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Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Would it not be useful if Transport Scotland conducted a feasibility study on a third phase of HS2, working from north to south?

Mark Lazarowicz: I see no reason for not doing that. The Scottish Government have already expressed their willingness to make some contribution to such work. I think it would be sensible to start the planning now and to include in the development phase the idea that the line should start from Scotland as well as from the south of England. High-speed rail is not a panacea for all our ills, but it does provide opportunities to create economic and environmental boosts. It will also provide jobs, not in the next five or so years, but nevertheless for a long period, and it will provide a major boost to our economy. In the long run, it will help the economies of many parts of the UK.

If this high-speed rail line is built but nothing is done around the stations—if there is no integrated transport or planning development around these rail hubs—we will not get the full benefits from the project. However, if local and central Government, and regions and cities, plan, they can make sure that high-speed rail brings major economic benefits, especially if it extends beyond Birmingham to the north of England and beyond. I support this project, therefore, and hope that we move ahead as quickly as possible, but Scotland must not be left at the end of the line.

5.5 pm

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing the first debate on high-speed rail to be held in the Chamber. This is, however, the fourth debate that we have had on the subject since the election. We debated it in Westminster Hall on 23 November, 31 March and 13 July, so we have discussed it every four months or so. I notice that the period between debates is becoming ever shorter, so by the time HS2 delivers any value, we might be debating it every day.

Contrary to certain assumptions, I am the only Buckinghamshire MP whose constituency is not affected by the high-speed rail proposal. I know that your constituency is affected by it, Mr Speaker, and that your constituents have very strong views and that you submitted a substantial response to the consultation. The Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), responded robustly to the consultation on behalf of her constituents, delivering seven files of objections and evidence against HS2, which will cut a deep scar through the middle of the area of outstanding natural beauty in which her constituency sits. The Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), and the Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), were present earlier, and I know that their constituents are implacably opposed to HS2. Many other members of the Government also have objections, including the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who also has strong views.

Although my constituents are not directly affected, they oppose HS2 on a number of grounds, but before I go on to explain my opposition, I wish to welcome the

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Government’s noble intentions. Whether in seeking the rejuvenation of the economy, the revitalisation of the north or the protection of the environment, or in trying to attract international inward investment, their intentions are indeed noble, but I regret to say that I do not support the means by which they seek to meet those ends.

The Secretary of State reflected on capacity, carbon and international competition in his evidence to the Transport Committee. On the question of the economics, as we have already learned in this debate, it is possible to refer to the titles and authors of reports both for and against the proposal. I am afraid that for every economist who comes down on one side of the debate, there will always be another economist on the other side. The Economist magazine came out against HS2, and when I put that to the Secretary of State, he was quick to rebut it and explain that he was about to write a letter.

The truth is that this project is awash with entrepreneurial risk. It is impossible to get hold of any hard facts showing whether it is a good idea. There is certainly an economic case, but I am afraid that it is ethereal: the moment we grasp it, it seems to disappear.

Paul Maynard: My hon. Friend claims that there is no economic case, but does he recognise that there may be a strategic case?

Steve Baker: I enjoy serving on the Transport Committee with my hon. Friend, but I am not saying there is no economic case; rather, I am saying that we cannot nail down that case because of the entrepreneurial risk. In my view, when very large sums of capital are being allocated in an environment of entrepreneurial risk, entrepreneurs should bear that entrepreneurial risk.

I asked an international investor, “What do you think of HS2?” The answer was, “It would be wonderful to arrive fresh and relaxed in no time at all.” I then asked, “Would you invest in it?” The response now was, “That’s unfair. Of course I wouldn’t invest in it.” The market would not deliver high-speed rail, and that would be a market success, because to do so would be a misallocation of capital.

I put it to the Secretary of State that this project would socialise risk and privatise profit. He explained that that was to be expected, and we had to be realistic about it. I do not share that sense of “realism” on that point; I think that in reality this will be loss-making, in any commercial sense of the term. The whole point of loss is that it directs entrepreneurs to do something else with their capital, because if they are making a loss they are destroying value, not creating it.

I shall now deal with the carbon implications of this line. Something profound is going on in relation to carbon. The Secretary of State talked about the need to keep going until we were absolutely sure that we would decarbonise the roads. There is a vision at the heart of HS2 that we have not yet fully grasped. Given that I have 30 seconds available to me, and others wish to speak, I shall just refer to a letter that I sent shortly after I arrived in this place. I said that the Government could not afford high-speed rail, that they would not be able to afford it, that it would be a disaster if they did this—my basis for saying that was David Myddelton’s book “They Meant Well: Government Project Disasters” —and that the Government should not do it in any

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event, because it should be left to entrepreneurs. Nothing that I heard during the Select Committee on Transport inquiry has changed my mind.

5.10 pm

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to be able to contribute briefly to this debate. A number of points have been made by other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), and I will not repeat those. However, I wanted to have the opportunity to make a couple of other points, particularly about Scotland.

First, I want to make the point clearly that better transport links have many and varied benefits for business and the wider economy, and that is as true in Scotland as it is in other parts of the United Kingdom. Sectors of the economy that are particularly important in Scotland—finance, tourism and the food and drink industries—respond positively to improvements in transport links. That is part of the case being made by business organisations, trade unions, Glasgow city council and Edinburgh city council, and a range of bodies in Scotland that very much support HS2. The hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) is no longer in her place, but I accept her point that a high-speed network alone does not draw business to the UK, and is not the complete answer. However, it is an important part of the answer, for Scotland as well as for the rest of the UK.

I wish to discuss the points made by the hon. Members for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about the 40,000 jobs that would be created across the UK during the construction phase. I think I am right in saying that they both intimated that those jobs would be in the south-east of England. I say to both of them that that is not my experience of the jobs associated with other projects. For example, London 2012 work has gone to construction firms based in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Carlisle, Manchester, Newcastle—and, no doubt, many other places.

Phil Wilson: It is not just the route and its construction that are important; the rolling stock is important too. Hitachi, which is going to build a rolling stock factory in Newton Aycliffe, in my patch, has already said that it will bid to make the rolling stock for this route. That means that the north-east would benefit even before the route actually got to the north-east of England and created thousands of jobs.

