John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Monday, October 31, 2005
  Result on Silent Calls!!!
Silent Call Campaigner John Hemming MP has welcomed Ofcom's recent announcement on banning silent calls. "All telephone users", he say " should welcome Ofcom's action that will finally end the nuisance of the Silent Call. The use of an informational message will eradicate the worry and stress in relationships caused by Silent Calls. In essence the UK has now implemented the rules used in the USA. Hundreds of thousands of people have been harrassed by these nuisances."

"This is a major step forward in resolving automated phone nuisance. It is, however, not the complete solution. What is important, however, is that people will know what is happening so they can take action against those companies which continue to harrass them. The cowboys in the industry have hidden behind anonymity. They will no longer be able to do so."

"I would like to offer thanks to Ofcom for acting. Questions could be asked about why it took so long, but I would rather focus on the future and recognise that now we are getting somewhere."

"The work done by David Hickson should also be recognised. He, as a consumer champion, has worked hard on this issue and this work should not be denigrated. We also should recognise that the main industry association the Direct Marketing Association has been positive about change as have software suppliers such as Amcat."

"The fact is that this is a change that will be welcomed by everyone except the cowboy call centre operators who will no longer be able to hide."
 
  Written Parliamentary Questions 31st October 2005
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the total amount of carbon dioxide released by private motor vehicles in (a) 1984, (b) 1994 and (c) 2004.
(John Hemming)

A: The following table shows carbon dioxide emissions from the private use of household vehicles:

Million tonnes of carbon dioxide
1990 58.7
1991 58.3
1992 59.0
1993 59.2
1994 57.9
1995 56.9
1996 60.0
1997 61.0
1998 60.5
1999 62.0
2000 61.3
2001 62.0
2002 64.1
2003 63.4

Source:
Environmental Accounts, Office for National Statistics

Data prior to 1990 are not available on this basis, and 2004 data is not yet available. The figures are on the private use of vehicles and so exclude use of vehicles by businesses.
(Stephen ladyman, Minister of State, Department for Transport)
 
Sunday, October 30, 2005
  Wall of Fame - Literature
This is our first list of regional authors both contemporary and past that could comprise the entries for the Wall of Fame. Thanks are due to Carl Chinn the Historical Consultant for the regional Wall of Fame.

William Shakespeare
J. R. R. Tolkien
D. H. Lawrence
Philip Larkin (Warwickshire poet)
Wilfred Owen (poet killed 1916)
Walter Brierley (Means Test Man Derbyshire)
Walter Allen (All in a Lifetime, born Aston)
John Hampson (Birmingham inter-wars novelist)
Edith Pargeter (novelist Shropshire)
William Shenstone (Halesowen Poet)
Meera Syall (contemporary novelist)
Henry Treece (historical novelists for children. Wednesbury)
P. G. Wodehouse (Shropshire)
Stanley Weyman (Shropshire historical romance novels)
Izaak Walton (fishing)
Sir Philip Sidney (16th century poet)
David Christie Murray (Cap O' Nails West Bromwich)
Washington Irving (wrote Rip Van Winkle in Brum)
Francis Brett Young (novelist Halesowen)
Jerome K. Jerome (Walsall)
A. E. Houseman
William Langland (Medieval. The Vision of Piers Plowman)
Arnold Bennett
David Lodge(contemporary novelist
Jonathan Coe(contemporary novelist
Jim Crace (contemporary novelist
Rupert Brooke (Rugby)
Judith Cutler (crime)
Elizabeth Brett
Roshan Doug (contemporary poet)
Roi Kwabena (contemporary poet)
Benjamin Zephaniah (contemporary poet)
David Edgar (playwright)
George Eliot (19th century novelist Nuneaton)
John Farnol (hence Farnol Road Yardley romantic fiction)
Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler (19th century novelist Wolverhampton)
William Hazlitt (critic and essayist)
Meg Hutchinson (contemporary romantic fiction Black Country)
Kathleen Dayus (Birmingham working class)
William Hutton (history of Brum etc)
Catherine Hutton (William's daughter and well known writer herself)
 
Saturday, October 29, 2005
  Peak Wood
This is an interesting article about problems with deforestation in the past.

This extract is particularly pertinent:
The timber crisis of the late Bronze Age was obviously not the extinction of all trees in the world. It didn't need to be, just as we don't need to run out of oil to face a similar fuel crisis. There was still lumber to be felled; but as Bronze Age kingdoms deforested their surrounding ecosystem, the nearest forest became farther and father away. Loggers had to travel farther to reach the forest, and once the trees were felled, they needed to be transported longer and longer distances back home. The energy invested was constantly increasing, but the energy returned remained the same. The ERoEI plummeted, and Bronze Age civilization collapsed into a dark age for several centuries.

ERoEI is Energy Returned on Energy Invested. Economists are obsessed with money when energy is far more important.
 
