Saturday, December 31, 2011

WCH Business case looks set for approval

It looks like the business case for the £90 rebuild and refurbishment for West Cumberland Hospital is finally set for approval.

The West Cumberland News and Star reports that

"Major progress could be made within weeks on the £90 million plan to rebuild Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital.

The full business case for the landmark redevelopment of the infirmary is currently being considered by regional health chiefs."


The paper says that local NHS bosses are hopeful that the case will be approved at a Strategic Health Authority board meeting in January.

More details on the News and Star website or on my hospitals blog (see link at right.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Vaclav Havel R.I.P.

The Czech playwright, thinker, philospher, dissident and ultimately statesman Vaclav Havel, who died earlier this month, was a truly great man.

I did not agree with everything he said or did, but as someone who showed great bravery when he suffered under communism for speaking up for the victims of oppression and injustice, became a symbol of the aspirations of the Czech people, and when he eventually became President worked for reconciliation and forgiveness, he deserves a special place among those who are remembered as great human beings.

Former Polish dissident and later President Lech Walensa said that he thought Havel should have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Rest in Peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Emergency Chemists in Copeland over the holiday

The Emergency Chemists in the Whitehaven and Mid Copeland area over the Christmas and New Year holiday period 2011/12 are as follows:

CHRISTMAS DAY (25th December 2011)

5pm to 6pm
Seascale Pharmacy
Gosforth Road, Seascale.

BOXING DAY (26th December 2011)

1pm to 3pm
Boots the Chemist
26 King Street
Whitehaven

NEW YEAR'S DAY (1st January 2012)

6pm to 7pm
Egremont Boots Pharmacy
67-67 Main Street
Egremont.

A Merry Christmas to everyone reading this

May I wish a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year 2012, to everyone reading this blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Metal Theft - government acts

The government has today responded to the requests for action against metal theft, the need for which was highlighted on this blog yesterday.

Home office minister James Brokenshire has confirmed that the government will be bringing forward measures to make it easier to catch metal theives. These will include "introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments" and establishing a "metal theft taskforce" together with the Association of Chief Police Officers.

He said that the Home office "is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders".


Responding to a question from Gravesham MP Adam Holloway about the financial implications of metal theft, Brokenshire said the cost could be "anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum". Holloway asked whether there was "any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods". Brokenshire confirmed that this was one of the reasons for a new taskforce, "to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice".

Craig Whittaker MP (Calder Valley) spoke of the implications for private and social landlords, who had reported "the rising number of instances of houses in between tenancies being totally ripped apart". Whittaker said that "water pipes, gas pipes and ... electric wiring—causing thousands of pounds worth of damage" had been stolen from tenanted property. Discussion was ongoing with other departments on the "most appropriate way" of tackling the problem, replied Brokenshire, who stated that "the only conclusion is that new legislation is needed to tackle metal theft".

Nadine Dorries MP (Mid Bedfordshire) was critical of the current "Steptoe and Son" Act concerning the scrap metal industry, saying it was "time to change the law" on the industry as a whole. Brokenshire replied that "existing regulation of the scrap metal industry through the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 needs to be revised", and once again reitereated the importance of intelligence to allow police to crack down on this crime.

Questions were also asked about the effect metal theft was having on the railway industry, and on local communities. Brokenshire spoke of the "risk, threat, inconvenience and serious harm that can be caused by stealing cabling and signalling equipment from the railways", saying that the British Transport Police has a lead role in the Government's planned taskforce with the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Labour MP Tom Clarke referred to the descration of a monumnet commemorating a coal mining disaster in his constituency. Everyone in the House is united in their condemnation for these "sickening crimes", Brokenshire said, which have occurred where monuments and places that exist to celebrate our war dead or important historical incidents have been desecrated".

Voluntary organisations, as well as churches and schools were the victims of this "invidious crime", said Mark Garnier MP (Wyre Forest), such as the Severn Valley Railway in Shropshire and Worcestershire. Garnier also announced that an all-party group on combating metal theft was set up last week. It is under the joint chairmanship of Chris Kelly MP (Dudley South) and Labour MP Graham Jones.

Hat top to Connservative Home (see link at right) for some of the information in this post.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Crooked Cretins cut off Cumbrians

Thousands of West Cumbrian families, and other people as far away as Lancashire, lost phone services, including the ability to make emergency 999 calls, for part of the weekend after a bunch of idiotic criminals attacked a section of telephone cable near Workington.

The motive appears to have been a futile attempt to steal copper wire - in which they were unsuccessful because copper was replaced by optical fibres in BT's trunk network years ago.

About 13,000 homes and businesses lost all telephone service for a time, the main areas being hit in West Cumbria being Harrington, Cleator Moor, and parts of Whitehaven, though some customers in Lancaster were also affected. BT engineers working round the clock over the weekend made temporary repairs which restored service to all customers by Saturday afternoon, though it took until 2am on Sunday to complete permanent repairs. The damage also caused a reduction in network capacity that caused congestion for customers across a much wider area.

During the period services were affected, Cumbria police advised people to use mobile phones to make 999 calls and stationed an officer at a local pub in Cleator Moor as a point of contact.

Luke Beeson, BT Security general manager for metal theft, said:

“Cumbria has suffered very few cable thefts but this single incident illustrates that when would-be thieves mistakenly target fibre cables in their search for copper, the impact can be felt over a very wide area.

“Thanks to our engineers who worked through the night, the damage has been repaired and we’ll now be doing all we can to help the police in their search for the perpetrators.”


As I have mentioned in a number of recent blog posts, metal thieves - or, as in this case, exceptionally stupid would-be metal thieves - are not just doing a great deal of damage to the British economy. They are also putting lives at risk.

Not everyone has a mobile phone, and some of the exchange areas affected by this week's attack include black spots of very poor mobile coverage. This attack could have delayed calls for help in an emergency.

Unless action is taken to crack down on metal theft and put the people who are guilty of this activity behind bars, sooner or later they will be cause deaths.

MPs on both sides of the House of Commons have recently raised the problems of metal thefts, including David Morris, Conservative MP for Morecambe & Lunesdale, and Graham Jones MP (Labour). In response, Home office minister James Brokenshire said recently that

“The Home Office supports the wide-ranging plan being delivered by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Metal Theft working group to tackle metal theft, including the theft from public buildings and memorials. In addition, discussions are under way across Government on whether legislative changes are needed to tackle metal theft."

I think that legislation is necessary, and I hope that the government can find time for it soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Veto and democracy

"E.U. Leaves U.K."

These were the first three words of the Indy's headline this morning - the full headline continued with "out in the cold" but I initially saw the first three words which seem curiously apposite. You can take them more than one way. Remember "Fog in the Channel: continent isolated!"

A surprising number of commentators don't appear to get the main reason why David Cameron had no choice but to veto the proposed treaty this week. Some of the Liberal Democrats obviously do get it, which is one of the reasons that, despite all the efforts by some in the media to stir up a coalition split on the subject, I don't believe David Cameron's veto is going to bring down the government.

* The fact that David Cameron thought the proposed treaty might damage the City of London was a very important argument against signing, but there was an even stronger one.

* This was not about bashing Europe. Signing would have given DC a huge amount of grief with Tory backbenchers and some of the press, but that neither would nor should have stopped him signing if he had thought doing so was in Britain's interests.

And preventing a Eurozone meltdown is in Britain's interests provided they don't sabotage key sectors of our economy - there will be collateral damage to British jobs and incomes if the Eurozone slumps.

* Nobody with any sense wants Britain isolated, but actually, if a British P.M. had tried to sign up to what was on offer, the end result would have been even worse - and because of something positive which the coalition did when it first took office.

That was to address the lack of democratic legitimacy in past EU treaty changes by passing the "Triple Lock" legislation under which transfers of power to the EU require a referendum in Britain before they could be ratified.

If David Cameron had signed a 27 member treaty as proposed, the "Triple Lock" law would have forced a referendum on that treaty.

Can anyone in their right mind imagine that a majority of British voters would have voted yes?

Better to be open and forthright, say No now, and let the other nations agree a different solution, than leave everyone thinking the treaty was agreed and having it voted down by the electorate a few months down the line.

Of course, the other EU nations can go ahead and organise a separate treaty with up to 26 of the EU member nations, and we can't stop that. Nor should we try.

But that separate treaty will not damage the UK in the way that the treaty which DC blocked would have.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Veto

While a real storim with 100 mile-an-hour winds was lashing Britain, a political storm was raging in Brussels which will have far-reaching consequences.

I am not delighted that David Cameron had to veto the proposed EU treaty but he had no choice whatsoever and he would have been wrong to sign up to what was on offer.

The Eurozone needs to take effective measures to support their currency and deal with the solvency crisis, and it would have been wrong to try to stop them taking such measures, provided it were done in a way which does not harm Britain.

Unfortunately it appears that signing up to the proposals could have harmed the City of London. I know the bankers are not popular right now (understatement of the decade) and I think there is a case for tougher regulation imposed within Britain in ways which make the city stronger rather than weaker. But on their past form I have zero confidence in the ability of the EU institutions to get that balance right, and in the present economic difficulties we need to impose extra difficulties on one of our major sources of income as a country like we need a whole set of bullet holes in the head.

If Britain had signed the proposed treaty it would have also required a referendum, which I don't believe would have been likely to produce a yes.

So we now have a "17 plus" treaty with the Euro-zone countries plus most of the rest of the EU, but not including Britain and apparently at least one other EU member outside it. (Not heard which one on the radio yet, but I suspect it may be Denmark.)

These are uncharted waters. I hope that the Eurozone countries are successful in solving their problems, not least because it is in our interests that they succeed, and I hope we can rebuild a constructive relationship with them. But, to continue with the uncharted waters metaphor, we need to move forward carefully and watch out for hidden rocks.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lansley: I am committed to West Cumberland Hospital

Health secretary Andrew Lansley confirmed while visiting Cumbria last week that he remains strongly committed to supporting West Cumberland Hospital.

The Secretary of State was in Cumbria to open a new wing at the Eden Valley hospice near Carlisle.

He made his comments to Penrith and the Borders MP Rory Stewart, who had arranged for him to meet a senior local consultant and GP to hear their concerns about services in Cumbria during his visit.

Rory Stewart asked Mr Lansley to consider writing off the debts of the North Cumbria hospitals trust. The minister said that he might be willing to consider this provided the trusts can come up with a strong plan for the future.

I am pleased by the confirmation that the government remains committed to our hospital, but it remains imperative that we keep up the pressure on the trusts and the government to ensure it is understood that we need a comprehensive range of health services in both West Cumbria and Carlisle.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

EU debt crisis worsens as S&P flags credit risk

Last week the Governor of the Bank of England pointed out that the financial crisis in the Eurozone, which he described as a "Solvency crisis, not a liquidity crisis" posed a serious threat to the economies of all trading nations including Britain.

Today we learn that EVERY Eurozone country which was not already at the world's worst rating (Greece) or already under review (Cyprus) has been placed on "Credit Watch"

This means by definition that France, Germany and the other four Eurozone nations which currently have the best possible rating - AAA - are at some risk of losing that status.

I think it is a bit misleading of Sky News to state that Ratings agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) move to place the whole Eurozone on 'credit watch' means that the six countries with AAA ratings "now have a 50% chance of losing that status."

No, it means they are under review.

If the markets really thought that France and Germany had a 50% chance of losing their AAA rating, we would have seen a more extreme reaction : in fact market reaction has been fairly muted, with the FTSE 100 (Euronext: VFTSE.NX - news) falling 0.6% on opening while the German DAX dropped 1.4% and the CAC 40 in Paris Paris lost 0.7%.

On the bond markets too, while the German 10 year debt yield rose slightly countries such as Italy which had been recently under siege saw little damage - falling to near 6.4%.

