Sad death of 100th Service person in Iraq
John Hemming MP together with Lorely Burt MP, John Barrett MP, John Leech MP and Richard Ross MP attended the vigil in memory of the deaths of 100 British Servicemen and Women at 5pm on Tuesday 31st January 2006.
The Liberal Democrat MPs shared in the reading out of the names of the servicepeople who had died.
John Hemming MP said, "The government have a key responsibility for the lives of our service people. They need to recognise that there is no good reason for keeping our boys and girls as military targets in Iraq. Work should commence for their return to the UK."
"This war was a mistake. The continued occupation is also a mistake."
"We do recognise that in theory we could have been arrested for reading the names of the service people. However, it is important that MPs stand up for free speech and the right for people to have their voice heard."
Lorely Burt MP said, "Our hearts go out to the families of the service people who have been killed in Iraq. We only hope that there will be no more tragedies as happened today."
Written Parliamentary Question: 27th January 2006
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to the answer of 9 January 2006, Official Report, column 378W, on passports, whether the notice added to the UK Passport Service website on photograph standards was published on 22 November 2005 as referred to in the answer or on 21 December as referred to on the UKPS website. (John Hemming)A:
The UKPS website was updated on 22 November to reflect the revised policy adopted after consideration of feedback following the introduction of new photo standards in September 2005. Changes are made to the website as the need arises, and on 21 December a further change was made to advise customers that the digital enhancement of photographs was not recommended. The date on the web page reflects this latter change. The website has been amended to make the timing of these changes clearer. (Andy Burnham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office)PassportsQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to the answer of 9 January 2006, Official Report, column 378W, on passports, if the Department will also allow the hand of a parent who is holding a baby to appear in a photograph without invalidating it. (John Hemming)A:
If a baby is being supported by a parent when photographed, the hands of the parent must not be visible above the shoulders of the baby. This is to ensure that the passport issuing system does not capture the supporting hand as part of the subject's face. It is recommended that the services of a photographic studio are used when obtaining passport photographs for very young infants. (Andy Burnham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office)Energy (Security of Supply)Q:
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on what date the Joint Energy Security of Supply Working Group's report was due to be published; on what date he expects the report to be published; and if he will make a statement. (John Hemming)A:
DTI officials, in conjunction with Ofgem, are currently drafting the sixth JESS report which I expect to be published in the next few weeks—about six months after my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's first report to Parliament on security of gas and electricity supply in Great Britain was published. (Malcolm Wicks, Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry)
Smoking Rooms - a Liberal Alternative
As someone who has never smoked anything (apart from other people's smoke) and who is quite anti-smoking, I still have some problems with banning smoking in public places.
I am happy with the argument about protecting the workforce, but feel that a simplistic ban is not necessary the best way. I will probably go along with banning smoking from all pubs. I have some difficulty with clubs, however.
What I think might be a good way forwards is to have "Smoking Rooms" which are licensed for smoking on the basis that they have good ventilation and staff are protected from breathing in smoke.
This at least would prevent the entrances to pubs ending up plastered with fag ends and having people walking through smoke.
I have, therefore, tabled such an amendment to the Health Bill to have a debate about this. My amendment would allow local authorities to license certain rooms for smoking.
There are clearly good cases for such provision such as specialist smoking shops where people want to try before they buy.
I accept that smoking is bad for health, but I don't think that it is the role of government to legislate to control how people handle their own health.
Written Parliamentary Questions: 25th January 2006
Predictive Diallers (DTI)Q:
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many calls were made from call centres in his Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres.(John Hemming)A:
The Department of Trade and Industry does not use predictive dialling in any of its call centres. (Alun Michael, Minister of State, Industry and the Regions, Department of Trade and Industry)Predictive Diallers (NI)Q:
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many calls were made from call centres in his Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres. (John Hemming)A:
No call centres were run by the Northern Ireland Office. (David Hanson, Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)Gas PricesQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the environmental impact of energy companies choosing to use their coal fired power stations rather than their gas fired power stations because of high gas prices.(John Hemming)A:
Any increase in overall annual CO 2 emissions from coal fired power stations running at a higher rate than usual will need to be covered by allowances under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. There is a fixed number of allowances which are allocated directly to installations, such as power stations. If an installation wants to increase emissions above its allowance, it will need to buy extra allowances from other holders of allowances who are able to abate emissions and therefore have allowances to sell. Allowances can also be bought through Kyoto protocol mechanisms whereby credits can be bought for emissions reductions in mainly developing countries. The Emissions Trading Scheme therefore works to ensure that those responsible for increased CO 2 emissions on an annual basis have to pay for offsetting reductions in emissions elsewhere.
Other environmental impacts from coal fired electricity generation are subject to controls which are monitored and enforced by the Environment Agency. These controls are designed to offer sufficient flexibility to respond to changing commercial circumstances without compromising overall environmental objectives. (Malcolm Wicks, Minister for Energy, Department of Trade and Industry)Gas PricesQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the economic impact of the level of gas prices in the UK since November 2005. (John Hemming)A:
The Government takes the recent increases in gas prices very seriously, and particularly their impact on the competitiveness of UK industry. We understand that this creates tough trading conditions, especially for energy intensive users, and we are aware of a few companies having reduced production in response to the very high prices since November. This will, of course, have a negative impact on UK industrial output, but in terms of overall GDP this will be relatively minor.
