Lessons from history, part 12

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 11, posted on 15 Aug 2014).

Probably the best place to begin a consideration of how long it might take for the House of Commons HS2 Select Committee to hear all the petitioners who want to appear before it is to look at what happened in the equivalent committee for Crossrail. The nominated sitting days for this committee were Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, except when the House was in recess. The days on which the Crossrail Committee sat during the year 2006 are marked on the calendar below.

Crossrail Select Committee - Public Sessions 2006

Crossrail Select Committee – Public Sessions 2006

On the above calendar (which you can make bigger by clicking on it), days on which the Crossrail Committee heard petitions are marked in red. Other days when the Committee sat in public, but did not hear petitions are marked in green. Periods when the House of Commons was in recess are marked in blue (dotted line). The period of inactivity from 25th October 2006 to the end of the year is the Committee’s “strike” that I referred to in part 11.

Aside from this period of standoff, the Committee appears to have stuck to its task with some diligence. While there are a number of blanks in the regular three days a week pattern, it would be an unachievable aim to hold three petitioning-hearing days every week that the Commons is in session. For example, the Committee needs to hold meetings in private from time to time for Members to discuss issues amongst themselves, and any site visits that are organised will take up a day that would otherwise be available to hear petitions. There was also an apparent tendency towards brinkmanship in negotiations between petitioners and the promoter for Crossrail, which led to decisions to withdraw, or hold back, petitions scheduled to be heard at short notice – judging by the experience of HS2 Ltd so far, I have every expectation that this tendency will also be a feature of HS2. It is not really fair, or practical, to reschedule other petitioners to fill gaps in the Committee’s programme vacated by last-minute cancellations, so the Crossrail scheduling team tended to leave those gaps vacant (see footnote).

Over the period spanned by the week commencing 16th January 2006 to the week commencing 16th October 2006, which marks the timeframe during which the Crossrail Select Committee was actively hearing petitioners, there were 25 weeks during which the Committee was able to sit. During that time, the Committee managed to hear petitions on 55 days, an average of 2.2 days a week – as I said above, they were pretty diligent.

The work of the Crossrail Select Committee resumed on 16th January 2007 and its 2007 activities are summarised on the calendar below.

Crossrail Select Committee - Public Sessions 2007

Crossrail Select Committee – Public Sessions 2007

The work of hearing petitions was substantially completed on 28th March, but one further day was held in July to hear petitions arising from Additional Provision 4. The final public meeting of the Crossrail Select Committee took place on 9th October, to hear the promoter’s response to the Committee’s proposals.

So, if we ignore the single day in July, the hearing of petitioners in 2007 ran from the week commencing 15th January 2007 to the week commencing 26th March 2007, a span which provided the Committee with 10 weeks in which it could have sat. Petitioners were heard on 16 days during that period, the lower average of 1.6 days a week possibly reflecting a winding down in activities.

Whilst the span for the work undertaken by the Crossrail Select Committee quoted as 22 months in paragraph 22 of Volume 1 of the Committee’s First Special Report of Session 2006‑07 is correct, the actual period spent hearing petitioners would be more accurately reported as 14 months and the number of days on which petitions were heard was 73, not 84 as quoted in the same paragraph of the report.

So I should revise the estimate that I made in part 11 of this series for the time required to hear HS2 Phase 1 petitions. Using 14 months instead of 22 reduces the time estimate for HS2 Phase 1 by about a third, down to a little over six years.

Clearly this remains potentially extremely problematic for those responsible for managing the HS2 Select Committee’s timetabling, and they will, I imagine, need to find ways of speeding the process up.

One obvious way of doing this would be to try and up the average time spent hearing petitions each week that the Committee is able to sit. In this respect, I feel that the Crossrail Select Committee set a fairly high standard that its HS2 equivalent will find fairly hard to beat. In the statement that Robert Syms MP, Chairman of the HS2 Select Committee, made on 12th June (paragraph 11 in the transcript) he volunteered that his Committee would sit “on the occasional Tuesday evenings”. However, this appears to be a concession aimed at the convenience of petitioners who work for a living, rather than an attempt to speed up the process, as Mr Syms countered this by saying that Thursday afternoon sittings will “be scheduled only as necessary”.

