John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Monday, July 31, 2006
  The Media and Opinion Polls
There was an article over the weekend in the Guardian criticising Ming Campbell because the Lib Dems had a rating of 14%. That was in fact an error because the ICM poll referred to had a rating of 17%. Then today MORI produce a poll with a rating of 24%.

What is hidden behind all of these polls is the fact that people's loyalty to parties is changing. There is a developing greater volatility.

Looking at simple headline figures, therefore, do not really show anything of great substance although it does give material from which people can write stories which become out of date and clearly just plain wrong within 2 days.

Cameron, in fact, is doing much like Blair and undermining the support for the tories from strong Conservative supporters.
 
  More war crimes in Lebanon
One of the difficulties of conflicts driven by major hatreds is that the participants do not themselves back from committing atrocities such as that in Qana.

It is often said that the pen is mightier than the sword. The long term impact of the war crimes in Lebanon will be to increase the amount of conflict in the world as a whole rather than reduce it.

Our own government has to accept some responsibility for their support of the military actions of Israel. They have not only supported the conflict through words, but also via deeds in allowing UK airspace to be used for the provision of munitions.

Whether Tony Blair's government will find themselves under investigation by the police for contravening Section 52 of the ICC Act 2001 remains to be seen. They do, however, run this risk.
 
Saturday, July 29, 2006
  International Criminal Court Act, the CAA and the Munitions Flights
It is clear that

a) The munitions being flown to Israel are being used against civilian targets and in contravention of Article 8.2 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

b) Actions ancilliary to such war crimes are in contravention of Section 52 of the UK International Criminal Court Act 2001.

c) Allowing flights to pass through UK airspace is arguably part of (as in ancillary to) such acts.

I have made this point to the Civil Aviation Authority. It does appear from a reading of the statutes that anyone assisting those flights is subject to prosecution under the 2001 Act.
 
Thursday, July 27, 2006
  Part 8 Serious Case Reviews
The answer to the question about Serious Case Reviews is a critical issue. The whole objective of Child Protection is protecting children. Part 8 reviews are those where the system has clearly failed.

The question I am interested in is whether the obsession with social workers (and to some extent some paediatricians) with MSbP or FII and previously Satanic Abuse actually means that the system fails more frequently.

The Climbie case was a good example where the social workers were too busy with nonsensical enquiries into MSbP to take seriously the situation with Victoria Climbie.

One argument being put forward, which has some weight, is that we need to separate the enforcement aspect of Child Protection from the social support aspects of Social Services (now Children and Families).

It appears that the system fails on two fronts on an aggregate basis. It harrasses parents and children for what is basically normal life (shouting at the kiddies etc) and fails to protect children from being killed at the hands of their carers (mainly parents).

You cannot have a perfect system, but I am really not clear as to what the merits of the current system are.

It is, to be fair, difficult for some social workers who work in very difficult environments and deal with complex cases. However, we need to consider the system as a whole. If in the past 5 years there have been about 200-300 Serious Case Reviews that is a big issue.
 
  Written Parliamentary Question: 27th July 2006
Child Deaths
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many Part 8 reviews into child deaths have occurred in each local authority area in each of the last 10 years. (John Hemming)
Q: The Child Protection Database, maintained by the Commission for Social Care Inspection, provides the data in the table on the numbers of confirmed Serious Case Reviews (SCRs), following the death of a child, in each local authority since 2000. Accurate data prior to 2000 are not available. The following table includes only those authorities where a child death has led to a confirmed SCR and provides an overall total for between 2000-05. In order to maintain the confidentiality of individual children who were the subject of a SCR, ((1)—) denotes fewer than three SCRs. The data for 2006 are not yet complete. (Parmjit Dhanda, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills)
 
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
  George Galloway on Lebanon
George Galloway in the linked article argues why he supports the actions of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

He rightly points out the conflict between Israel's current criticism of acts of terror and the act of Terror committed in 1946 when the King David Hotel was bombed in Jerusalem.

Regardless of whether or not there was an adequate warning given and whether or not the British were lax in not evacuating it remains that such an act is an act of Terror. It is an unjust act.

Unjust acts have a tendency to create an emotional demand for retaliation. It is not a reasonable or practical position to oppose the unjust actions of Israel whilst supporting the unjust actions of Hezbollah.

There are three possible positions relating to the conflict in Lebanon. You have the UK/US government position of supporting the war on Israel's side. You have George Galloway's position of supporting the war on Hezbollah's side. Alternatively you have a position of wishing to maintain international law (humanitarian law and otherwise, calling for a ceasefire and for people to work toward resolving the disputed issues.)

I think George Galloway is now undermining his claim to be anti-war. I accept his point that the dispute has gone on for a long time. I accept his point that Israel has acted in an unjust manner on a number of occasions. I do not see any merit in trying to make a case as to which "side" is worst. However, if you want to see peace you cannot support the random bombing of civilian areas in Israel by Hezbollah.

In essence it is this part of George Galloway's speech that is key:
"That makes it doubly important that the anti-war movement raises its voice clearly. To be for peace means to be for the justice without which there can be no peace. To be for justice means to take sides against injustice. The invasion of Lebanon by Israel, for that’s what it is, is a monstrous injustice.

"I side with the resistance to that injustice. Hizbollah is leading that resistance. I do not hesitate to say, and Blair and his law officers may take note, that I glorify that resistance.

"I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah."

(see link for full article - speech)

Ghandi in India learnt that participating in unjust acts against injustice fails. Unless you are in the stronger position and can actually "win" unjust acts merely cause greater anger and resistance. We are not going to see an Armenian style resolution to the dispute in the Middle East. In siding with Hizbollah whilst they are bombing civilian areas in Israel George Galloway's position is hence morally equivalent to that of the Israeli Government.

