Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A lesson from India

By Nirpal Dhaliwal, in Britain

These days, I notice babies everywhere — at cinemas, in restaurants and on the high street. I even notice the paraphernalia that comes with them — the fancy pushchairs, baby outfits and such. I was recently spellbound by a dad on a bicycle towing what I can only describe as a “baby box”, a luxuriously upholstered cube on wheels, containing his cute and helmeted toddler. I have a keener eye for children than for attractive women. Aged 35, my urge for sex is giving way to the urge for the products of sex. I’m feeling broody, but broodiness is an issue men rarely discuss and have no language for.

Women always talk openly about their desire for babies, their “womb ache”, as some call it. There is no equivalent term for men. What anatomical description can we use for our longing? Referring to our “throbbing balls” doesn’t have the same ring, though balls and wombs exist for the same reason: procreation. Women have monopolised the higher ground of the reproductive discussion. Babies grow inside them; they feel every pulse and rhythm of their development and so claim an instinctive bond with their creation. By comparison, men are mere bystanders. While women talk about the desire for children in terms of nature, men talk sociologically about the “role” and “purpose” that fatherhood gives them, as if babies just provide something to do when you’re too old and fat to play five-a-side or get plastered and go on the pull.

Whenever I broach the topic of broodiness, other men patronise me, saying I’ve “gone soft”. Fathers treat me as if I’m a wet, wide-eyed pup with little idea of what I’m letting myself in for. Childless thirtysomething male friends regard the idea with contempt. “I can’t be bothered,” is a common reply when asked if they want to be fathers. There is much denial in this. One friend claimed he was glad to be childless because kids are “noisy, messy, irritating and a pain in the arse”. He said this despite the fact that he and his wife have tried, unsuccessfully, to conceive. While his wife can freely admit her pain and sadness, convention dictates that men cannot do the same. In the male lexicon, to be without children is to be free of the responsibilities and work that comes with them, which can only be a good thing. Men rarely admit their vulnerability, and broodiness is precisely that, a sense of deep personal incompletion.

I realised how bereft I am of children while spending the second half of last year in India — a country that is teeming with them. I’d watch young Indian families sitting on railway platforms, the fathers beaming as they cradled their perfectly formed, serenely quiet babies. Seeing people who earn a pittance, whose daily lives are a grinding struggle, take such genuine, uncomplicated delight in their children made me appreciate what a real and uniquely powerful experience parenthood is. It made me want to be a father.

This realisation initially made me go on a dating frenzy. In typically male fashion, I interpreted it as a sign that the good times were coming to an end and set about chasing as much tail as possible. But that wore off quickly and I’ve found myself becoming curiously indifferent to sex. When a woman comes on to me now, I wonder whether I can be bothered to wake up in another part of town without my own toothbrush rather than of how good she might be in bed. Indeed, sexy women aren’t so sexy any more: the sort of intense, imperious personality that often makes a woman a wildcat in the sack no longer excites me as I contemplate the hard work she entails. While my friends still leer at these divas as they strut through a bar, I now regard them as merely headaches in heels.

Tall, strapping women have become strangely enticing, as I imagine the athletic children they could bear, the powerfully built son who might one day play centre-forward for England. But what attracts me most to a woman is her ability to communicate and interest me. And now that I’m actually listening to women in an effort to know rather than seduce them, I’m amazed at how few can actually do this. Women, sadly, are largely as boring and self-obsessed as men.

My broodiness has made me extremely picky. The bedpost has been adequately notched; there is nothing left to prove other than that I would make a loving and committed parent. All I can do now is wait for a woman who feels the same way about herself, with whom I can begin the mundane and magical adventure of raising a family. Fingers crossed, she’s making her way to me already.


Britain. The working class children betrayed by Labour: Bad schools NOT class bias to blame for thousands missing university

Bright children from poor homes are failing to get into university because of under-performing state schools and not class bias. That is the finding of a major study, covering hundreds of thousands of children, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Pupils at struggling comprehensives are getting such low grades they are simply not equipped for degree-level studies, it revealed.

It was one of three studies published yesterday which together painted a picture of a 'lost generation' betrayed by Labour. Government figures showed the number of Neets - teenage dropouts who are not in employment, education or training - has soared to record levels.