However when the Committee’s programme for 1st September to 14th October 2014 was published recently, we learnt that regular Monday sessions have been added to the already fairly demanding three days a week schedule. The norm for these additional Monday sessions is for the Committee to plan to sit for three hours in the afternoon and two in the evening, so that’s very nearly the equivalent of a full day extra. True to the Chairman’s word, however, there are no Thursday afternoons currently scheduled – this is a popular time for MPs to travel back to their constituencies for the weekend. From what I can make out from the transcripts, the Crossrail Select Committee was more inclined to treat Thursday as a full day. So scheduling Mondays probably will gain the HS2 Select Committee a net half-day a week more than the Crossrail Committee managed, but I wonder how long they will be able to keep up sitting four days a week!

No Tuesday evenings have been scheduled so far, but the petitioners due to be heard at this stage do not appear to be ones that would benefit from an out of normal work hours session.

So is there anything else that can be done to speed up the work of the Committee?

(To be continued …)

Acknowledgement: The background calendars for the two images that I have used to illustrate this blog were generated on www.timeanddate.com/calendar.

Footnote: On one or two occasions no petitioners presented themselves on the day and the siting was abandoned. See page Ev 724 in Volume III of the Crossrail Select Committee’s First Special Report of Session 2006‑07 for an example of such a day.

Lessons from history, part 11

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 10, posted on 7 Aug 2014).

Almost at the very last minute before the HS2 Select Committee packed its bags for its summer holiday Sir Peter Bottomley MP posed what he admitted was the “unanswerable” question of when Royal Assent was likely to be granted for the Phase 1 hybrid Bill (see footnote 1). Tim Mould QC, who was the person to whom Sir Peter was looking for an answer to this imponderable agreed that it was “a very difficult question”; obviously the astute silk was not going to give any hostages to fortune. The Chairman helpfully suggested 2015, knowing of course that the Government had already admitted that Royal Assent was unlikely to have been achieved before the May 2015 general election.

Using a device that bore distinct similarities to the way that the fictional Francis Urquhart MP was prone to distance himself from his opinions, Mr Mould said that his questioner “may think that the range of dates might extend well into and indeed towards the end of next year”, but reiterated the difficulty in commenting with any degree of certainty.

The Chairman, Robert Syms MP, had given his own view on timescales six days earlier during an interview that he gave to BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. He ventured that the Commons Select Committee, which is of course only one of the stages that the hybrid Bill must clear to achieve Royal Assent, would be meeting for two years. He added that the Committee is “unlikely to get through the petitions in less than that, and even two years might be optimistic”.

As Mr Mould said, there is no degree of certainty in any of this, but I thought that it might be helpful to use the example of Crossrail to get a feel for just when HM The Queen might be called upon to put quill to vellum, as it were.

When petitions were first invited against Crossrail hybrid Bill 358 petitions were deposited and none of these were challenged on locus standi. For the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill, being currently at this stage, there are 1,897 “live” petitions under consideration, since 21 of the 1,918 petitions deposited have been successfully challenged on locus standi. So the HS2 Committee has more than five times the number of petitions to consider than its Crossrail equivalent – the actual figure is nearer 5.3. The Crossrail Committee sat for 22 months, so the HS2 Committee could be expected to sit for 116 months, or more than nine years. Simple!

Well no, actually it’s not that simple. In the first place there was a hiatus in the meetings of the Crossrail Select Committee between late October 2006 and the middle of January 2007. Although this break spanned the Christmas recess, at least two months of this committee inactivity was actually due to what in crude terms could be deemed the Committee going on strike in response to Government intransigence over the Committee’s recommendation to add a station at Woolwich (see footnote 2). So it would probably be more accurate to regard the Crossrail Select Committee as sitting for 20 months.

