Didn’t they do well, part 4

(… continued from Didn’t they do well, part 3, posted on 8 Feb 2017).

In part 3 I explained that the powers of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee to grant requests made by petitioners had been severely curtailed “based upon principles of fairness”, in that introducing an additional provision into the House of Lords would deny those wishing to petition against it the “opportunity of presenting petitions against the bill in both Houses of Parliament”. Whilst I support this standpoint, even if it leads to the unfortunate conclusion of rendering the Lords Select Committee somewhat impotent, there is another equally important aspect of the fair treatment of petitioners that appears to have been overlooked by our legislators, which is that all petitioners should have equal expectation of achieving a change to a hybrid bill in select committee irrespective of when their petition is heard.

In Standing at the end of the queue (posted 6 Nov 2015) I presented pretty conclusive evidence that petitioners who came before the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee after about October 2015 found that the bar that they had to clear to achieve an additional provision had been raised significantly, and that at least two barristers representing petitioners had complained about this. The Select Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, was quite open about the reason for making life tougher for petitioners: changes would mean “additional provisions and additional petitioning and you could add years to the Bill” (see footnote 1).

So it would appear that treating petitioners fairly is important in so far as it does not hinder the process of the HS2 hybrid Bill through Parliament, but can be conveniently ignored where fair treatment carries the risk of delaying that progress.

But, even worse, both the Government and the parliamentary committees appear to be happy to deprive those affected by HS2 design changes of the ability to petition Parliament altogether, when it suits. So we learnt late on in the life of the Commons Select Committee that a change to HS2 to allow the relocation of some existing sidings at Calvert Green, which would have necessitated an additional provision and involved a delay in Royal Assent of at least nine months, was to be accommodated instead by an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 (see footnote 2).The Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, was quite open that the reason for opting for this course, was to avoid “delaying the timely delivery of the Bill” (see footnote 3).

Whilst the promotion of an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 does allow affected parties to object, this is a distinct and separate procedure from the parliamentary select committee and is under the control of the Secretary of State and may not, necessarily, offer equivalent recourse (see footnote 4).

Clearly, if the current select committee procedure is to be changed for future hybrid bills, and it surely needs to be, then fairness and equal treatment for all petitioners needs to be at the heart of the revised procedure, whatever it is.

That just about completes what I want to say about the Lords Select Committee, except that I need to update you on one issue. I reported in Cutting out the old wood, part 1 (posted 10 Dec 2016) that HS2 Ltd had agreed with a recommendation made by Natural England (NE) that losses of ancient woodland arising from HS2 should not be included in the general no net loss (NNL) calculation, but should be recognised separately. In Cutting out the old wood, part 7 (posted 3 Jan 2017) I reported that the Lords Select Committee had failed to endorse the NE recommendation. Although I made no comment to the effect at the time, I was rather concerned that the Government would take advantage of the Select Committee’s position to renege on HS2 Ltd’s agreement to take ancient woodland out of the NNL calculation.

Happily, my concerns were unfounded, as the Government has now confirmed its intention to follow the NE recommendation (see footnote 5).

And finally, although it has nothing to do with the Lords Select Committee, I can’t resist bringing to your attention a comment made by Lord Adonis during the HS2 Phase 1 Grand Committee proceedings. In speaking against an amendment which requires the Government to publish, within twelve months of Royal Assent, a “comprehensive and detailed working timetable” for HS2 and the routes on the classic network that will be affected by it, the noble Lord said that to do so “will greatly build up the expectations of those who will benefit and lead to big and controversial campaigns by those who will not” (see footnote 6). This appears to be, at last, an acceptance from one of the chief proponents of HS2, that there will be losers as well as winners from HS2, and also provides an insight into the reason why the Government has not been prepared to come clean on this.

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 518 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Commons HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 13thOctober 2015.
  2. This course was confirmed in the final report of the Lords Select Committee. See Appendix 6 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.
  3. See paragraph 605 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Commons HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 25thNovember 2015.
  4. The ability to object is explained in the pamphlet Transport and Works Act orders: A brief guide, Department for Transport, July 2013.
  5. See paragraph 85 in 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 Adonis in Column 132 of House of Lords Hansard, Grand Committee, Volume 777 12thJanuary 2017.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Commons 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.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John on February 13, 2017 at 8:35 am

    If government is not prepared to clarify which services will cease on existing lines why can’t railway experts against hs2 do so from the information currently in the public domain?

    Reply

  2. Posted by John on February 14, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Thanks very much Peter and I must admit it’s even worse than I feared which increases the frustration that the impacts are not more widely known.
    Coupled with Graylings 300,000 passenger numbers statement there is a big story to tell but national media doesn’t seem interested

    Reply

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