I have visited a number of major industrial gas users and am continuing to meet with companies, business representatives and gas suppliers to discuss gas prices and security of supply. Energywatch and DTI held a seminar with smaller gas users and the public sector on 30 November 2005 to discuss energy purchasing strategies. We are also undertaking some research into the capability of UK industry to reduce their gas demand.
The impact on UK businesses of increases in gas prices will depend on a variety of factors, including how much gas a particular company uses, the degree of their exposure to spot and forward prices and the duration of high prices. It will also be affected by the energy prices paid by their competitors. A further sector-specific issue is whether they are in a competitive market where international trade sets the price or in a sector where prices are determined more locally and rising energy costs could be passed
Provisional data for October 2005 shows that UK retail gas prices for small, medium and large industrial users were below the EU15 median. However, individual companies will have agreed commercially confidential contract terms and prices that might differ from these averages. I am also aware, from my industry visits and meetings, that, there is some evidence that gas prices in the UK for some of our very large industrial users is above those on the continent, and I recognise the risk that this presents to UK competitiveness. Officials are working closely with industry and OFGEM, with a view to help, wherever possible, to mitigate the situation and reduce these impacts.(Malcolm Wicks, Minister for Energy, Department of Trade and Industry)PassportsQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to the answer of 9 January 2006, Official Report, column 378W, on passports, when his Department will revise published guidelines on photograph standards.(John Hemming)A:
The photo guidance leaflet contained in the passport application pack is being updated to take account of the revised guidelines published on the UKPS website in November, and will be available in passport application packs distributed in late February or early March 2006. The UKPS website also displays the current photo guidance leaflet and this will be replaced as soon as the design for its successor is confirmed, within the next fortnight. The website has updated information on photographs on other pages, and this newer information is signposted from the main page. (Andy Burnham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office)Private Finance Initiative SchemeQ:
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what calculations are performed to compare the costs of a private finance initiative scheme with traditional funding schemes from public sector borrowing. (John Hemming)A:
The required analysis for comparing whether a given project would be value for money using PFI compared with conventional funding is laid out in the Value for Money Guidance and the accompanying Quantitative User Guide, published in August 2004. These can be found on the HM Treasury website at:
(John Healey, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury)Predictive Dialling (DfT)Q:
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the answer of 19 December 2005, Official Report, column 2315W, on predictive diallers, whether his Department makes calls using predictive dialling technology to groups other than members of the public.(John Hemming)A:
The Department for Transport does not use predictive dialling technology. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)
George and Mark: Pushing the envelope
George Galloway and Mark Oaten appear to have decided to challenge the "any publicity is good publicity" theory. I have frequently qualified the statement as almost
any publicity is good publicity.
With Mark Oaten it is entirely clear that the particular NOTW article is not good publicity. The situation for George Galloway will not be entirely clear until the dust has settled when he leaves the "Big Brother House".
On one side he will continually have replayed the cat act and the photo above. On the other hand he may end up on loads of chat shows. He may even become "Chatshow Georgie". In the mean time Channel 4 will have paid him a reasonably substantial fee.
I suppose if he is aiming for an income as a chat show guest then that will give him a chance. He would, however, have to find even more absurd things to do than those he has done on Big Brother.
In the mean time the NHS is in a financial crisis, strife in Iraq continues and the country's energy balance is on a knifeedge.
Mott MacDonald's Optimism Bias Report
The link is to a treasury web page with various PFI reports on it.
Mott MacDonald researched "optimism bias". I think that it is not entirely fair to call it "optimism bias". Generally people don't know all the details of a large project when they start it.
However, Mott MacDonald found that there were various reasons why projects both traditional and PFI/PPP ended up having an "optimism bias".
Meanwhile back at the ranch only Public Sector Comparators have an "optimism bias" penalty added to them. Noone is likely to complain because they want the projects to proceed and they know if they complain they won't get their projects.
This has only changed because PbR means that people really are looking at the real costs (eg what they have to pay out rather than fiddle factors).
Such arcane issues of accounting really do matter because when they are wrong (which is generally the case at the moment) wards get closed, new hospitals are not built and patients don't get treated.
Lib Dem Leadership Hustings List
Saturday 28th Jan Plymouth 1.30pm
Monday 6th Feb Cardiff 7.30pm
Sat 11th Feb Slough 9.45am
Mon 13th Feb Edinburgh 7pm
Sat 18th Feb Coventry 3pm
Mon 20th Feb Manchester 7.30pm
Thurs 23rd London 7.45pm
Open to members only.
