Middle East: Rome Statute needs strengthening (Gaza)
The Rome Statute is the founding document for the International Criminal Court. It is the ICC which enforces International Humanitarian Law.
Because the USA and Israel have not ratified the Rome Statute it does not have any enforcibility in terms of the behaviour of those two nations.
In the long term we need to strengthen the Rome Statute. As far as Europe is concerned a pre-condition for membership of Europe wide bodies should be ratification of the Rome Statute.
This should apply to bodies such as the European Broadcasting Union. Frankly I do not think it is reasonable for a country to be allowed to participate in things like the Eurovision song contest whilst refusing to be accountable for war crimes.
Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP)
I thought it was worthwhile putting a post on my blog that looks at the votes relating to this particular bill (during some of which votes I have rebelled and during others of which I have not).
Firstly there is a statutory instrument:
This is The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 No. 859
under this SI phone companies are required to hold certain information about phone calls and ISPs are supposed to keep track of who has what IP address. Obviously this has been in place since 2009 and prior to that date other rules existed as to recording certain information relating to calls and internet access.
Obviously there are advantages to law enforcement in being able to get information about particular accounts and phone calls. This was, in fact, used as part of the Aston Election Petition back in 2005 so although I don't know precisely what information was retained prior to 2009 it is clear that some information was.
All of this information is retained under the European Communities Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC. A legal case from Ireland to the European Court of Justice had the above directive declared invalid on 8th April 2014. That does not necessarily mean that the SI 2009/859 is invalid, but it creates a significant doubt that needs to be resolved.
The key thing done by DRIP is to enable the government to pass another statutory instrument to reinforce 2009/859. The proposed additional SI is on my website here:
I have, however, a number of concerns.
Firstly, I was unhappy that what was emergency legislation was drafted to last 2 1/2 years. I have sponsored an amendment tabled by Tom Watson to reduce this period to 6 months. I, therefore, voted against the timetabling motion (programme motion) because of the rushed timescale of consideration.
Secondly, I am concerned that the bill enables the government to do further things which I would not agree with. The government may not do that. Indeed to do it they would need a motion through the house of commons. However, there are real difficulties with a bill that is getting so little consideration by the nation.
Hence although in principle I agree that something should be done (which is why I voted for the bill at second reading) this is not the right something. I voted for the amendment to the sunset clause and when that failed I voted against the bill on the third reading. I am likely to vote for the statutory instrument, however.
I have been asked what actions I have taken recently in respect of the dispute in the middle east.
I wrote to the Secretary of State on 2nd July concerned about the disproportionate response of the Israeli Government to the murders of three Israeli youths.
I issued a public statement at the demonstration in the City Centre on Friday 15th July.
"Collective punishment was one of the more reviled
acts of the Nazis in the second world war. If we wish to bring greater peace in
the world then we need to avoid escalating disputes between groups of people.
The use of techniques which are akin to collective punishment are not a step in
the direction of peace and should be condemned as against international
humanitarian law (Rule 103)."
I spoke at a meeting on Saturday 16th July. I explained at that meeting that the murder of innocents was not on the pathway to peace as it increased anger.
I have also signed a number of Early Day Motions relevant to the issues in recent weeks.
That this House regards Israel's latest attack on the Gaza Strip, Operation Protective Edge, as a disproportionate escalation of violence against Palestinians; notes that since the end of Operation Cast Lead on 19 January 2009 Israel has killed 490 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; calls for an immediate end to Israeli military strikes against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and military incursions into Palestinian population centres in the West Bank, both of which constitute collective punishment and are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; calls for an immediate end to retaliatory rocket attacks from Gaza; and urges Israel as the occupying power to de-escalate the conflict.
That this House notes that once again Palestine's Gaza region has come under attack by the Israeli Defence Force; further notes that in this wholly unequal cycle of violence 490 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israel since the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and three Israelis; further notes that in this current attack Defence 4 Children International Palestine report that eight children have been killed and Palestinian writer and health worker, Mona Elfarra, reports the, not unusual, targeting of health centres including the European Hospital East of Khan Younis where many were both suffering and sheltering; and calls on the Government to do everything within its power to bring about an end to the collective punishment of Palestinans and the occupation that is a virtual death sentence for them.
That this House notes with concern that, despite being a clear and egregious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel recently announced that it will return to a policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinians suspected and convicted of involvement in terrorism and other violence; deplores and denounces the decision of the Netanyahu-led government in Israel for resuming this questionable practice which human rights group B'Tselem has stated harms only innocents and not the accused; further notes that in 2005 an Israeli military report concluded that the policy of punitive home demolitions did not act as an effective deterrent against terrorism; affirms Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that the destruction of private property is permitted only where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations; believes that the demolition of homes of innocent family members of people accused of crimes constitutes collective punishment; further believes that Israeli government statements on this matter exposes the absence of the rule of law under Israel's occupation and that revenge, demonisation and absolute disregard for the lives and rights of the Palestinians under its control now defines Israeli activities in the occupied Palestinian Territories; urges the Government to condemn Israel's actions as cruel, inhumane and a degrading punishment; calls for urgent action to be taken to oppose these policies; and further calls on the Government to pressure the State of Israel and ensure accountability for any violations that occur as a result of its renewal of demolitions.
That this House calls for the immediate release of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, aged 19, Gilad Shaar, aged 16 and Naftali Frenkel, aged 16, who were abducted whilst hitchhiking in the West Bank on 12 June 2014; supports the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs' strong condemnation of the kidnapping; notes the probable involvement of the Hamas organisation in this despicable terrorist act; and calls on the Government to continue to do all it can to help secure the release of the teenagers.
