The two extensions to the Environmental Statement consultation have not just given people more time to respond to it, they have also delayed the HS2 Hybrid Bill.
The Parliamentary FAQ page for the HS2 Hybrid Bill says
“At the conclusion of the consultation a summary of consultation responses will be prepared by an independent assessor to be appointed by independent Parliamentary officials (not by the Government). This summary will be provided to assist Members of both Houses in understanding the views expressed in the consultation. Under parliamentary Standing Orders, Second Reading of the Bill cannot take place until at least 14 calendar days after the summary has been submitted to Parliament. Given the intervention of the Easter recess, Second Reading will therefore not take place until late April 2014, at the earliest.”
The consultation was extended twice, once by the House of Commons Standing Orders Committee and again by the House of Lords Standing Orders Committee, following oral and written evidence from Stop HS2’s Joe Rukin and Marjorie Fox: the deadline is 27th February.
What is clear is that the Government had hoped to have had the second reading earlier. This can be seen in the evidence given by Alison Gorlov, the Parliamentary Agent for the Government, to the House of Commons Standing Orders Committee:
180. JOHN HEMMING: What would be the problem with extending the deadline?
181. ALISON GORLOV: Well, it would delay the passage of the Bill and could do so quite considerably. That would be highly prejudicial in all sorts of ways. It would be very inconvenient for the Government but it would be very prejudicial to third parties. Landowners, for example, who are no doubt suffering as a result of the uncertainties created by this scheme, would find that the agonies were prolonged for months.
182. JOHN HEMMING: So this is delaying the Second Reading?
183. ALISON GORLOV: It would delay the Second Reading, Sir, yes.
184. JOHN HEMMING: When is Second Reading scheduled for at the moment?
185. ALISON GORLOV: We don’t have a date yet, Sir.
186. CHAIR: I am very worried about that statement. First of all 17 days, and you made this quite bold statement saying that it would affect landowners and Second Reading. If we don’t have a date for Second Reading, we cannot be sure of that.
187. ALISON GORLOV: Well, I think we probably can, Sir.
188. CHAIR: If we’ve not got a date, how can we? It is totally reckless. We might not have it until next year. The House may decide to leave it for another 12 months. Then what will you say?
189. ALISON GORLOV: No, sorry, Sir, it isn’t quite like that. There isn’t a date fixed for Second Reading. There is a planned date to which the Government have to work and then they will put that date in the programme when it becomes clear that it can be adhered to.
190. CHAIR: Yes, but we haven’t got that date, so it could be relevant or it may not be relevant.
191. JOHN HEMMING: If you added a couple of weeks on to that deadline, what impact would it have?
192. ALISON GORLOV: Well, unfortunately it would hit a whole batch of recesses, Sir. The thing is, the Government have to respond to the environmental statement consultation. Then the Second Reading can take place on an informed basis. That is why, when planning this, the Government got to the week of 7 April. Any delay in that and you can see that one would start to hit the recesses, at which point Second Reading is delayed by several months, which we believe would not be to the benefit of anybody outside this House. Any of those affected would find that, as I say, the agony had been prolonged. As we go through, I think I can explain why people are not going to be prejudiced.