Friday, October 28, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Questions 28th October 2005
Benefits
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether the Government continue to provide benefits to meet the interest payments on a loan which had been taken out by a person now on benefits when an endowment policy accompanying a mortgage matures but does not provide sufficient funds to pay off the balance of that mortgage. (John Hemming)

A: Yes; the balance of any loan which originally qualified for help with interest payments would remain eligible for such help where part of the capital is repaid. (James Plaskitt, Under Secretary of State Department for Work and Pensions)

Encounter Reciept Pilot Schemes
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department which police authorities are operating pilot schemes of encounter receipts. (John Hemming)

A: We are not aware of any police authorities operating pilot schemes of encounter receipts.(Hazel Blears, Home Office Minister)

Telephone Nuisance
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will press Ofcom to use its powers to prevent silent calls. (John Hemming)

A: I am confident that the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the independent regulator for the communications sector, will do everything in its power to prevent silent calls. Ofcom deriving its main powers and duties directly from statute rather than by delegation from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, so it is accountable to Parliament in its own right. The Government take the issue of silent calls very seriously because of the distress they cause to consumers. My officials are in regular contact with Ofcom and encourage us to use its powers effectively to the fullest extent.(Alun Michael, Department for Trade and Industry Minister)

Telephone Nuisance
Q: TTo ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what factors are affecting the timing of the publication by Ofcom of new guidance on reducing the level of telephone nuisance from predictive diallers.(John Hemming)

A: The timing of any announcement is the responsibility of the Office of Communications (Ofcom). Ofcom is the independent regulator for the communications sector, deriving its main powers and duties directly from statute rather than by delegation from the Secretary of State, and accountable to Parliament in its own right. My officials have asked the Chief Executive Officer of Ofcom to reply to the hon. Member and to send me a copy for his response. Copies of the Chief Executive's letter will be placed in the Libraries of the House.(Alun Michael, Department for Trade and Industry Minister)
 
  Yardley District Youth Festival
Last night I visited the final day of the Yardley District Youth Festival. This was organised by Ginny, Ness, Carol and the other youth workers (Ginny is actually not a youth worker) to whom thanks need to be given.

Sadly the room (at the Lea Hall British Legion) was too dark to warrant taking photos, but it was an opportunity for local children to lobby their MP and Councillors.

Later on I attended the police surgery in Willclare Road. The local drugs officer turned up and explained about a new system for concealing Ecstasy found in Leeds and other parts of Yorkshire. It involves creating a drugs paste and hiding it between the teeth and the upper lip. It is known as "E by gum". (well the joke went down well in the meeting - it may not work in writing)
 
  Russia plans peak oil in 2010
Russia's oil production is unusual because it initially peaked during the soviet period. They made a bit of a mess of things generally and there is now a move towards a second peak. The Russians recently (Tuesday) said that they were aiming at about 10.3 mbbl a day which is higher than September 2005's 9.53 mbbl/d.

Yesterday the Daily Express led on the cold winter and possibility of a consequent difficulty with gas supply - you read that first here.
 
Thursday, October 27, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Questions 27th October 2005
National Grid
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what consultation has occurred with (a) the general public and (b) industry about the reduction in voltage on the national grid that may be required in the event of a one in 50 cold winter. (John Hemming)

A: My officials are investigating the impacts of voltage reduction measures undertaken in other countries in the past year. We will share the findings with industry and other interested parties.(Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)

Power Cuts
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment has been made of the possible implications for the operation of medical equipment of a cut in mains voltage during a one in 50 cold winter.(John Hemming)

A: Medical equipment is designed to operate at the standard supply voltage and within the statutory limit for the UK of plus 10 per cent. minus 6 per cent.
In NHS hospitals, where the supply voltage falls to a value likely to give rise to danger or equipment failure, then automatic systems disconnect the network supply and revert to a stand-by generator supply until the network is restored to a sustained normal value. (Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)

Tax Statistics
Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many taxpayers in each parliamentary constituency paid the (a) starting, (b) basic and (c) higher rate of tax in the last year for which figures are available. (John Hemming)

A: The latest information on the estimated number of income taxpayers and their mean and median total income by constituency, is shown in table 3.15 "Total Income by Parliamentary Constituency" on the HM Revenue and Customs internet website http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/income_distribution/table-3–15.xls.

The income tax information is based upon the 2002–03 Survey of Personal Incomes (SPI).

A breakdown of income taxpayers by tax bands is not available because the sample sizes for marginal rates at constituency level are very small and demonstrate a large variability year on year. (Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster general)
 
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
  Progress on Silent Calls
The attached story is about how the Call Centre Industry is getting ready to get rid of silent calls. What we need now is for Ofcom to play their part. I received an email today from Ofcom which said:

We're happy that we're making good progress. We'll be in touch when we have anything more useful to report.

This is not as good as it could be, but is better than nothing.
 
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
  Sprit Group Drinking in Last Chance Saloon at Sheldon Inn
A bit of a mixed metaphor I suppose.

I was pleased that the Spirit Group withdraw their application for an extension of hours at the Sheldon Inn which has in recent years caused major problems. Regardless of the efforts of the manager and his wife the fact is that the Spirit group make it difficult to maintain order.

It would have helped if they had given some notice of withdrawing the application as I had to get permission from the Whips to atttend this rather than The House, Cllr Sue Anderson also had to take time out as did local residents.

