Lessons from history, part 5

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 4, posted on 14 Jul 2014).

So what are the lessons that those of us who are planning to go to Westminster to argue our petitions in front of the HS2 Select Committee might learn from the report on a single day’s business of the Crossrail Select Committee that I presented in part 4?

I suggest that, first and foremost, we all need to prepare well for our big day. Make a list of your issues and think about who else might be petitioning on the same, or similar, topics and list these organisations also. If you have route-wide issues in your list, then perhaps these are more than adequately covered by the national campaign organisations or the national environmental charities. Your local issues may be included in the petitions of your local authorities, including your parish or town council, or your local action group. Study the petitions of each of the organisations that you have identified to determine if you have any unique points in your petition or matters that you might have covered better than the others – these would be the best topics to lead on when you present your petition.

Remember that individuals are likely to be the last in your area to get their turn. It is not clear how the Select Committee will timetable national organisations, so you may get your chance ahead of them, at least (see footnote).

Try and watch one or two of the petition hearing sessions that will be held in late July and September to get a feel of what goes on. Definitely make sure that you catch any appearances by organisations that are on your list, or study the transcripts.

Try and do as much preparation of the material that you will use in your presentation in advance as you can. Think now about maps, diagrams and photographs that you might need and identify any work that you need to do on these.

Anytime between now and when you are scheduled to appear in front of the Select Committee, HS2 Ltd (or its parliamentary agents Winckworth Sherwood/Eversheds) may contact you to discuss your petition with you – the main aim of such discussions is likely to be to give you sufficient assurances to persuade you that you don’t have to appear. Be very wary of any such assurances, or apparent concessions. You must make sure that any such assurances will be recorded in the Register of Undertakings and Assurances document, that you are told precise wording that will be recorded and that you fully understand the assurances that are being offered. The Crossrail Select Committee saw this last point as a potential pitfall for petitioners, commenting, in paragraph 36 of Volume 1 of its report that it was “concerned that the draft Register of Undertakings and Assurances, published by the Department for Transport, is not user-friendly”.

Failing an agreement that leads you to withdraw your petition, according to the note on procedure that has been issued by the HS2 Select Committee, you should expect that “shortly in advance of your scheduled appearance” you will receive a “petition response document”, or PRD, from HS2 Ltd. The lead counsel for the promoter, Tim Mould QC, was kind enough to provide his definition of what “shortly” means in his opening statement made on Tuesday 1st July (see paragraph 35 of the transcript):

“We shall issue Petition Response documents no later than four weeks before the petitioners’ scheduled appearance before the Committee.”

The PRD should set out the promoter’s response to the issues that you have raised in your petition – don’t expect much in the way of agreement with your point of view. It is likely that, rather than being drafted to address your points specifically, the PRD will make extensive use of references to a suite of “information papers” that are currently being developed by HS2 Ltd. In order to steal a march on any brinkmanship by HS2 Ltd in getting your PRD to you, it might be prudent to start to become familiar with such of the information papers that appear to be relevant to your petition well in advance of the PRD arriving.

The Members of the Select Committee each have a computer screen in front of them and we have already seen this facility in use by the promoter’s representatives to display maps, diagrams, photographs and the like when making their opening statements. As I mentioned in part 2 of this blog series, anyone presenting evidence to the Committee may make use of this facility. So if you have access to a scanner, or even at a pinch a digital camera or mobile ‘phone camera, think about how you might enhance your presentation to the committee in this way. The note on procedure that has been issued by the HS2 Select Committee requests that “evidence that you intend to use” should be received by HS2 – not you will notice the Private Bill Office – “by 5pm, two working days before you are due to appear” in order that “this information can be forwarded to the Committee members, and be uploaded for display during the hearings”. No details on formats or contact points have been provided at this stage, but presumably this information will be provided when the promoter’s parliamentary agents contact you about the arrangements for your hearing. At any rate, I will try to make further enquiries on this and will post any information that I may find out on this blogsite.

That, I think, covers all that I wish to say about preparing for your hearing, but what about the big day itself? That, I’m afraid will have to wait until the next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: A further indication of the order that the Select Committee may wish to hear petitioners was given by the Chairman, Robert Syms MP, during his announcement about the outcome of the hearings of locus standi challenges given on the afternoon of Wednesday 16th July 2014. Referring to the wish of the Select Committee to hear submissions on matters of route-wide impact from the HS2 Action Alliance and Stop HS2, Mr Syms said that the Committee believed that “it would be best to hear from those groups after individuals and other petitioners” (see paragraph 137 of the transcript).

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).


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on July 18, 2014 at 7:07 am

    There were other hints of the difficulties people will experience as there is an assumption all parties align on the issue and the mitigation(s). This is far from the case on particularly route wide and section long issues. There is a funneling approach by the rule setter and the gaps become closed by sequenced selection of petitioning parties. The outcome seem inevitable for Government that they get what they want without provide merit. The planning laws of the UK are really about challenge to refusal and here you have the people trying to maintain what they have in other words the reversal. It is hard to imagine that Terminal 5 had the benefit of inquiry based considerations by professionals and open access and here there is a shy away please approach by lay people and lay assessors with advocates. Not the way to invest £50Billion wisely. The process is not only arcane but one no corporation could use with its bankers.


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