June 2005 Monthly Archives

Article for Ruislip and Northwood Gazette

June 30, 2005

Making my maiden speech in the House of Commons turned out to be easier than I thought.

Making my maiden speech in the House of Commons turned out to be easier than I thought. For a start , John Randall was a friendly face in a small audience. Secondly, it was a pleasure to tell the House something about our part of the world. I talked about the frustration that people feel with politicians. We feel less able to control what is important to us, whether it is an unacceptable planning application or the fate of a much loved local hospital. The big decisions seem to be taken by remote unaccountable bureaucracies. My concern is that communities that do not feel empowered quickly lose their sense of community. So I took the opportunity to pay tribute to the local heroes who over the years have stood up for what local people have valued. To that list we must add this week Heart of Harefield, so ably led by Jean Brett. Their relentless pursuit of the truth has done more than any politician to save Harefield Hospital. The Paddington Health Campus can now be pronounced dead, and should not be mourned. In their courageous decision to withdraw support, we should also congratulate the Board of Brompton and Harefield Trust. It is not easy to change your mind in public, unless you are called Tony Blair.

I attended the board meeting in which the North West London Strategic Authority finally accepted the inevitable. My message was simple. We need a public enquiry into how eight years and £13.8 m of taxpayers money was spent chasing a mirage. That should not be about serving heads on a platter but identifying the lessons that need to be learnt Arguably the most important lesson is the importance of bringing local communities along with the big decisions. We will soon have the opportunity to test whether they ‘get it’. In the next few months, important decisions will be taken about the services provided at Harefield hospital and Mt Vernon Cancer centre. In their approach to those decisions, the relevant health authorities have an opportunity to rebuild the bridges of trust with the communities they serve . I hope they take it."

Climate Change (G8 Summit) Debate

June 29, 2005

Nick Hurd makes a speech highlighting three main priorities for the UK: energy efficiency, business and consumer education.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I am grateful for the chance to make a brief and, I hope, constructive contribution to the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on securing it.

On the issue of climate change, we are discussing arguably the most demanding test of political leadership that the world faces. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) mentioned, the science has moved on to the point where every science agency that matters is telling its Government that action is required. It is time to move the debate on.

The imperative is to understand better the likely impacts of climate change and to focus on the response. Do we try and control it, or do we focus on adapting to it? The political difficulties are immense. There remains huge uncertainty about the impact of climate change and the acceptable limits of greenhouse gas concentrations. The need to take out an insurance policy is clear. All insurance policies carry a cost. For that cost to be acceptable, there needs to be acceptance of the risk, not just by the scientists and the politicians who “get it”, but by the public out there who tend still to see the problem as being “out there”. They may be increasingly aware that the climate is less stable, but they are less clear about the link with the choices that they make in their day-to-day lives.

To be effective, any insurance policy on climate change needs to be global, requiring a degree of international co-operation that has never been achieved. Given these difficulties, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a vacuum of leadership on this key global challenge, a sense of drift reinforced by a lack of accountability. The superpower is clearly not engaged, at least at the federal level and at least until 2008. I shall argue today that there is an extraordinary opportunity for the European Union to fill that void, to leverage the power of the single market, to play a constructive and possibly decisive role in building the coalition of the willing that the hon. Member for Lewes mentioned, and to find a path beyond the first, very small step that was Kyoto.

It must be for Britain to goad the EU into that role. We are uniquely placed to do so given our relationship with the United States, given that we are one of the few countries likely to meet the Kyoto targets, courtesy of the dash for gas led by a Conservative Government, and because we should see it as the right response to the current crisis in the EU. At the heart of the crisis is the need to redefine the relevance of the EU and to prove its value to a new generation. I would argue that that means giving priority to two things: first, re-establishing the EU’s credentials as a force for prosperity, and secondly, proving that the EU can take an effective lead on some of the issues that we cannot tackle on our own. Climate change should be at the top of that list as an issue of growing salience to the people of Europe.

What the world lacks, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset eloquently pointed out, is a framework that takes us beyond 2012. The EU can take a lead in shaping and selling that framework. There is considerable merit in the contract-and-converge principle, but there are difficulties with it and it requires serious consideration. What is clear is that any agreement needs to be acceptable to the United States and the emerging giants.

