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Showing posts from February, 2006

First Dentist Deadline Tomorrow

The big test for the New NHS Dental Contract is how many dentists have signed their new contracts by the end of Tomorrow.

That is the only time we will really know how difficult things will be getting. The government have banned queues for NHS Dentists.

As it stands there are dentists willing to take on new NHS patients, but the PCTs don't have the budget for this.

Suspend the Standards Board not Ken Livingstone

The Standards Board (or strictly the Adjudication Panel for England) showed the reason why they need to be abolished when they threw london's regional government into a mess for a month.

The Standards Board fails to deal with the increasing corruption in public life, whilst undermining local government.

The system has clearly brought itself into disrepute and should be scrapped.

NHS Dentistry in Birmingham

After tonight's group meeting I attending the NHS Concern meeting about Dentistry.

It is a bit unfair on the local PCTs. The government are forcing them to use a new contract and limiting the budget they have (recent cuts of £19 million per year from expected figures). The end result is they have to try to defend the indefensible.

It was unusual to have a meeting about Dentistry. Birmingham has been well served with NHS Dentistry until now, but it looks like there will be problems in the new financial year.

Written Parliamentary Questions: 24th February 2006

Aviation Policy

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when the 2006 Aviation White Paper Progress Review will be published; whether it will include revised passenger forecasts to take account of the increased cost of oil; whether his Department will seek the views of (a) other Government departments and (b) external stakeholders on progress made; and whether it will include an assessment of the role reductions in aviation emissions will play in the target to cut overall emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050. (John Hemming)
A:The Department for Transport (DfT) expects to publish a Progress Report on the policies and proposals set out in the Air Transport White Paper (ATWP), by the end of 2006. Paragraph 12.29 of the Air Transport White Paper says that we will continue to regularly publish data on air travel and to update traffic forecasts in the light of trends. Movement in oil price is one of several explanatory factors in air transport forecasts.

The DfT is currently seeking the vi…

Labour Election Petition Struck Out

The good news is that Labour's Election petition in Aston against the Lib Dem by-election victors was "struck out" at 10am today.

What this means is that the Judges decided that even if Labour could prove the allegations that they had made that this would not have resulted in them winning an election petition.

The fact is that Labour's petition was merely a copy of the one I wrote without the Wyrlie incident. Not only that, but they haven't paid me a copyright fee.

Labour MPs fail to support Birmingham

Last week the government rattled sabres at Birmingham and said they would hold back £3 Million of NRF funding until a couple of tasks (which were underway and previously agreed, had been completed).

Two Labour MPs immediately slammed the City Council. The responsibility for these tasks lies with the BSP Programme Board which is chaired by David Cragg who is the regional Chief Executive of the Learning and Skills Council.

Firstly, the Labour MPs showed their lack of support for the city and willingness to merely accept that what the government had done was right.

Secondly, the Labour MPs showed their lack of knowledge as to who was actually responsible for this work - viz the report was signed off by David Cragg as BSP Programme Board Chair rather than myself.

I may be critical of David Cragg from time to time, but in this instance the government are entirely wrong. He has done exactly what he was required to do by Government Office West Midlands and the government should rescind their d…

Hemming endorses Campbell

The West Midlands Hustings for Lib Dem Leader were yesterday. I would be happy if any of the three candidates won. However, in a finally balanced decision I have decided to endorse Ming Campbell.

There were two particular parts of his speech which were clearly distinct from the other two candidates.

Firstly, he made it clear that we should be a campaigning party raising issues from a local to national level.

Secondly, he talked about the 1.6 Million families waiting for housing and the 700,000 empty homes.

Compared to Chris Huhne, Ming was clearer about the need to be sensitive in the way in which resource taxation is applied. People will know that I see the practical limits to resource consumption being the availability of resources. Within the context of that debate how one rations out the availability of resources becomes a complex decision that needs to be thought through carefully.