Then there were four sets of Additional Provisions (AP) brought forward on Crossrail, and, as required by Commons Standing Orders, further petitions were invited on each occasion. This resulted in an additional 99 petitions being deposited, a 27% increase. We already know that an AP for HS2 will be brought forward, picking up on the changes that resulted from HS2 Plus, and expect to see this in September – I’m sure that this will not be the only AP that the Government will issue. If we assume, for want of anything better being known, that APs for HS2 Phase 1 will stimulate the same percentage increase in the total number of petitions as for Crossrail, then we can expect APs to up the total of petitions against the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill to be considered in the House of Commons to around 2,400.

However, Crossrail demonstrated that there can be a fair degree of wastage during the process. This may be due to petitioners deciding that they don’t want to be bothered to trudge down to Westminster, have second thoughts about subjecting themselves to the experience, or get persuaded by a carrot dangled by HS2 Ltd to withdraw their petition. As the result of this wastage the actual number of petitions heard by the Crossrail Select Committee was not 457, but 205, that’s 45% of the total that was submitted.

If we assume the same level of wastage for HS2 Phase 1 the number of petitions that we might expect the HS2 Select Committee to hear is a little shy of 1,100. If you have been keeping on top of my mathematical manipulations, you will not be surprised to hear that this stubbornly remains 5.3 times the number that the Crossrail Select Committee heard.

In the next part of this series I will look at how this mammoth task might be managed.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The exchanges may be found in paragraphs 303 to 314 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 21st July 2014.
  2. See paragraph 17766 in Volume V of the Crossrail Select Committee’s First Special Report of Session 2006‑07.

 

 

Another heroic failure

The UK jurisprudence has failed to grasp yet another opportunity to protect our environment from the harm caused by poorly planned, and some would say unnecessary, development by denying the latest attempt by campaigners to get a decision involving the HS2 project set aside. Since this latest heroic failure by the campaign against HS2 received scant coverage in the nation’s media, I thought that I should give it some acknowledgement by interrupting my current Lessons from history series with a few comments – I think that we all would benefit by a rest from my thoughts on appearing before the HS2 Select Committee anyway.

The blow was delivered by High Court judge Mr Justice Lindblom in handing down his judgment on a judicial review that he heard in June. The application for this review was made by HS2 Action Alliance and the London Borough of Hillingdon Council. Their contention is that the Secretary of State acted illegally by issuing safeguarding directions for the Phase 1 route of HS2 without having first carried out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and that, accordingly, the directions should be quashed.

Lead counsel for these two claimants, David Elvin QC, asserted during the June hearing that the effect of the safeguarding directions was “to blight development in the land covered by the direction for an indefinite period and without an SEA which might have enabled the impacts to be minimised or avoided”.

The key question that the Judge had to determine is one that will be familiar to those who have followed my earlier blogs on the legal battles about the HS2 project, for example The environment was the real loser, part 2 (posted on 27 Jan 2014). This question is whether the safeguarding directions, or the Decisions and Next Steps document in previous legal proceedings, constitute “a plan or programme setting the framework for future development consent” as defined in article 2(a) of the SEA Directive. In his Approved Judgement, Mr Justice Lindblom says that the issue divides into two questions, explaining (in paragraph 45):

“The first question is whether the safeguarding directions are a plan or programme setting the framework for the future development consent of the HS2 project itself. The second is whether they are a plan or programme setting the framework for the future development consent of any other project.”

His answer to both questions being in the negative, his ruling is that (paragraph 57):

“I therefore conclude that the safeguarding directions are not a plan or programme which sets the framework for future development consent of projects in Annexes I and II to the EIA Directive, within the meaning of article 3(2) of the SEA Directive.”

Whilst this was effectively game, set and match to the Secretary of State, the Judge did at least clear another potential legal stumbling block out of the way by finding that “the safeguarding directions were ‘required’ in the sense of article 2(a) of the SEA Directive” (paragraph 66), whilst accepting that this determination “might yet require a reference to the European Court of Justice”. However, he did not make such a reference as the issue was not determining the outcome of his review.

The Judge also conceded that, had he found that the safeguarding directives were subject to the SEA Directive, he would have quashed them (paragraph 74).

