Remembrance of things past, part 1

For petitioners against Phase 1 of HS2 appearing before the House of Lords Select Committee represents drinking in the last chance saloon. However the way in is barred by the Promoter’s bouncers, who are trying to stop one-half of the petitioners from even entering the bar by contesting their locus standi. Even if you manage to gain entry, the drink on offer is nothing stronger than lemonade, because in his opening remarks the Chairman of the Committee, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, told us “there is no possibility of the introduction before this Committee of what are called additional provisions, making additions to the Bill”. He did, however, promise us that the Committee was “committed to fairness and impartiality” and that they would “proceed as fast as we can, but not at the expense of fairness or impartiality”: this will, I expect, be good news those who petitioned the Commons, particularly those from Camden, who felt that they were given insufficient time in Committee Room 5 to present their case fairly (see footnote 1).

It is good that we have been promised fair and impartial treatment in Committee Room 4, but I would expect no less from our House of Peers. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that, deprived of the main weapon potentially available in its armoury (the ability to require significant changes to the route design) the Lords Select Committee is bound to disappoint. The text for the road ahead is hardly Great Expectations, more likely it is Hard Times.

Faced with this bleak – or should that be Bleak House – view forward, I have been tempted to look backwards and review the select committee process in the House of Commons. In amongst the daily grind of dealing with hundreds of petitions there were some memorable moments, and I intend to spend a few blogs, of which this is the first of a planned series of occasional postings, recalling some of these.

My first batch of memories results from the unexplained omission of the parliamentary authorities to set a minimum age for petitioners to the Commons Select Committee, an oversight that opened the door to allow us to hear from some refreshingly young voices; a door that has, unfortunately, been firmly closed by those responsible for managing the equivalent process in the House of Lords (see footnote 2).

The young petitioner who received all of the attention was, of course, Alexander Rukin, who was nine years old at the time of his appearance and just happens to be the son of Stop HS2’s Joe Rukin, who acted as his Roll B Agent. Alexander, wearing his Scouts uniform festooned with badges, sat beside his father as they delivered a scripted double act, and I must say that he delivered his words with assurance, sometimes performing better than his father in that respect (see footnote 3).

The moment that I still treasure is Master Rukin telling the Committee that “the HS2 people are really, really bad at maths” and offering to help them as he “got 93% in [his] last maths test, was top of the class and three-quarters of [his] class is the year above” (see footnote 4). To everybody’s credit, Alexander was treated no differently to any other petitioner by the adults present in the room, although unfortunately his offer to assist HS2 Ltd was politely declined.

We learnt that day that one of the important functions that a Roll B Agent can serve is to nudge you frequently to remind you not to cover your mouth with your hands when giving evidence.

Another Alexander who appeared before the Commons Select Committee was Alexander Jones, just a couple of years older than Master Rukin. He explained to the Committee how much the countryside of the Chilterns AONB means to him and told them, “I don’t want my children to ask me how this destruction of amazing countryside was allowed to happen”.

His thirteen-year old brother, Jacob, had an even blunter message for the Committee, which his father read out on his behalf (see footnote 5):

“Your generation is the one making all the decisions but my generation will be the one that has to deal with the consequences of your actions. Therefore, with the little democratic power that a minor has, I am asking you as the voice of the future to think about the long-term. Do we really want to put short-term economic gratification before the greater price of the long-term environmental destruction of Britain’s green spaces?”

I was also impressed with Isobel Robertson, age eleven, who told the Committee that she has “a strong passion for wildlife and animal protection”. She was concerned that HS2 would restrict the movement of wildlife which, she said would be “bad for the continuing of the species and breeding” (see footnote 6).

Two youngsters who had also taken the trouble to petition were Rachel and William Crane. They did not appear on the day but were represented by their mother, Emma Crane of the HS2 Action Alliance, who explained that her children had wanted to attend the session in person but that she had told them they had to go to school instead and that they “weren’t very happy about that”.

In their petitions, which Mrs Crane told the Committee the children had written themselves, Rachel, age seven, says that she “is worried that when she goes into the woods to play she will be able to hear a noisy train” and her brother, age eleven, states that he is “very concerned about the destruction of many of the ancient woodlands” (see footnote 7).

Another youngster who petitioned but did not appear is the splendidly named Isabella Jasmin Margherita Coco Parola, who was thirteen-years old when she petitioned. In her petition, Isabella complains that the difficulties in getting around that are to be expected during the construction of HS2 “will seriously affect her social life and spending time with the people she cares about” and fears as “a reasonably talented sprinter” that it could affect her pursuit of athletics (see footnote 8).

It is a sad reflection upon the “generation that is the one making all the decisions”, as Jacob Jones characterised the Members of the Select Committee, that the young people that we heard from appear to care much more for their environment than those decision makers. It is, I feel, a shame that, due to the lower age limit that has now been imposed, their Lordships will not enjoy the benefit of these young persons’ wisdom.

Footnotes:

  1. Lord Walker’s remarks are reported in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the transcript of the morning session of the House of Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Thursday 19thMay 2016.
  2. See the sections Who may petition? on page 2 and I am under 18 and would like to petition, may I? on page 3 of the Petitioning Kit Guide The High Speed Rail (London–West Midlands) Bill: How to Petition against a Hybrid Bill in the House of Lords.
  3. Alexander’s appearance starts at 14:20hrs in the video and paragraph 27 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thJanuary 2015.
  4. See paragraphs 54 to 64 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thJanuary 2015.
  5. The submissions by the Jones family can be viewed from 11:51hrs in the video of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdNovember 2015. Alexander’s comments are recorded in paragraphs 342 to 344 of the transcript of the session. Jacob’s comments are recorded in paragraph 346.
  6. Isobel’s short appearance starts at 14:38hrs in the video and is recorded in paragraphs 87 to 89 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 15thSeptember 2015.
  7. Rachel’s comment is in paragraph 11 of her petition (1053) and William’s is in paragraph 11 of his (1047).
  8. Isabel’s comment is in paragraph 9 of her petition (1592).

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

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: