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).

Important Note: The document from which the quote reproduced in this blog is taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on July 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    But what is the purpose of the presentation of a petition or a plea for some sense to address an omission. When a process is not effective then what is the value of that process. Better cut to the chase. The petitioning process can hardly work due to the logic not the reaction to impacts. The route phase 1 has been carved to leave significant areas and people out of having a timely say.


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