I could have done without the announcement, part 5

(… continued from I could have done without the announcement, part 4, posted on 15 Jan 2013).

It was fast approaching 9.30pm on Tuesday 19th November 2013 when the Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords rose from the Woolsack and uttered the formulaic sentence, “The Question is that this Bill be now read a second time”, signalling the end of the debate on the Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill. There were no cries of “not content”, so the Bill passed Second Reading in the Lords unopposed.

It was similarly agreed that the Bill, “be not committed”, dispensing with the need for Committee and Report stages in the Lords. The Third Reading was achieved in the same manner, leading to the final Question, “that this Bill do now pass” – and, of course, it did, and that was that, apart from the formality of Her Majesty’s assent.

So, on this occasion, the upper house of Parliament did not affect the final form of the Bill in any way; it was just the Commons procedures that were able to do that. But, before I summarise how the text of the Bill was amended by the Commons, there is one item of parliamentary trivia that I picked up from the debate in the House of Lords that I wish to share with you – I have an unhealthy interest in such trifles.

During his speech in the Lords Second Reading, Lord Cormack referred to the Transport Secretary “sitting on the steps of the Throne during [Baroness Kramer’s] speech and that of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis”. I had never come across this practice before and was intrigued by the thought of a Secretary of State sitting on the steps to listen to the debate; it reminded me of when I was a child, before the days when children were allowed inside licensed premises, sitting outside the pub with a glass of lemonade and a packet of crisps to keep me quiet. However, this appears to be common practice, and if you look carefully at the video of the debate, you may catch the occasional glimpse of the cushions placed thoughtfully by the parliamentary authorities to make the practice a little less uncomfortable.

The House of Lords has, of course, viewing galleries that provide adequate comfort for the unennobled, so why would anyone want to sit on the steps? The answer is, of course, that they are just not any steps, but the steps of the Throne, and it is a privilege to sit there that is not afforded to many in our realm. So, for example, being simply a Member of the House of Commons does not qualify one to sit in this favoured location. The Transport Secretary, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin, does qualify by virtue of that “Rt Hon” pre-nominal title, signifying that he is a Privy Counsellor. There is an idiosyncratic list of others who share this privilege, which includes the Dean of Westminster and the eldest child of a Member of the Lords. Unsurprisingly, the steps are not part of the House for the purposes of proceedings, indicated, I presume, by the golden rail placed between the steps and the Woolsack.

But I have been guilty of getting off my main course, which is considering how the Bill that was presented for Royal Assent differs from the version that was given a Second Reading in the House of Commons on 26th June 2013. The answer is that both of the substantive clauses in the Bill were modified during its passage through the House of Commons.

Clause 1 of the Bill has been modified to expand the explanation of the term “high speed rail transport network”. This explanation, in sub-clause 2(b), was originally that the network “connects with the existing railway transport network”. This now reads:

“connects with the existing railway transport network as well as with such other parts of the transport network (including roads, footpaths, cycleways, airports and light railways) as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

The impetus for this change came from an amendment moved at the Commons Committee Stage by Frank Dobson, and reported in my blog A fairly fruitless task (posted 17 Sep 2013). I don’t see this addition as anything more than window dressing, and can’t envisage that it will influence the particulars of any proposals for high speed rail one jot.

Clause 2 has, however, been changed more substantively.

Sub-clause 2(a) has been modified to require reports of expenditure to differentiate between “capital and resource expenditure”. This change was effected by a Government amendment during the Commons Committee stage.

Two new sub-clauses, 2(b) and 2(c), have been shoe-horned in, requiring the sub-clauses originally so numbered to become 2(d) and 2(e).  Both new sub-clauses were adopted at the Commons Report stage, as the result of an amendment signed by members of both front benches. Clause 2(b) requires reports of expenditure to identify overspend or underspend against budget and 2(c) requires any impact on the £50.1bn overall budget of such overspend or underspend to be reported. These additions follow from an unsuccessful Labour frontbench attempt in Committee to introduce reporting against budget into the Bill.

A new sub-clause 2(3) has been inserted, and subsequent sub-clauses renumbered. This new sub-clause 2(3) requires details of vocational qualifications gained by staff during the reporting period to be included in each report. This new sub-clause was also introduced at the Report stage following an amendment being tabled that had been signed by members of both front benches.

Throughout the Committee and Report stages the Government resisted attempts to change the Bill to include a cap on expenditure, to mention extending the network to Scotland, or include matters relating to compensation.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on January 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

    after Wednesday all will know if the UK as lost its way again. UK is drifting further into a misguided future of grandeur. The political leadership since Major have made some large mistakes and this young group seem committed to more with now a further retreat of the Peers.


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