A small victory but Labour abstain over immigration vote

The Data Protection Bill, which has started in the House of Lords, will give you the right to access information held about your finances, medical history etc. It’s a positive step forward in lots of ways. For example, it will enable us to correct mistakes and challenge any false information which has become part of the official record.

However, my main focus has been to remove the Henry VIII powers, that allow Ministers to amend and revise protections without having any further Parliamentary scrutiny, or amendment process. The Lords successfully removed the Government’s powers to “omit” protections, and to change parts of the Bill using Henry VIII powers. However, Ministers will still be able to amend protections. While this still isn’t ideal, it feels good to know that I’ve played a small part in securing the concessions.

Of course, the government have included a few predictable downsides, such as excluding immigrants from many of the protections that the rest of us will soon enjoy. Sadly, the Labour front bench didn’t join with the rest of the Opposition to vote against these exclusions, but I will continue to work with Liberty and the Open Rights Group to kick up a fuss about it. In many ways people subject to our increasing draconian immigration process need these protections the most, with the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reporting Home Office mistakes in 1 in 10 cases. This secrecy exemption will apply to GPs, schools and landlords.

It’s valuable work, improving the Bill, and it’s giving the Government a taste of how tough the Lords can be.



Save the Colne Valley from HS2

I love a good protest, so I went to Hillingdon to visit the Harvil Road protectors, a group committed to stopping the damage to many square miles of beautiful places by HS2.

Normally I would be leaping to support a public transport project, but HS2 is a horror. It’s a railway that is far too expensive for the gain of 20mins reduction time in travel for a few business people and by-passes a lot of communities in desperate need of local rail services. It is also far too destructive for many Sites of Special Scientific Interest because it’s so fast it can’t go around corners to avoid them, and far too underdeveloped in planning eg what will happen to all those passengers shoved out at Euston into an already overcrowded transport system. So I joined the protectors of some very lovely water meadows in Hillingdon on the edge of London, who were cheerful, enthusiastic, and settling in for a long fight.

Their camp is a few tents on a verge alongside a busy road, with seating under a shelter of logs and old chairs. They immediately made me coffee by boiling a pot of water on their fire. Opposite is the carnage of acres of cleared woods and heaps of earth, with machinery and lots of yellow coated workmen.

When I arrived on the local bus, security guards immediately started filming me and were heard on their radios asking who I was. When we moved to their side of the road to take photos under a banner, they got nervous and asked us to go back to our side of the road.

There seems to be a lot of local support. While I was there, a small lorry stopped with an offer of a load of firewood and our chatting was constantly interrupted by cars, van, lorries hooting in support.

Hillingdon alone is losing 7,000 trees to HS2, which will add to air pollution, noise and a decrease in flood prevention. The Council seems to have accepted the removal of several hundred mature trees in North Hillingdon which will adversely affect air quality in an area inside the M25.

There are queries over the driving out and possible killing of badgers and bats. There are queries about whether the freshwater fish and eels will be depleted by water pollution from this very large project which is set to move or alter major watercourses in the Colne Valley. And there are queries over who is holding the companies involved to account for their Environmental Impact Assessments if badger sets can be destroyed and trees of breeding bats felled?

These few Harvil Road protectors are hoping to stop HS2 at this crucial junction where the first earth has been turned on the whole project. We must support them, not just by visiting, not just by hooting as we go past, but by chasing our political representatives, our councillors and our MPs, making clear our objections to the out of control big toy that HS2 has become.

The future is battery run

My question on renewables and energy storage to the Minister

The cost of producing renewable energy has fallen rapidly in recent years and is predicted to be cheaper than all forms of nuclear or fossil fuels by the mid-2020s. The only thing holding renewables back is the cost of storing the energy and making it available when we need it. The UK has plenty of wind, sun and tides to power businesses and homes, but we have to invest in the storage capacity to make this a reality.

Storage comes in many forms. Installing a hot water tank in every home that has solar panels would reduce gas bills for heating bath and shower water. If those solar panels are still producing more energy during the day than you need, then a large house battery is an option, especially if you are charging up your electric vehicle in the evenings. Tesla expects that the cost of their home battery pack will drop to a quarter of its current price in the next decade, which makes it possible for millions of homes to get one.

That means that millions of households and businesses will probably disappear off grid in future years, as they switch to renewables, plus storage. This is good news for the planet, but it will primarily driven by consumers seeking the best deal. My question to the government today was focused on what happens to those who can’t afford solar panels, or new water tanks?

Why don’t we bring the costs down even faster by switching government subsidies away from the production of energy from nuclear and fossil fuels, and towards household/business storage? It makes much more sense to invest in a future of decentralised energy production and consumption, rather than the centralised and environmentally damaging industries of the past.



Fewer traffic-police, fewer breath tests

The number of drivers being breathalysed has declined significantly since austerity began in 2010. The number of drivers being tested has dropped from 736,846 in 2010 to 463,319 last year. Overstretched traffic police are letting many drivers get away with drink driving, despite the obvious risks to people’s safety. Continue reading “Fewer traffic-police, fewer breath tests”

Questions raised with Gove about Red Tractor pig farms

I’ve written to the Environment Minister, Michael Gove, about alleged failures of the Red Tractor farms to guarantee minimum standards of animal welfare. An investigation carried out by the organisation Animal Equality exposed serious welfare problems on four British Red Tractor pig farms and includes video footage. Continue reading “Questions raised with Gove about Red Tractor pig farms”

Social justice is as important between generations, as it is within generations

The NUS plays a pivotal role in promoting an understanding of the links between the environment and social justice in this country. So it was a great pleasure to speak at their ‘Green Impact’ Parliamentary reception, which celebrates the way that sustainability has become part of the core business of what the NUS does locally and nationally.