Japanese Knotweed in Yardley - campaign Launch
A group of residents who are concerned about the growing problem of Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) have asked me to assist in launching a campaign to bring it under control.
The following photographs are of Morden Road, the River Cole in Stechford and the River Cole near Larch Walk. A lot of the banks of the River Cole in Stechford are being taken over by Knotweed. The council have sprayed a bit of it, but a much more strenuous effort is needed.
Not only does Knotweed undermine biodiversity, but also it can do a lot of damage to properties nearby.
part sprayed by council
All above in Stechford near River Cole
The Twitter debate about local benefits tourism
Followers of my twitter feed will have noticed a discussion between the local Labour candidate and myself about the way in which she was rehousing people living in Sandwell in Birmingham so that they could claim more benefits. Specifically to claim more council tax benefit.
This was based upon a speech that she gave on the subject of Children and Families with no recourse to public funds at a City Council committee in 2013.
She explained how she didn't rehouse anyone living in the refuge she managed in Sandwell into Sandwell itself, but instead housed them in Birmingham, Walsall and Wolverhampton. She said that this placed an even greater burden on Birmingham's resources.
She is now claiming that she was not doing this for reasons of finance, but instead because of safety issues. According to what I have been told, however, she made no mention of safety and merely mentioned differential rules in terms of benefits.
Debates on Twitter are in public, but are constrained by the limit on the number of characters in each response. However, the above is I think a fair summary of what happened.
Clearly it is only right that each local authority should aim to resolve the problems faced by that authority and that people should not be encouraged to move around to claim more money. As she said this places a heavy burden on the resources. It also drives either more cuts or an increase in taxation.
There are very rare exceptions where for safety reasons someone needs to move out of their local authority area. Normally moving to Birmingham would not be far enough to achieve this. However, the debate at the Scrutiny Committee, which I think was on 4th October 2013, was not considering safety issues merely the question of being able to claim more benefits if you moved.
Results of ISIL survey
There will be a vote later today on the following motion. I am currently in Birmingham, but will soon catch a train to London in order to vote on the motion. I opposed military action against Assad and opposed the 2003 attack on Iraq.
The wonders of modern technology enabled me late last night to send out a survey (including the motion) to those constituents of mine who subscribe to my electronic newsletter. For some reason those with hotmail accounts were blocked, but many others did get the newsletter and a lot have responded. I will put an analysis of the responses later.
Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of
Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the
humanitarian crisis this is causing;
Recognizes the clear threat ISIL pose to the territorial
integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military
support from the international community and the specific request to the UK
Government for such support;
Further recognizes the threat ISIL poses to wider
international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist
attacks and its murder of a British hostage;
Acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military
support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle
Further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq
for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq
and its citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in
Notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in
Syria as part of this campaign, and any proposal to do so would be subject to a
separate vote in Parliament;
Accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with
allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and
restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to
support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in
Notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops
in ground combat operations;
Offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her
Majesty’s armed forces.
The analysis of the responses follows:
Do you support the motion put forward by the UK government? 84% yes, 16% no
Should the UK support a Multinational force against ISIL in Iraq? 89% yes, 11% no
Should the UK support a Multinational force against ISIL in Syria? 80% yes, 18% no
Do you oppose working with Assad (the dictator of Syria responsible for large numbers of deaths in Syria)? 71% yes, 27% no
Do you agree that we should not aim to occupy anywhere? 91%, 5%
Do you agree we should work with groups on the ground such as the Arab Sunni's who oppose ISIL, the Kurds, Yazidies and Shi'a who all oppose ISIL anyway and not bring in British troops on the ground? 89% 10%
(the missing numbers in percentage terms are those people who did not answer the question, one could take that as being "don't know")
It is clear from this that my constituents are substantially in support of the government's motion. As is well known I do not always vote with the government. The people I am accountable to are the voters of yardley not the party whips. However, on this occasion my the local voters are aligned with the government's position.
Hence I am expecting to vote with the government on this issue.
International law is, of course, key in all of this. My view is that ISIL operate as a gangster state in many ways similar to North Korea. Their persecution of other groups and the violent way in which they brook not even the slightest challenge and treat captives as slaves means that they are one of the worst organisations on the planet.
From the perspective of international law the way in which they capture UK citizens (including those who are only around because of being involved in humanitarian relief) and murder them is clearly an act of war against the UK. The UK, therefore, has the right to take proportionate action against them.
Additionally if the Iraqi government ask for assistance then international law does permit acting with them.
I do not think we should work with Assad or aim for any form of occupation. Our efforts should be in support of the people who have been living in the Middle East.
Post Office decline halted
The following image demonstrates that the decline in the number of post offices has been halted. It is an extract from a parliamentary library briefing.
Proposed e-Conference e-Public Meeting on Devolution in England
There does seem to be some interest in the question of devolution for England. I am, therefore, trying to find out if there is sufficient demand to run an e-Conference or Q&A session on the issues for Constituents (and if there is space in terms of time for anyone else from Birmingham.
If you are interested in this please email email@example.com
You would need a Skype video account to be able to ask questions or make statements.
Scotland and Alienation
Quite a few people are unhappy with politics. In Scotland this has resulted in 45% of the country voting for independence with all of its potential problems. I see that as being in part driven by increased alienation from politics more generally.
I am in the end pleased that they have voted to remain part of the UK although I don't like the Barnet Formula. I also support proposals to strengthen devolution in England based upon City Regions. The city region of Greater Birmingham is a much better approach than the previous concept of Government Office Regions. It also allows the Marches to either have a devolved area of their own or to do things around the counties that exist.
