John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Thursday, June 30, 2005
  Blight on Sheldon raised in Parliament
The big point about the proposed second runway for Birmingham International Airport is that it is having an effect today on many people living in Sheldon. The uncertainty affecting their properties causes them difficulties if they wish to move.

I don't personally believe that the runway will ever be built, but the uncertainty causes sufficient problems to justify the government revisiting their assumptions.

This is my yesterday's list.

Apart from the usual written question responses, (I am going in further on the issue of the Safer Stronger Communities Fund where the government are being strangely evasive - like many other answers.) there were two debates that on Council Housing and that on Climate Change (see above link).

Housing is in a worsening crisis nationally and particularly in Birminghamm. The government appear to wish to abdicate responsibility for housing.

From local sources:
The Draft HRA Business Plan gives a projected stock loss for the period to 31 March 2010. The projection is that stock will reduce from an opening balance of 72,986 at 1 April 2004 to a figure of 58,638 dwellings at the close of 2010.

The projected stock loss is the result of an anticipated 9,000 sales through right to buy and 5,348 demolitions.

However, it should be noted that the number of dwellings owned by other Registered Social Landlords will continue to increase as a result of new development (funded via the Housing Corporation Approved Development Programme or secured through the use of planning powers).

Whilst it is more difficult to forecast future levels of RSL development/acquisition, it is likely that the annual addition to the stock will be in the region of 800-1,000 dwellings. This is potentially a conservative estimate. The following table assumes a level of 900 per year to give an overall estimate for social housing stock to 2010.

YearCouncil StockRSL StockTotal Social Housing Stock
2004/5 – start of year72,98640,268113,254
2009/10 – end of year58,63844,768103,406

Source: bcc
 
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
  Two down one to go
In my maiden speech I referred to three issues:
It is good news that the revised proposals for Yardley Constituency are based upon keeping communities together and traditions that have existed for millenia. The new proposed consituency is Stechford, South Yardley, Sheldon and Acocks Green.
 
  Stealth Tax on Shaving
It may sound superfically odd, but there is a provision in Section 12 of the ID Card/Database bill which means that people could be fined up to £1,000 if they shave without telling the government.

Considering the bill which is on the net at ID Cards bill at Hansard

See the following sections:
Section 12 Notification of changes affecting accuracy of Register
(1) An individual to whom an ID card has been issued must notify the Secretary
of State about—
(a) every prescribed change of circumstances affecting the information
recorded about him in the Register; and
(4) The things that an individual may be required to do under subsection (3) are—
(a) to attend at a specified place and time;
(b) to allow his fingerprints, and other biometric information about himself, to be taken and recorded;
(c) to allow himself to be photographed;
(6) An individual who contravenes a requirement imposed on him by or under
this section shall be liable to a civil penalty not exceeding £1,000.

From Section 1
(6) In this section references to an individual’s identity are references to—
(a) his full name;
(b) other names by which he is or has previously been known;
(c) his gender;
(d) his date and place of birth and, if he has died, the date of his death; and
(e) physical characteristics of his that are capable of being used for
identifying him.


What this means is that if someone gets married, shaves off a beard, grows a beard (and or moustache), cuts their finger (fingerprint changes) they need then to tell the government on the pain of an up to £1,000 "Civil Penalty" which may then require them to go somewhere to be photographed.

The other issues about the system remain, but it is very clear that the legislation has been written for the convenience of the government and not the private individuals. Furthermore it will not be criminals who will first register for these cards hence it will be an expensive and unnecessary burden on private individuals whilst not making any difference to those breaking the law.
 
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
  ID Database and Government
I have been quite busy over the past few days with meetings and trying to sort out technology to demonstrate Iris Scanning (The Panasonic Authenticam). I now have the technology mainly working.

The point about Iris scanning is that it is something that the police could use to determine identity up to a point, but it does not require the establishment of an ID Database. Information could be stored on the police national computer.

At the same time the government's record on the National Insurance Database where they admit freely to having no information about the proportion of fraudulent entries and also deny having any information about how many fraudulent entries have been found, is not good. Why we should trust them to maintain a database which is used to prove who we are is unclear.
 
Sunday, June 26, 2005
  Mosquitos in the Paddling Pool
I suppose it has to be global warming. The paddling pool took days to blow up and as far as I know has not actually been used for paddling purposes. Recently, however, there has been a lot of rain which has started filling up the pool.

Various 2-5 year olds were spraying each other with water around it which led me to look in the water which seemed to have mosquito grubs swimming in it (or some other flying insect). Cue "drain the swamp" manoeuvre. Still it is an interesting new issue which does incline one to consider that things are getting warmer.
 
  Poverty and Aid (Justice and Equity)
Response to question:

I have been supporting the Make Poverty History campaign. If we really mean to make poverty history, however, we need to understand the nature of political structures and how this country through its influence can either make things better or worse.

Much of international politics is based upon interests rather than principles. The "Ethical Foreign Policy" that this country was supposed to have involves accepting evidence collected under torture from a country which boils people alive (Uzbekistan).

On a superficial level accepting such evidence seems reasonable. The problem is that it endorses the behaviour which led to obtaining the evidence. The evidence itself is also unreliable. However, the biggest problem is that the patterns of behaviour then lead to further conflict with the UK and the citizens of that country.

