Mr Khan slips in the snow

Yesterday, a couple of weeks late, Parliament was treated to a Statement on the inclement weather. The Transport Secretary’s side kick in the Commons was asked to speak for his own department, for Local Government, for Health and Education on the state of play.

The statement did not tell us much, and did not tell us anything new. We had heard it all before on TV and radio over the week-end from Mr Khan’s boss. That’s par for the course in the modern Commons. We were reminded that salt is being rationed. Salt ordered by prudent authorities may be diverted to others in greater need. We were told they had learned the lessons from last February, implementing all the necessary changes. Strange then, that rail services have been so disrupted and the road system has been so affected. The Speaker displayed his wry sense of humour by calling Mr Martin Salter first after the front bench exchanges.

When it came to questions, Mr Khan chose two different ways of answering that did not go well together. For much of the time he did what a Minister should so in such a situation. He should grasp that most MPs are there to ask urgent questions about the impact on their local area, and need help, advice or sensible answers to tell their Councils and electors. Unfortunately Mr Khan was usually only able to say he would investigate and write to the member concerned. You would have thought that he would be better briefed and could answer what were entirely predictable questions given the state of the roads,the stations and the pavements.

However, Mr Khan also mixed this with forays into party politics, attempting to blame Conservative Councils or Opposition spokespeople for the ills of the day. It was not a day nor a statement for such treatment, and it jarred with the rest of the proceedings.

The position on the matters that concerned us most was:

1. Can people clear their paths, sideroads, car parks without being sued? The Ministers thinks it good if they can help clear up, but thinks they might be sued. There was no attempt to say he would clarify or change the law.
2. Will the Highways Agency ensure certain named parts of the trunk network are safer and clearer? Maybe.
3. Will he take action to get more trains running ? He will look into it, and expressed surprise at the charge that trains from Hertfordshire had been cleaned overnight, only for the water used to freeze them into inaction the next morning.
4. Will he try to get station platforms cleared of ice? He will write about that.

I asked if schools that have to close for snow will be asked to provide alternative days when they will open so the children do not lose any education. The Minister seemed sympathetic but would not say Yes or No.

Only eight backbench Labour MPs turned up. Most of the questions were asked by Opposition MPs.

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21 Comments

  1. OurSally
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Please make yourself a note to ask the following questions in summer:

    1. The railways failed us dismally in January. Have they stocked up on salt, de-icing equipment and rail-ploughs?

    2. Councils could excuse their inactivity by claiming to have not enough equipment or salt. Have they now ordered some?

    3. The legal situation regarding liability of householders who clear their pavements needs to be clarified. Is this being done and can we expect a clear statement before winter?

  2. Mick Anderson
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    By the time a Labour Government has worked out that there is a problem, it's normally either gone away on it's own, or grown too large to manage. Whenever they try and solve something, they make it worse – how many better-organised Councils have had their grit stock confiscated?

    I'm surprised that they didn't accuse Tory front bench of trying to keep the snow for the rich. Perhaps they couldn’t work out if the snow was a good thing for poor people to play in, or a bad thing because they only associate 4x4s with the “wealthy”. They certainly won’t like people enjoying something that they can’t tax!

    The idea that those (who they despise) with capable cars volunteered to go out to help the elderly and the stranded must have completely confused them.

    If the Conservatives win the forthcomng General Election, will they manage to clear up these rather basic and straight-forward issues before next winter?

  3. Adrian Peirson
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Can we be fined If I clear rthe path and someone slips, in Germany, people are required to clear their paths, so at the end of the day, it's all interppretation.
    In one country you can be fined for not clearing your path, in another if you do and someone slips.
    All Westminster needs do now is work out which option gives them most control over our lives and money from our pockets.

  4. John Moss
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Clearing the pavement outside your house, or your car park for your customers ought not to carry any liability – perhaps a private member's bill is needed to establish this?