It is, however, crucial that attempts to push Coventry into the Greater Birmingham area are resisted. Coventry is part of its own smaller city region and forcing it into the Greater Birmingham (which obviously includes the Black Country) immediately creates a conflict of interest. Coventry sits with Warwickshire, not Dudley.
Outside the West Midlands, a city region model enables Cornwall to have its own celtic devolution rather than being forced in with Stroud and Bristol. Hence this which runs with how things actually are on the ground is best.
I have recently put the parliamentary boundary maps for Yardley since the 1832 reform act into my shop window. From 1832 Yardley was part of the Eastern Division of Worcestershire (along with Droitwich and Bromsgrove), just before Yardley joined Birmingham it was in Kings Norton parliamentary seat (which was quite large). If I can get good images I will make them available on the net.
To me it is entirely rational that towns such as Bromsgrove, Redditch, Lichfield and Tamworth should also be part of the city region. Their economies are linked to Birmingham and the Black Country in the same way that Nuneaton links to Coventry. Within the context of historic boundaries in the previous paragraph this is also entirely reasonable.
Within England, however, there is no need for separate laws between city regions although funding decisions such as the decision about Stechford Railway station should not be made made in London, but instead more legally. However, the West Lothian question must be resolved so that Scottish MPs with Devo-max are not part of passing laws which apply only to England.
It does look that progress will be made on this.
However, I think it misses part of the point on alienation. The movement away from public meetings and dominance of one direction politics where most political information is merely broadcast has in my view allowed the strengthening of the executive and the full time public servants (civil servants or council officers). At the same time changes like the 2000 Local Government Act have centralised powers in authorities thereby giving more power to the full time officials.
I think this needs to be reversed. We need to move power away from the executives towards the legislatures. At the same time I intend to establish an electronic version of the public meeting for my constituents to hold me to account.
In my view this antidemocratic trend of undermining democracy has been the cause of much of the alienation and the danger of an elected mayor model of devolution is that this will further undermine democracy. (in the sense that the ordinary citizen can participate on a day-to-day basis in the political process rather than once every three or four years). Electoral reform could also assist in strengthening the power of the individual voter.
Additionally there should be greater public engagement in England in looking at how this may go forward similar in forms to the constitutional convention, but looking towards an accelerated approach.
James and Dana Haymore prosecution - council drops case
I am pleased to be able to say that the prosecution against the Haymores has been dropped by Essex County Council.
Although the council is relating this to them going to the USA, they did this in July a few days after the plea hearing. In fact they faced substantial costs in fighting the case merely to travel back to the UK.
I wonder if this outbreak of common sense on behalf of the council arises because of the first Not Guilty finding relating to Kerry Capper on Friday.
It remains, however, that the rules need to change. However, this is a clear success for the Parents Want a Say Campaign Group.
Here is Dana Haymore's statement:
are so happy with the decision the County Council has made to drop the case. We
feel it is the right decision. No parent should have criminal charges brought
against them for doing what is in the best interest of their children. Parents'
roles are to know and love their families individually, better than any
government does collectively, and make the best choices for them. We are so
grateful to those at Liberty, Parents Want A Say, and John Hemming for all their
support! They have been incredible advocates for our family, and we hope this is
a step towards helping establish family rights. "
Obviously what Dana said adds to my comment earlier today about the way parents are being treated more generally.
Liberty also deserve thanks for the effort their pro-bono legal advisors put in on the case. They have a press release here
Ashya King and Kerry Capper (over 100 UK refugees in Ireland)
One key element of life is looking at trends in the way things are happening. Both of the above cases were in the news last week.
I don't know enough about medicine to take a view as to whether Proton treatment is appropriate for Ashya King. However, it is quite clear that:
a) The doctors should not have threatened an Emergency Protection Order merely because they were being questioned by his parents.
b) The Courts are too ready to give EPOs when requested to do so.
c) Such decisions and the over used power to prevent parents from being in contact with the courts are at times damaging to the children.
d) The only way the family could in practise get a second opinion was to be in the words of Brett King "Refugees" from the UK.
It will take some time to work out where else in the process of issuing an arrest warrant and the arrest of the parents things went wrong. Clearly if Naveed King had not been as capable as he is at dealing with social media etc their side of the story would not have been told.
What normally happens in these situations is that publicity is injuncted and if any side of the story is told it is only that from the state agents. Portsmouth City Council is trying to row back from the fact that they did issue an application for Wardship.
One reason for using a European Arrest Warrant is that it would make it possible to bring Ashya King back. If they used the Hague Convention it would be arguable that the family were no longer habitually resident in England and hence the foreign courts had jurisdiction. Wardship applications can be made about children that are not habitually resident in the UK, but Brussells II revised and the hague convention cannot be used to get the child returned merely because a wardship application has been granted.
So here we have a case where the family were persecuted for doing what they thought was best for their child. A lot of questions remain to be answered by the authorities not least how much they have spent on this which could have been spent more effectively.
In my e-conference last Wednesday Brian Rothery said that he believes there are now over 100 refugee English families living in Ireland.
Another case which deserves attention is that of Kerry Capper who was prosecuted for keeping her daughter (who had suffered from cancer) off school because she was worried that she was ill.
