient woodlands and has a number of indirect impacts. The rate of damage has increased per kilometre of track in phase 2a, compared pro rata to phase 1. There will be further loss and damage to ancient woodland caused by the subsequent phase 2b. This is strange, in my view, when seen against the current policy background.
Only last year, the Government increased the protection for ancient woodland in planning guidance. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, there is now a policy steer from government about net biodiversity gain from all developments, apart from major infrastructure schemes. HS2 Ltd assured Parliament at the beginning that the project would deliver no net loss of biodiversity. But it has acknowledged that ancient woodland is irreplaceable and therefore cannot be damaged without there being a net loss of biodiversity. I would support the call of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for the Government to commit to net gain in all their sponsored projects, including major infrastructure schemes.
If it were not so serious, it would be almost laughable to see HS2 Ltd digging up ancient woodlands in phase 1, carting them across the country and dropping them off elsewhere, in the pious hope that something might survive and re-establish. For the record, I assure the Committee that there is no evidence at all that this translocation of ancient woodland works. Let us not kid ourselves that these activities, which are quite expensive, do anything more than act as a fig leaf. The Minister has heard me bang on about this so many times that I am sure she is bored. She will no doubt tell me yet again that there are 52,000 fragments of ancient woodland still left in Britain, so losing a few is just regrettable. That is like saying, “If Salisbury Cathedral or York Minster bit the dust, let’s not worry—after all, there are lots more cathedrals”.
The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Berkeley would require the Secretary of State to publish quarterly reports on the environmental impact of the scheduled works. I very much support the concept of regular reports and I will explain why in my comments on the environmental performance of the scheme, although quarterly is perhaps a bit too frequent. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report detailing the impact specifically on ancient woodlands.
Such reports are important because it has not been at all easy to get reliable and up-to-date data on the HS2 project’s impact on ancient woodlands from either the Government or HS2 Ltd. However, although these reports would be valuable, they would do the job only if there is a process for the Government to review them, learn lessons and lay out the alterations they will require to reduce the impacts of forthcoming works, and how HS2 Ltd will be held to account for existing impacts which were sometimes in excess of those permitted, and reduce or avoid those yet to come. I hope that a toughening up of these amendments might be considered at Report.
Allan Cook, chairman of HS2 Ltd, is very proud of the engineering innovation and ingenuity this project is delivering. Regular reporting on ancient woodland impacts by HS2 would enable him to demonstrate that engineering and ecological innovation and ingenuity would be increasingly deployed to reduce and, I hope, eliminate adverse impact on ancient woodlands. I do not believe that this is impossible—where there’s a will, there’s a way—but it is about not just HS2 Ltd but the Department for Transport taking ancient woodland seriously and showing some leadership in bringing forward actions that put flesh on government policy commitments to better protection for ancient woodland.
This is a deeply unpopular scheme. I was amazed to hear that the vast majority of complaints received about it have been based on its biodiversity, ancient woodland and natural site-based impacts. There must be more we can do to address the distress of many people at what the scheme is doing to our natural habitats. If the Government do not favour these requirements to report, what changes to the process would the Minister propose to ensure that the lessons from previous destruction are taken on board openly and transparently and reduce the destruction of and damage to ancient woodland, rather than simply barrelling on, doing the same thing we have unsuccessfully and damagingly done in the past?
My Lords, I am in awe of all the previous speakers. I acknowledge their huge experience in and knowledge of this issue. I particularly liked the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall, shaking out their Green petticoats. It was absolutely amazing; respect for that.
I support both amendments very strongly. Amendment 4 from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is almost the root of the Green Party’s opposition to HS2—the first part, in any case. Amendment 9 is also important, highlighting HS2’s detrimental impact on ancient woodland. We have heard an awful lot of guff about how ancient woodland can be replaced—that they will take the soil so that we will have the same biodiversity. It is all complete nonsense. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable. I particularly liked the comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about Salisbury Cathedral. It is exactly that. These places are special. They are not all the same; they are all unique. They need to be cared for and protected in a way HS2 seems absolutely incapable of doing.