We are not clones of the leader of the party. Party policy will continue to be determined by the par…

Health finance - overpayments and cuts

I have two answers from the Secretary of State for Health. One shows they have overpaid for some pharmaceuticals by some hundreds of millions of pounds. The other says they will tell me what the cuts to PCTs are soon.

They have the figures to hand on the PCTs so giving a holding answer (just before the half term recess) shows that they are quite sensitive about this.

East Wakefield suffers cuts of around £10 Million and many other PCTS suffer cuts around the same order of magnitude as Birmingham.

What I have been unable to find out so far is what the aggregate national figure is.

Still if I have found a few hundreds of millions for the NHS from drug overpayments, can we have a bit for Birmingham.

The answer of pharmaceuticals is quite clever because it provides a lot of the information, but not exactly that which is needed to work out the overpayment. They have a real challenge here to work out what they are doing about the previous overpayments which would normally be clawed back.

Written Parliamentary Questions: 17th February 2006

Dentistry

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many NHS dentists there are in each primary care trust area; and what net change in the number of dentists in each primary care trust area the Government expects as a result of the implementation of the new NHS dental contract. (John Hemming)
A:Information on the number of dentists in each primary care trust(PCT) has been placed in the Library.

The Department has not made a specific assessment of any changes arising from the new dental contract. From April 2006, PCTs will have devolved responsibility for the commissioning of primary dental services. This means that they will be responsible for commissioning dental services to reflect the needs of their local areas. All dentists currently practising in the general dental services and personal dental services are legally entitled to new contracts. If any dentists choose not to take up the new contract, PCTs will use the funding in their devolved budgets to re-commission services fro…

Smoking Rooms - a Liberal Alternative (2)

I link to the debate in which I spoke for a short time (having been requested by the Speaker to keep it short).

The key facts are:
a) Smoking generally is going down
b) The Evidence from Ireland is:
- i) as a result of the ban smoking went down by an additional one off about 5%
- ii) people now smoke outside pubs or at home more than they used to
c) Secondary smoke is dangerous although not as dangerous as primary smoking.
d) 95% of deaths attribted to secondary smoke arise from smoke in the home.

The House of Commons has accepted that workers may be exposed to the level of smoke they encounter in outdoor areas.

The effect of the ban (which I voted for) is that smoking will move into homes and onto the streets. That which moves into homes will cause more deaths from passive smoking in the home and at least of the order of deaths that are reduced as a result of smoke-free bars.

If, and this does need to be proven, a ventilated smoking room can have a concentration of smoke of the order of…

Written Parliamentary Question: 14th February 2006

Private Finance Initiative

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the total capital sum is of each of the private finance initiative schemes over £10 million (a) in operation and (b) where the outline business case has been approved for which her Department is responsible; and what the (i) total optimism bias percentage, (ii) net value at commencement and (iii) amount of optimism bias for the public sector comparator is in respect of each scheme.(John Hemming)
A:Table 1 shows the capital value for all private finance initiative schemes over £10 million which are open. Table 2 shows the capital value for private finance initiative schemes which have reached financial close with work started on site or have advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union. All these schemes have an approved outlined business case.

The requirement to make explicit quantified adjustments for optimism bias in business cases, complementing the risk analysis already undertaken, was announced b…

PFI: Government Hiding Figures

I suppose it was too much to hope that the government would give a straight answer to a straight question. Tom will post the response from the government about optimism bias. We will, of course, continue working to get the true picture about the fiddle factors that have been used for PFI.

The link is to the guardian's section about PFI. They are reasonably accurate, but do tend to mix up annual and accumulated deficits.

In the mean time I am hearing rumours that local authorities are resorting to the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about their funding. One would have hoped that ODPM would merely "fess up" and explain the basis of their calculations, but that does seem to be not their approach for the moment.

The Information Commissioner has started looking at my case where the Chancellor refused to provide the basis of his calculations. What the outcome will be is not as yet clear.