We all warned them that they may see the pub shut down unless they move very quickly to sort things out.
 
Monday, October 24, 2005
  Luckily it is just an ordinary shooting
There was someone else shot in Lozells last night. "Luckily" it was an "ordinary shooting" and not related to the racial disorder that happened on Saturday night.

It is really sad, however, that we are now in a situation in which there are "ordinary shootings".

The situation in Lozells/Handsworth/Perry Barr is from one perspective simple, but from a more detailed perspective quite complex. Although it is not directly faith related the council has been working on supporting multi-faith activity recently.

Sadly this has been undermined partially by the bureaucracy creating unnecessary hurdles, but hopefully I knocked over the hurdles this morning and we should make more progress.
 
Sunday, October 23, 2005
  Medical Confidentiality
People may wonder what Medical Confidentiality actually means. Well in practise it means that the Doctor may pass matters revealed in confidence to Social Services and then it can end up being passed by them to the national media. Although this is not with the consent of the management of Social Services it does show simply that you should be very careful what you tell your Doctor as it may end up in the national media.
 
Friday, October 21, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Questions 19th October 2005
Gas and Electricity
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what demand modelling he has performed to examine the interplay between gas and electricity generation in the event of a one in 20 cold winter. (John Hemming)

A: The Department has not undertaken demand modelling to examine the interplay between gas and electricity. This is undertaken by National Grid, as system operator. National Grid's consideration of the interaction between gas and electricity can be found in Section C of its Winter Outlook Report, published on 5 October: (Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)


National Grid I
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the impact of a reduction in the voltage on the national grid in the event of a one in 50 cold winter on (a) domestic and (b) commercial consumers. (John Hemming)

A: If voltage demand measures were needed to handle a short-term electricity shortage the most likely visible impact on consumers would be a slight dimming of lights and kettles would take longer to boil. Some sensitive, mainly commercial and industrial, electronic systems may be affected e.g. fire alarms. Demand restraint measures of this nature would mostly happen during the morning and evening peak demand periods. (Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)

National Grid II
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to what level the voltage on the national grid may be reduced in the event of a one in 50 cold winter. (John Hemming)

A: Under the terms of the Grid Code, National Grid can direct Distributed Network Operators to implement short-term demand reduction measures. The Distributed Network Operators have a number of different tools available to deal with a request of this nature; these include short-term disconnection, interrupting supply to those customers whose contracts permit it or the use of voltage reductions. The severity of the situation would decide which of these measures were appropriate.
However this is a very short-term measure that can only address an emergency situation. In a long-term shortage of supply incident other demand restraint measures would be utilised. (Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)

Natural Gas
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what contingency plans are in place to deal with a possible shortage of natural gas during the winter of 2005–06; and what significant methods are available, in addition to limiting electricity generation, to reduce natural gas consumption. (John Hemming)

A: In the first instance the Government would expect demand for gas to reduce itself in response to price signals indicating tightness in the balance between supply and demand in the gas market. This has already been observed in previous winters, mostly from electricity generation but also, to a lesser extent, from large industrial users of gas. The scope for additional demand reduction from this sector was explored in a report, "Estimation of Industrial Buyers' Potential Demand Response to Short Periods of High Gas & Electricity Prices: A report to the DTI and Ofgem by Global Insight", which is available from the DTI website under

http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/publications/policy/index.shtml

The Government and Ofgem have been working with large industrial users to encourage the provision of more timely and easily accessible information to help market participants to identify commercial opportunities for such demand-side response.

In the extremely unlikely event of the situation deteriorating to the point where the market is no longer able to balance itself, powers to restrict gas supply are available to the national emergency co-ordinator at National Grid and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State under applicable legislation. (Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)


Congestion/Pollution
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what research has been commissioned on the effects on levels of (a) congestion and (b) carbon emissions of the closure of local (i) post offices, (ii) banks and (iii) shops. (John Hemming)

A: No such specific research has been commissioned. (Stephen ladyman, Minister for Transport)
 
  Parliamentary Approval for War and NHS EDM
I find myself in London to support the Private Members Bill in support of parliamentary approval of the initial deployment of troops before going to war. This is an important piece of constitutional legislation.

One interesting argument a Conservative used against it was that the PM should be able to go to war and sign treaties without coming to parliament. One would presume that he would make an exception for European Treaties such as the EU Constitution.

Whilst here I have submitted an EDM about the NHS which follows:
John Hemming
Title: Financial Crisis in the Health Service
That this house notes persistent statements from health service managers implying that both 25% of NHS bodies are insolvent and that the NHS in aggregate is insolvent, recognises that much of this results from simplistic, ideologically driven meddling in the operation of the Health Service which has been underpinned by a failure to understand where market mechanisms are appropriate and where they are not appropriate and calls for an urgent and public review by the government of the financial status of the National Health Service so that urgent remedial action can be taken.
 
Thursday, October 20, 2005
  The rule of law in Perry Barr
There do appear to be some problems relating to an alleged criminal offence developing in Perry Barr at the moment. We had similar difficulties about 2 years ago. What is critical is that people accept that they need to use the rule of law to resolve such problems rather than merely force of numbers or political pressure.