Tom Greatrex: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I thank him for his intervention. What he says is also true of other firms—for example, those in my constituency that make the toughened glass for the windows of the rolling stock. A range of other supply chain benefits will accrue to a number of industries and companies, and will help to increase employability and skills in the economy.

Secondly, I wish to discuss the environmental impact. I do not want to talk about the number of trees that will be planted along the line, but there is an environmental impact and benefit through getting people to shift from air to rail. From my constituency it is about a 90-minute flight between Glasgow and London, and I have to admit that I fly more often than I probably should.

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Even when we take into account the time taken getting to and from airports, flying is still quicker than using the fastest of the trains on the west coast.

Dan Byles: The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that reducing the number of short-haul flights will somehow result in a carbon saving. Does he agree that it does not take the brains of an archbishop to work out that if those slots are freed up at the airports, they will be filled by long-haul flights, which will produce higher CO2 emissions?

Tom Greatrex: The point I was about to make is that the number of people who fly from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London—they then perhaps stay in or work from London—is many more than those who then fly on somewhere else. The important point is that we may be able to move me, and some of the people I see every week—or on the weeks that I use the plane—because we would use the train more often if it was quicker. That is one of the benefits of extending high-speed rail into Scotland that we should not miss out on, although that may happen long after I have gone from this place. We should also remember that, as others have said, this is not necessarily just about business travel. Tourism and leisure, particularly in Scotland, will also be impacted on beneficially if we can get more people using rail instead of air.

Obviously, my constituency concern is in Scotland, but I am also concerned about how it relates to the UK as a whole. The Minister for Housing and Transport in the devolved Scottish Government gave evidence to the Transport Committee—some members of the Committee are in the Chamber this afternoon—and he intimated that he had some commitment from the Government that in the event of there being a separate Scottish state, the English Government would build up to the border. I am not sure where that statement came from, and I wonder whether the Minister will be able to inform the House when she responds.

The project could benefit the whole country, and the benefits for Edinburgh and Glasgow from the eventual extension of HS2 are tied up with the existence of the United Kingdom as one entity. It is interesting to suggest that a separate Scotland would need to build only from the border northwards, with the remaining English Government building up to the border. I am not sure how the economics of that would add up. I would be interested if the Minister could respond on that point or, if she is unable to do so today, if she could do so in writing.

HS2 is an important project with potential for economic development, environmental benefit and economic advantage for the central belt of Scotland. I accept completely that there are many questions about some aspects of it, but I do not think that those objections are strong enough to derail the whole project. It is important for the whole country, and extending it so that it brings real benefits to Scotland is very important. That is why I support HS2.

5.16 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): As a north-west MP, I wish to represent the concerns that my constituents have expressed to me both in correspondence and at

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meetings. The area of Cheshire that my constituency covers lies some 25 miles south of Manchester. Over recent years, journey times to London by rail have improved and the area is now well served, with a journey time of less than two hours from Euston. On the basis that stops reduce journey times, a new HS2 track is likely to run through or near my constituency but with no HS2 stops or links. An area that is currently well served might find not only that HS2 bypasses it, but that existing services become fewer and slower. Services from Crewe and Stoke-on-Trent, both of which serve my constituency, could suffer considerable disadvantage. Passengers from London using a new HS2 line could have to travel north to Manchester, then make a connection and return south on a local line. It is difficult to see how there would be much, if any, time saving on a journey from London.

Let me turn now to the economic regeneration argument. The north-west is a wide area, and although HS2 might benefit the area immediately around Manchester—assuming that is the key north-west HS2 stop—it is questionable whether such benefits would radiate across the north-west region so as to benefit constituencies, such as my own, that are further afield. There is the additional concern that the flow of economic regeneration could be towards London and away from the north-west, so a project designed to bridge the north-south divide could have the opposite effect.

The cost, some £32 billion, is perceived by many of my constituents as an inordinate amount of money at a time of severe economic pressure for the questionable benefits they will gain, particularly the many who do not use train travel at all. Several transport pressure points in my constituency are of far greater concern to them, and attention to those would immediately bring clear economic benefits to the area and the region, including freeing up not just local traffic but the M6 traffic flow from Birmingham up to the north-west.

Notably, those would include opening up to passengers the Middlewich rail link, which is currently used only for freight, improvements to junction 17 of the M6 at Sandbach, and action to protect the Holmes Chapel community from the excessive speed and volume of vehicles that they constantly endure. All those issues could be resolved at a fraction of the £51 million that I understand would be the cost of HS2 to my constituency.

When it comes to international travel, it is unlikely that an HS2 line north of Birmingham to Manchester would make much material difference to residents in my constituency, living as they do half an hour from Manchester and only a little further from Liverpool airport.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): May I clarify something? On the one hand, my hon. Friend is saying that living near Manchester airport is a good thing for her constituents—but is she also saying that living near the Manchester hub for high-speed rail would not be a good thing for them? I do not see how the two ideas run together.

Fiona Bruce: I am saying that to travel from London to the north-west by HS2 would not benefit my constituents materially. Nor would it benefit them to travel by HS2 down to the continent, because it is quicker, and certainly more economical with the current fares, to go from Manchester or Liverpool airport.

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I agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity of our inter-city rail network, including the west coast main line, but there are a number of solutions that could be achieved at a fraction of the cost of HS2 to my constituents. Many of those solutions have already been mentioned, such as improving provision for freight transportation or signalling. Others include improving the integrated regional network to take communities out of their cars in the north-west, increasing the number of platforms at Manchester Piccadilly to improve the commuter trains that are available, and increasing track numbers between Crewe and Manchester. I accept that the route of the extension from Birmingham to Manchester has not yet been specified, but I want to assure my constituents that if it runs through any part of my constituency, with the attendant environmental and other damage to farmland, residential areas and communities, they can be assured of my vigorous opposition to any such plan on their behalf.

5.16 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I am worried that some Members on both sides will not have time to speak, so I shall be as brief as I can. I should be a prime advocate of this high-speed rail scheme, because I have in my constituency a railway estate that was constructed by the railway companies and then taken over by British Rail, which houses railway workers, and also because I have worked with the rail industry and its unions—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, ASLEF and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association—for nearly 40 years to promote rail and every railway scheme.

