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Part of the reply to the Queens Speech.

From yesterdays Queens speech debate

5.12 pm

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), who has been in and out of this place several times since 1983, so has heard many Queen’s Speeches. I associate myself particularly with his remarks about the Union, and about our troops. I also associate myself with his remarks about a tolerant and fair society, because I believe that in the main this year’s Queen’s Speech is working towards that commendable aim.

I congratulate the proposer and seconder of the motion on the Loyal Address, not least because my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and I entered the House on the same day back in 1992. He has, sadly, announced his retirement, but he has also announced that he suddenly became a rebel by doing something for the first time in 21 years—abstaining. I feel I should declare an interest, because I too became a rebel on the same day as my hon. Friend, by abstaining on the very same amendment, in the interests of my constituents.

May I also mention in dispatches the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), who spoke excellently? Knowing the valleys he came from, I think he must be very proud to be a Member of the House and to be able to speak so freely about his life.

I welcome some of the provisions in the Gracious Speech. I was delighted to see the Government reaffirm their solidarity with residents of the Falkland Islands 

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and Gibraltar in that they should be able to determine their future. I was also pleased to see how seriously the Government are taking their forthcoming chairmanship of the G8, which will be important not just for UK politics, but for world politics. There are many measures in the Queen’s Speech that we can all support. The antisocial behaviour, crime and policing Bill will ensure that victims get a quicker and co-ordinated outcome. I particularly welcome the provisions that will strengthen protection of victims of forced marriage. That is really important. In addition to the rehabilitation of offenders, we should see a criminal justice system that is fit for purpose.

The care Bill will modernise the law in this area and help people to plan their later life with more certainty by capping care costs and recognising the important role that carers play in all our communities. Not yet mentioned by earlier speakers, measures to promote resilience to natural hazards such as drought and floods, and competition in the water business so that business customers can choose from whom they buy their water and sewerage services, are particularly welcome. I hope the Government have found a solution to the problems with the Welsh Assembly Government over Welsh Water, and I look forward to seeing the shape of the proposals for that Bill and also the Welsh Assembly election proposals. I hope that that Bill will rule out double jobbing, which I have always disapproved of, and will allow candidates for the Assembly to stand on both the list system and first past the post.

The immigration provisions will further strengthen the reductions in immigration that this Government have been achieving. Landlords’ checks and migrants contributing to NHS costs are sensible and long overdue measures. If the Home Secretary can also deliver a system that allows us to deport foreign national offenders more efficiently, she will have all our support right across the House.

However, that is where my approval stops. The deep concern that has been expressed by my constituents and, I understand, by your constituents, Mr Speaker, about HS2 has finally resulted in not one but two Bills that were announced today in the Gracious Speech. People will ask why there are two Bills. For the past four years, both the Labour Government and the coalition Government have spent hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a project that has never been discussed or voted on in this House, so instead of relying on a real vetting process through the hybrid Bill that will naturally take a great deal of time and in all likelihood will not now be passed before the next general election, the Government are going to rush through a quick little paving Bill so that they can claim parliamentary approval while covering their financial difficulties, not least because the expenditure has escalated without any legislative authority or proper scrutiny.

Much of this project’s development has been conducted behind closed doors. The Government must be far more open before slipping through such a preparation Bill. We all know that there is a Major Projects Authority report on HS2, but most of us have not seen that report. I understand it is a red/amber report, a classification which indicates that this is a high-risk project. As far as I am aware, the Government have resisted all attempts and freedom of information requests to have the report published. They must now do so, before the first HS2 Bill is introduced.

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Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I may have got this wrong, but it is my understanding that the Government are introducing two Bills—a paving Bill and a traditional hybrid Bill. Is that my right hon. Friend’s understanding? We will all have to look very closely at the small print of the paving Bill because within it, I think, will be the statutory authority to provide compensation for our constituents who may be affected. So without the paving Bill, our constituents, who may be affected by HS2 for a number of years, will not be able to receive compensation.

Mrs Gillan: The devil will be in the detail. The truth of the matter is that until recently there was no talk of a paving Bill, yet the project has been on the stocks for four years. It is a little late to discover that we need a paving Bill. Also, some commentators have already been referring to it as a blank cheque, which is not something anybody on the Conservative Benches wants to see.

I, like you, Mr Speaker, and like colleagues and neighbours both inside and outside the Government, and particularly in Buckinghamshire, have serious misgivings about HS2. The project was produced like a rabbit from a hat by the previous Labour Government. It has already blighted the lives of my constituents and will cause irreparable environmental damage to the Chilterns. It does not represent good value for money and will not bring the exaggerated benefits claimed by its promoters. Increasingly, informed commentators and experts have started to cast doubts on the claim that it will heal the so-called north-south divide, and those doubts are growing.

For me, HS2 fails on many fronts. It fails on the business case, which is fundamentally flawed, with a cost-benefit ratio that is eroding so rapidly that it is getting to a level at which it would not be regarded as worth while by any normal criteria. The calculations are based on false assumptions, with the forecasting assuming that all time spent on trains is unproductive. It also fails to take into account modern communications and working practices.