Galloway is clearly attempting to challenge the "glorifying terror" parts of the new laws. I think he is probably more likely to be challenging the trades descriptions act in as much he is now clearly "pro war", but on the other side to the Labour Party.
 
  Tony says - loose weight
The interesting question is to how many PCTs will end up refusing to operate on people with a BMI over 30.

The problem is that these decisions are being taken for financial reasons, not medical reasons.

Fat people pay taxes too. The figure of 30 for BMI is an arbitrary figure that is not appropriate for controlling access to waiting lists. There are at times good medical arguments against people being operated on because of their size, but the 3 PCTs I have identified that control things this way do it for primarily financial reasons.
 
Monday, July 24, 2006
  Rule of Law vs Rule of Person (round 2 in Lebanon)
George Galloway is quite good at rhetoric. He understands that an effective speech has patterns of words in it.

I spoke yesterday at a meeting of the Pakistan People's Party in Birmingham when Benazir Bhutto visited. I approached the issue of the Middle East from the perspective of the "Rule of Law". One of my favourite phrases partly because it mixes an element of poetry with a number of good concepts is.

"You cannot have justice without security, but also you cannot have security without justice."

The point about this is that if you really want secure peace and calm you need to follow the rule of Law.

The link is to George Galloway at a demonstration where he says that he is there to "glorify" Hezbollah and their leader.

The conflict in the Middle East is one in which all sides have committed heinous acts of barbarism. Israel and the US and the UK governments are using the excuse of the capturing of soldiers to attack Hezbollah (and kill hundreds of children as a result). Hezbollah are keeping the conflict going by chucking random missiles at Israeli cities.

The obvious first step is a ceasefire. There a number of conspiracy theories which involve Messrs Bush and Blair being instructed by God to widen the boundaries of Israel until it reaches the Euphrates. My own feeling is that the Civil Servants and Ministers are so exacerbated by the activities of organisations such as Hezbollah that they have stopped thinking objectively.

It is important to remember that on both? sides in the Middle East there are people who want revenge more than peace. After this there will be more, exactly how many more is unclear. As with the concept of Social Capital which is measured by opinion survey I think it is worth having a concept of Peace Capital which would be measured by knowing what proportion of the population of a state would prefer peace to revenge. The movement of this balance of opinion drives military action.

Taqiyya assists in ensuring that we cannot really be clear as to what is happening in Southern Lebanon.

However, there is a danger that more and more people will take the "Rule of Person" approach of taking sides in this conflict rather than attempting the objective application of the rule of laws such as International Humanitarian Law.
 
Sunday, July 23, 2006
  NHS to tender out 20 categories
The new tender pre-qualification questionnaire has now been released. It includes the following areas of tendering for Primary Care Trusts.

Assessment and Planning
1. Assessment of health needs
2. Reviewing Service Provision (jointly with Local Authority)
3. Deciding Priorities
4. Designing Services
5. Shaping the Structure of supply
6. Managing Demand
Contracting and Procurement
7. Commissioning of primary care services
8. Procurement for extended primary care services
9. Contracting and procurement for secondary care services
Performance Management, Settlement and Review
10. PbR transactions
11. Budget and activity management
12. Performance management
13. PBC operating processes
14. Collection and analysis of patient feedback and GP intelligence
Patient and Public Engagement
15. Compilation and publication of PCT Prospectus
16. Referrals and advice on choices (inc. Choose and Book)
17. Responding to patient-initiated petitions to review service provision and quality
18. Development of effective strategies for patient, public and community engagement
19. Development and implementation of communications strategies
Other
20. [Bidder to specify]

For the following service segments
Service Segments
AH-U Acute Health Services - Unplanned
PC Primary Care (‘First Contact’) Services
AH-P Acute Health Services - Planned
CS Community Services
MH Mental Health and Learning Disabilities
SS Specialist Services
SC Social Care Services
AS Ambulance Services
 
Friday, July 21, 2006
  Government support killing of children to get release of soldiers

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for her comments in respect of what the Government wish to see. Why would they not wish to see a ceasefire without the return of the soldiers?
Margaret Beckett: Everyone wants to see a cessation of violence as soon as possible. Many of the other routes that one could urge—the international community is urging them, and exploring and trying to develop them, and looking at the detail—will take time. It will be complicated and difficult to work them out and to pursue them. Releasing kidnapped soldiers is not difficult at all, and takes no time at all.

This was yesterday's exchange. The UN report that a third of the deaths in Lebanon are children. The government do not support a ceasefire until the kidnapped soldiers are returned.

Failing to support a ceasefire in this situation is in essence supporting the consequences of military action until such a stage as the kidnapped soldiers are released viz the killing of the children.

It is quite clear, therefore, that the government support the killing of children in Lebanon until such a stage as the soldiers are released.

Previously the government have argued.

  1. That they would not call for just one side to stop firing
  2. They could not influence Hezbollah
  3. They cannot control Israel
It is, however, quite clear as a result of the answer to my question that they actually do support the continuation of violence and its collateral damage

(update at 8.42 - I have just heard the government calling for a "Sustainable Ceasefire" on the TV. Their definition of "sustainable", clearly is one whereby the soldiers have been returned. This really shows how bad the TV are at holding the government to account. Jeremy Paxman, one presumes, would ask: "do you believe this" rather than "define sustainable".)
 
Thursday, July 20, 2006
  Government does not want ceasefire
I asked why the government don't want a ceasefire until the kidnapped soldiers are returned and was told because it is very easy to return the soldiers.

This means that essentially there is not a "Rizla paper" between the Policy of the US government, UK government and Israeli government.
 
