(… continued from Lessons from history, part 5, posted on 18 Jul 2014).
The most important thing that you can do in connection with presenting your petition to the HS2 Select Committee is to turn up on the right day, and at the appointed time. There has already been one instance of a petitioner not being in the Committee Room when called during the locus standi challenge proceedings and Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, was clear about his attitude to no shows:
“I think that it is very clear to the Committee that, if people are scheduled in, given the number of people in this Committee, they have a responsibility to turn up unless there are exceptional circumstances. If they do not turn up when they are scheduled in, I do not think that we should hear what they have to say, because, frankly, they are not actually taking part in the process. Unless we have an exceptional explanation at a later date when we can reconsider, we will move on.”
(paragraph 112 in the transcript for the morning of Thursday, 10th July 2014)
So you really must allow plenty of time for your journey and, if you are unavoidably detained, for pity’s sake try and get a message through by either telephoning the Commons Private Bill Office (020 7219 3250) or the Government’s parliamentary agents Winckworth Sherwood (020 7593 5000).
If you have been told to present yourself for an afternoon session then give careful consideration to attending for the whole day and being there when proceedings start, usually at 9.30am. This will allow you to be aware of anything that is said when other petitions are heard that may have relevance to your own case. It is very likely that other petitioners attending on your day will share some common themes with yours, and you may wish to say that you agree with points that have been made rather than try the patience of Members of the Committee by repeating what they have already heard. This will allow you to concentrate on any aspects of your petition that have not been covered, or where you can add to what has been said, or even take a different approach.
I would also suggest that you dress appropriately. Now I realise that I am a conventional sort of cove, but my view of what is appropriate for a man attending such an occasion is lounge suit, shirt and tie with a definite lean toward the sober rather than the flamboyant. For a lady I guess that the equivalent would be a smart day dress or suit. I appreciate that the wearing of neckties is regarded as optional for men these days, but, as you might expect, I don’t really subscribe to that particular lowering of standards.
As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, barring unforeseen changes, your ultimate destination upon arrival at Westminster will be Committee Room 5 in the main Houses of Parliament building. You will be required to use the main public entrance, which is known as the Cromwell Green visitor entrance. This is near the southern end of Westminster Hall, about half-way along the frontage between Elizabeth Tower (“Big Ben”) and the Victoria Tower (the Sovereign’s Entrance).
Tell the police officer manning the entrance that you are going to Committee Room 5 and move down the long sloping ramp – the start of which is just visible in the lower right-hand corner of the above photograph – towards the security check area, where airport-style checks are carried out on all visitors and you will be issued with a day pass to wear on a cord around your neck at all times whilst in the building. Queues inevitably develop here and the official advice is to expect at least a fifteen-minute delay extending to exceeding three-quarters of an hour on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. The official advice also says cryptically to “dress appropriately for the weather”; this is because most of the queuing time will be on the long descending ramp, which affords no protection from the elements.
Cromwell Green is the tatty area of grass immediately to your right as you queue on the ramp, appropriately enough with a statue of Oliver Cromwell at its centre. Last time I visited Westminster it was being used as a builder’s yard – will the desecration of the memory of the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England never end!
Once it has been determined that you do not represent an undue threat to the safety of the realm, proceed into the medieval Westminster Hall, pausing to gaze up at the magnificent hammer-beam roof that was commissioned by Richard II and is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. Climb the steps at the southern end of the hall, reflecting that you are passing the spot where Charles I stood to hear sentence of death passed upon him – there is a commemorative brass plaque set in the floor – and turn left through the doors into St Stephen’s Hall, which is actually not a hall, but more of a grand corridor. It is so called because it is on the site of the royal Chapel of St Stephen’s, where the House of Commons sat until the Chapel was destroyed by fire in 1834.
If this is your first visit to the Houses of Parliament, don’t be afraid to take your time and gawp at the magnificent interiors, an activity that will go into overdrive when you proceed through the doors at the end of St Stephen’s Hall and into the Central Lobby. Walk directly across the Central Lobby, taking care not to trip over Nick Robinson doing a piece to camera, into the Lower Waiting Hall, up the stairs and into the Committee Corridor on the first floor.
So you have arrived, hopefully in the right place and in good time. As for what happens next, that is my cliffhanger for the next part of this series.
(To be continued …)