High Speed 2: Electronic Deposit of Documents

– in the House of Commons at 6:33 pm on 11th July 2017.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 6:33 pm, 11th July 2017

I beg to move,

That, in respect of any bill relating to High Speed 2 that is read the first time in Session 2017–19 and to which the standing orders relating to private business are found by the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills to apply, it shall be sufficient compliance with:

(a) any requirement under those standing orders for a document to be deposited or delivered at, or sent to, an office of a government department, body or person if it is deposited or delivered at, sent to or otherwise made accessible at that office in electronic form;

(b) any requirement under those standing orders for a document to be deposited with an officer if it is deposited with or delivered, sent or otherwise made accessible to that officer in electronic form;

(c) any requirement under those standing orders for a document to be made available for inspection at a prescribed office, or to permit a document to be inspected, if it is made available for inspection at that office, or is permitted to be inspected, in electronic form;

(d) the requirement under Standing Order 27(4) or 36(3) relating to private business to permit a person to make copies of a document or extracts from it, if there is provided to that person, on request and within a reasonable time, copies of so much of it as the person may reasonably require and such copies may, if the person so agrees, be provided in electronic form;

(e) the requirement under Standing Order 27(4) relating to private business for a memorial to be made on every document deposited under that Standing Order, if the memorial is made on a separate document;

(f) any requirement under Standing Order 4A(1), 27A(6) or 224A(8) relating to private business to make a document available for sale at prescribed offices, if it is made available for sale at an office in London.

That this Order shall not affect any requirement under those standing orders to deposit any document at, or deliver any document to, the Private Bill Office or the Vote Office.

That any reference in those standing orders to a document which is deposited, lodged, delivered or sent under those standing orders includes a reference to a document which is so deposited, delivered or sent in electronic form.

That any reference to a document in this order includes a reference to any bill, plan, section, book of reference, ordnance map, environmental or other statement or estimate.

The Gracious Speech gave notice of the Government’s intention to introduce a hybrid Bill to Parliament later this year to take forward the next phase of HS2. As a hybrid Bill it will be governed by the Standing Orders for private business. Parliament’s review of those Standing Orders, following the passage of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Act 2017, has not yet concluded and is the first significant review since 1948. It is therefore necessary to move this motion to update parliamentary procedure to reflect developments in technology since 1948.

I will briefly explain the changes, which replicate those authorised by the House in 2013 ahead of the introduction of the previous hybrid Bill. The House will be aware that, along with the HS2 hybrid Bill later this year, we will provide Parliament with an environmental statement setting out the likely significant environmental effects of the scheme and making proposals for alleviating those effects.

A considerable level of detail is involved in a project of this magnitude. We expect the statement to be up to 12,000 pages long. It is, of course, important that local communities can easily find out what the impact will be on their local area. However, current Standing Orders require us to deposit a paper copy of the document in every local authority area along the line of route. In this day and age that is inconvenient for the communities involved, especially for parish councils, many of which do not have sufficient space, so they ask us to deliver the document elsewhere—often to a library in a nearby town. That is why the motion allows for the electronic deposit of documentation for the HS2 hybrid Bill.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I seriously oppose the project, which runs straight through my constituency. Will the Minister be good enough to give an undertaking that written material of the kind he describes will be provided? I understand why it should be in electronic form.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It is a permissive power. It does not require documents to be deposited in electronic format only. If a deposit location wants all the documents in hard copy, HS2 Ltd will provide them in hard copy, but the motion allows for the electronic deposit of documentation for the HS2 hybrid Bill. Electronic documentation will, of course, make it easier for communities along the line of route to find the information most relevant to their area without having to work through an otherwise enormous document.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

What would happen if, because of the cruelty of this Government, the libraries are closed and there is no room for the hard copies of the Bill documentation, even though the local area wanted them? How would the Minister handle that?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I do not accept my right hon. Friend’s characterisation. On previous occasions when there have been storage problems, nearby community libraries have been asked to store the hard copies, so I anticipate alternative mechanisms could be put in place.

It should be noted that this is a permissive power. It does not require documents to be deposited only in an electronic format, so if a location wants all the documents in hard copy, HS2 Ltd will provide them in hard copy. In all cases HS2 Ltd will make the key documents, such as the Bill itself and the non-technical summary of the environmental statement, available in hard copy.

