Caroline Lucas : 1st Green MP : House of Commons maiden speech

This is the text of the speech that Caroline gave May 27, 2010 at 3.30pm 

 

Mr Speaker,

I am most grateful to you for calling me during today’s debate.

The environment is a subject dear to my heart, as I’m sure you know, and I’ll return to it in a moment.

I think anyone would find their first speech in this chamber daunting, given its history and traditions, and the many momentous events it has witnessed. 

But I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, but also as the first representative of the Green Party to be elected to Westminster.

You have to go back several decades, to the election of the first Nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to find the last maiden speech from a new national political party.

And perhaps a better comparison would be those first Socialist and Independent Labour MPs, over a century ago, whose arrival was seen as a sign of coming revolution.

When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech to this House, after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry.

Because instead of frock coat and top hat, he wore a tweed suit and deerstalker.  It’s hard to decide which of these choices would seem more inappropriate today.

But what Keir Hardie stood for now seems much more mainstream.

Progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions and abolition of the House of Lords.

Though the last of these is an urgent task still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society.

What was once radical, even revolutionary, becomes understood, accepted and even cherished.

In speaking today, I am helped by an admirable tradition – that in your first speech to this House, you should refer to your constituency and to your predecessor.

David Lepper, who stood down at this election after thirteen years service as Member for Brighton Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly-respected Member whose qualities transcend any differences of Party.  I am delighted to have this chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.

It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself. It is, I am sure, well-known to many Members, if only from Party conferences.

My own Party has not yet grown to a size to justify the use of the Brighton Centre, although I hope that will change before long.

But I can say to honourable members who are not familiar with it,  that it is one of the UK’s premier conference venues; and there are proposals to invest in it further to help ensure that Brighton retains its status as the UK’s leading conference and tourism resort.

There are also the attractions of the shops and cafes of the Lanes and North Laine, the Pier and of course the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency.

And beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city, there is the quietly beautiful countryside of the South Downs and the Sussex Weald.

Brighton has always had a tradition of independence – of doing things differently.   It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve.

We see this in the numbers of small businesses and freelancers within the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated, or respected, but positively welcomed and valued.

You have to work quite hard to be a “local character” in Brighton.

We do not have a single dominant employer in Brighton. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural, as well as financial, contribution to the city.

There are also a large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies, all of which I will work to support in my time in this place.

I would like also to pay tribute to those wonderful Brighton organisations that work with women. In particular I’d like to mention Rise, who do amazing work with women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always have the same level of attention or support from the media, or indeed from politicians.

But whatever the role – social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or border agency staff – we depend upon them.

I’m sure that members on all sides would agree that all those who work for the State should be respected and their contribution valued. In a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes yet more important.

There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to honourable members. The very popularity of the City puts pressure on transport and housing and on the quality of life.

Though there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton, but they believe that it can be a better and fairer place to live and work.

I pledge to everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable, more sustainable housing.

Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett who, despite his blindness, was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the suffragists, a movement he himself had supported and encouraged.

So he lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women’s representation in politics.

The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people that it represents remains work in progress – and as the first woman elected in Brighton Pavilion, this is work that I will do all that I can do advance.

I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting.

Perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made – that is, to elect the first Green MP to Parliament.

It has been a long journey.

The Green Party traces its origins back to 1973, and the issues highlighted in its first Manifesto for a Sustainable Society – including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics – are even more urgent today.

If our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, I like to think we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need,  than we currently are today.

We fielded fifty candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology Party, and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed.

Now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers which I am sure honourable members are all too familiar, we have more candidates and more members, and now our first MP.

A long journey.

Too long, I would say.

Politics needs to renew itself, and allow new ideas and visions to emerge.

Otherwise debate is the poorer, and more and more people will feel that they are not represented.

So I hope that if, and when, other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long-overdue.

The chance must not be squandered.   Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected.

And in my view, that means more than a referendum on the Alternative Vote – it means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.

Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question: what can a single MP hope to achieve? I may not be alone in facing that question.