Fiona MacTaggart's answer yesterday to a question I asked about the over …

Shoplifting Quota £49.99 per year

A report in today's Birmingham Mail indicates that if someone shoplifts less than £50 they will only get a caution if either it is the first offence during a year or otherwise the first offence.

This shows the problems with cautions. If we are serious about trying to get someone off an addiction for cocaine and/or heroin then we should be looking at treatment orders for possession. Cautions should only be used when it seems quite clear that the offender is unlikely to offend again.

With shoplifting we should be looking for some form of non-custodial sentance rather than merely saying it does not matter. The consequences of the current system is that there are thresholds below which "the system" does not care.

I do not hold either the CPS or the Police reponsible for this. This is driven by Home Office targets and guidelines. It is that which needs to change.

Dunfermline and Birmingham

The excellent result in Dunfermline shows that we are making further progress against Labour. In Birmingham that is good news for the Lib Dems in Yardley, Hodge Hill, Hall Green, Ladywood and Perry Barr each of which is a clear Lib Dem/Labour battleground.

Written Parliamentary Questions: 9th February 2006

Nuclear Fuels

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what nuclear fuels have been consumed in the UK in each of the last three years; and how many tonnes of each type of fuel were consumed in each of those years. (John Hemming)
A:British Nuclear Fuel and British Energy have informed me that their generating reactors have used the following volumes of Uranium over the last three-year period for which figures are available:

BNFL Tonnes uranium
2003 423.557
2004 354.489
2005 408.260
British Energy Tonne uranium
2002 267
2003 269
2004 212
(Malcolm Wicks, Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry)

Nuclear Fuels

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many tonnes of nuclear fuel were imported into the UK in the latest year for which records are available, broken down by country of export.(John Hemming)
A:Spent nuclear fuel is imported into the UK for reprocessing services. The precise details of deliveries from individual customers are commercial…

Sudden Cuts in PCT Budget Plans

The Government have suddenly announced that they intend reducing the planned budget for PCTs in Birmingham and Solihull by £18,931,000 in 2006/7, £28,395,000 in 2007/8 and £37,862,000.

This has been announced internally at the last minute and will result in a lengthening of waiting times for Medical Treatment in Birmingham.

I raised the issue calling for an extended debate on this as distinct to the issue of dental treatment at Business Questions today. There will be a health service debate next week at which I will try to raise these issues which are national issues that hit hard in Birmingham.

The Sinn Fein Votes

There were two votes yesterday on a Free Vote. As they were on a Free Vote I feel I should explain my logic for voting as I did.

A report from the Independent Monitoring Commission initially called for a suspension of the members allowances for the MPs that don't take their seats in the house of commons. (Sinn Fein). This same group concluded recently that matters had changed and hence the allowances should be restored. These allowances are mainly used to support constituents.

Additionally the government proposed that SF be given a sum of money equivalent to the "Short Money" that is used to fund parties' research into policy matters on legislation. Given that SF do not attend the House they do not get involved in these matters in the same way. Hence this equates moreso to a bung than a source of finance to support their work on legislation.

Motion 3 was to provide the Short Money equivalent - I voted against.
Motion 4 was to reinstate the constituency allowance - …

Jobs, Cars, Houses and The Weather

This morning I met with the accountants investigating the saga of MG Rover. That was an interesting discussion and I will be interested to find out what their conclusions are in months to come. Clearly manufacturing is suffering we have 1,300 redundancies at Lode Lane and also in phone canvassing in Dunfermline there are issues with redundancies there.

I am not sure that the government fully recognise the damage they have done to the British Economy. We are turning into an economy dependent on oil finance at the same time as starting to import oil. This is not a sustainable position.

After PMQ where I missed being called by a hairsbreadth I went to the Housing lobby at Methodist Central Hall. I met up with the Housing Team from Birmingham who have explained how we are working on housing issues.