Again we have a mother doing the best she can using her judgment for her child and being treated as a criminal by the state. Happily she was found not guilty - which does raise an immediate question about the procedural lawfulness of all the fines being issued for absence. However, the prosecution was clearly not in the best interests of her daughter.
Spare Rooms and Housing Benefit
When I took over as the House of Commons co-Chair of the DWP parliamentary policy committee in May I had two top priorities. One was to make some changes to the Spare Room Rent (aka Bedroom Tax). The other was to reduce the number of wrongful sanctions.
After a while I persuaded the party to adopt my proposals for automatic exemptions for people who need spare rooms for reasons relating to disability and secondly that people who wish to move should not have to pay until they have refused a reasonable offer.
I am pleased that once those had been put into the manifesto the opportunity came for Andrew George to press for those in a PMB. Today the Private Members Bill passed its first hurdle. (a second reading)
It is difficult to get PMBs into law.
In practise these changes create a better environment for many people, but change the situation from a payment through Discretionary Housing Payments to one relating to Housing Benefit. Even in cases where people are moving they have been getting DHP support.
Hence the costs are marginal and with the reduced administration it could be a net zero. However, it creates greater security for tenants which is a good thing.
Middle East: Rome Statute needs strengthening (Gaza)
The Rome Statute is the founding document for the International Criminal Court. It is the ICC which enforces International Humanitarian Law.
Because the USA and Israel have not ratified the Rome Statute it does not have any enforcibility in terms of the behaviour of those two nations.
In the long term we need to strengthen the Rome Statute. As far as Europe is concerned a pre-condition for membership of Europe wide bodies should be ratification of the Rome Statute.
This should apply to bodies such as the European Broadcasting Union. Frankly I do not think it is reasonable for a country to be allowed to participate in things like the Eurovision song contest whilst refusing to be accountable for war crimes.
Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP)
I thought it was worthwhile putting a post on my blog that looks at the votes relating to this particular bill (during some of which votes I have rebelled and during others of which I have not).
Firstly there is a statutory instrument:
This is The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 No. 859
under this SI phone companies are required to hold certain information about phone calls and ISPs are supposed to keep track of who has what IP address. Obviously this has been in place since 2009 and prior to that date other rules existed as to recording certain information relating to calls and internet access.
Obviously there are advantages to law enforcement in being able to get information about particular accounts and phone calls. This was, in fact, used as part of the Aston Election Petition back in 2005 so although I don't know precisely what information was retained prior to 2009 it is clear that some information was.
All of this information is retained under the European Communities Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC. A legal case from Ireland to the European Court of Justice had the above directive declared invalid on 8th April 2014. That does not necessarily mean that the SI 2009/859 is invalid, but it creates a significant doubt that needs to be resolved.
The key thing done by DRIP is to enable the government to pass another statutory instrument to reinforce 2009/859. The proposed additional SI is on my website here:
I have, however, a number of concerns.
Firstly, I was unhappy that what was emergency legislation was drafted to last 2 1/2 years. I have sponsored an amendment tabled by Tom Watson to reduce this period to 6 months. I, therefore, voted against the timetabling motion (programme motion) because of the rushed timescale of consideration.
Secondly, I am concerned that the bill enables the government to do further things which I would not agree with. The government may not do that. Indeed to do it they would need a motion through the house of commons. However, there are real difficulties with a bill that is getting so little consideration by the nation.
Hence although in principle I agree that something should be done (which is why I voted for the bill at second reading) this is not the right something. I voted for the amendment to the sunset clause and when that failed I voted against the bill on the third reading. I am likely to vote for the statutory instrument, however.
I have been asked what actions I have taken recently in respect of the dispute in the middle east.
I wrote to the Secretary of State on 2nd July concerned about the disproportionate response of the Israeli Government to the murders of three Israeli youths.
I issued a public statement at the demonstration in the City Centre on Friday 15th July.
"Collective punishment was one of the more reviled
acts of the Nazis in the second world war. If we wish to bring greater peace in
the world then we need to avoid escalating disputes between groups of people.
The use of techniques which are akin to collective punishment are not a step in
the direction of peace and should be condemned as against international
humanitarian law (Rule 103)."
I spoke at a meeting on Saturday 16th July. I explained at that meeting that the murder of innocents was not on the pathway to peace as it increased anger.
I have also signed a number of Early Day Motions relevant to the issues in recent weeks.
That this House regards Israel's latest attack on the Gaza Strip, Operation Protective Edge, as a disproportionate escalation of violence against Palestinians; notes that since the end of Operation Cast Lead on 19 January 2009 Israel has killed 490 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; calls for an immediate end to Israeli military strikes against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and military incursions into Palestinian population centres in the West Bank, both of which constitute collective punishment and are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; calls for an immediate end to retaliatory rocket attacks from Gaza; and urges Israel as the occupying power to de-escalate the conflict.
That this House notes that once again Palestine's Gaza region has come under attack by the Israeli Defence Force; further notes that in this wholly unequal cycle of violence 490 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israel since the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and three Israelis; further notes that in this current attack Defence 4 Children International Palestine report that eight children have been killed and Palestinian writer and health worker, Mona Elfarra, reports the, not unusual, targeting of health centres including the European Hospital East of Khan Younis where many were both suffering and sheltering; and calls on the Government to do everything within its power to bring about an end to the collective punishment of Palestinans and the occupation that is a virtual death sentence for them.