That may partly be because the traders had already factored into their prices some allowance for the risk of Eurozone countries having their credit ratings downgraded.

Nevertheless this is seriously bad news for the Eurozone countries and bad news for other nations like Britain who are their trading partners.

We may say "Thank God we didn't join the Euro" - and we would be right to say that - but it doesn't alter the fact that what hurts the countries who did join it also hurts us. This emphasises the extreme importance of getting Britain's public finances onto a more stable footing as soon as possible.

Sadly, whoever had won the last general election and whoever wins the next one, the people who are in government in this country will have no easy options, today or for a long time.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bransty Legion site planning application

Until the National British Legion closed all the nine clubs which were part of a particular group of "New British Legion" scheme clubs about eighteen months ago, the Bransty Legion club was an important part of community life for residents of Bransty Hill.

It provided a meeting place which has a venue for all manner of community events, from Neighbourhood Forum meetings to Neighbourhood watch to changing for Bransty Rovers football club. Some of these have moved to Bransty school, which is the only remaining meeting place on the hill: others have been forced to stop or move outside the Bransty Hill area.

This coming Wednesday, Copeland Council's planning panel will consider a proposal to give planning permission for houses on most of the site.

Copeland Council's adopted local plan, with planning policies which are supposed to guide the planning panel, includes a clause to the effect that the council will resist the loss of a community facility unless it is replaced. Since the British Legion started marketing the Bransty Legion club site for sale for housing BEFORE they closed the club, and well before the building was demolished this year, this policy should apply: no developer can accurately argue that the community facility was already lost before the process of trying to turn the site into housing was first started.

I cannot see a good planning reason to object to housing on most of the site, but I hope the planning panel will make permission subject to a planning obligation to provide a replacement community facility.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Boundary commission submission

Tomorrow is the last day for the submission of responses on the Boundary Commission for England's proposals for new constituency boundaries for the North West.

This was my submission

"I support the Boundary Commission proposals for a new Carlisle constituency, but for the rest of the county I support instead the Conservative Party proposals.
The Carlisle City Council area is an obvious community of interests. I support the Commission proposal to make the Carlisle constituency as close as possible to the local authority area. This is far more sensible than a rival proposal to put part of North Allerdale into a Carlisle constituency while associating significant areas of Carlisle City with Penrith.

The North East part of Allerdale has economic, social and historical links with Penrith which are comparable with those they have with Carlisle: these areas were part of an earlier Penrith and the Borders seat when represented by the late Viscount Whitelaw.

Having been a parliamentary candidate in the current Copeland seat in 2010, I and my team called on most of the houses in the Keswick and Derwent Valley area during the campaign.

As the constituency had just changed to include this area, the subject of boundaries came up frequently on the doorstep. The almost unanimous view of the residents who raised the issue with me was that they did not feel they had much in common either with the Workington area (with which they had been associated on the previous boundaries) or Whitehaven/Copeland (with which they are associated on the present ones). They would prefer to be in a constituency centred on Penrith, as under the Conservative counterproposal for Cumbria.

The proposed “Copeland and Windermere” seat would be almost unmanageable because the physical obstacles separating the component parts of such a seat are immense. As most speakers at the public hearing in Carlisle pointed out, these obstacles include the highest mountain in England and the deepest and longest lakes. Whitehaven and Bowness have different newspapers, different TV channels, different local authorities, wildly different economic interests, and no direct routes between them which are not high mountain passes.

A West Cumbria seat based around Whitehaven and Workington would make far more sense in terms of commonality of interest.

If such a seat were adopted, electoral numbers would make it necessary for the North East parts of Allerdale Borough, and the Southern part of Copeland, to be in other constituencies. I have already explained why I believe that North East Allerdale would fit better with Penrith than any of the alternatives. South Copeland would fit better with Barrow than any realistic alternative, and that the best place for the dividing line is at Sellafield.

If Copeland council wards from Beckermet and north were included in the West Cumbrian constituency while Gosforth ward and south were part of the Barrow constituency, this would mean that the Sellafield site, which is by far the dominant employer on the west coast of Cumbria, would have two MPs, one representing the Sellafield travel to work area and routes to the North, and the other that to the South. This would be workable and fair."

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Time to batten down again

Take care if you are outdoors in some parts of Copeland this evening: there is a really nasty wind which is verging on the dangerous.

Beating the Metal Thieves, continued

Further to my blog post a couple of weeks ago about the ten-minute rule bill on metal theft, David Morris MP has also raised the issue of metal theft in the House of Commons.

David, who is Conservative MP for Morecambe & Lunesdale, was disappointed to hear of recent metal thefts in his constituency two of which were very high profile, namely lead being stolen from the roof of the Winter Gardens and the theft of metal from the ‘Picture Frame’ artwork in the West End Gardens.

In his question to the Home Office Secretary David Morris MP asked “What steps is she taking to tackle metal theft from public buildings and memorials?”

Responding on behalf of the Home Office, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP said.

“The Home Office supports the wide-ranging plan being delivered by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Metal Theft working group to tackle metal theft, including the theft from public buildings and memorials. In addition, discussions are under way across Government on whether legislative changes are needed to tackle metal theft.

David Morris MP added, “I want to be clear, it is not just here in Morecambe & Lunesdale such thefts have occurred it is a UK wide issue. I am encouraged by the efforts of the Police to tackle this and I would encourage legislative change to combat this dangerous form of theft.“

I agree - we need to stamp out this sometimes dangerous and often particularly shameful form of theft before someone loses their life because of it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Autumn Statement

Today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his 2011 Autumn Statement to Parliament.

Responding to the Office of Budget Responsibility's updated Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Chancellor has set out details of further action the Government will take to protect the UK from global instability and the euro area crisis and build a stronger, more balanced economy for the future.

The Chancellor announced permanent reductions in spending to ensure that the UK meets its fiscal targets, using some of those savings in the short term to fund infrastructure investment to generate long-term growth.

Alongside this, he announced measures to help households and businesses cope with higher inflation and to ensure that deficit reduction is implemented fairly.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said:

"We are committed to making Britain the best place to start, finance and grow a business.

"The measures I am announcing today will help us to achieve this by creating an environment in which businesses are easy to set up, have access to credit when they need it and are able to grow without being held back by red tape.

"This action supports our deficit reduction plan and the Government's monetary activism as we build a balanced economy."


To give more support to the economy and help businesses, families and individuals through this difficult time, the government:

* will set out a new strategy for coordinating public and private investment in UK infrastructure. The Government will use the savings from current spending generated over the Spending Review 2010 period to fund £6.3 billion of additional infrastructure spending, of which £1.3 billion was announced earlier in the autumn. Alongside this, around £1 billion of new private sector investment in regulated industries will be supported by government guarantee. The Government is also announcing commitments to £5 billion of capital projects in the next Spending Review period, as part of the National Infrastructure Plan;

* has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with two groups of UK pension funds to support additional investment in UK infrastructure. The Government is also working with the Association of British Insurers to set up an Insurers’ Infrastructure Investment Forum, and will target up to £20 billion of investment from these initiatives. In total the Autumn Statement supports around £30 billion of new capital investment;

* will increase the Regional Growth Fund for England by £1 billion, plus Barnett consequentials for the devolved administrations, and extend it into 2014–15, to provide ongoing support to grow the private sector in areas currently dependent on the public sector.

Credit easing

The Government will:

* allow a more active monetary policy by the Bank of England to stimulate demand while controlling inflation. To complement this, the Government will launch a package of up to £21 billion of credit easing measures to support smaller and midsized businesses that do not have ready access to capital markets. This will comprise

* a new National Loan Guarantee Scheme. Up to £20 billion of guarantees for bank funding will be made available over two years. This will allow banks to offer lower cost lending to smaller businesses, subject to state aid approval

* an initial £1 billion through a Business Finance Partnership, which will invest in smaller and mid-sized businesses in the UK through non‑bank channels.



Enterprise

The Government will:

* look for ways to provide a quicker and cheaper alternative to a tribunal hearing in simple cases — a ‘Rapid Resolution’ scheme;

* complete a call for evidence on the impact of reducing the collective redundancy process for redundancies of 100 or more staff from the current 90 days to 60, 45 or 30 days;

* begin a call for evidence on two proposals for radical reform of UK employment law. First, the Government will seek views on the introduction of compensated no-fault dismissal for micro-businesses with fewer than 10 employees. Second, the government will look at how it could move to a simpler, quicker and clearer dismissal process, potentially including working with ACAS to make changes to their code or by introducing supplementary guidance for small businesses;

* ask independent Pay Review Bodies to consider how public sector pay can be made more responsive to local labour markets, to report by July 2012;

* launch a new Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) from April 2012, offering 50 per cent income tax relief on investments, and will offer a capital gains tax exemption on gains realised in 2012–13 and then invested through SEIS in the same year;

* introduce an ‘above the line’ tax credit in 2013 to encourage research and
development activity by larger companies.

Education

The Government will:

* invest an extra £600 million to fund 100 additional Free Schools by the end of this Parliament. This will include new specialist maths Free Schools for 16-18 year olds, supported by strong university maths departments and academics; and

* invest an additional £600 million to support those local authorities with the
greatest demographic pressures. This funding is enough to deliver an additional 40,000 school places.

Housing

The Government will:

* introduce a new build indemnity scheme to increase the supply of affordable mortgage finance for new build homes; and

* reinvigorate the Right to Buy to support social tenants who aspire to own their own home.

Balancing the books

To address the gaping hole in the public finances which the previous Labour government left behind, government measures will have to include

* setting plans for public spending in 2015–16 and 2016–17 in line with the spending reductions over the Spending Review 2010 period;

* raising the State Pension age to 67 between April 2026 and April 2028 in response to changes in demography.

* setting public sector pay awards at an average of one per cent for each of the two years after the current pay freeze comes to an end. Departmental budgets will be adjusted in line with this policy, with the exception of the health and schools budgets, where the money saved will to back into the NHS and schools respectively;

* uprating the child element of the Child Tax Credit and disability elements of tax credits in line with the Consumer Prices Index in 2012–13.

* adjust the allocation of Official Development Assistance in line with the OBR’s revised growth forecast, so that the UK spends 0.56 per cent of Gross National Income on Official Development Assistance in 2012, and 0.7 per cent in 2013 and thereafter.

Monday, November 28, 2011

West Cumbria libraries future confirmed

Cumbria County council has been considering the future of local libraries and has held a public consultation.

Following the consultation it has been announced that three West Cumbria libraries which had been considered for closure will remain open.

Among the suggestions was the possible replacement of 20 smaller community libraries – including Moorclose, Seaton and Distington – with borrowing points in community centres, shops or other locations.

However, the council has announced that instead of closure it is looking at the possibility of setting up friends groups for Seaton and Moorclose libraries to enable the community to enhance the activities beyond those which the county council can fund and provide.

Distington was be discussed by the county’s Copeland local committee last week. There, council officers have suggested negotiating with the community centre for it to take over the running of the library.

Bruce Bennison, county manager for library service review, said: “We are taking a proactive approach to address the decline in library use in positive ways, through local committees to take on board local feelings, opinions and needs.

“We have no plans to close any libraries.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts on Advent Sunday

Today is Advent Sunday, which means a number of things

* The actual official start of the Christmas season, so all the people who have put up Christmas trees, shops selling Christmas stuff, etc, etc are no longer jumping the gun

* The start of the church's year

* The start of the Advent season in which the Christian church looks forward to the coming of the saviour.

The bible readings set for Advent during this season look to the coming of Jesus - not just his coming as a baby but as a man, and his second coming. As such they include some pretty apocalyptic stuff about the end of the world.

As I was listening to one of those readings in St James' church Whitehaven this morning, I was reminded of those people and sects who have used these passages of the bible to predict the imminent end of the world. (Canon John Kelly made the same point in his sermon a few minutes later.)

