Asking the Culture Secretary about decriminalising non-payment of the BBC licence fee

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee to take the pressure off magistrates courts? Should this not be a household bill like any other?

Nadine Dorries (The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport): That is something we are keeping under review. In today’s age, should we really continue with a licence fee paid by individuals with the potential threat of bailiffs or criminal prosecution? That is an important question and it will be part of the discussion.

The future of the BBC

A couple of tweets by the Culture Secretary does not create a new policy. It appears for the next few years the Licence Fee remains, though for a couple of years it may not increase. What she has done is invite those interested to debate the future financing of this important national institution.

The Licence fee is becoming increasingly difficult to collect as many people turn to social media and commercial entertainment and news services which they say they  can legally access without paying the Licence fee. The Fee is also resented by more people who are paying for access to non BBC service but still have to pay the tax because of the way they watch other services. The BBC continues to antagonise people who legally do not need to pay with their intimidating emails and messages demanding payment.

One of the reasons BBC support is dropping is the attitudes and content of much BBC output. Although the BBC sought to be impartial over the formal period of the EU referendum. for the rest of the time before and after , it is remorselessly pro EU putting the EU case against the UK and refusing to treat the EU to critical pieces on its policies and on its ways of arriving at them in the way it does for  any  UK government. It campaigns relentlessly for net zero policies, weaving them into the fabric of many of its programmes, and favours the experts of world organisations however wrong they turn out to be. It plays up Scottish and Welsh  identity but refuses similar treatment for England.

It also has some great back catalogue material, employs some talented and interesting people and produces some good programmes. If it wishes to re establish itself as the accepted voices of the UK it needs to become the people’s BBC. I suggest that the government should now move to decriminalise the licence fee, making it a bill like other household bills. Enforcement occupies too much time and resource in magistrates courts. The BBC should also be told to offer the same level of support and service to England that it shows to Scotland by having BBC Scotland.

The continuing shortage of wind on some days means there is an urgent need to change energy policy

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, how much additional carbon dioxide is generated by importing and burning LNG compared to using more natural gas delivered by pipeline from UK fields. (96748)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Greg Hands:

The Oil and Gas Association published analysis in May 2020, comparing the carbon intensity of United Kingdom Continental Shelf gas with imported liquified natural gas and pipelined gas:

https://www.ogauthority.co.uk/the-move-to-net-zero/net-zero-benchmarking-and-analysis/natural-gas-carbon-footprint-analysis/.

This analysis shows that gas extracted from the United Kingdom Continental Shelf has an average emission intensity of 22 kgCO2e/boe; whereas imported liquified natural gas has a significantly higher average intensity of 59 kgCO2e/boe. The process of liquefaction, combined with the emissions produced by the transportation and regasification of the liquified natural gas once in the United Kingdom, is responsible for the higher emissions intensity.

The answer was submitted on 12 Jan 2022 at 16:57.

 

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what his policy is on the required minimum level of oil stocks for national resilience. (96749)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Greg Hands:

Emergency oil stocks are a critical tool to defend against the harmful impacts of major disruptions to global oil supply. The UK holds emergency stocks of oil, primarily to release in a co-ordinated fashion with other members to the international market in the event of such major supply disruption. As a member of the International Energy Agency the UK is obligated to hold a minimum of 90 days of net imports. This obligation is passed on to companies that supply more than 50 thousand tonnes of key fuels to the UK market in a twelve-month period.

The answer was submitted on 12 Jan 2022 at 16:12.

 These two answers illustrate different features of the unsatisfactory energy policy pursued by the UK government. The government is still failing to licence the output of more gas from the UK North Sea, even though on their own figures for carbon dioxide output it would be hugely beneficial on this ground alone to substitute more UK natural gas for imported LNG. As officials and the Regulator seem to regard cutting CO 2 as the main requirement, often ignoring the need to maintain a secure supply and to keep prices down they should deduce from their own figures that they must substitute UK natural gas for imported LNG on green grounds alone. Price, security of supply, availability and the jobs, tax revenues  and incomes UK gas would generate also are potent arguments for more UK gas. Ministers have said they want this, so where are the new permits and where is the policy of encouragement to operators in the UK North Sea?