  Written Ministerial Replies: MPs raise the issue in the house, again.
The pressure upon Ministers to answer written questions, accurately and on time, is growing. During Points of Order yesterday anuother tranche of MPs attacked Ministers and the answers they had recieved. Ministerial answers are crucial to holding the government to account, but The Speaker is powerless to asist. This is a serious issue, with no obvious solution.

Points of Order
1.39 pm
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you know, there have been exchanges between hon. Members and Mr. Speaker about parliamentary answers. On 10 July, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he had made of the frequency, scale and sophistication of Taliban attacks on British forces in Helmand province. In reply, I was told what we knew already—that attacks had increased with the deployment of British troops in the south of Afghanistan. However, the end of the right hon. Gentleman’s answer was extraordinary. He said that neither the Taliban nor the range of illegally armed groups currently posed a threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan. That is exactly the opposite of what the House has been told over recent months. This country has deployed troops to Operation Enduring Freedom and to the NATO mission precisely to secure the long-term stability of Afghanistan. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, ask Mr. Speaker to use his good offices to ask the right hon. Gentleman to come to the House and explain what he meant by that answer, which hon. Members will find as perplexing as it is disturbing?

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Michael Lord): As the hon. Gentleman knows, Mr. Speaker has no direct responsibility for the quality of ministerial replies to questions. If he consults the Table Office, I am sure that staff there will be able to assist him in following up answers that he regards as inadequate. I am sure that Mr. Speaker will have noted again the points that the hon. Gentleman has made today, as they will be on the record.

James Duddridge(Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During questions to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister this morning, I asked a question about casinos. In his reply, the Deputy Prime Minister accused me of receiving money from casinos via my Conservative association. That is wholly and totally untrue; it is a very concerning accusation that has no substance. What advice can you give about how I can place it on record that the accusation is untrue? Does Mr. Speaker have the power to call the right hon. Gentleman back to the House of Commons to set the record straight?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think that accusations of any kind, from any side of the House, should be thought through very carefully before they are made. They should not be made as often as they are, but the hon. Gentleman has succeeded in putting the matter on the record.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 28 June, I asked the Prime Minister a question about infant class sizes. I put it to him that he had not met the pledge on that subject that he made before the 1997 election. He said:

“As far as I am aware, the infant class pledge has been met.”—[ Official Report, 28 June 2006; Vol. 448, c. 259.]

Yet Government figures reveal that nearly 30,000 children are being taught in infant classes with more than 30 children. I have written to the Prime Minister
19 July 2006 : Column 341
telling him that he inadvertently misled the House, but he has not replied. What further steps can I take to oblige him to correct the record, as this is a serious breach of his responsibilities to this House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I trust that the Prime Minister will reply in due course, and that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with the answer. When figures such as those are bandied about, they are often less a matter of record than of debate.

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Through you, may I thank Mr. Speaker for an intervention that he made in respect of a parliamentary question that I tabled on 25 May? I finally received a response yesterday. The question asked how many questions tabled to the Home Office before 5 May had remained unanswered by 25 May, and yesterday’s answer put the number at 565.

This is a hugely important matter, and I am grateful for Mr. Speaker’s intervention. I understand that the Home Secretary has said that the problem will be resolved by 9 October and that questions will be answered appropriately. However, parliamentary questions are very important to Back-Bench Members who want to put the Government under scrutiny. Will you urge the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that he fulfils his pledge?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The whole matter of questions to Ministers and their answers is clearly extremely important. The House is already aware of Mr. Speaker’s interest in the matter, and the hon. Gentleman has placed his concerns clearly on the record.
 
  Blair Supports War ... again
What was surprising was Tony Blair's willingness to actually support a continuation of the war in Lebanon. Rather than stopping fighting and having a negotiation to resolve the situation with the prisoners he actually backed a continuation of fighting.

It is quite clear that Israel does not want to stop the fighting. To that extent Hezbollah have played into their hands by not returning the kidnapped soldiers.

I was, however, surprised that Tony Blair actually supported the continuation of fighting.

The "war on terror" is a misnomer. It is not really a war. The problem with a war is that it needs to have a strategic objective. If you kill a number of people deemed to be terrorists it is likely that more of their relatives than were killed will decide to get involved in the conflict. This does depend upon how things happen. In many ways "international humanitarian law" is designed to manage conflicts so that the hatreds that grow during wars and other conflicts don't endure over the generations.

The war on terror is in theory to establish uncorrupt democracies (eg no people bribing their way into parliament). The "west" will, however, continue to breed its own enemies if this continues in the way it has so far.

There is a simple question as to where in the world is the strategy taken during the war on terror actually reducing on a month by month basis the amount of asymmetric/terrorist attacks.

I don't think we can claim success in the Middle East, Iraq or Afghanistan.
 
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
  Energy Supply: The DTI Perspective
When will global oil supply peak?

“The Government consider that the world's oil resources are sufficient to prevent global total oil production peaking before 2030, by which time the International Energy Agency's reference case scenario in its 2005 World Energy Outlook shows global oil demand reaching 115.4 million barrel per day, nearly 40 per cent. higher than current levels.

Market mechanisms will ration the remaining global supplies of oil and provide the incentive for a shift to alternative sources of energy. This process needs to be supported by Governments.”

In all matters of international energy demand and supply the government seem to defer to the IEA.

When will the UK become a net importer of Oil?

In 2005 the UK became a net importer of crude oil (including Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) and feedstocks), on an annual volume basis, for the first time since 1992. However, net exports of refined oil products meant that the UK remained a net exporter of overall oil (crude, NGLs, feedstocks, and refined products). With the large Buzzard Field due on-stream in late 2006, the UK should return to being a net exporter of crude oil (including NGLs and feedstocks) by 2007 before becoming a net importer on a sustained annual basis by 2010.

