High-speed rail debate could drag on into wee small hours, Speaker warns

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Speaker John Bercow says he is willing for MPs to sit until the early hours to debate the £50bn HS2 rail link – which will connect London with Yorkshire – amid concerns there is not enough time scheduled.

Commons Leader Andrew Lansley said he will table a motion to allow the principles of the high-speed rail link to be debated on Monday, April 28 until 11pm – an hour later than is normally scheduled for sittings.

Mr Bercow said that while Mr Lansley might be “taking pity on the chair”, he would be happy to sit until at least 4am to allow backbenchers to contribute to the debate.

Mr Lansley later said he wanted the debate and the vote on the second reading of the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill to finish at a time when constituents might be watching.

But Mr Bercow added: “Well, anyway, I think the point is made. As long as there are (MPs) standing to speak in that debate, I shall be in my chair.”

The pair jousted on the issue during Business Question as Mr Lansley outlined the schedule for the Commons after recess.

Mr Lansley said up to seven and a half hours will be available to discuss the principles of the HS2 proposals in the second reading on April 28.

He added that up to four hours will be scheduled the following day to debate processes connected to the Hybrid Bill, which allows opponents to submit petitions and certain individuals and groups can state their case before a select committee.

But these measures prompted criticism from HS2 opponent Cheryl Gillan, a former Cabinet minister who is among senior Tories leading a Commons campaign to block the project.

She said an extra 60 minutes to discuss the principle of the project brings the procedures of the Commons “into disrepute”.

Mrs Gillan, whose Chesham and Amersham seat will be affected by the proposed line, said she had requested two full days for debate.