Manhole Cover Explodes in Tyseley - twice!
There has been a growth recently in the number of reports of exploding Manhole Covers. One in Tyseley exploded yesterday on the Warwick Road close to Tyseley station yesterday. There are quite a few press reports about this including a video of a little girl who was almost hit by the cover.
The detail is in various press reports including this one.
I have been down to look into it. When it exploded the lights went off with a power surge in at least one local shop. That would imply that the explosion was linked to power supplies in some way. However, the cover that flew off was actually from the telecoms manhole. There were three manholes close together. National Grid (gas) were down to look at the gas supplies and that was not an issue.
There has been a growth in such explosions from under 10 a year a few years ago to over 60 last year. The normal cause is from decaying insulation caused by water on power cables.
I have written to OpenReach (BT), Western Power (the MEB) and National Grid to pin down what is going on and why when the same thing happened at the same location 9 months ago that it still happened again.
Although it is good to report that no-one was hurt in this instance, people have been hurt on other occasions. The HSE raised the issue with the utilities companies last year, but it is unclear that this has resulted in the right action.
I have put in a parliamentary question about this and will keep constituents in touch with the outcomes.
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Conservatives Plan to Close Down e-Commerce
Well ... that's not what they are presenting it as. Instead they are talking about banning encryption. See here
When I say I am a cryptographer I mean that I implemented the second version of the SSL (now TLS) encryption system in the world after Netscape back in 1995. I have written the software for RSA encryption.
What would it mean to ban encryption?
Well the most obvious use of encryption is for web interfaces with the https:// type of URL. http:// is hyper text transfer protocol (without encryption) and https is with encryption.
Properly implemented it is secure. It is used for Hotmail (now outlook.com), facebook, twitters and all electronic communications including online banking.
If you want to find out whether you are using encryption or not just look at the url.
Hence if they are aiming to ban encryption then they want to stop all e-commerce as well because it all uses encryption.
Judicial Review and the Crime and Courts Bill
Questions have been raised as to the modifications In Division 130
as to the basis upon which a decision by a public authority can be quashed by judicial review.
The change introduced by the Crime and Court Bill means that apart from a few exceptions if the court is asked to quash a decision because of procedural flaws it is not to do so if the decision if when remade is highly likely to result in a not substantially different outcome. The few exceptions relate to the "exceptional public interest".
The difficulty is that for decisions that are subject to judicial review (which does not apply to primary legislation of course) the simple fact that judicial review has been applied for can introduce a long period of delay. That delay in itself can harm the public interest. Hence to apply a filter at the permission stage which means that applications for judicial review that are unlikely to result in a final change to the decision are rejected at that stage then stops the delay from happening.
The government's final compromise was to allow the judges if they believes that something is in the exceptional public interest to continue to review (and thereby delay the implementation of) a decision even if it appears to be merely on a technicality.
The NHS and TTIP
There is a lot of confusion about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the NHS. The NHS Confederation has produced a dedicated web page Here
relating to TTIP.
My own view is that the NHS should be kept out of TTIP. I don't personally believe that it is in TTIP at the moment. On the NHS Confederation Web Page there is a lot more information. I will extract one part of this below, but really people should read the web page (referred to above) if they are interested in more information.
Specifically on the web page it says: "Jean-Luc Demarty, Director General for Trade at the European Commission, wrote to Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the House of Commons Health Committee, on 11 December 2014, giving further, more explicit assurances that the EU intends publicly-funded health services to be excluded from the TTIP agreement. Publicly-funded services delivered by private, or third sector organisations will also be protected. EU practice is that "ratchet" mechanisms "locking in" liberalisation will not apply to public services, so that future governments will be free to change policy direction. "
It may be that the TTIP agreement is never concluded. However, I also beleive that we need an open judicial process rather than a ISDS type system. The ECJ has its flaws, but at least it is an open system of justice.
Experts on Retainers
I noticed that I have not posted this case
to my blog.
In this case it was put to the court that having an expert on a retainer to one of the parties stopped the expert being independent. The court disagreed. I disagree with the court.
I think most people would disagree with the court.
Kathleen Danby and the Court of Protection
The Court had the sense to allow Mrs Danby to purge her contempt today and be released. G4S, however, decided that the court order was not enough and they needed permission from the prison service. In the mean time her handbag had been left in Derbyshire and her suitcase left in a hotel in Liverpool. Her tickets had run out to return to Orkney yesterday and she was dumped by the system in Birmingham. Luckily the Daily Mail have agreed to help her get home.