Unsurprisingly, both parties and the Judge referred extensively to the UK Supreme Court judgements that were handed down earlier this year, and the case appears to have largely been determined by the interpretation of this legal precedent from the highest court of our land.

The Judge also referred to these judgements to find an answer to the conundrum that I posed in The environment was the real loser, part 2, which is that the HS2 project, which I described as “the most destructive proposal of all”, can apparently avoid the requirements of the SEA Directives and “can simply by-pass an essential stage of environmental checking”. Mr Justice Lindblom quoted from paragraph 49 of Lord Carnwath’s Supreme Court judgement:

“[Until] Parliament has reached its decision, the merits of all aspects of the HS2 project, on economic, environmental and other grounds, remain open to debate”.

Mr Justice Lindbolm said, in his judgement, that it was his view that Lord Carnwath’s observation was also the answer to the opinion that the absence of SEA for the safeguarding directions perpetuates a gap in environmental protection, contrary to the intent of the SEA Directive (paragraph 56).

Needless to say, the HS2 Action Alliance is far from pleased with the outcome of the judicial review. In a remarkably outspoken interview on commercial radio, HS2AA spokesman, Richard Houghton, complained:

“The Judge used issues to support his decision that neither us nor the Government argued in court. The only thing that I can conclude is that they are desperate to find a way of supporting the Government regardless of the evidence that was presented. As you would expect, we are bitterly disappointed by the decision. It seems to indicate that the Government doesn’t have to follow its own laws, which have been designed to protect the environment during infrastructure projects.”

In a press release that repeats these accusations, HS2AA warns:

“Both the Council and HS2AA will be seeking permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal and they will also be considering what other options are available to them to remedy the injustice caused by this decision.”

Now I am not equipped, nor would I presume, to give legal advice to HS2AA – after all some of the best legal brains in London have been engaged for that very purpose – but it seems to me that, as far as the UK courts are concerned, we may have reached flogging a dead horse time. The applicability of the SEA Directive to the HS2 project has now been considered by two High Court judges, three Court of Appeal judges and seven sitting in the Supreme Court, and only one of those has expressed the opinion that HS2 requires a strategic environmental assessment. It would also appear that the Supreme Court judgements are likely to cast a dark shadow over any further proceedings in the UK courts.

I feel that we need to look to the reference that has been made to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and possible future proceedings in the Court of Justice of the European Union for the best chance of rectifying this situation.

There is also the consideration that any judgement that might be secured that quashed the safeguarding directions could very well be a Pyrrhic victory. As well as their role in planning matters, safeguarding directions have an important function in determining that property owners who live closest to the proposed line of route qualify for compensation. Many within the safeguarding area have already served blight notices that will qualify them for full compensation under the express purchase scheme. If the safeguarding directions were set aside, then I assume that the express purchase scheme would be suspended.

 

Lessons from history, part 10

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 9, posted on 3 Aug 2014).

The Crossrail Select Committee had ten Members and a quorum – the minimum number of Members required to be present within the Committee Room at any time that the Committee is in session – of three. The HS2 Select Committee also has a quorum of three, but the number of Members is only six.

Robert Goodwill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, was asked why the size of the HS2 Committee had been reduced compared to its immediate predecessor during the debate on the four motions covering the appointment of and procedures for the HS2 Hybrid Bill Select Committee held in the Commons Chamber on the afternoon of 29th April 2014 (refer to column 719 in the Official Report). His reply indicated that the size reduction had been brought about by necessity rather than design. He confided that “many people who volunteered to consider the Crossrail Bill did not realise what a commitment it would be”. He added that:

“It would be a big ask to find a large Committee to do this work, given the large amount of time those Members will have to take out of the other parliamentary duties they carry out on their constituents’ behalf. We are very grateful that they are volunteers rather than pressed men.”

Since, to judge by the number of petitions that have been lodged, service on the HS2 Select Committee is likely to be even more onerous than being a Member of the Crossrail Select Committee, it is hard to imagine that any MP would “volunteer” without due application of the stick, or a carrot, or both. Indeed, Mr Goodwill did let slip that some of the Members “have been volunteered”.

