By Tim Montgomerie
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The video above can also be watched on StopDangerousDrivers.com, a website that was recently launched by Steve Barclay MP. The video, website and campaign aims to change sentencing guidelines for "drivers who kill".
The campaign notes that over 600 people were killed last year by dangerous drivers but that, last year, "150 drivers who killed DID NOT GO TO PRISON AT ALL".
Visitors to the site are urged to sign a petition that, among other things, urges "the Sentencing Council to review the guidelines for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving."
About 2,000 people look to have signed the petition so far.
The campaign has also received significant media attention, including on ITV1's Daybreak.
I'm not writing this blog to comment on the specifics of Steve Barclay's campaign but I'm impressed by the nature of the campaign. The video, the web design and the petition all communicate seriousness about an issue that clearly matters to Steve Barclay and, I suspect to many people inside and beyond his constituency. At ConHome we're always interested in good campaign ideas. Do send them to us via news[at]conservativehome.com.
By Joseph Willits
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After Justine Greening's announcement giving the go-ahead for a high speed rail network, High Speed 2 (HS2), 37 Conservative MPs were able to question the Transport Secretary within 60 minutes.
The exchanges demonstrated the opposition of those MPs whose constituencies are directly affected by high speed rail. However their reservations were outweighed by praise for the scheme from MPs namely in the North and the Midlands - and some in the South East who claimed that their seats have benefitted from HS1.
Fervent critic of high speed rail, Andrea Leadson MP (South Northamptonshire), questioned the project's costs in yesterday's debate. Leadsom praised the Transport Secretary's patience in listening to her concerns many times, but spoke of "communities blighted by this high-speed rail line". She continued:
"How sure is she that the actual costs in their entirety will be kept to the amounts we have been talking about, and how realistic is it for Britain to afford this project at this very difficult time economically?".
The country "cannot afford not to do this" replied Greening, who cited High Speed 1 as an example of being both on time, and on budget. Once Crossrail had been completed, the cost to the taxpayer would begin, Greening said.
Another MP whose constituency will be touched by high-speed rail, Steve Baker MP (Wycombe), welcomed that "additional protections for the Chilterns will reduce costs", but asked whether Greening would "consider tunnelling the entire width of the Chilterns?". At £1.2 billion, although considered, was "unaffordable", replied Greening.
Drawing examples from both France and Spain, St Albans MP Anne Main raised concerns "that the north might not get the projected benefit and that instead it might be London that grows". Both Lyon and Seville were "caused expense" rather than growth as Paris and Madrid benefitted, she said.
Greening responded by reiterating the backing for the project, and that the cities of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield all believe "this project is vital." Rehman Chishti MP (Gillingham) reminded the House that "real concern was expressed prior to the introduction of High Speed 1 in Kent". This has now led to "real economic regeneration and growth in the south-east and Kent", he continued. Another Kent MP, Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe) echoed Chishti's sentiment with the hope that Kent will further benefit from connections north.
MPs from the North and the Midlands were most vocal in their support for the project. Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew spoke of the need to "rebalance the economy" nationwide, and allow the North "to become more attractive for business to invest in". The "solution", he said, was HS2. Martin Vickers MP (Cleethorpes), who has many constituents working at the Tata Steel plant in Scunthorpe, welcomed the announcement of HS2 as a boost to industry. He asked for "categorical assurance that everything possible will be done to ensure that the procurement procedures favour British-based companies". His sentiment was echoed by Nigel Mills MP (Amber Valley) who concluded that the decision would "be even more popular in Derbyshire if the trains are built at Bombardier".
Some MPs in the Midlands did seem to be slightly cautious about the region's positioning, leading to a lesser service and coverage by HS2. Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy spoke of businesses in north Staffordshire requiring stops between Birmingham and Manchester (of which Stafford would be one). This "stop is essential to the development of the regional economy", Lefroy said, and asked Greening to "confirm that it is still under serious consideration". Rugby MP Mark Pawsey's concern was slightly different in that the town's good service to London could be jeopardised by high speed rail. He hoped that even with high speed rail, "the legacy line will retain the speed and frequency of their existing rail links".
You can watch the debate on the BBC's Democracy Live.
By Joseph Willits
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Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire MP, has answered questions from four Tory MPs about the Government's plans to combat metal theft. Brokenshire said that "the Home Office is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders". Some of the measures to do so, he said, would include "introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments" and establishing a "metal theft taskforce" together with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Responding to a question from Gravesham MP Adam Holloway about the financial implications of metal theft, Brokenshire said the cost could be "anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum". Holloway asked whether there was "any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods". Brokenshire confirmed that this was one of the reasons for a new taskforce, "to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice".