Back in the 2012 session i signed EDM 502
That this House supports recognition by the UN of Palestine as a state alongside the state of Israel.
I signed another EDM 254 on 22nd July http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/284
That this House notes the widespread cross-party questioning of Israel's wholly disproportionate and brutal attack on the Palestinian people of Gaza as expressed in the Chamber on 21 July 2014; further notes that thousands of people marched in protest in London at this attack on 19 July 2014; further notes that an even greater number will attend another demonstration on 26 July 2014; further notes the Gaza weekend death toll of more than 150 Palestinians with a disproportionate number of women and children; further notes the repetitive Israeli media spin about targeting militants; acknowledges the strength of character of Palestinians and their medical workers including Dr Mads Gilbert who describes the situation vividly, 'the rivers of blood will keep running the coming night' and who calls upon leaders to spend 'just one night' in Gaza which would 'change history'; and calls on the Government to do everything in its power to end the slaughter of the Palestinian people.
I also signed the PSC Letter presented on 25th July
The disappearance of children from Care and the CSA inquiry
I did an interview on BBC world at one yesterday
about the general discussion about the abuse of children in the care system. There are many stories about Elm Guest House
. However, I have been concentrating on more recent issues. There remain survivors of what has happened in the past. These people have been ignored for many years, but more recently they have been listened to. To me it is very important not only to deal with what happened in the past, but also to look at what is happening today.
A point that has not been looked properly at is the disappearance of children from Care. We had the recent reports from Ireland about the deaths of children being concealed. I believe that this also happened at Haut de la Garenne. To me it seems quite straightforward that if we are sufficiently concerned about money that we should count the money and audit it, we should also count the children and audit what happens to them.
Even today children are disappearing from care for various reasons. Some are trafficked. I find it odd that the government won't modify the SSDA903 return codes in order both to count the numbers of children and the reasons they leave care (normally today reported as - for other reasons), but also to then audit that.
I don't think the problems today are as severe as they were in the 1980s. There are estimates that 1 in 7 of children in care in the 70s and 80s were abused whilst in care. Books such as Forgotten Children
look at this in more detail. It does remain, however, that a recent study revealed a continuing high level of abuse in care
We also have child sexual exploitation which includes mainly children in care.
The care system is scrutinised through the family courts which remain substantially themselves unaccountable. The government propose putting an erstwhile president of the Family Division who have in part presided over this debacle in charge of the enquiry. In essence she is being asked to mark her and her judicial colleagues' own homework. I personally don't think that is a good idea.
What is worst is that many of the children placed in care need not have been in care. Those in Rochdale who were put in care because of the satanic abuse scandal were then abused purely as a result of state action.
Obviously we need a child protection system. However, really it should be one that does a better job than this.
Fiscal policy - the smoking gun
spreadsheet is part of the 2013 Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis. In this you can see the lid being taken off public spending in fact in 2001. This was reasonable up to a point, but it then resulted in increases in spending that were far too optimistic (in terms of GDP) and resulted in our financial problems being at the higher end of countries in Europe rather than the middle or lower end.
I would like to thank Lord Turnbull for highlighting this for me.
He makes the analytical point:
"What is unusual about 2000-01 to 2007-08 is that public spending as a proportion of GDP rose in a period of upswing. In earlier recoveries eg after 1983-84 and after 1991-92 public expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell as growth outstripped spending, reversing the opposite of the downturn."
"Trojan Horse" - a summary
We now have the publication of most of inquiries and inspections relating to Trojan Horse. There will be more reports, but not so much into individual schools.
It is important to remember where this started. There was the trojan horse document and then Khalid Mahmood MP said: ‘There has been a serious bid to take over most of the schools in the east and south of the city.’
There are, of course, a lot more schools than the 21 that were inspected. The real challenge in this is the use of the word "extremist". That is normally taken to be someone who is supportive of terrorism rather than someone who does not like tombolas because they are gambling.
The idea that there was effectively a terrorist style plot to take over schools was always a nonsense. It has now been solidly disproven. I don't personally think it was a good idea to put a terrorism expert into running the investigation as it semi confirmed the allegation. An allegation that was always untrue and for which there was no evidence.
The national association of head teachers have been much more temperate than the government and it is worth reading what they say on their website. They published another statement yesterday here.
It is worth reading their statement (not someone else's reporting of their statement) in full. However, I will extract part of their recommendations:
“We also need to learn longer term lessons: we need a confidential route for staff to raise concerns; a clearer statement of the basic entitlement of pupils; a more coherent mechanism to investigate allegations than we have seen in recent weeks; and resources to raise awareness and train staff and governors in the Prevent strategy.
There are general problems with Academies which appear in the relationship between Head Teachers and the Governors. There is nothing new with this, but the self selecting nature of governing bodies exacerbates this. There needs to be a way of dealing with this that falls short of the nuclear option of taking a school off an educational trust. That will enable issues to be dealt with before they get too bad.
In terms of the schools in Yardley I believe that Golden Hillock has been treated unfairly. However, there are problems at Oldknow (see my statement) and I would hope that the Principal returns to her post. It was always nonsense to say that there were any problems at Ninestiles.
Of the 4 schools of the 21 that have letters from the DfE (Lord Nash) about funding. Two (Parkview and Nansen) have been told that the intention is to remove funding and two (Golden Hillock and Oldknow) have been told to take "prompt" actions to improve the situation.