And since arriving in this place, and thinking about the contribution other members have made over the years, I am sure that the answer is clear, that a single MP can achieve a great deal.

A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation, to scrutiny. Work that is valuable, if not always appreciated on the outside.

A single MP can speak up for their constituents.

A single MP can challenge the executive.  I am pleased that the government is to bring forward legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people’s freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards.

But many restrictions remain. For example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected and for the principle that people should not be held without charge, even if it is their own homes?

House arrest is something we deplore in other countries. I hope through debate we can conclude that it has no place here either.

A single MP can raise issues that cannot be aired elsewhere.

Last year Honourable Members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly.

This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts, and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here.

Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of today’s debate.

I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam – for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world – and then for ten years in the European Parliament.

But if we are to overcome this threat, then it is we in this chamber who must take the lead.

We must act so that the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are changing our climate, and encourage and support other countries to do the same.

This House has signed up to the 10:10 Campaign – 10% emissions reductions in 2010.  That’s very good news.  But the truth is that we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero carbon economy.

And time is running short.  If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, then it is this Parliament that must meet this historic task.

That gives us an extraordinary responsibility – and an extraordinary opportunity.

Because the good news is that the action that we need to tackle the climate crisis is action which can improve the quality of life for all of us – better, more affordable public transport, better insulated homes, the end of fuel poverty, stronger local communities and economies, and many more jobs.

I look forward to working with Members from all sides of the House on advancing these issues.

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Water : A Long-Term View

An environmental policy which is worth the paper it is written on is one which aims at the long term. Merged into a national sustainable development strategy, environmental, economic and social policy is viewed in an holistic manner linking cause and effect.

The argument is often bandied around that in order to address environmental impacts it is necessary to ensure the generation of wealth through an enhanced economic performance which wealth could then be applied to environmental initiatives. I would suggest considering that environmental impacts are the direct consequence of economic activity, this leading to the conclusion that environmental impacts can be effectively addressed by re-designing the economic activity which has generated them.

Sometimes we tend to forget that man forms part of an ecological system. One particular consequence of this fact is that policies should be focused on making man’s impacts compatible with the carrying capacity of the ecological system.

This is easier said than done. It has been ages since man has abandoned most of his direct links with nature acting as if he was king of all that he could see. An environmental deficit has accumulated over the years as a result of short term policies which sought to satisfy the needs at a particular point in time without pausing to think on how those same needs would be satisfied in the long term. 

Consider for example the issue of water. Everyone is at this point aware that in Malta water is currently extracted from the water table at an unsustainable rate. The point of contention is whether we are still in time to remedy the situation.

Action taken by the Malta Resources Authority recently such that water extracted from boreholes is regulated is positive even though this action has been long overdue. The defining moment in protecting Malta’s underground water resources would be when these resources are reserved for agriculture and for distribution through the Water Services Corporation network. All other uses of underground water should be prohibited forthwith.

This signifies that better use should be made of other water sources. Too much rainwater is lost to the sea and to the public sewers. This is mostly the result of an incompetent public sector which has not applied existing policies and regulations. 

Water has been scarce in Malta since the advent of human settlement. It would suffice to say that when the Knights sought reasons to decline Charles V’s offer to base themselves in Malta the reports submitted by L’Isle Adam’s scouts placed lack of water as one of the main reasons. When Valletta was being constructed building regulations were drawn up emphasising the need to collect rainwater in cisterns constructed in the individual residences. This is still part of our legislation and since 1880 it has been applicable to all residences.

However notwithstanding the fact that legislation provides a solution, those entrusted with its implementation do not seem to be interested. Substantial amounts of property developed in the last 40 years is not provided with adequate storage for rainwater. In some cases the resulting rainwater flows straight onto our streets or else it is poured directly into our sewers. The results are various.

