Yesterday saw Wells MP David Heathcoat Amory introduced a debate in Westminster Hall, on the subject of nuclear energy. Herewith some extracts from his speech:
"Due to a combination of short-sightedness and wishful thinking, this country faces a looming energy gap between future demand and supply, because we have been decommissioning our nuclear power stations without replacing them. Many stations have already been decommissioned, and the rest will largely disappear in the next 10 years. Coal has also declined in importance: many coal-burning stations are increasingly obsolete and will fall victim to the tightening regulatory system, particularly the EU large combustion plant directive, which will take them out of service. So far, the difference has largely been made up by burning more gas. Incidentally, the so-called dash for gas was largely the reason why the Government were able to claim that they had complied with the Kyoto commitment on carbon dioxide stabilisation. That happened anyway, because gas produces less carbon dioxide per unit than does coal, and was nothing to do with what the Government had done elsewhere.
The massive switch to gas burn cannot continue for ever, and is becoming expensive. There were significant price rises last year, which have not been fully reversed, and which created a lot of grief both domestically and industrially. Also, gas reserves around our shores are declining—it is not just North sea oil that is running out—and we are having to import more and more gas. Indeed, we will soon be overwhelmingly dependent on imported gas from countries that, by and large, are unstable, unfriendly, or both. Many of those gas-exporting countries clearly use their energy exports as a foreign policy tool. Russia is a good example of that. Europe, as a whole, is very dependent on Russian gas, but those supplies are interruptable, and this country is at the end of the pipeline.
The Government are relying on another source of energy that is based largely on make-believe—a vast expansion in renewables. We are now committed to deriving 15 per cent. of all our energy requirements—not just electricity—from renewable sources by 2020, but we currently derive only about 2 per cent., and we are nowhere near getting to 15 per cent. within that time scale. That commitment is legally binding and will be in treaty law. We know that EU law is superior to national law, but I do not know who will go to prison when these commitments are not fulfilled—it will probably be another lot of Ministers in the future. Today’s Government are signing up to a specific, legally binding commitment that is not attainable.
Yesterday saw Foreign Office questions.
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones and former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind both asked about Iran's nuclear ambitions:
"The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report of 19 February shows that Iran continues to refuse to suspend its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and has not granted the IAEA the access that it seeks as required by five UN Security Council resolutions. We, and the international community, will continue to press for Iran to fulfil its international obligations and restore confidence in its intentions.
Mr. Jones: Does the Secretary of State agree that while President Obama’s recent outreach to Iran is welcome, diplomatic overtures must be backed by a readiness on the part of the United States and the EU to impose such further sanctions as are necessary until such a time as Tehran can demonstrate to the unequivocal satisfaction of the UN inspectorate that it has abandoned its ambitions to develop a military nuclear capability?
David Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enunciation of the policy, which I think has support across the House. It is the so-called dual-track policy, which is that we should seek to engage with Iran, that we should make it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people and that the choice of Government in Iran should be a matter for them. However, whatever the Government in Iran, they need to abide by their international responsibilities. If they refuse to do so, there are costs associated with that decision.
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are responsibilities on the EU and the US, but the responsibilities go wider. The international coalition, which is right to fear an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, goes wider than the EU and the US. Russia, China and the Gulf states have responsibilities, too, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to join me in working to ensure that they are part of a global coalition against an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: With North Korea, it has proved useful to include its neighbours, Japan and South Korea, in the negotiations to discourage it from going down the nuclear weapons route. Should not Iran’s neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, be invited by the Security Council to join the negotiations over Iran, especially as the Iranians need to realise that those three countries might themselves go nuclear if Iran ends up as a nuclear weapons state?
