I could have done without the announcement, part 1

On Thursday 21st November, during a backbench debate on “implementation of new legislation on stalking”, the newly-elected deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing MP – I’m so pleased that Simon Burns didn’t get elected to that post – made the following short announcement:

“I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act: High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013.”

It was the cause of some amusement for the handful of MPs in the Commons Chamber at the time that the next speaker to be called in the debate was the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP, who admitted that she “could have done without the announcement of Royal Assent to a Bill that I think colleagues know causes a great deal of difficulty for my constituents”.

So we now have legislation in place that, as Simon Burns was keen to point out during the Bill’s Committee stage, will grant funding not only to HS2 Phase 1 and Phase 2 but, due to the inclusion of the words “at least” within the text of the Bill/Act, will apply equally to any future projects “to extend high-speed rail to Scotland or to anywhere else in England and Wales”. He explained:

“No future Secretary of State in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years need come back to the House of Commons or Parliament to seek those powers, because they will be contained in the Bill through those two crucial words.” (see footnote)

So the Act not only grants funds without limit, but also in perpetuity and for purposes that are not yet known – what a great piece of law making!

When I last reported on the progress of the Bill through Parliament, in my blog A fairly fruitless task (posted 17 Sep 2013), the Bill had cleared Committee stage and was heading back to the Commons Chamber for Report stage and Third Reading. These two stages took place on Thursday 31st October, starting at around 12.27pm; with the lack of topicality that I have made my trademark, I thought that I should report on the progress of the Bill during the three weeks between its return to the Commons and it becoming an Act of Parliament, via a brief visit to the House of Lords.

The time allowed for the Report stage had been determined by a programme motion that had been adopted at the end of the Second Reading debate. According to this “programme order”, as it became thereby, proceedings would be curtailed one hour before the “moment of interruption” – this being the scheduled time for the end of main business, which is 5pm on a Thursday. Our representatives in the House of Commons had, accordingly, just about three and one-half hours to debate 31 amendments and one new clause that had been tabled.

The Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP was to first to rise to speak, moving amendment 18, but, as the deputy Speaker, the Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP – Chairman of Ways and Means – told MPs, it would be convenient also to consider the other amendments on the selection list. Regular readers of my blogs will have already come across me referring to this process of grouping amendments, when I reported on the Committee stage of the Bill (see Rearranging the furniture, posted 13 Sep 2013). There were seven additional amendments lumped in with amendment 18, all of which attempted to modify Clause 1 of the Bill except for one which applied to Clause 3. Together these amendments covered adding specific references to extending the high speed network to Scotland, interconnecting the network to other parts of the transport network, limiting the scope of the Bill to HS2 Phase 1 and Phase 2, and requiring that the Bill not come into force until the future of Heathrow has been determined.

Of this group, one deserves particular mention; amendment 17 had the backing of both frontbenches. It had its origins in a promise made to the Rt Hon Frank Dobson MP by the Transport Minister during the Committee stage – something that I referred to in A fairly fruitless task – and had the effect of adding reference to the interconnection of the high speed network to other parts of the transport network.

The Members expended approximately 2¾ hours of the 3½ hours allowed for the Report stage in debating this group of amendments, until Andrew Bridgen MP rose on a point of order to move that “the Question be now put”. This was agreed on a voice vote and a further voice vote yielded the expected result of negativing the group of amendments. Deputy Speaker the Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo MP – Lindsay Hoyle had clocked off his shift at 1.30pm – invited the Government frontbench to move amendment 17, which Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Goodwill MP, duly did. A further voice vote led to this amendment being agreed to.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: The Minister gave this clarification when he was giving evidence to the Public Bill Committee during the Committe stage on the afternoon of Thursday 11th July 2013 (see under Q274 in the transcript).

PS: The amendments are listed in full in the Consideration of Bill document that was published on the day of the Report stage. The Hansard report of the Report stage proceedings may be read in columns W1112 to W1171 of the House of Commons Official Report. There is also a video of the day’s business in the House of Commons.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for drawing attention to Q274. Simon Burns would not have realised his answer shot HS2 in the foot; ministers trot out what is fed to them by their officials. He said there could be future spurs off the HS2 “spine” route. (If it is a spine route it’s an arthritic one – I call it the drunken sailor route). There will be no room for additional services to spurs because HS2 Ltd plan to use all the 18 trains per hour capacity from day one. He is not the only HS2 official to suggest additional services that will not fit; their chief engineer has done the same. HS2 will be permanently constrained to its narrow objectives and remain incapable of being integrated into the network. HS2 officials are prone to change their tune according to what they are trying to prove at the time. Even 18 trains per hour is optimistic; it’s certainly possible but every time there is the slightest upset the whole timetable will fall apart because there will be only two tracks and they will be segregated from the rail network. Think again, HS2.

    Did I tell you about the quote in the Independent on Sunday on 8 Sept by Doug Oakervee, chair of HS2? “Yes, you can always do things differently and yes, you can always do things better. Whether we went the right way is questionable”. Shortly after that it was announced he was going on 3 months sick leave, then that he was leaving HS2 Ltd. They know they’ve got it horribly wrong but are too hooked up on their plan to admit it. How much longer must the madness go on?

    Reply

  2. The other point I must make is that it is insane to start looking at the possibility of extending HS2 to Scotland after the decision is made to build the first phase; there must be an overall plan to start with so you don’t build something then say in 10 years time, “Oh, if only we’d thought about it we wouldn’t have done it like that”. The mountainous terrain west of the Pennines means there is unlikely to be a case ever for extending to Scotland by that route (long distance, lots of tunnel, small population served). It would involve splitting trains one way to Glasgow, the other way to Edinburgh as suggested by HS2L, or inefficient separate services. The east route enables the same train to call at Glasgow and Edinburgh. The same principle is used in the alternative plan called HSUK; join cities together in strings rather than just connecting a few of them to London.

    Reply

  3. Posted by chriseaglen on January 4, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Some have always considered there was the need for a 4 line HS2 based on land take not current tunnels. Misrepresentation is a hallmark of HS2 evolution. Figure 1 of the ES shows the presumptions on routes to Scotland. The north east requires more motorway lane capacity as the A1M and A19 are insufficient. The DFT silo divide is costing the UK its future in a limited space left era.

    The law making cannot be entrenched except by political external agreement not to repeal. So this is the test for the future who will assert in the manifesto repeal of the HS2 enabling. One aspect is evident from the DEFRA EA statements the nation is well and truely bankrupt if climate changes cannot be addressed. The cut backs from the early 90s on sea defences are now coupled with both coastal and internal needs much more urgent and broader than the importance of HS2 to UK transport capacity.

    Untrusted and uncaring are becoming the themes of the Coalition and there is little in the wings with the too feeble Opposition. Open goal for bad exploiter law makers who have no sense of importance of actions over legislative games.

    Reply

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