Meanwhile, a report by York university found that British children are among the worst-off in Europe in terms of health, wealth and happiness. The study by the IFS - conducted jointly with another research body, the Institute of Education - blows apart ministers' claims that 'elitist' universities are snubbing youngsters from less privileged backgrounds. Gordon Brown and education ministers Ed Balls and John Denham have put universities under intense pressure to widen the class mix of students by reforming the admissions process and spending millions on 'outreach' work in schools.

In a recent speech, Mr Denham called on top universities to 'address fair access effectively, or their student population will remain skewed'. He has also accused them of 'social bias' and 'failing to attract' talent from across all sections of society.

However, the IFS research, which will be presented this week at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society, throws the blame for the university class divide squarely on to ministers' failure to tackle poor-quality schooling. It will also fuel the belief that the abolition of most grammar schools since the 1960s has closed off an important route to university for bright children from poor homes.

The study, which involved tracking more than 500,000 state school students, revealed that the gulf between the university haves and have-nots has its roots in the school system. 'It comes about because poorer pupils do not achieve as highly in secondary school,' the research said. Grade for grade, pupils from low income backgrounds stand virtually the same chance of getting into university as their wealthier peers, according to the study. The problem was partly that poorer pupils were more likely to attend under-performing schools, it said.

The report added: 'At least part of the explanation for the relatively low achievement of disadvantaged children in secondary school is likely to be rooted in school quality.' The latest findings also undermine Mr Denham's claim that 'social bias' by universities plays a part in their selection process. Pupils from poorer backgrounds are just as likely to get into the most selective universities as middle-class peers, after taking into account their A-level grades, the study found.

The report said initiatives aimed at dispelling a 'university is not for people like us' attitude must begin much earlier, perhaps in primaries. Drives at sixth-form level - the focus of much taxpayer-funded activity - 'will not tackle the more major problem... namely, the underachievement of disadvantaged pupils in secondary schools'.

The findings were released as it emerged that 11 prestigious universities - including Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle - have launched a scheme to consider working-class school-leavers who would normally be rejected outright because of their predicted A-level grades. Critics have warned that the initiative could become a 'charter for bad schools'.

The Tories said the denial of opportunities to poor children was a ' scandal' and accused ministers of attacking universities instead of tackling failures in the school system. Admissions tutors said the research showed the real barrier to top universities was England's 'uneven' education system and the link between children's prospects and their social background.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'Over the past five years the attainment gap between those children eligible for free school meals and those who aren't has narrowed and the results for these children are rising faster than the average, but we know there is still more to do. 'That is why we have invested more than £21billion in child care and the early years since 1997, so that poor children get better chances in early life. We are also massively expanding one-to- one tuition for children falling behind in English and maths.'


Stay slim to save the planet

The latest excuse for fatty-bashing. It won't stop the fatties eating, though

Overweight people eat more than thin people and are more likely to travel by car, making excess body weight doubly bad for the environment, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

"When it comes to food consumption, moving about in a heavy body is like driving around in a gas guzzler," and food production is a major source of greenhouse gases, researchers Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts wrote in their study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

"We need to be doing a lot more to reverse the global trend toward fatness, and recognize it as a key factor in the battle to reduce (carbon) emissions and slow climate change," the British scientists said.

They estimated that each fat person is responsible for about one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions a year more on average than each thin person, adding up to an extra one billion tonnes of CO2 a year in a population of one billion overweight people. The European Union estimates each EU citizen accounts for 11 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.


British Fast food police: Caribbean takeaway closed down for opening too close to schools

The hit squad had prepared their raid long in advance. At 10am eight police officers, some in anti-stab vests, joined three council employees on the doorstep of the Bamboo Joint takeaway. Their mission? To stamp out the practice of selling jerk chicken within 400 metres of a secondary school.

Yesterday, the Jamaican cafe in Leytonstone, East London, became the first takeaway in the country to be given a closure order under guidelines banning the sale of fast food near educational establishments. Its owners were given three days to shut up shop. They were informed by Waltham Forest Council that their small premises, on a busy high street, was not only within 400 metres of a secondary school but also within 200 metres of a primary school and 100 metres from a public park. The action is intended to combat child obesity by reducing the number of shops selling unhealthy fast food near schools and parks.

Co-owner Maureen Farrell, who opened the Bamboo Joint six weeks ago, said she felt she was being victimised by a council which was acting 'completely over the top'. 'They told us that it's because we are too near a school, but this street is full of takeaways selling fish and chips and burgers. 'It's ridiculous. They just arrived here this morning and told us they were shutting us down. It looks like we are terrorists or something. 'But all we are doing is selling good food. It's not even unhealthy. We sell Jamaican-style rice and peas, and jerk chicken. 'It is not greasy stuff. And we hardly have any schoolchildren in here at all.'

