The news on the front page of the Sunday Times this week that several Labour peers have been taking enormous handouts (the figure of £120,000 a year was mentioned - that's each) for pushing through changes in the law to benefit commercial companies came as no surprise. Many of us have long suspected that the current government are world champion self-servers, rivalling the tinniest and pottiest of tin-pot African dictators. We note with interest that it was only the Labour peers who fell for the newspaper's honey-trap; Conservative, Liberal and Ulster Unionist lords were either too honest or, more likely, too canny.
Here's another example:
Lord Barnett, a former Labour Cabinet Minister, is expecting to make a fortune from the Government's controversial decision to phase out traditional light bulbs and replace them with a low-energy version.
Lord Barnett, who was Treasury Chief Secretary in the Seventies and later vice-chairman of the BBC, is a major investor in a company that stands to reap massive profits as the new-style bulbs are recycled. His shareholding, currently worth nearly £300,000, is anticipated to soar in value as the switchover takes effect in every household in the country.
With conventional light bulbs due to disappear from shops at the end of 2011, consumers will be forced to buy the energy-saving alternative. And when the 'green' bulbs reach the end of their life, the company is poised to seize a major share of the market in collecting and disposing of the toxic mercury they contain.
Joel Barnett, who was made a life peer in 1983, has nearly 2.4million shares - more than seven per cent of the total - in Mercury Recycling Group. He is also the company's non-executive chairman and last year his remuneration for this part-time role totalled £18,000. The company, which collects discarded light tubes from industrial clients, hospitals, schools and local authorities, was successfully floated on the stock market in 2001.
Britain has been in the forefront of the campaign for a Europe-wide ban on what Ministers refer to as 'energy-guzzling' light bulbs, and the Government has adopted an accelerated phase-out programme which means the old incandescent lights will disappear faster here than in other EU countries.
Mercury Recycling has already announced a big rise in sales and operating profits. Last year, its directors reported an increase in sales from £1.3million to £1.5million and a 34 per cent rise in operating profits from £233,000 to £312,000. In a statement accompanying the financial results, Lord Barnett said the Government's implementation of an EU directive on the disposal of hazardous waste products, including mercury-filled bulbs, was, 'as anticipated, bringing increased sales every month'.
Managing director Bryan Neill said last night that Britain's switch to low-energy lighting would be a huge boost for the company. "There are 20million households in the country. That means between 700million and 800million lights will need replacing and will have to be recycled. We hope to see continued growth and development and that gives us optimism for the future. We dominate the market in lamp recycling. We may not be the only company doing it but we are definitely the market leader", he said.
The Environment Department says the new-style bulbs should be taken to a council recycling facility when they break or stop working because the mercury makes them too dangerous to dump in a general rubbish bin. From there, they will be collected by contractors, such as Mercury Recycling, and taken to special treatment plants.
Lord Barnett has denied that his decision to invest in the enterprise had been based on knowledge acquired during his years in Government - well, he would, wouldn't he?
In the late Seventies, Lord Barnett designed the controversial mechanism under which Scotland and Wales receive more Government money per head than the rest of the UK.
The GOS says: I like their choice of name - "Mercury Recycling". Of course, they have to ensure that we all have plenty of mercury in our homes in the first place otherwise they wouldn't be able to recycle it.
And I love the bit about the UK being likely to lead Europe in its adoption of the new bulbs, and especially in the legal enforcement of their use. I was in B+Q the other day, just after they'd announced that they were going to discontinue the sale of 100w incandescent bulbs. The elderly gent filling his basket with a little stockpile of them told me that once they ran out, he knew what he was going to do.
"One of those cheap daytrips from Dover to Calais," he said, "a quick pop across to a supermarché to stock up on wine. All you'll have to do is add a few dozen lightbulbs to the list. You don't suppose the French are going to take any notice of the new rules, do you? And if the EU bans their manufacture, there'll be plenty of factories in China and Taiwan happy to step in and help."
Interesting prospect, isn't it? A whole new breed of light-bulb smugglers could spring up, eagerly pursued by the Customs and police for flooding the country with these dangerous devices …. er, no, that's not right, is it? It's the old-fashioned bulbs that are the safe ones, isn't it? … "You're nicked, chummy, so come along quietly. You're going to be charged with wilfully not putting the public at risk …"
Incidentally, an organisation called the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-identified Health Risks recently suggested that low-energy fluorescent bulbs can aggravate the condition of those suffering from migraine and autism. Then there's the lady in America who broke one in her daughter's bedroom and had to pay a $2,000 bill for the local authority to decontaminate the room.
A correspondent from New Zealand tells us that the Labour government over there was planning to impose the new bulbs and "that was a major reason they just lost the elections! Now the National Party are in power we can keep our normal bulbs. The British must refuse to use the new bulbs. Stock up on the old type or buy them online".
It's also been reported recently that a domestic refrigerator that can be turned on and off by the electricity supplier without the homeowner being aware is to go on trial.
Npower will distribute 300 'smart fridges' free to homeowners throughout Britain within the next five weeks as part of the energy companies' efforts to tackle climate change. At times of high demand, the National Grid will activate the switches in the fridges to achieve a balance in the power supply.
The development means that, for the first time, consumers will lose control over the use of electricity in their own homes. And their ice-cream will melt, which is a bonus because ice-cream is bad for all the fat slobs.
If the initial pilot is successful, a further 3,000 fridges will be distributed around the country. In time, the energy companies also believe that 'smart meters' will be able to pass on information wirelessly about the demand for electricity. The Government has announced that the meters - devices that will replace the traditional electricity meter and enable customers to monitor energy use minute-by-minute on a display screen - will be supplied to all 45million homes and businesses by 2020.
Yes, and in 2021 a new government initiative will see an enforcement officer from the local authority installed in the cupboard under the stairs of every home in the UK, from where they will monitor the energy-use, behaviour, language and political beliefs of the householder and his family. If you take one drink over the recommended daily limit, miss one of your five fruit-and-vegetables, switch on a non-standard light-bulb, use the car to pop down the shops, smack your child or put a crisp-packet in the recycling bin … bang, your lights'll go out.
It's for your own good. You know it makes sense. And it'll provide welcome job-placements for immigrants who would otherwise be a drain on the public purse, thus contributing to the nation's recovery from the current economic crisis. Which was all your fault in the first place.
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