Michael Fabricant spoke in the House of Commons in response to the Queen’s Speech on the Opening of Parliament last night (9th May) but while welcoming much of the Coalition’s legislation, he slammed the ‘execution’ of HS2 and in particular it’s route through ‘rural England’.
Intervening earlier in the debate on Cheryl Gillan (the MP for Chesham and Amersham), he asked:
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that phase 1 of HS2 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 principle, 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 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.
Later, Michael Fabricant began his own speech (extracts taken from Hansard):-
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): ……. I applaud many items of legislation in the Queen’s Speech. The immigration Bill will provide a lot of satisfaction to many people who fear that this country is a soft touch, to quote the Foreign Secretary when he was leader of the Conservative party: this country should be a safe haven, and not a soft touch. Over the years, we have become a soft touch. Yes, we should be a safe haven for those who seek asylum, and those who are being persecuted. Yes, we lack the skills that we often need, and therefore need to encourage people to come to this country who can give us skills when we do not have them. However, others who come here are perhaps a net drain on our resources. Particularly at this time, we must think twice about that. I therefore welcome the immigration Bill.
As someone who ran a business, I believe that the national insurance contributions Bill will be a real boon. Around a third of all small businesses will find that they do not pay any national insurance, and I hope that will encourage firms to take on new employees.
I hope that the deregulation Bill will work. How many times have I heard Labour and Conservative Governments say that they will cut red tape? That is the point of the deregulation Bill—to reduce the burden of unnecessary legislation on firms by reducing or removing burdens. All I can say is, “Cheers to that”. I hope we succeed in doing just that.
The care Bill is an immensely important measure that will affect around 6 million carers in this country—old people looking after their spouses or youngsters looking after parents or grandparents, who might be disabled for whatever reason. I hope that the care Bill will make a major impact on those who care for others in the UK.
We will also have the antisocial behaviour, crime and policing Bill, and one of the issues that has concerned me and many other hon. Members is that of people who own dangerous dogs. We have had some terrible cases of late in which young children have been savaged by dogs that have not been properly trained, or have even been trained to be aggressive. The Bill is meant to tackle that problem.
I may not totally agree with some of my coalition colleagues, who have wisely escaped the Chamber at the moment, on the communication data Bill. There is no doubt that the use of BlackBerry messaging and other forms of cyber-communication has assisted terrorism and crime. Provided that the Government—as they intend—put in place safeguards to ensure that innocent people do not have all their e-mail traffic hacked, that has to be good news as it will protect the vulnerable and people who are honourable and honest.
I particularly welcome the mesothelioma Bill. So many people suffer from asbestos poisoning but are unable to claim from companies because it is unclear where they had the exposure to asbestos. The Bill will see that, at long last, justice will be done and the Government are to be applauded for that.
The Queen’s Speech also included the High Speed 2 Bill—in fact, there will be two Bills. I generally support the paving Bill, because it will make funds available to compensate people who are now suffering from blight. But the main Bill will be a hybrid Bill and I suspect it will reach Third Reading only after the next general election. That Bill will determine how and where HS2 will be constructed.
But HS2, as formulated, is causing an unnatural disaster in Staffordshire, and terrible problems in other counties—such as yours, Mr Speaker.
It almost seems that the route of HS2 has been deliberately designed to be as damaging as possible to rural England. That cannot be right. I am not one of those who oppose HS2 in principle, for the simple reason that the west coast main line—as anybody who uses it will know—is the most congested line in Europe. Anyone who has waited at Euston railway station knows that the slightest problem—whether it be signal failure, a fault on the line or a broken down train —will cause delays of three to five hours. At least at Euston station one is under cover. At Lichfield Trent Valley station we do not have cover, so unless one is under the railway bridge one is exposed to rain and everything else while waiting for a train. The west coast main line is working at 100% capacity. I therefore accept that we need two extra railway lines to connect north and south.
I have to say that the Government did themselves no favours in 2010 when they argued that the reason for HS2 was to shave five minutes off the journey from Birmingham to London. That is not the reason for HS2. They did themselves no favours when they argued that time on a train is dead time and valueless. A very senior person in the Department for Transport—I dare not mention his name—said to me two or three weeks ago, “Michael, I see people on trains working on computers. Myself, I just stare out of the window and look at the cows.” The point is that even that activity is valuable time. No, the reason for HS2 is the north-south capacity problem on the west coast main line. I therefore accept the principle that we need HS2, but boy could it have been done in a worse way than how it is now being done? No, it could not.
