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29/04/2014

Big majority of MPs back HS2 bill

Words: Roger Milne
HS2 train

MPs backed the HS2 bill at its second reading by a large majority of 452 to 41 – with a Tory revolt against the plans coming to nothing.

An attempt by Tory ex-minister Cheryl Gillian to derail the proposed High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill 2013-14 was roundly defeated by 451 votes to 50. Thirty-four Tories voted against the government and a further 46 missed the vote or abstained.

 
After a six-and-a-half hour debate, 26 Tories voted against the government in the main vote, which marks a major step forward for the controversial legislation.
 
The bill, which permits the first phase of the £42 billion project, now faces detailed scrutiny by committee before a third reading and a further vote. If then approved by the House of Lords, the bill will pass into law.
 
This is not expected to happen until after the 2015 General Election, given the complexity and strategic importance of the bill.
 
If it becomes law, it wil give the government the powers to start building phase one of HS2, between London and the West Midlands. This is due to be operational by 2026.
 
The government has proposed bringing in a second bill later this year to enable the second phase – north of Birmingham – to go ahead.
 
Introducing the bill in the Commons yesterday, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Today you can get a high speed train from London to Lille - but not to Leeds. From London to Brussels - but not to Birmingham. That has got to change.”
 
Accepting the need to address criticisms and concerns about the cost and impact of the proposed rail link, he said: “This is not just an investment in steel, and rolling stock. It is also a huge investment in our people right across the nation.
 
"And I know that built right, on time and to budget, HS2 can help our great cities thrive.”
 
Plans for HS2 have faced considerable opposition, including a report yesterday by the Institute of Economic Affairs, claiming that the government’s economic case was “misleading the public”
 
Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan, whose amendment aimed to scupper the bill, said that HS2 would suck investment away from the rest of the railway. "Is this really a top priority and the best way to spend almost £50bn worth of taxpayers' money?"
 
The scheme is expected to cost £42.6bn, with a further £7.5bn spent on trains. The second reading was voted through with a majority of 411. A number of MPs whose constituencies are en-route were given permission to be absent from the vote. Prime minister David Cameron was another absentee.
 

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