Everyone seems to think we are in for quite a light legislative session after Easter. We will not know for sure until after the Queen’s Speech in June, but what are blogs for if not to speculate!
One big issue which will plainly pre-occupy quite a lot of MPs’ time is the labyrinthine ‘hybrid Bill’ process which is necessary to legislate for High Speed Rail. The eagle-eyed Mark D’Arcy has already spotted two substantial amendments down in the Commons. Both seek to decline the Bill a second reading because of objections to the route the Government is proposing, and the potential environmental impact. These are just the first of very many hurdles the Bill will have to navigate, the more formidable being a lengthy process of petitions from neighbours of the route, whose private interests – their land or property – are affected by the Bill.
The last Bill to go through this process was that paving the way for Crossrail to be built. It was introduced in the Commons on 18th May 2005, and didn’t finally receive Royal Assent until more than three years later, on 22nd July 2008. The line, of course, is still being built now, and won’t be complete until 2018, thirteen years after the legislation was published. So HS2 may be fast once it’s installed, but it’s going to be a very long wait before anyone can actually use it.
Those who don’t want to make the journey to high-speed rail any slower will look for other matters to occupy Parliament’s time in the coming year. If we really are to have a light year, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that I’d vote for the Government to put House of Lords Reform back on our agenda. It must be the only change which is slower to bring about than a high-speed railway.
Yet, compared to the HS2 Bill, the Lords Reform Bill might have speedy prospects: it received a strong majority of 338 at second reading in 2012, with big majorities in all three parties. Assuming that no timetable motion could be agreed (as before), the Government could just let the Commons slog it out taking amendment upon amendment late into the night.
A few weeks of that and recalcitrant MPs may well agree a sensible timetable after all. We could then achieve Crossrail, HS2 and a democratic Parliament all at about the same time!