That this House notes with concern that, despite being a clear and egregious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel recently announced that it will return to a policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinians suspected and convicted of involvement in terrorism and other violence; deplores and denounces the decision of the Netanyahu-led government in Israel for resuming this questionable practice which human rights group B'Tselem has stated harms only innocents and not the accused; further notes that in 2005 an Israeli military report concluded that the policy of punitive home demolitions did not act as an effective deterrent against terrorism; affirms Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that the destruction of private property is permitted only where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations; believes that the demolition of homes of innocent family members of people accused of crimes constitutes collective punishment; further believes that Israeli government statements on this matter exposes the absence of the rule of law under Israel's occupation and that revenge, demonisation and absolute disregard for the lives and rights of the Palestinians under its control now defines Israeli activities in the occupied Palestinian Territories; urges the Government to condemn Israel's actions as cruel, inhumane and a degrading punishment; calls for urgent action to be taken to oppose these policies; and further calls on the Government to pressure the State of Israel and ensure accountability for any violations that occur as a result of its renewal of demolitions.
That this House calls for the immediate release of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, aged 19, Gilad Shaar, aged 16 and Naftali Frenkel, aged 16, who were abducted whilst hitchhiking in the West Bank on 12 June 2014; supports the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs' strong condemnation of the kidnapping; notes the probable involvement of the Hamas organisation in this despicable terrorist act; and calls on the Government to continue to do all it can to help secure the release of the teenagers.
Back in the 2012 session i signed EDM 502
That this House supports recognition by the UN of Palestine as a state alongside the state of Israel.
I signed another EDM 254 on 22nd July http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/284
That this House notes the widespread cross-party questioning of Israel's wholly disproportionate and brutal attack on the Palestinian people of Gaza as expressed in the Chamber on 21 July 2014; further notes that thousands of people marched in protest in London at this attack on 19 July 2014; further notes that an even greater number will attend another demonstration on 26 July 2014; further notes the Gaza weekend death toll of more than 150 Palestinians with a disproportionate number of women and children; further notes the repetitive Israeli media spin about targeting militants; acknowledges the strength of character of Palestinians and their medical workers including Dr Mads Gilbert who describes the situation vividly, 'the rivers of blood will keep running the coming night' and who calls upon leaders to spend 'just one night' in Gaza which would 'change history'; and calls on the Government to do everything in its power to end the slaughter of the Palestinian people.
I also signed the PSC Letter presented on 25th July
The disappearance of children from Care and the CSA inquiry
I did an interview on BBC world at one yesterday
about the general discussion about the abuse of children in the care system. There are many stories about Elm Guest House
. However, I have been concentrating on more recent issues. There remain survivors of what has happened in the past. These people have been ignored for many years, but more recently they have been listened to. To me it is very important not only to deal with what happened in the past, but also to look at what is happening today.
A point that has not been looked properly at is the disappearance of children from Care. We had the recent reports from Ireland about the deaths of children being concealed. I believe that this also happened at Haut de la Garenne. To me it seems quite straightforward that if we are sufficiently concerned about money that we should count the money and audit it, we should also count the children and audit what happens to them.
Even today children are disappearing from care for various reasons. Some are trafficked. I find it odd that the government won't modify the SSDA903 return codes in order both to count the numbers of children and the reasons they leave care (normally today reported as - for other reasons), but also to then audit that.
I don't think the problems today are as severe as they were in the 1980s. There are estimates that 1 in 7 of children in care in the 70s and 80s were abused whilst in care. Books such as Forgotten Children
look at this in more detail. It does remain, however, that a recent study revealed a continuing high level of abuse in care
We also have child sexual exploitation which includes mainly children in care.
The care system is scrutinised through the family courts which remain substantially themselves unaccountable. The government propose putting an erstwhile president of the Family Division who have in part presided over this debacle in charge of the enquiry. In essence she is being asked to mark her and her judicial colleagues' own homework. I personally don't think that is a good idea.
What is worst is that many of the children placed in care need not have been in care. Those in Rochdale who were put in care because of the satanic abuse scandal were then abused purely as a result of state action.
Obviously we need a child protection system. However, really it should be one that does a better job than this.
Fiscal policy - the smoking gun
spreadsheet is part of the 2013 Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis. In this you can see the lid being taken off public spending in fact in 2001. This was reasonable up to a point, but it then resulted in increases in spending that were far too optimistic (in terms of GDP) and resulted in our financial problems being at the higher end of countries in Europe rather than the middle or lower end.
I would like to thank Lord Turnbull for highlighting this for me.
He makes the analytical point:
"What is unusual about 2000-01 to 2007-08 is that public spending as a proportion of GDP rose in a period of upswing. In earlier recoveries eg after 1983-84 and after 1991-92 public expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell as growth outstripped spending, reversing the opposite of the downturn."
"Trojan Horse" - a summary
We now have the publication of most of inquiries and inspections relating to Trojan Horse. There will be more reports, but not so much into individual schools.
It is important to remember where this started. There was the trojan horse document and then Khalid Mahmood MP said: ‘There has been a serious bid to take over most of the schools in the east and south of the city.’
There are, of course, a lot more schools than the 21 that were inspected. The real challenge in this is the use of the word "extremist". That is normally taken to be someone who is supportive of terrorism rather than someone who does not like tombolas because they are gambling.
The idea that there was effectively a terrorist style plot to take over schools was always a nonsense. It has now been solidly disproven. I don't personally think it was a good idea to put a terrorism expert into running the investigation as it semi confirmed the allegation. An allegation that was always untrue and for which there was no evidence.
