Didn’t they do well, part 2

(… continued from Didn’t they do well, part 1, posted on 31 Jan 2017).

During the debates in the Lords HS2 Phase 1 Grand Committee, two items of putative procedural lacunae were identified. Lord Berkeley queried why the amendments to the hybrid Bill that had been proposed by the Lords Select Committee (see footnote 1) had been incorporated into a new issue of the Bill that had been published “without debate”. He asked the Minister “is it not a bit unusual for a Select Committee’s amendments to be incorporated in a Bill without debate?” (see footnote 2). The Minister replied (see footnote 3):

“My understanding is that it is entirely normal procedure for a Select Committee to amend a hybrid Bill; indeed, it is a key part of its function and when setting up it we granted it that particular power.”

Notwithstanding which of the two noble Lords is correct, I think that we can all rejoice that the amendments have been made, since a key element of the changes is the deletion from Clause 48 of the extremely controversial powers for the Secretary of State to acquire additional land by compulsory purchase where HS2 gives rise to “the opportunity for regeneration or development” (see footnote 4). Likewise, I am sure that we will all welcome the Government’s confirmation that it will not seek to reintroduce the powers into the hybrid Bill (see footnote 5).

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara asked: “Why have we not had an opportunity to discuss the [Lords Select Committee’s] report?”. He amplified (see footnote 6):

“… the report will never be discussed. That seems an extraordinary lacuna in the process of looking at the Bill. It needs to be picked up because there are things in the report which ought to be brought out and discussed. There are things which perhaps we could agree to disagree about but at least they could be aired and ventilated in a discussion. That is a terrible mistake.”

It does seem extraordinary, doesn’t it?

One question that was not asked, however, is that, notwithstanding that we have a bicameral legislature, why it is considered necessary to have two Select Committees to hear petitions against a hybrid Bill. Surely, it would be possible to have a single body to hear petitions.

This would, I feel, work to the convenience of all, and should reduce costs, as I’m sure that one committee could complete the task in fewer sitting days than two would take in total. Petitioners would only need to petition, and be heard, once, saving them hassle, time and expense. Best of all, perhaps, the first committee would be deprived of the safety net of having a second committee to pick up any outstanding matters, and would have to do the job properly and completely rather than leaving numerous loose ends as the Commons Select Committee did (see footnote 7).

It is true that the Lords Select Committee served a very useful function in giving a nudge to a number of matters involving those affected by HS2 that the Commons Select Committee had suggested the Promoter should resolve, but which remained unsettled: in this respect the Lords Select Committee was effectively acting as an arbitrator. A glance through the final report published by the Lords Select Committee will bring to light examples where this happened (see footnote 8).

Just why the Promoter was so unresponsive to the Commons Select Committee’s suggestions for resolving issues is a mystery, but the valuable service performed by the Lords Select Committee to petitioners who found themselves making little progress in negotiations should not have been necessary. A better way would have been for the Commons Select Committee to have monitored the progress that petitioners were making in resolving issues subsequent to having had their petitions heard and Committee recommendations having been made, and for the Committee to have been prepared to step in where negotiations were not progressing satisfactorily. Such an approach may well have resulted in satisfactory outcomes being achieved sooner for a number of petitioners.

It is also true to say that the Lords Select Committee process resulted in the size of the Register of Undertakings and Assurances swelling considerably. Again, why the Promoter would appear to have been more obliging to second time around petitioners is a mystery. I’m tempted to suggest, on the assumption that the Promoter’s bonhomie is increasing with passing time, there should be further select committees to persuade the Promoter to grant even more assurances, but am not offering this as a serious proposition. Rather, I feel that a single petition-hearing body that took a more active and detailed role in the thrashing out of solutions between Promoter and petitioner is what is required.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. These amendments are listed in Appendix 4 to the publication Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, House of Lords Select committee on the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, 15thDecember 2016.
  2. See under Lord Berkeley in Column 51 of House of Lords Hansard, Grand Committee, Volume 777 10thJanuary 2017.
  3. See under Lord Ahmad in Column 59 of House of Lords Hansard, Grand Committee, Volume 777 10thJanuary 2017.
  4. These powers are explained and discussed in paragraphs 389 to 394 of Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.
  5. This confirmation is provided in paragraph 115 of the publication House of Lords Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill Promoter’s Response to the Select Committee’s Special Report of Session 2016‑17, Cm 9396, Department for Transport January 2017.
  6. See under Lord Stevenson in Column 59 of House of Lords Hansard, Grand Committee, Volume 777 10thJanuary 2017.
  7. I complained about this in my blog That’s it then, we’re off, part 2 (posted 21 Mar 2016).
  8. For example, see Chapter 3 of Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.
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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by arthurdailytrips on February 5, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    Hiya. Can anyone tell me what matrix HS2 are using for the destruction and replacement of wetland?
    In the Colne Valley, London, HS2 are using 1 to 4 ha of ancient woodlands destroyed replaced with newly planted trees. But I can’t find anywhere how HS2 are mitigating for the destruction of irreplaceable wet woodland, riparian and lake shore zones?
    In the Colne Valley thousands of trees are in the construction zone. This will impact air quality. Can anyone tell me who monitors and oversees this loss? This cannot be HS2 as well surely. Hillingdon air quality is already breaching EU maximum limits for nitrogen dioxide. Air quality and impact on human health and health services must be of Overriding Public Interest. This impacts the economy.

    Reply

    • The way that HS2 Ltd has determined what areas of new habitat creation will be provided has not been made public, but clearly they have been constrained in most cases by the Bill limits. What has been published, in the document “HS2 London–West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results” (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/490928/No_net_loss_in_biodiversity_calculation_-_methodology_and_results_v2.pdf), is the calculation methodology that has been employed to determine whether the biodiversity value of new habitat is the same as the habitat that will be lost. It is important to appreciate, however, that this is looking overall and there is no guarantee that replacement habitat will be of the same type as the lost habitat. So your wet and waterside woodland habitats are not necessarily being replaced at all; they could be offset by, say, newly created wetland or mixed woodland, provided that the biodiversity value, measured in biodiversity units, of that new habitat is equal to, or more than, the biodiversity units calculated for your wet woodland that will be lost.
      I would hope, however, that HS2 Ltd has tried to replace like with like where possible, but wouldn’t count on it.
      Notwithstanding, the explanation in “Appendix A – Technical Note – Methodology for demonstrating no net loss in biodiversity” to the HS2 Ltd document should allow you to find out, at least, how the biodiversity units of your woodland can be calculated.
      Regarding your question about monitoring air quality, a similar question was raised at a recent meeting that I attended that was organised by my local district council, but with respect to monitoring construction noise. The district council agreed to seek clarification from HS2 Ltd, but felt that it would be down to the nominated undertaker to monitor the impacts of construction, in the first instance. Any complaints would have to be directed by residents to the Independent HS2 Construction Commissioner. Regarding noise, it would appear that the local environmental health officer’s traditional role of checking noise levels in response to complaints would probably not apply to HS2 construction. The position regarding air quality is, I would guess, a little more complicated, as I would expect the routine monitoring that local authorities currently undertaken will continue, but I suspect that those authorities will not see it as their function to check specially on the impact of HS2 on air quality. It all comes down, of course, to legal powers under the hybrid Bill/Act and the costs of doing such monitoring when local authority budgets are under severe strain.

      Reply

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