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My week in Westminster (11th to 14th October)

October 18, 2010

I had intended writing this up on Sunday but IT problems at home frustrated my intentions…so this is a note on some highlights of last week.  Monday was actually my 44th birthday.  Being an MP means your birthday appears in the quality papers but Parliament is not like any other workplace so there were no cakes or drinks with colleagues, which was the norm in the “real world” pre 2005!

Instead my birthday was buried in a flurry  of Bristol and Westminster media events.  I’ll be posting a separate note with my views on higher education (so save your comments for that blog!) but my day began at 10 to 8 in the Radio Bristol studio doing an interview with Justin Webb of the Today programme, in advance of Lord Browne’s report on HE due out on Tuesday.

Then at 8.10am it was Radio Bristol proper to talk about Bristol City FC’s visit to Westminster later in the morning.  Steve Lansdown and his colleagues were on the same train to Paddington and at lunchtime we met up in a House of Commons function room to hear from him as well as Dawn Primarlo MP and Cllr Simon Cook.  Then we were off to College Green for a photo-op with a “City United” banner, joined by Charlotte Leslie and Kerry McCarthy.  This is the first time I can recall all four Bristol MPs standing together to support the same issue – we should do it more often.  MPs from outside the city (Tessa Munt and Chris Skidmore) plus councillors from all three parties on Bristol City Council were there in support. I will continue to press the government to clarify the town greens legislation and hope that the club get the evidence they need to enable the City Council to reject the inspector’s findings.

Later on Monday I was briefly on duty in the Commons chamber for the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, the technical legislation from the Budget.  One such technical measure which pleased me was action to curb tax avoidance…by smokers.  Apparently people have been buying long cigarettes, cutting them in half and selling them on, saving duty.  One of the roles I’ve taken up in this Parliament is Chair of the All Party Group on Smoking & Health.  Over the summer we conducted an evidence based enquiry into tobacco control, in advance of this week’s Comprehensive Spending Review.  Our report shows that investment in tobacco control pays a substantial dividend, not just in value for money but in saving lives.  You can read it here:  http://www.ash.org.uk/current-policy-issues/all-party-parliamentary-group-on-smoking-and-health

The week saw more media appearances in all the quality newspapers as well as Radio 5 and Newsnight and the West regional news on tuition fees.  This week I also used Parliament to draw attention to another important local issue.  I have campaigned for improvements to Bristol’s rail network for many years.    The last government announced an intention to electrify the Great Western Rail line from Paddington to Bristol and South Wales.  Bristol, Cardiff and Swindon councils have banded together to promote transport improvements.  My colleague Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central and I spoke at a Commons reception for the partnership.

I referred to my summer visit to Swindon’s excellent Steam Museum about the GWR.  In May 1838 when the Northern Star pulled into Bristol Station on the inaugural run from Paddington it immediately transformed the lives of everyone in early Victorian Bristol.  Speed, comfort and convenience immediately shifted from mail coach to the railway carriage.  We even had to change our clocks!  Now in the 21st century many people prefer the M4 to the railway.  We have to give the advantage back to rail.

Finally, on Thursday we had the latest sitting of the Commons Select Committee on Political & Constitutional Reform.   The committee is preparing a report on the post election arrangements for coalition forming.  We will look at the experiences of the 5 days in May 2010 when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was formed and making recommendations for next time, should a hung Parliament arise in May 2015.

Our witnesses were my colleague David Laws for  the Lib Dems and Andrew Adonis for Labour.  Oliver Letwin will give evidence next week.  In my opinion Andrew was  putting a rather too generous gloss on Labour behaviour  after the election.  But he came up with one Rumsfeldism –  the absence of a written constitution meant  that “understandings were not completely understood.” Personally, I think more breathing space will be needed next time.  I have vivid memories of reading draft documents in the early hours of the morning on the back of several days without more than  a few hours sleep.  I don’t think we need as long as the US system of a November election and January handover.  In our Parliamentary system we could set a date for the House of Commons to assemble post election (say 2 weeks) and have that date as the time by which a government  should be formed, initially by voting for a Prime Minister.

Anyway, it’s 10.20pm on Monday and there’ll be more votes soon on the current constitutional Bill before the House, on the AV referendum.  So bye for now.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2010 11:32 pm

    A pity, then, that you chose to vote AGAINST Caroline Lucas’s amendment that would have given us electors the chance to choose other, fairer, voting systems to elect you. You remember… Single Transferable Vote… Added Member System… the things that you talked about before the election.

