Friday, January 31, 2014

UK Transport Secretary Suppresses HS2 Report- Same Veto That kept Iraq War Papers Secret

A key report into whether the HS2 rail line would give value for money is being kept secret by the UK Government.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told Parliament he is using emergency powers to veto publication of the report that says HS2 is in danger of failing. He said that protecting the impartiality of civil servants’ secret advice to ministers has to take priority over disclosure to the public.

But HS2 protesters branded the gagging order an ‘absolutely ­disgraceful’ delaying tactic.

Campaigners against the £50 billion high-speed line between London, the Midlands and the North of England demanded publication of the Project Assessment Review and its cost-benefit analysis under Freedom of Information laws.

Joe Rukin, of the Stop HS2 ­campaign, said yesterday’s decision was ‘absolutely disgraceful’ and a Government cover-up.

He said: ‘This veto has only been used a handful of times, including the blocking of publication of Cabinet discussions on the Iraq War, the NHS risk register and ­letters from Prince Charles to Cabinet members. This is the first time the veto has been used in relation to a ruling made by the Information Commissioner on environmental grounds.

‘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.

‘All they want is to make sure this report stays buried for a little longer so they can con MPs into voting for their white elephant vanity project.’

The Information Commissioner, rejecting ministers’ objections, ordered them to release the report. But now that has been overruled by the Government veto.

In a written statement to MPs, Mr McLoughlin said: ‘The assurance of confidentiality is important in the conduct of the review. In my view, there is nothing in the nature or ­content of this particular report which outweighs that strong public interest against disclosure.’

Mr McLoughlin said he had given the Information Commissioner a ‘certificate’ under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This overrides the Commissioner’s decision to force the Government to reveal the Whitehall report.

He said: ‘My decision to exercise this power of veto in this case was not taken lightly,’ adding that he decided it was an ­‘exceptional case’.

Information Commissioner ­Christopher Graham said: ‘This is a disappointing decision and I'll be studying the Secretary of State’s explanation to understand why this has been ruled an exceptional case.

‘There are important legal issues to be considered here, and I’ll be ­highlighting our view of them in an open letter to the Justice Committee in due course.’

The report, which included a cost-benefit analysis of the scheme, was given to ministers in November 2011 but never made public.

It is understood to warn of a risky timetable for HS2, poor management, low delivery confidence and suggestions that the success of the scheme is in doubt.

It says that at the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd there are ‘concerns over skills, capability and resources’, with too few people ­working on the project and many of those lacking sufficient skills. Last November, the Government published its strategic case document, painting a rosy case for HS2 including an upbeat benefit-cost ratio.

Richard Houghton of HS2 Action Alliance said unveiling the report is in the ­public interest. ‘The proposed £50 billion project will blight 500,000 homes – only 2 per cent of whose owners will receive compensation – and which will generate massive environmental damage,’ he said.

‘So far as we can see, the last time secrecy laws of this nature were invoked was during the Iraq war. The implications are immense.’

Anti-HS2 protester Dr Paul Thornton, who brought the Freedom of Information request, said: ‘This is a delaying tactic on the part of ­Government as they know the decision is likely to go to judicial review.

‘This should not be necessary as Parliament should be scrutinising this arbitrary decision and ensuring that it is overturned, as it creates an alarming precedent.’

But a Government spokesman said: ‘It’s important to strike a balance between the benefits of transparency and protecting the ability of officials to “speak truth to power”.

‘The Major Projects Authority will not be truly effective if officials fear that their frank advice to ministers could be disclosed. The Government has decided that it is not in the public interest to release this report.’


Chris Rath- Orwellian Eye Australia (1984 was not meant to be an instruction manual & Animal Farm was not meant to be a guide to success)

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