The bylaw was introduced by Labour-dominated Waltham Forest in March and applies only to those takeaways yet to receive planning permission. It prevents them from opening close to one another and puts a limit on the total number in the borough's town centres. The fast food ban has not been adopted nationwide but its progress is being monitored by other local authorities who could copy it.

Council leader Clyde Loakes said: 'This fast food outlet has not got planning permission and has absolutely no chance of getting it, because of its proximity to a park and a school, so we're closing it down. 'A lot of fast food outlets do their business with schoolchildren, in competition with the healthy schools agenda. We have a responsibility to look beyond the next year or two to the health of our children and young people.'

The Metropolitan Police was unable to explain why it had such a strong presence in the raid.


Deliberate dumbing down of NHS emergency-room standards 'are putting lives at risk'

Lives are being put at risk by the introduction of medical centres designed to take the pressure off overstretched A& E departments, doctors have warned. Two patients have already been endangered after staff at 'urgent care' centres failed to recognise their symptoms, a survey found. Dozens more of the centres are due to open to prevent patients with minor ailments clogging up emergency departments. In some cases patients must be assessed by GPs or nurses before they are allowed to enter casualty.

The College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, found that a man who had a stroke was sent home from an urgent care centre because staff could not work out what was wrong. He was eventually admitted to hospital and recovered. Urgent care centre staff also failed to spot that a baby had meningitis. Emergency treatment was delayed but the child made a full recovery. The survey, of A&E staff working alongside the centres, did not name which ones were at fault.

John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: 'These are worrying examples of things going wrong in urgent care centres. 'In emergency departments we are used to seeing patients who may develop serious complications. 'We want to make sure GPs appreciate the risks and handle things very carefully. 'Speaking to colleagues around the country, our concern is that having a barrier to people actually getting in to A&E is not helpful.' He added: 'Patients tend to know when they are very sick and although around 10 to 20 per cent of patients may use the service inappropriately, the majority will go to their GP if they have a minor problem.'

Discussions to set up urgent care centres, which are particularly used for out-of-hours care, are underway at almost all of the UK's 270 A&E departments. Schemes are already running in Maidstone in Kent, Portsmouth and South-East Hampshire, Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire and Nottingham.

Dr Heyworth said: 'In some cases, where they sit alongside A&E they can work very well, but it is no good imposing them on hospitals and preventing patients from actually getting in. 'Another big worry is that money that should be going into hospital emergency departments is being diverted into these urgent care centres.'

But health bosses say that by preventing 15 'inappropriate' attendances at A&E per day a local primary care trust could save £328,000 a year. If three patients a day were stopped from being admitted to a ward when they would be better off at home, a trust could save £6,000 a day, or £2million a year.

The Department of Health has published a number of strategy documents, including the Direction of Travel for Urgent Care, which make clear that the creation of more urgent care centres is seen as the best way to improve service to patients.

Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association's GPs' committee, said: 'We should not assume that GPs are less able to assess risk but we need to recognise that patients themselves are usually able to select the area of the health service they need to access, depending on the severity of their condition.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: ' Urgent care centres play an important role in providing emergency care for non-patients without taking up valuable A&E resources. 'It is for local NHS organisations working with local people to decide whether urgent care centres are a good idea when organising their services. 'We have been clear that any changes to existing services should be based on what is best for patients.'

Doctors from around the country will discuss their concerns about patients being prevented from walking directly into their local A&E at a three-day conference of the College of Emergency Medicine in Brighton from today.


Britain's "Elf n' Safety" madness

Widow Mavis Field was intending to trim the grass around her first husband's grave when she received a terrible shock. As she approached the grave in Worksop, Notts, she could see it had been speared by a long wooden stake. Its carved headstone had been strapped by heavy-duty bindings and a garish, yellow sticker slapped alongside. 'WARNING!' it read. 'This Memorial is Unsafe. Should not be tampered with. Essential maintenance required.'

Retired driving instructor Mrs Field, who 'shed a tear or two' that day, is one of thousands of bereaved Britons trampled underfoot by our increasingly controversial Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Her husband's grave had been 'tampered with' (to use their own terminology) by the local council on HSE advice about safety in municipal graveyards. The Worksop cemetery now looks like something from a Dracula film, row upon row of tombstones desecrated by stakes.

