March 2008 Monthly Archives

Getting our voice heard

March 17, 2008

I can’t think of a time when the stock of politicians has fallen so low in this country.

I can’t think of a time when the stock of politicians has fallen so low in this country. Of course, the newspapers are feasting on the question of MPs expenses and I both understand that and fully support the need for much greater transparency and accountability for how public money is spent. I am confident that we are now on a journey that will get our House in order. However I am very concerned about a more substantial trend which is dangerous for our democracy. Quite simply people are fed up with not getting their voice heard, and are turning away from the traditional political process. I see this in the context of the expansion of Heathrow with the Government apparently deaf to the growing voice across London that says we must think again in the interests of the environment and our quality of life. And people know that the decision to expand Heathrow is built on a lie, namely that Terminal 5 was to be the end. Last week at a packed rally in Westminster, 3000 people turned up to vent their anger. In dismissing the roof top protesters, the Prime minister said that decisions should be taken in the chamber of the House of Commons not on the roof. But that is not where decisions are taken these days. They are taken in Government and Brussels and we feel increasingly powerless to influence those decisions, whether it be Heathrow; the closure of post offices; a new planning development or a new piece of regulation. That is why I am so pleased that my Private Members Bill, the Sustainable Communities Act; is now law. It is certainly not the catch all cure for this problem but it is a start that is rooted in the right thought which is that local communities know best what is right for them and should have more influence over the key decisions. So for example, a community should not have to accept the closure of post offices if they are essential to community life but it should be free to argue for funds to be reallocated from other less important programmes. Only by giving people a real sense that getting involved is worth while because you can change something, will we stop this disturbing drift away from engagement with politics. "

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

March 17, 2008

Nick Hurd challenges the use of taxpayers’ money to buy carbon credits in overseas markets in order to fulfil ambitious carbon targets.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Before the Secretary of State gets to the meat of the three principles, may I point out that both he and the Chancellor in his Budget have been entirely silent about using taxpayers’ money to buy carbon credits in overseas markets to allow us to fulfil our ambitious carbon targets? The National Audit Office estimates that the cost to British taxpayers will be about £5 billion by 2020; what is the Government’s estimate?
Hilary Benn: It will depend on the decision that the Government take about the use of international credits. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Bill provides for the committee on climate change to give us advice on the use of international credits. The Government will have to look at that advice in due course, when we receive it. In another place, there was a lively debate about the use of international credits, and we will no doubt have such a debate in the House when the Bill comes before us. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman accepts, it is entirely legitimate to make progress partly by using international credits because in the end, from the world’s point of view, it does not matter where emissions are saved, as long as they are saved. That is why the Government’s view is that carbon trading and the purchase of credit have an important role to play.

Mr. Hurd: I attach the same importance to clean coal technology as the right hon. Gentleman, but will he clarify whether the Government intend to attach any carbon capture and storage conditions at all to the proposed coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, and if not, why not?

Hilary Benn: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will make that decision, which he will announce in due course.

Mr. Hurd: Do the Liberal Democrats therefore support a cap on the purchase of overseas credits, and if so what level would they put that at?

Steve Webb: I do support such a cap, and before the Bill reaches this House, I shall read the debates in the other place, in which their lordships agreed a figure of 30 per cent. I shall certainly oppose Government attempts to reverse that, but I have an open mind on whether it should be lower. The key point is that we need to lock into a low-carbon structural economy, and buying our way out simply defers that.