While Nick Clegg prattles about his plans to reform the House of Lords, attention might more usefully be focused on the rather greater need to reform the House of Commons. Nothing could give a more alarming picture of the state of our elected representatives than the letters from more than 60 MPs, sent on to me by readers, in answer to inquiries as to how they think we can meet our obligations under the Climate Change Act, the most expensive law ever passed by Parliament.
I am hugely grateful to all those readers who responded to my suggestion that they ask their MPs how, in practice, we can cut our “carbon” emissions by 80 per cent in less than 40 years, without closing down almost all of our fossil-fuel dependent economy. This quixotic quest is pursued in the name of saving the planet from global warming, though the UK’s contribution to global man-made CO2 emissions is only 1.6 per cent. China’s emissions increase every year by more than this amount. Many readers pointed out in their letters that the target cannot be met by building more windmills: these currently supply barely 3 per cent of our electricity, and more than once last week they were providing only 0.5 per cent.
I read the MPs’ replies with dismay. Not one showed any sign of understanding the question put to them. Most of the later replies merely passed on a form letter from Ed Davey, Chris Huhne’s successor at
the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which makes no attempt to answer the question and
is pure departmental gobbledygook.
23 Jun 2012
20 Mar 2012
22 May 2011
It recommends reading the Government’s Carbon Plan, with the astonishing claim that this shows how “the impact of low-carbon policies on growth over the next decade or so is likely to be almost zero”.
Clearly none of the MPs had noted the recent study carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which shows how soaring green-energy charges “will make British industry uncompetitive compared with other leading countries by the end of the decade”. A combination of renewable energy subsidies and new emissions charges, this report predicts, will double the costs for energy-intensive industries, such as steel, by 2020, forcing many firms either to relocate abroad or to close altogether (as our aluminium industry has already done). George Osborne’s new “carbon tax” will add £3 billion – a sixth – to our electricity bills next year, and will almost double them by 2020. Meanwhile, the price paid for “carbon credits” by our competitors has collapsed to a fraction of what UK firms face.
One of the most bizarre features of the Climate Change Act – put through by Ed Miliband when he was our first climate change secretary and passed almost unanimously by MPs – is that it was largely drafted by a young green lobbyist, Bryony Worthington, seconded to the Civil Service from Friends of the Earth, where she had been in charge of their global warming campaign. On YouTube you can see a talk she gave last year to another campaigning body, funded by the Department for International Development, in which she tells the extraordinary story of how the Act that commits the UK to these pie-in-the-sky targets came about.
First she sold the idea of a Climate Change Bill to David Cameron, when he became leader of the opposition. This prompted David Miliband to follow suit and it was he who put her in charge of drafting the Bill that was finally put through the Commons by brother Ed. For this, the Act’s prime architect was made Baroness Worthington in 2010.
The point about the Climate Change Act – which, according to the Government’s own figures, will cost us up to £18 billion every year until 2050 – is that it sets a target which cannot be achieved without our country committing economic suicide. One cannot expect a young climate zealot to understand that. But what is terrifying is not just that such a person should have in effect been put in charge of our country’s energy policy, but that there appears to be scarcely a single MP who can see why this is utterly insane. If these zombies were replaced by 650 men and women chosen at random off the street, the silliest and most destructive law ever passed by Parliament would be repealed within days.
Angry lawyers want to take their own ruling body to court
On Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Baroness Deech, chairman of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), was trying to calm the storm that’s brewing around the board, which was set up in 2006 to regulate barristers’ conduct. Some of them, enraged at what they see as the maladministration of their profession’s ruling body, plan to take it before the High Court for a judicial review. They claim that nearly 700 of the BSB’s findings are “unsafe”, because of procedural irregularities and possible conflicts of interest.
A curious feature of the BSB’s disciplinary process (which was covered in an earlier edition of Today, on Tuesday) is that when a complaint is made about a barrister’s conduct, an anonymous member of the complaints committee, called a “sponsor”, files a report on it. On the basis of the report, the committee decides whether the complaint should be put before a five-strong tribunal.
The committee only sees the sponsor’s report, summarising the complaint and the defence offered by the barrister, with the sponsor’s own analysis and recommendations. The defendant – who may be disbarred by the tribunal – cannot know the sponsor’s identity or see much of his report. The committee sees no more than the sponsor’s summary of his defence –which, as Mark Beaumont, a leading disciplinary lawyer, explains in The Barrister, may be “rife with subjective remarks and opinionated censure”.
One contributor to Tuesday’s programme was Jonathan Rich, a barrister specialising in animal welfare cases. He has featured in this column more than once for his success in defending farmers, vets, dog breeders and others who had been prosecuted by the RSPCA. In consequence, Mr Rich has faced an unending stream of complaints to the BSB, either by the RSPCA itself or arising from cases in which it was involved. Many have been dismissed, but he still faces a complaint involving three cases where he got the better of the RSPCA, one dating back to 2002.
Mr Rich managed to discover that the sponsor for the case against him is a barrister who has acted for the RSPCA, and is in chambers with several members who specialise in representing the RSPCA. The barrister chosen to prosecute Mr Rich is in the same chambers. After appearing before three High Court judges, Mr Rich has also managed to obtain a report, by the same sponsor, on an earlier stage in the case. Although heavily redacted, it indicates, in the view of his legal team, a very clear bias against him.
The remaining charges against Mr Rich, by which he has allegedly “brought the profession into disrepute”, include an instance when he asked for a judge in an RSPCA case, who had represented the charity several times as a barrister before going on to the bench, to step down. On another occasion, his attempts to uncover the RSPCA’s involvement in the case led to a member of the prosecution team being arrested for concealment of evidence. On a third, he was reprimanded by a judge (who had also formerly represented the RSPCA) for trying to make submissions as to whether a witness should be asked his opinion of a previous witness’s evidence.
The sponsor’s account of these events will influence whether Mr Rich, after 23 years as a successful barrister, will lose his livelihood. The BSB’s constitution says it is guided by the seven “Nolan principles”, which include “integrity”, “objectivity”, “honesty” and “openness”. How telling that lawyers are now demanding fairness, transparency and justice from the very body which purports to represent them.
Humpty Dumpty words from David Cameron
David Cameron seemed to have gone deep into Looking Glass territory last week, with his claim that “we’ve got the deficit down by a quarter”.
“When I use a word,” as Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, “it means just what I choose it to mean.” It wasn’t perhaps wise of Mr Cameron to make his boast just when the Treasury had to announce that our deficit is still rising so fast that in the past two months his Government had borrowed another £32 billion. That brings borrowing over the past four months to £63 billion, more than £4 billion every week. At this rate, the deficit is on course to exceed the record amount of £150 billion that the Government borrowed in 2009.
If that is what Mr Cameron means by getting the deficit “down by a quarter”, he might recall what happened to Humpty Dumpty.
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