By Joseph Willits
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In the spirit of accountability, speaking at Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs questions yesterday, Labour MP Tom Harris indulged other members with details of his own breakfast. Harris was welcoming the fact that 90% of food purchased by the House of Commons was British - 90% of which he had presumably enjoyed. After asking Caroline Spelman about jobs and growth in the food production industry, Harris asked what DEFRA's own percentage of British sourced food was:
"I think the whole House has a perfect right to know what I had for breakfast this morning. I started with sausages, bacon and egg—only one, of course, because I am on a health kick. In tucking in, I was reassured by the fact that 90% of all the food purchased by the House is sourced in the United Kingdom, encouraging British growth and British jobs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House not what she had for breakfast—too much information already—but what proportion of food purchased by her own Department is sourced in the United Kingdom?"
Spelman did not disclose her own breakfast to the House, and nor did she seem particulalry interested in Mr Harris', but she did reveal that only 18% of food purchased by her own department was sourced in the UK:
"World Trade Organisation rules mean that we can require purchasing to British standards in Government procurement, but we cannot require produce to be British. We adhere to those rules, and we actively promote Government buying standards involving all Departments sourcing food that is produced to British standards in order to promote those standards."
By Joseph Willits
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After Justine Greening's announcement giving the go-ahead for a high speed rail network, High Speed 2 (HS2), 37 Conservative MPs were able to question the Transport Secretary within 60 minutes.
The exchanges demonstrated the opposition of those MPs whose constituencies are directly affected by high speed rail. However their reservations were outweighed by praise for the scheme from MPs namely in the North and the Midlands - and some in the South East who claimed that their seats have benefitted from HS1.
Fervent critic of high speed rail, Andrea Leadson MP (South Northamptonshire), questioned the project's costs in yesterday's debate. Leadsom praised the Transport Secretary's patience in listening to her concerns many times, but spoke of "communities blighted by this high-speed rail line". She continued:
"How sure is she that the actual costs in their entirety will be kept to the amounts we have been talking about, and how realistic is it for Britain to afford this project at this very difficult time economically?".
The country "cannot afford not to do this" replied Greening, who cited High Speed 1 as an example of being both on time, and on budget. Once Crossrail had been completed, the cost to the taxpayer would begin, Greening said.
Another MP whose constituency will be touched by high-speed rail, Steve Baker MP (Wycombe), welcomed that "additional protections for the Chilterns will reduce costs", but asked whether Greening would "consider tunnelling the entire width of the Chilterns?". At £1.2 billion, although considered, was "unaffordable", replied Greening.
Drawing examples from both France and Spain, St Albans MP Anne Main raised concerns "that the north might not get the projected benefit and that instead it might be London that grows". Both Lyon and Seville were "caused expense" rather than growth as Paris and Madrid benefitted, she said.
Greening responded by reiterating the backing for the project, and that the cities of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield all believe "this project is vital." Rehman Chishti MP (Gillingham) reminded the House that "real concern was expressed prior to the introduction of High Speed 1 in Kent". This has now led to "real economic regeneration and growth in the south-east and Kent", he continued. Another Kent MP, Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe) echoed Chishti's sentiment with the hope that Kent will further benefit from connections north.
MPs from the North and the Midlands were most vocal in their support for the project. Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew spoke of the need to "rebalance the economy" nationwide, and allow the North "to become more attractive for business to invest in". The "solution", he said, was HS2. Martin Vickers MP (Cleethorpes), who has many constituents working at the Tata Steel plant in Scunthorpe, welcomed the announcement of HS2 as a boost to industry. He asked for "categorical assurance that everything possible will be done to ensure that the procurement procedures favour British-based companies". His sentiment was echoed by Nigel Mills MP (Amber Valley) who concluded that the decision would "be even more popular in Derbyshire if the trains are built at Bombardier".
Some MPs in the Midlands did seem to be slightly cautious about the region's positioning, leading to a lesser service and coverage by HS2. Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy spoke of businesses in north Staffordshire requiring stops between Birmingham and Manchester (of which Stafford would be one). This "stop is essential to the development of the regional economy", Lefroy said, and asked Greening to "confirm that it is still under serious consideration". Rugby MP Mark Pawsey's concern was slightly different in that the town's good service to London could be jeopardised by high speed rail. He hoped that even with high speed rail, "the legacy line will retain the speed and frequency of their existing rail links".