Of course, it is not only ancient woodland being damaged; it is also sites of special scientific interest and precious habitats being sliced up, which, without the necessary size, may no longer be viable. Given that the environmental impact of HS2 seems to be so huge, why do we find it acceptable? How in the past has it got away with doing so much damage and how can we stop it doing it in the future? If we add to this the spiralling costs, it becomes an obscene project and we need to think hard about it again.
However, if the project is to go ahead, reporting has to be statutory and mandatory—I do not understand how it gets away with it. If it is every six months, that is fine, but let us make sure that it is done properly. The reporting should include rigorous assessment of the mitigation and replacement measures which aim to reduce the ecological impact. I do not trust HS2 to do its own reports. It has to be a trustworthy report to make sure that it is not doing worse than it has done already.
I am highly sceptical of many of the measures that HS2 has already used. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, mentioned the trees in the Colne valley. Thousands of newly planted trees have been left to die. I do not understand how we can be sure that HS2 will do not the same again—not exactly that perhaps, but something very similar. It cannot be trusted with our precious habitats and species and the amazing, biodiverse habitats that it is just carving up. Please will the Government make sure that they are a bit tougher on HS2 than they have been so far.
My Lords, I want to make a couple of brief points. First, it is important that there is some scheme of environmental monitoring, which I support. Three-monthly monitoring seems excessive, but it is good to have this amendment. Secondly, however, I am rather shocked by the tone of many noble Lords who are against HS2 in their treatment of these environmental questions. As one who served on your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Bill, HS2 seemed to me to display considerable concern and detailed knowledge of what it was doing on these points. Our exchanges with the Woodland Trust as witnesses were not in the tone of many noble Lords’ comments today. I thought that a good dialogue was opening up between the Woodland Trust and HS2. We made some recommendations in our report for more sensitive treatment of ancient woodland, particularly trying to avoid damage in the construction period, as well as recommendations on the planting of new woodland, but I am somewhat shocked by what I have heard this afternoon.
My Lords, I agree with everything my noble friend Lord Liddle just said. As a former member of the HS2 board and as the Minister who set up HS2 Ltd, environmental concerns were absolutely at the heart of what we sought to meet. By and large, HS2 has done a good job.
The fundamental concern many noble Lords have is that this railway is being built at all. We need to be quite clear about this. The impact on ancient woodland is miniscule as regards the proportion of woodland affected. Some noble Lords would prefer that the line was not built and there was no impact; I respect that entirely. However, Parliament has given these powers and it is a project of importance. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, says it is unpopular, but that is not what the polling shows at all. It shows that HS2 as a scheme is popular with the public at large. Railways are popular, and indeed, if I may point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, they are particularly popular with Greens.
Unfortunately, a kind of parallel debate is taking place here. There is one between opponents of HS2 who are simply latching on to anything they can use to try to undermine the project, and the reality, which is that HS2 is doing, by and large, a good job. It could improve—of course all organisations can improve—but it is doing a good job of meeting its environmental obligations, and the requirements placed upon it by the Government are reasonable as regards no net loss.
I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that he delivered one part of his speech condemning cost overruns at HS2, which was prefaced by calling for additional costs, which would be significant. He tried to pooh-pooh them away in a kind of rhetorical way, but it would be very significant if they were imposed on HS2. He needs to work out how he reconciles the first half of his speech with the second half.
On reporting, I am in strong support of full transparency and proper accounting processes, as I have been all the way through this project. I hope that the Minister will tell us what the process for reporting is. HS2 Ltd publishes a full annual report, which gives an update of the progress on the project across a number of dimensions, and it is regularly held to account by parliamentary committees, including the Public Accounts Committee, and internally by the Government.
However, I see merit, as my noble friend Lord Liddle said, in a requirement for an ongoing process for reporting on delivery against environmental and financial objectives. Subject to what the Minister says when she tells us what the reporting processes are, might it be possible to bring together my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s Amendment 4 and my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe’s Amendment 9? The latter would require annual reporting in respect of the impact on ancient woodlands. My noble friend Lord Berkeley’s amendment would require quarterly reporting across a much wider range of impacts —not just environmental impacts, but costs of land acquisition, the progress of the project, and revenue forecasts and cost-benefit analyses. I support the broad range of issues that my noble friend Lord Berkeley wants to see reported on, but quarterly reporting is too regular. Subject to what the Minister says, if we are still not happy about the formal requirements for reporting after the Grand Committee, I wonder whether it might be possible to have annual reporting, as suggested in my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe’s Amendment 9, across a broader range of indices. My noble friend is right that annual reporting is the way most organisations report on objectives and costs.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham. No? Perhaps we can come back to the noble Lord. I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.