    As for the football fiasco, I’ve written to Kerry McCarthy (my MP) about that statement you signed up to – arguably encouraging Bristol’s councillors to break the law.

    Did you have time to think about first? Or was it a case of group pressure, and the blessing of a rich tax exile?

    • October 19, 2010 9:12 am

      STV is not going to be conceded by either Conservatives or Labour. AV is the only electoral reform on the table. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.

      I’d never met Lansdown until last Monday and personally do not approve of his tax status.

  2. October 19, 2010 7:08 am

    It’s great you support rail transport Stephen but is this support going to be as enduring as all the principles imo you jettisoned when Nick Clegg clicked his fingers and you started to collect committee Chairmanships?

    You have previously said you support a Portishead to Bristol Temple Meads rail link which would take cars off the already busy roads in Bristol West and South.

    Presumably you would condemn Mr. Hammond your coalition bedfellow for axing the comparatively modest £30 million needed to make the Portishead line happen? You have been silent on the subject since it was announced.

    I’m sure the many green voters who switched their support to you would like to know.

    Best wishes and belated happy birthday, if we’d have known, we’d have sent a card

    Darren

    ps If you are going to trot out the standard “extent of the deficit” line you might like to explain

    a. Why you stood on a platform of opposing rather than supporting spending cuts this year?

    b. Are you seriously suggesting you and Vince Cable were genuinely ignorant of the extent of the deficit when you were standing for election? (Didn’t he write a book on it?)

    c. We’ve all heard the Liam Byrne joke. It was a joke. Only hacks still repeat it.

    • October 19, 2010 9:18 am

      Darren, if you ever get elected for Labour you might find that being patronising and rude to other elected people doesn’t get you very far.
      For the record I was elected chair of the committee on smoking and health by the other, mainly Labour, members because of my good record on the issue. I think the DPM has other things to worry about rather than my cross party committees – do you think he arranged for my Palestine post too?
      Re the Portishead line – yes I campaigned for that for 5 years – and the last govt failed to find the money when the coffers had rather more in them than now.
      Interesting you are defensive about Liam Byrne…

    • Chucklebutty permalink
      October 19, 2010 11:52 am

      Mr Williams. To accuse Turningbristolred of being rude and patonising is simply unwarranted. This is the kind of behaviour that has brought politics and politicians into disrepute. Rather than simply making subjective accusations – one man’s patronising is another man’s plain speaking, one man’s rude is another man’s straightforward – why not simply anwer the points he makes?

      I would also add that, quite clearly judging from the amount of interest in both the local media and here on your blog, that what most of your readers are really concerned about is the Ashton Gate fiasco – did you know by the way that the maximum penalty for malfeasance in public office is an indefinite term of imprisonment and an unlimited fine? Do you think it is right for a person to attempt to pressure City councillors to commit a crime with such severe penalties? Do you think that it is right to pressure City councillors to commit any crime at all?

      Turningbristolred

      “Are you seriously suggesting you and Vince Cable were genuinely ignorant of the extent of the deficit when you were standing for election? (Didn’t he write a book on it?)”

      This would be the same Vince Cable who signed a pre-election pledge not to increase student fees, and when asked about this on 13th October on Channel 4 News replied “If I ever knew I would actually have to be in government I would never have signed it”. Says it all really.

      • October 19, 2010 12:11 pm

        you seem to write in much the same style as Darren! I’ve never been threatened with prison by an anonymous blogger before. I must go off and tremble in a corner.

      • Chucklebutty permalink
        October 19, 2010 1:16 pm

        Mr Williams. If you seriously think I am Darren, I am insulted.

        There was no threat at all in what I said – it would after all be the councillors who would be committing the offence – I’d be interested to know your answer to my questions though, or do elected representatives feel they are above speaking to the public nowadays?

  3. harryT permalink
    October 19, 2010 9:01 am

    Oh dear. My MP is continuing to push pro-stadium propoganda without making any attempt to speak to anyone against the stadium or find out why the Inpsector supported the application.

    This is not the type of MP that I want in parliament. Seeking to ignore the legal rights of local people to favour the commerical intereststs of others.

    • October 19, 2010 9:20 am

      MPs from the four constituencies and all 3 parties are united on this one, both in Parliament and on the Council. People often ask why can’t politicians agree on things that are for the good of the country/city. This is an example of us doing just that.