The first step has to be for witnesses to report the allegation to the police.
 
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Question: Winter Gas Import Capacity II
THE QUESTION: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the UK daily natural gas import capacity via pipeline or LNG was during the winter of 2004–05; and what the estimated import capacity for the coming winter of 2005–06 is. [17558]

THE ANSWER: Total import capacity for winter 2004–05 was 60mcm/d. For the winter 2005–06 it is estimated at 95mcm/d. Further information, in particular concerning the likely evolution of UKCS gas production levels and our gas import capability, can be found in the Secretary of State's "First Report to Parliament on Security of Gas and Electricity Supply in Great Britain". This was published in July 2005, and is available on the DTI website, at http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/publications/policy/sec_supply_first_report.pdf
 
  Written Parliamentary Question: Winter Gas Import Capacity
THE QUESTION: To ask the Secretary of State of Trade and Industry, why the UK-Europe gas Interconnector was unable to import at full capacity during winter 2004-05; and what assessment he has made of the performance of the facility in 2005-06.

THE ANSWER: The flows of gas through the Interconnector are driven by the price differentials between the UK and the Continent. The direction of the flows during the winter 2004-05 was as expected, given the differentials. National Grid, in their Winter Outlook Report 2005-06, have indicated that they have adopted conservative assumptions that imports through the Interconnector for winter 2004-05 will be an average level of 42mcm/d, with a maximum capacity of 48mcm/d. The report is published on the Ofgem website at:
www.ofgem.gov.uk/temp/ofgem/cashe/cmsattach/12493_214_05.pdf
 
  Groundhog Day
For those who are not aware of the Film the plot is basically that someone continues living the same day time after time (34 times in the film).

With the ejection of Ken Clarke from the Tory leadership contest we are essentially at the same position. Even pseudo wet David Cameron goes on about reducing taxes.

The problem is that, although the Labour Party have made a mess of running public services, a substantial majority of people - particularly those living in urban areas - depend on public services. Public services do need revenue to run.

The Conservatives, therefore, are guaranteed to continue to issue a message that they are not a political party aiming to represent the interests of the financially weaker members of society.

There is also a difficulty in developing a type of politics which is not in any way dependent upon convictions and beliefs. There is always the difficulty that politics is a bit like an ocean where some ships drift aimlessly, others steam purposely in a direction and have others following in their wake.

A leader needs to lead. David Davis, give him his due, is likely to lead - off a cliff, but he will lead. David Cameron is likely to drift aimlessly and leave the tory party becalmed.

Blair's real problem is an almost total inability to actually deliver. There is constitutional change which was politically driven. The war in Iraq was started to keep George's big donors happy. However, the rest of his agenda tends to be driven by the Civil Service.

The Civil Service tend to get obsessed with managerialism. Well meaning, bright, but inexperienced people in Whitehall sit down and write a load of rules that others throughout the country are forced to follow. Things still happen, but it all ends up rather chaotic.

Labour were in part lucky that they came into office with a strong economic position (mainly caused by the low price of oil). They then stuck to very tight financial controls. Then they turned the throttle of public spending from idle to full blast.

In the mean time some really silly deals were done. If people want to look at an effective Trades Union they should look at the BMA. The BMA have done some amazing deals with the government which is part of the reason why the health service is creaking. Bright young things in Whitehall have also changed the financial relationships in the health services such that it is teetering on a financial brink. Labour's failing in all of this is that they have not actually kept an eye on what the Civil Servants have been doing.

This has put them into an unsustainable situation. The overall government finances are in a mess. They are refusing to provide the assumptions behind the budget. I am pleased that the Information Commissioner has taken this issue and put it to the top of his pile of investigations. I can understand that they feel that they can cope with a large deficit as the national debt is relatively low. However, there is a big problem if they don't start looking at the issues seriously.

What happens when there is a lot of free resources available is that they start being wasted. I can identify tens of millions of pounds of money that the government have basically spent on froth. The mass of resources that go into ineffectual strategies and paperwork is another aspect as are the vast consultancy bills.

The problem when we hit famine rather than glut is that there tends to be a cut overall. Rather than cut out the candyfloss, core services get cuts as well. Gershon is being implemented almost without a debate - which in itself shows the flaws in the way parliament has been operating.

Governments tend to lose elections rather than opposition parties winning them. That is because it is the actions of governments that make people vote against them. The tory leadership election yesterday is saying that the Conservatives will not offer a mainstream alternative to Labour. That, of course, is our opportunity.
 
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
  Walking an offence in Scotland under Terror legislation
The operators of the Port of Dundee said today they had no choice but to have a pedestrian using the cycle path through the area “arrested” under anti-terrorism legislation, writes Steven Bell.
An incident involving local businesswoman Sally Cameron has led to claims of “ridiculous” heavy-handedness on the part of port security and the police.

Ms Cameron (34) was stopped by police, allegedly under the Terrorism Act, but the case has subsequently been dropped by the Procurator Fiscal.


This issue. The one relating to Walter Wolfgang, the proposals to introduce internment by the back door (90 days), show the problems with the balance of where legislative powers lie.

