LORD LAWSON: "THE MOST ABSURD BILL EVER"
Excerpt from a speech in the House of Lords by the Right Honourable Lord Lawson of Blaby, on 17 November 2008
My Lords, the Minister has given an excellent summary of what we have to discuss here. Let me say just two things. The first is that, as many noble Lords may know, I have taken an interest in this issue for some time. Indeed, I have even written a book on the subject which, I am glad to say, has already been translated into two European languages and three more foreign editions are on the way. It is possible that I have had slightly more influence in that way on affairs than by speaking in this House.
That is not the only reason why I have not spoken previously in this House on the Bill. The other reason is that I felt that it was unbecoming for an unbeliever to take part in a religious service, which is what all this is really about.
Nevertheless, we have the amendments that come back from the Commons to us today. The Bill will go down in history, and future generations will see it, as the most absurd Bill that this House and Parliament as a whole as ever had to examine, and it has now become more absurd with the increase from 60 per cent to 80 per cent. I should like to address as briefly as I can-because I do not propose to speak on any subsequent occasion on this subject- why I think that the Bill is so absurd.
Let us pretend that the planet is warming. We know, of course, that it is not. The figures published each year and, indeed, monthly, by the Met Office or the Hadley Centre, which is a department of the Met Office in association with the climate research unit of the University of East Anglia, show without any doubt that there has been no warming so far this century at all. Some people say that there has been a cooling but, although that has been the slight trend, I think that the margin for error is so great that I would not press that, but there has certainly been no warming.
The majority of climate scientists do not think that if there were a warming, it would be a disaster. Nevertheless, it is possible that warming will resume. The majority of climate scientists believe that warming will resume. I am completely agnostic on that; I do not know. Maybe it will, maybe it will not. The complete standstill this century so far was certainly totally unpredicted by all the elaborate computer models that the scientists use. That is not surprising. The climate is an extremely complex system.
What lies behind this? It was implicit in what the Minister said, although he did not spell it out on this occasion, that by taking this massive step of virtually complete decarbonisation of our economy by 2050 in a mandatory way—something that no other country has done for good reason, because no other country has been so foolish, nor do other countries have the slightest intention of going in this way, but I will come to that in a moment—we in the United Kingdom are giving a global lead that other countries will follow.
To understand that, we have to go back briefly to the G8 meeting last year. At that meeting, Europe, led by Germany and the United Kingdom, sought to isolate the United States in its opposition to binding commitments to cut back carbon dioxide emissions by proposing that the whole of the G8 should agree to a 50 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. I can understand why people are not dying to support anything that President George W Bush supports, but the plan to isolate the United States backfired horribly. Europe was isolated when we got to the G8 summit. The other member countries, Japan, Canada and Russia, all accepted the United States’ position and therefore there was no agreement on a 50 per cent binding commitment to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Fast forward from that, what has happened? Far from making any headway in persuading the rest of the world, even Europe is now backing off.
I remind the Minister of the original plan, the unilateral European cut. We are committing ourselves to a unilateral cut really, irrespective of what any other country does. After all, we account for less than 2 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions and that is falling. Therefore, it makes sense only if we can persuade the rest of the world to go along with this.
Even our supporters in Europe are busy backing off. The unilateral cut of 20 per cent by 2020, agreed to by the European Union—with a little teaser that, if the rest of the world joined in, we would go up to 30 per cent—has been completely abandoned. It was never a binding commitment because you can bind only individual member countries and the individual countries of the union had not agreed—we had but the others had not—to go along with their share in the 20 per cent cut. The seven accession states of central and eastern Europe, plus Italy, have now said that there is definitely no way that they are going to go along with this. The European Union has agreed that this should be looked at again. Nothing will happen. It can only be agreed unanimously and will be looked at again in December this year, after the Poznan meeting, which I hope the Minister will grace with his presence. It will be an educational event for him.
Not only have those countries said that they will not go along with it, but Germany has always had a slightly equivocal position, because, in addition to ostensibly being very keen on this policy, it subsidises its coal industry more than the rest of the European Union put together. Indeed that is contrary to European Union law and it has to secure a waiver from European law to enable it do that, for which it fights to the death, and successfully so far. However, the German Government, have said that energy-intensive sectors must be exempted from the European emissions trading system. Indeed, an official government spokesman said only the other day that we have got to prevent companies being threatened by climate protection requirements. That makes nonsense of the whole policy. If Germany is saying that, the others will go the same way. Therefore, we are in the position of being completely on our own.
Means-testing welfare payments in Britain
In 1918 postwar relief for unemployed ex-soldiers and civilians was a comparatively generous "non-contributory donation". It seemed that the degrading days of the Poor Law were over, and the nation was at last properly respectful of its workers and former cannon fodder. But through the 1920s conditions of unemployment benefit got narrower. Then in 1930 the Depression threw government into a fiscal panic, and the poor got the sharp end with the Family Means Test.