    • Keith
      Posted January 13, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Most householders have household insurance which invariably provides 'Personal Liability' cover which would indemnify the policholder against claims from members of the public whilst acting in a private capacity.

      Likewise almost without exception businesses carry 'Public Liability ' insurance. So unless local authorities specifically forbid 'voluntary' snow clearance I cannot see why we should fear using commonsense.

  5. Amanda
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Can the British people sue the Government for NOT clearing the roads and pavements. After all it is a health and safety nightmare for these health and safety freaks!!

    Personally, I'm clearing the road and pavement outside my house, and damm them to hell !!!! (They'll get some great global warming there !)

  6. Stuart Fairney
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    It beggars belief that apparently we have gas storage capacity for only about 13 days, compared to 80 in Germany, and for the love of God, can local councils simply build themselves each a shed somewhere with an emergency supply of 30 days salt over and above existing facilities ~ please. If you don't touch it in the next 30 years ~ so what?

    This is not much to ask for my £1,300 a year, keep the roads open and empty the bins ~ neither has been achieved recently.

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Stuart, only £1,300 per year.

      Assume you mean your Council tax (including bins).

      Local Councils also get

      Car parking fees, plus some traffic fines.

      Government also gets

      Road tax and Fuel duty, Vat on New car sales, Car tax on new car sales, Vat on car repairs and servicing.

      • Stuart Fairney
        Posted January 13, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        Yes, of course and rate support grant (or what ever it is called nowadays) under the Barnett formula I believe

  7. Norman
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    On the bright side at least the government aren't making the announcements on the Today programme – it seems the new tactic may be simply to announce nothing.

    'Make it up as [they] go along' government' from top to bottom – marvellous.

  8. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    With regard to the legal position faced by people who do their own snow clearing, it is particularly disappointing that Mr. Khan's response was so unhelpful. Law abiding people are entitled to certainty as to their position. It is a vital part of the relationship between those who make the law and those who are bound by it.

    Of course, those who make the law are also bound by it, but although the consequence is obvious (at least it should be) it does not seem to ensure the fidelity of the legislation that is passed. A recent employment law case is a good example, which is probably why it got so much attention. Biter bit is a good story.

    Certainty can be further undermined by case law where the statute is loosely defined. This does seem to be a worrying trend, where parliament passes some sort of catch-all legislation and leaves it up to the courts to work out what is and is not legal. This is simply lazy law making, and it is another example of what reduces the credibility of parliamentarians and fosters disillusionment with the parliamentary process.

    The lead has to come from Ministers, and if they can not be bothered to tell us where we stand, such as with snow clearing, then they deserve no respect from us.

  9. Stronghold Barricade
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    The government agreed to implement the recommendations of the report produced after last years weather issues

    Shouldn't we be asking who is responsible for failing to implement, or do we risk another report which will publish its conclusions after the next election?

    There is no accountability in Whitehall or the House

  10. Neil Craig
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Clearly part of the reason for the lack of salt & other preparations has been that for 2 decades government have been saying that we face catastrophic warming & any local politician suggesting normal precautions about cold weather has been open to accusations of wastefulness. On balance we should be glad they didn't run down their resources more.

  11. I Albion
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood
    What i can not understand,and i know it is called "Democracy"
    these stupid people who have been in power for the last 12 years,and drove this country in to the ground ,can now, if voted out, spend the next however many years,howling from the opposition benches at people who are trying to put it right.By rights they should never be allowed into Parliament again,and be made to work it off in unpaid public works,because surely this Labour Government has been the most inept ,rotten and evil lot we have ever had in power,our country is ruined,and they can just walk away.

  12. A.Sedgwick
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    After President Carter's disastrous rescue attempt of the hostages in Iran in 1979, I think it was Moshe Dayan who said for any such venture their strategists work what is needed and then multiply by 3. The same formula should be applied to salt and grit supplies. Clearly by any sensible standard 6 days was hopelessly inadequate, whereas 18 would probably have sufficed.