You can watch the debate on the BBC's Democracy Live.
By Joseph Willits
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Zac Goldsmith would rather be known by the term "effective backbencher", than "rebellious backbencher". In a BBC Hardtalk interview today with Zeinab Badawi, rebellion and party dissent over Europe and the environment, proved to be the main focus. Although critical of the Government over its handling of an EU referendum, Goldsmith insisted that he remained loyal to the party:
"I have voted with my party more than 90% of the time ... if that is anything other than loyal, then I think we need to rethink those terms"
However, Goldsmith indicated his delight for fighting political causes and holding the Government to account as a backbencher, rather than in the "hellish existence" of a junior minister. "I didn't stand for election in order to have a lobotomy and to be programmed by a party leader", he said.
Goldsmith defended the Government on environmental policy, saying it had been "unfairly chastised" and that "twice as many environmental commitments as anything else ... [are] being delivered". He praised both the Green Investment Bank, saying it was "a step in the right direction", and the Green Deal. Although the Government was "beginning" to understand the priority behind environmental policies, he said, the Green Investment Bank, however, was "not big enough, or soon enough", and it was essential that Treasury got "behind... and turbocharged" the Green Deal.
Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, has written a letter to the National Trust, warning it against becoming too political. Kawczynski writes:
I am very concerned by the Trust's current political campaign on planning reforms. I am especially worried that the Trust’s behaviour runs the risk of causing long term damage to the organisation.
The Trust's responsibilities are set out clearly in Section 4 of the 1907 Act. It was established to promote the permanent preservation of land and buildings of beauty or historic interest. This is a statutory definition of your role. I cannot imagine that Parliament, at that time, thought the National Trust should become the leader of a national lobby on planning policy.
Whilst I accept the Trust has a right to comment on how the reforms may impact on areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas, listed buildings or similar, you seem to be treating the whole of the "open" countryside as being lands of beauty. This is patently incorrect. I am concerned there is a danger that the Trust, as currently managed, could have stretched the interpretation of your statutory purpose to breaking point – leading to serious questions being asked about the Trust's activities.
By Joseph Willits
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A first appearance on Question Time can be a daunting experience. For Priti Patel, this would have been no exception. Last night the 'rising star' of Cameron's new intake of MPs appeared on the programme, which was severely lacking in excitement. Despite several hugely emotive issues; the Dale Farm eviction order, capital punishment, and the Palestinian statehood bid, political debate was somewhat lacklustre.
There was a point in the evening, and this morning, where Priti Patel was trending on the Twittersphere. This would have been for her comments about capital punishment, in light of Troy Davis' execution in Georgia. Patel said:
"I would actually support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent, because I do think we don no't have enough deterrents in this country for criminals."
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman, announced her Department's plans to control the badger population, through culling, in two pilot areas in the South West next summer, following a public consultation.
The Secretary of State explained why the plan is necessary: "Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2010 because of bovine TB, which cost the country £90 million last year. The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where 23 per cent of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to being affected by the disease."
By Tim Montgomerie
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I ask the question because MEPs have just rejected increasing the EU's emission reduction targets unilaterally from 20% by 2020 to an eyewatering 30% by 2020 (the reduction is from 1990 levels). Votes from Tory MEPs made the difference.
The British Government - like the governments of France and Germany - had supported the commitment to deeper cuts but MEPs from the EPP and our own ECR had opposed unilateral action on the basis that the EU acting alone would mean we would continue to export industrial capacity to developing countries which weren't willing to sign up to such controls.
"Conservative MEPs voted for a 30% EU target, "provided that conditions are right". We remain opposed to a unilateral EU increase, without other industrial nations, because of the effect on competiveness of UK and EU companies."
That "conditions are right" clause is crucial. Unless China, India and other competitor economies are willing to sign up to verifiable cuts in their own carbon footprints the realists - including our own MEPs and many from, for example, Poland - are not going to handicap European manufacturers.
ConHome's surveys of Tory candidates show that our MPs are probably as sceptical about going alone on climate change as our MEPs but whipped by the Coalition they are under more pressure not to say so.
By way of footnote, over at LibDemVoice Chris Davies MEP is complaining that Tory MEPs weren't willing to back the Huhne/Coalition line that unilateral 30% cuts were essential. Mr Davies should reflect on his own support for the end of Britain's EU rebate and for new EU taxes before he complains about anyone else's failure to support Coalition policy.