When will the UK become a net importer of Gas?

“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.”

In 2004 the UK became a net importer of Gas

When will the UK become a net importer of Energy?

In 2004, overall primary fuel consumption was not met by indigenous production, and the UK became a net importer of fuel. The UK imported more coal, manufactured fuels, electricity and gas than it exported; however we were still a net exporter of petroleum and its products.

How are Oil Prices Predicted by the Treasury for the Budget?

In the 1999 Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor said:

The oil price will be based on the average of independent forecasts for one year ahead. If the average of independent forecasts shows a fall in the oil price, that price in real terms will be used for the remainder of the five year forecast period. If the average of independent forecasts for one year ahead shows a rise, then the previous convention that oil prices would be close to their current levels in nominal dollar terms over the coming year, and remain flat in real terms thereafter, will be adopted.
 
  Stop any more Shipmans
I have tabled two EDMs today. One relates to the Auditing of Death Certificates. Simply counting the number of death certificates signed would have stopped Harold Shipman from killing hundreds of people.

The link refers to this.

Audit of Death Certificates
This house notes that one recommendation of the Shipman Inquiry in 2003 was an audit of death certificates, this house regrets that the government have been ‘not fit for the purpose’ of implementing this very simple change to procedure and calls for the government to implement this at an early stage including a numerical audit of the past ten years.

Feeding of NHS Patients
This house notes that in the Health Care Commission’s Patient Survey of 2005 18% of patients said that “they did not get enough help” with eating their meals and 21% said that they only got enough help “sometimes”; believes that it is a good idea to ensure that patients do get enough help with eating their meals in hospital; and calls for the government to ensure that priority is given to feeding patients rather than feeding the bureaucracy with form filling.
 
  Home Office Problem Solving
One of the top stories of the day is that the government intend fixing problems at the Home Office.

On the TV screens is a display of one of the presentations which goes approximately.
1. Find problem
2. Fix it
3. Check that it is solved.

This is really sad. If this is news to the Home Office then something is much more wrong than I ever believed. I still don't believe that they don't know this. I think it is purely window dressing.

The underlying problem as with any large organisation is one of how problems are solved. It is definitely the case that any board or senior manager should not generally be looking at little problems.

However, there is now a tendency to avoid ever looking at the details. This was a particular problem when we had Lin Homer as Chief Executive of the City Council. She (who now runs IND) argued strongly that we should never look at the detailed issues.

I would not see this as an approach which is only one for Ms Homer. There is a tendency in the paid officer service (Local Government Officers, Civil Servants) to get the politicians as far away as possible.

The problem is that you cannot really only manage services by considering outcomes. You also need to consider how to get the outcome. There tend to be turf wars between the different middle managers and the like and hence someone needs to be around to knock heads together.

In the public sector this is the final responsibility of politicians. It needs to be done in a sensible manner and simply going round ranting "Its not fit for purpose" does no-one any good.

As far as the responsibilities of the Home Office are concerned there is a very clear need for a flow chart of how people are processed by the system. I am very concerned as to what happens when people who have been given a "Hospital Order" are released. These are people who have committed a criminal offence because they are mentally ill. They are clearly dangerous people. They, however, seem to disappear in a crevasse between the NHS and the Courts and Criminal Justice system.

One of the problems with the way parliament works is that most of the problems in the UK public sector are management problems. Parliament is actually quite bad at holding the executive to account (by asking questions and getting answers), because the executive simply refuses to answer the questions.

The end result is that MPs get into the mood that the solution to a problem involves legislation. We end up, hence, with a vast quantity of rubbishy legislation when it really does not help.

What is actually needed is attention to detail. Identifying specific and clear problems and their solutions with full information. This can be done by opposition MPs perfectly well. Richard Bacon MP is quite good at this. Then you need to put your big bovver boots on and kick some backsides until the problem is fixed. Frequently the solution to a problem merely involves putting the boots on and no backsides need receive any metaphorical impetus. The threat is enough.

I am having a bit of a go on the audit of death certificates. If you want to identify doctors who kill their patients first look at the number of death certificates signed then look for the explanation of any large numbers.
 
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
  Written Parliamentary Questions: 18th July 2006
Energy
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in which year the Government expect the UK to be a net importer of energy. (John Hemming)
A:Data on net imports of primary fuel are published in the annual Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics. Table 1.1.3 in the 2005 edition shows that, having been a net exporter of primary energy since 1993, the UK became a net importer of primary energy in 2004. (Malcolm Wicks, Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry)

Global Oil Production
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in which year the Government expect (a) global conventional oil production and (b) global total oil production to peak; and what the Government expect to be the level of peak global oil production.(John Hemming)
A:The Government consider that the world's oil resources are sufficient to prevent global total oil production peaking before 2030, by which time the International Energy Agency's reference case scenario in its 2005 World Energy Outlook shows global oil demand reaching 115.4 million barrel per day, nearly 40 per cent. higher than current levels. The exact levels and years of the peaks in global conventional and total oil production will depend on assumptions about a number of factors, including the rate of global oil demand growth, the rate of investment in the global oil sector, and technological developments in finding and producing oil.

Market mechanisms will ration the remaining global supplies of oil and provide the incentive for a shift to alternative sources of energy. This process needs to be supported by Governments. The UK Government are already putting in place policies that will help ease the UK economy away from power supplied primarily through fossil fuels and is also promoting international efforts, for example through the G8 Gleneagles Plan of Action, to develop cleaner energy technologies and promote energy efficiency. (Malcolm Wicks, Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry)

Oil Imports
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the Government's latest estimate is of when the UK will become a net importer of oil.
(John Hemming)
A:In 2005 the UK became a net importer of crude oil (including Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) and feedstocks), on an annual volume basis, for the first time since 1992. However, net exports of refined oil products meant that the UK remained a net exporter of overall oil (crude, NGLs, feedstocks, and refined products). Details are given in tables 3.1 and 3.2 of the June 2006 version of UK Energy Trends available at http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/statistics/publications/trends/index.html.

