(… continued from Lessons from history, part 7, posted on 26 Jul 2014).
In part 7 I mentioned that you may feel that you do not have the full attention of some of the Members when you are presenting your case to the HS2 Select Committee. But the predilection of MPs to multitask is not the only feature of their behaviour that can be off-putting to a petitioner trying to set out his, or her, case. For various reasons, some of which I am sure that you can guess at, Members may feel that they want to leave the Committee Room for a short break. As long as the Members remaining in the Committee Room constitute a quorum, there is nothing to rule out such behaviour, and Members will not always take advantage of an obvious break in proceedings to exercise this ability. So if a Member of the Committee stands up and walks out whilst you are in full flow, do your best to ignore it and carry on as is nothing had happened, even if you might be in the middle of answering a question from that very MP!
I also reported in part 4 of this blog series an instance where the proceedings of the Crossrail Select Committee were suspended for the Members to attend a division in the House of Commons. This is a far from uncommon event in committee; Members of committees are not exempt from the demands of the Whip. If this happens to you during your hearing, you will have no option but to break off for ten minutes or so until the Members of the Select Committee return.
Once you have been invited by the Chairman to present your petition, the floor is yours to do with what you will, subject that is to being interrupted by the Chairman if you stray out of line. If you want to use the occasion as an opportunity to go on a general rant about the unfairness of what the HS2 proposal has done to your life, then you are free to do that, at least until the Chairman inevitably stops you; although, other than any satisfaction that the release may bring you, there is probably little to be gained by this approach.
However, if you aim to get the Committee on your side and sympathetic to supporting your proposed remedies, then a more temperate approach is called for. Above all, be polite, friendly and helpful to the committee, but not, of course, over familiar. Whilst you are perfectly entitled to point out your perceived failings of the HS2 Ltd organisation in past dealings with its representatives, try to do this impassively and do not demonstrate any aggressiveness towards the Company. Similarly, whilst you can disagree with the promoter’s legal representatives, always do so politely and with respect.
Notwithstanding this need to observe simple courtesy, do not be afraid to let the Members of the Committee see the strength of your feelings about what HS2 would mean to your own circumstances and, if appropriate, your local environment and community. The Members are human beings and are bound to have sympathy with your plight.
Remember that you are likely to be one of several hundred petitioners that the HS2 Select Committee will be required to hear. In view of this, the Members of the Committee will appreciate:
- Something to look at on the screen in front of them that informs and enhances the points that you make verbally.
- Clarity and brevity in the points that you make. By all means cover the issues fully, but avoid incoherent rambling at all costs.
- You avoiding repetition of points made by others, which is a tip that I proposed in part 6 of this blog series.
- You sticking firmly to the matters that are in your petition and are within the scope of the terms of reference of the Select Committee.
- You identifying, in addition to the issues that you have, the remedies that you are seeking; suitable remedies might be route realignment (within the “broad alignment” agreed at Second Reading), changes to the design, additional mitigation measures (e.g. noise barriers), changes to the text of the hybrid Bill or any of the supporting documents, carrying out further environmental assessment (e.g. baseline noise measurements), and assurances or undertakings by the promoter. Your proposed remedies should have been identified in your petition; avoid introducing any last minute bright ideas!
- A bright and engaging presentation, but avoid jokes, juggling and magic tricks.
No matter how sparkling and informative your presentation to the Select Committee turns out to be, it is inevitable, faced with the hundreds of petitions that need to be heard, that the Chairman will do his best to speed things along, whilst trying to be consistent with the promise in the note on procedure that has been issued by the HS2 Select Committee that “the Committee will take time to hear and understand petitioners’ arguments”. Despite this promise, I feel that there is a very real danger that petitioners could miss out on a full and fair hearing if they are too compliant with the demands of the timetable for the day on which they are scheduled to appear.
In the next part of this blog, I plan to consider this aspect more fully.
(To be continued …)
Important disclaimer: This blog is not intended to give legal advice, and I am not, in any case, qualified to provide such advice. You should not therefore rely legally on anything in this blog. If you are in doubt about any aspect of petitioning and giving evidence to the Select Committee you are strongly recommended to seek advice from a suitably-qualified professional. You should also find the staff at the House of Commons Private Bill Office helpful and unbiased (email: email@example.com).