My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, based on his experience as a member of our committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, mentioned that, proportionately, more woodlands are affected by this project than in the case of HS2 phase 1. One should not be surprised about that, because it takes a long time to get out of the built-up area around London, and quite a long time before its begins to reach the much more urban countryside through which this phase passes. Therefore it is a feature of this particular phase that we encountered a lot of countryside, a lot of farmland, and indeed woodlands.
The noble Lord was perfectly correct and the statistics are these: 10 areas of woodland are affected, of which about 9.8 hectares will be lost due to the project. Most of them are quite small but there is a particular one, at Whitmore Wood, where a substantial amount will be lost but there is a good deal of replanting and enhancement going on to make up for that.
As far as the issue of net gain is concerned, we discussed that at some length with the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts. To endorse the point that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made about the sensitive way in which HS2 was approaching these issues in our inquiry, we did have quite a lot of discussion about how net loss and net gain could be addressed. It was counsel for HS2 who suggested perhaps a nuanced approach to this issue would be appropriate and, based on what he said, in our report we encouraged HS2 to continue that approach. Shortly afterwards, a written assurance was given to that trust, which the trust has accepted.
One of the problems with going too far with promoting net gain is that before you get very far you find yourself having to acquire more land. That would be acquiring more land from hard-pressed farmers who are already losing a substantial amount of land as a result of the line itself and its associated works. We were very cautious not to be led too far down that path. One has to bear in mind, too, that a community development fund has been set up that would enable other landowners who feel that they can give up part of their land to obtain funding to make up the loss of woodland that is due to the scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, with great respect, is absolutely right about the sensitive way in which this matter has been dealt with by HS2, so far as we can see in the material that was before us at the inquiry.
There is, however, one matter I would like to express concern about: the woodland indirectly affected. We were not asked to examine any of these, but the kind of effects that are likely happen would include vibration and dust from the movement of a very large number of vehicles over a substantial period. This is something to be careful about, considering the impact on woodlands that have not been taken down but are in the vicinity and where wildlife exists that may be very disturbed by what is going on. There is certainly something to be said for the thinking behind this particular amendment—I am talking about Amendment 9—with regard to the indirect effect on other woodlands in the very attractive area through which this particular line is going to pass.
The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, will have to unmute himself in order to join us. If he cannot unmute at his end, I am afraid the technicians cannot do it this end. Sadly, I think we are going to have to wait for another amendment for a contribution from the noble Lord. I call the next speaker: the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.
My Lords, this group of amendments deals with accountability, including a special report on ancient woodlands, which have of course been the subject of a great deal of debate. No observer of the tortuous process so far for agreeing and starting construction of HS2 can really disagree that more answer- ability needs to be built into the process if taxpayers are to feel comfortable with the project. I was pleased that the Government have appointed a Minister for HS2—that is a good start. There is, I believe, a ministerial taskforce to improve community relations.
The loss of woodland, however, is always a concern. I read the committee’s report very carefully and it deals with this issue in detail. It is important to be clear that the term “ancient woodland” does not mean specifically very old trees but simply that there have been trees in that spot since 1600—which of course means that there is a very well-established ecosystem—whereas very old trees are called veteran trees. According to the committee’s report, there are 10 areas of woodland that will be lost, equalling about 9.8 hectares, plus seven areas, mostly very small, that will be affected.
To give a sense of the impact, there are over 50,000 separate pieces of ancient woodland listed throughout the UK, so the impact is marginal in numerical terms. However, any impact must be used as a reason to plant new trees. There is a debate about exactly how many can reasonably be required to be planted, although the committee believes that the Woodland Trust’s suggestion of 30 new trees for every old tree lost would be unreasonable. It cites in addition four new funds established for planting new trees and improving existing ancient woodland. I note that the National Trust, of which I declare an interest as a member, has received funding to undertake some of that.