With the large Buzzard Field due on-stream in late 2006, the UK should return to being a net exporter of crude oil (including NGLs and feedstocks) by 2007 before becoming a net importer on a sustained annual basis by 2010.(Malcolm Wicks, Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry)
 
  Mr. Speaker's advice to MPs: "...try and try again."
More and more Members of Parliament are getting frustrated by the unaccountability of the government, and the failure of Ministers to answer questions properly. This exchange (below) took place in the House of Commons yesterday, and clearly shows how little power MPs have to hold Ministers to account: even with the Speaker's support.

Points of Order
4.31 pm
Mr. David Gauke(South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that, nearly two weeks ago, I raised a point of order with you about an unanswered question from the Home Office. That unanswered question related to the number of unanswered questions from the Home Office. It was a named day question, the date in question being 5 June. I received a response that the Home Office would answer as soon as possible —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I say to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) that I am trying to listen to a point of order? It is a distraction when she speaks so loudly.

Mr. Gauke: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, the holding answer said that an answer would come as soon as possible. That was on 5 June. I raised a point of order with you exactly a month later about whether an answer would be forthcoming. I would be grateful to know whether there has been any progress on this matter, given that the recess is looming.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the point of order. I was getting a bit worried myself, in case I got a holding reply—but I can inform him that the good news is that since I came into the Chamber, an answer has arrived. As soon as I leave here, I will read the answer and I will share it with him. I hope that that is helpful to him.

Simon Hughes
(North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have been very clear in the past about the duty of Government not to release information publicly before it has appropriately come to the House. I have not given you prior notice of what I am going to say, so I apologise, because you may want to reflect on this. You could reflect on whether you could issue the same sort of warning to agencies of Government. The particular case that I have in mind occurred today. The Crown Prosecution Service’s Director

17 July 2006 : Column 38

of Public Prosecutions was due to make an important announcement at 12 o’clock about the prosecution or otherwise of police officers in relation to the shooting at Stockwell, but it was clear that there had been a leak of his intended announcement beforehand. I wonder whether you could take the time to reflect on that. If you were able to help the House by making sure that that sort of announcement was also protected—so that it could be made by the appropriate officer rather than announced in the press beforehand—that would be much appreciated.

Mr. Speaker: I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, but my feeling is that the Crown Prosecution Service is an independent organisation, and operates in a different situation from that of a Minister of the Crown.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) about ministerial non-answers, you will remember the advice that you gave me a few days ago in relation to a question that I had asked the Secretary of State for Defence. I asked whether he was informed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the Chancellor’s proposed announcement on the future of Trident before the Chancellor made his Mansion house speech. The answer was:

“I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a range of issues.”—[ Official Report, 5 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1107W.]

You advised that I should table another question. In pursuance of your advice, I did so, asking whether in the course of those regular discussions the Chancellor of the Exchequer had informed the Secretary of State for Defence of the content relating to the future of Trident in the Chancellor’s Mansion house speech before that speech was made. The reply was:

“I have nothing further to add to the reply I gave the hon. Member on 5 July”.—[ Official Report, 11 July 2006; Vol. 448,c. 1798W.]

I wanted you to know the seriousness with which Ministers take your strictures on these matters.

Mr. Speaker: I knew that I was giving the hon. Gentleman good advice, but he must try and try again.
 
Monday, July 17, 2006
  Written Parliamentary Question: 17th July 2006
Casinos
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if the Government will instruct the Casino Advisory Panel to reopen the shortlisting process for the allocation of casino licences.(John Hemming)
A:No. The Casino Advisory Panel operates entirely independently of government, and it is due to make its final recommendations to Ministers by the end of 2006. (Richard Caborn, Minister of State (Sport), Department for Culture, Media & Sport)
 
Saturday, July 15, 2006
  NHS privatisation tender moves up the agenda
The NHS privatisation tender reported here and on 24dash has now been reported by PA as you can see also on 24dash

24dash is an interesting media organisation as it is a pure internet media organisation without any dead tree editions.

I found they did quite well at reporting the job cuts in hospitals first. The reality of such an organisation is that the stories are continually published and there is no need to deliver a physical object to the reader.

This will challenge the print media as well. To some extent organisations such as The Times publish on the net during the day. Others, however, hold back a bit.

There is some tension in media circles about the BBC using licence fee payer revenue to establish a dominant online position. I do understand that concern.
 
Thursday, July 13, 2006
  Government Subcontract NHS Decisionmaking
Today the Government issued a tender document via the Official Journal of the European Union asking for offers for private organisations to take responsibility for making decisions in the NHS.

Lib Dem MP John Hemming has called for Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, to explain why she is tendering out decision-making in the Health Service.

"For some time", he said, "the government have made use of consultants for management services. The issuing of today's tender to the Official Journal of The European Union, however, is the first time decisionmaking has been tendered out."

"Recently the government issued a tender offer (17th June 2006) which asked for assistance with management services and advice. Today's tender, however, relates to the offering of healthcare services and allows decisionmaking to occur on behalf of Primary Care Trusts."

"It has been the habit of the government," he said ,"to blame PCTs for the decisions to close hospitals and other changes. This goes one step forward and will create a situation in which an unaccountable private organisation has the ability to change local services without the agreement of either the Primary Care Trusts or the Ministers."

"This is an abdication of responsibility by government. I have been talking to the Unions and they are very unhappy about this and I am expecting them to want to meet the Minister for her to explain the situation. I have also approached her and asked her to explain what is going on."