Much human conflict is based upon "them and us". The groups that are "them and us" can vary. They can be Shi'a and Sunni muslims. They can be Protestant and Catholic Christians. They can be Sikhs and Hindus. They can indeed have the same religion, but a different tribe. It is important in this to note that religion tends to follow tribal identity. It is the nature of tribal allegiances that lead to the conflict not the religion. The religion is sometimes used to justify the conflict. That does not mean that the conflict would not have happened.

The biggest problem in dealing with poverty globally is war which is generally a form of tribal conflict of some form (Hutus Tutsis etc).

The conflict has a number of elements. The most important element is often "tit-for-tat" where gradually a feudal type feud is developed.

There is always a balance between tribal loyalties and commitments to the rule of law in societies. This can also link to the concept of Social Capital.

If the tribal links are stronger then the society can end up with low Social Capital an in a Machiavellian form of society where power is all and there are low levels of trust. From the perspective of game theory and enlightened self interest operating according to the rule of law gives a long term advantage. Developing patterns of behaviour that lead to this, however, is difficult. There is frequently a short term loss in doing so.

The corruption in many parts of Africa somes from a "winner takes all" "elective dictatorship" style of democracy whereby whoever wins the elections then has the ability to operate as a robber baron and essentially undermine the rule of law.

This leads to conflict as minorities (or even majorities) find that they lose out through traditional tribal nepotism being used for putting people into state employment and through other forms of abuses such as the use of monopolies and trading constraints.

To avoid conflict and improve social capital, therefore, requires moving the states towards a system whereby members of tribes are treated equitably and the rule of law applies more than might is right.

If this is not resolved then the conflicts and corruption will continue and people will continue to operate on the basis of a shorttermist priority.

In many ways with the Western World trying to force a pattern of democracy that is based upon a class based society into those which are segemented in itself causes a lot of the problems. Inherently in a segmented society there will be a larger coalition and a smaller coalition and the larger group will abuse the smaller group(s). It frequently ends up as gangster politics and in hotter countries will end up being more violent.

The HIPC* programme is a useful programme for reducing the problems encountered by the developing world. It is important, however, to remember that it only relates to the debt that countries cannot pay.

I have worked in support of Make Poverty History, but I take the view that the three objectives of Trade Justice, Drop the Debt and More and Better Aid are insufficient in themselves. We need to also add the boring one of Justice and Equity. ie "the rule of law and opposition to discrimination between tribes".

The UK government is supporting HIPC which is helpful, but only rational in any event. I am uncomfortable with the reports of a plan to hypothecate aid in future years as it would lead to a splurge of money mostly being wasted and no flexibility for the future. Most importantly the "Justice and Equity" element seems to be misunderstood and ignored.

Developing a successful society with a high regard for the rule of law and high Social Capital takes at least a generation. It is not merely a question of building a couple of factories. The danger of many of the approaches here is they merely shore up a failing system.

In the mean time, however, the Western world itself has a problem with reducing social capital and greater materialism. Furthermore we face resource constraints which will impact harder given the dominant materialist culture. However, we have the opportunity to work for improvements and I will support those working in that way.

*HIPC Highly Indebted Poor Countries
 
Saturday, June 25, 2005
  Squirrels and Mars Bars
Started the day by seeing off the Make Poverty History cyclists. Richard Burden and I held the ribbon. Lynne Jones (who cycles a lot) had her bike with her.

Lynne and I are both to some extent fairweather cyclists although I did cycle through London in the rain. Lynne brought her bike in by car. Lynne is probably my favourite Birmingham Labour MP.

I used the opportunity to bend Richard's ear about EDM 225 (Moor St Railway Station). We do need some action from Labour MPs on lobbying for Birmingham.

Then the normal Advice bureau at which one of the issues was Sheldon Squirrels. One proposal which has been implemented is cages with mars bars to trap the Squirrels.

A standard (BCC) treatment for "squirrels in the loft" is Radio 4. The theory is that in listening to a talk radio station the Squirrels decide the loft is occupied and leave.

In the mean time we are told that the law requires that captured Squirrels are killed rather than released in Sheldon Country Park. That is nothing specifically related to Sheldon Country Park, but it is alleged that there is a law that prevents the humane trapping and release of Squirrels (aka Tree Rats).

Other issues relate to Birmingham's Housing Crisis. Oil is close to $60bbl(-1) as well - not an issue from the Advice bureau.
 
Friday, June 24, 2005
  ANCT - Assumed National Council Tax
So the government don't have a "target" for council tax increases. Instead they have an amount by which it is assumed to increase.
 
  New information source for those interested
I was thinking about what people may wish to do to get copies of my responses to various consultations and the like. Clearly these things will be in the final papers, but it would be silly to post them to the blog as there would be too much text.

I have, therefore, established a YahooGroup

This group called imaginatively johnhemming has a files section from which you can obtain information. Furthermore it operates as a discussion forum for any public discussions about issues that I am campaigning on (eg Silent Calls, Hydrocarbon Depletion, Family Tax Credit etc).

The first message anyone posts is moderated by me (to stop spammers), but after that it is generally unmoderated although if anyone abuses the system I shall simply exclude them. People do need to Join to access the service, however.
 
  "Answer the question"
I have got an answer about Council Tax.

They claim, however, that "The Government do not set a target increase in the amount which local authorities can raise from council tax". The only thing is that the government do have an expected increase figure. Now I need to find out exactly what that is called and put that in.
 
