The HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee has ruled that they will hear the petitions against the bill from Stop HS2 and HS2 Action Alliance, after solicitors acting for the Government had argued that the groups did not have the right to be heard, saying they did not represent anyone affected by HS2.
Following the allegation that Stop HS2 did not represent anyone affected by HS2, the organisation asked members and supporters to send in letters of support, saying that they did think that Stop HS2 represents them. In just a couple of days, 237 such letters from individuals, action groups, residents associations, councils and other organisations affected by HS2 were submitted as evidence to the committee, with Stop HS2 continuing to receive many more letters of support after the evidence deadline had passed. In addition, many letters were sent direct to the committee by Members of Parliament and national organisations.
Whilst HS2 Ltd were represented by Queens Counsel Tim Mould at the hearing on 9th July to decide ‘locus standi’, Stop HS2 were represented by campaign manager Joe Rukin, along with four ordinary members of the public: Marjorie Fox, Jane Penson, David Vick and Ian Barnes, who appeared as witnesses, giving their personal views about the challenge and about the fact that they considered Stop HS2 to represent them. The witnesses also stated that they considered the Stop HS2 petition to be an extension to their own petition, as they had not covered some issues, knowing that Stop HS2 would do.
At the hearing, Mr Rukin, who get paid less in two years than another group paid for a QC for just the morning, stated that he was certain that the Government had sought to exclude Stop HS2 from the petitioning process for political reasons, and that the decision to challenge had been made before Stop HS2 had even submitted a petition, with the list of objections to the petition clearly having been written by someone who had not even bothered to read the Stop HS2 submission.
A week later on 16th July, the committee decided that they would allow Stop HS2 and HS2AA to be heard, as ensuring the process is seen to be fair is in the public interest. The statement from Rober Syms MP, chair of the committee is as follows:
“On balance, we believe that a modern view of locus standi should allow some latitude to petitioners on how they chose the present their case. This is a somewhat complex process and there is a public interest in it seeming to be rigorously fair to all. It seems to us therefore that both HS2AA and Stop HS2 have sufficiently demonstrated that they are representative of the people specially and directly affected by the Bill to have locus standi in relation to the effect on such people and fall within our standing order discretion. Notably, their petitions are not just protests against the principle of the bill. However they have said that their petitions are about route-wide effects, therefore we find that they will have locus on these matters only. It will be on route wide matters that we look forward to hearing from them.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“We were flabbergasted when we found out that HS2 Ltd were trying to claim that Stop HS2 does not represent people affected by HS2. We are certain that the challenge to our right to be heard by the committee was simply HS2 Ltd trying it on, gambling that the committee would be conned by legal arguments in an attempt to shut us up, but that gamble has failed.”
“It seems that when HS2 Ltd claimed that Stop HS2 does not represent people, they did not think that the people who we do represent might have something to say about that. We are certain that the fantastic response from those affected by HS2, and all the letters from people saying very clearly that we do represent them, were crucial when the committee made their decision to allow us to be heard, and we thank everyone who responded to the call.”
“Make no mistake, the attempt to silence us was political gamesmanship without credibility, and we are ecstatic that the committee will now hear the arguments which thousands affected by HS2 want us to make on their behalf.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said
“We are absolutely delighted that the Committee have agreed that they should hear from Stop HS2 during the petitioning stage. The government have tried to control what the committee hear, but this decision shows that they want to listen to a wide range of views.”
“We would like to thank all our supporters, who wrote, emailed and appeared in front of the committee to argue our case. We couldn’t have done it without them.”