And yet, however, frightening these passages can be, the people who use them to predict the end of the world are all guilty of selective and misleading quotation out of context, of hearing what they want to hear and use while ignoring the rest. Because all of them are qualified with expressions like "No one knows the day or hour."

Interestingly, both the theories currently favoured by modern science and the teaching of Jesus have something in common in what they say about the end of the world.

Both say that it will happen: both say that we don't know when. (Jesus said that he himself did not know when the end of the world will come, he predicted that in the future people would claim to have that knowledge, and said that they would be false prophets.)

So whether you believe in the Christian religion, or whether you pay attention to what science has to tell us, the best way to live your life is to be ready if the world ends tomorrow, and to be ready if it doesn't, so that either way you have used your time well and looked after your fellow creatures.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Prime Minister's Questions

Hat tip to the Guardian for organising a set of "Prime Minister's Questions" in which various people put a question to David Cameron.

You can either read his answers here,
or hear them here.


A sample of some of the questions and replies:

From Piers Morgan, TV presenter:

If you could relive one moment in your life, excluding births of children and marriage, what would it be?

DC ANSWER: "God, that's a really good question. Piers, why don't you ever ask really good questions like that normally? I think it would be this holiday in Italy when I met Samantha properly. It was that sort of carefree wonderful time when you get together with the person you end up spending the rest of your life with. That feeling of happiness and a wonderful holiday with your family around you and the sun is shining and the sea is beautiful and you're with someone who makes you laugh, makes you happy with that sense of excitement in the future."


From Richard Dawkins, biologist, author and proseletysing atheist:

Why do you support faith schools for children who are too young to have chosen their faith, thereby implicitly labelling them with the faith of their parents, whereas you wouldn't dream of so labelling a "Keynesian child" or a "Conservative child"?

DC ANSWER: "Comparing John Maynard Keynes to Jesus Christ shows, in my view, why Richard Dawkins just doesn't really get it. I think faith schools are very often good schools. Why? Because the organisation that's backing the school – the church or the mosque or the synagogue – is part of the community. And it brings a sense of community and a sense of responsibility and the backing of an institution to a school. The church was providing good schools long before the state ever got involved, and we should respect the fact that it's not just the state that can provide education but other bodies, too. So I support faith schools on the basis of the proof that over the years they've been good schools."

From Mike Leigh, film-maker:

What is your moral justification for the state not providing free further education for everybody, and for the principle of student loans? And I do want to hear your moral reasoning: not any economic, political or historic excuses.

DC ANSWER: "I think there is a strong moral case for this, which is the evidence that going to university brings a benefit to that individual person over the course of the rest of their life. Therefore, I think it is morally right that they make a contribution to the cost of that course, which is what our fees policy does. And I think it would be morally wrong to ask the taxpayer to bear all of the burden of that cost, not least because there are many taxpayers who don't go to university who don't have that benefit."

From Ian McEwan, novelist:

There's still a very strong general feeling around that wage earners are picking up the tab for the excesses of the banking sector. Why not take seriously the "Robin Hood" campaign? (And don't be blackmailed by bankers' empty threats to move abroad – the proposed levy is tiny on any given transaction.)

DC ANSWER: "I'm all in favour of the idea of a financial transaction tax, but only if you can do it globally. And while of course it is a tiny tax on transactions, if the effect is that you just move the transactions to another country, you then lose the tax revenue. The EU keep talking about it, but in the end they know the problem is that even if you did it throughout the EU, the transactions would all go outside the EU."

From Miranda Hart, comedian:

What's the least favourite part of your job (apart from the difficulty of ordering takeaways to Number 10)?

DC ANSWER: "The thing I dread the most is news of casualties from Afghanistan, because that's the greatest responsibility. The thing that is odd and weird is having to have people open car doors for you because they weigh two tonnes and if you tried to do it yourself you'd cut your leg off."

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP

Why do you refuse to give the British people a referendum on the EU, despite your earlier cast-iron guarantee?

DC ANSWER: "I made a policy of having a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, and if the Lisbon treaty had been still extant at the time of government, we would have had a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I don't believe Britain should leave the European Union, but I do believe there are powers we can retrieve from Europe to have a better balance."
From David Blanchflower, economist:

There are one million youngsters under the age of 25 currently without a job. How are you going to prevent them becoming a lost generation?

DC ANSWER: "As David knows, there is no simple answer. You've got to improve the quality of education so you don't have children falling out of school at 16 without skills, you've got to have proper apprenticeships that take people from school into work, you've got to make sure that there are training programmes to help those who can't find jobs. Youth unemployment went up in the years of economic growth as well as recession, so this is a deep underlying problem with the British economy that we have to solve."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beating the metal thieves

It is comparatively rare for a Labour MP to put forward something which I strongly approve of, but it has happened with this week when Graham Jones MP proposed the Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill in the Commons under the Ten Minute Rule.

Bills proposed under this mechanism very rarely become law, but are a useful opportunity to highlight a problem, and the one Graham Jones has drawn attention to needs urgent attention. I hope the government will take the opportunity to implement something along the lines he is suggesting.

As Mr Jones himself pointed out, metal recycling is a valuable industry, it is a sustainable means of reusing an increasingly important commodity. But we need to put this industry onto a regulatory basis which does not provide an incentive for thieves to steal metal which is still in use.

It's not a new problem, but it is one which has become vastly worse over the past few years.

About twelve years ago, around the start of my second period as a councillor in St Albans, metal thieves broke into a redundant NHS building in that city which was about to be transferred via the council to become an Emmaus centre providing a home and work for some of the most vulnerable members of society. They stole some copper piping and wires worth at most a couple of thousand pounds at black market rates, but caused water leaks which did well over a HUNDRED THOUSAND pounds of damage, (in 1999 money) to the building.

Who paid for it? In the short term, I suspect it was the NHS's insurers, but in the long term of course, the incidence of this sort of cost falls on you and me, the long suffering taxpayers - oh, and the vulnerable people who the building was to house had to wait that much longer before the Emmaus centre eventually opened.

This made my blood boil at the time, but metal theft has become a much worse national problem with the growth of the legitimate recycling industry and with the increased price of metals.

An example of just how persistant and disruptive these thieves can be occurred recently in Essex when a section of BT cables was attacked twice within days, with the second attack occurring hours after engineers had finished repairing the damaged caused by the first theft.

About 4,800 phone and broadband connections were damaged in the first attack and 3,500 in the second. Apart from cutting off many local residents and local businesses, a call centre for American Express that helps customers make travel arrangements was completely isolated, and incoming calls and staff had to be transferred to a London office.

People who steal the cables which provide phone service, electricity, or railway signals are not just causing cost and inconvenience to innocent people, they are also putting lives at risk. Unless the trade in stolen metal is stamped out and the people responsible put where they belong, which is in prison, they will sooner or later create the situation where someone can't make a vital 999 call, where damage to a railway signal is not discovered until too late, or where loss of power causes an industrial or medical accident, and innocent people will die as a result.

The other despicable aspect of the trade in stolen metal is that some lowlifes have been stealing war memorial plaques to melt them down for the metal they contain.

Mr Jones said while proposing his bill that theft of metal, particularly from war memorials and signalling cable from the railways, had reached "crisis point", having risen on the electricity networks by 700% in the past two years alone. He added that the national cost of metal theft has been estimated at £770 million, while there were 2,712 cable thefts on the railways in the last financial year, which had led to 240,000 minutes of delays for passengers.

This has got to stop. Companies like BT - and I'd better declare an interest, I work for and am a shareholder in BT - have been spending millions of pounds on initiatives to assist the police in tracing metals stolen from our network. These have resulted in some arrests and convictions. But we need more effective regulation of the metal market so as to make it harder for metal thieves to sell what they have stolen.

Proposals in Mr Jones' bill include a ban on metal trading in cash, stiffer penalties for those caught trading in stolen metal, and for the thieves themselves when caught and convicted to be sentenced not on the basis on the value of metal they had stolen, but on the cost of the damage and disruption they had caused. (As we have seen this can be fifty to a hundred times higher.) Stolen metal would also be classed as stolen assets.

As I said at the start of the article, ten minute rule bills rarely become law, but what sometimes does happen is that governments pick up the ideas and act on some of them. I really hope that happens this time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How not to create jobs in Copeland, part two

The free-for all chaos with parking which has been experienced in Copeland over the past few months in the absence of any enforcement has not been good for local residents or local businesses, so I welcome the prospect that Copeland BC might be about to do something about this.

What I don't welcome is the prospect of car parking charges being raised.

We desperately need to get more people into the town centre, and parking legally rather than illegally. This is not a good time to put up charges from either of those perspectives. I still think the Conservatives were right earlier this year to propose a period of free car parking in the Copeland council car parks and I bitterly regret that the option to do this was not taken.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

How not to create jobs in Copeland, part one ...

I fully understand the position of those Copeland Councillors who voted to grant planning permission for the new Harbourside complex.

For one thing, councillors should never lightly ignore the professional advice of planning officers, and in this case the officers had strongly recommended that permission be granted.

Councillors have a legal duty to grant applications for planning permission unless there are sound and clear cut planning reasons for refusal: "we don't like it" won't cut the mustard and I'm afraid even "the voters don't like it" won't be accepted either unless the council can show that public opposition is based on sound and clear cut planning reasons.

E.g. if members of the public have objected to a planning application on the grounds that that some aspect of the proposal would create a risk of death or injury, and the council can produce hard evidence at an appeal inquiry that this danger really exists, a decision to refuse planning permission should and probably will be upheld if there is any appeal.

However, if a council refuses planning permission because of public concerns about safety, but cannot produce any material evidence to demonstrate that such a danger really exists, it is likely that planning permission will not only be granted on appeal, but that the council - which means local taxpayers - will have to pay costs to the developer.

All of which means that councillors have to be very clear that they know exactly what they are doing if they refuse planning permission for something which their professional officers have recommended should be granted.

This is all the more true if, as was the case with the Harbourside development in Whitehaven which was given permission this week, there is no fundamental objection to the principle of the development.

So nothing I am about to write should be taken as personal criticism of the councillors who voted to grant planning permission.

Nevertheless if I were still a member of Copeland Council and had been on the Planning Panel last week, I would have joined Councillor Stephen Haraldsen who was the one member of the panel who voted against this particular scheme.

Not because I would want to stop any development of this general type on the site, but because IMHO it was possible to put forward a sound and clear cut planning reason for refusal based on the impact which this specific proposal will have on the Georgian townscape by reason of it's scale, mass, and unsympathetic design, thereby failing to preserve and enhance the historic character of the area, and because it is likely to set a precedent for further developments out of keeping with the Georgian townscape and causing additional cumulative damage to that historic character.

There have been some recent excellent developments in Whitehaven which have respected and enhanced the unique character of what is at the moment the best preserved Georgian town centre in Britain, but there have also been too many unsympathetic developments which have not. The failure of Copeland Council to give a high enough priority to the protection and enhancement of that Georgian character is the primary reason for this. The failure to make the developers have another go at designing a less intrusive scheme for the Harbourside complex is part of this pattern, as are the inappropriate design and materials for the scheme the council itself is promoting a few hundred yards away.

The new complex will generate a couple of hundred jobs, which is good news, but a better designed scheme which was a more appropriate fit to the Georgian character of Whitehaven Town Centre would also have created jobs.

This week's vote was in this sense a missed opportunity. The chairman of the company which will be developing the site, around the derelict Mark House and Park nightclub buildings, said that

“This will provide major benefits for the town centre and create a more vibrant harbour."

I agree with this, but not with his further statement that

“I honestly believe that we could not put a better scheme forward.”

I'm not questioning his sincerity but when I was planning chairman and then Planning Portfolio Holder in St Albans, I heard too many developers say things like this, but who then found that when push came to shove after the council stood firm they could indeed make a scheme more sympathetic.

