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Points of Order

Volume 624: debated on Wednesday 29 March 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Liberal Democrats believe that Brexit will cause untold damage to the UK’s economy and influence in the world, but the Government have triggered article 50, so we will do all in our power to ensure that it is a success. But Mr Speaker, if it is not a success, what guidance can you give me on how those responsible for any such damage—the Prime Minister, and the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, for International Trade, for International Development and for Exiting the European Union—will truly be held to account in this House for their actions and their failure? The blame should not simply be shifted to the remainers, the European Union or anyone else they choose to blame.

I do not wish to be unkind to the right hon. Gentleman, who has served as Deputy Leader of the House, no less, but I simply say two things. First, I am, on the whole, wary of entertaining hypotheticals and, at the moment, the right hon. Gentleman, perfectly legitimately, is using the ruse of a point of order to raise a hypothetical. The second point is that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, all Members of this House have not only a right but, frankly, a responsibility, on whichever side of the House they sit, to hold the Executive to account. That is a primary function of a Member of Parliament. All I can say is that however the situation evolves, the right hon. Gentleman can rest content that those who seek to hold the Executive to account will always have a friend in the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You and I, and several other Members of this House, have taken more than a passing interest in one of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe: HS2. It has been brought to my attention on the wires this afternoon—[Interruption.] The Press Association is, I believe, known as “the wires”, for those who have been around as long as I have. It has been brought to my attention that the engineering firm that was handed a £170 million deal last month to develop phase 2b of HS2 has announced that it is pulling out of that section of the project amid alleged conflicts of interest. CH2M is also the firm that has been awarded a £350 million deal to develop phase 1 of the line from London to Birmingham.

The comments that came from the CH2M spokesman—allegedly, on the wires—say:

“The protracted delays and ongoing speculation risk further delays to this critical national infrastructure, thereby increasing costs to UK taxpayers, as well as to the firm.”

The spokesman goes on to say that the company is

“fully committed to…delivering phase 1 on time and within budget”,

but this is a pretty amazing announcement from one of the main contractors on HS2.

Mr Speaker, I wondered if you had had any indication at all from the Department for Transport that a Minister intends to come to the House to explain this extraordinary state of affairs. After all, this now raises questions over the large amounts of taxpayers’ money that are being sunk into the project. This House needs to be the first to know, and not by reading it on the Press Association wires.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order, to which I respond as follows. First, and very much in the margins of what she had to say, there seemed to be some furrowed brows and moderately noisy reactions to her reference to what she heard “on the wires.” It seemed to be a fairly unexceptionable observation made by the right hon. Lady. She will recall that the Father of the House in the last Parliament, the great Sir Peter Tapsell, was wont to recount to the House what he had heard on, as he put it, “the wireless” that morning, by comparison with which the right hon. Lady’s statement is positively modern.

Secondly, the matter was news to me of only a few moments ago when the right hon. Lady mentioned it to me at the Chair. It is certainly a significant development involving a large-scale contractor and very significant sums of public money. No, I have received no indication from a Minister of any intention to make a statement on the matter. That may be because there is no such intention, or it may be the courtesy of Ministers not wanting to approach me when I am attending to my duties in the Chair. I fear that that is probably the triumph of optimism over reality, but it is possible that it might explain the situation. All I would say is that, if memory serves me correctly, we have questions to the Secretary of State for Transport tomorrow. If the record is anything by which to judge—and I suspect it is—the right hon. Lady will be in her place, and there will almost certainly be an opportunity to raise this matter with the Secretary of State. I look forward to that exchange with eager anticipation as, I am sure, does the House.