I came across Mrs Field while making a Panorama documentary about our health and safety culture - a culture some people say has gone mad. Is this accusation fair? Or is health and safety an important guard against the industrial deaths which once blighted Britain?

If you read the parliamentary debates which preceded the 1974 Health And Safety At Work Act that led to the creation of the HSE, you will find MPs were concerned mainly with heavy industry such as mining and pharmaceuticals. One phrase is repeated. Safety measures should be introduced, it says, where 'reasonably practicable'. But is that caveat of practicability still being observed by today's growing cadre of well-paid health and safety consultants?

We looked at some of the notorious Press stories about health and safety. Not all of these turned out to be true, but there was nothing fictitious about cemeteries such as the one at Worksop, where tombstones were 'topple-tested' by dropping a heavy weight on them and seeing if they moved. Those which so much as wobbled under the 'topple-tester' were staked, strapped, sometimes completely flattened. The HSE has since withdrawn its original advice on graveyard hazards, but that hasn't stopped councils persisting with the practice. Panorama found that councils have spent at least £2.5 million on ' toppletesting' graves to see if they are safe.

'There are people who have had to pay over £1,000 to fix headstones that had nothing whatsoever wrong with them,' said Worksop's Labour MP, John Mann. 'This is a job creation scheme, totally unnecessary.' When we put that to the local authority, the councillor in charge came up with the line: 'We didn't have the luxury of adopting a commonsense way of doing it.' He argued that 'the guidelines' offered no room for leeway.

I pointed out that the HSE guidelines had been withdrawn. 'You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't,' he murmured - proof that once a safety guideline is issued, it tends to stay issued.

Former Times editor Sir Simon Jenkins is chairman of the National Trust, whose parks and country houses demand a forest of safety signs. 'Victims of an accident nowadays have it somehow hard-wired into them that someone must be at fault,' Sir Simon told us. 'They've got used to the thought that there might be some money in it. The combination of fault, blame and money is toxic.'

Sir Simon first realised something was awry when his local Guy Fawkes night party in North London was banned. 'They said you can't have bonfires, people might immolate themselves. I just thought, this is spoiling public life as we know it. 'I'm entirely in favour of safety. It is silly to say that people should take terrible risks. But the concept of common sense has vanished.' He added that there is 'now a large cohort of people whose job it is to go around over-assessing risk. They will always say, oh, if you spend enough money frequently on me, I'll get you permission to have your event.'

This is something we have encountered at our tiny village church in Herefordshire. Diocesan safety 'experts' have demanded we erect safety railings both outside the church and leading from the altar down two steps to the nave. A 17th-century rood screen may have to have a modern handle drilled into its flank. Our church has stood for hundreds of years and there is no record of a single worshipper being injured in a post-communion wine stupor. The cost of the recommended work? Some £1,000. Madness.

Even when accidents do occur, the concept of an 'act of God' seems no longer to exist. Perhaps this is because secularism is fashionable among bureaucrats or maybe it is the inevitable dynamics of a system in which no one - certainly no leading politician - is prepared to argue that risk is desirable.

Individuals often want to drive faster or climb higher, but officialdom recoils from risk, seeing only problems. Officialdom feels it is in loco parentis of everyone, including adults.

Petty health and safety rulings also bring into disrepute the name of necessary safety measures. At major construction sites, heavy equipment and long drops make precautions vital. Six people a month still die on building sites.

I interviewed Barbara and Bernard Burke, whose son Steven, a 17-year-old karate champion, fell to his death while working in a 60ft-high sewage tank. The Burkes know, to their cost, that health and safety on some sites is not everything it could be. Union leader Alan Ritchie pointed out that his industry has the highest number of deaths, yet in recent years the HSE has failed to maintain the numbers of its inspection teams.

Has the HSE instead concentrated too much on less urgent concerns such as noise regulations? Two years ago 175 men received industrial benefit payments for work-related deafness - in jobs such as mining and energy supply. Not one of them worked in the music business. Nonetheless, new rules on average maximum decibel counts (85 decibels - roughly the level of a loud conversation) have been introduced by the HSE for our theatres and musical venues.

Musicians call it an artistic intrusion. Arts administrators say it could mean turning down the volume when audiences actively want a noisy night out. Again, how can this make sense? Does it really serve the life-and-death work of industrial safety?