  What is this to do with the Standards Board
Labour believes a powerful weapon in persuading working-class voters not to back the BNP is to label it as "Nazi" and now a landmark ruling by the Standards Board for England has allowed the description.

It should not be a matter for the Standards Board to decide whether or not the BNP can be called Nazis. The reason this is the case is that the Standards Board actually regulate the words that Councillors use on leaflets.
 
  The demise of the small shop
This is a question I have asked. I tried to get called under the question relating to the Supermarket Code of Conduct, but was not called.
"What plans does the Minister have to deal with Monopsonys and Oligopsonys particularly in reference to Supermarkets, disintermediation and the demise of the small shops?"

Watch out for lots of references to Oligopsonys.
 
  Early Day Motions
I am not quite sure what this link will do as it appears that the parliament server uses cookies.

Through the EDM Web Server one can find all of the current Early Day Motions. I have "sponsored" 7 which means I have written 7 and proposed them and others have seconded them.

I am working on a database of EDMs with comments to enable me to work out which others to support. In the mean time I have signed a couple.

I put two more EDMS in Yesterday. One related to Family Tax Credit (the same issue as below). The Employments Right Act 1996 has been pointed out to me. This act basically means that before an employer can deduct overpayments from wages "there is a general rule that an employer must not act in such a way as to undermine the employment relationship or to breach trust and confidence. In the light of this general duty, the best advice for an employer is to discuss the overpayment with the employee and propose repayment over a reasonable period of time depending upon the size of overpayment and the period over which it occurred."

In other words although an employer needs to discuss and ideally agree deductions before making them the government does not need to do the same in relation of deduction of over paid Family Tax Credit.

The other EDM is about Iatrogenic Diseases (MRSA, Difficile etc) calling for more disinfectant to replace detergent.

Checking Hansard I don't seem to have any written answers yesterday. However, I did definitely get some on paper. The departments post them in internal mail. Which is a real nuisance as I would much prefer an Email. It is also difficult to track where they go in Hansard as that does not seem to correlate either.

I have one of my researchers doing a question and answer reconciliation to find out which questions the government has failed to answer. One I can remember is when the government expects global crude oil production to peak. No answer yet.

I have also managed to identify some logical inconsistencies in the government's position. One is in relation to Carbon emissions and Air Traffic growth. Although the government ignore international air flight (inconsistency 1), there is a need to constrain growth in carbon emissions from here. This is an important consituency issue as people living in Sheldon are blighted by the possibility of a second runway. What I need to prove is that the second runway will never happen and then the blight will be removed.

I have received some interesting answers recently, but for most of them I need to wait until they are on the net before commenting here.

One is that it appears that the marked registers for Woking Constituency have been lost. (Answer they are trying to find them.)
 
Thursday, June 23, 2005
  Prayers in the House of Commons
At the start of the day there are prayers in the House of Commons. This is more important to MPs because if you pray you can book a seat on the benches for the day.

Any time after 8am when the chamber opens an MP can, themselves and not on behalf of another MP, collect a little green card, write their name on it and slot it into a little slot on the green benches.

Then at prayer time (when the business starts) they arrive. The card in on the bench. They put it back into the slot and pray. If they are not there at that time they lose their reservation.

Wednesdays is a day upon which lots of people wish to reserve a seat you do, therefore, see far more people praying.
 
  No 13 - lucky for some
One thing missed from the last week was that we now have a replacement for the 99 bus which will be a more frequent 13 service. This will cover the parts of the route that have no service.

That was resolved at a meeting on Friday last, but things got a bit busy with journalists camped out all over Birmingham after that.
 
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
  London Olympics
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) and I attended an event to support the London Olympic Bid. Notwithstanding the lack of support for Birmingham's Bid or Manchester's bid we supported the principle in terms of supporting the UK as a whole. London should reciproicate at a later stage.

Olympics
Part of the process involved meeting up with Jonathan Edwards

Just days before Olympic gold triple jumper Jonathan Edwards flies to Singapore as part of the London 2012 delegation hoping to bring the Olympic Games back to Britain for the first time in 64 years, John Hemming MP has added his/her support to the 2012 campaign.

John Hemming MP said "If the IOC awards London the Games on 6 July, it will be a fantastic day for the whole of the UK. Hosting the Olympics is a great honour and will bring real benefits up and down the country.

"Over 1 million pieces of sports equipment used during the Olympics would be passed onto sports clubs and charities after the Games end - as will five temporary swimming pools and four arenas. There will be the chance to host athlete preparation camps months ahead of the actual event. Tourism will get a boost and UK companies will be able to compete for a whole range of contracts.

"But probably most important of all, it will provide a unique inspiration for children to get much more involved in sport and physical activity."

"In Birmingham we have supported London's bid for the Olympics and would hope that this would be reciproicated in future support from London for Birmingham."

Jonathan Edwards said "I've been fortunate to have competed in four Olympic Games and it is an amazing experience. I won my Gold at the Sydney 2000 Games but for any athlete, the chance to reach the very top and win on home soil is the ultimate dream.

"London has a great bid and has a very real chance of winning on 6 July. If we do, it will be the greatest day for sport our country has ever seen."

Note to editors:

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will meet in Singapore on 6 July to vote for the Host City for the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The decision will be broadcast live on the BBC with a decision due at approximately 12.45pm on 6 July.

London is competing against Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris


I suppose it is useful meeting a triple jumper as some have said we should face the high jump for our EDM 318 which we think is entirely in accordance with party principles (talking about a decentralised Europe).
 