As was mentioned earlier, as part of our campaign against the third runway we used the argument that we should invest in rail as an alternative. However, I have been absolutely alienated by the way in which the Government have handled this issue. Every other Member in the House is able to calculate the effect of the scheme on their constituency one way or the other—the advantages or disadvantages—but my constituents cannot, because of the way in which the Government are consulting on it. They are consulting on the route, except for the route into Heathrow, so my constituents and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) are living in a no man’s land of blight, because we do not yet know that route. We have had various indications and options but no direct consultation by the Government. Things are being done in two stages, and the second stage is meant to start in December, or any time now, but I believe that may be delayed as well.

What my constituents do know is that they face a continuing life of blight until this decision is made, because the vague options put forward by Arup impact on their homes and on a large amount of the social capital in the area, in terms of parks and open spaces. They also have relatives in the north of the London borough of Hillingdon who are losing their homes, and losing social facilities such as the excellent Hillingdon outdoor activities centre. There are also further threats to green belt land in the north of the borough. My two colleagues in Hillingdon who are members of the Government are unable to speak today, but they have worked hard behind the scenes as best they can to relay to the Government the uncertainties, the blight and the threat to people’s lives that the proposals are forming.

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I urge the Government to publish the proposals on the links to Heathrow as rapidly as possible, so that my constituents can know where the future lies for them and so that we can have a proper consultation. I also urge the Government to start looking at some of the details of the route, and at the blight and damage it is causing, to see how they can obviate some of the threats that it brings.

We should consider not just the link into Euston, but HS2’s impact on north London overall. There is a wider debate to be had about whether the route is the most appropriate one, because the concerns about environmental damage are mounting up to such an extent that I am becoming increasingly convinced that the economic arguments do not outweigh the environmental damage threatened by the route.

I welcome the Transport Committee’s examination of the proposal, but I find it difficult to know how it will examine the proposal when the Government still have not told us what their proposals are for the links to Heathrow. The Government should learn the lesson that it is not the right way to handle a scheme or a consultation when one of the prime elements of the scheme is not published or consulted on comprehensively in a way that links the whole scheme together. The Government have completely mishandled the scheme—and I speak as one who would be a natural advocate of the advancement of rail in this country.

5.25 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): Given the time constraints, I do not know about high-speed rail, but this will be a high-speed speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on initiating the debate. We have had numerous debates on this issue. Although we do not agree, we always end up with a smile at the end. I suppose that there is a danger of repeating what other hon. Members have said, so I will try to keep my speech as brief as possible, but I want to give a Yorkshire perspective, as hon. Members from many regions around the country have spoken.

I am 100% in favour of High Speed 2. Not only is it needed, but it is inevitable and crucial if we are to be ready to compete in the future. Furthermore, if we do not face the realities of our transport infrastructure now, we will simply grind to a halt. We need to think about where we are now. It is worth reflecting that the railway industry’s success has been unprecedented in recent years, with a doubling of passenger numbers, as has been mentioned. Pressure on the west coast main line is so severe that it is expected to be restricted at the very latest by 2025, despite huge upgrades already having taken place in recent years.

There are two routes to the north, not just one, and the problem at Leeds is equally bad. The capacity pressure at Leeds station is predicted to increase by another 40% in the coming years. Obviously, I travel from London to Leeds every week, and I am lucky if I find a seat between here and Peterborough in rush times. I have not got the luxury of switching on my laptop, because I have nowhere to sit.

I hear from those who oppose the scheme that the money could be spent on other things. Frankly, we have to take those measures anyway. That is why the Government have announced a raft of measures, including the

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lengthening of trains and extra carriages, to help us build up the capacity that we need. Frankly, just to do that alone would be like trying to fix a broken leg with a sticking plaster. This is not an either/or. As the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) said, we have to do both.

The west coast main line took years to be upgraded, causing massive disruption, and is already creaking at the seams. The problem is much bigger and requires us to think bigger and prepare for the future. We have heard lots about business. I was delighted when I heard the Government go for the Y route, which recognises that the north is an important part of our economic prosperity, and not to do so would stifle the prospect of growth.

Karen Lumley: Does my hon. Friend agree that HS2 will bring many more jobs to the midlands, because it will relieve air congestion in London and make Birmingham international, which is under capacity at the moment and an amazing airport to travel from, accessible for a lot more people to use?

Stuart Andrew: Absolutely. The benefits for the whole country are evident. The north-south divide is a problem that has faced successive Governments. Clearly, we are not arguing that HS2 will solve that alone—of course, it will not—but greater connectivity between our cities, such as Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, to the rest of Europe can only help.

I want businesses in my constituency to enjoy having access to markets across Europe and the rest of the world. Transport links are crucial to making that happen. Too often, today’s network cannot cope. I recently went to Airedale International in my constituency. It is a high-tech industry that has just created a training centre. It is begging for high-speed rail, because it has a lot of business down here, but it has the skills up in the north. Why cannot we help it to expand to have both?

We often hear that High Speed 2 is a white elephant, but studies have shown that it will bring about £44 billion of economic benefit and 40,000 jobs, which is not to be sniffed at. I did not see that white elephant when the Thameslink benefit-cost ratio came in at 2.2:1, or when Crossrail came in at 1.92:1.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Can my hon. Friend say how much of the money found for the project will be public money, and how much will be private?

Stuart Andrew: I would have to get the exact figures from my right hon. Friend the Minister. My point is that what we get back from HS2 will be far greater. If we look at the Jubilee line, the original benefit-cost ratio was 0.95:1. When it opened, that became 1.75:1, which shows that Governments are usually conservative in their estimates of the benefits that we can get from infrastructure. I did not hear about the white elephant when all the infrastructure projects I mentioned—southern infrastructure projects, funnily enough—were suggested.

I understand why Members are supporting and standing up for their constituents—of course they will do that—but they have sent confused messages. They say that they

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are against HS2 on environmental grounds, yet some of them say, “Build more roads instead.” They say that they are against it on business grounds, yet they never opposed Crossrail or the Jubilee line. They say that they are against it because no one will use it, yet huge investment is needed in Euston station because it will not cope. We need to plan ahead and be bold, or in 10 years’ time Members of Parliament will complain in the Chamber that we did not make the decisions now to bring about the modernisation of Britain’s railways.