      • harryT permalink
        October 19, 2010 11:22 am

        You have entirely ignored my post and repsonded with propoganda

        All of the MPs have ignored the local people. none have even attempted to understand the reasons for the actions of the local people.

        All have jumped on the bandwagon of “football” and “world cup” without any reference to the local peoples statuory legal rights.

        You just happen to be my MP. Which is why I am horrified by your actions.

        No doubt you also support the huge Sainsbury’s store at the clubs old ground – despite pre-election opposition to more supermarkets.

      • October 19, 2010 12:09 pm

        to Harry. I have no public view on a supermarket application in Bristol South, it’s up to Dawn to take a view on such a local issue. The stadium has regional implications and she is happy for her neighbouring MPs to support her.

    • October 19, 2010 4:40 pm

      Stephen:

      This blogger at least is not anonymous – if my link (in the first comment) hadn’t been eliminated by your blog moderation, it would have identified me very quickly.

      HarryT has simply spelled out the potential consequences of encouraging councillors to act outside the law (malfeasance) which is what you and the other MPs appear to be doing with your call to reject the Village Green recommendation, which ends:
      “Councillors have an important and difficult decision to make. We urge them to stand up for the views of the majority of residents and bring the stadium to Bristol”

      Not a call for them to make an evidence-based judgement within the law, ignoring populist pressure, is it?

      I’m sure you wouldn’t knowingly want to encourage law-breaking; that’s why I wondered whether any of you had much chance to think about your joint declaration before you signed it. With hindsight, would you like to clarify that last sentence so that you can’t be accused of encouraging malfeasance in public office?

      • October 21, 2010 2:34 pm

        You’ve answered quite a few of the comments on here…. any chance of reaching this one? (If you do, you’ll have done better than Kerry McC, who I emailed and copied it it onto my blog)

      • October 22, 2010 6:04 pm

        Pete – I think I have said several times that BCFC need to find the EVIDENCE to enable the Council to reject the inspector’s report. I have never said that they should reject it out of hand.

      • October 22, 2010 9:35 pm

        Thanks, Stephen. Would it be fair, then, to say that your position would be more accurately summed up like this?

        Instead of
        “We urge (councillors) to stand up for the views of the majority of residents and bring the stadium to Bristol”

        why not:
        “We hope BCFC will now produce convincing evidence that shows the Inspector’s recommendation is ill-informed, so that councillors can stand up for the views of the majority of residents and bring the stadium to that part of Bristol. Failing that, of course, the councillors should act within the law and declare the area a Town Green, while encouraging the club to find better alternative site”

        Just trying to find common ground (oops!)….

        Anyway, it’s not for me (or BCFC!) to put words into your mouth, I’m sure you can provide your own!

        Pete

      • Art of the Possible permalink
        October 24, 2010 7:25 pm

        Stockwood Pete said: “You’ve answered quite a few of the comments on here”

        You’re way too charitable Mr Pete. It doesn’t look to me like Stephen Williams has properly answered any of the very good questions that have been raised in this thread or the previous one about Ashton Vale.

        He’s probably hoping to quickly pass over it all now with some new posts.

      • October 25, 2010 4:53 pm

        You’re probably right, Art of the Possible. ‘Responded’ would have been more accurate than ‘answered’!

        Still, I’d rather be constructive than confrontational. I’d like to think that Stephen is chasing up my comment on Human Trafficking (next post), because he can’t be expected to be aware of everything all the time – and his party won’t have said much about this one.

        Anyway, I’m still hoping for clarification of the MPs joint statement on Ashton Vale. Is mine (two comments above) a fair interpretation, Stephen ?

  4. harryT permalink
    October 19, 2010 1:05 pm

    But what you don’t explain is why you have taken a position on the basis of info from stadium supporters only. You have not made any attempt to contact the other side, despite your outrageous comments that they were “vexatious” in your earlier post (ignoring the fact that vexatious litigants are ones that bring cases bound to fail and this one has won). And despite you making several statements which show you have no understanding of their position and little understanding of the facts of their case.

    In my view, Town Green law exists precisly to protect people like this. You have taken the opposite view but without any attempt to speak to both sides. You (and all the other MPs) are exibiting exactly the sort of partisan behaviour that people despise. .