  Moor St Station EDM 225
That this House calls for the Strategic Rail Authority to expedite the opening up of the new platform at Moor Street Station to use by passengers and trains.

With a bit of luck we should have three Birmingham CC Area MPs signing this soon. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) and I have already signed it and Khalid Mahmood is looking at it.
 
  Tax Credit Clawbacks
There was a quite reasonable statement from the Paymaster General (Dawn Primorolo) about Tax Credits today.

The problem is that if you have a responsive system which changes as people's incomes go up and down then you will end up with some overpayment. These overpayments may from time to time need recovering. There needs, therefore, to be a system for this.

The problem with this is that the government merely take the money out of people's bank accounts and wait for them to complain. Many households are very marginal from a cash flow perspective and cannot afford this.

What the government should do is agree the repayment rate before clawing back the money. I have written a letter (follows) to the Paymaster General to call for this.

Letter to Dawn Primorolo
I understand that currently you are stopping clawback if a dispute is raised.

Would it not be better to only claw back when the recipient has agreed the clawback rate?

Hardship is caused when the clawback rate is too high. At the moment monies are taken directly out of people’s bank accounts. This can cause massive problems for domestic cashflow. Rather than take the money off people until they claim it would be better to get the agreement first then take action.
 
  Questions and my intervention
This is the link to today's questions. (Plus my comment on the Religious Hatred bill where I abstained). I don't really like abstaining, but there are times when I don't support either option.

Incidentally it took 15 minutes for my colleague to walk the same distance (he is not affected in the same way by traffic lights).
 
  9.25.83
That's 9 minutes and 25.83 seconds. I have found the stopwatch on my mobile phone and used it to measure how long it takes to cycle from my flat to the House of Commons today.

One of my London team is doing the same route on foot and I should be able to compare times later.

I can understand why many London cyclists take traffic lights as being advisory given that there are so many of them. The distance itself would have taken nothing as long without that. It is also relatively level (a slight downward incline).
 
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
  New Nuisance Call Angle
An interesting new angle for nuisance calls is people from the USA using computers to phone people in the UK (including those on ex-directory numbers and probably those on the Telephone Preference Service lists) with calls such as "you have won a luxury holiday in the caribbean".
 
Monday, June 20, 2005
  I have a phone
I actually have a phone in my office in London and two of my staff will have passes by about 10am tomorrow.

Amazing!

It is only about six weeks since I was elected and I have a phone. Everything should now follow, of course.

Immediately I was elected, I got a coathanger in the members cloakroom. On that coathanger is a pink ribbon. For my Sword (no not that Sword). A few MPs have indeed got toy swords on their coathangers.

I think I now understand how everything went haywire on Friday. The Evening Mail First Edition (and I think C1) went out with basically a story that we had given them in detail. Everything was accurate and truthful.

They then changed the story in C2. All the other newspapers thought that this had been checked in the same rigorous manner. Sadly, it hadn't. This, of course, after the "mother of all sex scandals", gives potentially the "mother of all libel cases".

We have now spoken to one paper who know they have dropped a clanger. One task for this week is to get all the press cuttings and work out exactly who has said what. Then we need to approach the journals concerned and work out what is going to be done. I am not a great fan of suing for Libel. I have done it before (and won), but much prefer to work in partnership with people to sort out issues.
 
Saturday, June 18, 2005
  Friday's Questions
This links to Friday's Questions.
(I mean the answers).
 
  Marion and I would like a kitten
It was quite funny really. The News of the World and the Mail on Sunday turned up at my house to see all the preparations for my Daughter's 5th Birthday party. I was out doing things.

Sadly for them all the could find is people preparing to drive to Tamworth for a Farm Party (and no 5 year old because she was with me doing things).

In any event there was a really nice kitten at the farm. Sadly Marion needs to housetrain Patches before we can have another kitten. I would really like a kitten as we have only rescued cats since 1982 when we had a kitten in Kings Norton.
 
  Saturday
Today started with Make Poverty History's march leaving from Chamberlain Square to go to Edinburgh. Then I did the advice bureau and then opened the new pavilion for Manor House Gardens Allotments (arguably the best allotments in the country).

The little girl is my daughter Alice who had her 5th Birthday party today as Ash End House Farm.

A good photo of the cycle ride trio of Lib Dem MPs.


I am still juggling up what I should respond to the "SuperStud Brummie Lib Dem MP" story doing the rounds at the moment. If the newspapers do manage to hunt up 25 girlfriends that I have affairs with perhaps they could give me the names and phone numbers as I have no idea of who they are supposed to be. On the other hand it does trump all the other "sex scandals" I know of. The Daily Mirror have advertised for people to phone them. Oddly enough my wife has been offered £5K for a story by one newspaper and my girlfriend has been offered another £5K for her story by a different newspaper. Neither, of course, is going to take any money.

People may note that 26 is the birthday of my wife who suggested that number as an "illustrative" number. It is one of her favourite numbers.

Still in the mean time it is an interesting meme.

Perhaps that is why the story today hit the Telegraph, Times, Daily Express, Mirror, Sun as well as Birmingham Post and more nonsense in the Evening Mail - who normally do a better job.