The government adopts the minimum standard for oil reserves and leaves that to the private sector, meaning the stocks are  not held in a UK strategic reserve here at home as some other countries do. The derisory level of gas stocks is a wanton disregard for national security. 

The Prime Minister and Brexit

There can be little doubt that Boris Johnson became Leader of the Conservative party and went on to win a substantial General election victory to get Brexit done. He replaced Theresa May whose civil servants negotiated the UK into a very weak position creating a Brexit that looked like membership without the seat around the table. She left office owing to the Parliamentary pressures. The Opposition worked with Remain forces inside government to create a Brexit in name only leading to enough Conservative MPs wanting her to resign  to uphold the result of the referendum.

Two years on from his victory at the polls, and one year on from getting the UK out of the EU formally, the Brexit voting public wants him to use the freedoms the UK has now regained to make us a more prosperous, independent, well respected country with global reach and more domestic activity. Many people are pleased the UK did use its freedom to stay out of the EU vaccine policy, leading to the early development and deployment of a successful UK vaccine. We want more examples of how we can do better for ourselves and the wider world by nurturing talent and trusting policy makers and inventers at home.

My advice to the Prime Minister is to rebuild lost voting support by enjoying some Brexit wins. This should begin with energy policy. We should detach from more and more dependence on energy short Europe, linking our fortunes to a continent that relies on Russian gas and too many windfarms. The UK needs to extract more of our own gas and oil pending the investment in reliable renewable power , perhaps through pump storage and hydro, perhaps through green hydrogen from windfarms when they are working.

It should continue with banning large supertrawlers from the continent and rebuilding a UK fishing industry with proper regard for our fish stocks. It should include growing more of our own food with suitable support for farmers. It should entail remodelling VAT, taking it off green products and energy. He needs urgently to reassert control, unilaterally if necessary ,over GB/NI trade.

He will lose his core supporters and more of his Brexit voters if he does not return to this unfinished agenda.

Energy self sufficiency

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment he has made of (a) the implications for his policies of rising UK import dependence in energy and (b) the potential to expand domestic production. (96751)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Greg Hands:

Great Britain benefits from highly diverse sources of energy. The Government plans to increase energy production from a variety of sources, including nuclear and hydrogen will ensure that dependency on foreign fossil fuels is decreased. Around half of Great Britain’s annual gas supply is already met by domestic production, and Great Britain’s electricity mix includes significant sources of domestic generation.

The Government is taking steps to support investment in new sources of electricity generation, including 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, a first of a kind power plant enabled with Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage technology, and new nuclear projects. The Net Zero Strategy also sets out the Government’s ambition to decrease Great Britain’s reliance on natural gas, such as by blending hydrogen into the gas grid.

The answer was submitted on 14 Jan 2022 at 15:01.

This answer is most disappointing. It states that we will rely on future nuclear and hydrogen based power. Nuclear power will decline this decade, with  no new station not currently in build possible before the 2030s. All but one of our current nuclear stations will close this decade. There is no large scale hydrogen currently available and that too will take time to build up, with current plans not large. Hydrogen will need to be green hydrogen produced from renewable electricity, as it is not a primary energy source.

The phrase “around half of GB’s natural gas is already met by domestic production” implies it is on the rise, whereas we have gone from national self sufficiency to under one half so far this century. UK policy has been to restrict new UK gas extraction and to manage a planned decline in UK output. That is still the official policy though Ministers have started talking about adding to current gas fields.

The chilling phrase that electricity includes “significant sources of domestic generation” shows officials are keen to press on with making us more dependent on imported power. Last century we used to plan to be self sufficient with a  margin of excess capacity to take care of shut downs of major power stations and surges in demand. We should revive that policy.

The wish to create 40GW of offshore wind needs to be linked to methods of storing the power when the wind blows, especially at night, to help with periods of low wind. Storage could be via production of hydrogen or battery or pump storage. Yesterday our substantial wind capacity only managed to meet 1% of our power needs, demonstrating that rated capacity is a meaningless figure to guide power availability when you can get so little when the wind does not blow – or blows too strongly so you have to shut the turbines down.

The government neds to concentrate on self sufficiency to keep the lights on and to prevent Mr Putin and an energy short Europe holding  us to ransom.Ministers have said they do now want to extract more domestic gas to help so why do they approve official answers like these which imply their words are being ignored by the government machine?

