Ahead of the Government reshuffle yesterday, the position of Transport Minister became vacant when the previous incumbent Simon Burns resigned to stand for Deputy Speaker. This is a worrying for Stop HS2 campaigners, as the Deputy Speaker also holds the post of Chairman of Ways and Means committee, which presides over Hybrid Bills in the Court of Referees during the petitioning process and will be allowed to determine who is heard as regards the petitions against the HS2 Hybrid Bill, and even determines the scope of areas the petitions can challenge. Standing orders state:
“The Court of Referees shall decide upon all petitions against private bills, as to the rights of the petitioners to be heard upon such petitions, without prejudice, however, to the power of the committee to which the bill is referred to decide upon any question as to such rights arising incidentally in the course of its proceedings.”
In the reshuffle, the revolving door at the DfT revolved again as Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough replaced Norman Baker as Under-Secretary of State, whilst Baroness Susan Kramer, founder and owner of Infrastructure Capital Partners Ltd, who previously said she was “Very supportive of the big infrastructure projects such as HS2.” has been appointed as Minister of State at Department for Transport. Current information suggests that it has not been decided who will take over the part of the HS2 brief which Simon Burns held.
On the Labour benches, Mary Creagh has replaced Maria Eagle as Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. Creagh is MP for Wakefield, whose council have come out against HS2, but she has previously said she is “Totally committed to HS2”, despite reiterating the current Labour line that there “Is no blank cheque”. However her first press release as Shadow Transport Minister states “Labour supports the idea of a new North-South rail link, but under this Government HS2 has been totally mismanaged and the costs have shot up to £50 billion.”
In response, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager, Joe Rukin said:
“We hope that given her background, Susan Kramer will see that HS2 is the sort of project which she would tell her clients to steer clear of, but we do not expect a great deal. In the last three years, Transport Ministers have come and gone and have all blindly backed HS2, no matter how well founded the criticism of the project is. HS2 is clearly a toxic brand and no-one will want to poisoned chalice of having to defend this indefensible project.”
“We are exceptionally worried that Simon Burns wants to become Deputy Speaker to try and stitch-up the way HS2 progresses through Parliament, by reducing the rights of people to petition the Hybrid Bill. Given the way the proposed Lobbying Bill would silence campaigners, and the way the Local Audit Bill would silence councils in opposition to HS2, trying to reduce the rights of those affected by HS2 in Parliament would come as no surprise.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2, said
“It is notable that none of the new or existing Transport ministers have been given immediate responsibility for HS2. We hope that this is because they realise that HS2 is a toxic project and that however is dumped with the project will take a careful look at why so many people across the country are opposed to it. However with the bullish speech by David Cameron last week, and the possibility of the petitioning for the HS2 hybrid bill being controlled by the previous HS2 minister, we are concerned that they may simply ignore the valid criticism of HS2 and blindly continue with this project”.
I think Simon Burns is more likely to have resigned from being Transport Minister in order to get away from HS2 rather than to try and interfere with it further. MPs come and go as Ministers, Secretarys of State and such like and probably have enough to worry about doing one job rather than carrying on some plan from a previous position. Any MP from the current government parties will be under pressure to smooth the way for government bills. And a Labour MP in the position would probably not make much difference.