5.31 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I warmly welcomed the proposal for the High Speed 2 Y route when it was first introduced by Lord Adonis, and I congratulate the coalition Government on committing to the project. To be frank, today we have heard a lot of “economic” arguments presented by people who are really making political points about their constituency.

I say to the Government that some economic studies, such as that by PricewaterhouseCoopers, suggest that within three years of completion, the Government will be able to recoup their entire investment plus an extra £6 billion or £7 billion by passing the railway on to the private sector, but there are other economic cases that say exactly the opposite. Instead of clutching at straws, the Government have an obligation to come up with some sensible costings that are convincing.

I grew up in the Chilterns, and I understand the arguments that people from that region are making, but as someone who has not lived there for decades—I live in Yorkshire in the north of England—I have to say that the argument going on within the Conservative party about its heart and soul will be read as a debate between, on the one hand, one-nation Tories who want to invest in the future of the whole country and link it through new, modern, infrastructure, and, on the other, short-sighted southerners who frankly could not care less whether a railway goes beyond their county.

Angela Smith: I am still traumatised about having been described as a Manchester MP, because of course I represent a seat on the right side of the Pennines. The important point that my hon. Friend makes is that HS2 will help to bring the economies of the UK closer together. It will bring labour markets and businesses closer, and in that sense it is a catalyst for economic change and development. The points about economic cost are completely erroneous, and rather short-sighted and conservative.

Hugh Bayley: My hon. Friend has been a great champion of improving the rail infrastructure in Yorkshire and the north of England, and for connecting the north to jobs and markets in the south of England. We as British citizens have every bit as much right to be connected to our country’s capital—and, through the capital, to Europe—as people living in the south of the country.

Andrea Leadsom rose

Hugh Bayley: I give way to the hon. Lady, as she proposed the debate.

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Andrea Leadsom: I thank the hon. Gentleman. If HS2 is such a fantastic project, does he think that the private sector will finance it?

Hugh Bayley: That is a really good question, which I ask the hon. Lady to think about. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) made the same point, suggesting that the only test for whether there is an economic case is whether private investors would undertake a project on their own without substantial Government investment. Had that argument been applied to the building of the M40, the connection between his constituents in Wycombe and London, Birmingham and Oxford, it would never have been built. Exactly the same could be said with regard to the link between the hon. Lady’s constituency and London via the M1.

Big public transport infrastructure projects need political backing and leadership from Governments, and this project had it from the previous Government and has it from the current Government, which will give investors confidence. However, it will not get that investor confidence without Government cash. Had we not had the public investment in motorways in the ’60s and ’70s, just think out of the box about the economic state that our country would be in now. There are some local interests to be protected, which I understand, but the real test for the Conservatives now is whether or not they are going to speak for the whole country. I remind hon. Members that the Conservative manifesto stated:

“A Conservative government will begin work immediately to create a high speed rail line connecting London and Heathrow with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. This is the first step towards achieving our vision of creating a national high speed rail network to join up major cities across England, Scotland and Wales. Stage two will deliver two new lines bringing the North East, Scotland and Wales into the high speed rail network.”

I wish to make several points in the short time remaining. First, it is important that the high-speed wing of the “Y” that goes to Yorkshire and the north east leaves the line south of Birmingham, so that it can connect the three great east midlands cities of Leicester, Derby and Nottingham, through the Sheffield city region, to Leeds.

Secondly, it is essential that that line joins the existing east coast main line, which for some time will remain the link from Yorkshire to Scotland, south of York. The reason for that is partly self-interest—I am speaking as a York Member—and partly because York is a rail hub and the most interconnected station in the north of England, at least east of the Pennines. If we are to get feeder services, good connectivity with York is important.

Thirdly, the link to Scotland is extremely important, and the most viable first link should be from Leeds to Edinburgh and on to Glasgow, because that would provide connectivity with Tyneside and Teesside on the way, whereas pushing the line north from Manchester faces the environmental barrier of two national parks, and there are very few people, but many sheep, between Lancaster and Motherwell. I ask the Government to plan for the connection first to go through the east coast corridor.

Finally, it is not a case of investing in either the current infrastructure or High Speed 2. The country needs both and the Government must commit to both.

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5.38 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I understand that I must sit down promptly at 5:40 pm, so this will be a super-fast contribution. I should make it clear that, although I serve on the Transport Committee, the comments I am about to make are entirely my own, as the Committee is yet to conclude its inquiry and produce its report.

I have looked at a huge amount of evidence on high-speed rail, from the UK and overseas. My conclusion is that I am in favour of high-speed rail but not yet convinced of the specifics of High Speed 2. I agree that there is a case for a new strategic north-south railway line in this country. As other Members have mentioned, the capacity on the west coast main line and other strategic routes will run out at some point, even with upgrades. It is a false choice between upgrading those lines, which we need to do anyway to address the immediate capacity problems, and building a new high-speed line. Both are required. I do not think that we can defer a decision for another 10 years, because we will be having exactly the same debate then and enduring severe overcrowding for passengers and freight.

I would argue against just upgrading the existing line, which could be done effectively only at the exclusion of those intermediate stops on the line for commuter services to places such as Milton Keynes. Both are necessary; we cannot just look at upgrading.

I am not going to get through anything like what I wanted to say, but there are a number of areas where High Speed 2 has not been looked at in the round. At the weekend, we saw the proposal for a new “Heathwick” high-speed line to connect Heathrow and Gatwick, but that has not been appraised in the overall—[ Interruption. ] My Whip tells me that I must sit down now, so I shall conclude my remarks.

Mr Speaker: I remind the Front Benchers that a very brief winding-up speech from the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) would be a courtesy and is customary on these occasions.

5.40 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): This has been a lively debate. We have had excellent contributions, with both sides of the argument coming from both sides of the House, and with opposite ends of the country making different cases.

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing this debate and on the tenacity with which she contributed and intervened. She has crystallised one part of the “anti” argument, and on both sides a range of arguments has been played out throughout the debate, which has gone on for a number of years and will continue to rumble on. The hon. Lady crystallises the arguments of those on the “anti” side who simply do not accept the economic case and, if I may say so, will probably not accept any economic case that is made. Indeed, economic facts and figures are simply being talked past each other, and that is one of the problems that we have got ourselves into.