I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.
They didn't. Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.
I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper. But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.
It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies. Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness. But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.
Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right. But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.
John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.
Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth has raised the issue of Heathrow in the House of Commons, during oral questioning of his opposite number Hilary Benn:
"Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I, too, welcome the two new Ministers to the DEFRA brief, which they will no doubt find challenging, just as all their predecessors did.
“New modelling suggests that EU limits for Nitrogen Oxide in 2010 will be exceeded around Heathrow, necessitating capacity constraint”.
“worked with DEFRA to ensure negotiations over”
“directive take account of Heathrow’s position”.
How does the Secretary of State square that with what he told the House in May—that his attempt to delay the implementation of new EU rules on nitrogen oxide had nothing to do with decisions about airport capacity?
Hilary Benn: The simple reason why we are likely to have to apply for derogation under the new directive that gives member states the ability to apply for additional time is the existing problem that we have with PM10 and nitrogen dioxide, which, by definition is nothing to do with any decision that may yet be taken about the expansion of Heathrow. That is a problem we have now. Therefore, the answer that I gave in May was completely accurate.
Mr. Ainsworth: But surely expanding Heathrow can only make the situation worse. The Environment Agency has warned that pollution from a third runway at Heathrow could “increase morbidity and mortality”—in other words, it will mean that more people will die earlier. Does the Secretary of State agree with its analysis, and why does he not spend more time protecting the environment and less time conniving with the Department for Transport on a massive increase in pollution around London? Is it because he lacks the will, or because he lacks the influence?
Hilary Benn: I think that that is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. First, the fact that different Departments talk to each other should not come as a great surprise to him. Secondly, as I said, the Government have made it clear that any decision about the expansion of Heathrow will have to be subject to the environmental conditions set down. That is a requirement of the directive. When we apply, the Commission has to decide whether to give us more time, and those extensions can only be until 2011 for PM10 and until 2015 for nitrogen dioxide. At that point, the UK, along with other member states, will have to meet the requirements."
ConservativeHome readers have passionate views on this issue. Let's have some more in the comments section below please!
Declaration of interest: Tom Greeves, who wrote this post, used to work for Peter Ainsworth as Conservative Central Office's Desk Officer for Culture, Media and Sport and later in Mr Ainsworth's private office.
The Telegraph's Jonathan Isaby notes how the government were defeated in this vote on Friday because they wrongly calculated that the vote would be inquorate if they didn't actively vote against it.
I am grateful for the wide support that the Bill has received, not only from my co-sponsors from all parts of the House, but from those councils at the forefront of good energy practice, the Local Government Association and our energy industry, which is ready and willing to help meet the challenge of climate change.
This is not a big Bill, but it does one important thing: it will enshrine in law, I hope, the so-called Merton rule, which I shall describe in more detail. Back in 2003, the London borough of Merton adopted in its local planning documents the policy that, for new developments, at least 10 per cent. of the new energy required must come from renewable or low-carbon sources on or near that development. The aim was to reduce the amount of energy that had to be brought in from miles away and to encourage microgeneration and more energy-efficient buildings, which would use less energy in the first place.
The Bill therefore gives Merton-style planning policies statutory protection. I should emphasise that it does not compel other councils to follow Merton, although around 100 are doing that. I should add—perhaps because the ghost of our late colleague Eric Forth seems to haunt this place on Fridays—that the Bill does not compel anybody to do anything. What it does is to put on the statute book the ability of a council to adopt a Merton-style policy, if it wants to do so. Without the Bill, councils will be left uncertain as to whether the policies that they adopt will remain legal."
More from Hansard here.
Having recently topped the Private Members' Bill ballot Michael Fallon MP has decided to use his slot to encourage renewable energy at a local level:
"I want to see councils leading the fight against climate change. This Bill enables them to reach beyond the minimum standards set by government. It encourages localism."
His Planning and Energy Bill will be introduced in the Commons tomorrow. It will enable local authorities to set renewable and low carbon energy targets for new development, reinforcing the "Merton rule" under which over 100 councils have followed the London Borough of Merton in setting onsite renewable energy targets for new housing.
John Gummer and Michael Jack have sponsored the Bill, as well as several non-Conservatives including former Energy Minister John Battle and LibDem leadership contender Chris Huhne.
Julian Brazier and Stephen Crabb will also have the opportunity to propose legislation in the near future.