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.