We have heard from Members, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who have expressed a genuinely held fear about the impact that the development may have

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on their communities, and we have heard from others, such as the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker), who raised fears for the natural environment, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said, they are not nimbys: if they stand up for their own areas, they do so because that is absolutely what they have been sent to Parliament to do.

On the other side of the argument, however, we have people making a compelling case and stressing the overwhelming benefit that the project may bring to UK plc. Scottish Members, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), stressed the importance of the project to Scotland, even on the existing proposals, and it was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) make the case for the manufacturing opportunities that the project will bring at a parlous time for train manufacturing in the UK.

The hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) crystallised the vital argument about capacity, and my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) pointed to the studies that dispel the fear that the project will benefit primarily the south of England, stating absolutely rightly that it can bring the local economies of this great country closer together.

Labour in government delivered the country’s first high-speed railway. The Y-shaped route of High Speed 2, which would link our cities, is a Labour initiative, and I can state clearly today that that vital lifeline of economic growth will be built by a future Labour Government and backed by Labour in opposition. Provided that the Government’s nerve holds, we will work across the Floor of the House to secure parliamentary approval for the legislation needed to deliver the scheme, and if their resolve fails, we will be on hand to bring them to their senses.

We looked at our commitment afresh in opposition, and we were right to do so. This project will require sustained and substantial investment at a time when public finances will unquestionably be tight. We looked at the business case again, examined the counter-proposals, and listened to the sincere and heart-felt objections expressed alongside the views of passionate advocates of the scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), the shadow Secretary of State, has travelled the proposed route talking to and listening to the communities that will be affected. Our conclusion is that the business case stacks up.

Of course we should debate the relative benefits of reducing journey time, though we believe they are clear, and of course we must continue to scrutinise the precise route. However, the capacity issues on the existing main lines are so great that we believe there is no credible alternative to building a new line. Closing existing lines to carry out improvements would bring chaos to millions of journeys and could be a real economic drag throughout the long and costly process. It is vital that we learn the lesson of the west coast main line modernisation programme. We will be failing future generations if we pass up the opportunity to employ the most advanced technology available.

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It is because we have looked afresh at the programme that we can reaffirm our commitment to it as one that we began in government and will follow through. I look forward to the day in 2018 when—under a Labour Government, of course—we cut the first sod of earth on the project.

A consensus across the House is important to boost confidence, but we will continue to press the Government on serious concerns. First, of course, there is the route. The Government must listen carefully to concerns about the exact nature of the route and treat with respect the genuine objections raised, making accommodations where feasible and adequate compensation where not. Secondly, we must address the problems of connecting to the line, many of which have been raised today. I hope that the Minister will explain, for example, why the potential need for extra capacity at Euston has not been acknowledged. There are many issues on which I do not necessarily agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but he was right to question why Heathrow is being dealt with in a second stage and to raise the unsatisfactory nature of that approach for his constituents and for people wanting to know how these things will connect up.

Thirdly, there is a need for certainty about the line going all the way up to Leeds and Manchester. If the Government are genuine about extending it beyond Birmingham, they should not delay legislating on Leeds and Manchester until the next Parliament. We need one hybrid Bill covering both phases of the line. Yes, that Bill will be larger, but construction need not be delayed by a single day. We need certainty for investors and for the travelling public, and a single Bill would give greater certainty, not less.

Fourthly, we must ensure that the whole country benefits from high-speed rail. I have been encouraged by how businesses right across the north, including Barrow shipyard in my own patch, have been lobbying for this investment to happen. Finally, we must make this a high-speed line for the many, not the few. The Government need to put their cards on the table. What sort of railway do they want High Speed 2 to be? Labour Members are clear: we cannot have a railway for the wealthy few where sky-high fares deter the majority from being able to travel.

I thank hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire for securing it. I have been pleased to restate Labour’s deeply held, unequivocal commitment to this project, and we look forward to working across the House to make it happen.

5.49 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I welcome the extensive support across the House for the Government’s proposals and in particular the clear expression of support from Her Majesty’s official Opposition. My time is too short to refer specifically to everyone, but I would like to make special mention of my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who are in their places. Their exacting scrutiny of the Government’s proposals has been effective and I welcome their robust input into the debate. I also mention my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), who is also in his place and who strongly supports this scheme.

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I first emphasise that the Government fully recognise the legitimate concerns of communities along the preferred route about the potential impact on their local environment. That has been raised by Members such as the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson). About half of the preferred route that we inherited has been changed. In the sensitive Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, all but two miles of the preferred route is in a tunnel or deep cutting, or follows an existing transport corridor. I am confident that we can and will make further improvements as a result of the consultation responses that are under consideration as we speak.

I am also conscious of the enormous importance of getting the right answer at Euston. We will, of course, scrutinise carefully all the representations made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson).

Dan Byles: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Villiers: I will not just yet, because my time is short.

HS1 is an example of how high-speed rail can be designed in a way that mitigates and minimises the impact on local communities. Equal care will be needed in phase 2 with the link to Heathrow. Again, we will be careful to listen to the concerns of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and his constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) spoke about the predictions of passenger growth for HS2. The consultation document forecasts that passenger demand will roughly double for long-distance services on the west coast main line, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). That projection is over 30 years and is based on modest growth rates of about 2% a year. If anything, those numbers are cautious when one takes into account the fact that demand between London and Manchester rose by almost 60% over the four years to 2008 and that overall long-distance demand has grown every year since 1997 at an average of 5% a year. There is a wide-ranging consensus, which has been echoed by many Members today, that the southern end of the west coast route will be completely full within 10 to 15 years, or possibly sooner as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond).

Christopher Pincher: Will the Minister say why she persists in using version 4.1 of the “Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook”, which Sir Rod Eddington says offers wildly inaccurate demand predictions? Why does she not use version 5.0, which is waiting on her desk for her to sign off? It offers much more reasonable demand projections and would allow her to pursue options other than HS2.