David Miliband: Only up to a point. The multilateral negotiations are not being conducted under a UN framework—the E3 plus 3 is not a UN body, but it is recognised to have a global coalition behind it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might have an important point, which was at the heart of the E3 plus 3 offer agreed under my chairmanship last May in London. It concerns what will happen in the future if Iran ceases its nuclear weapons programme or restores the confidence of the international community that it does not have a nuclear weapons programme. There are important regional political issues about Iran’s legitimate interests in the region, but no discussion of those issues can take place without the involvement of the countries that he has mentioned."
Home Office questions came around yesterday.
The most interesting questions were about the holding of DNA samples. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith outlined the Government's position:
"The national DNA database plays a key role in catching criminals, including many years after they might think that they have got away with their crime, eliminating the innocent from investigations, and focusing the direction of inquiries. In 2007-08, 17,614 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available. Those included 83 homicides and 184 rapes. In addition, there were a further 15,420 detections resulting from the original case involving the DNA match. Those occur when, for example, a suspect, on being presented with DNA evidence linking him to one offence, confesses to further offences.
The specific ruling [by the European Court of Human Rights] was on a blanket policy of retention of the fingerprints and DNA of those who had been arrested but not convicted, or against whom no further action was being taken. The Court also indicated that it agreed with the Government that the retention of fingerprint and DNA data
“pursues the legitimate purpose of the detection, and therefore, prevention of crime”.
I announced in December our intention to remove all those aged under 10 from the database. That has now been carried out. When we bring forward proposals to change the blanket approach to retention, we will give particular consideration to those aged under 18, and to how the protection of the public can be balanced with fairness to the individual."
Wells MP David Heathcoat-Amory posed a question on civil liberties:
"What does the Secretary of State say to Mr. Daniel Baker, a constituent of mine who was a victim of mistaken identity? He was never charged with any crime and is entirely innocent, but the police are retaining his DNA against his wishes. When will the Secretary of State start recognising the liberties of the individual, and stop regarding everyone in the country as a suspect?
Jacqui Smith: I think that the case study that I cited a minute ago identified some of the important benefits of DNA retention. There are real-life cases in which people have been made safer by the retention of DNA post-arrest. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent can apply to the police force, in exceptional circumstances. That is why— [Interruption.] That is why I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look closely at our proposals for a more proportionate way of dealing with the retention policy."
The Home Secretary had described a case where a man arrrested for violent disorder was released without charge. However, a DNA sample was taken. Several months later a rape occured. Skin taken from below the victim's fingernails was matched to this man's sample, and he is now in prison.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling went with the same issue:
"This is a very straightforward and simple issue. It is, right now, illegal to store the DNA of innocent people over long periods on the DNA database, but as of today, the Government are still doing that. Why?
Jacqui Smith: I have made it very clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have looked in detail at the judgment in the case of S and Marper and we will bring forward proposals very soon—and when we do so, I hope that Opposition Members will engage with them with slightly more sophistication than they have done today.
Chris Grayling: But this is illegal now, today. Furthermore, it is a principle in our society that people are innocent until proven guilty. This Government have a habit of throwing away many principles in this society, but that is one that should be sacrosanct. In the case of the DNA database, however, they appear happy to abandon the principle. They are also happy to store the data of babies and children. Their actions are clearly morally and legally wrong. Why will they not just stop keeping this data illegally, right now, today? Why will they not stop now?
Jacqui Smith: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a period of time during which, quite rightly and reasonably—not least given that the Government’s approach to the retention of data was upheld in the UK courts—there is consideration and proposals are brought forward. That is what the Government are doing, and he obviously was not listening when I said that no DNA of children under the age of 10 is kept on DNA databases now."
The Government has proven itself utterly inept at holding people's personal details, but I don't have any other objections to them holding DNA samples for individuals. Indeed it would seem to have lots of advantages. I suppose one other worry is that most of us are not in a position to question the authority of scientists who assure us that DNA samples match - something I always think of when someone says they are in favour of the death penalty "when there's no doubt".
The Department for Innovation, Skills and Universities was up for questions yesterday.
