I respect the hon. Lady’s views on some of those issues in the context of the debate, but I have to say assertively to her that, in the context of austerity, those at the bottom of the pile have suffered more than everyone else. When we look at the impact of austerity on the country and on communities, we see that many northern communities were starting at an incredibly low base. The impact of austerity, therefore, is not simply that we have not been able to catch up; the inequality and disparity in terms of the investment in skills, jobs, infrastructure and public services have actually made the situation far worse. That combination of austerity and the low base of investment, which has been an historical reality under successive Governments, is having a devastating effect on many northern communities.
The hon. Lady therefore really cannot afford to be complacent; she may have had some funding for a bypass in her constituency, but the reality in many of our constituencies in the north of England is that this has been an incredibly challenging and difficult period. If any business had 50% reductions to its budget in a four or five-year period, it would go bankrupt; that is what is happening to many local authorities in the north of England, and especially in Greater Manchester.
I want to come on specifically to the new clause on the non-disclosure agreements tabled by Antoinette Sandbach. My view, having come reasonably late to this topic, is that what we have seen in terms of non-disclosure agreements in the context of HS2 is nothing short of a public scandal. Essentially, many of these agreements have been used to silence people inside that organisation who are concerned that Parliament has been misled on a regular basis about financial information. Let us be clear: people have been given redundancy from HS2 because, internally, they have articulated concerns about misleading information that has been presented to this House in terms of finance and capacity.
Ministers have a responsibility to disinfect this issue. They should now make it clear that, where former members of staff were subject to non-disclosure clauses and paid redundancy simply because they felt Parliament was being misled, those individuals should be released from those non-disclosure responsibilities and should be able to share their views with Parliament and to put them in the public domain. It is totally hypocritical to talk, quite rightly, about the outrage of the Labour party imposing non-disclosure agreements on its staff, but then for Ministers not to release members of staff in HS2 from such requirements.
I would like to reveal to the House today that a consultants’ report costing at least £1 million was commissioned from a well-known consultant, which did not say what HS2 wanted it to say. That report was more or less shredded; it was certainly never put in the public domain or shared with Parliament.
We know that the costs have escalated time and time again and that some people in the organisation have alerted the HS2 board and other senior executives to the difficulties. I am not saying that HS2 should be scrapped, but for parliamentarians to make a rational, proper judgment on its viability, desirability and achievability, we have to have full possession of the facts. There is absolutely no question but that Ministers have not always been given full information by HS2. As a consequence, Select Committees and the House itself have not been given the full information that we and the public are entitled to in any debate about the desirability of this scheme.