One of the newspaper journalists said that I look like a bank manager and they cannot understand what women see in me. I would really like to know. (two papers have been chasing the story today)

I am, however, a bit miffed that I missed the boat on the publicity for dealing with Silent Calls. PMQ on Wednesday, action on Thursday. hmmm.

Shows how the system works. Interestingly a lot of people at the Manor House Allotments had had problems with silent calls.
 
  Kitty is not dead
The photograph in the Daily Mail today makes it quite clear that Kitty, (the cat that the Labour Party have claimed is dead) is not dead.
 
Thursday, June 16, 2005
  EDM 318 - The future of the European Union
That this House notes that the peoples of Europe oppose the concept of an ever closer union and calls for the UK Presidency to be used to develop proposals for a lighter touch European Union with fewer competencies, a smaller budget, and a lesser ability to make impositions on member states.

EDM 318 has achieved limited amount of notoriety in the 2 short days since it was tabled.

Quoting from Ming Cambell later, however: "I want a European Union that is decentralised, transparent and accountable and that protects human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law. There is no other economic association that requires those who wish to join it to satisfy a set of criteria on good governance and human rights. The Copenhagen criteria are unique. No other economic organisation or association requires its members to satisfy such standards of governance. That is often forgotten and not given sufficient emphasis."

There is, of course, no conflict between this and EDM 318.

*EDM - Early Day Motion
 
  Silent Phone Calls .... Result!!! (Case opened today)
Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative investigation
Investigation against: Promote IT, Toucan Telecom, The Listening Company Ltd, ANT Marketing UK, Thompson Directories Ltd, Fax Information Services Ltd, Firestorm Marketing Ltd.
Case opened: 16 June 2005
Issue: Persistent misuse of electronic communications network(s) or service(s)
Relevant instrument: Sections 128 to 131 of the Communications Act 2003

A “short duration” or “silent call” is a call which is usually initiated by automatic calling equipment ("ACE"), generally used by Call Centres making outgoing calls. The call is terminated by the ACE immediately after the called party answers (usually, because no live operator is available to speak to the called party).

A short duration call may also arise where companies attempt to send fax messages to telephone numbers that are not connected to terminal equipment capable of receiving fax messages. When the call is answered, the called party may hear a series of tones or the call may have been terminated.

Complaints

Ofcom has received complaints from members of the public about Promote IT, Toucan Telecom and The Listening Company Ltd regarding the annoyance caused to consumers by the making of short duration and/or silent calls.

In addition, Ofcom made a formal request for information relating to short duration and silent calls from British Telecommunications plc ("BT") in May 2005. The request was made under section 135 of the Communications Act 2003 (“the Act”). Following the receipt of the information from BT’s Nuisance Calls Bureau, Ofcom has identified ANT Marketing UK, Thompson Directories Ltd, Firestorm Marketing Ltd, and Fax Information Services Ltd as companies which have regularly made silent and/or short duration calls.

Ofcom has therefore decided to open an investigation to determine whether the companies identified above have persistently misused an electronic communications network or electronic communications service contrary to section 128 of the Act.

Sections 128 to 130 of the Act gives Ofcom the power to take action against persons or companies who persistently misuse an electronic communications network(s) or service(s) in any way that causes or is likely to cause unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety.

Where Ofcom finds that a person or company is in breach of the above provision, it may issue an enforcement notification and/or impose a financial penalty on the misuser.

Case Leader: Tanya Rofani (020 7783 4342 e-mail: Tanya.Rofani@ofcom.org.uk)

Case Reference: CW/00835/05/05
 
  Oral and written questions
I need to chase up the missing answer to one of these questions where the Annex is missing. Otherwise more progress is being made.

Interestingly the Prime Minister had no knowledge of the problem of "silent phone calls".

Me: "Does the Prime Minister share my concern and that of a vicar in my constituency and many of his parishioners who are irritated by the nuisance of mechanical phone calls, whereby a computer phones them but nobody is at the end of the line? Will he put pressure on Ofcom to use current legislation to ensure that the practice ceases, and review the legislation?"

Tony Blair: "I am not sure whether the vicar's powers or mine are most suitable for dealing with that issue. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments although I cannot honestly tell him what I think that the answer is because I do not know. However, I shall find out and get back to him."
 
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
  The MG Rover debate
I have linked the MG Rover debate from yesterday to this entry.

The telegraph took up this story.

The Independent showed that they don't read this blog. The fact that PR boosts turnout was revealed here first.
 
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
  Parliamentary Cycle Ride
Early this morning I joined Martin Horwood (MP for Cheltenham), Andrew Stunell MP (Hazel Grove) and a number of other cyclists to cycle from Russell Square to the House of Commons. Led by the metropolitan police it was an interesting experience. Meg Munn MP (Sheffield Heeley) was there was well. She told me that she was going to respond to my speech scheduled for later in the day about MG Rover.
Martin Horwood MPAndrew Stunell MP and John Hemming MP


Apart from speaking on MG Rover and Electoral Reform (and putting in a question and EDM) I took a short cycle ride to the Birmingham W1 office which is being used to promote Birmingham and things Brummy.

Rumours are that I get an office tomorrow that I can use (apart from the fact that it probably won't have a phone, filing cabinet, computer or printer).
 
  Oil Trends answer
Although it is entirely possible that new fields could pick up UK Oil production later this year, it sound like a "something will turn up" type of answer.
 
Monday, June 13, 2005
  Fifteen Minutes for the Church of England and Elections
One of today's oral questions was 15 minutes allotted for two MPs to alternate on answering questions on the Church of England and the Electoral Commission.

