Politicians began talking publicly about a ‘Paving Bill’ for HS2 at the weekend.
Not surprisingly, pro-HS2 publication Railnews is describing this in highly favourable terms with the headline “surprise boost for HS2 to be unveiled”.
However this is more likely to be a sign of Department for Transport desperation to ensure HS2 goes ahead by spending as much taxpayers’ money as they can get away with: Paving Bills are used to spend money that would not normally be allowed before Royal Assent.
With no suggestion until now that a Paving Bill might be used for HS2, in reality this is just as likely to be an attempt to paper over cracks in the process than as part of a plan to ‘crack on’.
Patrick McLoughlin described a possible Paving Bill for HS2 as
“an opportunity for all three main political parties to reaffirm their support for high speed rail and maintain the ambitious programme we have set for HS2.”
However, if support for HS2 is as strong as is often claimed, affirmations like this would just be a diversion of Parliamentary time away from the lengthy process needed by the passage of two HS2 Hybrid Bills.
A2.5.7 If, exceptionally, the preparatory work on a particular policy development is so urgent that it cannot wait until royal assent, the department responsible should consider taking a short paving bill.
A2.5.8 Depending on the context, a paving bill can provide powers to allow expenditure which would be nugatory if the subsequent detailed legislation for the new service did not proceed, eg employing consultants to design a significant IT or regulatory system. Such bills are usually short, though they may be contentious (and time consuming) as they can give rise to discussion of the underlying principles. Departments’ parliamentary clerks can help with guidance on the preparation of bills and the legislative process.