Housing remains a substantial problem with an underlying shortage of properties available that are affordable. I think the government are wrong to assume that everyone can buy a property. …

Written Parliamentary Questions: 8th February 2006

Special Advisors (DoH)

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will list the special advisers in post in her Department, broken down by pay band; and what the total budgeted cost to her Department of special advisers is for 2005–06. (John Hemming)
A:Since 2003, the Government have published on an annual basis the names and overall cost of special advisers and the number in each pay band. For the most recent information, I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister on 21 July 2005, Official Report, columns 158–62WS.

Information on the numbers of special advisers prior to 2003 was provided at regular intervals and this information will be available in the Library.

Information relating to costs for 2005–06 will be published after the end of the current financial year. (Jane Kennedy, Minister of State (Quality and Patient Safety), Department of Health)

Passport Services

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many pass…

Written Parliamentary Questions: 7th February 2006

Predictive Diallers (DoH)

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many calls were made from call centres in her Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment she has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres.(John Hemming)
A:The Department has a single call centre, part of a customer service directorate. This centre does not use predictive dialling. (Jane Kennedy, Minister of State (Quality and Patient Safety), Department of Health)

Fuel Duty

Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the level of fuel duty for a liquid fuel produced from (a) biomass and (b) waste cooking oil that is (i) diesel quality and (ii) not diesel quality. (John Hemming)
A:I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him on 15 December 2005, Official Report, column 2265W. (…

Passport Office for Birmingham

In all of the work I have been doing to get the rules for passport photos simplified it has been pointed out that a Passport Office for the Midlands would be helpful. At the moment you need to go to London, Peterborough or Newport. With all the hassles getting passports now it strikes me that an office based in Birmingham would be really helpful.

Consultancy Fees and Malicious Falsehood

Something like 18 months after Labour ex-Councillor Tony Kennedy pushed Jim Pendleton into a wall at the Prince of Wales pub in Moseley the Judge has now produced a judgement in the "Malicious Falsehood" case brought against Lib Dem Councillor Martin Mullaney for sending an email saying "Tony Kennedy is going to be Arrested."

As a sort of Small Claims version of Libel none of the outcome is particularly surprising. In this instance Martin gets costs of £60 rather than the £6000 or so he should be due for the amount of work done. Jim Pendleton also gets £50 for loss of earnings.

The case has had its surreal moments like when the Chief Executive of the Pub Chain was suppoenaed to stand as a witness - as if he was there on the night.

A key part of today's press report which has more impact than a row in a pub is the following:
[Mr Kennedy] maintained ... attempts to set up as new business as an independent consultant to developers suffered.
Mr Kennedy said a number o…

Health Minister - "In Denial"

There seems to be getting to be a pattern of Ministers denying that they are responsible for Silent Calls. First we had the Chancellor saying "The Treasury Does not use predictive dialling". OK so that was a true statement, but it ignored the fact that the Inland Revenue made hundreds of thousands of Silent Calls.

Now we have the health minister claiming that that department is not responsible for phone nuisance. The National Blood Service, however, does make silent calls (about 80,000 a year). All we are asking them to do is to provide a recorded message to stop the anxiety.

It may be that the National Blood Service is not part of the Department of Health and hence the Minister's answer was right, but this does seem to be pushing the boundaries of "answering" questions.

Q:Why did George Vote? A:He had a fe(e)-line whip

I have now heard this joke twice. The votes yesterday were on the details of what should be unlawful. I am always worried about laws where people break the law when they did not intend to.

The problem with the government's approach on Religious Hatred is that they approached it much like breaking the speed limit. With the Speed Limit is entirely fair to have a strict liability rule although that should only apply when the speed limit is obvious.

If, however, you are going to lock people up for being unintentionally abusive or insulting then I think that is clearly going too far. I understand a considerable amount about different cultures, but many people don't. Certain statements can really jar and act as being abusive or insulting without the person saying it being aware at all.

If you start going down that route you are really making government take control over the minutae of people's lives.

I have accepted (and demonstrated by 3rd reading support) the principle that…