I thought I might manage to raise some concern about the government's lack of interest in people being disenfranchised by the postal voting system. Sadly, however, the time was up very quickly and it will have to wait for another day.
 
Sunday, June 12, 2005
  The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill
The second reading of this bill comes before the House of Commons on 21st June 2005.

This is an interesting issue because of its philosophical complexity. It has the so-called "chattering classes" particularly agitated because of its potential for further constraining free speech.

Free Speech is rightly not an absolute. It is entirely possible to use words published in various ways to cause massive dissent and disorder. It is, therefore, rational for the Public Order Act 1986 and other acts to constrain Free Speech.

People may not be aware of these aspects of legislation. However, they exist and they exist for a good reason.

The big question is whether further legislation is required and what further legislation is required.

There are clearly various types of criticism which can be applied to groups which can be described in a number of ways. Ridicule, humour and other types of offensive words can be used in a number of ways which can be critical of ethnic groups, religious groups or other groups of people such as Scousers.

We already have "Irish Jokes" which if nothing else do criticise an ethnic groups. These are entirely lawful.

It is entirely lawful to do things which are offensive and clearly this is right. I wish at times people would not be as offensive as they can be, but it should be their right to be offensive.

The difficulty arises when things go that big step further and come into the territory where any one particular group of people finds itself in a situation in which people are publishing words intentionally to create hatred.

The situation with Bezhti in Birmingham late last year shows how something can oscillate from side to side with camps gradually getting more and more wound up with each other until something happens. Luckily that particular situation stopped swinging from side to side just before it would have got particularly nasty.

Bezhti, of course, would not be caught by this legislation as it would not be caught by the descriptions in the legislation. Bezhti was very offensive to religious Sikhs, but entirely lawful and would remain entirely lawful - not least that it is argued that the Sikhs being (almost) all of one race (* see note) are protected by the current legislation in any event.

From my personal perspective, therefore, there is a good case for specifically making it an offence to create hatred based upon religious division. We had this problem in the UK in the past which resulted in people being burnt at the stake and once the pendulum starts swinging on such matters it is very difficult to reduce the temperature.

O Happy Day provides this flow chart demonstrating the nature of the relevant sections (18 - 20) of the Public Order Act 1986. (This chart applies to Section 18, but the other sections are much the same.)

As I see it whereas there is a good argument in a situation where someone has set out to cause hatred (not offense, but hatred) that they have committed an offence then the situation could sensibly fall within the purview of the criminal law.

I am more concerned about the sub-sections (1) (b) of each of the sections.

These deal with the concept of Mens Rea. As it currently stands S18 post of the 86 Act have an element of "strict liability" which covers someone committing an offence even if they did not intend to (a sort of Speed Camera of Free Speech).

My feeling is that the legislation clearly should be amended to remove these sections from effect.

In the Criminal Justice Act culpability is assessed against four levels of seriousness

intentionally - deliberately sets out to commit offence

recklessly - recognises that proposed conduct is liable to lead to an
offence being committed, but goes ahead anyway without taking mitigating
steps

knowingly - does not set out to commit offence, but finding himself in a
position where he knows there is a risk of committing an offence if he
continues, accepts that risk but steps over the boundary and does not then
immediately stop.

negligently - does not set out to commit an offence, but fails to take
reasonable measures to find out whether his course of action would lead to
an offence being committed, so ends up breaking the law.

As it currently stands S18post of the 86 Act include "Strict Liability" elements which goes further than "negligently" where arguably it should only apply intentionally for certain and possibly recklessly.

I have drafted a question to determine what prosecutions have occurred under the subsections (1) (b), but I feel an amendment is needed to deal with the issue of culpability.


*note
There are lots of arguments about what defines a group of people. Some sources indicate that people originating from south asia were part of the Caucasian race that developed in the Mediterranean area. Some people categorise all asians as of a "Dravidian" type. Other people make a distinction between Dravidian and Aryan. There are many ways of categorising people into groups. The danger that exists from this is that group loyalties then come to the fore and strife can occur on a feudal basis between groups. There really is only one "race" which is the "Human Race". However, there is a merit to laws which discourage the incitement of people to hate other based upon their membership of a particular group.
 
Saturday, June 11, 2005
  They can't be serious
It appears (and I am asking formal questions to confirm this) that the UK does not include the 8MtC of emissions from International Air Traffic in its approx 35MtC of transport emissions although it does include the single 1MtC of Domestic Traffic.

I presume the 8MtC is calculated on the basis of the next hop.

The total emissions is about 150-160MtC so this is 5% of the total.

No wonder they don't think an increase to 14MtC will have any impact on the UK's Kyoto figures - the Kyoto figures don't include international air traffic.
 
Friday, June 10, 2005
  Another "wet" answer from the government.
If you build on a flood plain you will get flooded. That is why they are called "Flood Plains". So the government still want people to build houses in locations that will get flooded.

Certain aspects of the natural environment cannot be resisted and we should not try.

"The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister wish to see a reduction in the amount of inappropriate new development in flood risk areas."

Of course they are not answering the question.

The government's plans on exclusions are not joined up as usual. Certain children cause massive problems. Making mainstream schools deal with them merely brings everyone else down. They also are still into making schools readmit children expelled by the head.