Lest anyone imagines that I'm holding St Albans up as a shining example and always criticising Copeland, it might actually be very good for BOTH authorities if certain of their councillors and officers had to do an exchange and take over the jobs of their opposite numbers in the other authority for a year. In my opinion they tend to err in exactly the opposite directions.

Planning might be better in both areas if the St Albans officers were a bit less rigid in applying Conservation policies and Copeland officers a bit stricter, if certain councillors in St Albans paid a bit more attention to their officers and certain councillors in Copeland were a bit less slavish in doing so, and if the planning committees in St Albans were a little less inclined to refuse planning applications at the drop of a hat while the planning panel in Copeland were a bit more willing to do so.

Power cut in Whitehaven

Woken this morning by our burglar alarm going off because of a power cut covering part of Whitehaven.

We were without power for about two hours.

It is extraordinary how you don't realise how used you are to having something available (in this case electricity,) and how dependent you are on it, until it is taken away for a while.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Northern Rock sale

I thought that Richard Branson should have been allowed to buy Northern Rock four years ago instead of nationalising it.

If that policy had been pursued by the last government, the bank would probably now be in a position similar to where it is today but without hundreds of millions of pounds of losses to the taxpayer.

Mind you, that loss was not incurred today. Northern Rock had lost about £400 million in operating losses in the four years since being nationalised - and if it is successful under Virgin ownership, the taxpayer will ultimately get back as a result of today's deal approximately what the previous government originally put in, less those losses.

Nevertheless, I am delighted to see the bank out of the public sector and being run as a commercial enterprise, which is where it belongs.

Governments of whatever colour have enough trouble doing their own jobs. They should absolutely not be running banks.

I'm also pleased that the new owners have guaranteed no compulsory redundances for at least three years. The last thing we need in the present climate is more job losses, and I note that there were cheers among Northern Rock staff when the deal was announced.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Youth Unemployment

The latest unemployment figures, and particularly those for young people, represent a tragic waste which demands the most urgent attention. The government understands this.

To get young people - and everyone else - into work we need to get the economy growing again, which means putting fewer burdens in the way of businesses, especially small ones, and that government at European, National, and local level has to think very hard about how to reduce the burden of bureaucracy.

Abandoning the attempt to cut the government's deficit absolutely is NOT the way to help get youngsters or anyone else into work, because the immediate result if the government appeared to be going soft on deficit reduction would be that interest rates would go up. And even if that did not push Britain into the sort of crisis which Greece, and Italy have been having, it would certainly "crowd out" investment, especially by small firms, and make it harder for them to create jobs.

We also need to watch for the operation of the law of unintended consequences. One powerful story in a report on the radio today concerned the fact that the previous government was been paying colleges by results - including exam pass rates.

You wouldn't think this could be damaging, but the problem is that this has apparently created a perverse incentive to put students in for the exams with the highest pass rates - which may not be the qualifications which will most help them get a job. The suggestion was being made that in particular this was pushing students away from subjects like maths "because they are harder." (The person who made this statement also praised Michael Gove for following her recommendation to take swift action to address this.)

I know as a school governor that one of the most important targets which the previous government set schools and the current government has continued, relates to the proportion of students getting at least five good passes including English and Maths. That should avoid the problem of schools not putting people in for those subjects, though it by no means eliminates the possibility of some perverse incentives in the system.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Boundary proposals consultation still ongoing

If you have views on whether Copeland should have an MP who also represents the Windemere area on the other side of the highest mountain in England and the deepest and longest lakes in England, there is still time to participate in the consultation process on the proposals put forward by the Boundary Commission for England.

Written submissions can be made until Monday 5th December. These can be made:

1. By visiting the following website:

http://consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk/have-your-say/.

and filling in the online form

2. By e-mail: send representations for the North West region to

northwest@bcommengland.x.gsi.gov.uk.

3. In writing: send representations to Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On Remembrance Sunday

From "For the Fallen," first published during the first world war

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sajjad Karim on the Democratic Deficit

Conservative Euro-MP Saj Karim made the following response to an article by Larry Elliot in the Guardian about the cabal running Europe. Mr Elliot’s article can be read online here.

Sir

Larry Elliot’s article on Europe’s democratic deficit (Guardian 8/11/11) may have been stating the obvious but we do need to debate it.

The European Union has always had a problematic relationship with democracy. Ireland said no to the Nice Treaty in a referendum and was ordered to hold a second ballot to ensure victory.

Yes, a cabal runs Europe, it would be worrying if their policies were working but they are not.

The trouble for the average citizen is that governments come and go but the policies remain. The question ‘why bother’ is then asked leaving a vacuum for a cabal to survive. Turnout across Europe at the last EU elections was 43%, hardly a ringing endorsement.

Democracy is not a given thing; it is a concept to create, recreate and enforce. The power of the cabal will be broken when we learn to trust the citizen and involve them in the decision making process. We must debate directly electing commissioners and making the Council transparent. And first to go must be the closed list system for electing MEPs.

The EU is an ongoing experiment with 60 years old achievements and failures, the only way it can be a successful experiment is to never stop striving for improvement
.

SAJJAD KARIM

MEP for North West England

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest we forget

Today is Armistice Day, the 93rd anniversary of the end of World War One: Sunday is Remembrance Sunday.

At 11 AM on both days we will remember those who were killed in both world wars and all the other conflicts in which people have given their lives for others.

We will remember them.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Greek Tragedy

Apparently now Greece will not after all hold a referendum on the bailout plan.

It is interesting that President Sarkozy has suggested that Greece might have to leave the Eurozone if they don't accept the bailout plan. I suspect this will be seen as bullying in some quarters, and it is also a tacit admission that leaving the Euro is possible.

However, he did have a point - operating a common currency without some attempt to harmonize economic policies is simply not possible.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Art wronger, vita brevis

A cleaning lady at the Ostwind Museum in the German city of Dortmund has destroyed a work of art which had been insured for $US 1.1 million by mistaking it for a stain on the floor and cleaning it up, according to a Dortmund city spokesman.

If I were a shareholder of the insurance company who are going to have to pay this sum, or if I were the private collector who lent the artwork "When it starts dripping from the ceiling" to the museum, I would probably be having a serious sense of humour failure about this. And whichever member of the museum management and that of the contract cleaning company which employed the cleaning lady concerned was responsible for ensuring that the cleaners were properly briefed should probably be preparing to spend more time with their families.

A work of art is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. But honestly, can any artwork which it is possible to mistake for a stain on the floor really be good enough that in a rational world it would be worth a million dollars?

This is not the first time that a work of art has fallen victim to zealous cleaners. In 1986, a "grease stain" by Joseph Beuys valued at around $US 550,000 was mopped away at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dusseldorf in western Germany.

And last year Melbourne City Council workers inadvertently painted over a piece of street art by famous stencil artist Banksy while removing graffiti in Hosier Lane.

I can't help thinking that our attitude to art has gone from one extreme to the other. In the 19th century a whole range of great art was dismissed by contemporary critics who were scathing about what we would now consider masterpieces, such as the work of Monet, because it was different.

The trouble is that for about the past century, critics have been so scared of looking daft to posterity in the same way that those who dismissed masterpieces as rubbish did, that nobody dares to criticise the work which really is rubbish.

Literally!

In fact so much like rubbish that cleaning staff clear it up by mistake!


(For the benefit of anyone who doesn't get the title of this blog post, "Vita Brevis" is latin for "Life is short" and is the second half of the translation into latin of a comment by the ancient greek doctor Hippocrates, "Ars Longa, vita brevis" which is usually rendered in English as "Art is long, life is short."

Ignoring the inconvenient fact that whoever translated Hippocrates' original greek comment into Latin was refering to art in the sense of skill or technique rather than fine art, my alternative version is meant to mean something along the lines of "Art which is rubbish may not last long.")

Greece, Democracy and the Markets

You can make a case that the decision of the Greek Prime Minister to call for a referendum on the Euro-deal was an act of lunacy or a stroke of genius.

Certainly the manner in which it was done has sent the markets into a tailspin and terrified most of Europe's heads of government.

If the Greek government does call a referendum on the package, gets it out fo the way quickly, and wins it, the results would be almost entirely positive. The fact that there was proven to be public support for the package, including the tough medicine to which is part of it, would make the necessary reforms much easier to carry out. And the precedent of involving the public in such decisions would be very positive.

However, the way the proposed referendum appears to have been sprung on everyone could perhaps have been better handled. And if it fails the results for Greece and some of the other Eurozone countries, and those who export to them - like Britain - could be very bad news.

I can see this one is going to run and run ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Health and Safety

There are none so blind as those who will not see and that perfectly describes a poster I saw today with the headline "Job Killer" which quotes a statement which David Cameron had made about health and safety rules destroying jobs and businesses, and misinterpreted it as a suggestion that the government is going to scrap all health and safety employment rules.

This is not what the policy is about.

It is not, and never has been, the policy either of the Conservative party or the coalition government that there is no need for legislation to protect the lives and limbs of people doing dangerous jobs.

We have never suggested that there is no need for legislation to protect employees, customers and anyone else who might be exposed to genuine danger if industrial equipment is not maintained in a safe condition with appropriate measures to prevent it from causing such a risk.

Nobody in their right mind would suggest that a facility such as, say, the plutonium containment facility at Sellafield (or the ponds, or any of the other buildings on the site which could otherwise pose a real hazard) should not be the subject of strict rules designed to prevent accidents.

And ditto any job where people are climbing poles or other high structures, or working with dangerous chemicals.

Where the health and safety culture needs to be reined back is not in rules which protect people from genuine hazards.

The problem is where rules which would be entirely right for genuinely dangerous jobs are applied with a lack of proportion or common sense to jobs which are not dangerous on any objective assessment, such as ordinary clerical jobs. Or where vast amounts of effort are spent on trying to prevent accidents for which the risk ranges from trivial to nonexistent.

Let's take speed cameras. The government has not banned local authorities from putting up Gatso or average speed cameras, but has required them to publish the accident statistics for the relevant stretches of road before and after the cameras went in, so the public can see whether they've actually saved lives or not, keep the ones which have indeed saved lines and make a fuss about the ones which are not preventing accidents or doing anything other than getting more money out of motorists.

We do not need the wholesale abolition of Health and Safety rules. We do need them to be applied and administered with intelligence and with a severity which is proportionate for the actual risks.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Government grant creates 1000 jobs in West Cumbria

The Coalition Government's Regional Development fund is to give a grant of £5.5 million to the Energy Coast West Cumbria, which is expected to create 1,000 new jobs in West Cumbria. This is in response to a bid which was supported by local authorities and local business, and the money will help businesses in the area to diversify.

This is one of three successful bids to the Regional Development Fund in Cumbria. Another is for tyre company Pirelli to develop more environmentally-friendly tyres at their plant in Carlisle, and the third is £2.5 million for Gilbert Giles & Gordon to rebuild and refurbish their turbine factory in Kendal.

This is excellent news for Cumbria and shows that the government is taking the problems of the county seriously.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Another take on the Euro-vote

Hat tip to Plato at "Political Betting" for drawing my attention to a very interesting piece by Mail journalist Tim Shipman called Why Cameron really defied the Euro rebels.

Shipman argues that Cameron's reasons for opposing the motion for a referendum on membership of the European Union was not because he completely disagreed with what the rebels wanted, but because he does agree with much of what they want but considers that calling for a referendum now is not the best way to get it.

Here are some extracts from the article

"Mr Cameron’s behaviour over the last week is more explicable if you take the view that he sought to crush the calls for a referendum not because he doesn’t want to repatriate powers but precisely because he does and wants to remain in charge of the process.

"If he is to take on Brussels, he wants to do so on his own terms and at a time of his chosing.

His aides stress that the threat of a referendum is a single shot distress flare, rather than a submachine gun with a magazine full of bullets. Mr Cameron will get one chance only to fire it and when he does so it has to count.