You had to prove just how poor you were, in intimate domestic detail. It imposed form-filling, impertinent questions, and regular, shamingly visible, visits from investigators licensed to peer into your cooking-pots, rule that one chair per person was enough, and order you to sell your spare blankets. John Craig, an apprentice fitter, recalled: "You got so much off the labour exchange, but they kept control, and following you about would come to your house. Mother had a lovely big organ in the house. The inspector says `Well, you don't get any more money for four weeks until you sell that organ'. And my father belted him down the stairs." It broke up families into homelessness: adult children lost all benefits if anybody in the house earned 31 shillings a week, so they had to move out.
From 1934, 190,000 unemployed men were made to attend "training camps" simply because there were no jobs. One contemporary interviewee asked: "How could anyone expect an unemployed man to do physical jerks on 15s a week, or play ping pong, while his wife was sitting at home before a half-empty grate with only margarine to eat?" This humiliation visited on a formerly proud working class by the means test led to the Jarrow March: which demanded, let me remind you, not handouts but work.
The memory of that mass humiliation has hung over politics ever since, colouring everything. There is a parallel with the way that the memory of callous mine-owners - shredding incriminating paperwork after disasters such as Gresford - stopped subsequent Labour governments from daring to stand up to less reasonable miners' demands. Well, the miners were finally (and brutally) defeated. But thanks to the flatfooted regime of the 1930s, means testing remains anathema.
It leads to countless illogicalities, from free bus passes for elderly millionaires to child benefit for yummy-mummies wearing Prada. I dare not compute how many billions of public money has been wasted in paying the latter handout to women who absolutely do not need it: those in affluent families or highly paid jobs. In Australia child benefit is sensibly linked to the income tax system. In Britain any such suggestion is met with fury, usually from left-liberal women columnists earning four times the national average salary. They cite the horror of means testing as if terrified that the investigator might be round any minute to confiscate the baby's spare bibs.
The same squeamishness torpedoes sensible reforms like imposing modest "hotel charges" on richer hospital patients. That would have improved our dangerously appalling hospital food for everyone, and pumped millions into the NHS. But no: overboiled cabbage must be free at the point of delivery, with no evil means testing. The shame of the 1930s has crippled and blinded social security policymakers for seven decades, and the resulting financial anxiety as the system roars out of control has, paradoxically, made it less humane and more inflexible for those who really need it. Ask any brave chemotherapy patient who tries to do a bit of freelance work on the good days without losing a whole month's maintenance.
Why bring out this rant right now? Because the Government has floated the idea that council tenancies should not be secure for life. People in social housing would have fixed-term contracts, with regular reviews, so that when their incomes rise they could either buy some equity or pay more rent, thus freeing money for more social housing. At the moment, public tenants can usually stay put, at low protected rents, however rich they get. Frank Dobson became an MP and a Cabinet minister without losing his council flat, and Lee Jasper, Ken Livingstone's aide, was reported to be living in social housing while earning 117,000 pounds a year. Others took advantage of the right-to-buy scheme, then promptly moved in with a partner and sold the spare flat at a big profit on a booming market.
Meanwhile people in real need, earning little or nothing, spend years on waiting lists or compel desperate councils to waste public money on high private rents. But when government and the Chartered Institute of Housing cautiously talk about reviewing council tenancies or treating subsidised housing as a stepping-stone for some, there is an outcry. It's means testing! Aaaagh! One paper wailed that it would "penalise those who try to better their circumstances". But nobody is suggesting a disproportionate charge: and the system always "penalises" everybody who earns a bit more. It's called income tax.
A visiting Martian, unaware of the poisoned historical hinterland, would assume that rational sharing of a scarce resource was perfectly sensible. Even a proper Marxist, surveying the four million people on the waiting lists and the affluent Jaspers and Dobsons blocking the way, would murmur: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." But a liberal Briton, haunted by the officials who peered into the cooking-pots of the miserable 1930s, can only wail and emote.
British asylum seeker charities and lawyers 'play the system' by encouraging bogus applicants, claims immigration minister
Many asylum seekers are economic migrants encouraged by lawyers and charities to 'play' the system with false claims, the Immigration Minister has said. Phil Woolas believes genuine claims are 'fogged by cases that are misusing the law'. There are those who manage to claim asylum after several appeals, who had 'no right to be in this country', he said. Mr Woolas spoke ahead of figures due out today, which will show that Labour has not cleared the backlog of 285,000 failed asylum claims.
But yesterday he declared: 'As immigration is the second biggest issue in communities, we have to bloody well talk about it.' 'Most asylum seekers, it appears, are economic migrants,' the minister told The Guardian. They are given 'false hope' to make a claim by charities and migration lawyers. 'By undermining the legal system [they] actually cause more harm than they do good. The system is played by migration lawyers and non-governmental organisations to the nth degree.'