  13. Bob
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    It's wrong to confiscate grit supplies from the councils who have planned properly to bail out the incompetent councils, how on earth do we ever work out who the good guys are if they are always made to cover up for the duds. This is Labours approach to everything, so no one is ever accountable for their actions or in this case lack of action. It's the same with the tax and benefits system.

    Labour couldn't run a bath, they're all about socialist dogma with little or no practical answers.

    I hope that they get kicked into oblivion at the election and I hope the new government don't screw up and let them anywhere near the levers of power again.

    The MPs who betrayed Maggie should hang their heads in shame for their contribution to our nation's downfall.

  14. Mermaid of Moorgate
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I'd like to ask parliament why don't they enforce the use of snow tyres in the UK when there's a weather warning on?

    In Canada, it's mandatory for all road users to put their snow tyres on as soon as the cold snap begins. Hence there are very few incidents of cars being stuck in the middle of a snowy road.

    It's also now mandatory in Germany (since 2006).

    Will providers and road safety experts please advise people to start investing in snow tyres?

    Once again, the UK populace-at-large has shown that it is inept at doing anything sensible, but most adept at blaming their local councils for not carrying enough salt and grit.

    • a-tracy
      Posted January 13, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Do you have snow tyres for your car? Where did you get them from? I drive a German car the performance of this car in the snow is poor, snow chains can't be used because of the gap between tyre and wheel arch. Snow chains also don't help with the ice which causes more problems than the snow.

      Are these tyres you suggest like the old Town and Country tyres that could be used all year around or are you suggesting people own two sets of tyres for their car and keep the four that aren't in use (where in their attic)?

      If the government had told people of the new policy – only to grit main routes and leave all other routes and local town centres to the local people and local businesses to sort out for themselves – then we could have all prepared with our own bags of grit instead of being shocked at the change in policy. Preparation prevents poor driving.

      I didn't get stuck at all last week, I cleared my own patch and planned my routes on main roads, we put a shovel in the boot and a brush to keep mobile, when you don't live in a town centre you have to have contingency plans and we all simply need to know what we can expect the State to do and what we are expected to do for ourselves.

  15. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    What you seem to be talking about, apart from the grievous state of public transport which the government, of course, is in total control of, is the decline of the once great House of Commons.
    If you misuse the system like the Labour have been doing to reward loyal people, then you get performances like this.
    Baroness Ashton and Lady (!) Scotland are two other examples of high ranking and very loyal Labour supporters.
    As to the party points business, every single remark they utter on these lines, makes us, the voters, see how unpleasant, as well as inefficient and self serving the Labour now are. Truly they are now the Nasty Party.

  16. John Duck
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Going by an article I spotted the other day, the UK government had better get it's act together dealing with future winters. Apparently we're in for a 20-30yr mini ice age http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-12

    As for the Trains, maybe we ought to start borrowing a few old Steam locomotives from the Railway Museums & Preservation railways dotted up & down the country*, going by this story I spotted just before christmas: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1238069/A
    I think the reason why modern trains fail in bad weather, and the steam train worked fine is that
    – Modern trains get extra traction when the wheels slip by sticking on about 5-10% brake pressure
    – Old steam locomotives get their extra traction by sticking sand down on the rails (possibly heated up under steam pressure through a pipe it comes out of, I can't remember).

    * They may be staffed & maintained almost entirely by volunteers doing it for a hobby, but they seem to be able to run things better than the so called "professionals" do at times.

  17. BillyB
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian's weekend supplement called the snow clearing liability an urban myth – see #4 here http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/jan/09/quest

    No harm in asking the government for clarification. I guess there is nothing new here, and the Tories could have sorted it last time they were in power. They didn't. This lot haven't. So it is no-one's priority, and an excuse for the media to have fun exaggerating things

    And no-one has found a case where a householder has been sued for this, have they?

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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