What they said in the Westminster Hall debate

Yesterday’s debate on High Speed Rail, held in Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament is now available in Hansard.

Selected highlights:

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): (opening the debate) I speak as a representative of the Backbench Business Committee, and will briefly set the scene for this debate. …. The ideal debate, of course, is one that Members on neither Front Bench would want put on.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): …It would be easy to modernise the east coast main line. …. The whole line would then be open for 140 mph working, non-stop from King’s Cross to Edinburgh. In 1992, a test train did that route, non-stop apart from a two-minute stop at Newcastle, in three and a half hours. Interestingly, the proponents of HS2 suggest a time of three and a half hours-the exact same time that could be achieved on the existing route with a bit of modernisation….

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con):…The Department for Transport’s own national travel survey shows that overall transport demand is no longer growing with GDP. Eurostar’s passenger numbers in 2009 had reached only 37% of the level that was forecast, as a result of building the HS1 link….

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): ….The project mysteriously appeared at the tail end of the previous Government’s tenure of office, and was somehow or other-remarkably quickly-brought to the fore by Lord Adonis. One has to congratulate him on his coup in that respect. To many people, it came out of the blue, . …

…The cost per job created will be £600,000, which is monstrous. It has been said that that is about four times more than a normal job, for which the cost is £150,000, but even that figure is a gross exaggeration, and infrastructure projects can create jobs elsewhere in the economy at a much lower cost. The figure of £600,000 is mind-blowing….

… One has to look at the history. Let us take demand forecasts for the rail industry. Nine out of 10 have been grossly exaggerated by at least twice. That is roughly the proportion we have between the conservative forecast and the Department for Transport’s forecast today. In the case of HS1, it has only just now, after nearly a decade of some sort of operation, reached the lowest level of forecast we ever thought remotely possible. As we know, HS1 has just been sold off as a dead loss, at a loss of £3 billion….

…I was speaking to Geoff Inskip, managing director of Centro the other day, and he said we cannot wait so long, we need the increasing capacity now, as soon as possible. He is convinced that four-tracking between Coventry and Birmingham should be proceeded with forthwith. That is the first step towards RP2 ….

Dan Byles: …The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) demonstrates that we need to do more work before spending 17 billion quid of taxpayers’ money. If some reports say one thing, and others say something else, where is the fundamental, independent, root and branch economic analysis of existing high-speed rail systems in other countries around the world? …

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): … We are told that great strategists with vinegar-soaked towels around their heads came up with HS2 as the first stage of a great, high-speed rail network. They seemed not to notice that they had not proposed a connection with the only existing part of the high-speed rail network, High Speed 1, which comes into St Pancras station…
…Now they have bodged a connection. There will be a third bore-if hon. Members will excuse the term-from Old Oak Common, coming out at Primrose Hill. The tunnel will be bored in parallel with the other two tunnels coming into Euston, and will proceed along the North London line to connect to HS1. So far, no one has explained whether it will connect to HS1 through the HS1 line, or by going into the HS1 part of St Pancras station. Perhaps the Minister can elucidate, but I doubt it because I do not think the people at HS2 quite know what they are talking about. Something else that did not appear in the announcement is that the proposal is for that tunnel, and the bit on the North London line, to proceed only at conventional speed. …When HS1 was being built, I recall that the people from Bechtel looked at the possibility of using the North London line as the route into St Pancras. They decided that the cuttings, embankments and bridges along that line were so lousy that it would be cheaper to bore through to St Pancras, …
…I was always a strong supporter of the channel tunnel and the channel tunnel link. When the same preposterous railway strategists came up with a proposal to place the terminus for High Speed 1 in a cave under King’s Cross station, I was among those who led the opposition to that and proposed St Pancras station instead; we were not entirely nimbyist. Whatever anybody says, that has been a brilliant success. I do not believe that the people who come up with these proposals have done the work properly. If we are to have a proper high-speed network, this is the last way and last place in which to start it.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con):…I come now to the environmental points. Again, we need to consider what has happened abroad. The proposed high-speed line will have an operating speed of 250 mph, which is a significant increase on the operating speeds of most high-speed lines in the country. I urge caution on that point. Let us consider Japan, for example. The new generation of the Shinkansen or bullet train can operate at about 250 mph, but it is being limited in its speed because of noise pollution concerns….
…Get it right and we will have a world-class transport system in this country. Get it wrong and we will have wasted billions of pounds and disrupted many communities without having proper gain from it….

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I am glad that we are seeing all-party support as well as opposition to High Speed 2 today

…I visited the site of the Old Oak interchange two weeks ago; it is in the north of my constituency. It is a large brownfield site that has always been railway land, and it is a wholly suitable location.  … When the Secretary of State launched the scheme on 20 December, he made a statement in the House without presenting Members with plans and documents, so we were entirely in the dark. He went to Old Oak and launched the scheme that morning, giving notice to everyone, including the Conservative party, but not the constituency MP. The Minister and HS2 are rather short of friends at the moment, and they should look to cultivate people a little more if they wish to continue to have them speak out on their behalf….We may not have anything quite like the Chilterns in Shepherds Bush, but we do have Wormwood Scrubs. It is a large open space that is ecologically sensitive, and I have been protecting it not for years but for many decades. If HS2 and the Government wish to have, if not their support, then at least the acquiescence of hon. Members, they need to go a lot further….