The national association of head teachers have been much more temperate than the government and it is worth reading what they say on their website. They published another statement yesterday here.
It is worth reading their statement (not someone else's reporting of their statement) in full. However, I will extract part of their recommendations:
“We also need to learn longer term lessons: we need a confidential route for staff to raise concerns; a clearer statement of the basic entitlement of pupils; a more coherent mechanism to investigate allegations than we have seen in recent weeks; and resources to raise awareness and train staff and governors in the Prevent strategy.
There are general problems with Academies which appear in the relationship between Head Teachers and the Governors. There is nothing new with this, but the self selecting nature of governing bodies exacerbates this. There needs to be a way of dealing with this that falls short of the nuclear option of taking a school off an educational trust. That will enable issues to be dealt with before they get too bad.
In terms of the schools in Yardley I believe that Golden Hillock has been treated unfairly. However, there are problems at Oldknow (see my statement) and I would hope that the Principal returns to her post. It was always nonsense to say that there were any problems at Ninestiles.
Of the 4 schools of the 21 that have letters from the DfE (Lord Nash) about funding. Two (Parkview and Nansen) have been told that the intention is to remove funding and two (Golden Hillock and Oldknow) have been told to take "prompt" actions to improve the situation.
Statement re: Oldknow Academy
The situation with Oldknow Academy is different in the detail to that with Golden Hillock. There remains, however, the more general problem of tarring everyone (particularly Muslims) with the same brush.
It is not unusual for there to be a falling out between the Head of a school and the Chair of Governors. This has happened in Oldknow Academy. Also there have been things that have gone on that I do not think are right. In particular the celebration of religions other than Islam were downgraded by the school (referred to publicly as the cancellation of Christmas).
As I said with Golden Hillock: "To me it is very important that there are no secrets in any UK schools. Schools also need to provide a broad British education."
What did happen with Oldknow Academy is that a number of parents, all of whom are Muslim, were complaining about the curriculum being narrowed and the school offering a less than broad education. I do think they have a point that needs to be looked at. It is, however, important to note that at least one of those parents has now been appointed to the Governing Body. Hence it is obvious to any independent observer that you should not consider the Governing Body in any homogenous manner.
Although I do know about the details of the dispute between the Head and the Chair of Governors I am not going to comment about this. That is because the dispute still needs to be resolved and me commenting would not assist with resolving this.
To me one of the ways forward for the school would involve the return of the head to being in day to day control of the school. I have tried to mediate to acheive this, but have sadly not made any progress with this.
I do have a criticism of the Governing Body in that I did ask a question about a particular presentation at the school Assembly, but they have not as yet answered the question. The criticisms of the parents also need to be responded to in a formal manner.
Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers said recently:
“This confusion makes it quite clear to us that we lack an appropriate mechanism for dealing with such allegations."
I agree with him that the mechanism has not been good for dealing with the allegations. It remains to be seen what the other enquiries come up with. In the end it is the children that need to be our priority.
Statement re Golden Hillock Academy
Golden Hillock Academy is in my constituency. To me it is very important that there are no secrets in any UK schools. Schools also need to provide a broad British education. I am unhappy with Tristram Hunt pointing the finger of Muslim Extremism at the Head of Golden Hillock and the Chair of Governors at Golden Hillock.
The Head happens to be a Sikh. Tristram Hunt may not understand this, but Sikhs are not Muslims. The Chair of Governors (Mohammed Shafique) is someone I have known for over 15 years. He is not an extremist. He has at times been and may still be the Chairman of the Sparkbrook Ward Labour Party. [Sparkbrook is the ward on the other side of Golden Hillock Road outside my constituency.]
It is difficult commenting on leaked reports particularly as I don't have a copy of the report. I did ask the school to tell the staff body that they had legal protection in talking to the local MP as I was told some staff members were frightened to talk to me. The school did do that and also placed a copy of a briefing from the House of Commons Library in the Staff Room. I have communicated with some of the staff.
There have been questions raised about management styles, but this is not unusual in any employment situation and that does not justify the finger pointing about extremism.
The allegations made (about a number of schools not just Golden Hillock) have been tarring a large number of people with the same brush of extremism. We need to look at any allegations calmly and consider the details. There are things that have happened (such as the downgrading of Christmas and other festivals - not at Golden Hillock as far as I know) that I am unhappy about. However, national politicians such as Tristram Hunt should try engaging brain before opening mouth. It does help.
I would be surprised if any number of schools have an "anti extremism policy". It goes without being said really. If Golden Hillock are to be failed for this reason then the same rule should be applied to all other schools.
Evidence of postal vote fraud
This was in 2014. More details coming when I get them.
Labour's 2/3rds claim
The above is an extract from a comment used on a number of Labour leaflets. It indicates that the money that Birmingham has available to spend has been cut by 2/3rds.
I have asked Sir Albert Bore to explain where this figure comes from. The spending power of birmingham in the current year was cut by under 6% not over 60%.
Speech from March 2014 about National Finance
is the debate in Hansard.
It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, but in one sense that is wrong. Dealing with Government finance and the economy takes multiple years, so the problem that we had in 2010 will take at least eight years to resolve. People who interview me every so often say, “Oh, we have more cuts this year,” but those decisions were made in 2010 and they were driven by Government policy in the previous years.
I shall quote a few comments about Government policy from 2005 to 2010 because they are relevant to this debate and the issue of budget responsibility in the long term. One person said in his memoirs:
“However, we should also accept that from 2005 onwards Labour was insufficiently vigorous in limiting or eliminating the potential structural deficit.”