1. a substantial quantity of rainwater which could be put to good use is lost; this is then made up for by water extracted from the watertable or processed by reverse osmosis plants at a substantial ecological cost,

2. part of our sewer network is overloaded, overflowing onto roads and the sea during and immediately after heavy rainfall,

3. some of our roads are not fit to use during and immediately after heavy rainfall,

4. the overloaded sewers place an additional strain on the sewage purification plants thereby increasing their running costs which costs are then added to our water bills.  

 

Addressing the collection of rainwater and making good use of it would substantially reduce all of these impacts. This is easy to do, yet it has not been done as the competent authorities have shirked their duties for the past 40 years or so.

Whilst proper rainwater management would ease demand for groundwater this is not however the only possibility. I would point to action being taken by Singapore which like Malta has a lack of natural water resources. Singapore has reacted by producing a Four Taps policy which aims at being self-sufficient through the sustainable use of water resources. Within the Four Taps Policy Singapore also finds a use for purified sewage.

In Malta incompetence has produced a system designed specifically for discharging purified sewage into the sea. Certainly no long term planning here! Instead of designing a system to purify sewage close to where it could be used, incompetence has directed the substantial investments obtained from the EU to an end-of-pipe solution. This was not the result of some study as during the inauguration of the Mellieħa sewage purification plant it was stated by one of the big-heads that the matter had still to be studied. These misconceptions are traceable at least to the drawing board stage and result from the mistaken view that considers sewage as being of no use. The authorities are on record as stating that purified sewage has no economic value!

I have focused on water issues as just one example illustrating the lack of long term planning and the manner in which resources in Malta have been mismanaged throughout the years. There are countless of other examples encompassing energy, land, transport, agriculture, marine resources, industry, fisheries ………  Just name it.

A long term view of policy and its effects is long overdue. When this is done as a country we will be in a position to ensure that that environmental, economic and social issues are viewed in their proper perspective. We need to think in terms of a generation in order to bequeath to our children fewer problems than we have inherited. And its not just about water !

Published May 23, 2010 – The Independent on Sunday (Environment Supplement)

See also in this blog : The Cost of Incompetence

A Go at Coalition Government

Voters in the UK have elected Caroline Lucas as their first Green MP from the constituency of Brighton Pavilion. They have also discovered coalition government, thereby joining the great majority of European states. Malta, as usual, is one of the exceptions.

Many had hoped for a Lib-Lab coalition in the UK. The arithmetic, however, was not there. More importantly, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg underlined that the political party that had obtained the largest support should have the first go at forming a coalition. This led to the gradual unfolding of history before TV cameras. Negotiations between Conservative and Lib-Dem negotiating teams produced a coalition document that listed the programme of action of a coalition supported by 59 per cent of the UK electorate. Rarely has a UK government enjoyed such support.

The coalition policy document, as “normally” happens, is an exercise in “give and take”. It did include five senior Cabinet posts to the junior party, representatives in every ministry, agreement on policy overlaps, discarding for the current legislature a number of objectionable policies and, in particular, a softening of the conservative Eurosceptic stance as well as a possible nod to changes in the electoral system.

In Malta, we tend to associate coalition government with the Italian way of doing politics. In so doing we ignore the rest of Europe. Germany, France, Finland, Belgium, Holland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic are some of the European countries now governed by a coalition in addition to Italy. Even San Marino, a micro-state, is run by a coalition government.

The UK coalition has come about as a direct result of the May 6 election in which the electors deserted the Labour Party in government but did not flock in sufficient numbers to the Conservative opposition. As is normal with the first-past-the-post electoral system it did not return a “fair” result in that the third party, the Liberal Democrats, with 23 per cent electoral support obtained only about nine per cent of House of Commons seats.

Now proportionality is not a feature of the UK electoral system. In fact, it is designed specifically to encourage a two-party Parliament and tends to squeeze out the third parties. The Liberal Democrats’ relative strength in the May 6 elections has come about as a result of the failure of the major parties to garner support and not as a result of the votes it has obtained. In fact, while the Liberal Democrats have marginally increased their voting share, yet, they have decreased their MP uptake by five!

