HS2: MPs prepare to vote on crucial legislation to release money for preparation

MPs will vote today as to whether money should be released to allow the Government to begin spending on the HS2 rail project
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Legislation crucial to the progress of the High Speed 2 rail project is likely to clear the Commons when MPs vote later today on whether to let the Government begin spending on the HS2 rail project.

Labour, who first proposed HS2, has cooled its support somewhat for the £50 billion scheme, with shadow chancellor Ed Balls saying he is not prepared to write a blank cheque for the project if he became chancellor. Some Conservatives are also expected to vote against the plans, angered that the line is being built through their constituencies in the Home Counties.

This has led to fears that without Labour support the scheme, which will create a high speed railway linking London to the north of England, could collapse.

On Wednesday Prime Minister David Cameron accused Mr Balls was guilty of “petty politicking” over the project and said Ed Miliband had “cowered in his office, too weak to make a decision” on whether to openly express his support for HS2.

The High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill would permit the Government to spend money planning the route in detail and purchasing property from residents and businesses situated along the proposed track. It will return to the House of Commons today for report stage and third reading.

Labour have said they will support the project but the party's leadership has imposed a one-line whip on tonight's vote, providing their MPs opposed to the plans the opportunity to vote against the Government.

Twenty-one Tory backbenchers voted in favour of an amendment to quash the project when the Bill last entered the Commons.

But if Tory rebels intended to successfully vote down the Bill later this afternoon they would have to win significantly more support and from all sides of the House, making it likely the legislation will pass and go on to the House of Lords where it will be further scrutinised by peers.

Former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gill’s constituency of Chesham and Amersham would be affected by the HS2 construction.

Speaking to the Press Association, she said: “I want to call a division on the third reading. It gives people the opportunity to vote against it if they want to. It's not going to make any difference, but it isn't a pointless gesture.”

The MP said the more important documents would be the main Hybrid Bill, expected to be tabled in Parliament within weeks, and the 50,000-page environmental statement.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said business leaders in his Sheffield constituency were “absolutely appalled” at Labour's apparent “betrayal” of the north of England.

He said it was “miserable” and “pathetic” that Labour should begin playing games when it becomes “politically convenient” with an idea inherited from them and “in all good faith took forward because we thought, given they were the architects of the idea they might support it”.

Additional reporting by Press Association