That was Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister at the time.
Lord Turnbull, who at one stage was the Cabinet Secretary, the chief civil servant, noted that excessive borrowing started to be a problem from 2005. He said:
“It kind of crept up on us in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and we were still expanding public spending at 4.5 percent a year”.
His argument, essentially, was that the Labour Government should have been aiming to put money aside in the good years. He cited examples of other places that began to accumulate surpluses for a rainy day—places such as Australia.
The Government were borrowing £2,500 on behalf of every person in the country so that, in effect, a baby would have borrowed £45,000 by the time it reached the age of 18. That had to be brought under control, but it cannot be done immediately. It is important that we properly manage Government finances. If anyone can be bothered to read the Charter for Budget Responsibility March 2014 update, they will find on page 10 that if the welfare cap is found to be breached, there are three options, one of which is to
“explain why a breach of the welfare cap is considered justified.”
Members can vote against the motion only if they do not believe in the Government managing and knowing what they are doing. I would be worried if there was a scheme whereby somebody came and said, “I need benefits. I’ve got no money,” and the Government said, “We’ve run out of money. We have no money to give you jobseeker’s allowance.” People will still have entitlements, but if we spend more than we intend to spend, the Minister will, as an absolute minimum, have to explain why.
I worry still about how the Government manage finances. I have asked questions, for example, on tax credits, to try to work out how many effectively fraudulent self-employed schemes there are, often run by people who are recent migrants. People set up nonsense scrap metal businesses that exist not as businesses, but to qualify for tax credits, but the Government cannot give that information. That is bad. We should be able to analyse the figures.
We need a good benefits system that ensures that there is a solid and straightforward safety net so that if people end up in difficulty, there is a way of rescuing them and keeping them from destitution. However, to argue that we should not try to manage the total costs is nonsense. Hence, I am not surprised that the official Opposition are backing the motion. Anyone who believes in having the money available to look after people believes in managing the accounts and knowing what is happening, and if we spend more than we expect, as an absolute minimum the Minister should explain why.
Labour face trial of green waste policy on 11th June
I received an email from the court indicating that the trial into the Labour Party's policy of leaving the city in a mess (apart from the odd clear up) will be on 11th June.
It will be interesting to see if they concede the point now that they have done one rather erratic clear up.
Many constituents have contacted me asking for a refund as well.
Council Budget figures (why Labour's leaflets are misleading - Green Waste and Cuts)
The Labour Party have made many claims about how much money is being cut from Birmingham's budgets. They are doing this to justify their prioritisation of cutting the green waste collection. It happens to be that Solihull spends in total around £700 per annum less per dwelling, but still provides a free green waste service (one bin - they charge for a second bin)
However, these are the figures in total (in £million) including the forecasts. It is important to remember that Labour nationally are committed to the 15/16 figure and have said they will make further cuts if they come into government (although the cuts may not be the same)
I have in front of me a Labour leaflet claiming the total cuts are two thirds.
I don't see that from the quoted figures below.
Net Budgets 2011/12 onwards
based on 2014+ LTFP
The big shift in grant last year is a different treatment of financing council tax benefit where the support previously given is included in the basic grant.
Additionally the council has a budget head of "savings not achieved". It would be very simple to allocate these funds to the green waste collection. In fact the saving in terms of not having to collect fly tipping would assist.
Green Waste and Legal Issues
The campaign to clean up Birmingham will not be resolved quickly. The City Council are continuing to refuse to clear refuse more generally although there are reports that secret instructions have been given to do a specific clear up following my application to court.
The application I made to the court on Thursday is specifically about 18 dumps of green waste. One of those was cleared on the day. Some have been there since before 24th April.
This is a specific form of legal action that is allowed under S91 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Taking legal action against public authorities is risky because of the potential to be hit by their costs. However, the rules on rubbish and litter are that the council pays the costs if the litter is there when the application is made (which we have photographic evidence of for 17 of the sites).
Ireland and Spain
can be found a report on Irish TV about the numbers of people going from the UK to ireland (which I don't recommend) - 48 last year.
This is a report from Emily Sparkes, a mother in Spain
Mark and Kerry McDougall (and family)
Mark and Kerry's story has been told in various places. They are now living in Scotland having left Fife because the local authority said Kerry did not have the capacity to marry Mark and look after their son. They now have two children.
Council Candidates 2014
What I find interesting about the 2014 candidates is that only three parties have a full slate. Even though UKIP have quite a high poll share, they are not fighting all 40 wards. The Greens have gone down in terms of numbers of candidates. There are two "anti austerity" parties the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition and the Communities against Cuts, that a fighting a small number of seats.
The full details are on the council website. Respect are not fighting anything. There are very few BNP and no NF candidates.
I think the UKIP issue is probably related to the de-selection of Mike Natrass - which seemed an odd decision to me as he was one of the more sane members of UKIP.
The big issue of the local elections is the Labour Party incompetence in terms of managing the authority within the context of limited resources. They like to blame the government, but if Labour were in government there would still be further cuts in future years.
Costs awarded against volunteer advisors
story in the Sunday Telegraph is a very important issue.
Basically for voluntarily assisting someone to challenge the state some advisors have been hit with a costs bill. It has been done on a sneaky way which allowed them to challenge the award of costs, but only at the risk of paying more costs if they lose. In fact I believe this is against the practise direction in respect of costs which requires someone to be given notice and allowed to challenge it at the hearing where the decision is made.