By Joseph Willits
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Keen biker and Hove and Portslade MP, Mike Weatherley, didn't quite get into his leathers today in Brussels, but he did join motorcycling protestors outside the European Parliament. Riders' rights groups have been urging fellow motor cyclists to take part in a day of action against proposed EU regulations. The proposals would force bikers to wear fluorescent clothing, and would not allow any customisation of motorbikes.
Weatherley, who in September led a convoy of bikers in protest into Brighton city centre, said that "for many motor cyclists, tuning, improving and transforming their machines is a large part of the satisfaction of owning a bike. These proposals will ruin that." He stressed that riders were "in favour of responsibility and safety on the roads", but over regulation, and these "intrusive measures"were not the answer. If bikers were forced to wear flurosecent clothing, Weatherley asked where the measures would end:
"Will there be reflective strips on all motor cars, and will all pedestrians have to wear high-visibility jackets every time they walk out to the shops?"
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday Robert Halfon's motion urging the Government to consider scrapping any further increases in fuel duty passed without a division. The debate was forced by an e-petition, which attracted over 100,000 signatures. Halfon had the backing of The Sun's Keep It Down campaign and FairFuelUK group led by Quentin Wilson.
The Government's abolition of the fuel escalator was welcomed by Halfon, as was the introduction of a semi-stabiliser so "that duty will rise quicker than inflation only if oil prices are low for a sustained period". This had meant that motorists were already making savings of £274 a year on average, in this parliament compared to a different outcome of a Labour re-election. However, Halfon said, Britain's petrol prices "are still the most expensive in Europe. Even bankrupt socialist nations such as Spain now have lower rates of fuel tax than Britain".
By Tim Montgomerie
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Dan Byles MP comments:
"The next few months will be critical to the HS2 debate. The Transport Select Committee will shortly publish their report on the economic case for and against HS2, and soon afterwards the Secretary of Sate for Transport will make an assessment of the recent public consultation and will publish his recommendations. That's why the Backbench Business Committee debate on HS2 on Thursday in the main chamber is so important. We need to make the case to MPs who don't believe HS2 affects them, from Kent to Cornwall to East Anglian, that HS2 will be paid for by every household in the country. The momentum behind the No to HS2 campaign is building, and today, together with my colleagues Andrea Leadsom MP and Chris White MP, I helped a small group of campaigners hand a petition bearing some 108,000 names in to 10 Downing Street. I believe the arguments against spending £32 billion on HS2 are compelling. I just hope the decision makers are prepared to listen to them."
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday made a statement to the Commons on High Speed Rail. Here are extracts from what he said.
The overall aim of the policy is to deliver green growth across whole of UK: "One of the coalition's main objectives is to build an economy that is more balanced both sectorally and geographically, and that will deliver sustainable economic growth while also delivering on our climate change targets. Investment in infrastructure, and transport infrastructure in particular, will be a key part of that approach. To deliver economic growth and carbon reduction, we must provide attractive alternatives to short-haul aviation while addressing the issue of scarce rail capacity between city centres. Network Rail has calculated that by 2024 the west coast main line will effectively be full, with no further enhancements that could reasonably be made to meet future demand... It is my view that a high-speed rail network will deliver a transformational change to the way Britain works and competes in the 21st century. It will allow the economies of the midlands and the north to benefit much more directly from the economic engine of London, tackling the north-south divide more effectively than half a century of regional policy has done, expanding labour markets and bringing our major conurbations closer together."
Journey times to Birmingham, the north and Scotland will be slashed: "Central Birmingham will be brought within 49 minutes of London-potentially less for non-stopping services-and within one hour five minutes of Leeds. The released capacity on the west coast main line offers the possibility of commuter-frequency fast services to London from places such as Coventry and Milton Keynes. By running trains seamlessly on to existing inter-city routes, the proposed network will also bring Glasgow and Edinburgh within three and a half hours of London, which is fast enough to induce a major shift of passengers from domestic aviation."
50% of the proposed route will be amended to address local and conservation concerns: " I travelled the length of it and talked directly to local authorities, property owners, and many of the protest groups and their Members of Parliament, and I commissioned additional work on the options for improving the proposed alignment. As a consequence, significant amendments have been made to both the vertical and horizontal alignment, and to the proposed mitigation measures. In total, around 50% of the preferred route proposal published in March has been amended in some respect."
