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Has the Government taken the first step toward burying a critical HS2 report?

A Freedom of Information Tribunal concerning the release of documents critical of the HS2 project, which was due to take place from 10am today (12th December 2013) has been postponed. It is understood that this follows a last minute intervention from the Cabinet Office, in line with speculation this week that the Government were planning to use their veto to block publication of the report, which was previously used to prevent the publication of documents relating to the Iraq War.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Cabinet Office Secretary Francis Maude, who is responsible for the Major Projects Authority which produced the report, and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin had written to David Cameron, saying that publication of the MPA report should be blocked for political reasons, saying: 

“Continuing with the appeal would create political and presentational difficulties at a crucial point in the HS2 project’s development . . . [therefore we should] exercise the veto now . . . Counsel has advised that we are very likely to lose the appeal. We consider that the importance the Government attaches to the successful implementation of the HS2 project . . . justifies the use of the veto in this case as exceptional. Disclosure of such recent information would also have a chilling effect on assessments of other Government projects and, indeed, on advice prepared for Government ministers on many other subjects. Counsel has advised that it will be better to veto now rather than after an adverse tribunal decision.”

This is despite the fact that when launching the ‘Open Government Partnership six weeks ago, Maude said:

“Transparency is an idea whose time has come – and the clock cannot be turned back. The best way to demonstrate the power of transparency is by making it real for everyone.” 

The original ruling in June from the Information Commissioner stated that a report produced by the MPA in November 2011 which rated HS2 as ‘amber-red’ should be released, both for public interests and to comply with the Environmental Information Regulations. This could create a precedent demanding the publication of four subsequent MPA reports on HS2, at least three of which are known to have been rated ‘amber-red’, meaning “Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible”.

If the veto were to be exercised, this would be the first time it had been exercised against an environmental ruling, creating a disturbing precedent. Besides a handful of Ministers, MPs who will be asked to vote of the HS2 Hybrid Bill in the New Year have not seen the details of these reports.

Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:

“It seems that Government have taken the first step to making sure that reports which show just how badly HS2 is doing will never see the light of day. Francis Maude recently said that Transparency is an idea whose time has come, and the clock cannot be turned back, but like a complete hypocrite, turning the clock back is exactly what he now wants to do with regard to HS2. We could understand blocking the release of sensitive information relating to national security, but this is information about environmental impacts which the Information Commissioner has said should be release in the public interests.” 

“The Government are proving they don’t care about transparency, the public interest or letting MPs properly scrutinise their £50bn white elephant, they just care about getting their vanity project through at any cost. The whole thing stinks of attempted cover-up, hypocrisy, vested interests and political expediency. This is no way to run a railway, what are they trying to hide?”

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3 comments to “Has the Government taken the first step toward burying a critical HS2 report?”
  1. They mean to ban all protest, and to minimize discontent by keeping as much of the damage secret as possible.
    The North Korean leader has just had his uncle executed for “Dreaming different dreams” and I fear that this is the offence which all readers of this site are guilty of in the minds of David Cameron and Jeremy Heywood.

    It isn’t just HS2 where they have decided not merely to broke no dissent: they intend to steamroller absolutely every project through. The reason that Heywood is particularly keen to stop public protests, is that these can undermine his control of the information upon which David Cameron “decides” how to run the country. When Cameron managed to meet people who objected to the A14 toll road as a “tax on Suffolk”, it turned out that he hadn’t known that the toll road would be the only road and that the non toll alternative was going to be demolished without replacement. (The demolished bit is necessary before it falls on Huntingdon Station.) Upon receipt of what was actually the most important piece of relevant information, Cameron changed his mind.

    I wonder whether his support for HS2 would be safe if he actually read the small print: perhaps it should be put on placards and waved while there’s still a few months left before waving a placard becomes a criminal offence?

    Jeremy Heywood, like another senior civil servant, Charles Farr, is a determined foe of democracy and government by consent. Because informed consent is the only valid consent.

  2. Pingback: STOP HS2 | Transport Committee tell DfT to ‘spin harder’ on HS2, as report provides a ‘cheerleading whitewash’.

  3. ἀλήθεια
    We are now witnessing some interesting phenomena and conundra. The refusal to reveal a negative report seemingly challenges a Government that is self laudatory in respect of their drive for transparency and honesty.
    However, even if the populace could demand such disclsure and apparent transparency and honesty it still may not reveal the ‘truth’

    ἀλήθεια (aletheia)
    being a state of unconcealedness, subject of disclosure or truth. “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident” (it implies sincerity,factuality and reality).

    Open Government Partnership
    “Transparency is an idea whose time has come – and the clock cannot be turned back. The best way to demonstrate the power of transparency is by making it real for everyone.”
    Maude (see it yourself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUbxqWujD-4)

    Heidegger argued that in raising the question of aletheia, of disclosure as such, is not the same as raising the question of truth.

    So even if we were successful in releasing this report we may not be closer to obtaining the truth.
    The statement below indicates that there is a political will and close group of agents in a dialogue specifically aimed at
    misinforming and dis-informing the public and parliament until the information supports them or until the process advances to a point that the information becomes irrelevant in supporting any change from their chosen path. These acts seemingly adheres to the concept of the Noble Lie, but given the evidence on HS2 II contest their behaviour is not that of Noble lies but an interesting response to wish and fantasy.

    “Continuing with the appeal would create political and presentational difficulties at a crucial point in the HS2 project’s development . . . [therefore we should] exercise the veto now . . . Counsel has advised that we are very likely to lose the appeal. We consider that the importance the Government attaches to the successful implementation of the HS2 project . . . justifies the use of the veto in this case as exceptional. Disclosure of such recent information would also have a chilling effect on assessments of other Government projects and, indeed, on advice prepared for Government ministers on many other subjects. Counsel has advised that it will be better to veto now rather than after an adverse tribunal decision.”

    Maude and McLoughlin have seemingly determined on our behalf and in the context of the Govmnts. collective plans that the truth isn’t worth as much as a lie.
    I argue that the ‘truth’ has still not available to anyone at present due to lack of effective inquiry and proper scrutiny.
    My fear is that the truth as will unfold will be at marked variance to the truth that has been conjectured and given the status of determined fact.

    So much for democracy it has become a language of traded ‘justified’ yet unproven falsehoods.
    Inpenetrable Means to Ends

    Perhaps what we should make as our first demand is the sharing of proven truth and relating this to political integrity/right to office/impose legislation tax and consequences on a group. We should be seeking that the politicians support their truth with the disclosure of supporting and robust fact (has survived open challenge).

    The above political disclosures suggest that the politicians are neither telling it true nor telling Noble Lies (they have no secure facts to take that stance)
    They have romanced reality for political Ends and entered the world of poetics. Aristotle argued that poetry is superior to history because poetry speaks of what must or should be true rather than merely what is true.

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