Other important issues noted in the committee’s report include the importance of ensuring a stock of saplings free of disease. Another that I am personally particularly concerned about is the loss of wetlands, the importance of which is often overlooked by the general public. People see trees very much more easily than a patch of wetland.
The suggestion of an extra-long tunnel from Whitmore Heath to Madeley to avoid the loss of one patch of ancient woodland illustrates the ecological complexity of the situation. Tunnelling creates damage to the environment—materials have to be dug up in enormous quantities, transported and dumped somewhere else, which of course suffers from that impact, and the process creates emissions and noise, which makes life very uncomfortable for those nearby—so it is not an easy solution.
It would be wise for there to be continuous and careful monitoring as phase 2a is built, and in a format accessible to members of the public. However, we live in a densely populated island and we cannot build anything on this scale without affecting some established habitats. What we need is a structure to ensure that as few habitats as possible are affected and that promised remedial measures are robust and fully implemented.
I look on the environment as a balance sheet. In the fundamental fight against climate change, I am certain that HS2 will make an overwhelmingly positive contribution, with far more environmental goods than harms.
My Lords, I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.
No, we will take the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.
We will come to you after the Minister. If you were ready then to make a short speech, I think that would be in order. I call the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.
My Lords, the position that we take on HS2 is unambiguously to support it, therefore I am not seeking to find devices to slow it down or otherwise damage its future. However, I recognise two things. Speaking first to Amendment 4, I note that the Government have gone some way towards the aim of that amendment by promising six-monthly reports. Indeed, the first one was published on 13 October in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement, as far as I understand it. If the department and the Minister were to look upon this debate positively, there could possibly be a meeting of minds, ideally before Report, on the contents of those reports so that the many sensible concerns expressed in this debate could be met.
On the environment, towards the end of the report it says:
“In the coming months, HS2 Ltd will establish a new Environmental Sustainability Committee (as a sub-committee of the HS2 Ltd board), let by its Chair Allan Cook. This committee will be charged with strengthening Environmental Sustainability Reporting including the development and publication of an Environmental Sustainability Report. HS2 intends to publish the first report next year.”
Perhaps the Minister might know of this report and be able to tell us when it will be published.
The discussion on ancient woodlands—I have to be honest—was merely the Labour Front Bench doing its duty and making sure that all issues were fully debated. I will not repeat the briefings that I have had from the Woodland Trust and others, because they have already been employed in the arguments so far. I urge the Government to listen to this debate and, once again, to enter discussions with Members of this Committee who have spoken so passionately on it to see whether the need for regular reporting can be merged with the particular and important needs of ancient woodland.
On the issue of the periodicity of reporting, the divide between one amendment calling for three months and the other amendment calling for one year could probably be crossed by a merger of the two. We settled on six-monthly reports, but with a wider range of issues, particularly involving ancient woodlands. I hope that the Minister will be able to achieve through discussion some consensus on these two issues, because while I recognise that speakers in this debate are, to some extent, coming from different directions, the generality of their contributions tends to be to the common ground of a report covering a wider range of facts.
I call the next speaker, Baroness Vere of Norbiton.
No, Lord Framlingham, you will speak after the Minister, so you will be the next speaker after this one.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Tunnicliffe, for their amendments in this group. They have been grouped together as they cover the very important areas of transparency and accountability. The Government agree that these areas are absolutely vital; we must ensure that the project is successful, and transparency and accountability will be at the heart of that. Like the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I believe that HS2 must always strive to do better. That is good practice for all organisations.
That is why the Government have committed to providing an update to Parliament every six months on the progress of HS2. The first update was provided on 13 October, as has been noted, and that report covers data reported by HS2 Ltd to the end of August 2020. A copy of the report has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Furthermore, HS2 Ltd provides detailed annual reports to Parliament, as required by the DfT/HS2 Ltd framework document. Noble Lords will be aware that as principal accounting officer, the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Transport is accountable to Parliament for capital contributions and resources provided by HS2. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to a recent letter from the Public Accounts Committee to the Permanent Secretary setting out a number of requests and observations, and this is a prime example of holding the Government and HS2 to account.