The government's schizophrenia over air travel is demonstrated by this answer. The chances of building a second runway at BHX are negligable, but it is still causing blight on the citizens of Sheldon.
 
Thursday, June 09, 2005
  Where's the abstain button
Yesterday was the first day that I abstained on a vote in person. What I am asking is "where is the abstain button". In the City Council there are six ways someone can cast a vote, for, against, pressing the asbstain button, sitting in the council chamber too frightened to press any button, somewhere else in the building and actually unavailable.

I see it is actually possible to vote both ways on an issue if you run, but that does not seem the best mechanism. The problem is, however, that when you are present, but abstain it is difficult to record this.

In the mean time we have learnt that it is a lot harder finding a place within which to spend a penny. There is an interesting thing behind it. Public Toilets are an important public service (particularly for elderly gents), but across the country they are being flushed away. In all regions there are fewer from 6,087 in 2000 to 5,539 in 2004. We may be a wealthy country, but it seems beyond the country's ability to have public loos. It is not surprising to find more people urinating in the street (generally men) if there are fewer public toilets.

I always remember a particular urinal which was on the Oaklands Recreation ground which was an old victorian cast iron urinal and had no roof. It worked well as it was self cleaning. However, the council (at that time not controlled by us) then decided to board it up. Which was a bit stupid as then kids tried to climb in and out. It was then demolished. There was absolutely no real sense to this.

So if the police can record biometric data on the PNC why do we need a separate ID database?

Yesterday together with a number of MPs from the Birmingham area we reviewed the situation relating to MG Rover in conjuction with AWM.

Just before posting this entry I asked an oral question of the minister in respect of air flight. People in Sheldon are blighted by the proposed Second Runway for Birmingham Airport that I believe personally will never happen.

The government are claiming on one hand that they are taking CO2 emissions seriously and also planning for massive increases in Air Flight (which will increase CO2 emissions dramatically). The only way they could do both of these would be to use biofuels to fuel airflight - the concept of going to Ibiza on a few buckets of mustard oil or the like. The government response was a load of woffle, but I did expect that.
 
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
  More answers to questions
It is interesting watching the government squirm on their plans to phase out supply teachers and replace them with Classroom supervisors.

The Answer on teacher assuaults shows one of the reasons why people are leaving the teaching profession.

The Answer on postal votes shows that the normal turnout of postal votes is about 78-79%. Clearly we don't know the answer for 2005 yet.

They have generally avoided the issue on the rest.
 
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
  UK population from Census 2001 59M
So the UK population is 59M and there are 73M entries in the National Insurance register (It is allocated at the age of 16 automatically). Some people with NINOs will live abroad, but there are so many rumours floating around about fraud it is amazing.

NINOs are used both to receive tax and pay benefits and one would hope, therefore, that the government would make some effort to ensure that the register is OK.

Information about NINOs

This fits within the context of the debate about an ID database. In one sense we already have two. One is the National Insurance register.

Superficially, there are 73 Million live records on the National Insurance register and according to the census in 2001 there are 58,789,194 people in the UK. 3,486,253 are 0-4, 3,738,042 are 5-9 and 3,880,557 are 10-14. That leaves 46,684,342 of ages 15+. At a guess with just under a million a year there are say 46M people of ages 16+ and a National Insurance register of 73M.

Figures as high as 16M have been quoted for UK nationals working abroad (who probably have a live NINO. That gives 46+16=62M. It still means something like 10 Million ghost records on the National Insurance register if that stacks up.

The government, of course, seem to be unconcerned that they have no idea how many false records there are.
 
  Four more answers
On the Tsunami the issue of the slowness of the original response remains, but a relatively low proportion of government budget is being recycled back to the UK government.

On the relative merits of Pelicans and Puffins which is an important national issue to anyone who has to walk across a road. The Government claim that Puffins cause less vehicle delay, but they are in practice really nasty things to use for pedestrians (as I experienced yesterday at the Bus Mall).

So there are 73 Million live accounts on the National insurance register, but they have no idea how many are false.

Nor do they know how much people pay in pubs to get new false NINOs.

The DTI has made it clear that they told the press MG Rover needed a bridging loan
 
Monday, June 06, 2005
  Cat number 5
This is Lightning being chased/followed by Waif. My cat photographer has finally emailed me the picture.
DSCF1032
 
  ASPO bring forward prediction on peak oil to 2006/7
The Association for the Study of Peak Oil are continually trying to predict when the production of crude oil will peak throughout the world.

This is known as a Hubbert Peak named after the Geologist who predicted the peak of production of Crude Oil in the US which he predicted for 1971 from 1956. He was quite a way out on the prediction of global peak predicting it for 1996.

The biggest problem in terms of predicting the global peak of production is that you can only be certain that the peak has been reached about 3 years after you have passed the peak.

Interesting the issue of peak oil is something that BBC website vistors believe by a substantial minority (because it is 44% out of 10 candidates) they would wish to see more coverage on the TV.

Ay the moment ASPO predict a peaking in Conventional Crude oil of 2006 and all crude oil in 2007. This is about 3 years earlier than the last prediction.

One of the key debates is whether there are enough global fossil fuels to hit Kyoto going up

There are quite a few stories floating around about peak oil.

Linked to ASPO is the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre which also does this sort of thing.

Apart from my written question about the date at which the UK becomes an oil importer I have also asked the government for their prediction as to when global oil peaks (I don't mind if they give the conventional figure or they include the other sources). No answer as yet.