"The apparently minor EU treaty change which seems on the cards for this December is viewed at the top of government as a very bad time indeed for Britain to start throwing its toys from the pram over issues like employment legislation. Mr Cameron believes that would be destabilising for the economy and would win few to no friends in the EU.

"But my conversations over the last few days have convinced me the Cameroons believe there will be a much bigger treaty revision at some point over the next couple of years – anything less and the relationship between the 17 Eurozone nations and the 10 outside the single currency will become increasingly fractious.

"When that comes, that is when Mr Cameron will strike. Officials believe the prospect of Britain holding a referendum will put such fear into the European Commission that concessions will flow."


You can read the full article here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nixon, China, and the monarchy

Sometimes when a change happens it is people at the opposite end of the political spectrum from those you might have expected to enact it who actually do.

It's like the "Vulcan Proverb" which supposedly said that "Only Nixon could go to China."

And witness the fact that it was a Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary who finally took action, agreed at the Commonwealth meeting yesterday to start the process of scrapping archaic and ridiculous rules about the succession to the monarchy.

Both the ban on anyone married to a catholic inheriting the throne, and the rule which ruled a monarch's female children out of the succession while a brother of any age was available, should have been repealed decades ago. This sort of rule lays the country open to charges of enshrining discrimination against women in our constitution at the highest level and has no place in the 21st century.

(I don't think I need to declare an interest in the former case: I am married to a catholic but have no realistic prospect of inheriting the throne!)

I don't expect to live to see a woman become Queen as a direct result of this change to the law of succession, but I will be pleased to live in a country which has one fewer ludicrously outdated form of institutionalised discrimination.

Quote of the Day

On "Any Questions" today (rebroadcast from yesterday evening) David Davis, following a Lib/Dem speaker who had just made a contribution recognising the role of prison sentences in the fight against crime, said words along the lines of

'I'm a Liberal Democrat and I robustly support prison:' - the coalition is working.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cameron dismisses suggestions of "bitterness" over Europe vote

David Cameron has ruled out any suggestion that there might be any bad blood or rancour over the rebellion on Europe earlier this week.

He told Sky News that "These [the rebels] are valued Conservative colleagues. I understand why people feel strongly and we'll go forward together and tackle the difficult decisions that the country faces.

"But you have to do the right thing and give a lead in politics, and that's what yesterday was about."


He added that there was "no bad blood, no rancour, no bitterness" over the fact that some people had taken a different view.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

EU vote in the commons

Parliament has voted not to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership at the present time, despite a sizeable rebellion by both Conservative and Labour MPs.

The front benches of the Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour parties voted against the motion.

In total 483 MPs voted against while 111 defied party whips and voted for, a majority of 372.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the revolt was a "humiliation" for Prime Minister David Cameron.

"If he can't win the argument with his own backbenchers, how can the country have confidence that he can win the arguments that matter for Britain?" he said.

He didn't explain how this chimes with the fact that, on Labour's own figures, about 25 Labour backbenchers failed to vote with him.


A Downing Street spokesman said many people who voted for the motion felt very strongly, and their views were respected.

"However, the government has to do what is in the national interest. The easy thing to do would have been for us to have avoided expressing a view. It was important to take a strong lead - because Britain's best interests are served by being in the EU."

Nick Robinson at the BBC wrote that the challenge to DC "is not over his government's survival but to spell out what he meant by promising 'fundamental change' in Britain's relationship with Europe and when and how he'll deliver it."

William Hague said during the debate on the motion for an in-out referendum that

"This is not just something for the House of Commons to put up some graffiti on a Thursday afternoon. This proposition is the wrong question at the wrong time.

"It was not in the manifesto, it cuts right across the rules for holding referendums, it would create additional economic uncertainty. Clearly an in-out referendum is not the right idea."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On the rights and wrongs of a Euro referendum

A very insightful piece in the Economist today about the arguments concerning whether we should have an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the E.U.

I am old enough to remember that about thirty-five years ago Britain did have a referendum on E.U. membership and it produced a two-to-one majority for staying in. This was then used by the advocates of closer union as "proof" that Britain wanted a much greater degree of integration than I suspect many of those who voted "Yes" thought they were voting for.

Two thirds of referenda in Britain produce a vote for the status quo. I know that there are a lot of people who think that it's time for another vote on the issue, and they are entitled to that opinion, but I think it is worth those who support any given referendum asking themselves exactly what they are trying to achieve.

I know exactly why I support referenda being reqired for certain things. I wanted one on the Lisbon treaty because it was a bad treaty and I am convinced that British voters, like those in France and Holland when they were originally given the chance, would have voted it down.

More generally the reason I think that anyone who wants to change Britain's constitutional arrangements, including our relationship with Europe, should have to win a referendum is to make it difficult, but not impossible, to make such a change. The burden should be on those who want to change things to make an overwhelming case for that change.

Bagehot in the Economist makes some interesting comments about concerns on the Tory right. Some the concerns of those MPs, and their wish for a referendum on Europe, reflect views which I know are shared by many - not all - members of the party and many - not all - Conservative voters.

Bagehot's comments conclude as follows:

"Many on the right are convinced they are more in tune with the public than Mr Cameron’s cautious, languidly metropolitan inner circle. They are only half-correct. In some areas—crime, immigration, fuel prices, a broad hostility to Europe—the right’s arguments have populist appeal. But, often to its credit, the British right is not as populist as it thinks. It is a complex animal, but defining causes include free trade, deregulation, cutting taxes and welfare, and shielding City banks from EU rules. This is not reliably rabble-rousing stuff.

"The real danger from the right lies elsewhere. Because a showdown over Europe would split his party, Mr Cameron is left nagging EU leaders to do what it takes to save the euro, so long as they do not expect Britain to pay, sit at the table or help shape deeper integration. Still, the Tory right is disgruntled. Judging by the referendum motion before MPs, many want to tie the government’s hands still more tightly, with a utopian mandate to demand a free-trade relationship. They ought to realise that in a fast-moving crisis, their country needs more room for manoeuvre, not less.
"

You can read the full article here.

Buzz !

Just after I had come for lunch this week, a horrible noise started to come from the TV, the same sort of noise which sound equipment often makes when something else, such as a mobile phone, is interfering with it.

My wife asked if my mobile was causing the problem, and I had just pulled my phone out of my pocket and was trying to work it if this could be the cause when, on the TV, Andrew Neil asked the New Labour panellist who was speaking whether he had a mobile phone on him, and if so, could he please turn it off.

He had, and it was interfering with his mike.

A great many of the stories people tell about mobile phones - such as that they can cause explosions at petrol stations - are complete fiction. (The electrical impulses inside a mobile phone are orders of magnitude lower than those inside a car engine, and the hottest possible temperature or any component of a mobile phone is vastly cooler than many parts of a car. There is not a single confirmed case of investigation proving that a fire or explosion at a petrol station was due to a telephone.)

The main one that isn't fiction is that they can play old harry with microphones and speakers. Usually when I don't want my mobile to ring I put it on silent rather than turn it off. But this incident was a reminder that sometimes completely turning the phone off - in a hospital or on a plane, for instance - is more appropriate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Parliamentary boundaries

Spoke today at the public hearings about the Boundary Commission for England proposals for the new Parliamentary constituencies in the North West

The public consultation is open for another few weeks. Best way to study the proposals and have your say is through the BCE's consultation website, at

www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk
.

The website contains all the Initial proposals, reports and maps, the electorate sizes of every ward, and an online facility where you can have your say on their initial proposals.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Christmas is coming

It's still around a fortnight to halloween and the shops are already full of Christmas themed products.

It's a free country and they have the right to offer whatever they think they can sell, but it does seem a little premature.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Electoral registration day today: don't lose your vote

Today is the qualifying date for the electoral register: each household should register with the local electoral authority the names and details of voters, plus sixteen and seventeen-year olds, normally resident in that household as of tonight.

It is perfectly legal to have more than one place where you are normally resident and register to vote at more than one address - students, for instance, often register at both their home and college address - provided that you don't actually vote more than once for the same body.

This year we had the opportunity to register by returning the paper form, on the internet, by freephone telephone service, or by text. I used the internet service and found it very easy and straightforward.

Apart from the little matter that if you don't register you are breaking the law, it also means that you lose your vote and your voice. Don't forget to register!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Commons debate on nuclear power at Sellafield

There was an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, secured at the request of the MP for Copeland, at the conclusion of which the Minister made the following statement.

Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative)

"Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting this debate. I congratulate Mr Reed on securing it and thank him for doing so. The matter is timely and important, not just to his constituency but to our national interest

more generally. I am delighted to see on the Front Bench and to congratulate Caroline Flint and Tom Greatrex on their appointments to the important positions in the shadow team.

I am grateful for the chance to clarify the Government’s position on the future of the nuclear industry in Sellafield, although I cannot give the hon. Member for Copeland all of the answers that he seeks today. I begin by acknowledging the vital contribution that the nuclear industry makes to the economic prosperity of west Cumbria, and also the important contribution that the people of Copeland have made and continue to make to Britain’s nuclear heritage. West Cumbria is at the heart of the UK’s nuclear industry and has been since the early days in the 1950s. There is an enormous wealth of nuclear expertise and knowledge, and we want to maintain and use that for the future. The future is promising for west Cumbria as a nuclear community. There are plans for new nuclear to play a part, local authorities are expressing an interest in hosting a geological disposal facility, and decommissioning commitments are ongoing.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are fully focused on working with west Cumbria to deliver these commitments, as we are in ensuring that new nuclear has a role to play in the UK's future energy mix. The hon. Gentleman was kind and generous in his comments and we agree on much, but I hope that he will understand that I was a little disappointed by some of his recent media comments about the pace of movement and progress in these areas. I hope that in the light of the terrible events in Fukushima some months ago he will have welcomed the ongoing commitment that the British Government have shown to nuclear in comparison with many other Governments elsewhere.

The UK has everything to gain from becoming the No. 1 destination to invest in new nuclear. Nuclear is the cheapest low-carbon source of electricity around, so it keeps the bills down and the lights on. The Government have remained committed in their efforts to ensure that the conditions are right for investment in new nuclear in the UK. We are very pleased to build on the legacy that we received in this area from Lord Hutton when he was Secretary of State.

We have made significant progress in the 18 months we have been in power to ensure that the conditions for investment are right. Last October, the Secretary of State made his decision that two nuclear reactor designs should be justified, which was approved by the House by a large majority of 520 votes to 27—one of the largest majorities that we have seen on any issue. In July we designated the national policy statements for energy infrastructure, including a list of suitable sites for nuclear power stations. Those had been delayed as a result of amendments to emissions in the earlier drafts, but I know that the hon. Gentleman was pleased that Sellafield was one of the sites included in that list. We have also created the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and we plan to bring forward legislation to create a new independent statutory body as soon as we can. The regulators are continuing to work with the industry to take forward the generic design assessment process for new reactors. They have published agreed resolution plans for the issues that need to be resolved, and they will also need to factor Dr Weightman's report into their final assessment.

In the coming months the Government will look to finalise the framework governing the financing of decommissioning and waste management for new nuclear power stations. That will ensure that operators make secure financial provision from the outset in line with the Government's policy that there should be no subsidy for new nuclear. We have done all that in the wake of the tragic circumstances at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. We needed to understand the facts before making any decisions. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to look at what Fukushima means for nuclear energy in Britain and what lessons can be learned.

The UK is most certainly open for business in the nuclear sector. Investors know that EDF Energy will begin preliminary works at Hinkley Point soon and is preparing its planning application as we speak to put to the Infrastructure Planning Commission this autumn. I am also encouraged by the prospects for new nuclear in west Cumbria. The NuGeneration consortium has set out plans to build up to 3.6 GW of new nuclear capacity at Sellafield. We hope that construction will begin in 2015, with commercial operation of a new nuclear power station expected by 2023. Both Iberdrola and GDF SUEZ remain confident about new nuclear in west Cumbria and have increased their stakes in the project. They see no reason why the decision by Scottish and Southern Energy to end its involvement with NuGen should impact on their plans or timetable.