Regional Wall of Fame - Writers Voting Numbers
The polls will close on Writers by the end of February. The numbers to phone are:Historical
Vote for Arnold Bennett (Staffordshire) - 09011962040
Vote for George Eliot (Warwickshire) - 09011962041
Vote for A. E. Housman (Shropshire) - 09011962042
Vote for William Langland (Shropshire) - 09011962043
Vote for Philip Larkin (West Midlands/Shropshire) - 09011962044
Vote for Wilfred Owen (Shropshire) - 09011962045
Vote for Sir Philip Sidney (Shropshire) - 09011962046
Vote for J.R.R Tolkien (Birmingham) - 09011962047
Vote for Izaak Walton (Staffordshire) – 09011962048
Vote for William Shakespeare (Warwickshire) – 09011962049Contemporary
Vote for Jonathan Coe (Birmingham) - 09011962050
Vote for Jim Crace (Birmingham) - 09011962051
Vote for Judith Cutler (Dudley, West Midlands) - 09011962052
Vote for Roshan Doug (Birmingham) - 09011962053
Vote for David Edgar (Birmingham) - 09011962054
Vote for David Lodge (Birmingham) - 09011962055
Vote for Meera Syal (Staffordshire) - 09011962056
Vote for Benjamin Zephaniah (Birmingham) - 09011962057
Calls cost 10p. 7p goes to telecommunications companies, 3p goes towards funding the wall of fame.
Optimism Bias - the fiddle factor, Barts and South Birmingham
The factor that is added to the estimates for a public sector cost for a PFI project is called the "optimism bias". This is used to calculate the "public sector comparator". When the National Audit Office says PFI is "cheaper", it means that it is cheaper than the inflated figure.
Written Parliamentary Question: 20th January 2006
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what his policy is on proposals for changes to the United Nations convention on biological diversity to legalise an international market in terminator seeds. (John Hemming)A:
I have been asked to reply.
Terminator seeds' are plants bred using genetic use restriction technologies known as GURTs. The parties to the United Nations convention on biological diversity decided, in 2000, that there should be a precautionary approach to the use of GURTs while research into the possible impacts of these technologies was carried out. Parties at the meeting in March, this year, will consider a recommendation by the convention's subsidiary body for scientific technical and technological advice to reaffirm the previous decision. The subsidiary body's recommendation also encourages parties to continue to undertake further research on the impacts of GURTS and to share information from these studies and addresses capacity building for decision making in developing countries. Parties at the meeting will also consider a report on related matters from one of the convention's inter-sessional working groups before deciding what further decision is appropriate.
Our position at the meeting will take full account of these reports, as well as the EU's own regulatory regime which requires that no GM seed may be marketed in the EU unless it has been specifically approved by the member states. Decisions on applications to market GMOs are made on a case-by-case basis taking full account of a scientific assessment of the particular GMO and the risks associated with its use against the criteria in the EU legislation. An application for a GMO incorporating GURTs would be dealt with in the same way as any other GMO. Approval would only be granted if the evidence showed that a deliberate release of the GMO would not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment. (Elliot Morley,Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Written Parliamentary Questions: 19th January 2006
Local Strategic PartnershipsQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what (a) guidance and (b) advice the Learning and Skills Councils have issued as to who should chair local strategic partnerships.(John Hemming)A:
The consultation paper "Local Strategic Partnerships: Shaping the Future" launched on 8 December by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister examines the future role of LSPs, their governance and accountability, and their capacity to deliver sustainable community strategies and local area agreements.
Membership of LSPs is drawn from a wide range of local partners, including the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). The leadership of individual LSPs is a matter for local discretion and members' views can be sought on their chairmanship. The LSC has not issued guidance on who should chair LSPs. (Bill Rammell, Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education) Department for Education and Skills) Habitual Residence TestQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answer of 5 December 2005, Official Report, column 1048W, on the Habitual Residence Test, if he will change the rules for non-contributory benefits so that those who make sufficient contributions to a contributory benefit to enable them to obtain half of the maximum are deemed to have passed the habitual residency test. (John Hemming)A:
The Habitual Residence Test is only applied to income-related benefits and people who qualify for a contributory benefit such as contribution based jobseeker's allowance will not be subject to the test. There is already provision in regulations which allows EEA nationals who have been working in the UK to be treated as habitually resident if they claim an income-related benefit. In line with EC case law, a returning UK national who has previously worked in the UK is likely to pass the Habitual Residence Test immediately. Non-EEA nationals who work in the UK are usually subject to immigration control and have no recourse to public funds. As such they have no access to income-related benefits and therefore would not be subject to the Habitual Residence Test. (James Plaskitt,Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions)
Health PFI - Everyone plays "pass the parcel"
PFI has been TINA (There is No Alternative) for some time. There are a lot of games played with PFI.
The first one is that it is basically very expensive compared to traditional procurement. However, if the traditional method is found to be cheaper then PFI cannot be used. Because there is no funding for the traditional method it means that people "make assumptions" [fiddle the figures] to make sure that PFI looks cheaper.
The biggest fiddle comes from multiplying the traditional cost by a multiplier for notional increases in cost. However, the public sector comparator (as it is called) is still adjusted until it fits.
The second one is FRS5. There is a sort of ideological demand for the payments for a PFI project to be more than just leasing a building. Hence you have a demand to transfer the management of a service into the private sector.
This creates a massive conflict. There are two real things about PFI.
The first is that all the effort goes into specifying the project at the start rather than changing it as it goes along. This means the price is fixed, but also the project is fixed. The real problem here is that people often don't know what they want at the start, but then there is no flexibility.
The second is that there are margins needed both to cover tender costs and also all other risks. This really drives the price up.
The calculations for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich is that the additional annual costs as a result of PFI are £9 million. I commissioned research that found if the same proportion of capital amounts apply to all projects over £10m that were extant by Dec 2004 the total increase in annual costs is £422m - not trivial.