The police do make mistakes. The problem arises that the consequences and fall out from those mistakes can be very damaging. This is what happened in Northern Ireland. Justice needs to be done and seen to be done to obtain acceptance that justice has been done. Otherwise resentment grows and has a consequential effect.
 
Sunday, October 16, 2005
  Radio Cat
We visited the Cats Protection League again today. Our home visit had happened earlier today to check whether we had appropriate accommodation for a cat. We have encountered a slight problem in that the CPL rules say no more than 2 cats. We have around 5 now, only two of whom are officially based in our house.

I almost managed to find a White Persian, but it was actually a Seal Point Persian.

One interesting notice was about the Radio. They keep a radio for the cats, but it is crucial that it is tuned only to Radio 2 or Radio 4. I wonder what would happen to the cats if it were to be tuned to Heart FM or even Kerrang.

I can understand the logic of using a station which has some talking on it as well as music. However, it creates interesting thoughts of heavy metal rock cats addicted to cat nip being developed by exposure to Kerrang with perhaps a tendency to claw the furniture.
 
  Energy efficiency and Railways
One issue which is not really studied much is the question of energy usage and railways. One figure quoted to me is that the newer community rolling stock in the South East uses 33% more energy than that which it replaced.

The challenge is that the strength of the carriages has been increased such that much more energy is used to move passengers. I have not been able to source the allegation, but it is alleged that Japanese Rolling Stock uses 50% of the steel that UK Rolling Stock uses.

The issue here, of course, is one of safety. As a very frequent Rail user I want to feel safe when travelling particularly as I am not in any way in control of the situation. As a Driver I can take action to minimise risk, but as a Rail (Bus or Air) passenger there is little I can do.

I wonder, however, if we have actually ignored the question of energy efficiency on the Railways in recent years.

Still my favourite mode of transport is by train. I quite dislike driving as it is dead time that I can do little with.
 
Saturday, October 15, 2005
  Non Habitually Resident
The Civil Service have been driving away the values of the Social Contract for many years. The concept of the Social Contract is that people fund the government and as a consequence people obtain support from the government/society.

This concept has faded in recent years with a growth in means testing and a development of a system based almost purely on arbitrary need.

This causes a particular problem with the NHR test for benefits. If someone leaves the country to find work and then returns they can find that they have disqualified themselves from obtaining benefits. Similarly you need to live 2 years in the UK to qualify as homeless. If you are homeless abroad and wish to return then there is no support.

I encountered a problem where someone who had worked and paid taxes for around 35 years retired abroad then returned to the UK last week and basically found himself destitute. The situation is actually sadder than that.

The fading away of the social contract and social queue is causing resentment and undermining people's willingness to pay taxes. (They pay ... they don't get.)
 
Friday, October 14, 2005
  Computer Problems
I try to make sure that my political office is about as efficient as possible. The objective is that everything that comes in on a day goes out the same day. The complications of trying to deal with the City Council Computer Systems and the Parliamentary Communications Department and get everything to work do cause some stress.

I have now moved the casework server for the third time. It started on the 6th floor of Canterbury House, moved to the Deputy Leader's Office, the to the Group Chair's office and has now moved to the 2nd floor of Canterbury House. The 6th Floor is the City Council's Computer Department, the 2nd floor is the offices of John Hemming & Co.

The problems with routing over the last few days have basically prevented my office from working. Hopefully, now things will run a lot smoother.

It still remains that I cannot properly access the internet via the Parliamentary Network and have to use my Vodafone G3 card to do that. The PCD don't want people to use software such as Outlook Express.

At least my spam filter is now working again. The parliamentary spam filter is a real pain as it does not warn the sender that they are treated as spam and still requires the recipient to look at it. I have tried to get it removed, but they are as inflexible as usual.

This is why I don't encourage people to email me @parliament.uk Such emails may be taken away into cyberspace by the PCD computer systems never to be seen again.
 
Thursday, October 13, 2005
  Brown causes road safety problems through means testing
One of the problems we have locally is that the job of a crossing warden is being undermined by means testing.

Although people get paid about £40 per week, after means testing deductions they end up with around a fiver. This has resulted in large numbers of vacancies for crossing wardens in Birmingham - and probably nationally.

I will be chasing up the full figures nationally.
 
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
  Earthquake
I think the government are responding more quickly to disasters now. It struck me as odd that during the aftermath of the Tsunami the media had managed to get on the ground, but the government and many agencies had not.

Birmingham has responded well, not just because there are many people with links to the area, but because Birmingham does tend to respond well.
 
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
  The Regulatory Reform Select Committee
On being elected the Whips ask which committees members are willing to sit on. I said I didn't mind.

As a consequence I got the Regulatory Reform Select Committee. Actually this is a very interesting committee. I don't know for certain, but it appears that this is the only select committee that actually scrutinises changes to primary legislation that are not being debated as such.

Regulatory Reform Orders are motions that actually are not debated on the floor of the House of Commons (or House of Lords) that involve changing primary legislation.

These can be quite wide ranging such as the Forestry Commissioners wanting additional powers to do commercial leisure development in the public Forests. This is a bit stretching of the legislation.

