Business of the House – 17 Oct 2013 : Column 909
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): As the Deputy Leader of the House knows, the Government are planning to introduce a hybrid Bill into the House before the end of the year on the vexed subject of High Speed 2. It will be accompanied by an environmental statement that contains more than 50,000 pages of information. On the day on which it is laid, the Government’s consultation period will commence. It is rumoured that it will be only eight weeks long and will take place over the Christmas period. Will he grant a debate on the efficiency and effectiveness of the consultation periods that are being allowed by the Government, to ensure in particular that my constituents and other people who will be affected along the line have a decent time to reply to what will be one of the largest environmental statements in history?
Tom Brake: Again, I am not in a position to guarantee such a debate. However, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill will be debated in this place on Thursday 31 October and she may have an opportunity to raise those issues during that debate. She will also be aware that there have been many legal challenges to what the Government are doing on this issue, but that overwhelmingly the Government have been successful in overturning them.
Points of Order – 21 Oct 2013 : Column 47
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have heard me raise on the Floor of the House the fact that the Government are going to launch a hybrid Bill on High Speed 2 before the end of the year. It is going to contain an environmental statement that is rumoured to have some 50,000 pages. It is such a large document that the Government have made special provision to provide this electronically. You will also have heard rumours, Mr Speaker, that the period of consultation for the general public on this 50,000-page document is one of only eight weeks over the Christmas period. I seek your advice on whether having such a period for consultation reflects well on this House and its engagement with the public, and on whether it gives my Back-Bench colleagues sufficient time to digest the document, to establish whether they have an interest and what that interest might be and to respond to the consultation. Could you help me with anything on that front?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order. I understand that at this stage these are, in her words, only rumours. Such a decision is a matter for the Government, and if people receive it ill, that should of course reflect on those who are responsible for it rather than on the House as a whole. I can only say to the right hon. Lady that—as I think is evidenced by my approach to proceedings in the House—I am always in favour of a greater opportunity and a longer period for people to make their views known, rather than what might be considered to be an artificial and rather arbitrary truncation of people’s chances to contribute.
I hope very much that the right hon. Lady’s fears can be allayed. The Secretary of State is a very experienced and wily man. There is always a danger that if a consultation is too short for the amount of material on which to consult, or else takes place over the festive season—or another holiday period—a decision by the Government to run it in that way will be regarded as cynical and ill-judged. I know the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin) very well, and I know that he would not be regarded as either cynical or a maker of ill-judged decisions: perish the thought! We will leave it there for today.