To be successful, we need to win the argument that lower CO 2 emissions need not come at the expense of growth if we act now. In policy terms, that means focusing intensely on more efficient use of energy and the development of technology that cleans up the supply side. It means bringing the world of business and its customers with us, which in turn means talking less about cost and more about opportunity. We must build into any framework much greater accountability and transparency at individual country level and at the international level.

In building that coalition, there is a great deal that the EU could do to set a lead. I shall give three brief examples. The first is emissions trading. As a Conservative, I believe that emissions trading should be at the heart of a global market-led solution to the problem. The EU emissions trading scheme should be seen as an opportunity to develop a model for a global scheme. It needs to be robust and it needs to be seen to be robust. Critically, it should include aviation. The Minister sounded optimistic about that, but early signs are not encouraging on either front. Real political will needs to be applied to make an emissions trading scheme work and be seen to work.

The second example is the Prime Minister’s favourite topic, the common agricultural policy. If the taxpayer is to subsidise farming, let us ensure that we get more bang for our buck. The link has been made with protecting the environment. Why not use the subsidies to incentivise the production of crops for biofuels, which have the capacity to transform the environmental impact of road traffic?

The third matter on which the EU could take a lead is developing technology, for example, clean coal. I congratulate the Government on their recent carbon capture and storage initiative, but we must acknowledge that its impact on the global problem will be marginal. Let us consider the huge coal reserves in the United States and China and face the fact that coal is here to stay. The challenge is to develop clean coal. Rather than mucking around with small, unilateral initiatives, it is time for the EU to take a bold step and gather international support for a large-scale demonstration project of a clean-coal power plant in India or China.

The Prime Minister rightly identified climate change as a priority. He is in a position to show the same leadership as Mrs. Thatcher when she put the issue on the political agenda. Britain can be a role model in showing the world that emissions can be cut at little or no cost to economic growth. However, before anyone listens to us we must set our house in order.

The Government have rightly set ambitious targets, but carbon emissions have risen on the Prime Minister’s watch and that stark fact undermines our credibility and makes it unlikely that we shall hit future targets. We need a coherent policy framework, which is supported by a process that is more robust in making the Government accountable. Politicians arguably talk too much about processes, but we need a credible road map to reach the long-term targets. It is sensible to break down the targets into shorter-term milestones, backed with a more transparent plan for achieving them.

I should like humbly to recommend three priorities for domestic policy. First, energy efficiency appears the least controversial aspect on which to focus. Who could argue with the proposition of saving money and the planet at the same time? There is huge scope for improving the energy efficiency of our relatively old and inefficient housing stock, out of which seeps approximately 25 per cent. of our emissions. The Government can play a crucial role in breaking through consumer apathy, which is genuine, by a combination of education and compelling incentives to invest in making our homes and offices more energy efficient. Ideally, those incentives should extend to landlords in the private rented sector and small businesses, for which the climate change levy appears to be an ineffective stick.

Many people were disappointed by the Treasury’s failure in the previous Parliament to devise new economic instruments to promote energy efficiency. Conservative Members tried to be creative by proposing a reform and extension of the energy efficiency commitment. It is imperative that we find common ground in this Parliament on the way forward on that crucial policy.

My second priority would be to send stronger signals to businesses, whose attitudes are critical. They need to understand that the environmental agenda can bring opportunities as well as costs. For example, let us consider the motor car. I am convinced that new technology provides the solution to road transport emissions. Rather than trying to force people off the road, the right long-term approach for the Government is to go with the grain of public preference and encourage British motorists to make greener choices by making the least polluting cars cheaper to own through the tax and grant system and establishing a coherent long-term framework of fuel differentials to support the greenest fuels.

The current market share for the greenest cars and the greenest fuel remains below 0.5 per cent. and that must be too low. It is imperative that we accelerate technology and incentivise the key manufacturers to recognise a global market opportunity, not least when China is on track to be the largest car market in the world in a generation. Britain has a role to play in that process and we are not meeting that challenge.

The third priority must be to educate consumers and bring them with us. Their day-to-day decisions will make the difference. In that context, I congratulate The Independent, which has been especially effective, not least in its recent exposé of the way in which our standby culture contributes to emissions.