Further, members of the public will be able to telephone HS2 Ltd to ask for free hard copies of the non-technical summary, the local community area report and the local maps. If a deposit location would like documents in electronic form but does not have the equipment to make them available to the community, HS2 Ltd will provide that equipment at its own expense.

This is a wholly sensible modernisation of Standing Order requirements that were originally conceived in the 19th century, and it is about making it easier for people to engage with the hybrid Bill process, thereby ensuring the most effective decision making by Parliament.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

My hon. Friend has quietly referred to the maps, but of course there are also the specifications and the limits of deviation. He knows perfectly well how much all this involves. Can I have an assurance that, if required, all those things will also be made available in hard copy?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Yes, that is a reasonable request.

This is a wholly sensible modernisation of Standing Order requirements, and it is about making it easier for people to engage with the hybrid Bill process. I commend this motion to the House.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 6:39 pm, 11th July 2017

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his explanation of the changes to the Standing Orders for the purposes of this hybrid Bill. Hybrid Bills are a rarity in the House: a public Bill proposing a law that affects the private interests of a particular person or organisation. This Bill will affect the general public and specific households along the route of the HS2 line, phase 2. The House has agreed these changes in similar circumstances for phase 1 of the HS2 project from London to the west midlands. These changes relate to phase 2, which allows for the construction of the route from Birmingham to Crewe, which are approximately 50 miles apart. These changes to the Standing Orders allowing for electronic copies of documents to be made available are eminently sensible, but may I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to clarify a couple of things?

Paragraph (d) of the motion states:

“copies of so much of it as the person may reasonably require and such copies may, if the person so agrees, be provided in electronic form”.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that those documents will not unreasonably be withheld and that the requests will be complied with? I appreciate that people cannot ask for documents outside their area, where they do not have an interest, but who will make the decision as to whether a request is a “reasonable” one? Will he also confirm that households along the Birmingham to Crewe route, who will be directly affected, will be able to receive a free copy of the documents relating to their area? Sir William Cash has suggested that some rural areas may not have internet access and some people may not be proficient in IT, but these people should have those documents free of charge. Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that they will be free of charge? He mentioned a telephone number that people can call HS2 on. Will he confirm that that will not be at the premium rate and it will be free of charge? Will he say when we are likely to have the First Reading of the Bill? Will we see it before the House rises for the summer recess?

I am sure we could agree a general amendment to Standing Orders, through the Procedure Committee, so that we do not have to keep coming back to amend them to include a reference to electronic copies. However, Her Majesty’s Opposition support these changes to the Standing Orders, which are in line with previous amendments to Standing Orders.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 6:42 pm, 11th July 2017

The House will not be surprised that I rise to my feet to talk about this small motion, but colleagues sitting alongside me may be surprised to learn that I rise to welcome it. As a veteran of the hybrid Bill process, I can say that there is no doubt that it is arcane and has tremendous problems with its practices and procedures. My constituents, and many constituents of other hon. Members, certainly have been at the mercy of the hybrid Bill process, and I shudder when I hear a Front Bencher say that the environmental statement will be at least 12,000 pages long. I have experienced something just as large for phase 1 of the HS2 process, and I can say that these are indeed very opaque documents. Will the Deputy Leader of the House say whether these will be sufficiently navigable instruments, as this is being served up to people electronically? I found, as did many of my constituents, that the documents presented by HS2 Ltd were very difficult to navigate and hard to find. Therefore, I would like assurances that some improvements have been made to the way in which people can move around these very large documents.

The Deputy Leader of the House has already given assurances that nothing in tonight’s order will prevent communities from accessing paper copies. We must not forget that there is a digital divide. Many of the people affected by this project are elderly and do not access large documents easily on computers. It is very important that they have access, free of charge, to those sections of the documentation that relate to their properties or the area around that part of the route.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when this material comes electronically and then has to be turned, at a person’s home or office, into the kind of material that makes sense and that they can read, the complexity of the documents—the design specifications and all the other things—and the monumental volume of paper becomes very daunting indeed? To refer back to our previous debate on consultation, does she also agree that HS2 Ltd, as I said to the project manager the other day, had better get its act together on consultation and do it properly?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