Statement re: Oldknow Academy
The situation with Oldknow Academy is different in the detail to that with Golden Hillock. There remains, however, the more general problem of tarring everyone (particularly Muslims) with the same brush.
It is not unusual for there to be a falling out between the Head of a school and the Chair of Governors. This has happened in Oldknow Academy. Also there have been things that have gone on that I do not think are right. In particular the celebration of religions other than Islam were downgraded by the school (referred to publicly as the cancellation of Christmas).
As I said with Golden Hillock: "To me it is very important that there are no secrets in any UK schools. Schools also need to provide a broad British education."
What did happen with Oldknow Academy is that a number of parents, all of whom are Muslim, were complaining about the curriculum being narrowed and the school offering a less than broad education. I do think they have a point that needs to be looked at. It is, however, important to note that at least one of those parents has now been appointed to the Governing Body. Hence it is obvious to any independent observer that you should not consider the Governing Body in any homogenous manner.
Although I do know about the details of the dispute between the Head and the Chair of Governors I am not going to comment about this. That is because the dispute still needs to be resolved and me commenting would not assist with resolving this.
To me one of the ways forward for the school would involve the return of the head to being in day to day control of the school. I have tried to mediate to acheive this, but have sadly not made any progress with this.
I do have a criticism of the Governing Body in that I did ask a question about a particular presentation at the school Assembly, but they have not as yet answered the question. The criticisms of the parents also need to be responded to in a formal manner.
Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers said recently:
“This confusion makes it quite clear to us that we lack an appropriate mechanism for dealing with such allegations."
I agree with him that the mechanism has not been good for dealing with the allegations. It remains to be seen what the other enquiries come up with. In the end it is the children that need to be our priority.
Statement re Golden Hillock Academy
Golden Hillock Academy is in my constituency. To me it is very important that there are no secrets in any UK schools. Schools also need to provide a broad British education. I am unhappy with Tristram Hunt pointing the finger of Muslim Extremism at the Head of Golden Hillock and the Chair of Governors at Golden Hillock.
The Head happens to be a Sikh. Tristram Hunt may not understand this, but Sikhs are not Muslims. The Chair of Governors (Mohammed Shafique) is someone I have known for over 15 years. He is not an extremist. He has at times been and may still be the Chairman of the Sparkbrook Ward Labour Party. [Sparkbrook is the ward on the other side of Golden Hillock Road outside my constituency.]
It is difficult commenting on leaked reports particularly as I don't have a copy of the report. I did ask the school to tell the staff body that they had legal protection in talking to the local MP as I was told some staff members were frightened to talk to me. The school did do that and also placed a copy of a briefing from the House of Commons Library in the Staff Room. I have communicated with some of the staff.
There have been questions raised about management styles, but this is not unusual in any employment situation and that does not justify the finger pointing about extremism.
The allegations made (about a number of schools not just Golden Hillock) have been tarring a large number of people with the same brush of extremism. We need to look at any allegations calmly and consider the details. There are things that have happened (such as the downgrading of Christmas and other festivals - not at Golden Hillock as far as I know) that I am unhappy about. However, national politicians such as Tristram Hunt should try engaging brain before opening mouth. It does help.
I would be surprised if any number of schools have an "anti extremism policy". It goes without being said really. If Golden Hillock are to be failed for this reason then the same rule should be applied to all other schools.
Evidence of postal vote fraud
This was in 2014. More details coming when I get them.
Labour's 2/3rds claim
The above is an extract from a comment used on a number of Labour leaflets. It indicates that the money that Birmingham has available to spend has been cut by 2/3rds.
I have asked Sir Albert Bore to explain where this figure comes from. The spending power of birmingham in the current year was cut by under 6% not over 60%.
Speech from March 2014 about National Finance
is the debate in Hansard.
It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, but in one sense that is wrong. Dealing with Government finance and the economy takes multiple years, so the problem that we had in 2010 will take at least eight years to resolve. People who interview me every so often say, “Oh, we have more cuts this year,” but those decisions were made in 2010 and they were driven by Government policy in the previous years.
I shall quote a few comments about Government policy from 2005 to 2010 because they are relevant to this debate and the issue of budget responsibility in the long term. One person said in his memoirs:
“However, we should also accept that from 2005 onwards Labour was insufficiently vigorous in limiting or eliminating the potential structural deficit.”
That was Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister at the time.
Lord Turnbull, who at one stage was the Cabinet Secretary, the chief civil servant, noted that excessive borrowing started to be a problem from 2005. He said:
“It kind of crept up on us in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and we were still expanding public spending at 4.5 percent a year”.
His argument, essentially, was that the Labour Government should have been aiming to put money aside in the good years. He cited examples of other places that began to accumulate surpluses for a rainy day—places such as Australia.
The Government were borrowing £2,500 on behalf of every person in the country so that, in effect, a baby would have borrowed £45,000 by the time it reached the age of 18. That had to be brought under control, but it cannot be done immediately. It is important that we properly manage Government finances. If anyone can be bothered to read the Charter for Budget Responsibility March 2014 update, they will find on page 10 that if the welfare cap is found to be breached, there are three options, one of which is to
“explain why a breach of the welfare cap is considered justified.”
Members can vote against the motion only if they do not believe in the Government managing and knowing what they are doing. I would be worried if there was a scheme whereby somebody came and said, “I need benefits. I’ve got no money,” and the Government said, “We’ve run out of money. We have no money to give you jobseeker’s allowance.” People will still have entitlements, but if we spend more than we intend to spend, the Minister will, as an absolute minimum, have to explain why.