There are warning signs everywhere on our streets today. It's a surprise we don't have a nervous breakdown just going to the shops. The very multiplicity of signs reduces their potency. And the same is surely true of the whole health and safety culture. The more we are lectured about questionable hazards, the less we will listen to genuinely important safety advice.

Some farmers are driven to their wits' end by health and safety paperwork. We spoke to an arable farmer in East Anglia who said his paperwork had increased fivefold in the past 10 years. Scared of retributions, the farmer remained anonymous. It was the same with a small builder in Herefordshire. He receives so many health and safety leaflets from various arms of government that he is simply unable to find time to read them all, let alone remember and enact them on site every day. This builder, who has not had a serious accident in more than a decade as an employer, would not let us film his face because he did not want the HSE or other safety inspectors 'coming after' him.

The demands on small business are time consuming and expensive. Employees who use ladders in their work are subject to the 'working at height' directive, a document which left Brussels at a few pages but mushroomed to 27 pages by the time Whitehall had finished with it. Ladder awareness training courses are now recommended by the HSE. In the spirit of inquiry, I attended a day-long course in Hornchurch, Essex. That'll be £230, thank you, for learning how to recognise a ladder, climb a ladder, store a ladder and, most important, condemn an unsafe ladder (good news for the ladder industry, at least). Ladders must have their movements and daily checks recorded. This means more pieces of paper, more risk assessments, yet more expense for the employer.

The enterprising fellow who ran the course could have talked about ladders for a week. Gripped as he was by safety mania, mind you, he managed to bump his head on the ceiling at one point. As we left, he waved us off while sucking deep on a cigarette. So much for the 'health' part of 'health and safety'!

The health and safety boom could result in people not bothering to buy insurance. According to Dominic Clayden, claims director at Norwich Union insurance: 'The cost of insurance will go up and ultimately, as we've seen with motor insurance, some people potentially are priced out of the market and will choose not to insure.' He criticised ' ambulance chasers' from the margins of the legal world - the 'claims farmers' who encourage people to sue under no-win, no-fee arrangements introduced in 1999.

For every 60p Norwich Union pays to an injured person, it pays 40p to lawyers. In smaller value claims, it is 'pretty common' to see more going to the lawyer than to the injured person. When Mr Clayden talks to European insurers about British no-win, no-fee rules, 'they think it is mad, they laugh at me'.

The current health and safety mania is surely one farce we could do without. Safety at work has a legitimate role. Industrial deaths must be kept to a minimum. But there's a deal to be done here. Unless we resist pointless meddling, unless we start taking more responsibility for ourselves, safety will become a joke. A truly dangerous joke.



After last week's eco-car initiative, Wednesday's Budget will have a green spin. But the Government's low-carbon strategy could be making matters worse, says environment editor Geoffrey Lean

Britain's economic stimulus measures, promoted by Gordon Brown as part of a "global green new deal", will accelerate global warming instead of curbing it, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has established.

The investigation also shows that most of the Prime Minister's vaunted green initiatives have not materialised and, in some cases, are likely to set back his professed strategy for "the creation of a low-carbon economy". It has found that, over the past four years, ministers have launched a staggering 91 consultations relating to the issue, while actually doing little.

The revelations come as the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, prepares to unveil what ministers insist will be a groundbreaking green Budget. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, told the IoS that it would represent "a massive greening of the Government".

Last year's Budget, however, was similarly trailed in advance as "the greenest ever", but actually led to a slight fall in the revenue coming from green taxes. And though Gordon Brown promised in 1997 to put "the environment at the core of the Government's objectives for the tax system", income from such taxes fell by 22 per cent during his 10 years as Chancellor.

As the IoS exclusively reported last month, green measures form only 6 per cent of the Government's stimulus package, compared to 13 per cent in Germany, 21 per cent in France, 38 per cent in China and 81 per cent in South Korea. And now a new study shows that the British package will increase rather than reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

Carried out for WWF and E3G – a respected environmental group – it found that the harmful effects of new spending on roads, which will increase traffic, far outweighed the contribution of extra expenditure on energy saving and rail infrastructure. And it points out that Britain has "yet to include any investments at all dedicated to renewable energy".

