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.