The first-past-the-post voting system has a number of peculiar features. If a large number of candidates present themselves for election in a particular constituency, votes are split and the elected candidate is possibly one who has obtained a small fraction of votes. For example, George Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party, in the 2005 election to the House of Commons, was elected on behalf of the Respect Party after obtaining just 18.4 per cent of the votes in his constituency.

The system also encourages tactical voting, that is voting not in favour of the candidate that you support but against the candidate most disliked. A number of seats tend to be determined by a handful of votes. For example, Glenda Jackson has been re-elected as a Labour MP with a majority of just 43 votes in her constituency!

Within this context, important proposals for reforming the electoral system have been made: the Conservatives want the size of constituencies to be adjusted such that large disparities in size are eliminated. The Liberals want a proportional system while Labour have put forward an alternative vote proposal, which essentially entails that for an MP to be elected s/he has to obtain the support of at least 50 per cent of his constituents through a multi-preference vote. The coalition has compromised on this alternative vote proposal and has agreed to present such a system to a referendum.

This is the first serious attempt at coalition building in the UK since the formation of the 1939-45 national government during World War II. The politics of confrontation has, at last, been challenged thereby paving the way for one primarily based on consensus. Whether it will last is another story altogether.

In Malta, we are awaiting electoral reform too. That will happen when the Nationalist and the Labour parties decide that the electoral rules need to be fair and not designed specifically to keep third parties out. This unfairness seems to be one of the few things the PN and PL agree upon.

Alternattiva Demokratika awaits the new Speaker to act, accelerating the process begun by his predecessor. He needs to prod MPs from both sides to live up to their self-proclaimed democratic credentials.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday May 22, 2010

The UK discovers coalition government !

The UK electorate has instructed that power be shared as none of the political parties has been entrusted with a Parliamentary majority.

At the time of writing various possibilities are on the table.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg rightly emphasised that the party with the largest Parliamentary group should have the first go at forming a government. In doing so he reiterated the position taken during the electoral campaign. Full marks for consistency.

Immediately Conservative leader David Cameron started the ball rolling to identify the areas and methods in which cooperation between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats could proceed.

There are various areas of  positive overlap, including education and , fiscal policy. But there are also various areas of contrast namely the need to reform the electoral system and introduce proportional representation, relations with the European Union, and immigration, to name a few.

In brief the arithmetic for a Tory Liberal coalition is there but I doubt whether the political foundations to justify such a coalition exists.

On the other hand there exists the political justification for a progressive coalition which would include Labour and the Liberal Democrats supported by other small parties. But the numbers are not there, or just.

In the meantime later today the negotiations kick off.

The UK has joined the rest of Europe in exploring coalition government.

As usual Malta will be the last country to catch the bus.

Historic first for UK Greens : Caroline Lucas elected to House of Commons

 

Prof. Arnold Cassola, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party Spokesperson on EU  and International Affairs, stated: ‘I have had the honour and pleasure of working for nearly seven years with Caroline Lucas in the European parliament and have witnessed personally her commitment to Green politics.   The electorate in Brighton has decided to abandon its allegiance to the two big parties, based only a question of family tradition, and rightly decided to reward a politician of proven competence on the basis of merit rather than of family allegiance.  We look forward to such thing happening in Malta, the last bastion of subservience to the climate of clientelism and patronage, as created by the PN and PL over the past half century’.

Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, added: ‘The election of the first ever Green to Parliament represents a truly historic moment. Hundreds of thousands of Green voters across Britain now have, for the first time, a voice in Parliament, and genuinely progressive views on issues such as the economy, health, and the environment will now be heard’.

‘AD has written to the Greens in the UK to congratulate them on their success. The election of the Greens in  the British parliament confirms that positive swing of Green parties across various European countries, including not only established Green constituencies such as Germany and France, but also the magnificent results in other elections such as the first-ever election of Green MPs in Hungary a few weeks ago. Greens are currently in Government in Finland and Ireland and are an important and principled group in the European Parliament’.