It appears that with the new Regulatory Reform Bill that the government actually want to have ministers change primary legislation by edict without the scrutiny of the Regulatory Reform Committees. This is a fundamental change to the constitutional structure of the UK.

The reason why very few regulatory reforms have got anywhere is that they have not come from the ministers. To a certain extent a regulatory reform is generally a reduction in the powers of government something government is generally not in favour of. The one we looked at today involved increasing the powers of government, which is ironic given that it is a regulatory reform committee.
 
Monday, October 10, 2005
  Brown taken to Secrets Watchdog
The Treasury Macroeconomic Modelling team have finally decided that they won't give me a copy of the assumptions file for the 2005 budget. Hence I am taking Gordon Brown to the Information Commissioner.

Press release is as follows:
John Hemming MP has reported the Chancellor to the Secrets Watchdog for his failure to reveal budget calculations. John Hemming MP, a computer specialist, has hacked in to the Treasury's Economic Modelling Computer System. He has been told, however, that the calculations for the Budget are secret. He has therefore taken the Chancellor to the Secrets Watchdog (Information Commissioner) to get him to reveal his workings.

"When people do maths exams," he said, "they are supposed to provide the workings. The Civil Servants in the Treasury, however, are saying that their calculations are secret. I think they are wrong under the Freedom of Information act. What have they got to hide?"

The Treasury Macroeconomic Model computer system, used by Gordon Brown to create the 2005 Budget has been obtained by John Hemming MP. Mr. Brown makes assumptions about the economy and puts these into the Model as inputs. The model then creates an output: a picture of the British economy that Mr. Brown used to create his 2005 Budget.

Until John Hemming made a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, no one had bothered to analyse the inputs that Gordon Brown fed into his model; commentators on the budget had concentrated on what the Model churned out. These vitally important inputs describe the economic environment that Mr. Brown thinks he is working in. It includes, for instance, his assumptions about oil prices over the course of the year. He may have got this right; but he may also have got this wrong. If Mr. Brown is only slightly out in these assumptions, his whole 2005 Budget falls to pieces.

Gordon Brown has refused to give John Hemming these assumptions, because he thinks that it “would in future inhibit officials/experts in providing sufficiently free and frank advice”. John Hemming says, “I have a mandate from my constituents in Birmingham Yardley to hold this government to account. How am I to do my job if Mr. Brown plays hide-and-seek with his figures?”
 
Saturday, October 08, 2005
  Thankyou to City Plaza
City Plaza have kindly agreed to host the regional wall of fame. This will enable us to launch the process of working out who should be on the wall of fame.
 
Thursday, October 06, 2005
  Free Energy Schemes
The link is "Eric's History of Perpetual Motion and Free Energy Machines" which gives a list of the various scams that have been tried over the decades as mechanisms to get energy out of thin air.

The OM Energy scheme as far as I can tell talks about separating hydrogen from oxygen in water by generating a magnetic field by spinning the water. This is "powered" by the exhaust gases from a petrol engine. The "hydrogen" is mixed with petrol and used as part of the combustion system.

Superficially it would be possible to inject some hydrogen into an internal combustion engine and add to the fuel that way. Whether this would work that well or not is not the big issue.

The big issue is that when hydrogen is burnt it turns into water. So there is a defined amount of energy needed to separate oxygen and hydrogen and a defined amount of energy released when they are united. Even if no energy was wasted either way those amounts are exactly the same.

If we define the energy of Oxidation as Eo and the energy of Hydrolysis as Eh then the argument OM Energy have is that Eo>Eh. This is a complete non starter as it breaks the laws of conservation of Energy. In other words it is a "Free Energy" or "Perpetual Motion" machine.

In any event splitting the water atoms by spinning the water presses my scepticism button, the idea that it generates a magnetic field by spinning the water does the same. It is true that swirls could be created through viscosity.

Even if the splitting idea worked there would be energy losses as the water is generally heated up whilst being spun. There would be energy losses (see Carnot a couple of days ago) through the use of exhaust gases to generate torque. There are also energy losses on the oxidation of the hydrogen (also Carnot and Second Law of Thermodynamics)

What does not surprise me is the government wasting taxpayers money. What does surprise me is that this proposal has actually been press released by the government as a sensible way forwards.

Generally Patent offices won't register free energy machines (because they break the laws of conservation of energy).

Still it is nice to have a laugh from time to time.
 
  Perpetual Motion Engine - funded by government!
Yes ... it appears the government have funded a perpetual motion engine company run by a bunch of Russians.

Cars would use water as the main fuel and need only a small amount of petrol, thus cutting costs for motorists.

Trade Minister Ian Pearson said: "The successful creation of OM Energy Ltd as a UK company represents UK Trade & Investment's steadfast commitment to help develop global entrepreneurship based on exceptional intellectual property.


I wonder how much of our tax monies have been sent in this particular direction.
 
  Another letter to Malcolm Wicks Gas Supplies 20 mcm/d down on last year.
In the National Grid's Winter Outlook report 2005/6 (released 5th October 2005) it states that even with the Liquid Natural Gas imports from the Isle of Grain terminal (estimated at 17mcm/d max) the UK will have 20 mcm/d less natural gas than last winter.