Even if the original court orders on contact had reliable expert evidence and the conclusion of the court on only hearing one side of the argument was right (about both of which issues there are questions). Derbyshire County Council have serious questions to ask as to where the public interest was in spending the money to get her dragged out of a Ken Dodd concert to be taken around the country. It is also obvious that although there is potentially an argument to convict her in her absence there is no argument to sentence her.
Because she was not contactable yesterday or today, it was impossible to ensure she had legal representation. I was prepared, therefore, to act as her McKenzie friend today, but in fact a solicitor was found at the last minute.
It remains, however, that the system as a whole has treated a particular grandparent very badly this holiday period and she is owed a number of apologies starting with Derbyshire County Council.
As I say in this story
: "It is ordinary people subject to an abuse of power, and there's many more of these cases going on. These are the strange sorts of things that happen in this country."
Photo on the Mirror website following the court hearing.
looks back at the Platt report and its conclusions about parents (and grandparents) visiting children in hospital. This has a sensible carry through into cases such as the Danby case.
Remember to wash your weeds
As we move into the new year most of the complaints received by my team have been about problems with rubbish collection. The new system is far less efficient than the previous system and as a result frailer people who need help moving around the large wheelie bins are finding that their rubbish does not get collected. People who have the temerity to put their weeds unwashed (with too much soil) into the recycling bin are being told to wash their weeds
(which I find to be a rather odd requirement) and there remains large amounts of fly tipped rubbish on the streets - although much less in Yardley than other areas. To save time the operatives are deciding from time to time to leave rubbish because the bins are not that full and people who would rather not have wheelie bins are forced to have them even though the operatives merely take the black bags out of the bin to save time.
This is a real issue to be considered within the context of the debates about how public services are to adjust to continued austerity. In Birmingham the Labour Adminstration appear to have ignored the need to be cost effective and efficient and are merely trying to do what they would do if austerity did not exist and then add cuts on top.
Internationally it now looks possible although I would not say probable that the Greeks are going to elect a party to run the country who believes that having a "money tree" policy (as in money grows on trees) rather than a monetary policy is an effective way to run the country. Investors are already running scared of this and it will be interesting to see how long any Syriza government would last if they do actually win the elections. What the Greek situation demonstrates is that governments need to have the confidence of people willing to lend them money (the markets) to be able to cope. This in many ways is the key metric of any economic plan as it affects the interest rate paid on government debt.
Nationally the need over time to balance the books is more widely recognised. Labour still don't admit the errors that they made previously. However, we are at least having greater clarity as to what strains of austerity are being offered in this year's general election.
Earlier this year I blogged about the fiscal smoking gun
. That blog post links to a spreadsheet
which looks at the national accounts in terms of percentages of the national cake. It is this debate that is now starting up for the general election.
The relatively small numbers of digits as to the percentage of the GDP in total managed expenditure by government are the key battleground for the General Election. I was reasonably comfortable with the plans in 2010 as they aimed for around 40% of the GDP spent on public services. Outside the crisis period the Labour governments from 1997 had the following percentages: 37.8, 36.8, 36.1, 34.3, 37.7, 38.6, 39.3, 40.3, 40.6, 40.4, 40.5 (7-8). The forecast in the Autumn Statements include (outturn 13-14 41.5) 40.5 39.5 38.2 36.9 36.0 35.2.
Labour are making the claim that this takes things back to the 1930s. The figure of 35% quoted by Ed Miliband in his speech here
is in fact more than the figure for 2000-1 under Tony Blair (34.3). It remains, however, that driving this down (particularly with certain departments ring fenced) is something that I would not agree with. I am worried about the impact on local services particularly local government. However, it is not the small state sort of GDP that you get in China (23.9) or Chile (23.2). George Osborne may be right to state that the proposed reduced spending is the same in real terms as in about 2002-3. However, the proportion of GDP is relevant as well as the real terms spending.
The autumn statement also looks at the figures from the perspective of whether they are fair. Table 2.f in the analysis (which can be found here
) finds that the tax policies including VAT are progressive by expenditure decile. It should be noted from this that the tax levels for the top expenditure decile have gone up whereas other deciles have gone down. Furthermore the net effect of welfare and tax both direct and indirect is income positive for all deciles other than the richest 10%. It remains that the minimum wage should be increased and we need to see higher wages across the economy, but equity in sharing the burden is important as well.
That does not mean that everything is perfect, but it does demonstrate both that the coalition has been concerned about ensuring that the burden is fairly shared, but also that the coalition has delivered on this.