HS2 fails to observe environmental protections. The current plans and route design for phase 1, and the business case, are so conditional on speed that they sweep everything else aside. The route does not even try to stick to existing transport corridors but drives a steel arrow into the heart of the Chiltern hills, which were deemed so precious before now as to have been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that phase 1 ends in my constituency and phase 2 begins there. The irony is that although the route to Leeds attempts to use existing transport corridors, because the Government have at least accepted that, the route up to Manchester cannot do so because it ends in Lichfield and we inherited the phase 1 design. The original proposal that the Conservatives supported in opposition would have used existing transport corridors.

Mrs Gillan: My hon. Friend makes a long but valuable intervention, and I know how badly his constituency will be affected. I do not think that anybody in the House, on either side, would expect either him or me to take a different position. It is indeed true that these provisions have been railroaded through—excuse the pun—without looking at the detail or the alternatives.

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Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Is my right hon. Friend aware of evidence from the continent showing that high-speed rail systems pull economic activity towards capitals, not away from them?

Mrs Gillan: Yes, I am. Perhaps we will be able to explore that when we discuss the preparation Bill in more detail.

HS2 also fails the integrated transport test. As it currently stands, it does not connect effectively to HS1 or Heathrow, or indeed to any airport in the south-east. The idea that it should be fixed before we have the results of the Davies report on airport capacity in the south-east, which will be in 2015, is quite illogical.

HS2 fails the value-for-money test. The cost, with rolling stock, conservatively stands at £40 billion, and there is no guarantee that phase 2 will ever be built. It will be the largest peacetime spend on an infrastructure project, and let us not kid ourselves: it will run over budget. Each and every MP in this place should imagine just what that money could be spent on to improve their constituents’ lives: hospitals, medical research, schools, broadband, improving existing roads and railways—the list is simply endless.

HS2 fails the fair compensation test. Thousands of people, homes and businesses have already fallen victim to the proposals. In the recent High Court judgment the Government’s compensation consultation was deemed so unfair as to be unlawful. That is pretty shaming. If, despite all efforts, HS2 goes ahead, compensation must adequately—indeed, more than adequately—recompense people whose businesses and homes will be bulldozed along with their lives. I hope, at least, that the property bond will be taken up by the Government. The Department has grossly underestimated the blight that this project has caused and will cause, in order, I think, to reduce the final bill for the Treasury. The Government certainly should not be scrimping on the compensation aspects.

Michael Fabricant: As a brief intervention, I remind my right hon. Friend that the Prime Minister said specifically that compensation would be generous for HS2, and we must hold him to that.

Mrs Gillan: I agree entirely that we should hold him to that, and I hope that he will look even more closely at the proposals that are coming from his Department for Transport.

The seriously misconceived proposals for HS2 are a rail enthusiast’s charter that is attractive to officials in the Department and HS2 Ltd, who, let us face it, see it as guaranteeing their jobs at a time when the civil service is being reduced, and to the industries that expect to benefit from substantial Government funding over the next 25 to 30 years. Advisers are not going to identify other projects that will assist economic renewal because it is just too easy to run with this Labour project. Yet it proposes the highest pace in the smallest place, regardless of damage to the environment and without integration into other modes of transport. By the time it is completed, the business world will have changed dramatically, and this Government will have saddled the country’s taxpayers with another enormous debt and a white elephant. Having just inherited the results of a spendthrift Government, surely we must have learned something.

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My constituency lies in metroland, as you well know, Mr Speaker, because it neighbours yours. After reading the history of the railways, one can see that many of the early proposals in the 1800s for constructing new railways suffered from an excess of enthusiasm that led to failure when the commercial realities became apparent. This proposal is no different.

While there is much to be welcomed in the programme announced today, I have to say, regretfully, that unless the preparation and hybrid Bills on HS2 are dropped, I cannot, for the first time on a Queen’s Speech, support, with regard to these provisions, a Conservative or, in this case, a Conservative-led Government.

The proposer of the Gracious Speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire, reminded us that even Brunel’s projects were late and over budget. However, he also said: "If it is important, and the Government are not listening, just keep trying.” You and I, Mr Speaker, our colleagues in Buckinghamshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), and many other MPs will just keep trying, and I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friends will rethink this project before it is too late.

5.27 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a huge pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who spoke eloquently about a major issue in her constituency that also affects yours, Mr Speaker, so I shall be very careful about what I say knowing that Buckinghamshire is in the Chair and has such a powerful advocate. Her speech was not an express train but more a gentle meander through the Buckinghamshire countryside, yet it was made with determination and with huge pride in her local area. In January she wrote in The Guardian about living through a nightmare with these proposals, and I wish her well in her endeavours.

I am rather surprised, however, that Conservative MPs think that abstaining is regarded as a rebellion. That must put my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I in a very difficult position. I am thinking of the number of times in the past 26 years I have voted against my party—not that I am going to do so very often in future, I should quickly add.

Mrs Gillan: I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, "You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Keith Vaz: Having seen the right hon. Lady with her little dog, I know that I would not want to take them on in any respect, so I look forward to further deliberations on these matters.

I also join the right hon. Lady in commending the speeches of the hon. Members for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for Bristol West (Stephen Williams). I have known the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire since my time at university with him. Indeed, he was speaker of the debating chamber—president of the union—and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and I used to approach him regularly to request opportunities to make speeches. I can well remember the speeches made then by the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire, and they have certainly matured