Later on in the debate, Kelvin Hopkins MP, who had been a Member of the Crossrail Select Committee, confirmed that the recruitment of pressed men had certainly been a feature of that body, saying that the Whips put him and some of his colleagues on the Committee “as a punishment” for voting against “some civil liberties legislation” (see column 750 of the Official Report). One can only assume that the reduced size of the HS2 Select Committee is the result of the pool of miscreants upon which the Whips can call for “volunteers” in the current Parliament being too small to fully staff a select committee, although this is hard to credit upon looking back at some of the events of the past four years.

Bearing in mind the impact of unavoidable absences, due to illness and the like, the need to address other parliamentary duties and the sheer tedium of attending the committee three days, or more, every week that Parliament is sitting, and even possibly during some recesses, serving a quorum of three with a membership of only six appears to me to be sailing dangerously close to the wind.

I have made some analysis of the attendance records of Members of the Crossrail Select Committee, based upon the list of attendees appearing at the head of each of the day’s transcripts in Volumes II to V of the Committee’s First Special Report of Session 2006‑07. Although being included in these lists does not necessarily mean that a Member attended for the whole session, I have credited each member so listed with a day’s attendance in the Committee. On this basis the average attendance across all Members of the Crossrail Select Committee was 59%, with the individual attendance records ranging from 34% to a very-creditable 79%. The spread of the numbers of Members sitting on any particular day that this attendance record achieved is illustrated in the histogram reproduced below.

Crossrail_Select_Committee_attendanceAlthough a select committee is able to function with attendance at the specified quorum, things are much easier with at a committee size of at least one Member above quorum, which gives Members the chance to pop out from the committee room during the session. The Crossrail Select Committee achieved this ideal on 94% of session days.

Maintaining a quorum of three obviously becomes more difficult if the number of Members serving on a select committee is smaller than the ten that the Crossrail Select Committee had to call upon. Very roughly, reducing the number of members by four would mean that, assuming the same attendance pattern as was achieved for Crossrail, two Members fewer will turn up for each session of the HS2 Select Committee, on the basis of an average attendance of around 50%. Applying this minus two correction to the above Crossrail histogram, indicates that the Committee would have been inquorate for 21% of its sessions and would only have achieved being at least one Member above quorum at 53% of its sessions. This indicates that the Members of the HS2 Select Committee will have to attend much more regularly, and possibly be more strategic about who attends when, than their Crossrail counterparts.

That having been said, so far the Members of the HS2 Select Committee are doing very well. Eleven half-day sessions had been held prior to the summer recess, not counting “site visit” sessions. For no less than eight of these, a full complement of Members is listed in the transcripts. On two occasions the Committee was only one Member light and for the remaining session the quorum was just achieved. The real test, however, will be if adequate attendance levels can be maintained over the coming gruelling months.

(To be continued …)

 

Lessons from history, part 9

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 8, posted on 30 Jul 2014).

In the note on procedure that has been issued by the HS2 Select Committee an “order of hearing petitions” is set out; this prescribes the steps that will be followed for both the petitioner and the promoter during the course of hearing one petition. Two of these steps are potentially important to the petitioner, as they provide the opportunity to present and strengthen the case over and above the petitioner’s presentation. The first of these is the cross-examination of any witnesses that the promoter may put up. This will give you the opportunity to seek clarification of any points made by the witness and even to challenge the witness on his, or her, evidence. Cross-examination will also give you the opportunity to request the witness’s opinion on any matters that the promoter’s counsel has neglected to, or opted not to, raise in examination-in-chief.

The second potentially important step is the closing statement of the petitioner. This gives you the “last word” and a chance to refute any arguments that the promoter has employed against your petition.

This is fine, as far as it goes, but the evidence of the Crossrail proceedings is that things can get a bit muddled in practice, especially when petitioners with common themes are lumped together or time pressures are mounting during a long day in the committee room. This appears to have happened on the typical day’s business of the Crossrail Select Committee in June 2006 that I reported on in part 4 of this blog series. On that day the schedulers had given the Select Committee the ambitious task of hearing eleven petitions, all of which were about issues in and around the Spitalfields area of London.