Sellafield is central to the west Cumbrian economy. The Sellafield site has been around for over half a century and has brought many new opportunities to the area. There are opportunities because we are pushing forward scientific frontiers in relation to clean-up and the management of radioactive waste. I congratulate west Cumbria sincerely on taking the lead in decommissioning one of the world’s largest and most complex facilities. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that the Government have allocated extra resources to that vital work. As I have mentioned, new nuclear power is once again on the agenda and west Cumbria is at the forefront of this, with land earmarked for development next to the Sellafield site. That will potentially provide 5,000 construction jobs at peak and 1,000 long-term operating jobs. We join him in wanting to see the economic success for the community he represents.

Radioactive waste is of course always an issue of great importance when talking about the future of the nuclear industry. West Cumbria has also expressed an interest in the process of geological disposal of radioactive waste. We are working in partnership to explore what that would involve. Should west Cumbria decide to participate in the next stages of the process—I emphasise that, in relation to this matter, we strongly believe in the voluntarist principle—it would show a real commitment to finding a long-term solution for nuclear waste disposal. The community is to be applauded for having the vision to find out more about the reality of that process and for fully considering all the implications, including the potential economic benefits. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the fact that we have sought to speed up the process by a decade.

The geological disposal facility would be a multi-billion pound engineering development on an enormous scale which will employ an average of over 500 people for

perhaps a century to come. Apart from the income generated, we expect that there will also be spin-off benefits through associated engineering and supply chain developments and potentially further additional benefits. Therefore, notwithstanding the long-term decommissioning of Sellafield that will see billions of pounds spent on cleaning up the site over the next 100 years, there are potentially major opportunities available to west Cumbria through the nuclear sector.

I now turn to the options for plutonium and the implications for future production of mixed oxide fuel at Sellafield. The future of MOX production at Sellafield can be described primarily by two recent events. The first was the publication in February of the Government’s consultation on the long-term management of the UK’s plutonium—we have the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world. The second was the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s announcement in August that it was to close the existing Sellafield MOX plant. Although both events are to an extent linked, it must be remembered that the Sellafield MOX plant was built to deal with overseas-owned plutonium recovered through reprocessing and was never intended to deal with the UK’s plutonium. A decision to close the SMP was taken by the NDA following a changed commercial risk profile arising from potential delays after the earthquake in Japan and subsequent events.

To ensure that the UK taxpayer did not carry a future financial burden from the SMP, the NDA concluded that the only reasonable course of action was to close the facility at the earliest practical opportunity. It was apparent that the SMP was never going to provide a solution for the large volumes of UK plutonium, which would need to be managed in new facilities. I am very grateful for the realistic approach that the hon. Gentleman has taken on that.

In our consultation on plutonium management we set out three high-level options for dealing with plutonium: continued storage; immobilisation followed by disposal as a waste; and reuse of the plutonium in the form of MOX fuel. The consultation set out at a high level the advantages and disadvantages of each option, but the Government’s preliminary view was that the best prospect of implementing a successful solution lay with the option of reusing MOX as a fuel and, therefore, with seeing its value rather than simply its cost, as the hon. Gentleman rightly called for us to do.

That option was the more technically mature, given that MOX fuel had been successfully fabricated and used in reactors in Europe, and given that by comparison no equally mature immobilisation technology was readily employable. Nevertheless, we recognised that there were still risks with the reuse-as-MOX option, particularly given the poor performance of the Sellafield MOX plant. The poor performance put limitations on throughput, which meant that, even if we wanted to use it, the Sellafield MOX plant would never be able to deal with all the UK’s plutonium.

For that reason, we acknowledged that to implement a reuse solution the Government would need to procure a new MOX plant, but as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the UK also stores significant quantities of overseas-owned plutonium, so pursuing a reuse-as-MOX option for UK plutonium could offer an opportunity for the overseas owners of plutonium currently stored in the UK to have their plutonium managed in the same way."

(At this point the MP for Copeland intervened to ask about what would happen to Scottish waste stored at Sellafield in the event of Scottish independence.)

"That departs just a little from the subject of the debate, and, although the hon. Gentleman is determined as I am to see off that threat, we are dealing with an issue that is not going to arise. However, in the event of separation there would clearly be implications for a settlement and they would need to be addressed and resolved. It is premature, however, to sit down and deal with those issues at this stage.

Were we to proceed down the path of a reuse, any new MOX plant would need to learn from the lessons of the past and take into account the experience from overseas. Additionally we anticipate that, for security reasons and to minimise the transportation of plutonium, any new MOX facilities would be located as close to the plutonium as possible and most likely in west Cumbria, which I believe many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would actively welcome. Plutonium management is a high-profile issue that requires appropriate consideration, and it is not a decision that can be taken quickly. The Government are in the process of clearing our response through Cabinet, and we anticipate being in a position to publish our response shortly.

I, like the Prime Minister, have made it clear that nuclear should remain part of the future energy mix, alongside other technologies such as renewable and carbon capture and storage, provided that there is no public subsidy for nuclear, and the Weightman report, published today, provides no grounds to question our approach that nuclear should be part of the energy mix in future, as it is today. The next step on plutonium management is for the Government to publish their response to the consultation paper, and, as I have just said, we are in the process of clearing our response through Cabinet and anticipate being in a position to make an announcement shortly.

We all recognise that nuclear power plays a significant role in the UK’s electricity supply, but that nuclear also results in radioactive waste. West Cumbria has expressed interest in the geological disposal of radioactive waste, and we are working in partnership to explore what that would involve. I pay tribute to the community as a whole, to the hon. Gentleman as their Member of Parliament and to the local authorities for having the vision to find out more about the process and to work very closely with us to see how we can take it forward."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Extending the Right to buy

David Cameron has announced that the government will increase the discounts offered to council house tenants to buy their homes as part of a plan to boost construction of new homes.

Cameron announced on the first day of the Conservative Party conference yesterday that the government would also release land it owns to be used to build homes.

These actions together would provide thousands of jobs in the building industry with more houses being built, he said.

The plan aims to make the Right to Buy scheme, introduced by the Thatcher government in the 1980s, attractive again, the government said.

The cash raised by an increase in council house sales will be used to build 100,000 homes that will then be rented out.

Cameron said that this would create 200,000 jobs in the construction industry, adding that the release of government land for house building would create a similar number of homes and jobs.

More details of the precise level of discount increase will be provided by the government's housing strategy, which will be published later this autumn. But the Department for Communities and Local Government has published some details on the scheme, which it said will rejuvenate the housing stock.

Currently, discounts for council house purchases vary, starting from between 35% for houses if the tenant has been renting for five years, to 50% discount for the same tenancy in flats. However, the Labour government put in place a cap on the total discount, which the DCLG report said ‘resulted in fewer people being able to take up this opportunity’.

The question and answer report states that under the new plan a new affordable home will be built for every one bought under Right to Buy. These homes will be additional to the government's existing plans, which propose that 150,000 new homes will be built by 2015.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

DC's final round up from Manchester

A final message from David Cameron about the Conservative Conference in Manchester this week.

"This year's Conservative Party Conference was a crucial one. We weren't talking to ourselves; we were talking to the nation, clearly setting out how we are delivering the leadership this country needs to secure a better future.

"Over the four days we spent in Manchester we showed that our resolve to tackle Labour's crippling debt is unwavering - because the only way to build a better country is to start with strong economic foundations.

"But our Conference was about more than dealing with the deficit. Because, even during these tough times, we can do so much. Together we can protect the vulnerable and safeguard our NHS. We can improve school standards. We can tackle the 'something for nothing' welfare system. We can build our Big Society. We can confront so many things - bonkers health and safety rules, the adoption crisis, famine overseas, reoffending rates. Why? Because Britain is a 'can-do' country.

"Our approach is not quick-fix, nor is it easy - but it is right for our country. That is what our Conference was about, and that is what our leadership is about. So I hope you enjoy this video for a recap of Manchester 2011"




Where is the Tomato Juice ?

Doing a famiy shop at one of the supermarkets in Whitehaven this morning I observed, not for the first time, that while in general there is a much broader choice of fruit juices than used to be the case, the healthiest of the lot, which was readily available in my childhood and early adulthood, is now quite hard to find.

Unless the latest dietary advice has done another flip-flop since I last looked, the substance which gives most tomato products their red colour is also one of the most powerful anti-carcinogenics known to man, and including tomato juice as part of one's regular intake of fruit and veg is a very good way to reduce the risk of getting several types of cancer.

So why is there obviously not as much demand for it as you might expect?

Perhaps tomato juice is for some people an acquired taste, although I never found it hard to acquire: certainly it isn't as good as some other drinks for dealing with a thirst because the taste is too strong to enable you to drink large mouthfuls, and you have to sip it.

Nevertheless it is disappointing that a drink which ought to be playing a part in the fight against cancer seems to have largely slipped off the menu. Perhaps an item which ought to be higher up the agenda in future health promotion campaigns.

The EU is not the best place to set speed limits

North West MEP Jacqueline Foster and other Conservative MEPs have slammed a proposal from German MEP Dieter-Lebrecht Koch, who has put forward on behalf of the Parliament's Transport Committee a resolution including the introduction of a 30km speed limit in every residential area in Britain. That's about 18.64 mph.

I am all in favour of LOCAL authorities being able to impose 20 mph speed limits where LOCAL people know that they are needed - for example, there are a number of places in Copeland where 20 mph speed limits are or have recently been in place where they were entirely appropriate. And the removal of the 20mph speed limit in St Bees was extremely unpopular.

But it is just plain daft to set that kind of speed limit in Brussels for every residential area in Europe. There are places where it's needed and places where it is not: and local people and councillors have a much better idea which is which than an MEP from the other end of the continent.

As Jacqueline Foster said,

"Of course speed limits as low as 20mph or so can be right in some very specific areas, especially near schools or children's nurseries, but every location is different and these decisions need to be made case by case.

"Not by a Europe-wide edict."


A British road sign declaring 'Speed limit - 18.64 mph' would be 'plain silly' she added.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

DC's speech to conference

"This week, in Manchester, this party has shown the discipline, the unity, and the purpose that is the mark of a party of government. I'm proud of my team, I'm proud of our members, I'm proud to lead this party - but most of all, I'm proud of you.

"People have very clear instructions for this government: "Lead us out of this economic mess."

"Do it in a way that's fair and right."

"And as you do it, make sure you build something worthwhile for us and our children."

Clear instructions. Clear objectives. And from me: a clear understanding that in these difficult times, it is leadership we need. To get our economy moving. To get our society working, and in a year - the Olympics year - when the world will be watching us, to show everyone what Great Britain really means.

But first I want to say something to you in this hall. Thank you. Despite the predictions we won elections all over the country this May, so let's hear it for those great campaigns you fought and the great results you achieved.

And thank you for something else. In the AV referendum, you did Britain a service and kicked that useless voting system off the political agenda for decades to come.

And next year let's make sure we back Boris, beat Ken and keep London Conservative. You're not just winners - you're doers.

This summer, as before, Conservatives went to Rwanda to build classrooms, teach children and help grow businesses. Social action: that is the spirit of the modern Conservative Party.

This is a party - ours is a country - that never walks on by. Earlier this year some people said to me: "Libya's not our concern", "don't start what you can't finish", and even - "Arabs don't do democracy." But if we had stood aside this spring, people in Benghazi would have been massacred. And don't let anyone say this wasn't in our national interest. Remember what Qadhafi did. He's the man who gave Semtex to the IRA, who was behind the shooting of a police officer in a London square, who was responsible for the bombing of a plane in the skies over Lockerbie. Let's be proud of the part we played in giving the Libyan people the chance to take back their country.

