John McDonnell on HS2

Today, John McDonnell, who voted against the HS2 Hybrid and Paving Bill was appointed Shadow Chancellor. This is what he had to say when the Hybrid Bill was debated:

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Everything about my background, and recent history in Parliament in particular, suggests I should support HS2. I am the co-ordinator of the RMT parliamentary group and have supported every campaign for investment in rail over the last 17 years in Parliament. I have also used the argument about high-speed rail and taking capacity from aviation on to rail to obviate the need for a third runway at Heathrow. However, I cannot vote for the Bill tonight—I will be voting for the reasoned amendment—because I must be one of the few MPs who does not know what is going to happen in his constituency.

Initially, when high-speed rail was put forward, I was told that there would be consultation on the main route and then, last autumn, that there would be consultation on the link between the main route through my constituency to Heathrow. I was looking forward to that, because we were told that we would look at about nine options and have a detailed consultation, and that I would be able to organise community meetings and we would come to a view on whether or not we supported the link to Heathrow from the main route—or at least on what option we would support. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) alluded to the fact that a grubby compromise was subsequently made, including across the Front Benches, whereby an Airports Commission would be appointed, in order to get every political party off the hook before the general election about deciding honestly what they supported on aviation expansion. Howard Davies’s commission has already confirmed that it could report by next January but has been told to go away on holiday between January and the general election and not report until after it.

Therefore, my constituents, like others, will not know what the political parties’ views will be about their options in respect of expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick or elsewhere. That has meant that the whole process of consultation about high-speed rail’s link to Heathrow has also been delayed. So I am the only MP in this place who cannot go to their constituents before the general election to explain to them what the implications of HS2 are. What does that mean? It means blight. It causes upset and distress for those people whose homes, businesses and community resources will be at risk, and it causes long-term blight in the area. My area is already blighted by the threat of a third or a fourth runway, but we are now blighted by the threat of a high-speed rail link that could go under us, over us or through us. We do not know which way it will go. That is just unacceptable politics.

Mrs Gillan: Does it also not send out a poor signal internationally that it is taking us so long to decide where our airport capacity lies? Surely we should be ensuring that we have the best connectivity internationally because, after all, we are in a shrinking global marketplace in which we should be competing.

John McDonnell: I agree. I just wish we had some certainty and that certain politicians kept to their word. Who said: “no ifs, no buts…no third runway”?

That came from the Prime Minister. He never said, “No third runway during just one Parliament.” What he said was interpreted by most of us as a permanent commitment. I agree with the right hon. Lady that we need certainty on this matter, and the one group of people who have no certainty are my constituents. I would like the Secretary of State or the Minister to explain to me what the process will be for consultation and decision making on the link with Heathrow. Will there be additional legislation? Clause 50 enables further expansion of the route to go on under a transport works order and not full legislation, so I fear that there will not be full consultation and that we will not be presented with a Bill that we can debate in this House and vote on with regard to the link to Heathrow. In that way, yet again, my constituents will be left with uncertainty. This is no way to run a railway, no way to plan a railway and certainly no way to spend £50 billion—on a project that could be going nowhere.

Mr Slaughter: My hon. Friend mentions clause 50, but clause 47 allows the Secretary of State, willy-nilly, to take land where he sees an opportunity for regeneration or development of that land. As far as I can see, that gives him carte blanche to do whatever he feels right, whether or not that is in the interests of the railway.

John McDonnell: My constituents do not know the route, do not know what land is threatened and do not know what compensation they will be offered. That is not acceptable, so I would welcome at least some certainty about the process in which the Government will engage when they eventually decide on moving this issue forward with regard to HS2.

I missed the speech that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) made, but I am sure he raised some of the environmental concerns relating to the north of our borough. May I just raise one such concern, which was raised with me by Bert May, an elderly gentleman who has worked extremely hard with Hillingdon Outdoor Activities Centre, developing it through the Queensmead school sailing club into a sailing centre that has given thousands of young people in our area the opportunity to learn how to sail and enjoy the environment? HOAC is threatened and on behalf of Bert May, my 80-year-old constituent who has put his life into that project, I ask for some certainty about what will happen to our local area, because this affects community facilities such as that and will have a devastating effect on the livelihood, if not the well-being, of many of my constituents. That is unacceptable. Any MP facing this in their constituency would do what I am about to do, which is to vote against the Bill and to vote for the reasoned amendment. We need a reasonable approach to decision making in this House that restores some confidence that we have the capacity to take decisions on major infrastructure programmes that bring people with us rather than alienating them at each stage.

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