The link between aviation and climate change presents another opportunity to educate. In 2002, a Department for Transport survey showed that only one in eight people make a connection between flying and climate change. That must cause concern, given the growth in aviation emissions. The motor industry showed a positive example by giving consumers more information on emissions from the cars that they buy. Is not it time to put pressure on the aviation industry to follow that example, perhaps by putting information about emissions per journey on all relevant travel documentation? I stress the importance of consumer education because if we are forced in future down the route of a more aggressive tax regime, which the Liberal Democrats favour, to affect behaviour, it can be sustained only if hearts and minds are won first.

It is time for Britain to put its house in order and the issue that we are considering should cross party lines. It is time for Britain to lead the EU in seizing an historic leadership opportunity. If it takes the opportunity, the EU will take a critical step in redefining its relevance to the people that it serves.

6.10 pm

Maiden Speech

June 15, 2005

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my first speech in this House.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my first speech in this House. In doing so, I am conscious that in their very different ways the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) have raised the bar to an ambitious height. Although both are no longer in their places, I congratulate them on their contributions to a debate that ought to be addressing one of the great political challenges of our time: how does the European Union reconnect with its people and what role does Britain play in that process? I speak from the delicate position of being both the son of the Foreign Secretary who negotiated the Maastricht treaty and the successor of John Wilkinson, who fought that treaty tooth and nail through the Lobby. It is a genuine pleasure to pay tribute to John, and in so doing I beg the indulgence of more seasoned Members of the House who are waiting to contribute to the debate.

It would be quite wrong to cast John as an anti-European. He campaigned vigorously for our entry into the Common Market and some of the greatest satisfaction in his parliamentary career came from his work on the Council of Europe. He simply felt that the European project was heading in the wrong direction, and he would enjoy the irony of the fact that the majority of the people in France appear to share his view.

John has been a very good model for a young politician working out how to earn the respect of the people whom he intends to serve. His commitment to country and public service is deeply rooted. He brought real expertise to this place. Jeremy Hanley, an ex-Defence Minister and now a constituent, observed “his knowledge of the RAF and its capabilities is probably second to none in the house.”

He was no one’s poodle. His fierce independence of mind may have cost him some shallow glory on the Front Benches, but it won him the long-term admiration of his constituents. They simply trusted him to speak his mind. Over 25 years of service, John was a dedicated local champion who helped many people with endless supplies of courtesy, good humour and patience. Every week I meet individuals and groups who lose no time in reminding me of that. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing John and Ceci a very happy retirement.

I am very proud to have inherited the constituency of Ruislip-Northwood from John Wilkinson. Sitting on the western end of the Central, Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines, it is superbly connected to London but proud to keep a distance. Few constituencies are more regularly visited by the royal family or senior members of the Government, although I should point out that their journeys rarely extend beyond the mile that it takes them to travel from the A40 to RAF Northolt. That famous airbase celebrates this year its 90th anniversary and the proud distinction of being the oldest continually operational RAF station in the country.

The story of Ruislip-Northwood is one of evolution from sleepy rural hamlets to thriving suburban towns, which are determined to maintain their identity and quality of life. The key agents of change were the railwaymen and the property developers who followed in their wake. The extension of the Metropolitan line opened up rural Middlesex and the opportunity for people to pursue the dream of a better quality of life, more space, better air and a greater sense of security, and those aspirations remain as valid today as they were in the late 19th century. Northwood is separated from Ruislip by magnificent ancient woods that once provided sport for kings. Harefield stands apart, surrounded by precious green belt, and it is proud to be the last village in Middlesex and home to the world-famous Harefield heart hospital.

My constituency may have played a quiet role in our nation’s history, but it is not without its heroes: the Polish war memorial honours those brave Polish fliers based at RAF Northolt who laid down their lives for a free Europe; the genius of Sir Magdi Yacoub attracted the brightest and the best to push the boundaries of medicine at Harefield hospital; and Paul Strickland’s vision and drive means that patients at Mount Vernon cancer centre have access to the most sophisticated scanning equipment in the country.

