A victory for the Morgan’s Hill River Group, which I set up in honour of the hydrological landmark near Devizes whence rainwater flows into the three seas to the east, south and west of England… a victory for us, and for all the other campaigners who have been calling for the fines that water companies pay when they’re caught tipping sewage into the rivers, to be paid to local nature restoration projects rather than simply to the Treasury. It’s a small policy tweak, but a significant one and a very welcome step towards the regulatory regime we need to clean our rivers up for good. More detail here.
I wish I had victory to report in the battle against excessive HGV use on the A338/A346 that runs north and south through Marlborough, linking Swindon and Salisbury, the A303 and the M4. The size and route of this road hasn’t changed since the biggest traffic on it was horse-drawn wagons, or indeed flocks of animals driven up Herd Street. Herd Street is now the steepest and narrowest bit of trunk road in the country, and very amusing (not) it is to see the lorries huff and puff, and often get stuck, there on an icy morning. Further south are the Collingbournes, blighted by HGVs roaring through the villages, sometimes tragically. I was back there last week at another packed public meeting, at which reps from Wiltshire Council and the police answered questions about what can be done. The Council’s answers to the last set of questions we put to them are here. Much can’t be done (like the ingenious suggestion of declaring Burbage Bridge too fragile for lorries) - but much can be, and we will push ahead hard on these options.
In Parliament I raised the issue of children with special needs, and the importance of Ofsted holding schools to account for how they support them (here); I spoke about the failures of the Child Maintenance Service, and took the chance to say I wished we spent as much effort helping families stay together as we do mitigating the effects of separation (here); I made a speech expressing my hope that the £800m or so which is available from dormant bank and insurance accounts can be used to create a new permanent endowment for local communities (here); I joined the Rural Services APPG to meet with the Local Government minister and press him to send the unfairness of rural areas receiving less per head for public services than urban dwellers; and I organised a meeting with other MPs to hear from experts on the channel migrant crisis.
Esoteric, perhaps, but I think significant, was the debate on the Financial Services and Markets Bill this week. I spoke in support of the amendment that will stop private payment platforms withdrawing services from people or organisations because of their political opinions, as PayPal seemed to do this year. I also stated my hope that as we move towards a cashless society we need to do more to protect the people and businesses that still use cash, and especially until such time as we have worked out a way of doing digital money that is consistent with liberty (here). I made a similar point in a later debate on the Bill to approve digital (not just paper based) Lasting Powers of Attorney (here).
The week ended with carols and readings in Malmesbury Abbey, in support of Youth Action Wiltshire that supports the county’s young carers. Forgive me for going out-of-bounds. My neighbour James Gray MP, who covers the northern reaches of Wiltshire beyond the M4, has declared himself a modern Athelstan, as he intends to unite the ancient kingdoms of Wessex (that’s us) and Mercia (that’s the Midlands) when the new constituency boundaries come into force, with him as MP for South Cotswolds, straddling the Wiltshire- Gloucestershire border. He should really set himself up as St Aldhelm, the 8th century abbot of Malmesbury. Aldhelm went to Rome and brought back a charter from the Pope protecting the lands of Malmesbury, which was ratified by the Kings of Mercia and Wessex: ‘they decreed that, whatever kind of foray or war disturbed their borders, the places belonging to the holy and knowledgeable Aldhelm should be free from all service.’ He also once hung his chasuble on a sunbeam, which I’d like to see James Gray try.