Examination of Mr Brown's hyped green initiatives since becoming Prime minister reveals a similarly sorry picture, as the panel (right) shows. He has repeatedly promised that Britain will increase the proportion of its energy coming from renewable sources to 15 per cent by 2020. But a new study to be published on Tuesday by Cambridge Econometrics is expected to show that, if current policies continue, it will grow from 1 per cent to only 1.5 per cent by then.

The Government has consistently failed to provide incentives that are routine in other countries. Four years ago, it promised to provide £50m to help develop wave and tidal power, an area where Britain has a potential world lead. But the resulting Marine Renewables Deployment Fund has yet to give a penny to support this. Installation of rooftop windmills has been held up through bureaucratic delays over planning issues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Gordon Brown wrote to one manufacturer last August saying the issue had been resolved, but the hold-up continues.

Homeowners have also been discouraged from installing other renewable energy systems, such as solar electric panels. Just as they were beginning to take off, ministers slashed the level of grants available. They will end such funding for commercial buildings and charities altogether in June.

The Government has promised to introduce "feed-in tariffs", which would pay people for excess energy they produce. But these are not due to come in for a year for electricity and for two years for heat – causing a funding gap that threatens to drive some installers out of business. There is a similar failure to honour an undertaking by Mr Brown last September properly to insulate six million houses over the next three years. In practice, this would involve providing cavity wall insulation to a million homes. The official Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency told the IoS last week that filling cavity walls was running at just 500,000 homes a year.

Mr Brown promised to augment a scheme called the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target, under which the big energy companies have to help households save fuel and electricity. But the Government is now threatening to gut the scheme by allowing the companies to get away with simply offering people advice.

He also undertook to tackle fuel poverty. But ministers accept they will fail to meet a legal obligation to end it among vulnerable groups next year, and have cut funds, even as the number of households affected has risen from 4.3 to 5.4 million last year. Last week's heavily publicised promotion of electric cars follows the same pattern, since the cars for which grants will be available will not be on the market for at least two years.

Meanwhile a study by a consulting firm, JDS Associates, has counted 91 separate consultations concerning sustainable energy launched by the governments in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff between May 2005 and January 2009.

Last night Greg Barker, the Conservatives' energy spokesman, said the investigation showed ministers and civil servants were locked in "mid-20th-century attitudes to producing energy". Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said the Prime Minister was content to "paint a green picture" without taking practical action.



GORDON BROWN is to risk a clash with the green movement by throwing the government’s weight behind the construction of a new generation of coal-fired power stations. Ministers intend to give power companies permission to construct at least two new coal-fired stations, with more to follow. The move will anger climate change scientists and campaigners because coal produces more CO2 for each unit of energy generated than any other fuel.

Brown and Ed Miliband, his energy secretary, will argue that Britain urgently needs more coal-fired generating plants to prevent future power shortages as old plants are shut down. They will soften the blow by pledging that any new plants will be designed so they can be fitted at a later date with equipment to capture CO2 — a technology that is still unproven. The plan may also be mentioned in Alistair Darling’s budget this week.

The government is understood to want initially to approve 2.5 gigawatts (Gw) of generating capacity. This is equivalent to two fairly large power stations. The proposed plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, seen as the most likely to be approved first, would generate 1.6Gw. The plant has already been the focus of large-scale protests by green activists.

This week Miliband is expected to prepare the ground for the inevitable controversy by announcing a consultation into the technical requirements to be imposed on any new power station, including the licensing system for pumping captured CO2 into underground rock strata. He is also expected to say he wants to expand plans to test “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) technologies by building up to three such plants rather than the single one planned at the moment. He told a recent parliamentary committee that he wanted to put Britain at the forefront of CCS technologies.

The government hopes such pledges will placate its opponents sufficiently so that the new power stations will be approved. “We see new coal generation as having a potentially important role to play in securing Britain’s electricity supply, but we also recognise the need to deal with CO2 emissions,” said a spokesman for the energy and climate change department, run by Miliband.

He is likely to face fierce opposition from other political parties and from groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They see the proposals as a way of getting coal-fired power stations built on a promise that will not be fulfilled — that their emissions will one day be abated.

In theory, so-called carbon capture could be capable of capturing up to 90% of the CO2 emissions from power plants. It would then be pumped underground for permanent storage. However, no industrial-scale CCS plant has yet been built anywhere in the world and the technology remains unproven.

Britain burns about 63m tons of coal a year, with 84% used to generate power. Coal-fired plants generate about a quarter of the 560m tons of CO2 that Britain produces each year.


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