I worry still about how the Government manage finances. I have asked questions, for example, on tax credits, to try to work out how many effectively fraudulent self-employed schemes there are, often run by people who are recent migrants. People set up nonsense scrap metal businesses that exist not as businesses, but to qualify for tax credits, but the Government cannot give that information. That is bad. We should be able to analyse the figures.
We need a good benefits system that ensures that there is a solid and straightforward safety net so that if people end up in difficulty, there is a way of rescuing them and keeping them from destitution. However, to argue that we should not try to manage the total costs is nonsense. Hence, I am not surprised that the official Opposition are backing the motion. Anyone who believes in having the money available to look after people believes in managing the accounts and knowing what is happening, and if we spend more than we expect, as an absolute minimum the Minister should explain why.
Labour face trial of green waste policy on 11th June
I received an email from the court indicating that the trial into the Labour Party's policy of leaving the city in a mess (apart from the odd clear up) will be on 11th June.
It will be interesting to see if they concede the point now that they have done one rather erratic clear up.
Many constituents have contacted me asking for a refund as well.
Council Budget figures (why Labour's leaflets are misleading - Green Waste and Cuts)
The Labour Party have made many claims about how much money is being cut from Birmingham's budgets. They are doing this to justify their prioritisation of cutting the green waste collection. It happens to be that Solihull spends in total around £700 per annum less per dwelling, but still provides a free green waste service (one bin - they charge for a second bin)
However, these are the figures in total (in £million) including the forecasts. It is important to remember that Labour nationally are committed to the 15/16 figure and have said they will make further cuts if they come into government (although the cuts may not be the same)
I have in front of me a Labour leaflet claiming the total cuts are two thirds.
I don't see that from the quoted figures below.
Net Budgets 2011/12 onwards
based on 2014+ LTFP
The big shift in grant last year is a different treatment of financing council tax benefit where the support previously given is included in the basic grant.
Additionally the council has a budget head of "savings not achieved". It would be very simple to allocate these funds to the green waste collection. In fact the saving in terms of not having to collect fly tipping would assist.
Green Waste and Legal Issues
The campaign to clean up Birmingham will not be resolved quickly. The City Council are continuing to refuse to clear refuse more generally although there are reports that secret instructions have been given to do a specific clear up following my application to court.
The application I made to the court on Thursday is specifically about 18 dumps of green waste. One of those was cleared on the day. Some have been there since before 24th April.
This is a specific form of legal action that is allowed under S91 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Taking legal action against public authorities is risky because of the potential to be hit by their costs. However, the rules on rubbish and litter are that the council pays the costs if the litter is there when the application is made (which we have photographic evidence of for 17 of the sites).
Ireland and Spain
can be found a report on Irish TV about the numbers of people going from the UK to ireland (which I don't recommend) - 48 last year.
This is a report from Emily Sparkes, a mother in Spain
Mark and Kerry McDougall (and family)
Mark and Kerry's story has been told in various places. They are now living in Scotland having left Fife because the local authority said Kerry did not have the capacity to marry Mark and look after their son. They now have two children.
Council Candidates 2014
What I find interesting about the 2014 candidates is that only three parties have a full slate. Even though UKIP have quite a high poll share, they are not fighting all 40 wards. The Greens have gone down in terms of numbers of candidates. There are two "anti austerity" parties the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition and the Communities against Cuts, that a fighting a small number of seats.
The full details are on the council website. Respect are not fighting anything. There are very few BNP and no NF candidates.
I think the UKIP issue is probably related to the de-selection of Mike Natrass - which seemed an odd decision to me as he was one of the more sane members of UKIP.
The big issue of the local elections is the Labour Party incompetence in terms of managing the authority within the context of limited resources. They like to blame the government, but if Labour were in government there would still be further cuts in future years.
Costs awarded against volunteer advisors
story in the Sunday Telegraph is a very important issue.
Basically for voluntarily assisting someone to challenge the state some advisors have been hit with a costs bill. It has been done on a sneaky way which allowed them to challenge the award of costs, but only at the risk of paying more costs if they lose. In fact I believe this is against the practise direction in respect of costs which requires someone to be given notice and allowed to challenge it at the hearing where the decision is made.
I had a similar thing happen to me when I tried to find out what had happened to Matthew Hawkesworth. An application had been made for judicial review through a limited company (Justice for Families Limited), but they awarded some costs against me personally. That was also done not in accordance with the practise direction.
I do now have the french copy of a court order which confirms that the french (as well as the Italian) judiciary see the actions in the UK as being unlawful. It appears that the Portuguese have won a case getting children taken to Portugal.
It is important to note that volunteer legal advisors have won cases taken to appeal in the family, civil and criminal courts. Hence to introduce a costs threat against people who do work pro-bono is completely wrong.
The reason it threatens the rule of law is that there needs to be some form of appellate system. Many of the cases that have won appeals that I have helped with would not have had legal aid under any of the systems of rules that have existed since 2005. (I don't know enough about the rules before then).
Trojan Horse and Today's Arrests
There are a number of people who believe (on the balance of probabilities) that it is likely the Trojan Horse document is fabricated. I am one of them. At least today's arrests will give some opportunity of working out whether it is or isn't. My own view is that it has been fabricated for a particular purpose, but discussion of that purpose is potentially sub judice so I won't comment.
It remains, however, that Khalid Mahmood MP has made allegations and some 200 other people have made allegations. There are also press reports which seem to me to be at times unfair. However, I am continuing to do research where it affects schools in my constituency. Clearly there are also some issues to look at.