The link is to the DH website with the tender documents on it.
 
  Written Parliamentary Questions: 13th July 2006
Oil Prices
Q:To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what oil price his Department predicts for each of the next 10 years. (John Hemming)
A:The Treasury does not make detailed predictions of future prices. In projecting the public finances, the Treasury adopts an oil price assumption based on the average of independent forecasts, which is set out in PBR and Budget documents. This assumption was audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General in December 2005, when he concluded that:

"There is no clearly better method available for use in the future, though large uncertainties in predicted oil prices remain"

(http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/F5D/46/pbr05_nao_508.pdf).
(John Healey, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury)

Single Status Agreement
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will ensure that there is no aggregate national cash limit to the capitalisation of back payments due to local authority staff arising from the single status agreement. (John Hemming)
A:Revised guidance on the policy and procedures for capitalisation directions was issued on 26 June. This is available from the Department for Communities and Local Government website at:

http://www.local.communities.gov.uk/finance/capital/cappolpro.pdf
(Phil Woolas, Minister of State (Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government)
 
  Mr. Speaker: "I do not comment on the content of ministerial replies"
There was an interesting exchange following Prime Minister's Questions. A Conservative MP had asked a question of a minister, and the minister had failed to answer the question. The Conservative MP asked the Speaker what could be done to get the Minister to answer the question:

Points of Order
12.31 pm
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week, I raised a point of order about the lack of answers to my specific questions with regard to establishing the facts about whether or not released foreign nationals who were convicted of serious sexual offences were placed on the sex offenders register. The Leader of the House has said about questions:

“the House will know that it is also important that they are answered accurately and comprehensively.”—[ Official Report, 14 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 772.]

It is with regret that I have to inform you, Mr. Speaker, that I have waited two months for a detailed specific answer. I was told by the Home Office that I was given only a generic answer to a very specific point and simply directed to read a statement that was sent to the Home Affairs Committee, although that statement made absolutely no reference whatsoever to my specific inquiries.

I cannot accept that there is no answer to the question. Surely the Secretary of State is responsible to the House for ensuring the delivery of information on this very specific question. I thus seek your guidance on the matter, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I do not comment on the content of ministerial replies, but I can understand the frustration that she feels. The Table Office is well aware of the issue and is ready to assist the hon. Lady with follow-up questions.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard that an important speech was made earlier today by the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety about the amalgamation of police forces. The matter has concerned many hon. Members for several months. Should not that all-important statement—it was a policy U-turn—have been made in this place so that it could be have been examined by all Members of Parliament?

Mr. Speaker: The Home Secretary is in the Chamber, so perhaps he will be able to clarify matters.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) had been following the debates in the House closely enough, he would have seen that that had been announced in the House, not least on 19 June when I made it absolutely plain that although the mergers and the coming together for protective services of police forces was to be maintained as the destination, I had changed the position on enforced mergers, not force mergers. In other words, I was no longer proceeding with a situation in which we would be laying orders against the wishes of the forces involved. That is what has changed, not our desire to bring together police forces in new configurations.


12 July 2006 : Column 1394

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me reply to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). I am sure that we will come back to this matter. Although we have heard from the Home Secretary, there is nothing to prevent the hon. Gentleman from seeking an Adjournment debate so that the Home Secretary or an appropriate Minister could come to the House. I would advise him to do that.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember the practice of the House. When a Minister rises on a point of order to make a contribution to the point of order, it is within the discretion of the Chair to treat that as a statement, and at that point hon. Members are entitled to ask questions of the Minister who has intervened.

Mr. Speaker: I think that we will leave it at that for the moment.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I listened carefully to the answer that you gave to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main). You will know that I raised that matter in the House on 14 June, at the conclusion of Prime Minister’s questions—I had tabled a named day question on 29 April on the specific issue of foreign prisoner releases from Her Majesty’s prison in Peterborough. I was reassured by the Leader of the House on that occasion that the matter would be looked into. Thirteen weeks later, I have still not received a substantive answer to my question. That is unacceptable. Putting a generic statement in the House of Commons Library is unacceptable, too.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman was present in the Chamber when I advised the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) to go to the Table Office, which will help. I shall go no further than that. The hon. Gentleman should go to the Table Office as well.



The 'Table Office' are House of Commons staff who pass MP's questions to Ministers, and who can offer advice to MPs on how best to draft their questions.

If the Speaker is unable to comment about ministerial answers to Parliamentary Questions, it means that such answers are not part of parliamentary proceedure.

What rules are there, then, governing how Minister's answer their questions? There is a ministerial code that Ministers sign up to on becoming ministers that gives some direction: but is it against this code that MPs must challenge Ministers whose answers are weak?
 
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
  The House has Adjourned
A few moments ago the House of Commons decided to close up for the day. That is the only way a vote can be recognised as to the views of the House on the current extradition arrangements.

It is a symptom of the way in which the executive has power over the legislature.

It is interesting given that it was 13 days ago on a Thursday when only 2 MPs turned up for the demonstration about the Natwest 3 - Alan Duncan and myself.
 
  Written Parliamentary Question: 12th July 2006
Death Certificates
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans the Government have to audit death certificates. (John Hemming)
A:The Government are considering what else might be done to strengthen the overall system within which deaths are certified and investigated, to complement the draft Bill on coroner reform published by the Department for Constitutional Affairs on12 June 2006(1).

(1 )Coroner Reform: The Government's draft Bill—Improving death investigation in England and Wales, June 2006, Cm 6849. (Andy Burnham, Minister of State (Delivery and Quality), Department of Health)
 
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
  Stop Starving Volunteers - no such thing as a free lunch
[Be careful with the link. It is a large document (700K) at the DWP website.]

