Lords temporal

In my blog That’s it then, we’re off, part 1 (posted 17 Mar 2016) I complained that the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee had “quit its task before it has adequately discharged its duties” (see footnote 1). It appeared that the Members of the Committee really couldn’t wait to escape the tedium, pack up their things and leave Committee Room 5 for the last time. At least the Honourable Members could content themselves that a second select committee would shortly be active in the House of Peers to recapitulate and, hopefully, gather the loose ends.

Unfortunately, the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee appeared, when the time came for it to dissolve, to be, if anything, even more derelict. The Committee’s motto was clearly après nous, le deluge, because its Members didn’t seem to care about the loose ends they were leaving, or who would perform the role of Promoter’s superego in the vacuum that their disappearance would create.

Now that the Phase 1 hybrid Bill has achieved Royal Assent, the supervisory role that Parliament exercised over the conduct of the project, however imperfectly, has been lost, and it now appears that there is no one to hold HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport to account. You need look no further than my previous posting, Good news for voles, part 3 (posted 9 Apr 2017) for an example of where it seems unlikely that HS2 Ltd will do the right thing without having somebody to act as mentor or, if necessary, intercessor.

This matter was addressed extremely eloquently in a peroration by D Richard Wolfe when he appeared before the House of Lords Select Committee last November. Mr Wolfe told the noble Lords that (see footnote 2):

“It appears that one of the weaknesses of the Hybrid Bill process is the temporal character of the Select Committees because they exist only for a limited period, the simple effluxion of time can function to frustrate changes that are agreed when the facts are put before the Select Committee.”

He sees this transience as something that “undermines the democratic participation that is the essence of the Hybrid Bill process”. Whilst I would heartily agree with Mr Wolfe in this, I would also point to other flaws in the hybrid bill procedures that serve to undermine democracy, in its original sense of direct citizen participation in decision-making; flaws that I have sought to identify in various postings.

I certainly agree with his expectation that the “unique Parliamentary process” that a hybrid Bill must complete in order to become law should serve to demonstrate that “our institutions can in fact respond to legitimate views, democratically expressed” and, by so doing, “should function as an antidote” to what Mr Wolfe describes as “the current upsurge in demagoguery”.

Mr Wolfe referred the Committee to a newspaper article that had been published the previous week, in which the professor of history at Columbia University New York City, Mark Mazower, considers what drove the rise of fascism in the 20th century and identifies parallels that are at work today (see footnote 3).

Sadly, what we witnessed from both Houses of Parliament with HS2 is likely to have contributed to one of those drivers, what is described by Professor Mazower in his article as “the widespread loss of confidence of people in their legislators as they increasingly saw the Parliament as facades that rubber stamped what unaccountable lobbies and elites demanded”.

Mr Wolfe was speaking one week after the voters of the United States elected their 45th president and less than five months after the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union had been held; two events that many would see as evidence of the “loss of confidence of people in their legislators” to which Professor Mazower refers. According to Professor Mazower, there is a mechanism that can surface in the psyche of populations that historians call “popular irrationality”: certainly, the EU referendum result could be viewed as economically irrational and the US result as irrational, period.

I’m not suggesting, and neither I think was Mr Wolfe, that the Blackshirts are going to be marching down Wendover High Street anytime soon, but I do think that many of the residents of the Chilterns and elsewhere, who took the trouble to take their concerns about HS2 to the Westminster committees, will be feeling that they have been trampled underfoot by Professor Mazower’s “unaccountable lobbies and elites”. I know from the many conversations that I have had that there is a widespread feeling amongst those citizens that they have been badly let down by the Government, Parliament and the political party that many of them have unquestioningly supported all of their lives.

Footnotes:

  1. See also That’s it then, we’re off, part 2 (posted 21 Mar 2016) and That’s it then, we’re off, part 3 (posted 25 Mar 2016) for my justification of this condemnation.
  2. All of Mr Wolfe’s words that I quote in this blog may be found in paragraph 411 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Tuesday 15thNovember 2016.
  3. See the article Mazower M, Ideas that fed the beast of fascism flourish today, Financial Times, 6thNovember 2016.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have 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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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by John on April 17, 2017 at 11:03 am

    They all seem to have forgotten that they are there to work and that they are paid by the taxpayer or as they refer to us by ‘ordinary working people ‘
    Just who is going to police that hs2 abide by assurances and undertakings

    Reply

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