Compensation for property owners: "Despite our best efforts at mitigation, however, we will not be able to avoid all impacts on property values. Where a project that is in the national interest imposes significant financial loss on individuals, it is right and proper that they should be compensated fairly for that loss, so I have asked my officials to prepare a range of options for a scheme to assist those whose properties will not be required for the construction of the railway, but who will none the less see a significant diminution of value as a result of the construction of the line."
Read the statement in full.
John Bercow MP, Speaker: "Before I call the Minister to make his statement, I regret that this House is the last to hear it. That said, if the statement had been made earlier it would have further constrained the time given to the main business of today. I hope that such circumstances are not repeated in the case of other Departments. In answer to points of order made earlier today, I acknowledge that a written ministerial statement was made today at 7 am, before the Secretary of State’s interview was broadcast."
Theresa Villiers MP: "Twelve hours after the stock exchange, 11 and a half hours after “Today” programme listeners, and some four hours after the House of Lords, we finally get to hear the news officially. What we have heard is evidence of the incompetence and failure that has characterised the Government’s handling of the rail franchising system. Two franchises have collapsed in the space of two and a half years on one of the nation’s most important transport corridors, on which millions of people and businesses rely, both in England and Scotland. To borrow a well-known phrase, to lose one east coast franchise might be said to be unfortunate; to lose two looks like carelessness.
The Secretary of State told their lordships that he hoped that the next franchise would be better than the last. Clearly, for Labour, it is third time lucky, or so it hopes. On the “Today” programme, the Secretary of State seemed to be saying that National Express East Coast was already in default of its contracts, yet that allegation was not repeated in the written statement, or the statement from the Minister today. Does the Minister stand by the statement made by his boss this morning?
The Secretary of State has claimed that the “Nat Ex” holding company is not prepared to “stand by” its loss-making subsidiary. Does the Minister regret that his Government signed up to a deal that caps the liability of the holding company, and apparently entitles it just to walk away when the going gets tough? Does he accept that the incredibly detailed—even invasive, some would say—due diligence process that the Department for Transport carries out in relation to the credibility of franchise bids and bidders has wholly failed in this case? How much will re-letting the franchise cost? How much did the original franchise process cost? What assessment has the Minister made of alternative solutions to direct Government control, such as getting another operator to run the line under a management contract? How much will the fiasco cost the taxpayer in total? Will the money come out of the control period 4 funding settlement? If not, which part of the DFT budget will be raided to cover it? National Express East Coast was due to pay £1.4 billion over the lifetime of the franchise to help fund CP4. What will be the shortfall on that income? How will the Minister plug the resulting black hole in the funding for CP4?
Yesterday saw questions to Transport ministers.
Congleton's Ann Winterton (right) - who is an assiduous attendee of oral questions - asked about rail prices:
"What recent assessment he has made of levels of rail fares. 
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): We continue to regulate rail fares to balance the protection for passengers and taxpayers while allowing significant investment in rail. We have made it clear that the average cap—usually the retail prices index plus 1 per cent.—will be applied next year even if RPI is negative, leading to lower regulated fares in January 2010. From January 2010, the cap will also apply generally to individual regulated fares.
Ann Winterton: The Secretary of State will be aware of the horror expressed by commuters and passengers about the huge hike of more than 6 per cent.—the figure is much higher in some areas—in rail fares this year. I welcome his reaffirmation on behalf of the Government that fares next year will be pegged to the standard formula, but will he also assure us that rail companies will not cut services?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady refers to regulated fares. To deal with her last point first, the services are governed by the franchise agreement entered into by the train operating companies. Of course, we will not allow those agreements to be changed without a clear, good reason. To deal with the generality of her observation, support for railways comes from two sources: fare-paying passengers and taxpayers. If we are to maintain the level of investment in our railways that I think we should have, we have a clear choice. We can either allow fares to be increased according to the consistent arrangements that have operated for many years, or we can increase the subsidy from the taxpayer. If she is unhappy about the balance that we have struck, she needs to say so, as does her party. Instead of simply making generalised complaints, I want to hear what specific proposals the Conservative party would make about fares and the level of taxpayers’ subsidy."
Shadow Transport Minister Stephen Hammond posed a follow-up question on the same subject:
"The facts show that the Passenger Focus report published in February this year highlighted value for money as the most serious concern for passengers. The facts also show that the most packed trains are running at more than 170 per cent. capacity and that, since 2003, regulated and unregulated fares have risen by a third. Do not the facts show that after a decade of Labour control, the story is one of overcrowded trains, value for money falling, and the taxpayer having to pick up the tab?
