Parliamentary disquiet surrounding HS2 has demonstrably increased in the last week, as Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch has tabled a bill which seeks to have a public referendum on HS2, whilst the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has announced that they will conduct an inquiry into the economic case for HS2.
On Monday 7th July, 37 Private Members Bills were submitted for the current session of Parliament, which runs up until the May General Election. Amongst those was a bill from Christopher Chope MP, “To make provision for a national referendum on whether the proposed construction of the HS2 railway should be supported financially by the UK taxpayer.”. The Bill was supported by Cheryl Gillan, Sir John Randall, Michael Fabricant, James Gray, Peter Bone and Andrew Turner. Whilst three of those MPs represent constituencies along the route, like Mr Chope, Messrs Gray, Bone and Turner do not, representing North Wiltshire, Wellingborough and the Isle of Wight respectively.
Normally, Private Members Bills stand little chance of even being debated, however with only 11 Bills being announced in The Queens Speech, prompting accusations that the current session is a ‘Zombie Parliament’, there may be a possibility that the Bill does get debated, and is currently scheduled for a second reading on Friday 23rd January 2015.
Penny Gaines, who has remained as Chair of Stop HS2 despite moving to Dorset from Buckinghamshire last year, when she became a constituent of Mr Chope said:
“I’ve met Christopher Chope and discussed HS2 with him on several occasions. He has been vocally opposed to HS2 for some time and I’m delighted that he has taken my concerns seriously. It is only right that the people expected to pay for HS2 have the chance to say that they don’t want to.”
Meanwhile, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee will conduct an inquiry into the economic case for HS2, with evidence to be submitted by 15th September, with Committee hearings due to take place in October. The Committee is inviting evidence on:
- Is there an economic case for HS2?
- Should the Department for Transport’s Strategic Case for HS2 published in October 2013 have included any other factors in making an economic case for the project?
- What are the likely economic benefits of HS2 to the Midlands, the North of England and to Scotland? Do they depend on complementary action by government and local authorities, for example by developing measures to attract investment and skilled workers?
- Will London be the main economic beneficiary of HS2? Might some areas of the country suffer economic disadvantage?
- How should HS2 be operated? Should it be a franchise in competition with the West and East Coast Main Lines?
- Should travellers pay higher fares on HS2 than other lines?
- Does the prospect of HS3 affect the economic case for HS2?
This inquiry will be the first inquiry from the Economic Affairs Committee since Labours’ Lord Hollick became chairman. He said:
“Our inquiry will attempt to get to the bottom of what the real economic impact of HS2 will be, who will benefit and who might lose out. We will find out whether the Government has taken full account of all the economic considerations in setting out the case for HS2 and what the impact will be in different parts of the UK.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“Despite the fact we keep being told there is political consensus for HS2, it seems that politicians still have a lot of questions which need to be answered. For a Bill to be put forward for a public referendum on HS2 by MPs who the majority of whom are well away from the route of HS2, along with the House of Lords announcing a new inquiry shows there is significant disquiet in Parliament about HS2.”
“We have no doubt that the House of Lords inquiry will find out what we all know, that there is no economic case for HS2 and there are far better things to spend taxpayers money on. We also welcome the call for a referendum on HS2. With current rail projects already under threat because they are going over budget, we are certain that with the massive cost of HS2 which will surely increase, the fact it is it simply not needed, and the fact the money could be much better spent elsewhere, that if the public were asked for their opinion they would give a resounding ‘No’ to HS2.”
“We sincerely hope the public get the chance to voice their opinion on HS2. In every single opinion poll for the last three years, HS2 has lost, even in the areas it is supposed to benefit. It would be easy enough to run a referendum at the same time as the next election in May, so we call on the Government to give the people their say.”