POLITICS

Tim Farron, Lib Dem Party President, 'Seriously Questions' Coalition's Nuclear Power Deal

22/10/2013 12:31 BST | Updated 22/10/2013 12:42 BST
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President of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron addresses the Liberal Democrat Annual Conference at the ICC in Birmingham.

The Lib Dem party president Tim Farron has said he "seriously questions" the decision to build Britain's first new nuclear power plant in a generation - and has described Nick Clegg's handling of the free schools row as "messy".

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Farron expressed "huge unease" over the coalition's deal with French-owned EDF Energy, and two Chinese firms, which will see Hinkley Point C begin operating in 2023. "Personally, I don’t think the time has come for us to go down the nuclear route again," he explained. "I would not be supportive of this."

The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, often seen as the standard bearer of the Lib Dem left in parliament, claimed that "an equally ambitious investment in renewables would be a better solution" than a new nuclear power station.

Some Lib Dem activists have expressed concerns that the Hinkley decision violates the coalition agreement, which explicitly states that any proposed extension of nuclear power must involve "no public subsidy". The coalition's announcement on Tuesday guaranteed investors a strike price of £92.50 per megawatt hour - or double the current market rate.

"There is always going to have to be some subsidy involved if you're going to create new power stations," Farron told HuffPost UK. "The concern is that there were better ways of doing this.. the government could have built serious civil engineering projects, tidal barrages and tidal reefs and the sort... [in] an industry where 95% of the supply chain is British".

The party president denied he was a "Little Englander" but said he did "seriously question what is going on when so much of this investment is going to bleed overseas”, that is, to France and China.

Farron also slammed party leader Nick Clegg for his "messy" handling of the row over free schools and the use of unqualified teachers but said, overall, he was "delighted" to see the deputy prime minister setting out "what we're doing that is different to the Tories and how we have a view that is outside coalition".

nick clegg

Farron has criticised Clegg for his 'messy' handling of the coalition dispute over free schools

Clegg's opposition to unqualified teachers, announced over the weekend, undermined the Lib Dem schools minister David Laws, who had enthusiastically backed them in the Commons only a few days earlier.

The Lib Dems' president revealed that he was proud of the fact that his party had "massively watered down" the Conservatives' free schools policy since 2010 - "a balkanisation in the education system" - and said he welcomed Clegg's critique of unqualified teachers.

In a wide-ranging interview, Farron also took potshots at the government's welfare reforms - giving the coalition a score of just "five out of 10" on issues of social justice - and immigration controls.

He described the proposed "security bonds" for overseas visitors from certain countries - first suggested by Nick Clegg - as "discriminatory" and said "we need to be very careful that we don’t come up with [immigration] policies that please some tabloid headline writers and then do some real damage to the economy".

The Lib Dem president blasted Theresa May's 'go home' vans, which were targeted at illegal immigrants, as a "massive failure" and a "cheap publicity shot". The Home Office on Tuesday confirmed that there will be "no further rollout" of the provocative billboard campaign.

However, Farron backed the appointment of Lib Dem MP Norman Baker as a minister in May's Home Office, despite Baker's now-notorious claim that the UK's security services covered up the murder of Dr David Kelly in 2003.

"You want someone who is a sceptic on the inside.. [Norman] is a real cat among the pigeons," Farron told HuffPost UK, while distancing himself from his colleague's controversial "conclusions" about Kelly's death.

The full HuffPost UK interview with Lib Dem party president Tim Farron will be published online on Wednesday.