Mr Woolas gave the example of an asylum seeker who won after six layers of appeal. 'That person has no right to be in this country, but I'm sure that there is an industry out there that has a vested interest.' 'One lady showed me the scars on her thighs from where the soldiers had raped her, so I know, but I cannot take a decision on that lady's behalf if I am fogged by cases that are misusing the law.'
However, Sophie Barrett-Brown, chairman of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, said: 'Lawyers can only work with the law. To say they are undermining the law is an extraordinary comment to make.'
Although he has only been in the job two months, the minister has been involved in several controversies. He has previously suggested that the UK population could be capped at 70million, although these remarks were later withdrawn. Critics have already accused him of acting as the 'new Enoch Powell', Mr Woolas has said.
Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'This is the second crass attempt this month by a new minister desperate to look and sound tough. The real issue is uncontrolled immigration under his government. As long as he continues to substitute reckless rhetoric for robust action, he will remain part of the problem, not the solution.'
But Mr Woolas said it was important to speak out. 'You can hide behind your desk and not say anything or you can get out there and get your hands dirty. That's particularly true on immigration.' He defined the 'prime purpose' of the Government's immigration policy to be 'reassuring the public' by showing that the state is in control.
He spoke out as ministers came under fire for their claim to be deporting an 'immigration offender every eight minutes'. Critics said it gave the impression these were all people who were being rounded up in the UK and removed. But figures released to Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green revealed that 55 per cent of these 'removals' were in fact applicants turned away at UK borders or even overseas. Mr Woolas said: 'This proves the success and strength of our border and juxtaposed controls.'
Bungling British officials wrongly issue 300,000 visas to 'illegals' every year
Almost 300,000 foreigners a year are allowed into Britain with wrongly approved visas. Up to 15 per cent of short term visas issued by British embassies abroad are given in error, MPs were told. Once here, migrants with dubious credentials are free to stay on illegally. The visas are granted because it is easier for staff trying to hit processing targets to approve an application than reject one, explained Linda Costelloe Baker, who monitors Government visa refusals. She told the Commons Home Affairs Committee there were errors in about 15 per cent of short-term visa approvals. Officials were 'under pressure' to issue visas rather than reject the applications because of productivity targets, she said.
Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'This makes a mockery of Labour's claims to have a grip on our immigration system. It is obvious that its operation is neither firm, nor fair. 'This error rate not only increases the scope for increased illegal immigration, but is obviously a security threat. 'The public will be dismayed that Labour targets are making our border controls more vulnerable.'
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK, said: 'This will add massively to the scale of illegal immigration in Britain and is a direct result of the Government's failure to resource the immigration system they are putting in place.'
Almost two million visas are approved each year, giving foreign nationals the right to come to the UK for six months, said Miss Costelloe Baker. Each year, embassies and consulates examine 2.4million applications from tourists, businessmen and those visiting relatives. They check if they intend to leave after their visa expires, if they have enough money to live in the country and are not coming here to seek work. The checks are to weed out those of dubious credentials who - rather than visiting for a few months - plan to stay here permanently.
But for officials considering visa applications, issuing was a 'much faster' process than refusal, Miss Costelloe Baker said. 'I don't think there has been adequate scrutiny of decisions to issue. I think there is pressure to issue visas because it helps people hit their productivity targets.' Approving an application is quicker, as the staff do not have to list reasons for refusal, or carry out work to prepare for any possible appeal.
Tory MP David Davies asked if it was reasonable to assume that 15 per cent of approval notices were 'incorrectly approved'. 'I think that's a reasonable supposition,' she replied. Once here, a migrant who might have been refused a visa if staff were less rushed, has a good chance of remaining for good. It could mean that the Government's current estimates of 570,000 illegal immigrants is a vast underestimate.
LibDem spokesman Chris Huhne said: 'Exit checks must be reintroduced immediately so we know how many people, whether their visas are dodgy or not, are leaving when they are supposed to.'
Mark Sedwill, international director of the UK Border Agency, said: 'Our decisions are fair and objective, and last year the independent monitor determined they were right and reasonable in 99 per cent of cases.'
Al Qaeda buying old ambulances: "MI5 have warned Britain’s cash-strapped National Health Services that dozens of ambulances–along with old police cars and fire engines past their sell-by date–are being snapped up by al-Qaeda operatives in the United Kingdom to mount suicide bomb attacks. So serious is the problem that counter-terrorism officials at the Home Office have written to eBay, the Internet auctioneer, asking them to stop selling emergency service vehicles, equipment and uniforms. But eBay has insisted it can only halt the sales if a new law is passed by Parliament. That could take many months to enact. The use of ambulances is of particular concern to Britain’s terrorist chiefs. They say the tactic has already been used in Iraq with devastating effects. A report by Lord Carlisle–the government terrorist czar who last month warned about the possibility of private planes being used for an attack on London–has been issued to all of Britain’s 48 police forces warning of the danger of selling-off emergency service vehicles. Lord Carlisle, who works closely with the Terrorism Analysis Centre in London set up since the 9/11 attacks, said ambulances were the ideal weapon of choice for terrorists."