High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill Committee Stage day 1

The first day of committee saw Jenny supporting all the tabled amendments in an effort to improve this bill…

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 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 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.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on his 14-and-a-half-minute masterclass on how to pull apart inadequate government legislation. It was absolutely brilliant, and I cannot see that it leaves much for the rest of us to say—however, I am going to try.

I am delighted that noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, got in on the last debate, because his was a valuable contribution with which I largely agree. I read the Select Committee report, but what has come over strongly during these debates is just how much the ​members of that committee swallowed the HS2 line. It is almost as if they did not use any judgment and, as was said by others, perhaps did not listen to anything that reduced HS2 in any way. They perhaps put too much trust in the HS2 organisation and should have listened to the personal testimonies of those who have come up against it; for example, the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Perhaps they should swallow a more sceptical pill next time, if there is a next time.

I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who grouped everyone together in the same box, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggested, and impugned their integrity—that is quite offensive. In my case, it is absolutely right that I wanted to stop the original plan, because I read the briefs which said what a terrible waste of money it was going to be and how it would devastate a lot of the countryside. All those things have come to pass; they were all true. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has laid out that the HS2 organisation did not have a very good business case; it did not think ahead; it did not assess the situation as well as it might have done. It is now in a mess, having to pay compensation to people whom it has not treated very well.

Read the whole debate on Hansard