The first two petitions proceeded through the normal stages according to the book, except that they were effectively heard in parallel. The promoter’s counsel put up two witnesses, who gave their evidence after the two petitioners had been given the opportunity to present their cases and two witnesses had given evidence in support of one of the petitions.

In his introductory remarks for the day, the Chairman promised that “any witness brought forward by the Promoters may be cross-examined by each and every Petitioner, should they wish to, after they have made their case” (see paragraph 9623 on page Ev 927 of the transcript).

What actually happened was that each of the two witnesses was cross-examined by counsel for one of the petitioners and then the other petitioner, who was making her own case, was given the opportunity to cross-examine the two witnesses. By the time that these cross-examinations, and all of the business that had preceded them, had been completed the scheduled finishing time for the day’s proceedings was fast approaching, leading the Chairman to announce (see paragraph 9974 on page Ev 960 of the transcript):

“I intend now to go through the other witnesses. We have very roughly 25 minutes before we step down. I would remind Petitioners, please, if you have new things to say, say them; if they are repeated I will stop you.”

So clearly the Chairman had his eye on the clock, and the unfortunate sponsors of the remaining nine petitions could not fail to feel the pressure. As things turned out, the Committee session extended well beyond the scheduled finish time and every petitioner, or representative, who wished to speak was heard. However, the Chairman effectively limited the hearing of each petition to two stages, a statement by the petitioner and a response by the promoter’s counsel, by intervening to draw proceedings to a close immediately these two stages were completed (e.g. refer to paragraph 10018 on page Ev 964 of the transcript). No one was asked whether they wanted to cross-examine the two witnesses for the promoter that had been heard earlier, and no one was asked if they wanted to make a closing statement.

We are not, of course, in a position to know whether any of those who appeared in connection with those nine petitions would have taken advantage of their right to cross-examine witnesses or make a closing statement if it had been offered to them. Neither do we know whether Mr Syms, or any other Member of the HS2 Select Committee who may take the Chair in his stead, will conduct business in a similar fashion. However, over-ambitious scheduling, and the potential impact that this may have on an individual petitioner’s right to a fair hearing, is clearly something that we should be prepared for.

It is important that you come away from Westminster satisfied that you have been given every opportunity to state your case. If you feel that time constraints mean that you are unlikely to receive a fair crack of the whip, then you can always offer to be rescheduled for another day. This offer is unlikely to be taken up, since the schedulers will not want a backlog of hearings to build up, but your willingness to come back another day might strengthen your position when it comes to asking for what you are due. However, should the Chairman not wish to reschedule you, then he is obliged to grant you the time that you need to present your case, providing that you avoid, in the words of the note on procedure that has been issued by the HS2 Select Committee, “unnecessarily lengthy argument” and stick to “points not already addressed by” previously heard petitioners – I suggest that, on that last point, you would be justified revisiting points should you feel that they have not be adequately addressed.

In the case of making a closing statement, then this is a simple right to request, since you will be in front of the Committee at the time. You should be polite and respectful, but firm, in making any such request, and I do not see how the Chairman can refuse, whatever the time pressures.

The right to cross-examine witnesses that the promoter may have called earlier in the day, but whose evidence is being relied upon by the promoter in responding to your petition also is more tricky. The best time to indicate that you will want to cross-examine when your turn comes would be directly after the witness has completed giving evidence for the first petition hearing. However, at that time you will be in the public seats and, accordingly, unable to address the Chairman. I would suggest that your best course in such circumstances would be to contact a member of the staff of the Private Bill Office as soon as practical and say that you will wish to cross-examine the witness during your hearing. This should mean that the witness is asked to stay on so that you can have the opportunity to ask your questions. Again, if this does not happen you will be justified in complaining to the Chairman and requesting that you petition be heard another day when the witness will be available.

(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: prbohoc@parliament.uk).

Lessons from history, part 8

(… 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: prbohoc@parliament.uk).

Lessons from history, part 7

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 6, posted on 22 Jul 2014).