I had a similar thing happen to me when I tried to find out what had happened to Matthew Hawkesworth. An application had been made for judicial review through a limited company (Justice for Families Limited), but they awarded some costs against me personally. That was also done not in accordance with the practise direction.
I do now have the french copy of a court order which confirms that the french (as well as the Italian) judiciary see the actions in the UK as being unlawful. It appears that the Portuguese have won a case getting children taken to Portugal.
It is important to note that volunteer legal advisors have won cases taken to appeal in the family, civil and criminal courts. Hence to introduce a costs threat against people who do work pro-bono is completely wrong.
The reason it threatens the rule of law is that there needs to be some form of appellate system. Many of the cases that have won appeals that I have helped with would not have had legal aid under any of the systems of rules that have existed since 2005. (I don't know enough about the rules before then).
Trojan Horse and Today's Arrests
There are a number of people who believe (on the balance of probabilities) that it is likely the Trojan Horse document is fabricated. I am one of them. At least today's arrests will give some opportunity of working out whether it is or isn't. My own view is that it has been fabricated for a particular purpose, but discussion of that purpose is potentially sub judice so I won't comment.
It remains, however, that Khalid Mahmood MP has made allegations and some 200 other people have made allegations. There are also press reports which seem to me to be at times unfair. However, I am continuing to do research where it affects schools in my constituency. Clearly there are also some issues to look at.
It is right to have investigations. However, it also appears that Ofsted are inclined to a "shoot first and ask questions later" policy. I don't think that is helpful. Then again I am not a great fan of how Ofsted operate. It also wasn't sensible to bring in an anti-terrorism expert as the Chief Constable has said.
A constituent of mine has written the following poem:
I wanted to do something good
society and community
I became a school
It was not a paid role, and my childcare was
Life was busy and the meetings were at awkward
But I did it for no thanks, to make a difference to
the lives of children
Standards were poor. I saw racism,
questioned. Always gently
But was suspiciously
I wanted to give the children a
At education, employment, life
All children, of all
creeds and colours
Because I thanked God for the chances my children
I tried to fulfil the governorship I was entrusted
Then they called in
a counter-terrorism expert to investigate
OECD report including data on food poverty
This is an interesting table about comparative food poverty between countries. It does not allow us to be complacent about what is an important issue, but it does argue a different case to the conventional narrative:
Cinderella Act is seriously flawed
is an article I wrote in the Sunday Express which is published today.
By this it does not mean banning girls from marrying princes but is talking about criminalising “emotional abuse”.
We are told it is a contender for the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.
There is no question that there can be situations where children are traumatised by the way they have been treated but the Government does need to think through the details before enacting this law because this is one of the most complex subjects we face.
Where and how do we draw the line and on to whom should we place responsibility?
Let me assure you of this: you would not want your family sucked into the murky and sometimes nightmare social care system based on vague definitions.
I have spent many years campaigning in this area with Justice for Families.
I have seen appalling miscarriages of justice where troubled families are ripped apart by social workers and court-appointed experts claiming that children have been emotionally abused.
The consequences of such interventions are horrific for all involved. There are good outcomes but there are nuances.
Some of the most traumatised children are those who have reactive attachment disorder, which means they have trouble forming a bond with their primary carer.
Very often these children have been taken into care when very young and end up adopted before the age of five.
When they get into their teens there can then be all sorts of problems and they often end up back in care.
These children have clearly been emotionally abused but who is responsible?
Is it the mother?
Is it the local authority for moving them around from foster carer to foster carer or is it the adoptive family?
ONE THING you can be certain about local authorities’ children’s services is that they avoid accepting responsibility.
I have encountered numerous adoptive families who have been caring for traumatised children with no support from their local authority.
Very often the local authority puts all its effort into blaming the adoptive family and it has vast sums of taxpayers’ money and tame experts who will back it.
If the Government starts looking for someone to prosecute when this happens you can bet your bottom dollar that it will not be the local authority.
The proposed law would have implications for those families willing to adopt.
Would you be willing to adopt if you might be liable to criminal investigation for the emotional abuse of a troubled child?
The argument of “emotional abuse” and “risk of future emotional abuse” is often used in the care system when there has been a history of domestic violence.
It is undoubtedly the case that children can suffer emotionally when they witness conflict between their parents.
However domestic violence is already illegal and anyone perpetrating domestic abuse can be prosecuted.
Campaign group Action for Children’s proposal for a change to the law defines emotional abuse as “including exposing the child to violence against others in the same household”.
This would mean a domestic violence victim can be held liable for emotional abuse of the child. What kind of justice is that?
Rape victims and victims of domestic abuse are already finding this used as a reason for taking children into care.
There have been protests recently outside the Royal Courts of Justice about the unfairness of removing a rape victim’s children and putting them up for adoption.
Campaign groups such as Women Against Rape have been highlighting the unfairness of punishing victims but it is only a short step towards blaming the victim for a child’s emotional abuse.
This is already done in a secret court in care proceedings and does not take much to move it forward to the criminal court.
This is an area in which the views of experts will be key.
Many experts know that they have to keep local authorities on their side.
Hence we should not be surprised if those experts decide that they wish to point the finger at parents.
Another group of parents who are concerned about this proposal are those who have autistic children.
Given the costs of special needs education it is easier for councils to blame the parents, claiming the way they have treated their child has caused it to be autistic.
USING the criminal law in situations like this is something that needs to be done subtly and in a way in which it is very clear as to who is to blame for a clearly identifiable harm.