It is right to have investigations. However, it also appears that Ofsted are inclined to a "shoot first and ask questions later" policy. I don't think that is helpful. Then again I am not a great fan of how Ofsted operate. It also wasn't sensible to bring in an anti-terrorism expert as the Chief Constable has said.
A constituent of mine has written the following poem:
I wanted to do something good
society and community
I became a school
It was not a paid role, and my childcare was
Life was busy and the meetings were at awkward
But I did it for no thanks, to make a difference to
the lives of children
Standards were poor. I saw racism,
questioned. Always gently
But was suspiciously
I wanted to give the children a
At education, employment, life
All children, of all
creeds and colours
Because I thanked God for the chances my children
I tried to fulfil the governorship I was entrusted
Then they called in
a counter-terrorism expert to investigate
OECD report including data on food poverty
This is an interesting table about comparative food poverty between countries. It does not allow us to be complacent about what is an important issue, but it does argue a different case to the conventional narrative:
Cinderella Act is seriously flawed
is an article I wrote in the Sunday Express which is published today.
By this it does not mean banning girls from marrying princes but is talking about criminalising “emotional abuse”.
We are told it is a contender for the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.
There is no question that there can be situations where children are traumatised by the way they have been treated but the Government does need to think through the details before enacting this law because this is one of the most complex subjects we face.
Where and how do we draw the line and on to whom should we place responsibility?
Let me assure you of this: you would not want your family sucked into the murky and sometimes nightmare social care system based on vague definitions.
I have spent many years campaigning in this area with Justice for Families.
I have seen appalling miscarriages of justice where troubled families are ripped apart by social workers and court-appointed experts claiming that children have been emotionally abused.
The consequences of such interventions are horrific for all involved. There are good outcomes but there are nuances.
Some of the most traumatised children are those who have reactive attachment disorder, which means they have trouble forming a bond with their primary carer.
Very often these children have been taken into care when very young and end up adopted before the age of five.
When they get into their teens there can then be all sorts of problems and they often end up back in care.
These children have clearly been emotionally abused but who is responsible?
Is it the mother?
Is it the local authority for moving them around from foster carer to foster carer or is it the adoptive family?
ONE THING you can be certain about local authorities’ children’s services is that they avoid accepting responsibility.
I have encountered numerous adoptive families who have been caring for traumatised children with no support from their local authority.
Very often the local authority puts all its effort into blaming the adoptive family and it has vast sums of taxpayers’ money and tame experts who will back it.
If the Government starts looking for someone to prosecute when this happens you can bet your bottom dollar that it will not be the local authority.
The proposed law would have implications for those families willing to adopt.
Would you be willing to adopt if you might be liable to criminal investigation for the emotional abuse of a troubled child?
The argument of “emotional abuse” and “risk of future emotional abuse” is often used in the care system when there has been a history of domestic violence.
It is undoubtedly the case that children can suffer emotionally when they witness conflict between their parents.
However domestic violence is already illegal and anyone perpetrating domestic abuse can be prosecuted.
Campaign group Action for Children’s proposal for a change to the law defines emotional abuse as “including exposing the child to violence against others in the same household”.
This would mean a domestic violence victim can be held liable for emotional abuse of the child. What kind of justice is that?
Rape victims and victims of domestic abuse are already finding this used as a reason for taking children into care.
There have been protests recently outside the Royal Courts of Justice about the unfairness of removing a rape victim’s children and putting them up for adoption.
Campaign groups such as Women Against Rape have been highlighting the unfairness of punishing victims but it is only a short step towards blaming the victim for a child’s emotional abuse.
This is already done in a secret court in care proceedings and does not take much to move it forward to the criminal court.
This is an area in which the views of experts will be key.
Many experts know that they have to keep local authorities on their side.
Hence we should not be surprised if those experts decide that they wish to point the finger at parents.
Another group of parents who are concerned about this proposal are those who have autistic children.
Given the costs of special needs education it is easier for councils to blame the parents, claiming the way they have treated their child has caused it to be autistic.
USING the criminal law in situations like this is something that needs to be done subtly and in a way in which it is very clear as to who is to blame for a clearly identifiable harm.
There are many family disputes that occur at the moment.
However using the criminal law to deal with such disputes is likely to make the disputes worse.
We already have a very aggressive child protection system but at the same time the system is not good at protecting children from abuse and neglect.
Often people explain to me how the arrogance of children’s services means that the local authority workers are unwilling to co-operate or understand.
This is particularly difficult for adoptive families who are often on the end of expensive campaigns by the local authority to blame them for all the ills of its adoptive children.
I accept that the law is out of date and that replacing the word “wilful” with “reckless” has merit.
However given the many cases that go wrong in the family courts and the way that local authorities always blame the parents this law needs a detailed rethink.
MW v Hertfordshire County Council
case is an example of the judiciary seeing through the nonsense so often spouted by local authorities and their friends in cafcass. Sadly, it is a rare example.
Historic Birmingham Maps
Thanks to Wendy Pearson. The boundary changes of 2005 ignored the boundaries of 699. (Hwicca/Mercia). These maps, however, are more recent (than 699).
European Parliament Petitions
In The Telegraph, Christopher Booker reports
on the mass petitioning of the European Parliament about state sponsored child stealing in the UK.
This week, for example, a Portuguese Family involved in that protest were arrested. Their case has been widely reported in the Portuguese media including the English Speaking Portuguese Media such as This Story
in "Portuguese Resident. On Wednesday night a South Korean Couple were arrested in South Wales trying to escape the country with their baby. This case has not hit the South Korean media yet, but I would expect it to be quite high profile.