For NHS Foundation Trusts there is an additional complication that arises from the fact that they stand alone from government. Hence any contractor wants the payments to be underwritten by the Department of Health. The Private Finance Unit want to have certainty that the amount payable is "affordable". The Foundation Trust "Monitor", however, does not want to sign any contracts off as affordable. In particular Monitor has also raised concerns about the University of Birmingham NHS FT's PFI Scheme.
This puts us in catch 22 with the responsibility for PFI decisions being passed around Whitehall and Westminster.
The fact is, however, that the government have got us into this mess. Either they stump up the costs for PFI or they stump up the costs for a traditional new hospital. What they cannot do is cancel the new hospital.
They should "bite the bullet" and fund it properly. However, at the moment they are just dithering.
Lovelock, Gaia and Global Warming
I have not read James Lovelock's new analysis in any detail. There are issues relating to global warming, however, that don't seem to have hit the consciousness of government.
The essential problem is that if it is the case (which it most likely is) that a certain level of CO2 concentration implies an increase in the amount of heat trapped, then even if CO2 concentrations stabilised at the current levels then temperatures would continue to rise.
All the Kyoto and similar proposals talk about continuing to have increases in CO2 concentrations. Hence they really do not deal properly with the issue.
At the same time, however, little attention is given to carbon capture. There are mechanisms for carbon capture other than growing trees. There needs to be further work done on this.
Written Parliamentary Questions: 17th January 2005
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has plans to charge VAT on domestic flights.(John Hemming)A:
VAT is already charged on aircraft fuel supplied for flights within the UK at either the standard rate or reduced rate of 5 percent., depending on the type and quantity of fuel being supplied. (Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General, HM Treasury)
PFI encountering problems in health
The linked story is a story in "The Times" which refers to the costs of PFI.
It also includes the following:"The issue was brought into focus last month by an admission by Queen Elizabeth Hospital trust, in Woolwich, that the trust was technically insolvent."
The fact is that it is only adjustments by the Treasury for Risk that make PFI appear superficially OK. In fact although leasing a van for a short period is not necessarily a bad idea leasing a hospital for a long period is. You could not lease a hospital for a short period. Hence financially it is a really bad idea.
One effect of the Internet: My daughter sings in Romanian
My daughter (15) has a tendency to download songs from the net. Recently she has been singing along with a Romanian song. She plays a couple of Romanian songs. It is an interesting sound. It sounds just on the edge of the Romance Languages (Vulgar Latin - French, Italian, Castillian, Catalonian etc) a sort of slavonic pronunciation of such a melange.)
One of the effects of the internet. In fact she is learning Japanese and we wonder sometimes with her kimonos (which she bought for £9 reduced from £45 in M&S in the sales) whether or not she is turning Japanese, but singing in Romanian is something new.
Meeting the Challenge
I attended the "Meeting The Challenge" conference which started with speeches from all four contenders for the Lib Dem Leadership.
They all did a good job in their own way. Mark Oaten particularly by working from memory performed the most visually effective speech. I preferred Ming Campbell's Speech.
Ming Campbells LSE Speech"I want to begin today by paying tribute to Charles Kennedy. In his
resignation speech Charles displayed the dignity and courage, which made him
such a success as leader of our party. He led us to new heights in two
general elections. Today we salute Charles, wish him well and look forward to
him returning to the front-line.
I also want to say to my colleagues Mark, Chris and Simon let us have a
vigorous contest for the leadership, let us debate issues and policies - but
let us remember how much unites us and let us never forget for one second
that the real battle for us Liberal Democrats is against Labour and the
I have come here today to affirm my belief in a great cause. It is a cause
that has inspired and dominated my whole life. The cause of liberty, of
freedom, of justice. The cause that empowers people and liberates
communities. The cause that enlightens our world and inspires our politics.
It is the great cause of liberalism. I have always been proud to be a
Liberal and a Liberal Democrat and to campaign for this party since I was a
I have always been a liberal in my heart and in my head - inspired
originally by the idealism and the imagination of Jo Grimond. It was Grimond
who saw the need for Britain to play a full part in Europe; it was Grimond
who saw that government should be decentralised and it was Grimond who saw
the need for an open minded, radical and campaigning party. These principles
matter today more than ever.
Ever since I first stood for Parliament it has been clear to me that
Britain cries out for a liberal alternative to the long record of failure of
Labour and the Conservatives alike.
I have fought for that liberal alternative in every election since February
1974. I have won five of them - I have learned how to win. But I also know
how tough it is to win and how you can only win if you have the experience to
lead a united, campaigning team.
The leader must develop and use all the remarkable talent now in our party
nationally and locally. I want to make sure we capitalise on all their
talents to win for Britain.
The days of mere parliamentary survival are over. We have entered a new
phase. That brings both opportunity and responsibility. We need dedication,
passion and professionalism. More than ever, Britain needs a strong liberal
The other parties promote conformity and authoritarianism. We cherish
individuality and stand up for personal freedom. For years they have
concentrated power in Whitehall. We want to give it back to local
communities. They sometimes talk of the environment. We have consistently
made the environment our priority. They pander to nationalism. We stand for
internationalism. They supported the Iraq War. We opposed that war,
confirming our support for international law. We stood by our belief in the
United Nations and what it stands for. We showed then our unity and our
strength of purpose. We stood by our liberal principles.
