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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really show anything of great substance although it does give material from which people can write stories which become out of date and clearly just plain wrong within 2 days.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.

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.

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 bei…

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)

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 l…

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.

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 …

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. Dev…

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…

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 r…

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 conf…

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…

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 …

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 off…

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 W…

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 sp…

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)

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.

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 deci…

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. (J…

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 giv…

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)

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…

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 …

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 b…

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…

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 t…

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.

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.

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.