17 Tories rebel but HS2 Bill backed
Thursday 31st October 2013, 2:11PM GMT.
Seventeen Conservative MPs tonight rebelled in a House of Commons vote against the Government’s plans to build a controversial high speed railway line linking London to the north of England.
MPs voted by 350 to 34, Government majority 316, to approve the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, which will allow ministers to spend money planning the route in detail and buying up property from residents and businesses along the proposed track.
It was a clear majority for the Bill at third reading in the Commons. It will now go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny by peers.
The rebellion is smaller than the 21 Tory MPs who voted against the Bill at second reading.
The 17 Tory MPs who voted against the Bill this time were: Steve Baker (Wycombe), John Baron (Basildon and Billericay), Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire), Dan Byles (North Warwickshire), William Cash (Stone), Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Philip Davies (Shipley), David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden), Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Chris Kelly (Dudley South), Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford), Julian Lewis (New Forest East) David Nuttall (Bury North), Mark Pawsey (Rugby), Chris White (Warwick and Leamington), Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire).
Tory MP Anne Main (St Albans) was a teller for the Noes, bringing the total opposition from the Tory benches to 18. There were also two abstentions from Conservative MPs – Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) and Stewart Jackson (Peterborough).
The 11 Labour MPs who voted against the Bill were: Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Jim Cunningham (Coventry South), Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras), Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover).
The Labour teller for the Noes was Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North).
The other MPs who opposed the legislation were Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr), Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) and Hywel Williams (Arfon); and Green MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion).
There had been fears Labour could oppose the Bill and with a number of Tory MPs expected to be amongst those voting against the High Speed 2 rail line, there were fears the project could have been halted.
Outlining the Bill at third reading, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This is the point when the debate starts moving from ‘if’ to ‘when’.
” Just this week with the storms that hit the south and the east, we have seen how crucial our railways are to national life. When trains are crowded and disrupted, life for hard-working people gets more difficult. That’s why the new north-south line isn’t some expensive luxury.”
Tory MP Cheryl Gillan, who has campaigned against the rail line as it would go through her Chesham and Amersham constituency, appeared to anger her Conservative colleagues when she compared the project to Concorde.
She said: “I still think that HS2 is an expensive toy. I remember we once had something else that went fast – it was called Concorde – and look what happened to that.
“It is still not flying these days, I am afraid and it lost out to the jumbo jet.”
Today’s Bill is about authorising funding for the project. A so-called Hybrid Bill, paving the way for construction of the line, is expected to be published in the coming weeks and voted on in the spring.
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls had claimed the Government should not write a blank cheque for the project. This prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to suggest the whole scheme could be scrapped if the Opposition failed to support it as a number of Tory MPs are also against it, being angry that the line is being built through their constituencies in the Home Counties.
But despite the shadow chancellor’s apparently changing position, several high-profile Labour MPs spoke out in favour of the scheme today.
Louise Ellman, the Labour chair of the Commons Transport Select Committee, said there was a case for “increased capacity” in favour of HS2.
“This amendment is to do with networks, and it’s to do with linking high-speed rail with the rest of the transport network and it mentions specifically the need to link with roads and airports.
“It is very important that HS2 is not seen as a separate development, separate from the rest of the rail network or indeed separate from the rest of the transport network, so I welcome this specific amendment.”
Jack Straw, who was justice secretary in 2009 when the last Labour government formally approved HS2, said it was “nonsense” to claim that HS2 would suck economic growth towards London.
He said: “If plenty inside this House and outside think that there is an alternative to HS2, there is. But it is a worse alternative with more disruption.
“The second reason I support HS2 is because it will help to rebalance our economies. I have listened to some fancy arguments in this House but amongst the fanciest I have heard, listening to colleagues in the tea room, is that if we put in this investment, somehow it is going to suck more economic activity in to London.
“It is worth just turning that argument on its head, or as the Treasury like to say, ‘Look at the counter-factual’. If that were the case then it would be overwhelmingly an argument to reduce the capacity of the railways running north-south and for slowing up the lines. It is, frankly, simple nonsense.”
The £42.6 billion project is intended to link London to Birmingham by 2026, with two branches then heading to Manchester and Leeds, via Sheffield, being built by 2033.
There was support from former transport minister Simon Burns who dismissed claims about the damage HS2 could cause as untrue. He said critics of HS1 – which links London to the Channel Tunnel – had been proved wrong. The former minister also told MPs that critics of HS1 had claimed the line would have turned Kent from the Garden of England into the Garbage Can of England.
Mr Burns said Maidstone had successfully lobbied against not having a high speed rail station at the time but was now “begging” for one.
The MP for Chelmsford said: “High Speed 1 went ahead and what we now see is that the Kent economy has been regenerated and improved; that you have not seen house prices going through the floor.
“In fact, house prices along the line of the route have kept pace with other house prices and in some cases have increased beyond other ones because of proximity to good communications.
“It has increased capacity, particularly for commuters, who are prepared to use High Speed 1, from Canterbury in particular. What is the supreme irony is that there was one town in Kent that successfully lobbied not to have a station in its place and that was Maidstone and they stopped it.
“It was put at Ebbsfleet and now they are begging for a station at Maidstone because they are missing out on the regeneration and improvements to the economy that Ashford and Ebbsfleet are having.”
Reacting to news the Bill had been passed, Mr McLoughlin said in a statement outside the Commons: “Parliament has again given a clear signal of its support for HS2.
“MPs from all three of the main parties, representing constituencies across the country, have united to back this vital project. This will allow us to continue with crucial preparation work so we are ready for construction to start in 2017.
“HS2 will revolutionise travel in the UK, providing desperately needed capacity and significant economic growth. Now is the time to be bold and deliver a world class railway which Britain deserves and can truly be proud of.”
In a statement after the vote, Penny Gaines – chair of the campaign group Stop HS2 – said: “In a week when the Government has pulled out all the stops in an attempt to bolster the case for HS2, it is not surprising that the blank cheque Bill was voted through.
“We know that some of the MPs did so in the erroneous belief that without the paving Bill there would be no compensation for affected residents. We thank all of those MPs from around the country who voted against the paving Bill.
“What is more telling is that on a policy that officially the three main parties support, there were so many MPs staying away from the vote. This is no clear mandate for going ahead with HS2, however the Government will chose to spin it.
“What’s more, the Government is losing credibility. By trying to claim that speed is irrelevant, but that any new railway has to be high speed, ordinary people are realising that HS2 is a shiny new toy for politicians’ egos, not a realistic answer to current transport issues.”