So let me pledge today that, entrusted with the leadership of this great
party, I will never compromise on the rule of international law and I will
never compromise on my opposition to illegal or ill-founded military action.
We live in a time of great political change. I suppose we should be
flattered that David Cameron is trying to steal our clothes? But this is the
man behind Black Wednesday, the man who was the author of the appalling Tory
party manifesto - and the man who was Michael Howard’s conscience. Now he
asks us to believe that he has experienced a conversion on the road from
I know liberals. I have worked with liberals. Liberals are my friends. If
I may, ‘Dave’, you’re no liberal. More than ever this country needs a strong
liberal alternative - but it needs the real thing. The need to address the
sense of powerlessness and alienation that so many feel. The need to tackle
poverty and social deprivation. The need to stop the damage to our
environment and promote sustainable development. The need to act together
internationally to promote peace and justice. Liberalism at home and
Our liberalism is not a struggle between those who wish to modernise and
those who do not. To be a Liberal Democrat is to be a moderniser. What were
Lloyd George, Beveridge and Grimond but modernisers? And so we must be
modernisers too - never compromising on principle, but making our principles
contemporary and relevant.
We have a great opportunity - to be the party that will empower people to
make the decisions that affect their everyday lives and the services on which
We can learn from Liberal Democrat councils and pioneer new ways of making
public services truly accountable and responsive. We must insist on community
services, locally provided, democratically accountable. We must be more
ambitious. Open minds are more important than open necked shirts.
I want new thinking to liberate thousands of families locked in poverty. I
want new thinking to reward environmentally friendly technology. I want new
thinking to ensure every child with the talent, regardless of colour or
creed, gender or sexual orientation, can become a QC or an Olympic athlete. I
want new thinking to embrace strong action to tackle social injustice. I want
new thinking to underpin a modern constitution, a radical democratic
These are dangerous times. The coming competition for energy resources
threatens international security. It is only six months ago that London was
subjected to a devastating attack from terrorists. Foreign policy and
domestic are not separate issues in this small world every action abroad
affects our lives at home.
International co-operation is the only way to provide real security.
International co-operation is the only way to combat the threats to our
environment. International co-operation is only way we can sustain a strong
economy. And international co-operation is the only way to make poverty
You’d expect me and others to say something about leadership. I believe in
leading not following; setting goals and objectives; shaping events not being
shaped by them; taking responsibility and discharging it; being both candid
and confident; neither dictatorial nor prescriptive, but consultative and
To be the leader of the Liberal Democrats is to be the trustee of a great
party, with much to be proud of already, but with the best achievements still
to come. My role, with faith and diligence, is to ensure that future."
Although Simon's was very good.This is a link for Mark Oaten
and I don't have anything for Chris Huhne yet.
At the moment I am undecided for my first preference between Simon and Ming, but all four candidates are doing a good job.
Members back Hemming
I now have the final results from the opinion poll on the Lib Dem Leadership Election.
There were a large number of questions asked in the poll, but I particularly needed to know whether or not I should progress my candidature given that we now have a contest.
A large number of people contacted me directly to support my campaign and expressed a view that they preferred me to the other potential candidates.Regular readers of this blog will be aware that
I initially declared as a candidate to ensure that there would be a contest. The good news is that 64% of members think I was right to do this. 27% think not and the rest don't know. However, only 14% of members believe I have the right experience to lead the party (70% do not). That does not surprise me as I have always been marginal about this. A few more years experience is really needed in parliament. As a consequence 58% of members believe that I should withdraw.
The good news for me is that 31% of members believe that I should continue to fight a campaign and that in a final election (of those who have decided what to do) I would get 8% of the vote. That bodes well for a future election campaign. Three of the four candidates in this election are, in fact, older than me.
Clearly, however, the members believe that I should withdraw from this election. This, therefore, shows that members back my decision to not further my candidature ... this time.
I would like to thank those people who supported my campaign (even those who did it 'tongue in cheek'). It has been a fun campaign so far, but now is the end of this particular campaign.
Energy Security Debate
Today I took a few moments out from my frenzied Leadership Election Campaign to speak in the Energy Security Debate.
The problem was that too many people wanted to speak. With Front Benchers taking about 75 mins for starting and the about 30-45 mins to sum up there is little space for others.
I, therefore, tried to get my key point for gas (which is that there is no incentive to import into storage on warmer days) on an intervention.
I tried intervening on a tory asking about Nuclear Energy Imports. He got a bit confused and waffled on about the electricity interconnector. I don't think he knows that we don't have uranium mines in the UK.
The link is to the current photo rules. At the time of writing these have not been changed. This link is about the simplified standards for children
. At the time of writing it is dated 21st December not 21st November (unlike the answer below).
Being a sceptical sort of individual I wonder if we have a coverup of the timing of the decision to simplify children's photos. This would be an important issue because if they are willing to hide when they changed the rules about baby photos what about issues relating to the War in Iraq - or any other government embarrassment?
I suppose it could be "baby photo gate"
Perhaps that is pushing the "watergate" analogy a bit far.
The government will fall !!! :-) !!!
[incidentally if they change the website I have printed a couple of copies to disk to prove they have changed it.]
