Thursday, 1 August 2013

Britain is no country and still a country for old men like Baron Howell of Guildford, given their voice in the House of Lords

What is the link between this ceremonial crown worn by baronets in the House of Lords and fracking ?

First fracking and then the lord.
Apparently, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involving the pumping of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into the rock to unlock energy has revolutionized the oil and gas industry, particularly in Canada and the USA, where previously uneconomical deposits have become viable. It is, however, still relatively new to Europe and the concerns about it have become heated largely because the continent’s dense population means drilling is almost always near a community. As a result, France and Bulgaria have banned it though both countries sit on some of the largest shale-gas deposits in Europe and Germany has put off a decision on the technology until after elections in September amid mounting opposition, including concerns from beer producers who are worried about the water supply.

Britain has gone the other way and is pushing shale-gas development hard with George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying : "Shale gas has the potential to transform our future energy supply and bring significant economic benefits. It could increase our energy security, support thousands of jobs and generate substantial tax revenue for the nation.”
Into the debate has come George's father-in-law, 79 year old unelected member of the Upper House in the lawmaking process, Lord Howell at a time when it has intensified with a report from the British Geological Survey which has doubled the estimate of shale gas contained in Northern England to 37.6 trillion cubic metres and If just 10% of that could be extracted, it would be enough to supply the country’s natural gas needs for 40 years based on current consumption.

Last Tuesday, Lord Howell drew gasps of astonishment in the House of Lords on Tuesday when, during Lords questions, he asked:
"Would [the minister] accept that it could be a mistake to think of and discuss fracking in terms of the whole of the United Kingdom in one go? I mean there obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance."

The good Lord, who lives in Southern England, then said :
"But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North-East where there's plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody's residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment."
This prompted Lord Beecham, a Labour peer who is also a councillor in Newcastle, to say :
"Neville Chamberlain spoke of pre-war Czechoslovakia as 'a faraway country of which we know nothing'. Lord Howell clearly has a similar view on the north-east and his comments once again highlight the Tories' problem with the north."

It also inspired the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to tweet:
"North-east England very beautiful, rugged, welcoming, inspiring, historic, advancing, not 'desolate' as was said in House of Lords today."

Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said :
" Lord Howell's suggestion that fracking should be concentrated in the 'desolate' north-east is jaw-dropping, but the government's ill-conceived fracking plans aren't something that can be quietly brushed under the carpet 'up north' – as the villages resisting the drillers in the Tory heartlands of England's south show."

So what qualified this out-of touch old lord who would have been more at home in the 19th century to receive a seat in the House of Lords ?

He :

* was the son of Colonel Arthur Howard Eckford Howell  and his wife, Beryl Stuart Bowater, the daughter of Sir Frank Henry Bowater, 1st Baronet.

* . was educated at Eton College, then King's College, Cambridge, graduated in 1959 with a Master of Arts then worked for the government in the Treasury, followed by journalism before becoming a Conservative member of Parliament for the safe seat of Guildford in Surrey, in the South of England in 1966.

* served as a minister in Edward Heath's Government in the 1970's and Margaret Thatcher's in the 1980s Howell,
retired as a Member of Parliament at the 1997 general election and was elevated to the House of Lords (below) as Baron Howell of Guildford, of Penton Mewsey, in the County of Hampshire in the South of England.

So Britain is still a country where anachronistic old men from privileged backgrounds are given a platform in a legislative chamber to pontificate about matters of which they, apparently, know nothing.

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