HS2: Govt Wins Vote But Cameron A No Show
David Cameron has been criticised for missing the vote on the HS2 rail line bill as the Government suffered a 33-strong Tory rebellion.
Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh, who supports the scheme, said the Prime Minister's no-show was "extraordinary".
Some 33 Conservative MPs rebelled against the blueprint for the high-speed line but the Government enjoyed a comfortable victory as the bill for the £50bn scheme passed with a 411 majority.
A wrecking amendment to the legislation for the project put forward by former Cabinet minister and rebel ringleader Cheryl Gillan was defeated by 451 votes to 50, with a total of 32 Tory MPs backing the amendment.
Some 47 Conservative MPs missed the vote, including Europe minister David Lidington, Attorney General Dominic Grieve and the newly-promoted Treasury minister Andrea Leadsom, whose constituencies are all affected by the line.
Ms Leadsom was called to a meeting in Brussels, while Mr Grieve had ministerial engagements in Newcastle.
Mr Lidington, who is in Estonia, has threatened to resign if there is not sufficient mitigation for his Aylesbury constituency and if a tunnel under the Chilterns is not extended.
Any serious threat to the bill's progress disappeared when Labour indicated it would support the legislation.
Ms Creagh said: "It's extraordinary that David Cameron couldn't be bothered to turn up to vote.
"Once again, the Prime Minister has shown he is the weak leader of a divided party.
"He is unable to stand up to rebel ministers opposed to HS2 and unwilling to vote in favour of his own Government's biggest infrastructure project."
Mrs Gillan added: "This is a large number of MPs unconvinced that HS2 is the solution to our country's infrastructure problems.
"(The) Government should realise this project will be closely scrutinised every step of the way."
The line has also split opinion among environmental and business groups.
However, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "HS2 is a once in a generation opportunity to create jobs and develop skills, provide the extra space we need on our rail network for commuters and freight and better connect our biggest cities.
"I'm aware of the concerns some who live very close to the HS2 route have.
"I'm confident, however, that by working together, we can ensure this vital new north-south railway is designed in the right way and we will have spades in the ground in 2017 as planned."
The bill will now be examined by a special select committee of MPs which will hear petitions from people who will be directly affected.
If the political hurdles and opposition are surmounted, construction of the 250mph London-West Midlands stage of the line could begin around 2017 and be opened by 2026.
The second phase to Manchester and Leeds may be completed by 2032.