Lessons from history, part 11

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 10, posted on 7 Aug 2014).

Almost at the very last minute before the HS2 Select Committee packed its bags for its summer holiday Sir Peter Bottomley MP posed what he admitted was the “unanswerable” question of when Royal Assent was likely to be granted for the Phase 1 hybrid Bill (see footnote 1). Tim Mould QC, who was the person to whom Sir Peter was looking for an answer to this imponderable agreed that it was “a very difficult question”; obviously the astute silk was not going to give any hostages to fortune. The Chairman helpfully suggested 2015, knowing of course that the Government had already admitted that Royal Assent was unlikely to have been achieved before the May 2015 general election.

Using a device that bore distinct similarities to the way that the fictional Francis Urquhart MP was prone to distance himself from his opinions, Mr Mould said that his questioner “may think that the range of dates might extend well into and indeed towards the end of next year”, but reiterated the difficulty in commenting with any degree of certainty.

The Chairman, Robert Syms MP, had given his own view on timescales six days earlier during an interview that he gave to BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. He ventured that the Commons Select Committee, which is of course only one of the stages that the hybrid Bill must clear to achieve Royal Assent, would be meeting for two years. He added that the Committee is “unlikely to get through the petitions in less than that, and even two years might be optimistic”.

As Mr Mould said, there is no degree of certainty in any of this, but I thought that it might be helpful to use the example of Crossrail to get a feel for just when HM The Queen might be called upon to put quill to vellum, as it were.

When petitions were first invited against Crossrail hybrid Bill 358 petitions were deposited and none of these were challenged on locus standi. For the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill, being currently at this stage, there are 1,897 “live” petitions under consideration, since 21 of the 1,918 petitions deposited have been successfully challenged on locus standi. So the HS2 Committee has more than five times the number of petitions to consider than its Crossrail equivalent – the actual figure is nearer 5.3. The Crossrail Committee sat for 22 months, so the HS2 Committee could be expected to sit for 116 months, or more than nine years. Simple!

Well no, actually it’s not that simple. In the first place there was a hiatus in the meetings of the Crossrail Select Committee between late October 2006 and the middle of January 2007. Although this break spanned the Christmas recess, at least two months of this committee inactivity was actually due to what in crude terms could be deemed the Committee going on strike in response to Government intransigence over the Committee’s recommendation to add a station at Woolwich (see footnote 2). So it would probably be more accurate to regard the Crossrail Select Committee as sitting for 20 months.

Then there were four sets of Additional Provisions (AP) brought forward on Crossrail, and, as required by Commons Standing Orders, further petitions were invited on each occasion. This resulted in an additional 99 petitions being deposited, a 27% increase. We already know that an AP for HS2 will be brought forward, picking up on the changes that resulted from HS2 Plus, and expect to see this in September – I’m sure that this will not be the only AP that the Government will issue. If we assume, for want of anything better being known, that APs for HS2 Phase 1 will stimulate the same percentage increase in the total number of petitions as for Crossrail, then we can expect APs to up the total of petitions against the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill to be considered in the House of Commons to around 2,400.

However, Crossrail demonstrated that there can be a fair degree of wastage during the process. This may be due to petitioners deciding that they don’t want to be bothered to trudge down to Westminster, have second thoughts about subjecting themselves to the experience, or get persuaded by a carrot dangled by HS2 Ltd to withdraw their petition. As the result of this wastage the actual number of petitions heard by the Crossrail Select Committee was not 457, but 205, that’s 45% of the total that was submitted.

If we assume the same level of wastage for HS2 Phase 1 the number of petitions that we might expect the HS2 Select Committee to hear is a little shy of 1,100. If you have been keeping on top of my mathematical manipulations, you will not be surprised to hear that this stubbornly remains 5.3 times the number that the Crossrail Select Committee heard.

In the next part of this series I will look at how this mammoth task might be managed.

(To be continued …)


  1. The exchanges may be found in paragraphs 303 to 314 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 21st July 2014.
  2. See paragraph 17766 in Volume V of the Crossrail Select Committee’s First Special Report of Session 2006‑07.




2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on August 15, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    What is the purpose of the analysis about how long will it take. There seem two objectives for people impacted:
    1. Make the effort to see through the petition regardless.
    2. Vote locally to the benefit of the locality. There are many reasons from failure to shape around local expressions of damage, harm and hurt.
    3. Express in the voting period why localities cannot ignore the single issue of poor solution planning and lack of jurisdictional curbs and blatant avoidance measures by the Government processes currently.
    4. Ensure the local positions are stated on the hustings to candidates including demanding outward signs to support for communities requests please.


    • Can I take it then Chris that you think that the time that it may take for the hybrid Bill to reach Royal Assent it not a potentially-significant issue? If that is what you are saying, then I fundamentally disagree with you. The longer that the hybrid Bill gets bogged down in committee, the more the flaws in both project and process will have time to emerge. A substantial delay could undermine the viability of the whole project and give the opposition in the country more time to grow and the political doubts more time to swell. Even the suitability of the hybrid Bill process as a substitute planning inquiry is under scrutiny – nothing this complicated has been attempted before.
      It was also clear from “HS2 Plus” that Sir David Higgins is fearful of a protracted delay whilst Parliament deliberates. He said that any delay would put costs up, but I suspect that what he is really fearful of is that delay could undermine the project.
      There is also the consideration that the legal process around the Aarhus Convention and the CJEU that has been started could take many months to be concluded and, surely, we don’t want to see construction start before it has.
      From the perspective of individuals involved in the petitioning process, the fear is that any attempts to speed up the hearing of petitions could prejudice the chances of a fair and full hearing. I think that many people will also want to have some idea how long it might be before they get their chance to be heard. We mustn’t forget either that the date of Royal Assent is planned as a milestone for the start of elements of the compensation regime.


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