There are many family disputes that occur at the moment.
However using the criminal law to deal with such disputes is likely to make the disputes worse.
We already have a very aggressive child protection system but at the same time the system is not good at protecting children from abuse and neglect.
Often people explain to me how the arrogance of children’s services means that the local authority workers are unwilling to co-operate or understand.
This is particularly difficult for adoptive families who are often on the end of expensive campaigns by the local authority to blame them for all the ills of its adoptive children.
I accept that the law is out of date and that replacing the word “wilful” with “reckless” has merit.
However given the many cases that go wrong in the family courts and the way that local authorities always blame the parents this law needs a detailed rethink.
MW v Hertfordshire County Council
case is an example of the judiciary seeing through the nonsense so often spouted by local authorities and their friends in cafcass. Sadly, it is a rare example.
Historic Birmingham Maps
Thanks to Wendy Pearson. The boundary changes of 2005 ignored the boundaries of 699. (Hwicca/Mercia). These maps, however, are more recent (than 699).
European Parliament Petitions
In The Telegraph, Christopher Booker reports
on the mass petitioning of the European Parliament about state sponsored child stealing in the UK.
This week, for example, a Portuguese Family involved in that protest were arrested. Their case has been widely reported in the Portuguese media including the English Speaking Portuguese Media such as This Story
in "Portuguese Resident. On Wednesday night a South Korean Couple were arrested in South Wales trying to escape the country with their baby. This case has not hit the South Korean media yet, but I would expect it to be quite high profile.
I referred to the case in the Deregulation Bill Committee the minutes of which can be found here
. (I say "The gentleman is called Jeong Hugh and he is the PhD student living in the UK. ")
The Council of Europe have been enquiring into the UK. I have suggested that parliamentary committees do an enquiry. However, the enquiries that have run so far have been dominated by the people who make a living out of running the system.
In the mean time local authorities continue to threaten MPs in an attempt to stop them looking at cases. Two examples of this were reported in points of order on Monday this week.
This week, interestingly, Re B is back in the Court of Appeal. The lower courts have ignored the Supreme Court and so it has been appealed again. Additionally last week there was a permission to appeal hearing in which the Court of Appeal ignored the law.
The following is the presentation to the European Parliament Petitions Committee (from 19th March 2014)
The following is on Portuguese TV:
St Patrick's Day Parade March 16th 2014 Birmingham - Tipperary County Association
I have not tried to take photographs of all of the parade. Others are doing that with better cameras than my phone. I shall see if I can bring together links to photos of the parade later. I have, therefore, only one photo and one video.
This parade was the best weather for over 10 years. 2003 (if I have the year right) when the parade went to Victoria Square was really quite hot. However, today was just about right. Warm enough to encourage the crowds, but not so hot as to wear people out.
Photos on net (I am giving one link to the photographer, even if they have done lots of photos):
Steve Piggott Photography
An unusual rear view of Tipperary against Selfridges
Free Radio (Previously BRMB)
Success on Hospital Consultations
Today there were a number of votes in the care bill. It is our view that local consultation is key when it comes to running the health service. There were many people that opposed the health reforms wanting the health service to be run by the Minister and the Minister's appointees. Our view, however, was that it was better to bring in health service reforms to Clinical Commissioning Groups to give local control rather than central control.
In the Care Bill today there was a discussion about how to deal with services in crisis. Quite a few of the Lib Dems were unhappy that the original proposals moved too far away from the principle of local consultation. Hence Paul Burstow tabled a new clause (known as New Clause 16) to promote local consultation.
During this process there were a large number of negotiations headed up by Paul Burstow. I am pleased to say that considerble progress was made. As a consequence of this the signatories of his new clause did not press the new clause (although the Labour Party did).
Tomorrow it will be possible to see in Hansard the speech of the minister making all the changes clear.
A raft of checks and balances will be introduced to make sure that changes to local hospital services are not made without local people being able to have their say. These include:
- Making sure that this process is only used in the most extreme cases, after all other options are tried
- Councils and the patients forum Healthwatch must be consulted as the representatives of local people
- The plans must have agreement of all relevant local health commissioners
Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow MP will be chairing a committee of MPs and Lords to ensure these changes are secured.
Labour's solution to uncollected rubbish
No words are really needed.
Success on DHP for people with disabilities - multi year awards now possible
See this question here
To ask the Secretary of State
for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to encourage local authorities to make longer term awards of discretionary housing payments for those people with disabilities.
Steve Webb (The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions; Thornbury and Yate, Liberal Democrat)
As announced in the autumn statement discretionary housing payment (DHP) funding will actually be increased by £40 million in 2014-15 to £165 million. The increase in DHP for 2014-15 is relative to the previously announced Government allocation for 2014-15 of £125 million.
This gives local authorities the confidence they need to make longer-term awards for people with on-going needs.
provides local authorities (LAs) with a guidance manual regarding DHPs, along with a good practice guide which offers advice on how DHPs can be used to provide support to claimants affected by some of the key welfare reforms. The guidance is clear that LAs can consider making long term or indefinite awards for disabled people. Guidance for 2014-15 is currently being reviewed and will continue to highlight this.
This information for 2013-14 can be accessed through the following link:
Sadly although the money is available to allow awards until March 31st 2016 the City Council's computer systems can only make awards for one year.
confirms that more money is being made available (one of my priorities).
gives the figures for Birmingham and England as a whole.