I would not want the Conservative party to feel that I was letting it off the hook after the comments that I made about the Liberal Democrats. If the hon. Gentleman gets his way and eventually ends up on the Government Benches taking the decisions, he will have £840 million less to spend on the railways and on transport in general than has been spent by this Government. He and his party have to explain how they will manage to continue with investment in much-needed projects such as Crossrail at the same time as cutting the railway budget."
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villers has come in for quite a bit of stick for her position on aviation, including from my CentreRight colleague Matthew Sinclair.
Readers might like to see her statement in the House of Commons yesterday about Heathrow:
That this House urges the Government to rethink its plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and to give full consideration to alternative solutions; regrets the Government’s heavy reliance on data supplied by BAA in assessing the case for expansion and notes the likely forthcoming break-up of BAA’s ownership of three of 5 London’s airports following the investigation by the Competition Commission; believes that the consultation paper Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport was deeply flawed, as it paid insufficient regard to the costs of air and noise pollution in the surrounding areas and the commitment to curb carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change; regrets the fact that provisions to improve high-speed rail lines from 10 Heathrow to major cities have not been fully explored, along with the potential of other UK airports to handle more long-haul flights; and urges the Government to initiate a consultation on a new national planning policy statement on the theme of airports and high-speed rail.
I welcome the support of the Liberal Democrats for the motion, which is lifted verbatim from early-day motion 2344, tabled last year by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), with cross-party backing. The issue is of grave importance, and rightly spans party boundaries.
Let me first explode a myth peddled by the Secretary of State. To oppose a third runway is not to oppose flying. We recognise the importance of aviation and the benefits of flying for our economic competitiveness and for holidaymakers. We applaud the work of the budget airlines in bringing air travel within the reach of a wide range of people, for whom it would have been a distant aspiration less than a generation ago.
However, there comes a time when stuffing thousands and thousands more flights and millions and millions more passengers into the same overcrowded corner of the south-east of England starts to impose an unacceptable cost on our environment and our quality of life. We believe that Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger. That is why we and so many others oppose the Government’s plans to build a third runway."
Mrs Villiers also said that the Party was not looking at the option of building an airport in the Thames Estuary (a policy favoured by London Mayor Boris Johnson and Kit Malthouse, a Deputy Mayor) but added that the Conservatives "acknowledge the possibilities and benefits that could come from the proportionate and carefully considered expansion of regional airports".
She also confirmed that the Party wants a "viable alternative to a third runway—namely, a top-class, high-speed rail link between Leeds and Manchester and London".
Over to you guys!
The House of Commons hosted Transport questions yesterday. Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon, made a quite absurd remark about Theresa Villiers.
Before that Wellingborough MP Peter asked about electric rail:
"What date he has set for the full electrification of the midland main line. 
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Electrification is advantageous on heavily used parts of the rail network. Electric trains are lighter, quieter and produce less carbon dioxide. In my statement to the House on 15 January, I announced that, commensurate with the timetable for procuring the new inter-city express fleet, I intended to make a decision on electrification of the midland main line north of Bedford later this year.
Mr. Bone: Last month there were four dewirements on the west coast main line, causing havoc to the service, so will the Government learn from previous electrifications and build a scheme that is of a high standard, and not on the cheap? Otherwise, when the wind blows in Derbyshire the trains will stop in Wellingborough.
Mr. Hoon: I do not accept for a moment the implication of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks—that somehow the improvements to the west coast main line were done on the cheap, or that the failures that occurred over the new year period were attributable to the upgrade. Indeed, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is generally a fair-minded man, will look at the evidence that demonstrates that a number of different problems arose, that they were all caused separately, and that they were not in any way related to the upgrade programme. I will certainly send him details of the investigations that resulted, but if he accepts what I have said, he will recognise that the proposals to electrify both the midland main line and the Great Western main line do not need to suffer from any particular problems of the kind that have been suggested as being associated with the upgrade of the west coast main line."
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers asked about Network Rail:
"Is not the real reason why it takes so long for the west coast main line to recover from disruptive incidents the fact that when Labour created Network Rail, Ministers left it accountable to nobody—not to the regulator, not to the train operators and certainly not to the passenger? Is it not time to reform Network Rail so that its management have to be accountable to a more effective structure than the toothless membership that they themselves appoint?
Mr. Hoon: I find the hon. Lady’s remarks curious, given the sad history of Railtrack, for which her party, in government, was solely responsible. My predecessor created Network Rail to deal with the complete failure of Railtrack, over which she and her Government presided."
Theresa Villiers most assuredly did not preside over Railtrack! She entered the House of Commons in 2005.