In Afghanistan today, there are men and women fighting for Britain as bravely as any in our history. They come from across our country: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. They now have the equipment they need. And we're on target to bring them home by the end of 2014.

Theirs has been a campaign of incredible courage and sacrifice, and I know everyone in this hall will want to send a message to everyone who serves and who have served. Those in uniform in our armed forces and in our police. And those not in uniform, keeping us safe from terrorism on our streets.

We're proud of you. We salute you. Thank you.

But leadership in the world is about moral strength as much as military might. A few months ago I was in Nigeria, on a trade mission. While I was there, I visited a vaccination clinic. It was very hot, pretty basic and the lights kept going off.

But to the rows of women, cuddling their babies, this place was a godsend. One of the nurses told me that if it wasn't for British aid, many of those beautiful babies would be dead. In four years' time, this country will have helped vaccinate more of the world's poorest children than there are people in the whole of England.

Of course, we'll make sure your money goes to the people who need it most, and we'll do it in a way that's transparent and accountable. But I really believe, despite all our difficulties, that this is the right thing to do. That it's a mark of our country, and our people, that we never turn our backs on the world's poorest, and everyone in Britain can be incredibly proud of it.

Leadership in fighting poverty. Leadership in fighting tyranny. But when it came to that decision to help the Libyan people, there was something dispiriting about the debate here at home. It wasn't that some people thought we shouldn't do what we did - of course it's everyone's right to disagree.

It was that too many thought Britain actually couldn't do something like that any more. And you hear that kind of pessimism about our economic future, our social problems, our political system. That our best days are behind us. That we're on a path of certain decline.

Well I'm here to tell you that it isn't true. Of course, if we sit around and hope for the best, the rest will leave us behind. If we fool ourselves that we can grow our economy, mend our society, give our children the future we want them to have. If we fool ourselves that we can do these things without effort, without correcting past mistakes, without confronting vested interests and failed ideas, then no, we're not going to get anywhere.

But if we put in the effort, correct those mistakes, confront those vested interests and take on the failed ideas of the past, then I know we can turn this ship around.

Nobody wants false optimism. And I will never pretend there are short cuts to success. But success will come: with the right ideas, the right approach, the right leadership. Leadership from government: to set out the direction we must take, and the choices we must make. But leadership also from you. Because the things that will really deliver success are not politicians or government. It's the people of Britain, and the spirit of Britain.

Some say that to succeed in this world, we need to become more like India, or China, or Brazil. I say: we need to become more like us. The real us. Hard-working, pioneering, independent, creative, adaptable, optimistic, can-do. That's the spirit that has made this United Kingdom what it is: a small country that does great things; one of the most incredible success stories in the history of the world.

And it's a spirit that's alive and well today. I see it in Tania Sidney-Roberts, the head teacher I met in Norwich who started a free school from scratch, now four times over-subscribed. Her ambition? To set up another school and do it all over again. That's leadership.

I see it in the group of GPs in Bexley who have taken more control of their budgets, and got their patients - some of the poorest in the country - free care on Harley Street. Their ambition? To cut waiting times, cut costs and improve care - all in one go. That's leadership.

And we all saw it this summer. Dan Thompson watched the riots unfold on television. But he didn't sit there and say 'the council will clean it up.' He got on the internet. He sent out a call. And with others, he started a social movement.

People picked up their brooms and reclaimed their streets. So the argument I want to make today is simple: leadership works. I know how tough things are. I don't for one minute underestimate how worried people feel, whether about making ends meet, or the state of the world economy. But the truth is, right now we need to be energised, not paralysed by gloom and fear.

Half the world is booming - let's go and sell to them. So many of our communities are thriving - let's make the rest like them. There's so much that's great about our country. We don't have to accept that success in this century automatically belongs to someone else. We just have to remember the origin of our achievements: the people of Britain, taking a lead. That's why so much of my leadership is about unleashing your leadership. Giving everyone who wants to seize it the opportunity, the support and above all the freedom to get things done. Giving everyone who wants to believe it the confidence that working hard and taking responsibility will be rewarded not punished.

So let's reject the pessimism. Let's bring on the can-do optimism. Let's summon the energy and the appetite to fight for a better future for our country, Great Britain.

Of course that starts with our economy. As we meet here in Manchester, the threat to the world economy - and to Britain - is as serious today as it was in 2008 when world recession loomed. The Eurozone is in crisis, the French and German economies have slowed to a standstill; even mighty America is being questioned about her debts.

It is an anxious time. Prices and bills keep going up - petrol, the weekly shop, electricity. On the news it's job losses, cutbacks, closures. You think about tuition fees, and house prices, the cost of a deposit, and wonder how our children will cope. Of course, government can help - and this one is. We have cut petrol duty, kept the winter fuel allowance and kept cold weather payments. We froze council tax this year, and as George announced in that great speech on Monday, we're going to freeze it again next year too.

But we need to tell the truth about the overall economic situation. People understand that when the economy goes into recession, times get tough. But normally, after a while, things pick up. Strong growth returns. People get back into work. This time, it's not like that. And people want to know why the good times are so long coming.

The answer is straightforward, but uncomfortable. This was no normal recession; we're in a debt crisis. It was caused by too much borrowing, by individuals, businesses, banks, and most of all, governments. When you're in a debt crisis, some of the normal things that government can do, to deal with a normal recession, like borrowing to cut taxes or increase spending - these things won't work because they lead to more debt, which would make the crisis worse.

Why? Because it risks higher interest rates, less confidence and the threat of even higher taxes in future. The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That's why households are paying down their credit card and store card bills. It means banks getting their books in order. And it means governments - all over the world - cutting spending and living within their means.

This coalition government, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg and I - we've led the way here in Britain. Our plan is right. And our plan will work. I know you can't see it or feel it yet. But think of it like this. The new economy we're building: it's like building a house. The most important part is the part you can't see - the foundations that make it stable. Slowly, but surely, we're laying the foundations for a better future. But this is the crucial point: it will only work if we stick with it.

And there's something else we've got to stick to. Because we're not in the Euro, we can lay these foundations ourselves: on our own terms; in our own way. So let me say this: as long as I'm Prime Minister, we will never join the Euro. And I won't let us be sucked into endless bail-outs of countries that are in the Euro either. Yes, we're leading members of the IMF and have our responsibilities there.

But when it comes to any Euro bail-out mechanism, my approach is simple: Labour got us into it and I've made sure we're getting out of it.

Of course, our deficit reduction programme is just one big bail-out of the last Labour government. This past year we've been subjected to a sort of national apology tour by Labour. Sorry for sucking up to Qadhafi. For not regulating the banks properly. For crushing civil liberties. For failing to go green. For not building enough homes. For the infighting that made them the most dysfunctional government ever.

But you know what? Nothing - not a peep - on the thing they really need to say sorry for. Wasting billions and billions of your money. No apology for that. You know what the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls claimed last week? That Labour didn't spend more money than they had "available". Hello? Ed - you spent £428 billion more than you had "available". There is only one conclusion you can rationally draw. We must never let these Labour politicians anywhere near our economy again.

As before, it falls to us to clear up after the Labour Party. I have insisted that we do it in a way that is fair. You can't cut a deficit the size of ours without everyone making a sacrifice. But those with the most money are bearing the biggest burden. We've imposed a permanent levy on the banks, getting them to pay more every year than Labour did in one year.

We've raised taxes on people who make their money overseas but live here. At the same time we've given real help to the poorest and most vulnerable. We're taking over a million of the lowest-paid people out of tax altogether. And after the scandal of the 75p pension rise under Labour, we're linking pensions to earnings so elderly people will be £10,000 better off in their retirement.

Yes, this is a one-nation deficit reduction plan - from a one-nation party. And here's something else that we - yes we - have done. The NHS is the most precious institution in our country - to my family, to your family. At the last election, it was Labour policy to cut the NHS. It was Liberal Democrat policy to cut the NHS.

It was our policy - Conservative policy - to protect the NHS and spend more on it this year, next year and the year after that because we are the party of the NHS, and as long as I'm here we always will be.

But real fairness isn't just about what the state spends. It's about the link between what you put in and what you get out. As we debate what people get from the state, let's remember how we generate taxes. So to the unions planning to strike over public sector pensions I say this. You have every right to protest. But our population is ageing. Our public sector pensions system is unaffordable. The only way to give public sector workers a decent, sustainable pensions system, and do right by the taxpayer, is to ask public servants to work a little longer and contribute a little more. That is fair. What is not fair, what is not right, is going on strikes that will hurt the very people who help pay for your pensions.

Dealing with our debts is line one, clause one of our plan for growth. But it is just the start. We need jobs - and we won't get jobs by growing government, we need to grow our businesses. So here's our growth plan: doing everything we can to help businesses start, grow, thrive, succeed. Where that means backing off, cutting regulation - back off, cut regulation. Where that means intervention, investment - intervene, invest. Whatever it takes to help our businesses take on the world - we'll do it.

The global economy has transformed in recent years. It used to take companies decades to become global giants: now it can take a couple of years. When you step off the plane in Delhi or Shanghai or Lagos, you can feel the energy, the hunger, the drive to succeed. We need that here.

Frankly, there's too much 'can't do' sogginess around. We need to be a sharp, focused, can-do country. But as we go for growth, the last thing I want is to pump the old economy back up, with a banking sector out of control, manufacturing squeezed, and prosperity confined to a few parts of the country and a select few industries. Our plan is to build something new and to build something better. We can do it.

Look what's happening in East London. Europe's financial capital is now matched by Europe's technology capital in Tech City. Facebook, Intel, Google, Cisco - even Silicon Valley Bank - seeing our potential and investing here. Look what's happening across our country. The wings of the world's biggest jumbo jet - built in Wales.

The world's most famous digger - the JCB - made in Staffordshire.

Do you watch Formula One? Well whether it's the German Michael Schumacher, the Australian Mark Webber or the Brazilian Reubens Barrichello, they all have one thing in common - they drive cars built right here in Britain.

This is the new economy we're building: leading in advanced manufacturing, technology, life sciences, green engineering. Inventing, creating, exporting.

Of course, it's easy to talk about these things: harder to deliver it. For a start, you won't deliver it just by dividing industries into saints and sinners. That's not just an insult to the financial and insurance companies, accountancy firms and professional services that make us billions of pounds and create millions of jobs - it's much too simplistic.

As I've always argued, we need businesses to be more socially responsible. But to get proper growth, to rebalance our economy, we've got to put some important new pieces into place. Taking action now to get credit flowing to the small businesses that are the engine of the economy. And ring-fencing the banks so they fulfil their role of lending safely to the real economy. Setting up Technology and Innovation Centres where scientists and academics can work with entrepreneurs to turn brilliant inventions into successful products. Reforming taxation to encourage enterprise and investment in high growth firms. And sometimes that means taking controversial decisions; challenging vested interests.

When firms need to adapt quickly to win orders and contracts, we can't go on with rigid, outdated employment regulations. The critics may say: what about workers' rights? But the most important worker's right of all is having a job in the first place.

When in modern business you're either quick or you're dead, it's hopeless that our transport infrastructure lags so far behind Europe's. That's why we need to build high speed rail and why we'll get the best super-fast broadband network in Europe too. When a balanced economy needs workers with skills, we need to end the old snobbery about vocational education and training. We've provided funding for 250,000 extra apprenticeships - but not enough big companies are delivering.

So here's a direct appeal: If you want skilled employees, we'll provide the funding, we'll cut the red tape. But you've got to show more leadership and give us the apprenticeships we need.