I referred to the case in the Deregulation Bill Committee the minutes of which can be found here
. (I say "The gentleman is called Jeong Hugh and he is the PhD student living in the UK. ")
The Council of Europe have been enquiring into the UK. I have suggested that parliamentary committees do an enquiry. However, the enquiries that have run so far have been dominated by the people who make a living out of running the system.
In the mean time local authorities continue to threaten MPs in an attempt to stop them looking at cases. Two examples of this were reported in points of order on Monday this week.
This week, interestingly, Re B is back in the Court of Appeal. The lower courts have ignored the Supreme Court and so it has been appealed again. Additionally last week there was a permission to appeal hearing in which the Court of Appeal ignored the law.
The following is the presentation to the European Parliament Petitions Committee (from 19th March 2014)
The following is on Portuguese TV:
St Patrick's Day Parade March 16th 2014 Birmingham - Tipperary County Association
I have not tried to take photographs of all of the parade. Others are doing that with better cameras than my phone. I shall see if I can bring together links to photos of the parade later. I have, therefore, only one photo and one video.
This parade was the best weather for over 10 years. 2003 (if I have the year right) when the parade went to Victoria Square was really quite hot. However, today was just about right. Warm enough to encourage the crowds, but not so hot as to wear people out.
Photos on net (I am giving one link to the photographer, even if they have done lots of photos):
Steve Piggott Photography
An unusual rear view of Tipperary against Selfridges
Free Radio (Previously BRMB)
Success on Hospital Consultations
Today there were a number of votes in the care bill. It is our view that local consultation is key when it comes to running the health service. There were many people that opposed the health reforms wanting the health service to be run by the Minister and the Minister's appointees. Our view, however, was that it was better to bring in health service reforms to Clinical Commissioning Groups to give local control rather than central control.
In the Care Bill today there was a discussion about how to deal with services in crisis. Quite a few of the Lib Dems were unhappy that the original proposals moved too far away from the principle of local consultation. Hence Paul Burstow tabled a new clause (known as New Clause 16) to promote local consultation.
During this process there were a large number of negotiations headed up by Paul Burstow. I am pleased to say that considerble progress was made. As a consequence of this the signatories of his new clause did not press the new clause (although the Labour Party did).
Tomorrow it will be possible to see in Hansard the speech of the minister making all the changes clear.
A raft of checks and balances will be introduced to make sure that changes to local hospital services are not made without local people being able to have their say. These include:
- Making sure that this process is only used in the most extreme cases, after all other options are tried
- Councils and the patients forum Healthwatch must be consulted as the representatives of local people
- The plans must have agreement of all relevant local health commissioners
Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow MP will be chairing a committee of MPs and Lords to ensure these changes are secured.
Labour's solution to uncollected rubbish
No words are really needed.
Success on DHP for people with disabilities - multi year awards now possible
See this question here
To ask the Secretary of State
for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to encourage local authorities to make longer term awards of discretionary housing payments for those people with disabilities.
Steve Webb (The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions; Thornbury and Yate, Liberal Democrat)
As announced in the autumn statement discretionary housing payment (DHP) funding will actually be increased by £40 million in 2014-15 to £165 million. The increase in DHP for 2014-15 is relative to the previously announced Government allocation for 2014-15 of £125 million.
This gives local authorities the confidence they need to make longer-term awards for people with on-going needs.
provides local authorities (LAs) with a guidance manual regarding DHPs, along with a good practice guide which offers advice on how DHPs can be used to provide support to claimants affected by some of the key welfare reforms. The guidance is clear that LAs can consider making long term or indefinite awards for disabled people. Guidance for 2014-15 is currently being reviewed and will continue to highlight this.
This information for 2013-14 can be accessed through the following link:
Sadly although the money is available to allow awards until March 31st 2016 the City Council's computer systems can only make awards for one year.
confirms that more money is being made available (one of my priorities).
gives the figures for Birmingham and England as a whole.
Apprenticeships - why Labour are wrong to scrap the Intermediate Apprenticeship
The Deregulation Bill is called as "Christmas Tree Bill". That is because it has lots of different baubles attached to it from a legislative basis. I happen to have been on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee for this as well as the regulatory reform select committee. In fact a lot of the issues in the Bill are both interesting and important.
Yesterday, for example, there was a discussion about Apprenticeships. These are important as they are a good route into work for young people. There has been a big growth in apprenticeships under this government. Labour have been critical because many of the apprenticeships are at NVQ level 2 rather than level 3 or 4. In fact about 60% are at level 2.
Labour, therefore, proposed an amendment to the bill to ban apprenticeships that are level 2 (ie scrap the Intermediate one, the Advanced one is Level 3 and the Higher one level 4).
I will hunt up the record of the debate from yesterday when it is published. However, I think that is wrong. It is not a bad idea to do what we can to increase the standards. However, there are over half a million young people on Intermediate Apprenticeships. Scrapping this type of apprenticeship is not something that seems to have merit to me.
It would be better to simply aim to increase the quality and skills involved without excluding people from the process.
The debate is here
Shale Gas, Oil Reserves and Energy Prices
story today reports that there may be more Shale Gas in Northern England than was previously thought. Within the report it says: "But it could take two years to see if the gas is commercially viable."
Realistically no one knows with any great certainty what fossil fuels remain under ground. It is important to remember that it takes energy to get fossil fuels out of the ground. The harder to get hydrocarbons take more energy. That is a key factor in whether the fields are "commercially viable".