When you reach the Committee Corridor make contact with one of the members of the Commons Private Bill Office team so that they know you have arrived – they will probably be in the corridor looking for you anyway. They will complete any necessary formalities for you, including administering the oath where necessary. At some stage, you should also be provided with a paper copy of any evidence that you have supplied for display (see part 5 of this blog series), with each page bearing a reference of the form Ax/n, where x is a sequential numbering of the bundles of evidence and n is a sequential numbering within that bundle. You will be asked to quote the reference of any page of evidence when you first refer to it in your presentation; this will allow the operator of the display system to make sure that page is in front of the Members of the Committee. For this reason, you may find it helpful to add the appropriate page references to your notes so that you don’t have to rifle through the evidence pack to find the right reference every time.

I have been advised (see the acknowledgement below) that the preliminaries in the Committee Corridor are completed quickly, but you would still be wise to allow ten minutes or so for them in your schedule.

Since you may be spending some time in and around Committee Room 5 there are two items of housekeeping information that you may wish to be made aware of. Firstly, the nearest toilet facilities, which include an accessible public toilet that includes a changing bench and a hoist, are just down the stairs in the Lower Waiting Room. Secondly, a limited range of refreshments, that includes barista made coffee and simple hot snacks such as paninis, is on sale at the Jubilee Café, located in the old stable block near the northern entrance to Westminster Hall

When you enter Committee Room 5 grab one of the “public” seats in the rows at the left-hand end of the room, viewed from the entrance. When you are called by the Chairman you will be required to move to sit at the table at the far end of the Members’ horseshoe tables, facing the Chairman. The petitioner sits in the place nearest the door and any witness that the petitioner might call sits to his/her immediate left.

You will be required to remain seated throughout your presentation to the Committee. One petitioner’s representative told the Chairman that he would be more comfortable standing up, but the Chairman was advised that, if he did this, the “camera line won’t get” him (refer to paragraphs 15 to 22 in the transcript for the afternoon of Thursday 10th July 2014).

In the interests of courtesy, and showing the Committee due respect, refer to the Chairman as “sir”. Answers to any questions that you may be asked by counsel for the promoter, who will be sitting to the left of you at the same table, should be addressed to the Chairman; avoid getting into a “conversation” with the counsel. If you are asked questions by other Members of the Committee, you may respond directly, addressing them as “sir” or “madam” or as “Sir Peter”, “Mr X” or “Ms Quereshi”, as appropriate.

You may read your presentation from a prepared script; a number of those appearing before the Committee have done this already and many honourable Members do this in debates in the House of Commons. However, if you are confident enough to extemporise from notes, your presentation is likely to have more impact with the Committee and have more chance of commanding the attention of its Members (see below). This will also allow you to be flexible and alter what you may have planned to say to take account of evidence presented by others appearing before you. A compromise may be to use a politician’s trick and prepare a number of short paragraphs of text that you can read to slot into your, otherwise extemporised, presentation at the appropriate juncture, or if you dry; these pre-prepared speechlets should make sure that you at least cover your principle points.

To judge by their behaviour in committees and the Chamber, Members of Parliament must be amongst the world’s best multitaskers. It is not uncommon, unfortunately, for the attention of Members sitting in committee to be apparently occupied by tablet computers, smart ‘phones, items of correspondence or reading one of the huge number of documents that fall on their desk, even perhaps being involved in all of these distractions at the same time. If you notice this happening whilst you are putting your heart and soul into your presentation, the best advice is that you should ignore it. You might think, with good reason some would consider, that such behaviour is disrespectful to you. However, it is the way of the world I’m afraid, and you need to remember that the Members of the Committee are going to have to sit through hours and hours of people like you expressing, probably, very much the same thoughts that you are. MPs are also, on the whole, very busy people, and the temptation to put “wasted” hours sitting in committee to good use must hard to resist. So it is best to treat engaging the full attention of the Members of the Committee as a challenge to your presentational skills, rather than letting any failure to achieve this put you off your stride.

(To be continued …)

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Penny Gaines for providing me with feedback from her own experience of appearing in front of the HS2 Select Committee, which has been very helpful to me in writing this blog.

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: prbohoc@parliament.uk).

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