Unlocking growth and rebalancing our economy also requires change in Brussels. The EU is the biggest single market in the world - but it's not working properly. Almost every day, I see pointless new regulation coming our way. A couple of weeks ago I was up in the flat, going through some work before the start of the day and I saw this EU directive. Do you know what it was about? Whether people with diabetes should be allowed to drive. What's that got to do with the single market? Do you suppose anyone in China is thinking: I know how we'll grow our economy - let's get those diabetics off our roads. Europe has to wake up - and the EU growth plan we've published, backed by eight countries, which I want us to push at every meeting, every council, every summit, is the alarm call that Brussels needs.

There's one more thing. Our businesses need the space to grow - literally. That's one of the reasons we're reforming our planning system. It's hard to blame local people for opposing developments when they get none of the benefits. We're changing that. If a new manufacturing plant is built in your area - your community keeps the business rates. If new homes get built - you keep the council tax. This is a localist plan from a localist party.

Now I know people are worried about what this means for conservation. Let me tell you: I love our countryside and there's nothing I would do to put it at risk. But let's get the balance right. The proportion of land in England that is currently built up is 9 per cent. Yes, 9 per cent. There are businesses out there desperate to expand, to hire thousands of people - but they're stuck in the mud of our planning system. Of course we're open to constructive ideas about how to get this right.

But to those who just oppose everything we're doing, my message is this: Take your arguments down to the job centre. We've got to get Britain back to work.

The new economy we're building must work for everyone. You know the real tragedy of New Labour's economy? Not just that it was unsustainable, unbalanced, overwhelmed with debt. But that it left so many behind.

Labour talked opportunity but ripped the ladders of opportunity away. We had an education system that left hundreds of thousands unprepared for work. A welfare system that trapped millions in dependency. An immigration system that brought in migrant workers to do the jobs that those on welfare were being paid not to do.

We had a housing system that failed to meet demand, so prices shot up and fuelled an unsustainable boom. And we had a government that creamed the taxes off the boom to splurge back into benefits - redoubling the failure all over again. Labour: who tell us they care so much about fairness, about justice, who say they want to hit the rich and help the poor - it was Labour gave us the casino economy and the welfare society.

So who's going to lift the poorest up? Who's going to get our young people back to work? Who's going to create a more equal society? No, not you, the self-righteous Labour Party. It will be us, the Conservatives who finally build an economy that works for everyone and gives hope to everyone in our country.

That starts with a good education - for everyone. It sounds so simple: proper teaching, good discipline, rigorous exams. But it's hard. It's hard because our education system has been infected by an ideology that instead of insisting on every child's success has too often made excuses for failure. They said: "poor kids can't learn." "Black boys can't do well." "In this community we really mustn't expect too much - don't you understand?"

Oh yes, I do understand. Believe me I do understand and I am disgusted by the idea that we should aim for any less for a child from a poor background than a rich one. I have contempt for the notion that we should accept narrower horizons for a black child than a white one. Yes it's the age-old irony of the liberal left: they practice oppression and call it equality.

So we are fighting back. And something massive is happening. There is now irrefutable proof that the right schools, with the right freedoms and the right leadership, can transform the education of the most deprived children. You heard yesterday from that inspirational student from Burlington Danes Academy in Hammersmith. Inner city school. Deprived area. Nearly half the pupils on free school meals.

But this year, three-quarters got five good GCSEs including English and maths. That's way better than what the majority of the state schools in Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire got last year - some of the most affluent counties in the country.

Why? Because the head teacher, her staff, the parents - rose up and said: "We are as good as anyone. Our children can achieve anything."

Leadership works. So we're backing more head teachers to turn schools into Academies. And we want more parents, teachers, charities, businesses, entrepreneurs, to come in to our education system and set up Academies and Free Schools.

Change really is underway. For the first time in a long time, the numbers studying those core and vital subjects history, geography, languages are going up. Pupils' exams will be marked on their punctuation and grammar. And teachers are going to be able to search pupils' bags for anything banned in school - mobile phones, alcohol, weapons, anything. It's a long, hard road back to rigour, but we're well and truly on our way.

And here's something else we're going to do. In Britain today, we have schools that are intolerant of failure, where ninety percent of pupils get five good GCSEs. Yes: private schools. You've heard me talk about social responsibility so let me say this. I want to see private schools start Academies, and sponsor Academies in the state system. Wellington College does it, Dulwich does it - others can too. The apartheid between our private and state schools is one of the biggest wasted opportunities in our country today. So let it be this party that helps tear it down.

Rigour back in learning. Standards back in schools. Teachers back in control. Yes - the Conservatives are back in government.

An economy that works for everyone means sorting out welfare and immigration too. Welfare began as a life-line. For too many it's become a way of life. Generation after generation in the cycle of dependency - and we are determined to break it.

Part of our answer is controlling immigration. So we've put a cap on the numbers of non-EU immigrants allowed to come into our country to work. We mustn't lock out talent - I want the best and brightest entrepreneurs, scientists and students from around the world to get the red carpet treatment. But the bogus colleges, the fake marriages, the people arriving for a month and staying for years, the criminals who use the Human Rights Act to try and stay in the country - we are clamping down on all of them.

We've got to get some sense back into our labour market and get British people back into work. For years you've been conned by governments. To keep the unemployment figures down, they've parked as many people as possible on the sick. Two and a half million, to be exact. Not officially unemployed, but claiming welfare, no questions asked. Now we're asking those questions. It turns out that of the 1.3 million people who have put in a claim for the new sickness benefit in recent years. One million are either able to work, or stopped their claim before their medical assessment had been completed.

Under Labour they got something for nothing. With us they'll only get something, if they give something. If they are prepared to work, we're going to help them - and I mean really help them. If you've been out of work and on benefits for five years, a quick session down the job centre and a new CV just isn't going to cut it. You need to get your self-esteem and confidence back; you need training and skills; intensive personal support.

Previous governments were never willing to make a proper commitment to this, but we have - investing now, so we don't pay later. We're going to spend up to £14,000 on some people just to get them trained and back into work. Yes, I know that's a lot of money - but it's worth it. Let it be us, let it be this government that finally builds an economy where no one is left behind.

And for most people that includes a home of their own: not just any old home but a decent one: light and spacious, a place with a proper front door and room for the kids to play in. But the percentage of British people who own their home is going down. Unless they get help from their parents, do you know the average age of a first-time buyer in our country today? Thirty seven. You hear people say: "why can't people just rent like in Europe?" or "there's nothing we can do because we don't have the money."

I disagree. The failure of the housing market is bound up in the debt crisis. Because lenders won't lend, builders won't build and buyers can't buy. We're sorting this out, bringing back the Right to Buy and using the money to build new homes. Macmillan made us the party of the property-owning democracy. Margaret Thatcher gave people the Right to Buy. Now let us, in this generation, inspire a new Tory housing revolution.

While I'm on the subject of those great Conservative figures, let me say this. I'm incredibly fortunate to have such strong support from our previous leaders. Michael Howard. Iain Duncan Smith. William Hague. Sir John Major. And of course, Lady Thatcher. You know what? We don't boo our leaders. We're proud of our past and what those people did for our country.

A few months ago, we were shocked by the scenes on our streets in London and other parts of the country. But perhaps the most shocking thing is that people weren't that surprised. There was no great call for a public enquiry to find out what had gone wrong. Instead the sound you could hear was the angry, insistent, overwhelming cry of a country shouting to its leaders: We know. We know why this happened. We know what's gone wrong. We know that if the system keeps fudging the difference between right and wrong, we'll never improve behaviour. We know that as long as the police go round with one hand tied behind their back, we'll never make our streets truly safe. And more than anything we know that if parents don't meet their responsibilities, kids will get out of control. Yes, people said: we know what's gone wrong: and we want you to put it right.

One thing people want is speedy justice. After the riots those responsible were put straight in the courts and tough sentences were quickly handed out. And I've made it clear to the police, to the prosecution services, to the Ministry of Justice, to the Attorney-General, if we could do that then, let's make sure we do it all the time. But the problems go deeper. That's why my driving mission in politics is to build a Big Society, a stronger society.

It starts with families. I want to make this the most family-friendly government the country has ever seen. More childcare. More health visitors. More relationship support. More help with parenting. And for the 120,000 families that are most troubled - and causing the most trouble - a commitment to turn their lives around by the end of this Parliament.

Today I can announce this: a new focus on the 65,000 children in care. Do you know how many children there are in care under the age of one? 3,660. And how many children under the age of one were adopted in our country last year? Sixty. This may not seem like the biggest issue facing our country, but it is the biggest issue for these children. How can we have let this happen: we've got people flying all over the world to adopt babies, while the care system at home agonises about placing black children with white families.

With the right values and the right effort, let's end this scandal and help these, the most vulnerable children of all. But for me, leadership on families also means speaking out on marriage. Marriage is not just a piece of paper. It pulls couples together through the ebb and flow of life. It gives children stability. And it says powerful things about what we should value. So yes, we will recognise marriage in the tax system.

But we're also doing something else. I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn't matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we're consulting on legalising gay marriage.

And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.

We value community spirit and social action too. We see it everyday in our own lives, it's one of the great things about Britain, and do you know what? Over the last five years of the Labour government, the number of people volunteering went down. Last year, the decline was halted.

And now the proportion of people saying they feel they belong strongly to their neighbourhood is the highest for a decade. If you're cynical, go to Wythenshawe, a few miles from here. It used to be ravaged by crime and drugs and graffiti. But local people opened a community hall and a gym. They got the kids off the streets. They cleaned up graffiti and kicked out the drug dealers. Of course, government can't legislate for this. But we can support the leadership that makes it happen.

That's why we're giving neighbourhoods new powers to take over the running of parks, playgrounds and pubs. It's why we're making it easier for people to give their time and money to good causes. It's why we want elected mayors in our great cities, and it's why right now we're drawing up plans to really open up public services and give more power to people.

But one of the biggest things holding people back is the shadow of health and safety. I was told recently about a school that wanted to buy a set of highlighter pens. But with the pens came a warning. Not so fast - make sure you comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Including plenty of fresh air and hand and eye protection. Try highlighting in all that.

This isn't how a great nation was built. Britannia didn't rule the waves with arm-bands on. So the vetting and barring scheme - we're scaling it back. CRB checks - we're cutting them back. At long last common sense is coming back to our country.

Building stronger communities is why we've introduced National Citizen Service. You saw it for yourself at the start of this afternoon's session. One of the people who took part this year, Owen Carter, wrote to me and said:

"[This] has changed my perspective of life - you can do anything if you work hard and have a supportive team around you. You can do anything'.

That's the spirit I'm talking about. That's why we're tripling the scale of National Citizen Service. That's how we'll build our Big Society. That is leadership.

Next year, we welcome the world for the Olympics - and of course the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. These two events say a lot about Britain. Tradition. Modernity. All in one.

And today, we can choose to be a country that's back on its feet and striding forward. Paying down our debt and earning a living. Getting people off welfare and into work. Breaking new ground in education, with excellence for everyone not a privileged few.

We can be a country where people look back on their life and say: I've worked hard, I've raised a family, I'm part of a community and all along it was worth my while. We're too far away from that today but we can get there.

It's not complicated, but not easy either - because nothing worthwhile is easily won. But you know, we've been told we were finished before.

They said when we lost an Empire that we couldn't find a role. But we found a role, took on communism and helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

They called our economy the sick man of Europe. But we came back and turned this country into a beacon of enterprise.

No, Britain never had the biggest population, the largest land mass, the richest resources, but we had the spirit. Remember: it's not the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog. Overcoming challenge, confounding the sceptics, reinventing ourselves, this is what we do. It's called leadership.

Let's turn this time of challenge into a time of opportunity. Not sitting around, watching things happen and wondering why. But standing up, making things happen and asking why not.

We have the people, we have the ideas, and now we have a government that's freeing those people, backing those ideas.

So let's see an optimistic future. Let's show the world some fight. Let's pull together, work together. And together lead Britain to better days."