Mrs Villiers: We believe that version 4.1 gives a more robust analysis of passenger demand forecasts. I am confident that whichever methodology one uses to predict passenger demand, we face a capacity time bomb on the west coast main line. Even our efforts in undertaking the biggest programme of rail capacity improvement for 100 years will not be enough to meet our long-term capacity needs.

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We desperately need additional inter-city transport capacity, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). No responsible Government can afford to sit back and ignore this problem. High-speed rail provides the best way to meet that pressing economic need. Contrary to the allegations of its detractors, HS2 is not and has never been a project designed to shave a few minutes off the journey time to Birmingham; it is about delivering the inter-city transport links that are crucial for the future success of our economy in this country, in both the north and the south.

Dan Byles: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Villiers: No, I will not.

No upgrade of the existing railways is capable of matching the increase in capacity that HS2 will deliver. A fundamental problem with the alternative schemes is that they rely on upgrades of the existing line. By definition, they cannot release any capacity on the existing network. The release of capacity is a fundamental part of the benefit that can be provided by HS2. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey pointed out, the alternatives are simply sticking-plaster solutions. Of the alternatives formally considered, only one had a positive benefit-to-cost ratio. The solution put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire of tinkering with first and second class is simply not credible; nor are the 51m proposals, which have not been adequately costed, do not take into account the massive cost of signalling remodelling and cannot deal with a peak-time crisis. Furthermore, trying to defuse the capacity time bomb with any kind of work on the existing line would involve extensive disruption, as was pointed out by the shadow Minister, and that would come not long after the people on this route had to put up with a decade of disruption for the last upgrade of the west coast line.

Concern has been expressed that our analysis does not take account of the fact that time on a train can be used productively. However, stress-testing our business case figures shows that factoring in productive time on trains actually slightly strengthens the case for high-speed rail. The additional capacity provided by HS2 would enable more people to get a seat and get some productive work done on a train. What is more, failing to deliver a new line would lead to ever more serious overcrowding problems, making it even more difficult to work on a train. The fact that Stop HS2 keeps making the point about work demonstrates the overall weakness of its argument.

Dan Byles: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Villiers: No.

A fundamentally weak point put by the opponents of HS2 is the claim that it will disadvantage the regions that it will serve. That is startling when one thinks of the vigorous campaigns fought around the world by towns and cities desperate to connect to the high-speed rail networks that their countries are building. It is no surprise to hear of those campaigns when one takes on board the fact that Euralille has the third largest office complex in France, beaten into second place by Lyon’s Part-Dieu TGV station with its 5.3 million square feet

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of office space—economic development that would have been entirely impossible without the high-speed rail network in France. Survey work undertaken in relation to the TGV network clearly showed that the regions it served, rather than Paris, had experienced the greatest boost in their economies. It is simply not credible to claim that the north and the west midlands will be disadvantaged by high-speed rail, as evidenced by the strong support for the project in those areas.

If we need evidence of the startling benefits that transport links can bring, we have only to walk 30 yards from the Chamber to Westminster tube station and get on the Jubilee line extension. Now one of the biggest financial centres in the world, Canary Wharf simply would not exist without the Jubilee line extension. The benefits of high-speed rail will be felt right across the north and midlands, with a boost to the whole country’s economy.

I reiterate that our assumptions about the viability of HS2 and the expected fare box do not factor in or depend on a premium for high-speed services. Our appraisal is based on fares in line with the existing services. In response to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, the level of fares on Southeastern has absolutely nothing to do with HS1; neither do the performance issues on that route.

It is clear that in the longer term, the benefits of high-speed rail will exceed its construction costs, but the reality is that if we examine the scale of the project and average out the cost over the years it will take to deliver it, we see that it is by no means out of line with projects such as Crossrail. The claim that the rest of the rail network would be starved of funds if HS2 went ahead is undermined by the fact that the Government are committed to delivering the largest and most extensive package of rail capacity upgrades since the Victorian era, a number of which will carry on into the period during which HS2 is expected to be under construction.

Finally, I refer to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker), who rather let the cat out of the bag. If arguments such as his had been accepted, we would never have built the channel tunnel, HS1, the Jubilee line extension or the motorway network. Not even the Victorian railways on which we still depend would have been built, because although they were built by the private sector, the people who built them lost their shirts and largely went out of business.

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The Government’s two most important goals are to address the deficit and to secure economic growth. Improving our transport infrastructure has a central part to play in delivering those goals, and we believe that high-speed rail can and should have a central role in our transport plans for the future.

5.58 pm

Andrea Leadsom: I congratulate the many colleagues who have spoken in this debate, and I am sorry for those who wanted to speak and did not. In particular, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles), who was instrumental in securing the debate. I am sorry that we did not get to hear from him.

I reiterate that I think we can all agree that there is a massive capacity problem not just on the west coast main line but across our entire rail network, and it is absolutely right that the Government should consider ways to improve capacity, rail infrastructure and economic development across the UK. However, I go back to the fact that HS2 is not a “build it and they will come” project. We should not look at a £32 billion expenditure as something that we can just do on the hoof and expect the return to come. There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence today—so-and-so says this, and so-and-so says that—but I have heard no hard evidence that HS2 will be good value for money. This is not our money; it is the taxpayers’ money. As my right hon. Friend the Minister so eloquently said, let us hope that we, like the Victorian railway owners, do not go bust and lose our shirts over it.

6 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Business without Debate

Business of the House (19 October)


That, at the sitting on Wednesday 19 October, paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motions in the name of Edward Miliband as if the day were an Opposition Day; proceedings on the Motions may continue, though opposed, until the moment of interruption and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply—(Bill Wiggin.)

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Anchor Housing Association

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Bill Wiggin.)

6 pm

Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this debate and thank those organisations, particularly Age UK, that since the schedule was announced have sent me a good deal of relevant background information.

At a time when figures show that those aged 65 and over in our country number 10 million and that the figure is set to grow to well over 16 million by 2035, the consensus seems to be that long-term care in this country is in crisis and has been for some time. We see continuing concern about Southern Cross and more generally about how we get funding right for a group with considerable needs and to whom we owe an obvious duty of care. The Government recognised that when they committed a further £7.2 billion to the delivery of social care in the four years to 2014-15. I know that the Government intend to release a White Paper next spring and have before them, among other evidence, the recommendations of the Dilnot commission, the Law Commission and the Health Select Committee regarding failings in the Care Quality Commission. However, following a recent experience in my own constituency, I would like to add one more small set of recommendations, to place alongside those weighty reports, as the Government wrestle with this extremely difficult set of issues.