The issue about baby photos is actually relatively minor, but it shows the stupidity of the bureaucratic process. It does not take a bear of very much brain to work out that photographing a baby with its mouth closed, eyes open, looking at the camera and a neutral expression is almost impossible.
We are preparing a question as to why the written answer refers to November when the website refers to December. I have done a google cache search for anything at an earlier date to no avail.
Written Parliamentary Questions: 12th January 2006
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the recent reduction in gas production from mixed oil and gas fields. (John Hemming)A:
Production of "associated gas" from the mixed oil and gas fields located principally in the northern and central North Sea has varied over time for a number of reasons. The rate of production is affected by contractual nominations, by planned and unplanned maintenance, by the effect of investment in new production or injection wells or well workovers in existing fields, by the effect of past production reducing reservoir pressure in existing fields and by the effect of new fields coming into production. Total associated gas production from the UK continental shelf peaked in 2002 and has since declined. Production from new fields coming on-stream has not matched the decline in production from existing fields, though there have been significant changes from month to month. Production in August 2005 was particularly low, with reduced deliveries at all four of the main coastal landing terminals (CATS, FLAGS, SAGE and SEAL), but by October production was back close to the level of a year earlier. (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State (Energy), Department of Trade and Industry) GasQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what incentives there are for oil and gas producers to maintain gas production from mixed fields.(John Hemming)A:
Producers of oil and gas have commercial incentives to produce gas, whether that is "dry gas" from the gas fields found principally in the southern basin of the north sea and in the Irish sea or "associated gas" from the mixed oil and gas fields located principally in the northern and central north sea. The rate of production can be affected by contractual nominations, by planned and unplanned maintenance and by the effect of investment in new production, in injection wells or in well workovers.(Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State (Energy), Department of Trade and Industry) PassportsQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to the answer of 24 November 2005, Official Report, column 2319W, on passports, how many of those whose passport photographs were rejected were under five-years-old; and whether he plans to change the categories of rejection for the passport photographs of the under-fives. (John Hemming)A:
During the period 12 September to 27 November 2005, 15,441 child passport applications were rejected due to photographic standards for children five and under.
On 21 November 2005, the UK Passport Service (UKPS) simplified its photograph standards for children aged five and under. It remains important that the photograph shows a clear image that is a true likeness of the child, with all facial features clearly visible. However, photographs of children five years and under will be accepted if they show the child smiling or frowning, with their mouth open, their eyes looking away from the camera, and reflection or glare on their glasses. Babies under one year do not need to have their eyes open.
Work is in progress to communicate these simplified requirements to customers. On 22 November 2005 a notice was added to the UKPS website regarding passport photograph standards. (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State (Energy), Department of Trade and Industry)
Nominations going well
Nominations are going well particularly as MPs are able and willing to sign more than one nomination paper.
I have personally signed the paper for Mark Oaten, not because I support his campaign, but because I support his right to stand. I have offered to sign that of Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne as well. There are at least four MPs who will sign more than one paper if requested to give the members a choice.
I, however, need to ask members whether it is right for me to continue to progress my candidature. I stood with the objective of forcing a contest and not having a "coronation".
It was important for members to have a choice. It looks like there will be four candidates now which is far better than having no election.
Although I could get myself nominated I will continue consulting members and supporters and make a decision when I get the results of a formal consultation exercise of party members.
Children's Passport Photos - success
Lib Dem Leadership Contender John Hemming MP today claimed a major success in his campaign to simplify passport photograph rules.
I am pleased that following my questions on the bureaucratic nightmare of the new passport photographs that the government are starting to see sense.
The most stupid rule was to require babies to keep their eyes open and mouth closed. Between 12th September and 27th November 15,441 child passport applications were rejected because of the new photo rules for children aged 5 and under.
I started asking questions about this in early autumn and the government changed the rules (which they revealed in a written question dated 9th Jan). Now photographs of children five years and under will be accepted if they show the child smiling or frowning, with their mouth open, their eyes looking away from the camera and reflection or glare on their glasses. Babies under one year do not now need to have their eyes open.
I have heard of one person who sent 20 photographs to try to get a passport for their child. Another person who has spoken to me had the application rejected because the father was holding the baby. I am still not sure that if someone's hand appears in the picture the photo will be rejected and will be harrying the government further on this.
This is a victory for common sense. It is a good reason why the Liberal Democrats should be the party campaigning for government to serve the people rather than people serve the government - which is one of my slogans in the Lib Dem Leadership contest.
Nominations Details arrive
My team have now obtained the details of how to get nominated. There are, in fact, nomination forms and the use of Email formally for nomination is insufficient.
We are, therefore, posting out nomination forms to those people who are collecting constituency nominations.
Later today we had people approach us from, Ashfield and London WC1.
[note that this does not imply that the whole constituency supports my campaign]
If you want nomination forms please email me at email@example.com
Nominations Coming in from Across the UK
Early nominations today are from Teignbridge and Aberdeen. I am close to having nominations from 20 constituencies now including the Birmingham Constituencies.
It is, however, important that my campaign is broadly based. I am consulting with supporters on details of the position statements that are needed.
It remains, of course, that I may have some difficulties getting the backing from MPs. However, we still have a fortnight for that. Once I have support from the constituencies there is a solid case that I should be allowed to stand because the members want me to stand.