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con):…The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) was right to say that the policy was put upon us, fully formed and out of the blue, shortly before the general election. This is the first debate in which the House has had the chance to give intensive scrutiny to this multi-billion pound project….

…This is not a debate that can be dealt with in set-piece forums such as this. We are talking about an issue that the country will live with for years and years. It behoves Parliament to get it right, and it behoves us, as Back Benchers, to ensure that the structures of the House, and especially the Select Committee, subject the project to the intellectual rigour and investigation that it needs, so that present taxpayers and future generations get the right answers….

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): … The past 30 years of rail infrastructure projects in the UK have been somewhat chequered. There are some great successes: … However, we have had some significant failures in those rail projects. Each one has been over budget, if we look at what the politicians claimed originally and the actual bill the taxpayer received. Many require ongoing subsidy and many communities have been blighted, including one in my area, thanks to the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway….
…If the line reaches Edinburgh, a whole new station would have to be constructed, because Edinburgh cannot take high-speed rail. The current station is right in the city centre and there is no capacity left for any more track or platforms. That means that a whole new set of connecting track would need to be laid from the parkway station that would be required to the network, and those costs have not been worked out.….The line can only work if it is genuinely high-speed and connects only the great conurbations. I doubt that either Warrington or even Carlisle will qualify on those grounds, despite the eloquent cases that will be made for them….
…The Minister must recognise that we need to have rolling stock in place before we start to build. One of the great reasons for the failure of the Edinburgh airport rail link was that Ministers in Scotland tried to build a rail link under a live airport without any clear sense of what the rolling stock would actually look like. …

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): .…Indeed, just last month I called for this debate so that Members would have the chance to take on the misinformation that has been spread by the alliance of luddites and nimbys who oppose the plans. It appears that my comments sparked outrage in some quarters and I am truly sorry for that. I did not intend to cause offence….

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con):…I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) that I shall not invite him to any of my supper clubs in the near future. My constituents are not nimbys. I have spoken to several hundred of them over the past months, and I saw about 80 last Saturday. They tell me that if it can be demonstrably proven that the business case stacks up, if there are proper mitigations in place in their vicinity, and if they get fair and reasonable compensation for the loss they suffer, they will, through gritted teeth, accept the proposal. The trouble, as we have heard today, is that the business case has not been proven, mitigations are not yet known…

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): …I recently visited India with the International Development Committee, and we talked about the space programme in which the Indian Government are investing. I do not see the Minister for Universities and Science, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts) coming before the House to seek its support for such a programme so that we do not get left behind….

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): … We should not do high-speed rail just because the rest of the world is doing it. …We should do it only if three conditions exist: the business case has to be robust; we must be satisfied that there are transformational benefits; and, on a cash-flow basis, it has to be affordable….

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab):…Labour has just embarked on a fundamental review of all its policies…. Clearly, everything will be on the table as part of our policy review, and we encourage as many members of the public as possible to get involved in our ongoing discussions, including those on both High Speed 2 and Rail Package 2; …

….I do not know how sensible it is for the Secretary of State for Transport to refer to anyone who is against the scheme as a nimby, as he recently did in a newspaper article…..

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers):…As for the allegation made by one or two hon. Members that we are proposing a rich man’s railway, and the concerns expressed about fares by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and the shadow Minister, our research indicates that 70% of passengers would be travelling for reasons other than business, with leisure trips particularly important. All our modelling is based on fares that are in line with existing services. Our assumptions about the expected fare-box do not factor in or depend on any premium for high-speed services….

4 comments to “What they said in the Westminster Hall debate”
  1. Theresa Villiers: “Under the revised proposals, the Chilterns will be crossed predominantly in tunnels and deep cuttings, or alongside the existing A413 transport corridor”.
    That is disingenuous. Why are “tunnels” and “transport corridor” used in the same sentence as if you won’t notice HS2 beside the road? It brushes aside the fact that the A413 is NOT a motorway – it’s mostly a single carriageway road with relatively low-speed (40-50mph) traffic. HS2 completely out in the open beside the A413 is hardly the same as being hidden a tunnel.

  2. While Graham Evans MP dismisses HS2 protesters the “alliance of luddites and nimbys”, he is backing his own constituents against wind farms here. Obviously the fact that he is in a marginal constituency with a small majority is entirely coincidental…

  3. Anyone who has an interest in this subject should take the time to read through the transcript in full.

    The MPs cover the ground well and raise all the arguments that I have seen so far for and against HS2. There are of course a lot of points made, but what struck me most was the number of MPs expressing the opinion that a scheme on this scale and costing this much money should be subject to careful scrutiny and proper evaluation of all the possible alternatives.

    • Of course it should be subject to the fullest inquiry possible ….that is an absolute given.

      You will notice in the transcript that there was a mention about the OBR. This is actually something I pointed out right after the budget.

      We seem to have got to a stage now where pretty much all the pros and cons for this scheme have been declared. I cant see any new arguments coming to this which we havent already mentioned.

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