It is clear to me and many others who are involved with the project that HS2 Ltd needs to improve not only its consultation processes but its communications processes, which are still appalling in many instances.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene to make a small but important point. She just raised the issue of older people often not being familiar with technology and electronically conveyed documents. Older people often suffer from visual impairments; indeed, some of them will need a Braille copy. Will she seek assurances from the Government that those who are at a disadvantage in reading documents will have assistance?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

The hon. Lady makes a good point. I am keen to ensure that, in a process that is so inequitable, with the state against the citizen and the citizen receiving very little help, we impress on Ministers and HS2 Ltd that there are people who need assistance to navigate and understand these documents. I feel passionately that they need to have that assistance. Had the hon. Lady seen people who are going to lose their house having to appear alone before a Select Committee of this House, with a silk—a QC; an expensive, highly paid barrister—set against them, she would understand why I implore Ministers to make sure that suitable personnel are available to help people to interpret and access the documents. The shadow Minister asked for the telephone line to be free; I am going to go further: I want Ministers to ensure that that telephone line is manned by competent people who actually know what they are talking about and can guide people through the process easily. That is extremely important.

I am disappointed that there is currently no provision that will allow petitioners to petition electronically when the Bill is introduced—unless Ministers tell me differently. I had to bring petitions from constituents into the House myself, and they were charged £20 for the pleasure of defending their own properties, so I had to collect money and documents and bring them in to facilitate the process. My constituency is not far outside London; the people who will be affected by the phase 2 Bill live much further up the country. I would have thought Ministers would have considered how other MPs’ constituents who are going to be affected by phase 2 will be able to submit their petitions this time around. I implore Ministers to look into that, because that is a matter of priority. We should wipe out the £20 fee, which is neither fish nor fowl; it is an insult to the people who are defending their properties and want their voices to be heard and it certainly does not cover the costs of this exercise, so I hope it will be cancelled.

I have another question, on paragraph (f) of the motion, which the Deputy Leader of the House will notice refers to

“any requirement under Standing Order 4A(1), 27A(6) or 224A(8) relating to private business to make a document available for sale at prescribed offices, if it is made available for sale at an office in London.”

Will he assure me that that does not mean that London will be the only place that such documents will be on sale? When the Bill is introduced, phase 2 will affect people from Birmingham northwards, so would it not be more sensible to make the documents available in, for example, Birmingham and Manchester? That would be of more assistance to the people affected by the project.

I would like to know when the Bill will be introduced and when Second Reading is anticipated. When we have another hybrid Bill of this size and complexity that affects so many people, it is important that as much warning as possible is given by the Government and by HS2 Ltd and that all the information is readily available well in advance and with explanation so that people can get their heads around it. There is no doubt that there will be support for the phase 2 Bill from all parts of the House. Once again, there will be a very small number of MPs opposed to it or raising questions about it, but the Government need not be afeared that they will not get their business through. However, if they are to embark on a project of this size and complexity, I ask them please to learn from the lessons and the mistakes that were made on phase 1, and not to put the people on phase 2 through the same agonies. If we do not learn and we do not then take action, we are failing people in this country.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy) 6:50 pm, 11th July 2017

I was not originally going to speak, but I will just say a couple of words if that is okay. As the shadow Leader of the House said, the changes are eminently sensible. It makes sense to move to electronic issue where possible. However, I gently point out that some Members who are exercised by this electronic issue and are worried about access to hard copies are quite comfortable for people on benefits to be forced to move to online activity. We need to remember that there is a disparity in attitudes.

I agree with much of what Mrs Gillan said, especially with regard to consultation. People must be able to interact with experts—experts with an understanding of the documents should be able to explain them to people in an impartial way and guide them through the maps. Some people have difficulty reading both hard-copy and online maps, so it is very important that they can access the information and understand it. The Government must ensure that, with any consultation, people are able fully to understand the information.