Putting things right

The significance of officials inviting each other to a bottle party when their rules and words told the rest of us to stay at home alone or with our immediate family is twofold. It implies they did not think  the virus was as serious as they told us it would  be, as they were willing to take risks themselves. It reinforced the view of a technocracy that lectured the rest of us but lived by different standards. Apparently officials decided what was right and asked the PM to drop by his own garden to thank the staff. He was clearly not in charge of working arrangements. Some argue he should have been .  It leads to more questions about the way advisers  used statistics and one  strand  of scientific opinion to take over government and dictate controls and interventions on a war time scale.

Ministers and the Prime Minister not only allowed them to do this, but made it all visible  by thrusting forward one group of advisers to front news conferences and to explain policy. You cannot allow government policy to be dictated  by the “science”. Ministers should of course place public safety as a central aim  of policy and should take best medical and epidemiological advice. They must however balance that with assessments of what lockdown will do to mental health, other causes of death, to jobs, incomes and livelihoods. They should also test out the official advice by hearing from other scientists. There were other views to consider on  treatments, air flows, infection control  and expanding capacity that were not welcome as part of the official narrative. There were other ways than locking us up at home of limiting spread, abating the impact and fighting the virus that we needed to do more about. My questions and comments to get these actions were often accepted by Ministers but not progressed with energy or pace.

Sorting out the question of what senior officials and maybe some Ministers and the PM did in lockdown is less important that ensuring they govern well today, though the one does reflect on the central problem of when will the government as a whole bend to the will of the people that pay for it? People would be less angry about the office arrangements if they were getting what they voted for. The government needs to reset, to show Ministers are in charge, and to demonstrate they can work productively with civil servants to deliver promises.

Many people would be happier to see a curb on the UK’s carbon dioxide output begun  by reducing immigration numbers. The more people in the country the more CO2 they will generate themselves and in meeting their needs. The same policy would allow us to keep more green areas free from new houses, a popular green policy with many. We would be happy if the government kept its promise not to raise taxes and if it wound down wasteful expenditures like the excessive CV 19 testing programme and the large costs of hotel accommodation for people claiming asylum who are not refugees.

We want the Brexit wins. Why hasn’t the government even taken VAT off green products yet? Given the passion they show for net zero it looks as if the officials are blocking  tax changes which would start to differentiate us from the EU. Why are the Freeports not up and running, and why does the draft not offer much freedom in the freeports proposed?

Of course Ministers are ultimately  to blame. They are meant to be in  charge. Too many of them seem unable to apply common sense to official advice and to reach sensible judgements that powerful advisers do not always like.

 

 

 

Time for the government to move on from managing Covid

The latest case numbers for Covid suggest this latest wave is peaking. The figures also suggest thanks  to vaccines serious cases and hospital stays will be lower proportionately than previous waves. On 26 January the government review should be able to decide the remaining restrictions can be lifted. The pandemic disease can move to being endemic, something we will live with. Everyone can make their own decisions about vaccines and how much risk to run of catching it.

The government needs to refocus. At the high Prime Ministerial level we know what this government is about – getting Brexit done, levelling up, improving public services. At departmental level there is often a lack of clarity or a failure to work away at contributing to the main aims. Particularly disappointing is the way so many departments have gone out of their way to avoid using Brexit freedoms. So many advisers and civil servants seem to want to keep us closely aligned to the EU.

There is also a slow start to levelling  up. This should be primarily about helping people on their journeys to ownership, self employment, better training and qualifications. So where are the Freeports as centres of investment and new jobs? Why aren’t they up and running , with low taxes and friendlier conditions for setting up and expanding business? Where are the plans to help us grow more and make more of what we want?

Cabinet Ministers need to set out how their departments will shape the post pandemic world and how this contributes to growth and levelling up.

I would also be interested in your views on the PM ‘s statement yesterday on the conduct of those working in Downing Street during lockdown.

