Ministers bid to use ‘war veto’ to keep HS2 documents secret.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin  along with Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude have written to David Cameron to demand that a veto on Freedom of Information rulings, which has previously been used to prevent publication of documents relating to the Iraq War, should be used to prevent the publication of documents relating to HS2.

In November 2011, HS2 got its first ‘amber-red’ rating from the Major Projects Authority, and despite the assurance at the time that these documents would be released after two years, they still remain secret. Following a Freedom of Information request, and a lengthy appeal process, the Information Commissioner ruled in June that these documents should be released in both the public interests, and to comply with Environmental Information Regulations. The Government appealed this decision, and a tribunal is due to be heard by a Judge this Thursday, with Martin Capstick of DfT and Director HS2 Ltd and David Blackall from MPA in Cabinet office being called to give evidence.

According to the Daily Mail, lawyers acting for the Government expect to lose the appeal, after which the veto would be implemented. However, the leaked letter from McLoughlin and Maude is calling for the veto to be put in place before the evidence is heard in an open court room.

The letter to Mr Cameron says:

“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.”

Since the November 2011 MPA report, which under to the rules stated at the time should have already been published, four more MPA reports have been conducted into HS2, at least three of which 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”. Besides a handful of Ministers, MPS who will be asked to vote of the HS2 Hybrid Bill have not seen the details of these reports. Maude & McLoughlin claim that publication would cause ‘political and presentational difficulties’ and could seriously damage the project.

Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:

“It is absolutely disgraceful that the Government doesn’t want MPs, who should be fully informed before voting on the colossal expenditure HS2 entails, to actually have all the information about the project. This just proves that there has been, and continues to be an agenda from Government to deceive MPs and the public with spin and dismiss any independent information showing just how bad the HS2 project is. It also shows that this Governments’ supposed ‘transparency agenda’ is as transparent as a lump of coal. What is the point in having reports on projects if they cannot be used to inform the debate around them?” 

Trying to keep this secret is an absolute scandal. When they claim that publication of these reports would cause ‘political and presentational difficulties’ and could seriously damage the project, what they are saying is that the truth will finish off their white elephant vanity project, and it can’t be allowed to see the light of day. This is a complete disgrace.”

Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said

“What the Ministers wrote is extraordinary!  HS2 is not some hidden plan for a secret bunker, it’s is a £50 billion project for a railway which will tear across the countryside in full sight and sound of anyone in the vicinity.  The Department for Transport claim that HS2 is a project with a strong strategic case, and yet the government want to veto the publication of the MPA report into it.  What makes this even more extraordinary is the report is already two years old, so the Department for Transport should have had plenty of time to deal with the problems identified in it.”

Mrs Gaines added

“In the summer the Department for Transport  upped the budget for HS2 considerably. With another £10 billion of taxpayer’s cash for HS2 Ltd to spend it’s no surprise that the MPA think HS2 Ltd are now less likely to go over-budget, especially as the Paving Bill also hands them a blank cheque to spend on HS2.”

10 comments to “Ministers bid to use ‘war veto’ to keep HS2 documents secret.”
  1. With George Osborne not wanting to talk to people David Cameron not listening his minsters trying to hide documents .why don’t they call it a day before the court case arrives with its verdict .If they are planning on winning the next general election they should drop this project and be spending the billions on projects which benefits us all not just the few it is Concorde mark two only the rich can afford to travel on

  2. Hide and seek reading in this morning papers this government is try’s to hide every thing from hs2 to the new home purchase scheme ,Do they think we all servants to them and can not our own choices .They should remember they are the servants working and paid for by the public .They should listen to the public and listern to there MPs in the areas they work and not blackmail them with there whips office .If these projects are so good they should fly through Chanel’s. And not hidden behind closed doors

  3. Cash hit NHS yet we can find 42billion for a train for the rich it just makes no sense what so Ever MPs should vote against this project and stop trying to hide the truth behind there desks with the true cost of this mad project on people’s lives countryside and business

  4. It’s ironic that this government only wants us to here there good news on hs2 but when the true costs and damage it will cause it hides behind closed doors .Just like bullies do when they are court out .

