Parliament was dominated last week by naughty backbench rebels: this week has seen the ascendancy of sacked ministers intervening in government business in a far more polite, but still very effective, manner. Tim Loughton and Nick Harvey made their own points yesterday at Treasury Questions, but Cheryl Gillan is still on the warpath over high-speed rail, and is now stepping up her campaign.
The former Welsh Secretary made her concerns clear last week in an article for Coffee House, and has a question on today’s Order Paper which attacks the government’s decision to push decisions about expanding airport capacity into the long grass. The question, for Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, says:
‘To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to the Commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies tasked to identify and recommend to the Government options for future UK hub airport capacity, for what reason he has precluded the possibility that the Commission could use its interim report to recommend a substantive airport policy if the Commission is persuaded that there is an urgent economic case to do so.’
Gillan is peeved that the airports inquiry will not be making any formal recommendations until after the 2015 election while preparations for high-speed rail continue without any regard to how this might be affected by a new runway or even a new airport in the South East.
She is also examining a section of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill which she worries could lead to the protections for a national park or area of outstanding natural beauty being ignored. She has written to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to ask for assurances about clause 7 of the Bill, which focuses on broadband provision and allows the Secretary of State to override the protections that these two designated areas enjoy in order to bring broadband to these areas. Gillan is worried that the Bill’s proposals will mean the erosion of protection for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty where other projects, including high-speed rail, are concerned.
If she is not sufficiently placated, she plans to bring an amendment at the report stage of the Bill which would protect such areas.