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7: The hybrid bill process for HS2

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7: The hybrid bill process for HS2
Leave your thoughts Shabana Anwar

By Shabana Anwar

Hybrid bills are comparatively rare, but currently topical following the Government’s decision to use the hybrid bill process for each phase of HS2 as it considers this to be ‘the most appropriate route.’

This is because the Government believes that the hybrid bill process:

  • can grant planning permission for the railway and enable changes to be made to primary legislation to change railway regulation so that the impacts of the railway can be considered in totality;
  • allows, through use of the Select Committee stages, people affected by the scheme to have their case heard before the Committee; and
  • has been used to authorise other new railways such as Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel and Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

It has one or two other advantages for the Government as well:

  • once it gets past its second reading, objectors cannot object to the principle of the project, whereas if it had been promoted in other ways that would still be possible;
  • as an Act of Parliament, there is complete flexibility as to how the powers that the government seeks to construct and operate the project are expressed;
  • the likelihood of legal challenge once the High Speed 2 Act is enacted is more limited.

What is a hybrid bill?

In essence, a hybrid bill is a Government bill that has to be treated like a private bill for part of its passage through Parliament because it contains elements that impact directly upon particular individuals or local interests.

Although it is not now possible to promote a private bill dealing with matters that can be achieved by other means, for example, the construction of an underground rail link that could be authorised under the Transport and Works Act 1992, this rule does not apply to the Government, which may therefore promote hybrid bills for such works schemes.

Hybrid bills are subject to additional Parliamentary procedures which are designed to give the private interests affected a chance to make their view known. This essentially involves the advertisement of the bill and then the opportunity to petition against the bill’s detailed provisions, but not its principle(s), and to be heard by a select committee in each of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The hybrid bill process

A hybrid bill can commence either in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords. The following is a short summary of the hybrid bill process for HS2 on the assumption that it will commence in the House of Commons:

  • Introduction of the HS2 bill (First Reading)- this involves depositing of the bill and related documents such as the Environmental Impact Assessment in the House;
  • Second Reading where the principle of the bill is debated and approved – after the Second Reading, there can be no amendment which can destroy the principle of the bill;
  • Publication of notices in newspapers alerting people to the opportunity of petitioning against the bill;
  • Closing date for petitions, which is formally announced after the Second Reading;
  • A special select committee is established or possibly a joint committee of both Houses (if this happens then no petitions would be allowed in the Second House), representing MPs (or peers in the case of the Lords) from different political parties and from constituencies not affected by HS2, to hear the petitions over several months;
  • Report from the select committee with amendments to the bill to protect those whose interests have been directly affected and the committee deems worthy of project changes or further protection;
  • Public bill committee- consideration of each clause and schedule of the bill;
  • Remaining stages, i.e Report Stage where further amendments can be tabled to the bill immediately followed by Third Reading;
  • The bill moves to its First Reading in the Lords where the above process is repeated including a further period for petitions to be deposited against the bill;
  • The House of Commons’ consideration of Lords’ amendments (if necessary);
  • Royal Assent.

The Government has a very tight timetable for the hybrid bill for HS2, aiming to deposit the bill for phase 1 (from London to Birmingham) by the end of 2013, with Royal Assent being given in 2015. This is to be followed by introduction of the phase 2 bill in 2015, after the general election. The timetable is at best optimistic bearing in mind the number of actual available sitting days in Parliament because of the various recesses, the likely number of petitions and the small matter of a general election in 2015. Taking the last hybrid bill as an example, the Crossrail bill, a smaller and less controversial project then HS2, was deposited in Parliament in February 2005 and did not receive Royal Assent until July 2008. If the HS2 Bill was introduced in December 2013 and took the same length of time it would not receive Royal Assent until May 2017.

The Government has laid a motion in the House of Commons, being debated on the 26 June, proposing that Standing Orders are amended to address the requirements of EU legislation on public participation and the impact on the environment. In particular, they are proposing a period of consultation on the Environmental Statement between introduction of the bill and second reading. This follows the precedent set by the Crossrail bill and, according to the Government ‘will ensure that the decisions made at Second and Third Reading on HS2 are informed by the public’s views on its environmental effects’.

More information

My colleague, Paul Thompson, one of three Roll A Parliamentary Agents at BDB authorised to both promote and oppose local legislation before the UK Parliament, has prepared a detailed note on the hybrid bill procedure here and how the process may apply to HS2 here.

20 June 2013

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