Specifically on environmental matters, if it is felt that a contractor is not meeting the requirements of the environmental minimum requirements, there is a three-step process that can be followed. In the first instance, the issue can be reported to the nominated undertaker, which in this case would be HS2. Secondly, if the issue is not resolved satisfactorily, it can be escalated and reported to my department, which can direct HS2 to implement corrective action. Finally, the issue can be reported to Parliament: to the Speaker in the House of Commons or to the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords. Furthermore, individuals and bodies can raise issues with Sir Mark Worthington OBE, who is the independent construction commissioner for both phase 1 and phase 2a. This ensures access to clear, impartial advice and enables strong scrutiny of the project.
I turn to the issue of ancient woodlands. I understand and I commend the interest taken in our invaluable ancient woodlands and veteran trees. In the development of the project, every effort has been made to avoid or reduce the impact on ancient woodlands. For example, following extensive engagement with the Woodland Trust, we were able to offer a number of assurances in relation to ancient woodlands and veteran trees. Those include the retention of Noddy’s Oak near Stockwell Heath in Staffordshire, along with five other veteran trees.
I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, because we believe that we have a productive relationship with the Woodland Trust and we want very much for that relationship to continue. There are some places where we have not been able to protect a veteran tree or a piece of ancient woodland, and of course this is regrettable. However, HS2 is putting in place all possible mitigations to safeguard our environment as a whole. The environmental statements already report the likely significant effects of the phase 2a scheme on trees and woodland habitats, including veteran trees and ancient woodland. They also set out the proposed mitigations and compensations for the likely effects of the railway. HS2 has published an ancient woodland strategy for the scheme that sets out the expected loss of ancient woodland habitat and the range of compensation measures being proposed in response to those losses.
I know that there are concerns about how contractors can be held to account in undertaking works in or near ancient woodlands. As I have outlined previously, if it is felt that a contractor undertaking works authorised by the Bill is not meeting the environmental minimum requirements, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that there is an investigation. If any corrective action is needed, it is taken, and ultimately these steps can include a report to Parliament.
The Department for Transport and HS2 have done extensive work to assess, document and publicise the impact of the proposed scheme on the ecology of our beautiful urban and rural landscapes. A number of noble Lords have gone into detail about veteran trees and ancient woodlands, along with the broader environmental impacts of HS2. I will write to them in more detail on this because there is a fair amount to cover on the no net loss commitment of HS2, along with other things that can be done in order to achieve some net gain. I will also add some information on costs. Unfortunately, I do not fully recognise the costs that were put forward by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. I am not entirely sure where they came from, so I will set those out in more detail. I will also add some information about the nature and timing of the various reports. I realise that quite a number of reports have been produced and that it would be helpful for all noble Lords to understand where we are. There will certainly be more on the environmental matters when the Government’s response to the report of the Select Committee is published, which will happen shortly before Report. Also, in relation to this, I will arrange a meeting for noble Lords, probably with the Minister for HS2, so that we can go into these matters in more detail.
I believe that the current level of reporting across the project, which has only very recently been revised, is proportionate and sufficient. It comes alongside increased oversight of the project by not only my colleague Andrew Stephenson, the HS2 Minister, but the ministerial task force chaired by the Transport Secretary, which includes ministerial colleagues from across government. Both these measures are relatively new. They need time to bed in and for the impact to be felt. I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to withdraw his amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I call the noble Lord to make a short contribution.
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships can now hear me. I speak in support of Amendments 4 and 9, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Tunnicliffe. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his tenacity and detailed, professional questioning of what I call a farcical project—HS2.
I am afraid I must remind the Committee that had my amendment to the HS2 Bill, which I proposed on 31 January 2017, been passed, HS2 would now be history. Unbelievable amounts of money would have been saved and much anguish and environmental damage would have been prevented. I had just 26 supporters on that day in your Lordships’ House, but two of them were uniquely placed to understand the project. The noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Macpherson, had been Permanent Secretaries to the Treasury; one under Gordon Brown and the other in the time of David Cameron and George Osborne. They were both so convinced that HS2 was a mistake that they voted to stop it, even at that stage.
