During yesterday’s debate in the House of Lords, it was clear that many of the peers there are well aware of the difficulties people had dealing with HS2 Ltd, Further, they are aware the Lords Select Committee would have to revisit many of the issues previously covered by the Commons HS2 Committee.
With that in mind, we urge anyone thinking about submitting a petition to do so. The deadline is Monday 18th April.
A number of peers made the point that it was vital that the Lords Select Committee did not simply accept the proposals from HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport so that individuals and groups affected by HS2 could get a satisfactory outcome. The reasoning behind this was summed up in Lord Stevenson of Balmacara’s comment:
“In a representative democracy, there are limited opportunities for individual citizens to be engaged in the parliamentary process. The hybrid Bill processes in Parliament provide an important and valuable opportunity for ordinary citizens to protect their private interests when these are being engaged by powerful private and public organisations. However inconvenient for the Government, Parliament must never abuse the trust placed in us by so many people.“
There were criticisms of the House of Commons Select Committee, with Lord Stevenson going on to say:
“I have to say that the mood at present in the Chilterns from those who tried to engage with the Commons Select Committee is very negative about the experience and there is considerable disenchantment from many people who felt frustrated and patronised. This is not good for democracy, and it is important that the Lords Select Committee can recover some of the ground lost, in the public interest.”
While the Euston area and the problems in London were brought up by many peers, issues in the Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire and elsewhere, along with ancient woodland were also raised.
A number of peers spoke of experience of petitioning the House of Commons Hybrid Bill Committee, and made very similar points. Baroness Young of Old Scone, who spoke in detail about ancient woodland, said:
“It will be very bad for democracy if many people submit petitions and they are not adequately considered by the Select Committee. It is important that right at the beginning of the Select Committee’s work it is absolutely clear what its powers are so that people can know what expectations to have.”
Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market spoke at length of the experiences of the Magic Circle near Euston, and other members of the Stephenson Way Group which includes the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, the Royal Asiatic Society and the Methodist Church.
Lord Berkeley was critical that the Commons group appeared “to have more or less given up, lost interest and taken everything that the promoters said or asserted without question”.
“I want to concentrate on the process of using the Select Committee to give permissions. I was involved in the committees for the Channel Tunnel, HS1 and Crossrail, and I briefly chaired a Private Bill Committee on a Norfolk Broads Bill. One thing I learned is that committees must act in a judicial capacity when hearing petitions and listening to promoters’ responses. They must listen, and they do, certainly in your Lordships’ House. Having heard the petitions, the committee then forms a view on the issues. It may request further studies from the promoter and publishes reports.
“I know that is what our House of Lords committee will do, but sadly my experience hearing the petitions and discussions from many residents’ groups in the Camden area to the Commons committee was that it fell far short of the independence and fairness which I believe is so important for a promoter to get agreement to enhance the credibility of a scheme and its own work. I am not being critical of the decisions that the committee took, but I am critical of the way it appeared —at least when it neared the end of its work and was considering petitions towards the London end—to have more or less given up, lost interest and taken everything that the promoters said or asserted without question.”
The major issues around Camden and the Euston area were brought up with a number of peers suggesting that the petting start at the London end. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, speaking for the government, suggested that they should be heard following the Summer Recess.
There was some discussion as to whether the Select Committee could appoint their own technical advisors. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that he would write to members about that, and Lord Berkeley’s motion that the Committee could appoint advisors was tabled.
It’s not clear at the moment how that will play out, but if the government gets its way, the committee will not be able to appoint independent experts for advice and it will be up to petitioners provide evidence from “expert witnesses on the subject where they feel it necessary”.
There was some discussion of whether Additional Provisions could be deposited: Lord Stevenson pointed out that with both Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the Lords had considered Additional Provisions.
NB The deadline for submitting petitions is Monday 18th April at 5pm.