  5. October 19, 2010 1:27 pm

    Sigh. Stephen. You appear to be accusing me of being “Chucklebutty” At 11.52 am I was in a meeting with Helen Holland it started at 11am and ended at 12.20. Something which is in the diary in the Council House and Lib Dem Cllr. Guy Poultney can attest to as I bumped in to him smoking a fag and walking in the opposite direction when I left.

    When I tell someone they are being an idiot or a hypocrite I do it to their face. I speak in a forthright and honest manner. It would be nice if you did the same.

    This is your usual tactic of attacking the questioner in order to give a “non answer”

    Let’s refocus on my original question and see if we can get a straight answer:

    Do you or do you not condemn Philip Hammond for pulling the potential funding for the Portishead line?

    D

    ps the next tactic will be for Cllrs. Rogers and Woodman/Lib Dem students to weigh in to attack the questioner and obfuscate.

    • October 19, 2010 3:12 pm

      Actually Darren, I have no intention of jumping in and attacking you. Re-opening the Portishead line to passenger traffic would be a sensible improvement to Bristol’s (and the sub-region’s) transport network, and I am sure Stephen, the city’s other MPs, and councillors from all parties, would like to see it happen.

      However, the fact remains that money is short at the moment, and Bristol has a lot of ambitious transport projects that we’re hoping to get central government funding for. Stephen also makes a perfectly valid point – Labour had 13 years to do this when the coffers were much fuller than now!

  6. harryT permalink
    October 19, 2010 4:28 pm

    I think that BCC is particularly keen to get funding for a RT bus route across a certain piece of greenbelt in South Bristol. I have heard it may have something to do with football and world cups. Bloody little use the rest of the time.

    But I still don’t know why none of the MPs want to hear the Ashton Vale residents side of things but are happy to slander them and their actions in the press.

    • October 19, 2010 10:18 pm

      Dawn Primalo is the MP for the Ashton Vale area, not me, and I’m sure that she takes account of the residents’views in her constituency. The other 3 MPs for Bristol are simply saying that the city should get a new stadium, particularly when detailed planning consideration has already been given by two local councils.

      • harryT permalink
        October 20, 2010 7:51 am

        Your statements have got far further than that, especially as the “law” recognises that town green status is of higher importance than a planning permission and is expressly intended to prevent development of land.

        Your statements that the Applicants were vexatious, that the land was a tip, that work would create a wetlands rather than destroy them, were statements of fact about the applicants’ case made without reference to them at all. Just because you are not their MP does not mean you can make things up about them or repeat propoganda against them.

  7. Art of the Possible permalink
    October 19, 2010 5:32 pm

    “…standing together to support the same issue – we should do it more often.”

    Yes indeed. After all, why go to the trouble of having three different parties when one party would get the things you want done so much more efficiently?

    • October 19, 2010 10:22 pm

      so do you want politicians to bicker even when they agree? Maybe Labour MPs could favour the stadium, I could back the residents who don’t want one and Charlotte could sit on the fence…or any other permutation you like.

      • Art of the Possible permalink
        October 21, 2010 9:07 pm

        I’m afraid your three parties are all too depressingly similar to many of us, no matter how much you bicker.

  8. October 21, 2010 6:01 am

    So obviously you’ve not seen fit to answer my question on the Portishead line.

    Let’s try one you directly comment on in your blog.

    1. The electrification of the Great Western Line is one of the major projects left off the list of major transport scheme.

    Would you condemn Osborne and Hammond for that?

    2. You, like other Lib Dems, campaigned on a platform of cheaper train travel. Sue to your government removing caps it now seems that in real terms fares will increase at 10%. Well above inflation. Would you personally like to apologise to Bristolians for this?

    Best wishes
    D

    • October 21, 2010 11:35 am

      Darren – you are a Labour candidate and I think an officer in Bristol West Labour Party. This is my blog, not a meeting of the Labour party for me to be interrogated by you. Sorry!

  9. Gus Hoyt permalink
    October 21, 2010 11:31 am

    Hmmm,
    so, despite being offered the chance to vote for an ammendment on STV you chose to vote against it?

    You are part of a co-alition of MPs in Bristol that don’t believe the concept of Town Green Status.

    You have introduced a law that means people who cut long ciggerettes in half pay more tax, yet by signing some document back in May (that is called for no-where in our “conctitution”) you have helped enact the greatest cuts since the last Lib-Con allience in 1918. One which led to financial meltdown.

    Well done, Sir. I love it when a politician has integrity.