There have been debates about the growth in food banks and whether this is as a result of government policy. If you look at The Trussell Trust's web page about how they started
you will find that they say: "Paddy investigated local indices of deprivation and ‘hidden hunger’ in the UK. The shocking results showed that significant numbers of local people faced short term hunger as a result of a sudden crisis. "
The recent research from JRF found that most users of food banks used food banks as a result of a crisis. What we cannot tell from the statistics, however, is what the growth in usage would have been were the provision to have been static. This was debated in parliament recently here.
If Labour do localise Housing Benefit in the same way that Council Tax Benefit has been localised (see ippr proposals
) then we are likely to see things being a lot tighter for social housing tenants with many more having to contribute towards their rent even if they get fully means tested benefits.
My experience, however, is that at the moment when normally people are getting the right benefits then generally there is no need to go to a food bank. Situations where people are not entitled to benefits or any public support are different. However, that is a matter of public policy.
Internationally there have been really tragic events such as the attack on a school in Peshawar. The extreme atrocities that are the modus operandi of ISIL and the Pakistani Taliban must be brought to an end and the world should unite against this.
Although not as extreme there seems to be a sad movement away from the rule of law in Bangladesh. I don't think that this will be resolved without new elections under the caretaker government system.
The movement towards recognising Palestine may just give a glimmer of hope of a possibility that Israel recognises that it needs to operate within limits. As the stronger actor in this conflict they need to hold themselves back. This conflict as is often the case is underpinned by a desire for revenge amonst elements of the population on both sides of the conflict. The desire for revenge is often stronger than the desire for peace. This results in the sabotage of any negotiations for peace. People will not, however, often admit the truth about this. Hence as with many places international humanitarian law and the principles of human rights need to be followed to enable peace negotiations to have a chance of happening in earnest.
Sadly the problems in the family division with skewed evidence continue and we have cases like that of a grandmother given a prison sentence for hugging her grand daughter.
Back in Birmingham my office has been busier with almost 4,000 cases being opened during the year. We also now have a couple of hours of pro-bono legal advice and in January will be having a specialist benefits advisor available for a day a week.
In Parliament I have been busy including attending 44 Delegated Legislation Committees as well as five select committees and a few bill committees and the rather esoteric Standing Orders Committee. (this was during the 13-14 session - I think it is likely that I attend more committee meetings than any other MP). I have continued to chair the commons side of the DWP parliamentary policy committee and campaigning more generally on issues.
To conclude I would like to wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
Addendum: I have since writing this discovered that the claims about spending being at 1930s levels from the perspective of a %ge of GDP were originally made by the OBR, but relate only to RDEL and not AME. Hence Ed Miliband's speech was wrong because it made the wrong assumption. I think the OBR report is misleading, however, as many services are provided through direct payment systems such as DLA and Housing Benefit. That appears in AME, but not RDEL. Also Total Managed Expenditure (the percentages used above) includes RDEL, CDEL and AME). AME also includes locally raised funds which are significant.
Further Addendum: There was a completely new dataset of TME figures published by the ONS in November which has different TME %s. The lowest of these is in fact 1999-0 at 35.9. I am looking for the audit trail of the changes.
Secret Prisoners judgment comment
I am pleased with the judgment issued today from the court of appeal.
concern is to stop people being imprisoned in secret. This judgment is an
important step towards that objective. There are three key
Firstly, it recognises that a lot of people are still locked up
without proper public scrutiny.
Secondly, it adds to guidance and
reinforces guidance to stop this happening.
Thirdly, it ensures that
there is an authority that can be used to find out who has been imprisoned if
someone finds out that a secret jailing has happened.
It does not,
however, as yet accept that a secret imprisonment in itself is cause for someone
to be released. That is an issue that I will be looking at in more depth. It
is, obviously, difficult to make an application to court for the imprisonment of
someone in secret as it it is entirely secret no-one will know. Hence it is
difficult to find authorities for this situation.
The problem as I see it
is that people have been imprisoned for things that would not find public
acceptance. To that extent were those imprisonments not secret they would be
stopped. (Which, of course, is not all of the imprisonments, but some of
I would cite as an example the imprisonment of a grandmother for
posting complaints on facebook. This happened in early 2013 in I think
It remains, however, that the government do not seem concerned about this issue. They could easily establish a system to ensure that we know who has been imprisoned so we can check whether a public judgment is given. However, so far they have done very little - although they have reinstated the counting that was stopped.
However, I have managed to get 90% of what I wanted from this case and that has to be seen as a victory.
Parliamentary Motions and Yesterday's debate
Yesterday's debate demonstrated the relatively counterintuitive nature of parliamentary procedure. We had the movement of the "previous question". This did happen in the last parliament. Once.
