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High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2020

Motion to Instruct

Moved by

That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to whom the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill has been committed that the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 110 that parties are entitled to be heard are satisfied by virtual proceedings; and that the Committee may decline to hear the petition of any petitioner who declines to be heard by virtual proceedings.

My Lords, we now come to the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton. As there is no speakers’ list, only those in the Chamber can participate, and those wishing to do so should give notice of their intention in advance.

My Lords, over the last few months, people and organisations across the country have become accustomed to new ways of working. This has included the way in which business is conducted in your Lordships’ House—in the Chamber and in committees. Work has been done to modify Standing Orders, adapt courtesies and introduce technology, and I dare say that many noble Lords, including me, have learned new skills along the way.

The Bill for phase 2a of HS2 is a hybrid Bill and is governed by the Standing Orders for private business. It deals with, among other issues, the property and business interests of petitioners. It is not explicitly covered by the resolutions and guidance that have allowed the work of the House to continue, with Members taking part remotely. This Motion aims to rectify that.

Noble Lords will recall that the HS2 Phase 2a Bill completed its Second Reading on 9 September last year and that, following a revival Motion earlier this year, the Bill moved to Select Committee stage in your Lordships’ House to consider the petitions. This Select Committee had only just started its sittings in March when the health situation led the House to adapt its working practices, and the Select Committee suspended its sittings. This Motion would allow the committee to start sitting again from 20 July, with Members, petitioners and those appearing on behalf of the promoter able to take part remotely. This would be similar to the way in which other committees have already started working.

This particular committee is quasi-judicial in nature. Criminal and civil courts have also been using remote proceedings during the Covid-19 pandemic, as has the Planning Inspectorate. The petitioners scheduled to appear this month have all agreed to appear virtually. Guidance and frequently asked questions have been revised and distributed, setting out how such meetings will be conducted to ensure that petitioners are able to present their evidence easily and get a fair hearing. I can assure noble Lords that the committee will ensure that any technical issues that may be encountered will not be allowed to prevent petitioners from making their case in full.

I have spoken to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the chairman of the Select Committee, and he is seized of the importance that all petitioners must have the opportunity of a fair hearing. Furthermore, as government guidance and House practices allow, the committee will consider all options for the most suitable way of carrying out hearings in the future. While the Motion sets out that

“the Committee may decline to hear the petition of any petitioner who refuses to be heard by virtual proceedings”,

the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is clear that this would be only as a last resort, and in circumstances when all other reasonable alternatives and support had been considered and offered.

I understand that it is the intention of the committee to have completed all the hearings in September. This Motion enables virtual hearings if physical and hybrid hearings are not practicable in that timeframe. I am very grateful to the Legislation Office for progressing this work. I beg to move.

My Lords, I strongly support this Motion. It is absolutely right that the Bill should proceed and that we should use the technology available to the House and the procedures which the House is adopting at large in doing so. We cannot “build, build, build” unless, with all deliberate speed, we move on the largest infrastructure project in the country, and it is absolutely right that this should proceed.

I wish to ask the noble Baroness about the review being conducted on phase 2b. Before the virus, and all the problems it caused, the Minister gave an undertaking to the House that this review would be completed by the end of the year. If we are going to “build, build, build”, it is essential that phase 2a is followed swiftly by phase 2b. The Government have put that into commission with a review; could she assure the House that the review is not being delayed by the pandemic, and that it will be completed by the end of the year, so that we can proceed with the full extension of HS2 to Manchester and Leeds in a timely fashion?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for his support of this Motion. It is essential that we make progress on the Bill, as the noble Lord says, so that we can “build, build, build” for the future. He asked about the phase 2b review and, while I do not have an update on the timelines for him, I can reassure him that the HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson, has been incredibly busy on HS2 throughout the recent months, even during these very challenging times with the response to the Covid pandemic. If I am able to find out any further information from him when I return to the department, perhaps I might write.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.