    • October 21, 2010 11:40 am

      Same point to you as to Darren – this is not a forum for candidates from other parties (Green in your case) to present me with ultimatums! The Coalition Agreement provides for AV, not STV. Neither of the other parties offered STV. AV is the only fairer system on offer. It’s better than First Past the Post so I hope you will eventually support it. I thought Greens were generally opposed to STV anyway, preferring top up systems like Wales, Scotland and London.

  10. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    October 22, 2010 5:07 pm

    Hi Stephen
    Sorry, no political allegiance here, just a simple question. Do you really believe that Ashton Vale is the best place for what you describe as a “regional stadium”? Personally I can’t think of many places more difficult to reach for people travelling from outside the immediate area than here. No rail link, no motorway link, and the proposed BRT seemingly in doubt, do we really have to rely on the car in this day and age? Most would like a new stadium and arena, but please lets put it in a more suitable location.

    • October 22, 2010 6:07 pm

      Paul – personally I think the large expanse of land near Temple Meads would be better for an arena – this was the site that the SWRDA worked on and then pulled the plug due to budget cuts (which happened even under Labour!!) a few years ago. Don’t know about stadium – it would not have the same constant use as an arena and does not really need to be close to the city centre and hotels. There are of course plans to improve transport links to Ashton Vale.

  11. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    October 23, 2010 9:44 am

    Thanks Stephen. My problem is with the claim “regional stadium” which implies people coming from all over the South West. To meet this description surely it should have rail and motorway links. It’s like the claim that it will regenerate South Bristol when the regeneration areas are Hartcliffe, Withywood, and Knowle West which have no public transport links to the new site and are geographically further away than many other parts of the city. It’s the “spin” that “gets” me!

  12. StillWaters permalink
    October 23, 2010 12:53 pm

    Can you also comment on the statements made by BCFC Supporters who admit that ‘the only reason we want a new stadium is to generate an income on non-match days’ (despite the fact the site is not owned or controlled by the club) and the fact they also are aware that the whole ‘regional stadium/World Cup bid’ was hype to get the Council and others like yourself hooked into supporting the ‘exceptional development’ on Green Belt.

    Please feel free to browse their forum if you don’t believe me.

    Please also note: the Village Green application was underway a long time before the planning permission was sought on the site. A fact you probably weren’t aware of.

    As for transport to the site, please feel free to browse a professional independent assessment of the developer’s report that clearly shows:

    ‘a gross underestimation has been made regarding the number of car trips that will be generated by the proposed stadium on a matchday.
    The actual number of cars on the local road network and searching for a car parking space will be 4,971 (rather than the 1,411 cars quoted in the Transport Assessment). This results
    in an on-street parking impact of 3,921 cars (instead of the previously quoted 361 required on-street spaces)’.

    Read it here:

    http://www.ashtonvaleheritage.co.uk/USERIMAGES/Transport%20Assessment%20PDF%20AS-AVHG%20Aug%2009(2).pdf

    How many of the other pro-Stadium reports have been massaged in such a way too?

    • October 25, 2010 5:49 pm

      Actually, I wasn’t aware that the Town Green application pre-dated BCFC’s interest in the site. You are the first to mention it.
      But it doesn’t alter the fact that the final outcome must be based on evidence of the site’s use over the last 20 years. As you know, it’s also my opinion (yes, just an opinion) that the legislation was not meant for sites of this huge size.

  13. Mark permalink
    October 29, 2010 12:02 pm

    @Stockwood Pete

    You sound like Maggie Thatcher defending the poll tax … all those awful people breaking the law! why not simply accept that in the face of overwhelming public opinion you have got it wrong; the TVG law in this case is inappropriate; the majority of reasonable people having weighed up the evidence approve of the development; even the democratically elected politicians!

    • Art of the Possible permalink
      October 30, 2010 3:27 pm

      Mark, you must be living in an alternate upside-down universe.

      TVG law is completely appropriate in Ashton Vale, which fact is demonstrated by an officially appointed Inspector having now thoroughly evaluated the evidence and decided in favour of a Town Green on the site.

      You and BCFC are behaving like bad losers.

  14. Mark permalink
    November 1, 2010 10:27 am

    Oh Art

    Arent you in danger of having to remove the boot from your mouth sometime soon?

    November 9th … as sure as day follows night that date will come around and then and only then can you assert what you say; and only then will we know if the thing will be appealed, overturned or accepted.

    Due process!

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