Oaten about to declare
Mark Oaten is flagging up an intention to declare. That will still leave me as the only candidate with proper local government links and a track record of commercial success.
Going for It!
After conversations today and yesterday with other possible candidates it is quite clear that the position at the moment is not clear.
Potential Candidates such as Simon Hughes have a short time in which to declare that they either are or are not standing.
I need 7 MP nominations. Nominations from members are already starting to flood in from across the country. If 33 MPs support Ming Campbell that leaves 29 that could nominate Simon, Mark Oaten or myself. There are some people who will nominate either Simon or myself.
What I am doing, therefore, is collecting nominations. If I get the Members support, but MPs decide they don't want me to stand then that is life.
An argument is used by some MPs that I don't have that much experience as an MP. Given that I have 15 years experience as an elected politician and 22 years experience in running my own business I find that a bit unreasonable.
Still things are going well at the moment.
First nominations arrive
Obviously I can get a lot of nominations from Birmingham. However, the first formal nominations have now arrived from:
Scotland (not sure which constituency yet)
Somerton and Frome
South West Hertfordshire
For which I thank people.
Lib Dem leadership campaign
Without breaking any confidences and based in part on newspapers reports as well as other communications it seems clear that there are four potential candidates in the running. Ming Campbell is the favourite. Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten are possible runners. I am not inclinded to stand if both Simon and Mark stand and probably won't stand if there is a contest otherwise, but that depends upon the response from activists next Saturday.
Out of the three I am not yet decided who I would support.
I am gathering volunteers and supporters (please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer) as there will be quite a rush to get nomination papers sorted out.
Meeting the Challenge
This is the process whereby the party is reviewing its policies. I wrote an article for this which is posted on the website here
For those who have asked what "taking soundings" means it means
a) Seeing who else may stand - because there may be someone else I could back
b) Starting to collect nominations - it will take a certain amount of time to collect the constituency nominations for which I need at least 200. I will check on Monday if I can obtain them via email, but I think I need the names, addresses and signatures of party members including their membership number and constituency party.
People have been asking how to do this - see later (in time) for that.
[edited when nomination forms came out]
Coronation or Election
It is rather sad for Charles Kennedy to end up resigning the way he did. He did get the party to the best result for a third party since the 1920s. It also means that the party members have not had the chance to vote on the issue.
This means it is crucial that the party members have a chance to vote as to who the next leader is. Next Saturday is the "Meeting the Challenge"
I shall continue consulting with party members and activists until after that Conference and make a decision as to whether or not to formally stand in the election then.
I think it is important that there is a contested election this time. Many of the MPs will back Ming Campbell. We owe it to our activists to give them a real choice.
If it is a Campbell-Hemming battle then I would argue the case that I am a potential candidate with a lot of real experience of running things successfully rather than successfully running :-)
However, Ming Campbell is a very effective and impressive politician and if he wins the election I am sure he will do a good job.
Liberal Democrat Leadership Election
Somewhat surprisingly and in a rather rushed manner there is about to be another election for the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.
I have always said that it is a job that I was interested in doing at some stage.
I am currently in the process of taking soundings as to whether or not I should stand. There are quite a few people in Birmingham who are quite enthusiastic about that idea.
My view is that Charles Kennedy's bravery in accepting publicly that he has a problem with alcohol should be recognised as a courageous step that in no way prevents him being a good party leader.
Winston Churchill was known to be drunk on many occasions, but people recognise his merits as a leader.
It is also only fair to recognise that if someone denies to themselves that they have a problem then it is not dishonest if they deny that to someone else.
60 Lib Dem MPs signed the nomination papers for Charles Kennedy last May. One didn't. That was me.
The reason I did not sign the nomination papers was that I was not happy with the way in which the party was being run.
I have 21 years experience in the private sector. That involves working in a professional manner and most importantly communicating.
The party needs an election where the membership decide who the leader is.
If I stand, and I have not yet taken a final decision, I will be standing on the platform of improving communication within the party.
One of the reasons I have not commented publicly much over the past few weeks is that I feel that such communications should happen in private. Good private communication would not result in intemperate public spats.
The party in recent years has not communicated well.
Party policy is determined by the party as a whole. The party has a process called "Meeting the Challenge" going on at the moment to review policy. Electing me as leader would not be about a wholesale shift in policy. Yes it is true that I do not think the way forward is to join Tony Blair and David Cameron in undermining democratic accountability. Instead I would wish to see improvements to democratic accountability. In particular I would wish to make it easier to sack senior managers in the public sector to stop them empire building. That would make the system far more democratically accountable.
However, policy is to be determined by the Meeting the Challenge approach.
I shall continue a process of sounding out opinion within and outside the party and make an announcement in the near future.
Incidentally the odds on me winning have shortened in the past 2 days from 28/1 to 20/1 (see link). I am now the 7th favourite other than Charles Kennedy.
Let me make it entirely clear, however. If Charles Kennedy wins the leadership election then I will work with him if he asks me to. If, however, I win the Leadership election (whether or not Charles Pulls out), I will invite him to join my Shadow Cabinet.
Charles has taken the party forward over the period of his leadership. The events of recent weeks have been very sad and do not reflect well on the judgment of those people involved. A fair and calm leadership contest based upon the issues not the personalities can bring the party back together.
