High Speed 2 — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:07 am on 12th September 2018.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 10:07 am, 12th September 2018

The Minister is shaking her head, but I would like better clarification on that issue. It is depressing not only that the legislation is being halted and is slipping but that there are setbacks in the civil works. The initial costs for the main civil engineering contracts for the first phase of HS2 are £1 billion over budget. That will lead to delays in starting the works. Seven contracts covering the work were announced last July, estimated at £6.6 billion, but I understand those have slipped by at least six or nine months.

The Minister was shaking her head, but she will know how difficult it is to extract information about the project. I have been batting on about that for a long time. This is taxpayers’ money, and the project should be transparent. I understand that it is commercial in confidence, but it is not transparent. Indeed, if hon. Members try to read the documents, they will find a large amount are redacted. Minutes from meetings often are not published on the Government website in any timely manner. That goes against HS2’s framework agreement. The minutes are often meaningless. HS2 has published board minutes up to March 2018 as far as I know, but I am not sure that that fulfils its responsibility to engender public confidence and accuracy in the information it discloses. The Minister should address that. All minutes of all meetings should be published on a timely basis. HS2 is supposed to be committed to being an open and transparent organisation, but I am afraid that is far from the truth.

When it comes to my local area, I am exceedingly worried about my local authorities. They face potential local government reorganisation—we do not have a decision yet on that. The cost and burden on my county council and district council have been quite phenomenal. Neither will get back the time, money and true cost to our local institutions, and that is not to mention our parish and town councils, which have really been burdened in this matter.

I have nothing against the Minister, as she knows. We have known each other for quite some time, and I am very proud that she is a politician. She must not take this personally, but I have called for a dedicated Minister. The champion for the Oxford-Cambridge link, my hon. Friend Iain Stewart, has called for a dedicated Minister on that project alone, yet HS2 is much larger and there is no sign of a dedicated Minister. He is a Minister just going into Government and has called for a dedicated Minister on something that is actually smaller and less complicated than this project.

I have been so disturbed by what I have read and heard recently about the failure to extract information about this project. One might think that I would get disheartened and get HS2 opposition fatigue, but I am afraid there is no such luck. Sometimes I feel I am the only person who is trying to hold the project to account, although my colleagues are doing a sterling job.

I wrote to the Secretary of State on 17 August because I was particularly perturbed that Sir John Armitt had called for the Government to invest £43 billion more in further transportation links so that HS2 could meet even the basic business assumptions made about it. I have asked the Secretary of State to ensure that the Government carry out a full evaluation of this project—its viability and its value for money for the taxpayer. These moneys could be spent on other areas of modernising transport and communications in the UK and on other matters. As can be seen in the newspapers today, many people think that the money would be better spent on health and education, certainly in view of the technological advances in transport. The Government are still playing catch-up on 5G and on other matters.

In the interests of the country and taxpayers, I hope the Minister, the Cabinet and the Secretary of State will respond positively to the request I made, which I copied to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for their consideration. Because of the major implications of this massive expenditure, the high costs and the poor corporate governance, HS2 should be completely independently assessed. If that results in a pause while that work takes place, I will be satisfied. I hope that HS2 will hit the buffers. It is not good value for money for the taxpayer.