On the right hand side of this blog I display the Oil prices for West Texas Intermediate and Brent. The difference between the two historically was low. Shale gas production in the USA drove down the WTI price (gas could not then be exported from the USA). What is happening now is that the prices are coming together (or moreso WTI is going up to Brent).
The conventional wisdom is that with the USA becoming an oil exporter again and additional oil from Iraq and Iran that prices will go down. That is not happening now, but we shall see. I would be interested in a continuation of Chris Skrebowski's forecasts as they operate over a 5 year time scale, but I have not seen a recent production of those.
None of this changes the need to get more energy efficient. Energy prices do, however, underpin economic activity and if we see a big jump then that will pull back the worlds economies. If there is a big drop then the worlds economies will pick up further.
We also must not forget the issue of climatic change. I recently read a paper written by G S Callendar published in 1938 which is interesting in the context of current debates. I can email a copy of the PDF to anyone who is interested in the science of the issue.
Leicester Couple emigrate to Northern Cyprus
case shows that Habitual Residency is not just an issue as to where someone is living. I think the court decision is in fact wrong as the links to the UK had been cut. However, I am aware of cases where people have left the UK, but continue to claim benefits in the UK. That would mean that they are inherently habitually resident in the UK. To change habitual residence is more than just flying out.
Badger Demonstration - speech from Saturday
More information about Badger vaccination.
Further progress on fair trials in the family courts
story in the Daily Mail reports on This case (Re NL (A child) (Appeal: Interim Care Order: Facts and Reasons)
where Pauffley J has looked at the issue of a case in the FPC where the Justices basically rubber stamped a document from the local authority. Another important case is Re C (A Child)
where the president of the Queens Bench supports a call for proper procedure to be followed in terms of dealings in the court of first instance.
The President of the Queen's Bench Division:
- I agree with both judgments. Having seen the judgments in draft, Ms van der Leij has expressed concern about the comments at paragraphs 10-11 of Macur LJ and paragraph 36 of Aikens LJ dealing with the e-mail exchanges subsequent to the hearing. She observes that "it is by no means unusual for practitioners in the Principal Registry to e mail district judges directly seeking clarification of matters raised in a hearing". It is one thing, if invited, to make submissions in relation to the terms of an order provided that every communication is copied to every party; it is another to express dissent and seek to engage in further argument. If that is not unusual, it is important that the problems which it generates should be recognised and that the practice should cease. First, it suggests (even if it is not the case) that advocates can go behind the scenes to resolve issues in favour of their clients and, as Macur LJ observes, will give rise to allegations of 'stitch up'. Secondly, it will encourage litigants in person (who do not have the same understanding of the law or practice) to adopt a similar approach thereby disrupting the finality of the judgment of the court and generating continued uncertainty.
Progress is being made. If we can stop corrupt legal advisors and advocates from undermining their own clients that would help as well. However, a key to this is getting evidence that is reliable. (as I say in the Daily Mail article).
Last Year's Mawrey Judgment in Woking
I have had this
judgment pointed out to me. The election commissioner was the same person as handled the election petition in Aston and Bordesley Green. This was a case where the criminals were Lib Dems. I shall extract some parts of the judgment:
The judgment is worth reading as a whole.
11. Sadly, therefore, this is yet another case where the United Kingdom's shambolic electoral system has led to an election being challenged on the ground of widespread fraud.
- The Birmingham judgment was the first arising from mass electoral fraud resulting directly from the introduction of postal voting on demand. I had hoped that, by drawing attention to the flawed basis of the scheme and the opportunities it had created for vote-rigging on an industrial scale, public and Parliament would be alerted to the problem and that something might be done about it.
- I was wrong.
- In Slough, where the problem of roll-stuffing came to the fore and where the combined effect of a wholly insecure registration system and postal voting on demand had allowed the creation of phantom armies of 'ghost voters', once again I hoped that some action might be taken.
- I was wrong again.
- Nine years have passed since the fraudulent Birmingham election and five since the Slough judgment. The media and the public are fully alive to the threat that electoral fraud poses to our democracy. The politicians are in denial and, it must be said, the approach of the Electoral Commission would appear optimistic even to Dr Pangloss.
- I concluded the Birmingham Judgment with the words:
"The systems to deal with fraud are not working well. They are not working badly. The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated."
- And the Slough Judgment with:
"It would have been pleasant to conclude this judgment by saying that this had now all changed. But I cannot. Despite the 2006 Act, the opportunities for easy and effective electoral fraud remain substantially as they were on 4th April 2005."
- And here we are again.
Local Government Finance Debate
This is the debate:
This is me arguing my view that spending cuts should be in proportion of spending power.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I thank the Minister for meeting MPs from Birmingham to look at this issue, and I congratulate hon. Members generally on highlighting the difficulty of working out what a fair system is for allocating local government finance. The Government have focused on percentage reductions in spending power. Does the Minister agree that, after incentives, looking towards the reduction in percentage spending power, not absolute spending power, provides an equality of pain that gives us a way forward? It takes into account the fact that in areas like Greater Birmingham, where people work in Birmingham but live around it and require services from Birmingham but are not contributing towards—
Brandon Lewis: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman made that point in the meeting we had. As I said to him, I will happily go through it in more detail over the next couple of months, meeting him and officials to look at some of the ideas he is talking about.
I also managed to get Labour's position confirmed:
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): If the Labour party wins the general election it proposes further cuts. What formula would it use to identify the equity or fairness of any distribution of cuts?
