Government ‘trying to gag’ HS2 action groups

Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin
Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin

Action groups opposed to HS2 claim the government is trying to gag them from speaking when the scheme goes on ‘trial’ before a panel of MPs.

HS2 Action Alliance and Stop HS2 both received official notice from Government solicitors that they were opposing their right to be heard by the Hybrid Bill Committee, despite the fact both groups have already appeared before the committee, when they were called to give evidence at their first public session on May 13.

The two groups represent over 100 action groups across the country opposing the £50 billion line, and work closely with councils, individuals and businesses affected by HS2.

The government said that ‘a campaign group which is not composed of individuals directly and specially affected, but which simply opposes the principle of the Bill’, cannot appear at the committee.

There will now be hearings to decide whether the groups can speak, which will take place over four days in July.

As well as both groups having already been called to give evidence to the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee, they were also approached to give evidence by two other committees in the House of Commons: the HS2 Paving Bill Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee. Stop HS2 also requested to be heard by the House of Lords Standing Orders Committee, which agreed with the argument that the consultation on the HS2 Environmental statement should be extended.

Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 campaign manager said: “We are absolutely amazed that the Government wants to block us from giving evidence to the Hybrid Bill Committee.

“We work on behalf of over 100 action groups, yet HS2 Ltd are trying to claim that we do not represent anyone affected by HS2!

“I would have thought that as the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee, like the Environmental Audit Committee and the HS2 Paving Bill Committee before them, approached us and asked us to appear before them as representatives of those affected by HS2, it has already been accepted that we represent those affected by HS2.”

“HS2 Ltd do not want us to appear because they fear what we will say, and are trying to squirm away from MPS hearing the truth about their incompetence and arrogance over the last four years.”

Hilary Wharf, director of HS2 Action Alliance, added; “We’ve got used to being insulted by Ministers and treated with contempt by HS2 Ltd but the Government is sinking to new lows by trying to deny us the right to explain to the Hybrid Bill committee the very serious issues with the current plans.

“We’ve spent four years studying HS2 and have a very clear and practical set of recommendations that need to be considered.”

“But of course if you know that what you are selling is fatally flawed you are tempted to resort to any action, democratic or not, to make sure that you force it through. It is sadly just further evidence that HS2 is all about politics rather than transport.”

“This is the last in a series of undemocratic actions from the Government as they try to force through the highly controversial line with the absolutely minimum of public scrutiny. Previously a veto last used in the Iraq war was used to keep the findings of a Major Projects Authority report secret as they would have caused the Transport Minister, Patrick McLoughlin ‘political and presentational difficulties’.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The HS2 hybrid Bill Select Committee’s remit is laid down by the House of Commons and Parliamentary rules set out which petitions are valid and should be heard.

“Parliament is clear that a campaign group which is not composed of individuals directly and specially affected, but which simply opposes the principle of the Bill, cannot petition.

“The Select Committee will need to focus its time on those affected by HS2.

“While a very high number of petitions that we could have potentially challenged were identified, we decided to take a pragmatic approach and are only challenging petitions where there is a very clear breach of the rules.

“It will be for the Committee to decide after hearing the challenges whether a petition should be heard or not.”