We have chosen a route that carves a devastating line through some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside. The biggest irony of all is that in opposition we opposed the Labour route, and the Labour route is the one we have adopted. In opposition we said that we should adopt the route that the consulting engineers Arup proposed, which would use an existing transport corridor as they do in Europe. It would go up either the M1 or the M40 and then follow the line of the M6 and go into central Birmingham that way and northwards. But no, we adopted the Adonis plan. By the most wonderful trick of irony that we sometimes see in politics in this place, I believe that it is now official Labour party policy to use that route we supported in opposition. The Opposition policy, whether Labour or Conservative, is the route that I support. Why? It is not because I am being a nimby, but simply because it will do far less damage to the environment. Thousands of homes are blighted by the route that HS2 is currently taking.
The Prime Minister has said—I mentioned it earlier when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan)—that the Government will be generous in their compensation. They have to be and they should be, and we must hold the Prime Minister to account.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Michael Fabricant: I am very happy to give way to my hon. Friend, my next-door neighbour from Tamworth.
Christopher Pincher: I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who is my next-door neighbour in Lichfield. He is right to say that the Prime Minister has said that the compensation scheme must be generous. Does he agree that it must also be swift? We both have constituents—as do you, Mr Speaker—whose homes and lives are blighted now. As much as the scheme needs to be generous, it needs to be swift to deliver fairness for them.
Michael Fabricant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Their homes are not just blighted now—they have been blighted for three years, even since this God-forsaken route was published. I know elderly people who want to downsize, but cannot sell their homes. They are now, one might say, asset rich, but very cash poor. They cannot afford the homes they live in as they are retired, and they cannot sell them because they are blighted. It is essential that the Government are generous and swift in their compensation. I welcome the paving Bill, because it will, I hope, enable swift compensation. The Government are currently conducting a compensation consultation on phase 2. I do not know whether you responded to the phase 1 consultation, Mr Speaker, but I did. It was very tightly worded to such a degree that in the end I began to ignore the questions being asked, because I thought they were completely wrong. The phase 2 consultation has been formulated much more openly and satisfactorily.
I have been trying to find out from the Department for Transport whether, when it finally reaches a conclusion on the phase 1 and phase 2 compensation consultations, the compensation packages will be the same. I certainly hope that they will be, because it would be grossly unfair if people living south of Lichfield were treated differently. Incidentally, I am in a unique position because phase 1 ends in the Lichfield constituency and phase 2 begins there. A former chairman of the Conservative party, now chairman of the BBC, might have described that as a double whammy.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) pointed out, this route is blighting homes, it is blighting lives, and it is blighting the environment. The HS2 policy, as it stands, is not a Conservative policy in the pure, theoretical sense of what conservatism is all about. We need to think carefully not about whether we need HS2, but about how we should execute the project. Otherwise, many people will think that in adopting Labour’s route, proposed by Lord Adonis, the Government have betrayed the vote that they cast in 2010.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): It is always interesting to listen to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). I can only imagine what it would be like if he really disagreed with the Government: the vehemence of his attack would be something to behold. He made some good points about the impact of the HS2 project and the need to speed it up, as did his neighbour the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher). Speeding up the construction would help the economy, and the blight point was also well made. I live very near to the route of HS1, and that will drag on and on. One of the lessons of HS1 that should be applied to HS2 is the need to deal with blight as speedily as possible…….
Later, Michael Fabricant intervened on Bill Esterson to make a further point.
……… The hon. Member for Lichfield mentioned the High Speed 2 project, and he is right that it will make a huge contribution to the economy, but if it is delayed for many years, we will not see the economic benefits now when they are most needed.
Michael Fabricant: I forgot to mention that the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group has said that one good thing that can come out of HS2 is the construction of tracks, locomotives and carriages, providing that that work goes to British companies. I will be asking the Department for Transport to ensure that it does.
Bill Esterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the importance of using British manufacturing companies for projects in this country……..
Michael Fabricant adds today: “With petrol and diesel prices rising inexorably higher, more and more people are abandoning their cars for trains. Rail track congestion can only get worse. Sadly, that is why there is a need for two extra north-south lines. But the route is the key. I cannot support a route that takes it through rural Staffordshire.”