It has often been said that HS2 is a vanity project, and that is true. It was conceived in what can be described only as a fit of misplaced enthusiasm, costed on the back of an envelope and somehow pushed through government, where, just like the emperor’s new clothes, no one seemed able or prepared to ask the most fundamental questions about its feasibility. From the beginning, Ministers have stubbornly refused to listen to any suggestions of shortcomings, whether about speed, capacity, environment, construction or cost. Money is no object. HS2’s chief executive Mark Thurston has said:
“I’m not worried about overspending”.
When asked on the radio what the Government were prepared to spend on it, the then Transport Minister, Chris Grayling, replied “Whatever it takes.” If it takes £100 billion, we could rebuild every hospital in the country for that kind of money. This ministerial refusal to listen is what is frustrating so many railway professionals and interested organisations. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous that Government Ministers are not treating with more respect the views of those eminently qualified to contribute to the issue.
When HS2 was first conceived, a large body of professional railway engineers wrote to the Minister offering to come and see him to share their concerns. He refused even to see them. The advice of people such as Michael Byng, a recognised expert in the field, is ignored and the Woodland Trust, the custodian of our ancient woodlands, finds it impossible to obtain the information it needs. I recently received a communication from an organisation that had given evidence to our House of Lords Select Committee. It said:
“Unfortunately, we do not consider that we have received a fair hearing and feel that the hybrid Bill process is not an appropriate method for making independent and valued engineering, environmental and economic judgments about something so important as the HS2 project. It is also deeply frustrating that HS2 Ltd’s case and the evidence of its witnesses, however technically weak, is automatically accepted as unchallengeable, as if it was the gospel.”
Even as we speak, I understand that HS2 is carrying out work at Euston station which may never be needed. It is a shambles. I am delighted to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which would bring a degree of accountability and sanity to this chaotic project, but I will not hold my breath.
I am also very happy to support Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I am very grateful to the Woodland Trust for its very helpful briefing. It is quite intolerable that an organisation such as the Woodland Trust, custodian of our ancient woodlands, should find it so difficult to obtain information about what is happening to them. Our ancient woodlands are truly irreplaceable. Their soil structure, undisturbed for centuries, cannot possibly be recreated. The idea that they can be moved to other sites is laughable. No amount of tree planting can possibly compensate for the loss of our ancient trees. I have tabled Questions to try to discover the extent of the damage to date. I have been presented with the blandest Answers.
The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, would ensure that HS2 has to account for the damage it does, with facts and figures, which at the moment are so hard to come by. When, in this environmentally sensitive world, it is doing so much harm to the countryside, the very least it should be expected to do is regularly report on its actions and their consequences.
My Lords, I will make two brief points. I really do object to the way the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, accuses everybody who raises legitimate objections to anything as being against the project being built. Nothing could be further from the truth. My comments in particular are about environmental performance, not the project as a whole. I have never commented on the validity of the project as a whole. I wish he would stop putting everybody into that box.
I was also rather distressed by my noble friend Lord Liddle’s shock at the tone in which several noble Lords made their remarks. We need to be alert to the fact that although the Woodland Trust and other wildlife and environmental organisations are working alongside HS2 Ltd because that is the only way forward—jaw-jaw is always better than war-war—there is considerable dissatisfaction about HS2’s environmental performance in phase 1. It failed to identify a whole range of ancient woodland sites until prodded. It chose, for some inexplicable reason, to introduce a whole load of non-native species in its planting arrangements. It has continued to have impacts on temporary sites that probably could have been avoided, as the Select Committee pointed out. It has been very close to the line, and may even have gone over it, on damaging sites before getting necessary licences for things such as disturbance or destruction of bat roosts. It is not an easy relationship, but everyone in the environment movement—I am sure they would not mind me speaking on their behalf—wants to work with developers. We want a recognition from the Minister that the Department for Transport needs to indicate higher expectations of HS2 than, “It’s only a few ancient woodlands, it doesn’t really matter,” which is what I got from the Minister’s comments so far.
