High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill
February 20, 2017
Mark made the following contributions to a debate on High Speed Rail 2:
Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
I appreciate that there would be a desire, particularly in central London, to prevent any local transport authority, whether the local authority or Transport for London, from frustrating the building of the railway, but will the Minister give an assurance that the Secretary of State’s powers will be used sparingly? In London we already have democratically elected authorities, through the local authorities and Transport for London, that are able to represent the public interest in this regard, so it is a slight concern that the Secretary of State could use the powers less sparingly than might be desirable for democratic accountability.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words. I had not intended to speak, partly because HS2 does not go through my constituency, but I have a lot of sympathy with right hon. and hon. Friends and Members whose constituencies are directly affected. As an MP in central London, I have had Crossrail going through my constituency in the past decade or so. I have made several hundred enemies by not opposing that scheme, but it is clearly a scheme that is very much in the national interest. I am afraid that that does not apply as much to the rail scheme we are discussing.
Where I would disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) is that I do think that the Government have done their level best to make sure that we have legislation that has allowed people to have their say. I know that the outcome is not what she wanted, or indeed what many other right hon. and hon. Members wanted. I hope that the Minister will very much take on board the comments of my constituency neighbour, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). This has got to be the beginning of a process, not the end of a process. The issue of an ongoing dialogue with constituents who are going to be affected by this in the London Borough of Camden and, indeed, throughout the UK must be at the forefront of the Government’s mind.
While we should support large-scale infrastructure projects that are going to work—whatever one thinks of HS2, there are clearly designed to be benefits in that regard—the disruption will clearly be very profound. One of my particular concerns in relation to London is that we also hope to have Crossrail 2. I am already getting letters from constituents within the City of Westminster who are very concerned about the impact that that will have. We must remember that the efforts made by the Government in relation to HS2 will set a precedent for the way in which they deal with those who will be affected by another big infrastructure project such as Crossrail 2.
I fear that there has been a missed opportunity, but not in relation to the amendments. As I have said, I give credit to the Government for their work in getting this hybrid Bill together. We should all support large-scale infrastructure projects that are in the national interest, but whether or not this is the right way forward has been far more open to question. The one thing that the Government can do for those many Britons who will be affected by it directly—whether they are in the midlands, further north or, indeed, in central London—is ensure that they keep their interests at the forefront of their mind as and when the building work commences; otherwise, life will be made incredibly difficult for them. We need to do our level best to ensure that, if the national interest is to be served by an infrastructure project, Ministers keep the mitigation of the disruption at the forefront of their minds and that, although the legislative process is coming to an end, this is not the end of those considerations.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words. I suspect that the boundary commissioners will have a part to play in ensuring that I work very closely with my constituency neighbour to make sure that all people in central London are properly represented in the many years ahead.
There are quite a lot of questions to answer. This has been a very helpful final debate on the Bill and I will try to answer colleagues’ questions, some of which had themes in common.
I will address the questions in no particular order. Several Members have said that it is important that we maintain and commit to an ongoing dialogue. I am happy to make that commitment. I do not view this as the end of a process; I view it as the end of one phase of a process and the start of another. We go from a project in development to a project in delivery, and that will require more dialogue, not less, particularly as we work, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) has just said, to keep mitigation at the forefront of our minds during the construction process. I am happy to make that commitment —there is no doubt about that.
Many people have also been concerned about the hybrid Bill process. The locus standi rules are set by the House, not by the Government, but the House is considering the hybrid Bill procedure. That review is under way and I am sure that it will consider colleagues’ views on whether they were able to participate and petition in the other place. I know that those petitioning arrangements caused much frustration and, indeed, confusion among our constituents. The process is not straightforward.