I do not know, but presumably for the length of the project.
That has an impact on Members representing constituencies on phase 2b of the route, because we cannot get information from HS2 about how it will impact our constituents. Any Member of the House who has had dealings with HS2 knows that they have an approach to secrecy unparalleled since the cold war. If our councils are prohibited from telling us details of their discussions, we struggle to assess local impacts. Clearly, there is a problem. My new clause tries to steer a path between an outright ban and the current approach of issuing NDAs as a matter of course. It tries to operate within boundaries already established for HS2 best practice and it gives discretion where necessary while erring on the side of transparency and the public interest.
HS2 already has a residents commissioner and a construction commissioner who, together, act as impartial monitors of HS2 and offer advice to those affected by the scheme, be they residents, businesses or other groups. My amendment would add an assessor, who would be a QC or a High Court judge. This individual—appointed by the National Audit Office, Parliament’s spending watchdog—would be required to approve as in the public interest any future NDAs that HS2 seeks to enter. The assessor would also have the power to review all previous NDAs and assess whether they, too, are in the public interest. If the assessor judges an existing NDA to be not in the public interest, it would cease to have effect.
My amendment would unshackle whistleblowers and elected officials to discuss HS2 freely and honestly. If, after any revelations emerge, Members wished to continue with the scheme, they would at least make that decision on the basis of the facts, and not the partial picture we see today.
I make no secret of my approach to HS2, but my amendment should appeal to everyone, whether or not they support the project. Those who see HS2 as a grand success should want to see it shouted from the rooftops, not swaddled in secrecy; and those of us who believe the costs will continue to spiral until the game is not worth the candle would be able to see for ourselves the full costs involved.