The DWP have decided in their wisdom that there is no such thing as a free lunch for volunteers on benefits. Any volunteer who gets as much as a free cup of tea for lunch will have their benefit cut.

This is the key bit from the link:
Remember, for benefit purposes, a person who is paid for their time isn’t a volunteer. If you get anything more than your expenses, we will treat everything that you get paid as ‘earnings’, but we may still be able to ignore some of your expenses, depending on whatthey are for.
Frequently Asked Questions – Expenses
Q: Why doesn’t my normal lunch count as an expense?
A: Because the amount of Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance you get is already
meant to cover the cost of your basic needs, including lunch.



Lib Dem MP John Hemming, has called upon the government to stop starving volunteers on benefits. Mr Hemming has asked a written question calling for the DWP to allow volunteers to be given lunch by the organisations that they are working for.

"I have been contacted by Age Concern," he said, "because they are shocked that their volunteers are no longer allowed to claim for lunch expenses. I have asked a written question of the department of works and pensions calling for this to be reinstated."

"As far as the tax man is concerned you don't have to pay tax on lunch. However, if you have a cup of tea from Age Concern they will deduct if from your benefits."

"This is bureaucracy gone mad. We need to bring back lunch for volunteers and stop making them starve."

"The fact is that getting lunch whilst you are out of the house is much harder than when you are at home. The money in benefits does not cover these incidental expenses. Minor changes to benefits rules that won't benefit the DWP will considerably undermine voluntary organisations."

ENDS

Receipt of Written Question
e-Tabling email notification:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Your Parliamentary Question(s) have been received.

You have sent 1 question(s) to the table office. This email is to notify you that your Parliamentary Question(s) were received at 11 Jul 2006 11:03 AM and are being processed by the Table Office.

Ordinary Written question to: Department for Work and Pensions for answer on 13/07/2006:
Will the government change the benefits rules to allow volunteers on benefits to be paid the cost of lunch?.
 
Monday, July 10, 2006
  Written Parliamentary Questions: 10th July 2006
Family Court (Imprisonments)
Q:To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many people were imprisoned following in camera hearings of the family court in each of the past three years; how many of these were imprisoned for offences relating to contempt of court; how many were imprisoned for more than a month; and for what offences, other than contempt, they were imprisoned. (John Hemming)
A:Information on how many people have been sentenced to a term in prison by the family courts in each of the last three financial years is not recorded. However the following figures show the number of people remanded under custody. These cases include those sentenced to a prison and those kept in police cells. The table also shows the number of people remanded on bail or for medical reports.

Financial year Bail Custody Medical reports Total
2003-04 217 616 8 841
2004-05 225 565 10 800
2005-06 253 576 2 831

Note:
The figures are from the County and High Courts only and relate to the breach of Family Law Act 1996 orders. (Harriet Harman, Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs)

Emergency Protection Orders)
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills

(1) how many emergency protection orders have been applied for by each social services local authority in each of the last three years; and how many of those were applied for ex parte;

(2) how many emergency protection orders were applied for by each local authority in each of the last three years; how many were applied for ex-parte; of the ex-parte orders granted how many of each were granted; and how many were for children (a) under and (b) over the age of one year. (John Hemming MP)

A:Information on the number of emergency protection order (EPO) applications made by local authorities is not collected by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). Information on the number of children starting to be looked after for each social services local authority, as a result of an EPO made by the family courts, during the years ending31 March 2003, 31 March 2004 and 31 March 2005 are presented in the following table. The DfES does not collect information about the numbers of ex-parte EPO applications.

Please follow the link to find the tables - ed
 
Sunday, July 09, 2006
  Constituency vs National Issues
I tend to concentrate on national issues on this blog. That is because readers are overwhelmingly not from Yardley. Over the summer recess, however, I think I will get together some pictures of constituency issues and put them on the blog. I am particularly pleased with a play area we had installed on the Hob Moor Road side of Oaklands Park. This is continually full of 3-10 year olds and a major success.

Politics IMHO is about "delivery". Politicians are elected to deliver. This applies whether "in power" or "out of power". Obviously with us in the joint administration in Birmingham that makes it easier to deliver than when out of administration.

However,

a) Just because you are in administration does not mean that you can deliver
b) When you are out of the administration it remains possible to deliver.

Frequently ignored by the media and hence by most people is the interface between politicians and the machine of government. One of Tony Blair's big problems is that his administration when elected did not understand this interface. They inherited a Thatcherite influenced civil service and it was "business as usual".

It continues, therefore, to be the case that often it is the civil servants that need to be persuaded of a case rather than the politicians. Yes Minister has a substantial link to reality in that way.

This is actually not the way the system is supposed to work. It is, however, how it does work. I was talking to a trade unionist on Friday at the 7/7 commemoration who reported a conversation where he was told that persuading a Minister was a waste of time (this was on PFI).

Obviously this is a matter of balance. Ministers cannot deal with 100% of the issues and at the same time no Minister has zero ability to influence the actions of the administration.

Opposition politicians tend to be ignored by government wherever possible. The failure to answer questions is the key element to this. It is in fact this difficulty that causes our system of government nationally to be so dysfunctional.

For example the issue that will hit the fan for the NHS is "gamesmanship" from the Hospital Trusts whereby a short admission from A&E substantially increases their fees charged under PbA (aka PbR). The system is very financially fragile at the moment and this sort of thing can tip it into meltdown. I am expecting to see those sort of figures at around Period 6 (ie end September). Those figures, however, are unlikely to be revealed until 2007.

The key point about the Judicial Review is that the government cannot simply ignore it. If instructed by the courts to take certain action then they have no choice. This is the key thing about the "Rule of Law".