‘The British election shows that the first-past-the post voting system used for general elections is utterly discredited. Caroline Lucas will be strongly backing calls for a referendum to replace it with a form of proportional representation that properly reflects the needs and views of 21st century voters. AD supports such calls and aims to have a similar and fair truly proportional system in Malta’.

The Delimara Inquiry: unfinished business

by Carmel Cacopardo

published on May 1, 2010

____________________________________________________________________________

Many unanswered questions arise from the National Audit Office (NAO) report entitled Enemalta Corporation Tender for Generating Capacity. The conclusions are certainly damning and with no stretch of the imagination can they be considered as pointing at mere shortcomings.

Was there any corruption involved in the Delimara tender? The NAO report is clear: “The NAO’s inquiry did not come across any hard and conclusive evidence of corruption…” (page 8). In my opinion this means that the evidence of wrongdoing encountered and documented does not lead to a definite conclusion. Evidence is still there awaiting further investigations.

It would be worthwhile to recollect that in the few cases in Malta’s recent history where it was concluded that corruption had been proven this had resulted because someone directly involved had spilt the beans.

As reported in other sections of the press, the commissions in play in connection with the Delimara tender are substantially higher than what is normal in this business. When this is coupled with the lack of cooperation encountered by the NAO during its investigations as well as the selective leakages identified, it is reasonable to conclude that much more could yet be unearthed.

But then there is also a related case of proven corruption: Lahmeyer International (LI), Enemalta’s advisers, were found guilty of corruption relative to two World Bank contracts and, as a result, on November 6, 2006, they were added to the World Bank’s blacklist. The tainted contracts refer to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in respect of which LI had responsibilities for detailed design work, construction supervision, project studies and technical assistance in connection with water delivery tunnels.

LI offered their services to Enemalta in April 2008, 17 months after being included on the World Bank blacklist. Initially, the unsolicited services of LI were refused by Enemalta but one month later someone had second thoughts and their services were accepted. Why?

When queried by the NAO, senior Enemalta officials declared that they were not aware that LI was blacklisted by the World Bank. The NAO report declares (page 115) that it “was not convinced of the explanations given”.

In the meantime, LI is still advising the Malta Resources Authority, which has not yet publicly reacted to the news that its adviser is currently on the World Bank blacklist for corruption. But maybe we will hear about that at some later stage when the energy interconnection between Malta and Sicily is scrutinised.

In my opinion, the fact that Enemalta did not check into LI’s ethical credentials indicates that Enemalta does not consider these to be of any relevance to its operations. This is not a shortcoming but a serious error of judgment.

Some may point fingers at “inexperienced officers” who dealt with the case. Enemalta board has a duty towards taxpayers to ensure that it engages only the best available staff. It was for this reason that, in the past, we were informed of the substantial emoluments being paid to some of the senior officers. We have been reminded that if you employ the best you cannot pay peanuts. Much more than peanuts has been paid but Enemalta has ended up with monkey business just the same!

There is then the issue of changing the rules mid-way through the process. Enemalta had initiated the tendering process in November 2006 through a Request for Proposals. During the adjudication, in January 2008, the government changed the rules relative to the permissible emissions. The NAO states that while this change is permissible in terms of the relative EU Directive (page 22) the tendering process should have been aborted and the tender reissued in view of the fact that the original specifications were based on different emission levels. Such a line of action, says the NAO, would have ensured a greater degree of transparency and equity (page 53).

There are many other issues the report unearths but the space allotted for this article is very limited.

The NAO-led inquiry was a tough job the Auditor General has done honourably. I have no doubt that he will take the criticism by Enemalta’s chairman and members of the Cabinet in his stride. It is, after all, an occupational hazard that goes with his job.

In view of the damning NAO report, in a democracy, the politician responsible for the Enemalta Delimara tender would stand up, accept political responsibility and resign. So far, he has not done so, which means that all Cabinet has now been forced to collectively shoulder the responsibility instead of their colleague. The only positive note is that he has been relieved of his Enemalta duties some weeks ago!

The NAO report is not the end of the story as many answers are still awaited. This is a business yet unfinished.

original article at : The Times