It wasn't very clever to do this as it merely had the effect of truncating debate. If it gets moved too often we will find that the rules are changed to prevent this.
The most important point is that only a limited range of parliamentary motions have an actual effect. Motions relating to statutory instruments have an effect. Those on european scrutiny issues have a partial effect, but are in fact not binding as the ministers can make decisions in the European Council before such a motion passes. Motions that affect the House of Commons (order of debate, suspending or expelling members, standing orders, committees etc) do have an effect. Those which are in conjunction with a finance bill also have an effect.
However, a motion that says "This House instructs the Government not to extend the European Arrest Warrant" does not actually have any effect on the government ... unless ... the government agrees in advance that it will have an effect. However, a motion that says "this house shall now adjourn" could bind the government on an issue such as the EAW, but only if the government says that it will.
Hence we are actually in a situation where what the minister says is more important than what it says in the motion. That is why yesterday's debate came across so badly.
There is, of course, an issue about having a single vote on all the Justice Issues. That is of course the normal way in which the executive (government) limits the power of the legislature (house of commons) to control its behaviour.
The reasoning behind the issue of what decisions have force lies in the willingness of the house of commons to enforce decisions. With the courts the use of "contempt of court" enables court orders to be enforced. "Contempt of Parliament" has the same effect for parliamentary orders. However, it is now rarely used.
Petition about Acocks Green Post Office
I have extracted and uploaded to Youtube the presentation of the Petition about Acocks Green Post Office.
There are two ways of presenting petitions. One is the process in this video. The other is to simply put the petition in a bag at the back of the Speaker's chair. Petitions are presented at the "moment of interruption" which is just before the adjournment debate. Often the Moment of Interruption is known in advance, but on Monday it happened a lot earlier than planned.
There is a debate going on about whether the Recall Bill is "Real" or not.
As usual there is a lot of confusion about what alternatives are proposed.
Zac Goldsmith put forward proposals for a different system. The government proposal is triggered by one of two options either a criminal conviction or a decision by the Standards Committee. Zac Goldsmith's is triggered by 5% of constituents signing a petition. The government proposal then looks for a petition signed by 10% of constituents whereas Zac Goldsmith's then goes to a petition signed by 20% of constituents.
The first point is that the government's proposal happens to be what is in the manfesto. Although I rebel on some issues they are generally not issues which were in the manifesto. I am making it clear to my constituents that I take a different view to the party on some issues (such as the EU referendum) hence I am not going to be bound by what it says in the manifesto on that.
The second point is that the Goldsmith proposal has a trigger of just getting 4,000 signatures (actually 5% which is around 4,000 signatures). Although Zac's proposals would make it difficult to recall an MP as there are second and third stages, the first stage is really easy. For example his father James Goldsmith could have paid for canvassers to collect the 4,000 signatures. There are no seats I am aware of where there are not 4,000 people who oppose the sitting MP. Hence it makes it very easy to start the process. Imagine the situation if Winston Churchill had faced a recall petition whilst negotiating the end of the Second World War. It would have damaged the country's credibility at a key time.
Thirdly, there is a problem with the current bill in that it does not have an independent step for initiation. The Lib Dems are working on proposals to change the bill to enable the first step not to involved MPs at all, but
instead a judicial decision about Misconduct in Public Office. This may be brought in in the House of Lords.
Re D - the witchfinder general
The Witchfinder General
has written about the case of Re D. I do think the case is important as it highlights the fact that one jurisdiction believes that a child should be cared for by its mother and the other jurisdiction believes that a child should be adopted or at least subject to a special guardianship. The mother is the same, the children are about a year or so apart.
The underlying issue is one of risk. What element of risk requires the complete removal of a child from its wider family?
The National Association of Head Teachers Guidelines and the Government U-Turn
The Department for Education are trying to talk away the story about the NAHT producing guidelines as to when term time absence should be allowed.
Earlier this year I wrote to the Department suggesting this as way towards a solution. However, the department refused this as a proposal. The Minister as I understand it is now signing off on the guidelines.
Hence it is a clear U-turn on the department's previous position that "exceptional circumstances" was all that needed to be said.
It remains, however, that the underlying argument still needs to be made. At this stage I do not have a copy of the guidelines and so cannot comment in detail.
It is also important to understand the role of Ofsted. If Ofsted pressurise schools to reduce the number of approved absences regardless of the reasons for the absence then silly decisions will continue to be made.
Hence progress is being made. The DfE have made a partial U-turn. However, more work needs to be done.