I spoke to the Administrative Court Office and they are running slightly behind. I may ask for some speeding up because of the urgency of some of the issues. Otherwise the permission stage may take until September to be resolved.

The fact that the Treasury Solicitors are talking about having a hearing for directions makes me believe that they understand that this will get through the permission stage. The TSols know, however, that I cannot take on the risk of taking this through to the House of Lords without some limit on costs. I have done all the main legal work myself, but it is the government costs that are the killer.

Last week I watched the start of a case in the House of Lords. It is quite interesting and I managed to fit this in before the Carers APPG. I need to learn court procedures because although I think I understand the law I have only taken two JR's through to court before and I am not that used to court procedures.
 
Friday, July 07, 2006
  Failure to Answer Questions
The link is to "points of order" from about 12.30 Yesterday lunchtime. The text is:

Julian Lewis (New Forest East, Conservative)On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad the Secretary of State for Defence is present while I raise the point of order. I know that you have previously advised disgruntled Members on a number of occasions that the Chair is not responsible for the adequacy or otherwise of ministerial replies. Nevertheless, I draw your attention to the reply that I received yesterday to a question to the Secretary of State for Defence, asking

"whether he was informed of the proposed content relating to retention of the nuclear deterrent in the long-term of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Mansion House speech, prior to its delivery."

The reply that I received states simply:

"I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a range of issues."—[ Official Report, 5 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1107W.]

Do you agree that that does not even attempt to answer the question? In asking the question, I was well aware of the fact that the Secretary of State for Defence has those discussions. If he does not wish to answer the question, it would perhaps be more courteous to state that he refuses to do so.

Michael Martin (Speaker)I will not be drawn into an argument about the quality of ministerial replies. The hon. Gentleman knows that he can always ask the Secretary of State for Defence another question.

Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove, Conservative)On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I want to raise the issue of answers to parliamentary questions. On Wednesday29 March, I tabled a question asking the Secretary of State for Health

"how many and what percentage of people were registered with an NHS dentist on 31 March 2006 in each constituency in England."

I received the following response:

"The number of people registered with a national health service dentist by constituency as at 31 December 2005 has been placed in the Library."—[ Official Report, 18 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 209W.]

I have that information here. On Wednesday 28 June, I tabled precisely the same question, to which I received the reply:

"This information is not collected in the form requested."

I believe that the information is not collected in the form requested because new contracts came into force on 1 April. Ministers are trying to avoid responsibility for the fact that many people are not registered with NHS dentists. How can I get the Minister to respond to the same question that I tabled six months earlier, even if the response is embarrassing?

Michael Martin (Speaker)It is not for me to tell the hon. Lady how to frame the next question. Perhaps she will obtain a response if she asks the Minister why she has been so inconsistent.
 
  Prescott and Casinos: Question to the Prime Minister
Will the government instruct the Casino Advisory Panel to reopen the shortlisting process for the allocation of casino licenses?.
 
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
  Zarqawi death has 'little impact'
"The US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last month has had no impact on the violence."

Yesterday's Urgent Question:
John Hemming: In many conflict situations, people start to want revenge more than they want peace. In the battle for hearts and minds, the danger is of creating vast resentment. Would it not be sensible for the Government to revisit their strategy from the perspective of how we can persuade people, instead of increasing the use of force?

Tom Watson: Our commanders on the ground understand the need for civic engagement. They are responsible for security building in Afghanistan and they understand that if ordinary Afghans do not buy in to what they are doing, our security objectives will not be met.


With asymmetric conflicts frequently those involved fail to understand the emotions of terrorists. Often the sort of acts that result in bombings such as the IRA in Warrington are driven more by a need for revenge than a rational consideration of what the most effective response is.

The same applies, of course, with governments. There is a perception that a strong response is all that is needed. Sometimes strength is needed. I am a fan of talking quietly and keeping a big stick. We do, however, need to make sure that we don't overuse the big stick.

Any consideration of conflict situations such as Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland (although things are much better there), East Timor should take into account the way human beings behave. Acts which are perceived as unjust (such as the US Actions in Fallujah, or bombings that kill mainly civilians) do create an emotional desire for revenge. Taking such situations and creating a peaceful environment is much harder than being careful not to get there in the first instance.

There is getting to be a perception as reported by the British Ambassador to the US recently that Peak Oil is much closer than was previously thought (he said between 2010 and 2020). One would hope that the world would handle this situation calmly and rationally, but it does not look that likely.
 
Monday, July 03, 2006
  Treasury Solicitors Respond
Quite late on I have a response from the Treasury Solicitors. This is after a long sequence of no substantive responses. They seem to think that the Speaker is concerned with the content of ministerial answers. He is quite clearly not as he has made clear on numerous occasions.

I was wondering if they might come up with some new killer argument that I was unaware of, but no. We now await the decision of the Permission Stage Judge.
 
Sunday, July 02, 2006
  Questioned for "Reading the Independent"
The link is to an article, unsurprisingly in The Independent, about how someone was questioned for reading The Independent outside Downing Street.

I have not been a great fan of encounter receipts. On this occasion, however, they give evidence as to why someone was questioned. It still means that they don't really help necessarily.

The limits on demonstrations close to parliament (which has still not prevented Brian Haw from sitting on Parliament Square with a smaller demonstration) is really over the top.
 
Saturday, July 01, 2006
  Another busy bureau
I managed to take the right cable to my advice bureau which allowed me to start as usual about half an hour early. That meant that even though there were about 17 groups of people (about 40-50 people) I managed to get through quite smoothly.

Some were people put off by last week's queue.

There was an interesting case that appears to be a law which is designed to create miscarriages of justice. This will, however, take a bit more investigation before I can take it further.
 

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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