My speeches in the Remaining Stages of the Nuclear Financing Bill, 10 January 2022

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

I welcome proposals that will create more generating capacity in the United Kingdom. As the Minister knows, I am extremely worried that we are already typically 10% dependent on imported electricity and that the current plans envisage our becoming more import dependent, with the preferred route for electricity provision being the construction of more interconnectors. I am worried about this on security grounds, because we link ourselves at our peril into an energy-short system on the continent of Europe that is far too dependent on Mr Putin and Russian gas. I also worry about it because we are short of electricity and gas at the moment, and we see the price pressures that that creates. I think we should be doing more to expand the supply of both electricity and domestic gas.

I think the Scottish National party has made some important points, although it comes at nuclear power from a different perspective from that of the Government. While we could usefully enjoy more nuclear power, it is very important that those projects are timely and cost-controlled, with technologies that will deliver reliable power on a sustainable basis. Does the Minister agree that nothing in this legislation, and nothing that he can now do, can prevent the proportion of our electricity that is generated by nuclear from declining for the whole of this decade? As I understand it, these projects take a long time to get type approval and financing, and a long time in construction. As I also understand it, all but one of our current nuclear power stations is scheduled to close by 2030, and although one large new nuclear power station should come on stream during that period, it will not offset all the capacity that is taken out.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

I wish the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Bill every success. I think we might call this Secretary of State brave, because experience tells us that it is extremely difficult to land one of these really big projects and keep it to time and budget, and it is extremely difficult to get agreement to cheaper power. I am delighted that Ministers are motivated by the wish to have both more reliable generating capacity and more affordable power. Those are two excellent objectives of energy policy.

However, I fear that what I have learned from this debate, and from previous debates like it, are these things. First, we are going to have less nuclear power in 2030 than we have today, whatever Ministers do—they are prisoners of their inheritance. Secondly, it will be difficult signing up big projects in particular, or getting smaller projects that are available and working in good time so that there is more nuclear, rather than less, in the decade that follows, and it will be difficult securing that at prices that customers think are good.

In the meantime, we have the problem that, on a typical day, we are already 10% import dependent for our electricity—I think it should all be generated in the UK—and that we are very dependent on the sun shining and the wind blowing, but the wind not blowing too much. When those things did not happen towards the end of last year, we had to reopen three old coal plants. People would rather not have to burn coal, but coal stations were reliable and actually worked when the wind did not blow and the sun did not shine. If the plan is to close them down and make them unavailable in future before we have anything else as a good stand-by, we will be trying the patience of the international community and trying our own luck rather too far.

I urge the Secretary of State, on the back of this Bill, to consider ways of increasing reliable power for this coming decade—the decade that we are living in and that we will be battling over in immediate elections to come—because that is what will matter to our voters. We should have in mind security of supply, availability of supply and affordability as the crucial things that we need to take care of so that we do not have a self-imposed energy crisis. Linking us into the European system is not a secure thing to do, because those countries are chronically short of reliable green power. Poland and Germany are in the middle of trying to phase out coal and lignite. Germany is in the middle of phasing out nuclear altogether. France needs to think about replacements for its ageing nuclear fleet and it is chronically short of gas, which is a sensible transition fuel, so it needs to rely on Putin and Russia.

Hospital bed capacity in winter 2021-22 for all health pressures on hospitals

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps he has taken to increase hospital bed capacity in winter 2021-22 for all health pressures on hospitals. (96741)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Edward Argar:

The National Health Service is working with local authorities and partners to release the maximum number of beds through ensuring that medically fit patients can be discharged home as soon as possible, seven days a week. The use of non-acute beds in the local health and care system is also being maximised, including in hospices, hotels, community beds and the independent sector. The NHS is also expanding the use of ‘virtual wards’ and ‘hospital at home’ models of care, allowing for patients to be safely cared for in their own homes and creating additional bed capacity in hospitals. NHS trusts are also reviewing plans to expand general and acute and critical care bed capacity in hospitals as needed, learning lessons from the pandemic to date.

The difference in risk of serious illness from covid-19 is of having a booster vaccination for someone who has previously had two doses of the vaccine

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what the difference in risk of serious illness from covid-19 is of having a booster vaccination for someone who has previously had two doses of the vaccine. (96743)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Maggie Throup:

Early data suggests that vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation and severe illness after two doses is 72%, compared to 88% following a booster dose. Analysis will continue as the booster programme progresses, including monitoring the duration of protection of booster doses against a range of disease outcomes.