Didn’t they do well, part 3

(… continued from Didn’t they do well, part 2, posted on 4 Feb 2017).

Many petitioners, me included, formed the opinion, from the information that we were fed around the time that the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill was deposited in the House of Commons, that the Lords Select Committee would provide a second bite of the cherry for those who had been unable to secure agreement to changes to the design of HS2 by petitioning the Commons Select Committee. As I am sure my readers will be aware, a ruling read out by the Chairman of the Lords Select Committee, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, at the start of the day’s proceedings on Thursday 7th July 2017 was that, subject to receiving further instructions from the House of Lords, the Committee did not have the power to recommend changes to the design of HS2 Phase 1 that would require an additional provision (see footnote 1). The ruling also expressed the view that for the House of Lords to issue such an instruction to the Select Committee would be “contrary to well-settled practice” (see footnote 2).

The ruling further indicated that the Lords Select Committee was not minded to hear submissions from petitioners who were requesting changes that would require an additional provision, on the basis that “it would be a waste of time and resources for [the Committee] to hear evidence and submissions that would be relevant only in a fanciful contingency” (see footnote 3).

A few days later Lord Walker thought it necessary to remind petitioners that they should be “extremely mindful of [the Select Committee’s] limited powers”, and that (see footnote 4):

“They will be squandering their time if they choose to present proposals which would require an additional provision, just as they will if they present proposals which go against the principle of the Bill. Instead, they would be wise to focus on issues and solutions over which the Committee does have power to intervene.”

This rather begged the question just what the “issues and solutions over which the Committee does have power to intervene” were – a question which I asked at the time (see footnote 5). Experience showed that the Lords Select Committee was prepared to intervene in matters such as compensation (see footnote 6), traffic and mitigation and other small design changes within the limits imposed by the hybrid Bill. It further emerged that the Lords Select Committee appeared reluctant to countermand a clear decision handed down by the Commons Select Committee, and this further reduced the opportunities for that second bite of the cherry. Notwithstanding these limitations, the Lords Select Committee was able to help towards the resolution of a number of cases (see footnote 7).

The judgement that Lord Walker delivered in July 2016 was argued on the basis of the interpretation of House of Lords Standing Orders and precedents set by earlier bills, but the established practice, we are told, is “based upon principles of fairness”. A hybrid Bill “resembles a private bill in that it adversely affects private interests” and “almost every Additional Provision which solves or mitigates difficulties for one group of people raises new difficulties for another group”. Because of this, “petitions against Additional Provisions are permitted” “and fairness requires that those affected should have the opportunity of presenting petitions against the bill in both Houses of Parliament”. “Those adversely affected by an Additional Provision ordered in the House of Lords, as Second House, would be denied that opportunity in the House of Commons, as First House, unless the bill were to be returned to a Select Committee of the Commons” (see footnote 8).

This logic is, I feel, perfectly sound, but it does appear to lead to the somewhat incongruous situation where Lords Select Committee, which we learnt in Really not that grand, part 1 (posted 23 Jan 2017) is intended to look “specifically and primarily at private interests raised by petitioners”, and which, as I reported in part 2 of this current series, was granted the power to amend the hybrid Bill, was not empowered to make substantive changes to the parts of that Bill that affect private interests, since that would have required an additional provision. That left the Committee putting forward amendments to the hybrid Bill that were more public bill related; a function that we would normally have expected to be the remit of the Grand Committee.

Of course, there would be no need to venture into this muddy water at all if the current practice of holding two select committees were to be dropped in favour of having a single petition-hearing body, as I suggested in part 2 of this current blog series.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. This ruling is reproduced in full as Appendix 3 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 paragraph 7 of Appendix 3 to Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.
  3. See paragraph 17 of Appendix 3 to Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. The “fanciful contingency” is, of course, that the House of Lords would issue an instruction to the Select Committee allowing it to require changes to the hybrid Bill in the form of an additional provision.
  4. See paragraph 2 of the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016.
  5. See my blog So what can you do for me, My Lord? (posted 23 Jul 2016).
  6. Although, since the compensation arrangements do not fall within the scope of the hybrid Bill, it is surely debateable whether the Select Committee should have concerned itself with issues arising from those arrangements.
  7. For examples, see Chapter 3 of Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.
  8. The source of the quotations is paragraphs 24 and 25 of Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Lords HS2 Select Committee from which the quote reproduced in this blog has been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is 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.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Having a single petition-hearing body, as you suggest, would no doubt be an improvement. Is it possible to go further and imagine a means of escape from the adversarial petitioning system altogether? Your blog is so comprehensive I guess you may have covered this somewhere else…apologies for not quite keeping up.

    Reply

    • Any statutory body that is set up to take planning decisions for a project is bound to have to evaluate contending evidence from those proposing the development and those affected by it; to that extent I don’t think that it is possible to avoid entirely the essential elements of what you have called the “adversarial petitioning system”. However, I have suggested in the past, in for example “That’s it then, we’re off, part 7”, which was posted 10 Apr 2016 at https://hs2andtheenvironment.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/thats-it-then-were-off-part-7, that the way that the Planning Inspectorate handles such matters is far preferable to the Select Committee approach.
      I have had recent experience of appearing in front of a Government Planning Inspector, making representations against aspects of our draft Local Plan, and I found the experience easier and far more reassuring than my two trips to the Houses of Parliament had been. It was still necessary to submit my objections in writing, but there were no constraints on how I was able to set this out. The session in front of the Inspector was run as a discussion, with any party wishing to speak being allowed to at any point in the proceedings. Providing submissions were polite there appeared to be no constraints on what could be said. I also felt, unlike my experience with the Commons Select Committee in particular, that I had the Inspector’s full attention at all times, and no time pressures were evident.
      By the way, apologies are not necessary for “not quite keeping up”; I have problems keeping up with things myself. If I hadn’t been so green behind the gills when I started this, I would have set things up with a proper indexing system – it’s too late now, I fear.

      Reply

      • Thanks very much for your reply. I am a PhD student exploring HS2 Ltd’s public engagement strategies and the consequent impacts on local landscapes in Cheshire. Your blog is very interesting and I plan to cite you in my thesis, so thanks very much for the meticulous job you do. I have a journal paper coming out later this year, on the above topic – though its too late to add your thoughts to it. I also have an HS2 related blog, but its nothing like yours! http://www.jophillips.net

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