You need to act now to Stop Silent Calls
Silent Call Campaigning MP John Hemming has called upon the victims of Silent Calls to make sure that their voices are heard by Ofcom. Writing on his blog he said: "Silent Calls cause considerable anxiety and nuisance. Ofcom's policy consultation ends on 9th January. It is important that people tell Ofcom that they want Silent Calls to stop. They can email: email@example.com
or write to Frank Phillips, Ofcom, Riverside House 2A Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA or phone 020 7981 3040 (press 0 to speak to someone)"
"We need to make sure that there are no more silent calls. I have been putting pressure on the Tax Man to stop making nuisance calls. Charities have said they will stop doing it. We need the cold calling business to be forced to stop this nuisance. People only have 4 days left to respond. It is important, however, that the message is clear "No More Silent Calls".
The Sheldon Pub
The Sheldon Pub is an odd pub because it specialises in pool and attracts a specialist and relatively rowdy clientele, but is based in a residential area.
After the minor disturbance caused by the clientele at new year something is going to have to change. The owners "The Spirit Group" were drinking in the "last chance saloon" and now we need to call time.
Written Parliamentary Questions: 3rd January 2006
Cooking Oil (Duty)Q:
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what reason Inland Revenue decided to charge fuel duty on recovered cooking oil. (John Hemming)A:
Fuel produced from vegetable oil is eligible for the rate of duty for biodiesel (currently 27.10 pence per litre) if it meets the legal definition of biodiesel for tax purposes set out in section 2AA of the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979. In other cases it is liable to duty at 47.10 pence per litre, as has been the case since Royal Assent to the Finance Act 2002. Before that date biodiesel was liable to the same rate of duty as ultra-low sulphur diesel.(John Healey, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury)Data ProtectionQ:
To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the deterrent effect of court awards for compensation for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.
None. The purpose of compensation under the Data Protection Act 1998 is not to act as a deterrent, but to compensate individuals for any damage or harm arising from a breach of their rights. We have further not made any assessment. (Harriet Harman, Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs) Met OfficeQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the temperature has been at midday at each of the Met Office's observation stations in the UK on each day in (a) November, (b) December, (c) January, (d) February and (e) March since 1985.(John Hemming)A:
This information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
(Don Touhig, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans), Ministry of Defence)Predictive Diallers (DfT)Q:
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many calls were made from call centres in his Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres. (John Hemming)A:
The Department for Transport does not use predictive diallers when making calls to members of the public. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)Aviation PollutionQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what economic modelling he has undertaken to assess the impact of participation in (a) the existing and (b) an aviation-only EU emissions trading scheme on forecast growth in aviation emissions of greenhouse gases.(John Hemming)A:
At present, it is too early to provide a reliable estimate of the impact emissions trading will have on forecasts of emissions from aviation. This will depend on a number of factors including the overall number of allowances and the detailed design for the inclusion of aviation into the EU ETS. These factors have yet to be specified and will be subject to discussion with other member states' governments.(Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what economic modelling he has undertaken of the impact of (a) different oil prices, (b) emissions trading, (c) an emissions charge and (d) an increase in air passenger duty on the growth of aviation greenhouse gas emissions. (John Hemming)A:
Our forecasts for aviation and climate change, and the assumptions underlying them, are set out in "Aviation and Global Warming", published by the Department for Transport in January 2004. The "best case" scenario emissions forecasts assumed the introduction of economic instruments to tackle climate change, resulting in improved fuel efficiency. We have not undertaken analysis to consider these specific scenarios.(Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)Aviation PollutionQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what economic modelling has been undertaken to assess the impact of Government policy on emissions trading on tackling climate change pollution from aviation.(John Hemming)A:
Analytical and modelling work has been undertaken by consultants for the European Commission looking at the feasibility and impact of emissions trading, emissions charges, and fuel taxation. The Department has not undertaken economic modelling since any scheme would be EU wide. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)Air FaresQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the average real terms price of air fares within the UK was in each year since 1975; and what forecast he has made of average price of airfares over the next 25 years. (John Hemming)A:
There is no series giving past data in UK air fares. The national air traffic forecasts published in 2000 assumed a 1 per cent. annual decline in air fares over the period 1998 to 2020. This was revised prior to the Air Transport White Paper to a 2 per cent. per annum decline for the period up to 2030.(Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)Air FaresQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many calls were made from call centres in his Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres. (John Hemming)A:
None; the Department does not utilise predictive diallers in its call centres. (Charles Clarke, Secretary of State, Home Office)
Lib Dem Councillor Martin Mullaney - Moseley and Kings Heath - launches blog
Martin is the third Lib Dem Councillor in Birmingham to run a daily blog.Dave Radcliffe
one of the three Lib Dem Councillors for Selly Oak was the second.
With three Lib Dem Councillors and one Labour Councillor now running Birmingham Blogs that must give us the chance at a record in terms of numbers of blogs for one authority.
The link is to a "model tracker" which is a moving pictures/sound (multimedia) description of what might happen at the end of the week.
As usual people need to keep an eye on what the numerical models and other forecasts say as we get closer. People such as the BBC would never talk about such forecasts as they are so far in advance that they cannot be relied upon.
It is, however, a useful introduction to numerical forecasting if anyone is interested in that.
At the moment (and this is almost a week out) a lot of snow is being forecast for the UK.