A fairly fruitless task

As I promised in my blog Rearranging the furniture (posted 13 Sep 2013), in today’s posting I plan to report on the line-by-line examination of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill during the Committee Stage.

The Bill is a comparatively simple one, with only two substantive clauses – it has three clauses in total. Even so, the Committee’s deliberations filled a whole day of two sessions (on Tuesday 16th July) and a short morning session (on Thursday 18th July).

Assuming that I have counted correctly, 35 amendments were discussed in 12 separate debates. Of these 22 amendments and 10 debates related to Clause 1 of the Bill, and Clause 2 attracted 13 amendments discussed in 2 debates. A total of nearly six hours was spent discussing amendments to Clause 1 and just over one hour and a quarter on Clause 2 amendments.

In addition, there was a stand part debate on Clause 1 that occupied about a quarter of an hour. It was agreed that the other two clauses stand part of the Bill without debate.

In addition to amendments tabled by Members of the Committee, a number were in the name of two Members not appointed to the Committee, Bill Cash MP and Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP. Only four Members of the Committee were involved in moving these amendments. The vast majority were moved by two Members: Lilian Greenwood MP being responsible for 15, and Rt Hon Frank Dobson MP for 13. Four amendments were moved by Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP and one, for the Government, by Rt Hon Simon Burns MP. Two amendments, although included in the debates, were not formally moved.

Of the 16 Members of the Committee, 9 spoke in support of or against amendments, with a further 2 making interventions only. The remaining 5 Members did not speak at all in any of the debates (see footnote). That over 30% of the membership of the Committee did not take any active part in the line-by-line examination, other than voting, lends support, you might think, to Dr Thompson’s note about Christmas cards – see my blog Time to write your Christmas cards (posted 28 Aug 2013).

I was pleased to see, however, that a number of Members referred to the evidence given to them on the first two days of sitting by the Committee in their speeches, even quoting verbatim from that evidence. That taking evidence might “improve the quality of debate on clauses and amendments” is, you may recall, one of the advantages claimed by Jessica Levy in her report, which I listed in my blog Talking heads (posted 1 Sep 2013).

The topics covered by amendments included:

  • Seeking to cap the expenditure sanctioned by the Bill and the life of the Bill.
  • Seeking to improve the financial reporting required by the Bill.
  • Adding references to the Bill to improving capacity, serving Scotland and connecting to road and air.
  • Requiring the reference to a station on the East Midlands to be more specific.
  • Seeking to improve the compensation provisions and promoting a property bond.

Only 7 of the 35 amendments that were debated were taken to a division, and all of those were defeated. One – the one proposed by Simon Burns for the Government – was agreed without a division. The remaining 27 amendments were either withdrawn, not moved, or otherwise not pressed to a division.

So the Committee stage of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill ran very true to the observation by Dr Louise Thompson that I quoted in my blog Rearranging the furniture that “the vast majority [leave] committee with only government amendments having been made”.

All that the Committee secured was three promises made by the Minister:

  • The Minister accepted, with regard to Cheryl Gillan’s amendment 7 moved by Frank Dobson, to add a reference to connecting to “road and airport”, that “there is merit in the addition of the words in the amendment to the Bill”. The Minister promised that, if Mr Dobson did not press his amendment to a division, he would be “more than happy to go away and consider the matter further, in time for something to be produced for Report later in the summer”.
  • A proposal was made by Caroline Spelman during the debate on Bill Cash’s amendment 4 that requires the Government to “act fairly” in matters of compensation that “there will be a question in the [rerun compensation] consultation that will allow people taking part to express a view on the right of appeal”. The Minister gave “an assurance that we will seriously consider her suggestion”.
  • In the face of four amendments designed to enshrine the principle of the property bond in the Bill – amendments 1 and 2, tabled by Bill Cash, and 11 and NS1, tabled by Cheryl Gillan – Caroline Spelman was given the assurance by the Minister that, “A property bond will feature as part of the [rerun compensation] consultation process”.

The one amendment that was agreed as tabled – the Government one, amendment 37 – was a technical change to do with accounting procedures.

The Bill will now return to the Commons Chamber for its Report stage, which will allow further amendments to be tabled and debated by all Members, not just Members of the Public Bill Committee. Normal practice is for the third reading of a bill to be debated immediately following the report stage.

Acknowledgements:

The report by Jessica Levy referred to above is,

Levy, J, Strengthening Parliament’s Powers of Scrutiny? An assessment of the introduction of Public Bill Committees, The Constitution Unit, Department of Political Science, University College London, July 2009.

The observation by Dr Louise Thompson is made in,

Thompson, L, Influence or Inconsequential? The Impact of Bill Committees in the House of Commons.

Footnote: The two that intervened only are Jim Shannon MP (Strangford, DUP) and Iain Stewart MP (Milton Keynes South, Conservative). The five that did not speak at all are Kris Hopkins MP (Keighley, Conservative), Karen Lumley MP (Redditch, Conservative), Nicky Morgan MP (Loughborough, Conservative), Julian Sturdy MP (York Outer, Conservative) and Martin Vickers MP (Cleethorpes, Conservative).

PS: Recordings (sound only) are available of the three sessions, 16th July (morning, afternoon) and 18th July (morning). Transcripts are also available, 16th July (morning, afternoon) and 18th July (morning).

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on September 17, 2013 at 11:12 am

    And no reference to the need for the SEA and alternatives.

    Reply

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