I have heard (but not been able to confirm) that the first scheduled shipment for commissioning the Isle of Grain LNG terminal has been redirected to the USA. This is about 122 mcm of gas (about 10 days supply via the Isle of Grain). In isolation this is not a problem. However, if LNG tankers continue to be redirected to the USA it could exacerbate the tightness of supply this winter.

National Grid predict that if the winter is as cold as 1985/6 (1/20) that to satisfy domestic demand and those other people not metered for gas on a daily basis that a reduction in demand of 2,200,000,000 cubic metres (2.2 bcm) will be required.

They also say that only 0.6 bcm can be found easily as a result of higher prices, but would require a reduction in demand from certain customers for 2 months which they would not be happy to provide.

They forecast a normal demand for electricity of 61.9 GigaWatts (GW) and a cold winter (1/20) demand of 64.9 GW. They expect 72.6 GW UK capacity including 2 GW possible import.

A potential reduction of 944 MW from high energy users could lead to a 2 mcm/d reduction in gas demand from Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT), but NG recognise that 'the level of price responsiveness experienced and required to date has only been a fraction of that required to ensure a supply-demand balance in a 1/50 winter.

Para 122 indicates that electricity supply would be sufficient provided there is not a substantial shutdown of CCGT as a response to high gas prices, but that they would handle electricity shortages by reducing the voltage.

There are 39 CCGTs using a maximum of 97.8 mcm/d generating 23.8 GW although 5.7GW can be generated on backup fuel and 3.2 GW are not fueled via the NTS pipelines.

NG do say, however, that 'the scale of potential demand response ... is far in excess of that either required to date or seen to date.' (para 140) This involves a reduction of 5GW in electricity generation.

You, therefore, have two challenges. FIrstly, to consider the issue of redirection of LNG tankers and how that will impact supply which is recognised, but not considered in the National Grid's analysis. Secondly, to look how CCGT demand can be handled given that there is for a 1/50 cold winter weekday an unprecedented requirement for cuts in demand from electricity generation. It would be helpful for NG to perform daily demand modelling for a 1985/6 winter as well.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The link is to the National Grid's Winter Outlook prognostication.
 
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
  PFI Costs £21 per square foot excluding land
At the District Committee last week we were presented with the case that to have a community space of 3,300 square feet available from 8am to 6pm could cost 71,000 per year for 30 years.

Given that we need access during the evening this is a complete non-starter. The point to remember with this is that it ignores the land values. You could argue the case that the community were being priced out. That may be true, but everything I see about PFI is massively expensive (and involves tying up the public purse strings for decades).

The Treasury like it because they claim it reduces the risk of the price going up. The point is that the price is put particularly high at the start and the administrative costs of setting the schemes up are massive. The game is to get the capital cost off the PSBR, but the cost of doing this is massive.

This has a list of PFI projects agreed by the government. The total value is £42 bn.

That ignores all the projects in the pipeline and does not tell us how much money is paid out per year for each one. There are basically too many vested interests behind PFI for it to get proper scrutiny from the government on a value for money basis.
 
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
  IEA change tack slightly
This is an interesting article referring to the International Energy Agency starting to resile from their prediction of peak oil being about 2030. They are arguing a case that:

“It should be noted, too, that there does not tend to be great interest in new types of resources among service and supply-sector players…they need to have ready customers for their new products and cannot easily justify developing products for a market that does not yet exist. Furthermore, private industry cannot be relied upon to invest in research on technologies that are too far from being economical.”

This economic argument ignores the issue of EROEI - Energy Returned on Energy Invested. I heard an argument once that if people eat celery the energy taken to consume the celery is more than is obtained from the celery. I never liked celery anyway so as a dieting mechanism it never attracted me.

However, EROEI always trumps the laws of economics being as it is the law of conservation of energy. Extracting oil consumes energy (the marginal return of which comes from oil and gas). The harder to extract elements consume more energy. So as the cost of extraction goes up as energy costs go up the merit of trying to extract the oil goes down.

In the big Gharwar field in Saudi Arabia seawater is being injected to get oil out. This takes energy, but there is still a massively positive energy return.

Converting from one source of energy to another is another important issue. If hydrocarbons are burnt then there is a limit (the Carnot limit) set by the laws of conservation of Entropy as to the amount of energy that can be extracted. As a rule of thumb two thirds or so gets wasted in most car engines before transmission losses. Combined Cycle Natural Gas generators can convert about 50-60% of the energy inbuilt in the gas. Additionally Combined Heat and Power systems can be used to warm up cool locations although we really should look at insulation for this.

It is these matters that human ingenuity cannot get around because they are theoretical limits (much like the reason why the patent office won't accept patents for perpetual motion engines (although perpetual motion does exist particularly at very low temperatures)). [in this instance perpetual motion is the concept of something that makes energy out of nothing]
 
  July's Crude Oil: 73,596,000 barrells a day
September's "International Petroleum Monthly" has just been released by the EIA in the USA. (see link). The EIA collate crude oil production figures from a number of sources and then make them available both to the US Government and the rest of the world via the web. They are always working in arrears and often the figures they produce are estimates that are adjusted later.