Can the Deputy Leader of the House tell me whether any savings have been identified through this measure? It seems sensible that there should be savings, as we will not be issuing reams of paper. Equally, that is balanced out with a rather generous offer of giving out IT equipment. Has any assessment been made of how much IT equipment will need to be dispersed?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 6:52 pm, 11th July 2017

I have already made a couple of interventions, but I wish to say that I am extremely grateful to my very distinguished and right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan for all the work that she has done on phase 1, which has set a pattern for what is to be done on the second phase, which so directly and detrimentally affects my own constituency. Before the Minister replies, may I make one suggestion? Birmingham has been mentioned. If we take the line between Birmingham and Crewe, the most central place happens to be Stafford in Staffordshire. Will my hon. Friend be good enough to give serious consideration to using the county council facilities, which are extremely good, for copying and all that sort of thing? People from my constituency, at both ends of the line, would be able to visit that central point with a minimum amount of inconvenience. That is all that I need to say for the time being.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 6:53 pm, 11th July 2017

With the leave of the House, I will, in the limited time available, answer some of these points. Valerie Vaz asked what was meant by “reasonable”. The issue is simply this: a reasonable request means HS2 weighing up the cost of meeting a request against whether there is a genuine need for the information to be presented in the format requested. Reasonable requests for hard copies of maps and section drawings will be met. They could be requested from local authorities, which will be provided with hard copies for inspection, or directly from HS2.

I have been asked by a couple of hon. Members about when the Bill will be laid. At this point, I can only say soon. As I have said, all reasonable requests for hard copies of maps and section drawings will be met. In answer to a point raised by my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan, we are proactively considering using audio, braille, and easy-read versions. Given the scale of the documentation, it is right that that is considered with regard to accessibility for everyone. I noted the points made about the telephone line, and I shall look into the matter. I understand that it is a London number, to answer the question from the hon. Member for Walsall South about the rate, but I will look into that.

On the issues about London and whether documents could be stored elsewhere, a tiny number of people have requested that, but we will certainly look into those reasonable requests.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Is it planned to translate the documents into other languages?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am not aware of any such plans. We are considering the issue of braille.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Will the Minister tell me what the appeal process is if HS2 Ltd does not deem a request to be reasonable?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It is fair to say that all reasonable requests will be considered. It is clear and transparent that reasonable requests will be met. It is important that requests are not vexatious, and I know that my right hon. Friend does not want any doubt about that. Reasonable requests will be met, and further consideration can be given to that in due course. This is a sensible modernisation of 19th-century Standing Orders, which have not undergone radical reform since 1948.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I know that a lot of questions were put to the Minister, but would he respond to the question of whether Stafford and Staffordshire County Council buildings are a convenient place for people to go for documents?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is alive to all the issues that have been raised, including the localities and local communities involved. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash asked whether Staffordshire would be considered, and I can tell him that it will be.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That, in respect of any bill relating to High Speed 2 that is read the first time in Session 2017–19 and to which the standing orders relating to private business are found by the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills to apply, it shall be sufficient compliance with:

(a) any requirement under those standing orders for a document to be deposited or delivered at, or sent to, an office of a government department, body or person if it is deposited or delivered at, sent to or otherwise made accessible at that office in electronic form;

(b) any requirement under those standing orders for a document to be deposited with an officer if it is deposited with or delivered, sent or otherwise made accessible to that officer in electronic form;

(c) any requirement under those standing orders for a document to be made available for inspection at a prescribed office, or to permit a document to be inspected, if it is made available for inspection at that office, or is permitted to be inspected, in electronic form;

(d) the requirement under Standing Order 27(4) or 36(3) relating to private business to permit a person to make copies of a document or extracts from it, if there is provided to that person, on request and within a reasonable time, copies of so much of it as the person may reasonably require and such copies may, if the person so agrees, be provided in electronic form;

(e) the requirement under Standing Order 27(4) relating to private business for a memorial to be made on every document deposited under that Standing Order, if the memorial is made on a separate document;

(f) any requirement under Standing Order 4A(1), 27A(6) or 224A(8) relating to private business to make a document available for sale at prescribed offices, if it is made available for sale at an office in London.

That this Order shall not affect any requirement under those standing orders to deposit any document at, or deliver any document to, the Private Bill Office or the Vote Office.

That any reference in those standing orders to a document which is deposited, lodged, delivered or sent under those standing orders includes a reference to a document which is so deposited, delivered or sent in electronic form.

That any reference to a document in this order includes a reference to any bill, plan, section, book of reference, ordnance map, environmental or other statement or estimate.