Andy Sawford: The Labour party has said that we accept the Government’s spending plans, but what we will not do is cut in such a fundamentally unfair way. I will come on to what the Labour Government will do.
later he said: "Hon. Members have asked about the next Labour Government’s plans. We will not be able to stop the cuts or turn back the clock, but we will put fairness at the heart of the relationship between central and local government, and at the heart of our approach to local government finance."
He would not, however, give any details as to how Labour would approach the issue of the distribution of cuts. I think it is possible that they may come to a conclusion not dissimilar to that which I have argued.
Other MPs also tried to draw Labour on what they would actually do (with a similar lack of success)
Mr Graham Stuart: I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way; he is being most generous. I notice that he did not respond to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) about where Labour would make cuts. On the issue of need, density was given four times the weighting of sparsity, even though there is no link between density of population and increased cost and delivery of services. How was that fair?
Andy Sawford: If the hon. Gentleman will be patient for a moment, I will, of course, come on to what Labour will do if it forms the next Government. On sparsity, I took part in the debate that he and others led last year, which I thought was excellent. I recognise many of the issues that he raised and there is a sparse rural authority in my constituency in East Northamptonshire. The formula should of course take account of rural sparsity, as well as urban deprivation. There is always a debate to be had about fairness within the system, but what is critical is that the part of local authority funding with fairness at its heart—notwithstanding the debate that will be had—is now being eroded, so the opportunity to ensure that funding is fair and according to need is being lost.
I am making some progress in arguing that cuts should be linked to spending power (as a proportion). However, it is important to note that MPs for rural areas continue to express concern that their spending power per person or per dwelling is much lower than urban areas even though many rural areas are quite poor. Their argument is that they get lower services as a result. My view is that a system based upon spending power is more likely to get consensus (which will never be 100% anyway).
The big issue for Birmingham, however, is that if Labour win the general election there will be further cuts in support for local government. Hence Birmingham has to plan on the assumption of Liam Byrne's note from the last government to David Laws "Dear chief secretary, I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left."
I don't like cuts. I accept that there are some politicians who wish to see state spending as a proportion of GDP driven lower. I take the view that a 40% or so figure is not unreasonable. What is now clear is that the government's policies are based upon necessity rather than an ideology of cuts.
English Refugees in France - The Brown Family in Caen
This is a video I produced yesterday for a family now living in France
Their story has been reported in the Sunday Telegraph and last appeared on Sunday in Christopher Booker's column.
French Judges conclude English Local Authority is wrong
story relates to a french case where the judges have indicated that an English LA is wrong. That is added to the Italian case reported before Xmas and a number of Irish cases.
When you add this to all the foreign governments complaining this should have a bit more concern from government. It is true that progress is being made and now more appeals are being given in England and Wales. In fact it may appear that the system is getting worse when actually it is getting better. In the past the appellate system basically didn't work. It is now starting to work, but it has a long way to go. The appointment of non family judges to family court of appeal cases is clearly having a positive effect as well.
Miscarriage of Justice Compensation - why I agreed with the Lords
I rebelled against the party whip today voting to keep the lords amendment 112 on Miscarriage of Justice compensation. My reasons are that the government position shifts the burden of proof. The lords amendment, which was supported by the majority of law lords basically creates a threshold which is that a conviction with the new evidence would be guaranteed to fail.
I did not support government or opposition on the amendment in lieu. I think it marginally improves the wording, but creates a mixed message as I am unhappy with the burden shifting.
Ireland starts opening up family courts
story from Ireland highlights a number of issues. Obviously there is a lot about this case (I am not aware of the case myself) which is not known.
In essence, however, it confirms my advice that the authorities in Ireland will apply to take children into care at the request of English authorities whether or not they would ordinarily take the children into care were they not to be English families.
Interestingly, however, the courts still follow the law from time to time in Ireland. I am aware of cases where the Irish courts have not followed the law properly.
DNA Marking offer for 125cc Motorbikes in West Midlands
The following is from WEST Midlands Police and benefits constituents who have 125cc Motorbikes
Motorbike marking a UK first
WEST Midlands Police are the first force in the UK to offer free motorcycle
DNA marking for cyclists in a bid to beat bike thieves.
Thieves are stealing 125cc motorcycles and breaking them up for parts. The
parts, which are not individually marked, are then sold on making them difficult
to trace and, if recovered, hard to reunite with their owners.
In what is believed to be the first initiative of its kind in the UK, the
Force have teamed up with six motorcycle dealers across the region to offer free
DNA motorcycle marking.
Each of the dealers has 150 marking kits, paid for by money under the
Proceeds of Crime Act. The kits, which normally retail at about £30, consist of
a bottle of DNA fluid, with which each part of the bike is painted. This fluid
dries and is not detectable by eye but contains micro dots that are then unique
to that bike.
The motorcycle dealers will mark the motorbikes for free and then register
each bike on a dedicated website. If the bike or any part of it is then stolen
and later recovered anywhere in the world officers will be able to identify the
owner and gather much needed intelligence about where these stolen bikes are
To take advantage of this free offer, motorbike owners simply need call one
of the dealers taking part in the scheme and make an appointment to visit them
and get their bike marked.
Dealers taking part in the scheme are:
Sergeant Andy Gregory from the force’s Crime Reduction department
said: “The more bikes
we can get marked, the bigger the deterrent for would-be bike thieves and the
more likely we can track where bike parts are being stolen from and sent to.
“ I would encourage as many people across the force who own 125cc
motorcycles to take advantage of this offer and make
appointments soon to get their bikes marked.”