A peer has questioned the scope of a Lords inquiry into HS2 and criticised MPs for acting like hearing the views of concerned residents during a Commons select committee was a ‘chore’ .
Lord Stevenson, a Labour peer who lives in Little Missenden and is a member of the Chiltern Way Federation academy school in Wendover, was speaking during a debate in the Upper House ahead of the Lords shortly holding their own select committee on HS2.
A government minister suggested its powers would be limited. But Lord Stevenson said the chamber would lose public confidence if the select committee was not able to make tangible changes to the scheme.
Lord Stevenson said there was disappointment among petitioners regarding the attitude of the Commons committee, which sat through hundreds of hours of evidence from speakers before concluding earlier this year.
He said: “Listening to the sessions in the other place and reading the transcripts, one is left with a feeling that what the Commons Select Committee described as the “heavy burden of petitioning”, was a chore it had to endure and not an opportunity for finding a resolution.
“I have to say that the mood at present in the Chilterns from those who tried to engage with the Commons Select Committee is very negative about the experience and there is considerable disenchantment from many people who felt frustrated and patronised. This is not good for democracy, and it is important that the Lords Select Committee can recover some of the ground lost, in the public interest.”
He said the Lords should carefully consider the case for an extended Chilterns bored tunnel which would better protect Wendover.
Lord Stevenson also sought clarification on what powers the committee would have.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Ahmad, had said the committee would not be as powerful as the one in the Commons, which is ‘entirely in keeping with this House’s role as a revising Chamber’.
He said peers would not be able to suggest a ‘change that leads... to additional land being required and/or breaches of the environmental envelope for the project’.
Lord Stevenson said that in the Crossrail Bill and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, ‘additional provisions’ were considered by the house.
He said Lord Ahmad’s remark ‘does not seem to accord with what has been said to the public’.
He pointed to an official guide for petitioners which states that a ‘Select Committee has ‘the power to amend the Bill, but not reject it’. He said he could not understand how Lord Ahmad ‘can arrive at the position he has just articulated, given that and what has been said publicly’.
Lord Stevenson said the Lords were ‘in great danger of losing’ the confidence of the public over the issue.
Lord Ahmad said hewould be writing to Lord Stevenson to ‘detail the position exactly’ on this ‘important issue’.