The Minister talked about the variety of complaints channels people can take up. Complaints channels are a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has gone. We need more encouragement of an atmosphere of continuous open learning, acceptance of the need for improvement and to move on from that learning to implement things differently in successive phases, successive quarters or however long the reporting period might be. It was incredibly distressing, in the gap between phase 1 and phase 2a planning, to discover that the entire teams we had been working with on phase 1 had not passed that learning on to the teams planning phase 2a. We have to find a way to make sure that the operational learning that comes out of doing the job on the ground does not disappear, gets picked up and results in improved environmental performance.
I think my comments still stand. What the noble Baroness has outlined highlights the importance of a constructive and productive relationship between all environmental NGOs, including the Woodland Trust, and HS2. Building large-scale transport infrastructure is never easy. It is always a very challenging time. People with different interests will want different things and compromises have to be reached. I hope that the noble Baroness will join me, Minister Stephenson and other noble Lords when we go into environmental matters in a bit more depth after Committee stage and before Report. Perhaps I will be able to reassure noble Lords that HS2 is learning lessons and will take them forward into phase 2a.
I am grateful for the opportunity to wind up the debate on these amendments. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. The debate has ranged widely from those who, frankly, do not trust HS2 further than they can throw it and others who say that it is doing fine on reporting.
It is certainly true that the Government are trying to produce more reports, which many noble Lords think is a good start while others are less trusting—I suppose that in the end it comes back to trust. The environmental effect of a railway could be massively mitigated if the speeds of the trains were reduced so that it could go around ancient woodlands and avoid so many deep cuttings and embankments. That is something which the French learned 30 years ago, and I suspect that it is being learned for phase 2b—certainly for the east side, maybe the west side as well—but my noble friend Lord Adonis will then complain that the trains are not going fast enough. That can be debated.
Some regular reporting is needed to provide the transparency that many noble Lords believe is necessary, me included. It needs to cover each phase, as well as the whole thing, and must cover all the things which are in my amendment and probably a few others as well. Yes, there is an independent construction commissioner, but to some extent that is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, although the commissioner does a really good job.
If we were to sit around the table and the Minister was prepared to do it, I am sure that some amendment or addition to the existing reporting could be achieved. However, the real question is this: is there sufficient trust among noble Lords for it to be done without some independent scrutiny, which I shall discuss when we come to Amendment 6? That is something to reflect on and it all comes back to trust. We have had a really good debate on it. The Minister said that she would be happy to talk between now and Report and we should take her up on it. I am sure that we can reach some compromise on reporting not just what has happened but what will happen in the future, or what is planned to happen, and any issues that may come alongside it.
I again thank all noble Lords who have spoken. We have heard a wide variety of opinions, which is great. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 5. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
5: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Compensation scheme for tenants
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for a scheme to compensate tenants adversely affected by the scheduled works.(2) Regulations under this section may contain such supplementary, incidental, consequential or transitional provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient.(3) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument.(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of resolutions of both Houses of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is intended to require the Government to introduce regulations to ensure that tenants affected by the works are fairly compensated.
My Lords, we now move from natural landscapes and habitats to the man-made ones. Before I go any further, I declare my interest as an almost completely retired chartered surveyor, although I confess that it is a very long time since I dealt with anything in relation to compulsory acquisition. Provided that the Committee chair does not object, I propose to speak to Amendment 5, during which I will incorporate any comments I have in relation to Amendment 10, which covers the same ground to some extent. I will also speak to Amendment 13 before formally moving Amendment 5.
I start by saying that I am not in any way anti-HS2, but I am pro-efficiency in operation. This amendment is about compensating tenants. That is any tenant, whether they are residential, businesses or neither, but it is of particular relevance to residential and possibly agricultural tenants, because it may also be about their home.
For some time, leases have been getting ever shorter. Business leases in particular have been going that way, also with options to extend or break. In many areas, the rate of turnover may be considerable. This is a response to and a product of the uncertainty of our times. No lease of less than seven years’ duration is required to be registered with HM Land Registry. Apart from perhaps the register of electors, council tax or non-domestic rate records, there may be little to identify an occupier or the nature of their tenant, and none at all if it happens to be agricultural. This gets worse when the tenant may themselves have legitimately entered into a subletting.