After boundary changes before the 2010 general election, I inherited an area of Dewsbury where Anchor housing association has run a sheltered housing complex for more than 30 years. Barnfield houses 51 elderly—in some cases, very elderly—people, the vast majority of whom express themselves as happy to be there and say that they want to stay in what they have been led to regard as their home for life. Throughout the past three years, for instance, occupancy rates have been over 96%, which seems to underline how popular a place it is. Several of those 51 residents have lived in the complex for the whole 31 years of its existence.

At a week’s notice, however, in the middle of August, residents were called together and told that Anchor was reviewing the future of the complex in view of the projected capital expenditure needed to bring facilities up to modern standards. The truth is that Anchor wishes to wash its hands of the establishment and, by definition, of my 51 constituents. Two options were outlined: first, closure and, secondly, the transferral of ownership to another social landlord. Although the latter was very much its preferred course of action, residents were left in no doubt that if efforts along those lines failed, they would have to be found alternative accommodation. I was not at the meeting, but I am reliably informed that many residents started to weep at this news. Resident Mike Neville described the meeting addressed by Anchor’s Andrew Railton, the charity’s head of operational transitions—whatever that means—as

“without warmth, concern or compassion. A shocking way to do things. Anchor’s slogan is ‘happy living for years ahead’. This is meaningless marketing language to the people of Barnfield”.

I have since met the residents of Barnfield three times. They remain shocked and angry, especially as Anchor gave itself until November—three whole months

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—to tell them of their fate. However, having overcome the initial shock, residents have not taken things lying down. The estimable Mike Neville approached my office and, with Chris Allinson and Sandra and Ken Garfield, has liaised with us throughout. Residents presented a statement to Anchor outlining their wish to remain in situ and, with varying degrees of success, have attempted to contact members of the Anchor board and senior management. They have been supported throughout by local clergy—in particular, Rev. Tom Hiney, Rev. Ann Pollard and Rev. Lisa Senior. Residents have also continued to benefit from the support of the live-in warden, Jan Crabtree, and her husband. As an Anchor employee, Jan has been placed in an invidious position as a result of a decision in which she had no part. Residents have told me how much they continue to value her care and attention.

When I finally met the chief executive of Anchor, Jane Ashcroft, she was happy to apologise for any distress caused to my constituents, but felt that the meeting—which she had not attended any more than I had—had been properly conducted by her colleague and could give no assurance that residents would not have to move out if a buyer for the complex could not be found. At my request, she later provided me with financial figures and supporting documentation that convinced me even more that Anchor’s decision to leave Barnfield had nothing to do with its stated reasons for review. The complex has high occupancy levels and appears to be self-sustaining financially.

We must ask, therefore, why a charity and the largest social landlord in the country should treat its residents—including some who suffer from mental health problems—in such a fashion, putting their well-being and perhaps even their life chances at risk. Why are the very people whom the charity claims to be serving the very last people to be considered? Indeed, many questions need answering, some of which were put in a hard-hitting article by our campaigning local newspaper, The Dewsbury Reporter, not least of which was: where has the money paid in rents and service charges over 31 years gone? That is especially important because as recently as May this year, couples such as Mr and Mrs Thorne were being admitted to the complex. As a couple in their 80s, they then had to spend more than £4,000 of their savings to have the property rewired and brought up to liveable standards.

Anchor refused to answer any of those questions, but did produce a statement pointing to its responsibilities as a charity—responsibilities, it would seem, to everybody except my constituents, the very people whom Anchor is supposed to be in business to serve. However, in using the word “business” we are perhaps beginning to get to the nub of the problem. I have no doubt that Anchor has taken a strategic decision in the interests of its business to pull out of establishments such as Barnfield. We may never know when that was decided or by whom, but it was certainly before the matter was broached with Barnfield residents on 9 August.

The decision also appears to have been taken without the benefit of any consultation, and not just with residents but with our local authority, Kirklees, with which Anchor is supposed to work in partnership on such matters. The strategy may make perfect sense for the charity as a whole—although some openness about its real objective would have allowed us to know that—but what is

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unacceptable is to achieve that goal at the cost of enormous worry and uncertainty to that group of vulnerable elderly people. In the absence of being consulted or considered, they are owed much more than a rather easily produced apology; they are owed an explanation.

Based on this experience, which I have no reason to believe is unique, may I put it to the Minister that charities and third sector organisation should be judged by the results of their actions, just as the management of Southern Cross should be? They appear to need every bit as much regulation and oversight as those that are engaged in this sector primarily to make money. It would appear that, if they are not careful, charities and not-for-profit companies can become just as divorced from the people they are supposed to serve as the most rapacious money-making outfit, and, in this regard, I think size matters.

In my view, organisations such as Anchor have long since reached the tipping point beyond which their prime considerations, while perhaps understandable by their own lights, have less and less connection with the needs and wishes of their own residents. They exist for the good of the charity as a large and complex organisation with a turnover of millions of pounds per annum, and not necessarily for the good of those to whom they provide services.

I want to ask the Government to consider capping the size of social landlords, preferably at about half the size of Anchor as it is constituted.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Wood: I will not, at this moment.

Will the Government also place a responsibility on the reformed Care Quality Commission to work especially closely with providers that, through longevity and acquisition, have long since lost sight of whom they operate to serve? Will the Minister also ensure that social landlords make their strategic plans public, so that they are open to scrutiny and can be tested by the CQC, the Charity Commissioners, local authorities and, most importantly, residents and prospective residents and their families?

In essence, we need elderly people to be treated with respect. My constituent Lawrence Tomlinson, the owner of Ideal Care Homes, has shown that first-rate facilities can be provided in the care home sector while ensuring a good return for the owners of those homes. I saw that for myself when I visited Lydgate Lodge in my constituency only last week. But, as with the other elements in our care of the elderly, provision is very patchy. As recommended by Dilnot, we must get rid of the postcode lottery and establish a national framework for eligibility, as favoured by the Law Commission.