Shadow Secretary of State David Willetts asked about the role of about further education in the recession:
"I want to ask the Secretary of State about something that I hope he will agree is very important in ensuring that people have training and skills in the recession, which is the role of further education colleges. What does he say to a college that had moved out of its old buildings having been promised capital for a rebuild, but will now find itself operating out of temporary classrooms because of his Department’s incompetence in its management of the capital programme? How does that contribute to investing in skills in a recession?
Mr. Denham: As the hon. Gentleman knows very well from my having made a written ministerial statement last Wednesday as promised, we will spend the £2.3 billion that we have been allocated in this spending review period on capital investment in FE colleges. That is in sharp contrast to the position 10 years ago and comes on top of many hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in recent years. His own constituency has benefited from no fewer than 11 different FE capital projects in recent years. He did not say anything about that, surprisingly.
The Learning and Skills Council informed me about 10 days ago that it had given approval in principle to another 79 colleges, with more in the pipeline. It is clear that we cannot fund all those in the next two years, which is why we have done two things. We have asked the LSC to consult the Association of Colleges and others on ways to prioritise those that are in the pipeline, to give colleges some certainty. Secondly, the LSC has agreed to my request that it appoint Sir Andrew Foster to provide a report to me on how this situation could have arisen.
Mr. Willetts: Havant college is actually one of the many colleges affected by the moratorium. We calculate, on the basis of the Secretary of State’s own statement, that 144 will be affected. He said that he had invited Sir Andrew Foster to explain to him what went wrong. Will he confirm the details in the LSC’s minutes, which we have obtained with a freedom of information request, that senior officials from his Department attended every meeting of the LSC when the capital moratorium was discussed, and that it was specifically concluded at the end of the meeting when the moratorium was first imposed that he should immediately be informed? Why is he now saying that he needs a review, given that his Department was kept in touch throughout this unfolding disaster?
Mr. Denham: The position is clear. Ministers were first alerted to a potential problem with the capital programme at the end of November—I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the date. We received the next information just before the December meeting, at which the decision was made not to approve any further colleges in detail. Ministers were not given the picture that I was able to put in the written ministerial statement last week until the week before last—I think, but I will give him the date—as a result of the review that we asked the LSC to conduct. The numbers of colleges that the hon. Gentleman has calculated that were promised approval in detail, and the numbers in the pipeline—that is significant, because not only colleges that have had approval in principle are waiting for funding clearance—did not become available to Ministers with any clarity until that date. We shared the information with the House within the most reasonable timetable possible—after the LSC met last week to consider which colleges could be approved and the shape of the rest of the programme."
Wells MP David Heathcoat-Amory asked a challenging question of the Foreign Secretary yesterday:
"Is the Secretary of State aware that when North Koreans try to leave that dictatorship, they often cross into China, where they are rounded up and sent back to North Korea in defiance of all China’s obligations as a signatory to the UN refugee convention? The fate of these returnees to North Korea is extremely gruesome, so will the Secretary of State ensure that his new love-in with China—whether via Mrs. Clinton or anyone else—does not prevent him and the Government from raising this issue with the Chinese Government as a matter of urgency, or does he think that China is too important and large to merit such criticism?
David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is one that we have raised with the Chinese. I think I should write to him with a report on how those discussions have gone and what the latest stage is. The importance of our engagement with China is precisely that, because we engage with the Chinese, we are able to raise all issues, including human rights issues, openly and frankly. That spirit of candour has been developed over the past few years in our relationship with China. Respect for China does not mean the relegation of our concerns to a subsidiary role. In fact, I would argue that the respect that is afforded to China is the basis for proper engagement on issues that concern us."
I tend to agree that frequent discussion with other governments is usually preferable to silence. But I wonder what meaningful pressure is being applied on the Chinese government. I rather suspect none whatsoever. Might we expect something else from a Cameron administration? If so, what?