  5. I do hope the press courts and the people along the route will not let this government hide the facts this is a free country we put this government to run the country not hide behind smoke and mirrors if it is such a good idea they have nothing to fear lets all push our MPs for answers to why they need to hide the true facts

  6. If legislation is unstoppable then part of discussion in court about open and closed minds of mps was hypothetical and the dissent in court of appeal was not about law but politics over legal position.. This means a bad plan for phase 1 stays a bad rail plan and both the current network stays constrained with historic bottlenecks in places and hs2 phase 1 underperforms. It also demonstrates the negative outcomes from poor value for money poitician decisions. Cameron then becomes the person who had not the strength or purpose to do the right thing. Veto politics risks abuse of power as emerging since 2009 for buckinghamshire and now becoming demonstrated

  7. It just seems to get worse ,I cannot believe the depths that they will go to to force this on our Country.Is there not someone with morals that will stop this underhandedness of this government.It seems they wish to control us as Hitler did Germany.

  8. The overall issue is that rail, in all it’s 180 years has always been unprofitable for whoever owned it. In the early years of the 1830s it was assumed that anything as good as rail with it’s 100 fold advantages over it’s nearest rivals canals and horse-drawn vehicles couldn’t fail. The reality was and still is that the users were and are unwilling to pay the true cost such that forty years later in the 1870s the rail companies were queuing up to go bankrupt and be bailed out by the taxpayer. The builders of the railways did very well out of it. What we have now is a repeat performance, this time driven by the construction industry with the owners, still the UK taxpayer (via Network Rail) headed up by a government who’s leaders are in cahoots with the construction industry. The difference this time round is that then rail had no competition and there was no alternative. Now there is plenty of competition and alternatives and there is no excuse for pushing it through over all the objections just to line the pockets of those with a stake in the building of HS2. Bravo to those who expose the collusion and the dirty tricks.

  9. Some of this secrecy is due to the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood’s, own agenda.

    If you analyze my previous sentence, it describes the process of government in the United Kingdom going as far wrong as it’s possible to go.

    MPs must vote on HS2 without seeing all the analysis, let alone raw facts.

    MPs didn’t even have proper debate and vote on Press Regulation at all: the Cabinet Secretary helped the Prime Minister devise a way of legislating to end freedom of speech without engaging the normal legislative process at all.

    As noted elsewhere on this site, a blatant attempt to criminalize pretty well ALL forms of organized protest is under way, greatly helped by extremely short-sighted extremists in Unite and the more extreme parts of the animal rights movement, who went much, much too far in causes which had minimal general support.

    Stop HS2 finds itself at the point of the spear, not just fighting to save the Chilterns and the public purse from wanton destruction, but, quite accidentally, the proper process of lawful and democratic government by consent. Nobody at Stop HS2 wanted or imagined this, I’m sure. And but for timing, it would have been some other campaign group which found itself in this position. But Stop HS2 is holding the parcel and the music has stopped. There is far more at stake here than HS2.

  10. The Government are running on a policy that the Ends Justify the Means and use this as justification to protect their pet project from public and parliamentary scrutiny for fear that rational review will derail it. Both the ‘Ends’ and the ‘Means’ have not been discussed adequately in Parliament and yet Parliament has granted the authority to progress and profligate funding. The stated ‘Ends’ as portrayed in HS2 propaganda are contentious even if this represents some aspect of ‘truth’. The clauses in the Hybrid Bill indicate that the ends also include a significant land grab unlimited in time, space and as with the Paving Bill unlimited as to what constitutes the high speed network.
    HS2 is a runaway train.
    The whole issue has been run as a war of attrition against the victims, with secrecy over the choice if routes and decision re same. Embedded clauses to ensure that a land-grab must relate to the chosen routes and how these inter-relate with planning and development and other schemes and proposed changes to legislation.
    It is interesting that the route is through virgin areas of protected countryside whose development value must be enormous and starting where land values are at their highest. If the scheme fails or falters after phase one the most valuable areas will have been obtained.
    There is likely to be further, related furore when the preliminary findings of the Davies report are announced this week
    “Ministers want to slow house price inflation by forcing councils to build more new homes in popular areas, the planning minister says”

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