St Albans MP Anne Main has revealed that the Government's plans to build new rail links are not guaranteed to translate into lots of jobs for British workers. Indeed Transport Minister Paul Clark has stopped short of saying that UK companies will enjoy any sort of advantage when bidding for contracts:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what plans he has to increase capital expenditure on rail links as part of the Government's plans to create up to 100,000 new jobs through public works; 
(2) what estimate he has made of the number of jobs that will be created by increased funding for new rail links in (a) 2009, (b) 2010 and (c) 2011 under the Government's plans to create up to 100,000 new jobs through public works; and what proportion of those jobs he estimates will go to British workers. 
Paul Clark: The July 2007 Rail White Paper set out the Government's commitment of £10 billion towards increasing capacity on the rail network over the next five years, including improvements to the infrastructure.
In the pre-Budget report in November, the Government announced that they are bringing forward £3 billion of capital spending from 2010-11 to 2008-09 and 2009-10. The package included £300 million to accelerate the delivery of up to 200 new carriages to expand capacity on the rail network and an extra £54 million to help enhance the North London rail line to increase the long-term freight capacity of this vital cross-London rail route.
There may be other good reasons for expediting capital expenditure, but people will find it remarkable that a Labour Government is so unwilling to offer a firm assurance that British workers will benefit.
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers raised the issue of Heathrow once again in the Commons yesterday:
"Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): How many children will have their education affected by a deteriorating noise environment if the Government press ahead with their plans for a third runway and mixed mode at Heathrow?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady knows full well that a number of schools are in the immediate vicinity of Heathrow. Action has been taken to provide noise insulation at those schools. Clearly, in the event of there being any decision to expand Heathrow, further action would have to be taken to ensure that those schoolchildren were able to attend and participate in lessons in the way that they do already.
Mrs. Villiers: According to the local authorities affected, 114 schools and around 100,000 children will suffer from serious noise problems if a third runway goes ahead. Meanwhile, around the world, air traffic is falling, Stelios is telling the easyJet board that the days of exponential passenger growth have gone, and yesterday’s pre-Budget report predicted a fall in demand for aviation. Is it not time that the Secretary of State revised down his aviation growth forecasts and scrapped his plans for a third runway and mixed mode at Heathrow?
Mr. Hoon: Unfortunately, the statistics that the hon. Lady quotes are not additional to any decision to build an extra runway. She simply gives the number of children currently affected. I anticipated that in the answer that I gave a few moments ago. She needs to ensure, when she is putting forward this case, that she has her statistics right and that she deploys them accurately as far as the House is concerned, so that we can have a proper debate about these matters. As I made clear at the outset, no decision has been taken on the matter. Any decision that is taken, will be taken in the light of air quality, noise and public transport arrangements."
Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon's reply on the number of schoolchildren potentially affected is odd. Surely a third runway won't only affect new schools but also create additional noise for schools which are already affected.
Mrs Villiers's assertion that aviation forecasts should be revised because demand for air travel is falling is very interesting. Do you agree?
Yesterday the House of Commons debated Heathrow. Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon referred to a lengthy public consultation on the matter, for which over 70,000 submissions were received.
The three options consultees were asked to consider were, Mr Hoon told the House:
"a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; secondly, mixed-mode landing and take-off patterns within existing capacity around 2010 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; and thirdly, mixed-mode within existing capacity around 2010, full mixed-mode around 2015 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020."
"Mixed-mode" means using runways for take-offs and landings.
The Government announced in 2003 that it supports a third runway and additional terminal capacity. Mr Hoon stressed yesterday that this is subject to various environmental conditions - meeting European air quality obligations, not increasing the size of the area "significantly affected" by aircraft noise and an improvement in public transport, especially rail. The Prime Minister has also said that next month's final decision will be taken in light of these considerations.
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers outlined the Opposition's stance:
Shadow Health Minister Stephen O'Brien has received the following answer about buses.
"Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made towards achieving the target of increasing bus passenger journeys by 2010 by 10 per cent., as stated in his Department’s Transport 10 Year Plan of 2000; and against what benchmark progress towards achieving this target is being measured. 
Paul Clark: The target to increase bus passenger journeys by 10 per cent. by 2010 has now been superseded by one of a set of public service agreements (PSA) published in the cross-Governmental Spending Review 2004.
The new target outlines our aim, by 2010, to increase the use of public transport (bus and light rail) by more than 12 per cent. in England compared with 2000 levels, with growth in every region in the last three years.
It would be interesting to see just how responsible London is for the "achievement". Many parts of the country have little bus service to speak of at all.