David Heathcoat-Amory is an amateur astronomer, which may explain the following written question:
"Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills how much his Department is spending on astronomy and space research in 2008-09. 
Mr. Lammy: The Science and Technology Facilities Council, which is responsible for astronomy and space research, will commit £189 million to astronomy and space science research and facilities this financial year."
Fiscal conservatives are sometimes sceptical about space exploration. But it is vital for humans to be curious. The first Moon landing was a terrifically exciting, inspiring event. It would be folly not to explore space until some far-off day (which will never arrive) when our planet is free of problems.
Moreover, there have been many benefits here on Earth as a result of space exploration. These include technological advances in semiconductors, cars, tool manufacturing, computer software, air quality, lasers, CDs and design graphics. Medical improvements include scratch-resistant lenses for glasses, better dental braces, implantable insulin pumps for diabetics, and heart pacemakers.
The only question that remains is as follows. When we make contact with the Martians, should we pool our global sovereignty, or would it be better just to have a free trade agreement? I think we know what Mr Heathcoat-Amory will favour - friendship, not federalism.
There are still some hardy Conservative critics of conventional climate change wisdom in the House of Commons. On Wednesday Mr Lilley introduced a debate on the Stern Review in Westminster Hall. (Lord Stern's main conclusion was that one per cent of global GDP per year is needed to combat climate change. He has since revised that upwards to two per cent.)
The debate makes for a fascinating read. Many of us feel hopelessly confused about the whole issue of climate change. A good speech from an able politician - replete with evidence and articulated clearly - really can help advance one's understanding of a subject. Many of us moan about soundbite politics and inane remarks from MPs. It is striking wading through Hansard to see just how often they make excellent, detailed and substantive speeches.
That preamble serves in part as an explanation for covering the debate's highlights at some length.
Mr Lilley cast doubt on the standards of the Stern Review:
"In his review, Professor Stern makes much of the importance of the peer review process, but his report was not subjected to peer review, and it is time that it was, or at least to a common or garden review in the House."
He later added:
"The simple fact is that since the beginning of this century, the average global temperature has flatlined; indeed, over the past 18 months it has fallen back and, according to the satellite measurements of temperature, it is now basically back at the level it was in 1979, when such measurements started to be taken. Professor Stern ignores that and, throughout his report, refers to continual global warming. However, global warming has not continued. Even Adair Turner, who on all other topics is a model of objectivity, ignores recent developments when discussing climate change, in the section of his letter to the Treasury summarising recent developments. The facts show that the world has not been heating over the past decade. The response is, “So much the worse for the facts.” While we were passing the Climate Change Bill, based on the assumption that the world was becoming hotter, I mentioned in a point of order that it was snowing outside in October for the first time in 70 years. I was told that I should realise that exceptional cold was a consequence of global warming—so much the worse for the facts.
The recent period of global cooling does not itself disprove the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a scientific fact. Other things being equal, an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will raise the temperature. However, the recent period of cooling does suggest that either manmade global warming may be smaller or that the impact of other factors may be greater than climate models have so far assumed. In those circumstances, the climate models should be adjusted; the facts should not be ignored."
Alan Johnson: The estimated number of junior doctors who will complete their specialist training in England in 2007, and who are therefore likely to be looking for permanent posts, is 5,400. That number also includes those doctors who may choose to take a voluntary break before applying for posts.
David Heathcoat-Amory: The Department of Health made a complete hash of negotiating the GP contract, giving doctors a great deal of extra money for doing what they were in many cases doing already. Does the Secretary of State agree that the contract has now attracted a great many doctors from overseas with the result that home-trained doctors are now unemployed in their thousands? When is the Department going to acquire some commercial sense and look after taxpayers’ money properly and have better regard for doctors trained at taxpayers’ expense who now have no prospect of a permanent placement?
Alan Johnson: The right hon. Gentleman is confusing several different issues...
More from Hansard here.