On Sunday, we reported that HS2 Ltd have challenged the locus standi (right to be heard) of 414 petitioners against the HS2 Hybrid Bill in the House of Lords, including the eight MPs who have petitioned.
Yesterday, Cheryl Gillan MP brought up this matter as a Point of Order in the Commons:
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to raise a very serious point of order with the Chair. We know from reports in the press that HS2 Ltd is apparently again facing difficulties on costs, which are being reviewed by no less a person than the Cabinet Secretary, and on issues of connectivity, which has been ever thus since the project was first announced. A serious matter has arisen that I believe is an attempt by the civil servants who are paid for by the taxpayer and who run HS2 Ltd through their agents—very highly paid lawyers, Eversheds—to gag Members of this House. I do not know whether the Chair is aware of this, but the locus standi of no fewer than four Ministers, three Back Benchers and, I believe, even the Speaker has been challenged.
In other words, HS2 Ltd is trying to prevent Members of this House from speaking out for their constituents and bringing information to the other place—to the House of Lords Committee, which will now be deliberating on the scheme. The question that arises is, “What is it afraid of? Why shouldn’t Members of Parliament be able to speak directly about their constituencies and their constituents and help to try to improve this legislation as it is going through?” Quite frankly, I regard this as an interference with the freedom of speech of Members of this House, and with our ability and right to represent the people who send us here. I ask the Chair and the House authorities to look into this issue, because I believe that on so many counts, HS2 Ltd has been trying to cover up what is happening, or even to gag those who want to speak against the project or improve the project and make greater gains for their constituencies.
It is ironic that Eversheds quoted in its locus standi challenge the 24th edition of “Erskine May”, pages 949 to 950, in support of the proposition that we should be gagged. The section on
“Members and Officers of the House disqualified as agents” states:
“No officer or clerk in the service of either House is allowed to transact private business before the House for his emolument or advantage, either directly or indirectly.”
The previous sentence states:
“Members may not be agents, though they can deposit petitions on behalf of parties”.
I hope that there is no implication from Eversheds that any of the Members of Parliament who have made representations on behalf of their constituents on HS2 are
“in receipt of emolument or advantage, either directly or indirectly”, but we know that Eversheds certainly is.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I just make it clear that the rules on locus standi are very clear and we are following them to the letter?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is not a matter of the letter of the law, but the fact that it is wrong to prevent Ministers, Members of Parliament and even the Speaker from informing a Committee of the other House about a project that has been through this House in its first stage.
On advice, this is a matter that is with the House of Lords at the moment, and therefore the locus standi is a matter for the House of Lords. I suggest that because the right hon. Lady is referring to a matter of privilege, she should write to the Speaker to ask him to have a look at this. I hope that she is happy with that. He will certainly have a look in Hansard at her full explanation in her point of order.