Lastly, I believe that we should examine seriously the case for a Cabinet Minister for older people—ironically, as advocated by Anchor in its Grey Pride campaign. The care system is in crisis as the size of our elderly populace grows, yet I must point out, without being too unkind, that the responsibility for improving the situation is spread haphazardly over several Government

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Departments. It is unclear whose job it is in Government to defend the interests of elderly citizens, just as it was unclear who was responsible for looking after the good of the residents of Barnfield in the vast charity that was supposedly helping to care for them.

The Minister is not yet the Minister for the elderly—[ Interruption. ] He appears to be making a bid for the job, and I would certainly support such an appointment. I hope that he will be able to give me at least an initial view on these few practical suggestions for improvements in the care for our elderly citizens that we all want to see.

6.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): I congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mike Wood) on securing a debate that is important both for general policy and for the specific concerns of his constituents. I also congratulate him on the careful and thoughtful way in which he presented his case. By responding on both those points, I shall endeavour to do the best justice I can to it in the time available.

I would like to start with the more specific issue of the position of Anchor. As the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, Anchor is a large provider—one of the leading providers of housing for older people. It has met those people’s needs for some 40 years, delivering a variety of products. As has been said, it is a registered charity, which makes it independent and non-profit-making. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is responsible for making its own business decisions, so the scope for Government intervention is generally constrained by the law relating to charities. Equally, however, Anchor must adhere to Charity Commission guidelines and, as a private registered provider, to the guidance of the social housing regulator—the Tenant Services Authority.

As I understand it, and as the hon. Gentleman fairly set out, Anchor has come to a view about its involvement with Barnfield for the future and has set out options for the residents. Its preferred option is to find another provider to take this development on. Let us hope that that is the solution; it would be for the best, enabling Barnfield residents to remain in their homes. It is worth noting that Anchor will need to apply to the regulator for consent to do so. That will not remove the uncertainty that I appreciate is playing on the minds of the residents. If it is any comfort to the hon. Gentleman, I had a similar case with a much smaller charity in my own constituency before the general election. It had been going on for some time. I understand people’s feelings, because I met the constituents involved in that case.

Anchor is required to obtain the regulator’s consent before disposing of the property. It is up to the regulator to decide to grant consent, and it is normal policy to withhold consent for the disposal of property unless that disposal is to another social housing provider or to the tenants. There are some safeguards; one cannot prejudge any particular case.

In view of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, it is worth observing that the regulator also requires providers to engage in meaningful consultation with the relevant local authority and with tenants before seeking consent for a disposal. Housing associations registered with the regulator are also required to consult tenants if it is proposed to change their landlord or make a significant

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change in the management arrangements. The hon. Gentleman’s constituents might wish to consider that in the context of contact with the TSA.

There is also a regulatory requirement to have in place a procedure for dealing with formal complaints. If, having completed that process, residents remain unhappy, they have the right to raise a complaint with the housing ombudsman. It then becomes a matter for the ombudsman to deal with. Areas of maladministration that fall under the ombudsman’s remit include, for example, failure of a body to apply its own procedures, failure to comply with legal obligations or codes of practice, unreasonable behaviour, or having treated the complainant personally in a heavy-handed, unsympathetic or inappropriate manner. That might be relevant; I, of course, have to be independent.

That is the position, so it is worth reflecting on the fact that steps have to be gone through before a disposal can be taken. I understand that Anchor is contacting residents at regular intervals, and I hope that is the case. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is closer to the ground there than I am.

The broader point is well made, given that we all get older. Whether I would be better qualified to be a Minister for elderly people by virtue of my greater experience in comparison with other hon. Members might have been the cause of some merriment. I believe we all want to maintain our independence and to keep our own home. I have an 87-year-old mother, and I know exactly what her view is.

Tracey Crouch: I recently initiated an Adjournment debate on older people in Westminster Hall, during which I drew attention to the acute pressure on housing for our older generation. Given that that pressure will become a great deal worse, will the Minister consider the constructive suggestion that some flexibility should be applied to the new homes bonus? That might well give developers an incentive to ensure that older people are catered for specifically in the future.

Robert Neill: That is an interesting idea, and this is not the first occasion on which I have heard it raised by my hon. Friend and by people in the sector. I will convey it, along with a number of other suggestions, to the Minister for Housing and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who will consider what is the most appropriate action.

The complexity of the system often makes choices difficult, but the Government are helping by supporting the provision of information and advice. In May I announced funding of £1.5 million for FirstStop, which offers expert advice to older people, their families and their carers on housing and associated care and money

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issues. It is a national service, delivered in partnership with specialist providers and local partners. One of the coalition’s aims is to give people access to better information. “The Coalition: our programme for government” includes the commitment to

“help elderly people live at home for longer”,

which may involve their staying in the family home but may also mean a move to more suitable accommodation.

We must ensure that there is enough suitable accommodation, and to that end we have embarked on a number of policy reforms. We expect to deliver up to 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015—an increase on our original estimate of 150,000, including 80,000 under the affordable homes programme. As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), we have also introduced the new homes bonus, which is a much more transparent incentive. We want to ensure that local authorities have sufficient flexibility by “un-ring-fencing” funds in response to local needs.

We have announced that we will raise right-to-buy discounts to make buying more attractive to tenants who want to stay put. However, we are determined not just to fulfil residents’ aspirations for home ownership, but to ensure that every home bought under the right to buy will fund a new affordable home, over and above our existing plans. That, along with a number of other matters, will be included in the housing strategy. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take a particular interest in the way in which it deals with the sector that he has raised tonight.

We know that we must encourage the provision of a wide range of accommodation to suit the changing needs and circumstances of older people. The hon. Gentleman has made a number of thoughtful suggestions. As I have said, there are examples of good practice among charities of varying sizes, but we must nevertheless be alert to risk, and I think that the Charity Commission and other regulatory bodies provide the appropriate means of dealing with that. We want results that will ultimately benefit those receiving the provision.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand if I say that capping size is not necessarily the answer. What is important is ensuring that charities are responsive. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government has expressed a desire to encourage greater transparency in the social housing provider sector as a whole, and I hope that that will deal with the hon. Gentleman’s specific points.

Question put and agreed to.

6.24 pm

House adjourned .