As usual the last figure they have is for July 2005 which is 73.6 Mbbl (as title).

There is a separate calculation for Natural Gas Liquids which is running at 7.6 Mbbl.

The total supply is running at 84 Mbbl.

Like all figures relating to oil supply there are complications. One complication arises from governments not giving full information. Another complication is that not all oil is equivalent which is why you have WTI (West Texas Intermediate) prices and Brent prices. Often specific oils will be priced in relation to WTI or Brent. There are lighter and heavier oils. Some countries count barrells. Other countries (eg the UK) tend to go by weight. Obviously the weight and volume do not have a static relationship as it depends on the density of the oil.

This debate between Kenneth Deffeyes and Peter Odell about Peak Oil raises a number of the key issues.

Kenneth Deffeyes has predicted that global production will peak on Thanksgiving Day 2005 (24th November). That is him having a bit of a laugh, but it is based upon an analysis of the data.

I remain of the view that we will only be certain when peak oil has occurred about 3 years later. What happened with the US peak of oil production (1971) is that the oil cartel control mechanism of the time (The Texas Railroad Commission) said people could produce at maximum about 2 year later and then stopped trying to constrain production.
 
Monday, October 03, 2005
  Critical Path Analysis and Children
jhpluscttee
This is a picture of me with the coordinator and chair of Homestart - Cole Valley. They held their first AGM on Monday morning.

HomeStart are a charity with provides mainly voluntary support to families with children under 5. They have about 20 volunteers working in Yardley and Sheldon (and now Shard End).

Their funding comes from the PCT, Social Care and NRF plus donations.

Of course we now have a major delay on NRF (yet again) because getting the Regional Government Office, ODPM Nationally and various others to agree on what to do is relatively difficult.

The problem is that to do a good job with voluntary funding needs planning, but it takes so long to agree how to do things that everything is delayed then rushed. It is because government seems incapable of critical path analysis and as a consequence children suffer. (not just children)

Still the people are doing a good job for families locally.
 
Sunday, October 02, 2005
  Buddhists and Murder
Not really two things that should go together. However, given the sad world that we live in I started out the day in Acocks Green. Sadly one of my constituents was murdered on Thursday night. I started the day talking to local residents about this and liaising with the police about the matter.

My original plan had been to start with a visit to the Buddhists, but I felt it was important that I went to Acocks Green first. I then visited the buddhist temple.
buddhists
The buddhists had done well with the supreme patriarchs of Switzerland, Italy, France and Germany visiting Birmingham. Sadly the UK's supreme patriarch was too ill to travel.

Later in the day I am to review the issue of mental health and deaths in custody.

We have developed a criminal justice system that has a large number of problems. The problems range from inappropriate mechanisms for handling mental illness through to a cautions/final warnings system that encourages crime. In the mean time, however, the Prime Minister comes out with a simplistic proposal about the standard of proof that seems to indicate that he has little knowledge about how the system actually works.
 
Saturday, October 01, 2005
  Yardley Old Park Clean-up
rubbishcolln
This morning, after a minor false start, I started by collecting rubbish on Old Yardley Park with various local residents who are taking part in an annual clear-up.

To me the big issue really is how we persuade people that parks are not rubbish bins. We are spending a lot of effort on clearing them up, but really we need people not to drop rubbish in the first instance.

I turned up at my advice bureau on time (normally I am about 30 mins early) which meant there was a queue. The numbers of people turning up seems to be gradually increasing. There are also a continuing flow of people that I have not had dealings with before.

My casework team (Angie and Daphne) are finding that things are now running quite smoothly although we still have connectivity problems with the broadband connection that links the office to the casework server.

I have had a few cases recently where people seem to be being means tested for housing and council tax benefits on incorrect figures. This may be because these people had not been to see anyone previously.

According to the DWP website the clawback rate for Housing Benefit is still 65% and Council Tax Benefit 20%. I thought the government was going to try to do things about these, but it does not seem that they have.

My understanding is that there is a plan to introduce flat rate housing payments. There was a pilot scheme that was very expensive. In theory there is merit to this, but the changeover is really very complex, worrying and probably expensive.

At the moment I think I am getting roughly 10 new cases a week via email, 20 cases on Saturday and about 20-40 through the post otherwise. That ignores the lobbying letters and emails which I generally handle differently.

One area on which I have got a few emails (7) is about smoking. Although I don't smoke I am not inclined to prevent people from smoking everywhere that is public. I think that having smoking areas is not unreasonable as long as people don't have to work in them. I do think it is a sensible idea to require areas that are non-smoking to be part of any public operation. The House of Commons and various Hospitals now have places for people to go to smoke. I think that is a reasonable thing to do. We have banned smoking on buses for some time, not that this stops people.

It strikes me that this would make a good subject for a public meeting. I attended two meetings on Thursday one of which was LocalWorks and the other was the District COmmittee (both in South Yardley Library). The LocalWorks public meeting attracted 11 members of the public 5 of whom were from Yardley. There was, however, quite a well-informed debate and Chris Crean ably chaired the meeting as one would expect.
 

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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