My understanding is that HM Land Registry has a fairly substantial backlog of registration cases. I have not had a moment to check with HMLR direct; if I am wrong in that case, I will be very happy to stand corrected. However, if I am right, even a registrable change of ownership and the contact details attached to that may be many months in contemplation before it gets finalised on the register or picked up on a register search. HS2 Ltd is of course charged with giving notice of its intent to compulsorily acquire land
“to all the persons interested in, or having power to sell and convey or release, the land, so far as known to the … authority”—
that is, HS2. The first point is to ask how good it is at picking up these unrecorded tenancies and what sort of contingencies it has in place for what might be a considerable area of doubt.
In addition, there are some very long lead-in periods in the HS2 scheme. The Bill removes the normal three-year time limit on exercising the compulsory rights by the acquiring authority, so the timescales are no longer contained in the way they would be with a conventional compulsory purchase scheme. Moreover, when it comes to taking possession of the land, the Bill cuts the normal three months’ notice to one month for acquisition of subsoil rights, but as subsoil works are likely to be the most potent circumstances of physical damage being caused to buildings, some people might reasonably regard this as a bit alarming.
In another place, the Minister referred to the C15 guide—one of a series of guides produced by the Department for Transport—which relates to short-term residential tenants. The guide suggests that normally a tenancy by way of an assured shorthold tenancy will not give rise to a compensable legal interest due to the brevity of that tenancy arrangement. I should have thought that a tenancy on a one-year term but with a clear expectation of being able to stay much longer might feel somewhat cheated by such an arrangement.
I therefore turned my attention to the report from the Select Committee on the Bill, which had some comments to make. Here I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his committee, for a truly excellent piece of work. Paragraph 115 of that report refers to residential tenants
“who are leaseholders with at least three years of their terms unexpired”
and goes on to say what schemes for compensation they may be entitled to. It says:
“Other residential tenants will be entitled to a home loss payment. This does not however apply to tenants with shorthold assured periodic tenancies, to some agricultural tenancies, or to tenancies of narrow boats. The House of Commons Select Committee took up these omissions with the Secretary of State but does not seem to have made much progress.”
Noble Lords will start to see the issues, and my second query is to invite the Minister to give us a bit of a progress report on what is happening there.
Disturbance payments should be payable to tenants, but C15 contains comments about mitigating losses. That is fair enough in theory, but getting several quotes for removals and possibly for estate agents’ services in circumstances in which the guidance is silent on the question of getting professional advice about the totality of the claim itself, in what is a very demanding technical area of law and practice, seems to cram a lot into a short notice period, part of the costs of which might not be compensable. Bear in mind this is net additional cost, inconvenience, distraction and worry over and above those of the normal lives of tenants of every sort.
A home loss payment is not payable in circumstances where the tenant has been in residence for less than 12 months. Furthermore, disturbance payments may be denied where the tenant leaves voluntarily, is subject to a notice such as a notice to quit, or exercises a break clause, even if the root cause of the move is the threat of compulsion by HS2 Ltd. People in their own homes and businessfolk, even as tenants, do not wait until the last minute before being given the heave ho. Given the level of uncertainty about aspects of HS2 and its programme in particular, one would have to say, who can blame them? Again, I sense that this arrangement is intrinsically unfair.
The Select Committee also looked at business premises. At paragraph 116, it referred to the question of basic loss payments that are
“equal to 7.5 per cent of the open market value of the premises or £75,000, whichever is the smaller.”
That is applicable to owners—the freeholder of the property. It goes on:
“Business tenants who are displaced will be entitled to an ‘occupier’s loss payment’ of 2.5 per cent of the open market value of the premises or £25,000, whichever is the less.”
Crucially, the Select Committee says:
“Some commentators have suggested that these percentages of 7.5 per cent”
to the freeholder, and 2.5% to the occupier or tenant
“should be reversed, but that has not so far”
been recognised. The point is that the tenant is the person in occupation, suffering the greatest disturbance, and the landlord is usually the investor. The Compulsory Purchase Association, with which I have had a dialogue in the distant past but not specifically on this Bill, has long advocated a suggested change so that those percentages are reversed, with the largest percentage going to the tenant or occupier and the smaller percentage going to the freeholder. My next question for the Minister is