On the whole, our heroes are low-profile, local people who have stood up for what they value over the years and who have done far more to shape their communities than any politician sitting in Whitehall, let alone Brussels. In the 1930s, Ruislip residents took decisive action in saving their woods from being turned into houses, which meant going to Cambridge and persuading the then bursar of King’s college Cambridge, one J Maynard Keynes, to sell the land to them rather than to the developers.

In 1983, local residents took the drastic step of physically occupying Northwood Pinner hospital for three months until the bureaucrats saw sense and abandoned plans to close it. Today that spirit lives on in organisations such as Heart of Harefield, which has been so effective in exposing the folly of trying to move Harefield hospital to Paddington. The tradition of civic pride is rooted in a strong conviction that the quality of life in Ruislip, Eastcote, Northwood and Harefield is worth fighting for. I strongly share that conviction, and it is my privilege and responsibility to give those communities a strong voice in this place.

The clearest message that I heard in the general election was one of frustration and lack of confidence in politicians. People feel less able to control what is important to them, and the big decisions seem to be taken by remote, unaccountable bureaucracies. For example, the public consultations on the future of Harefield hospital and Mount Vernon hospital were widely seen as shams conducted by an increasingly arbitrary and remote NHS. Few issues arouse more local passion than planning, not least because local planning departments seem so toothless in the face of central Government directives. People are deeply worried about increased antisocial behaviour and want to see more police on the streets, but their voice appears to have little weight in shaping local police priorities. My concern is that communities that do not feel empowered quickly lose their sense of community.

You may well ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what relevance that point has to the future of the European Union. The EU has begun to symbolise what people feel is wrong with politics: it is too elite; it is too remote; and it is seen as too self-interested and too corrupt. Over the past decade, the British people have recognised the degree to which Europe meddles in their lives, and they want less interference rather than more.

The current European leadership reminds me of the board of a grand multinational company that has lost contact with its customer base over many years. The decision by the French people has prompted a crisis in the boardroom and a vacuum of leadership. It is time for someone to stand up and make the case that this is the opportunity to save the company, if the board accepts the need for a new strategy.

Instead of appearing to focus endlessly on its own workings and the allocation of power, the EU must prove its value to a new generation. I argue humbly that it must first explicitly ditch the principle of ever-closer political union and focus instead on re-establishing the EU’s credentials as a force for prosperity, growth and jobs. That means winning the argument for the Anglo-Saxon model of economic liberalism, which is the only sustainable response to the new competitive age. That means focusing minds on extending the single market, breaking down external tariffs and strengthening the economic ties that will do more to bind us together than any artificial political structure. It also requires a fundamentally different approach to regulation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) pointed out so powerfully, it asks very awkward questions about the value of monetary union.

The second priority, I would suggest, is to prove that the EU can deliver an effective lead on some of the issues that we cannot tackle on our own, because that is a large part of what it is for. Take climate change, for example. The science has moved on, and there is an urgent need to look beyond the first, very small step that was Kyoto. It is clear that the world is not going to get a lead from the superpower. In this vacuum, the EU has a chance to play a constructive and possibly decisive role in building a coalition of the willing around a post-Kyoto framework. It can certainly take practical steps to put words into action. If, for example, we have to live with the common agricultural policy, is not there a case for using it to incentivise the production of biofuels? A robust EU emissions trading scheme could be, and must be, a template for a global scheme.

In short, it is time for the EU to be seen to be taking a lead on the difficult issues that matter to people. It is time for radical reform to replace a culture of power grab with one of delivering tangible benefits to people. In truth, real progress will require new leadership, and in the short term only Britain can supply it until a new generation of leaders takes the stage in France and Germany. While the old regime struggles to respond to the impudence of the French and Dutch people, it is time for Britain to find a bold, positive voice on the EU—one that steers the Community towards better defining its role, setting its limits much more clearly and, above all, proving its relevance and value to the people who pay for it.

If I can compare the nations of Europe to the inhabitants of the 100 acre wood, I would say that Britain has traditionally and usefully played the role of Eeyore, but it is now time to show some of Tigger’s bounce in pointing the way forward. In 1999, the Prime Minister threw down this challenge:

“If we believe our destiny is with Europe, then let us leave behind the muddling through … the half-heartedness … and play our part with confidence and pride”.

If ever there was a time for him to walk his talk, it is now.