From a position of an economic Dimensional Analysis the issue of Peak Oil globally drives much of human activity. Whatever the price if you have not got petrol to put in your tank you won't get very far. Peak oil is the point after which someone doen't have the oil that they had previously. Note the "someone".
 
Sunday, June 05, 2005
  The Hidden Question of the NHS
Apart from rationing (see yesterday) which is not being discussed widely, the planned movement from Secondary to Primary Care is also something that has stayed out of the public domain.

Much that the government claim that "The Department does not estimate changes in hospital bed numbers." They are well aware that there is a plan to reduce spend in secondary care (and bed numbers) and increase it in primary care.

At the same time the crisis with GP retirement is increasing. They are also transferring more and more activity to NHS Direct. For example the out of hours GP service is being put through to NHS Direct.

Anyone who knows what happens with NHS Direct knows that they almost always send people to Accident and Emergency.

We then end up with NHS direct going full circle and putting people back into Secondary Care (I had to wait 3 hours for my 4 year old's illness to be handled recently between middnight and 3am.)

I wonder sometimes where the money is actually going.
 
Saturday, June 04, 2005
  NICE supports age discrimination
From the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (see link)

Draft proposals for health rationing.
Recommendation 6
With respect to age (section 5.1):
• however, where age is an indicator of benefit or risk, age discrimination
is appropriate.

Recommendation 7
When setting priorities there is no case for discrimination on the basis of
gender or sexual orientation unless these are risk factors for benefits, risks, or
both (section 5.2).

Recommendation 14
Priority for patients with conditions associated with social stigma should only
be considered if the additional psychological burdens have not been
adequately taken into account in the cost–utility analyses (section 6.5).


The above recommendations raise a number of issues, not least the question as to exactly when "age discrimination is appropriate". I can understand the risk issue, but the benefit issue is not clear.

What I have difficulty understanding is what "risk factors for benefits, risks or both" exist for gender or sexual orientation discrimination.

Perhaps the most significant is, however:
Recommendation 5
NICE guidance should explain, explicitly, reasons for recommending – as cost
effective – those interventions with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio
over £20,000 to £30,000 per QALY (section 4.3).


(A QALY is a Quality Adjusted Life Year).
 
Friday, June 03, 2005
  Where is Plan B for the Dutch Nee?
From the FT:
Yet there was a common theme in both countries: voters think the EU has become too large, too distant and too undemocratic.

The reality of life is that generally most voters do not notice what is happening that much until it affects them personally. The changes made recently in the European Union have culminated in a situation that will gradually cause more and more stress unless the EU is reformed.

Firstly, we should not aim for an "ever closer union"
Secondly, as the EU gets wider it should get shallower not deeper.

The history of EU reform has been the generation of some form of codged together proposals and then their sale to the citizens on the basis of "its this or nothing".

Whatever proposals people come to need to be based upon some structure that does not result in creeping centralisation.
 
Thursday, June 02, 2005
  Nederlander zegt overtuigend 'nee' tegen Europese grondwet
"(Novum) - Nederland heeft woensdag een duidelijk 'nee' laten horen op de vraag of de Europese grondwet moet worden ingevoerd. Rond middernacht waren bijna alle stemmen gesteld. Daaruit bleek dat 61,6 procent van de kiezers de komst van de grondwet verwerpt, terwijl 38,4 procent voorstander is. De opkomst bedroeg 62,8 procent."

What the referenda are showing is a clear lack of trust in the "European Project".

The big question, however, is whether there will be any attempt to draw in the European Institutions and reduce their powers.

One of the things I have always seen as an objective would be to be much more restrictive about the "competancies" of the European Union. There needs to be a mechanism to determine subsidiarity which has a bias against centralisation rather than a bias for centralisation.

Clearly anyone working in the EU institutions will be more positively inclined towards them.

One suggestion I have proposed is that a directive is not issued unless

a) There is no opposition .... or
b) There is a clear and defined demand for the resolution of a defined problem

It is clear that the Single European Act of 1987 was required and that an element of majoritarian and qualified majoritarian voting is needed. Moving emphasis onto the European Parliament for determining decisions is helpful. However, the competancy of the European Union needs to be restricted. One restriction that works is the requirement for unanimity in the European Council. However, a wider restriction is really needed.

The key point is that the European Parliament is not the appropriate body to decide on matters of subsidiarity.
 
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
  Hogere opkomst dan bij stemming Europarlement
I don't know how long this link will last.

Selecting part of the original article:
"Het opkomstpercentage voor het referendum over de Europese grondwet is woensdag aanzienlijk groter dan vorig jaar tijdens de verkiezingen voor het Europese Parlement. In Den Haag had tot 14:00 uur 23,67 procent gestemd tegen 14,74 procent bij de Europese verkiezingen."

A rough translation is that the turnout for the European Constitution Referendum in Holland is greater than that for the last European Parliament elections.

There is a point that the political elites are turning people off politics by not being aware of people's practical concerns on the ground. Part of that arises from the failure of politicians to deliver and the creation of ever more complex systems by which people have to live their lives.

There is an opportunity of changing the direction of the European Union away from "ever closer union" and instead towards what I call "L'Europe de plusiers fromages" - which perhaps rings more of a bell in France.

We neither need nor do people want a homogenised europe with a midatlantic style of culture.

With a bit of luck that message may be heard from the referenda happening this week.
 

Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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