John Hemming, Parents Want a Say, statement on term time holiday absence research
This table is from research done by the government in 2011. It demonstrates for KS2 that taking a small amount of holiday in term time does not necessarily harm a child's education (at KS2 of course) and can in fact improve achievement.
John Hemming said: "The government's obsessive demand for children to go to school almost regardless of normal family circumstances (such as illness, family bereavement and holidays) is not actually justified by the evidence that the government has in its research. Separate research looking at one primary school concluded that a small break can actually be beneficial to the children's education. We do need to be sensitive to the varied position that families find themselves in. Police Officers, Nurses and many other people often have no choice as to when they take their holidays. We should not effectively ban them from going on holiday particularly as the evidence is that it is beneficial to their children."
Obviously additionally we welcome the call from the LGA to change the system. However, the key point is that the research that has been done by the government does not justify the change in policy.
Speeches on Friday
Hansard now has Friday's speeches on the parliamentary website. I spoke in both debates.
This is a link to my speech in the EU referendum debate
This is the debate on the Transparency and Accountability bill
Both are I think important speeches. The difficulty on the issue of pan-European institutions (including the Council of Europe and the European Union) is that the heat of the debate tends to obscure the underlying issues. The underlying issues are, however, real and we should not avoid them.
Ebola - controlling it in Africa is key
This chart from the BBC demonstrates clearly the problem with Ebola and the solution.
Ebola is, of course, a threat to everyone in the world. However, the chart demonstrates how Nigeria has kept tight control of infection whereas Liberia has been particularly bad at controlling infection (starting in 3rd place, but racing into 1st place).
It is important that we recognise that it is possible that an infected person from one of the infected countries (Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, The USA, Spain and Liberia) could come into the UK without us knowing that this is happening in advance.
It is, in fact, likely that an unidentified infected person will go somewhere else in the world. What is important is that we recognise what to do in the event that someone does come to the UK.
The key for people in the UK is the following (from the BBC):
Symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding - but these are similar to more common infections like flu and some stomach bugs.
If you have these symptoms and have had contact with an Ebola patient,ring 111 first. Do not go directly to A&E or a GP.
If there has been no contact with Ebola, seek help from 111, your GP or A&E if necessary.
The chances of developing Ebola in the UK are low.
The solution from the chart is to ensure that the countries in Africa bring it under control by isolating victims. Symptomless victims are not that infectious. Furthermore the infection cannot be transmitted in the air, but only through bodily fluids.
The second case of someone infected in the USA demonstrates that it is health care workers that are most at risk as the greatest risk of infection arises when infected people demonstrate symptoms. That is why in the instructions above people who might have Ebola are asked not to go to A&E or their GP, but instead to phone for help. Obviously someone who has been treating a patient with Ebola is at a high risk.
We will see from Spain how effectively Spain copes with the infection of an Ebola Nurse (Teresa Romero). Their initial response was not good, but they have isolated now 16 people who had contact with her and initial reports are good.
100 people have already been prevented from travelling through the screening at departure airports. Although most had Malaria this is an essential step. I also support the government's proposals to screen at arrival airports. This may not identify any more people, but even if it only identified one at risk person that would help. Furthermore it adds to the education process for people to be aware that Ebola is a possible infection.
We also need to look at whether a small period of quarantine or independent monitoring of contacts before travelling by air would also assist in preventing the spread of Ebola from the most infected three countries. The difficulty, of course, is dealing with people who are travelling via other countries and obviously also those not travelling by air.
Happily the government are doing daily monitoring of travellers from Ebola countries. However, they are only monitoring the high risk individuals. They should monitor all for 21 days with daily phone calls or texts. That way would pick up quickly any cases that were missed. It is in the interests both of the traveller and the UK for cases to be picked up as quickly as possible.
Green Waste: the war continues
In one sense I lost a battle in court today (having 13K costs awarded against me). However, possibly over 500 dumps of green waste have been cleared up as a result of the legal action although not all of the ones I highlighted were removed. Some long standing ones like in Nooklands Croft have now mainly gone (but not all).
I am likely to appeal the case. However, the clear message of the case is simply to do lots more applications for litter abatement orders, but avoid taking them to final hearing. I will, of course, consult with my constituents, but the early response is that they would like me to continue to fight the council on this issue.
Statement by Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in respect of UK Family Court case
statement shows that the Latvians are taking action in respect of a case in England. There is a conference in Prague tomorrow about the problems in England (such a conference would be in contempt of court here because it would talk about cases). Sadly as a result of the Russians pulling out of the Council of Europe the report into English family law has been held back. It remains, however, that international concerns about England continue.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.