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Showing posts from December, 2010

New Year Message

It is worth looking back at 2010 before we look forward for 2011 and onward.

locally
The last case reference of 2009 was 13945 and the last reference of 2010 is 17452. That is over 3,500 cases handled for people in Yardley.

These vary as to how many people are affected and how important the cases are to those households. Constituency casework is important so that an MP can see what is actually happening as opposed to what they are being told by Civil Servants and Ministers. It also allows people a last resort which is at times their only way of getting their issues resolved.

Thanks are due to my constituency team. This year they have had to cope with some unusual situations including protestors shutting the office down. However, they have all done a good job for Yardley. There have been no personnel changes during the year.

The biggest local issue is the redevelopment of The Swan. We agreed to forgo the inflation/interest on the money due for the local park in order to speed up the dev…

Quasi Judicial Decisions, Democratic Accountability and Fettered Discretion

Another interesting question is that of the inter-relationship between democratic accountability and the rule of law.

For some time there has been a campaign to refer the matter of BSkyB to the competition authorities.

Many politicians have taken a view on this. This means that they have pre-judged the decision. Given the debate about the question as to what extent politicians are bound by their statements before elections it raises a question as to whether they are then legally prevented from taking decisions about issues that they have a stated position on prior to an election.

This has happened a lot with the planning committee. Planning decisions are of considerable importance to people. Sometimes people get elected to the planning committee having campaigned on an issue. Then they are prevented from voting the way they have campaigned because they are deemed to have fettered their discretion.

The government have recognised that this is wrong and are changing the law so that plan…

Limits to Protest

There has been an interesting debate about the question as to whether or not there are limits to protest.

I have always taken the view that there are limits to protest. The limits are determined by the consequences of protest. If someone dies or is seriously hurt as a result of the protest then the protest has gone too far. Similarly if there is serious vandalism then also the protest has gone too far.

Protest is always going to be a bit of a nuisance to someone. However, people do have the right to protest. I have been supportive (and remain supportive) of the democracy village outside parliament.

The question where there has been more of a debate over is whether the actions of protestors should lead to their actions being counter productive.

This goes to the centre of the vote in parliament about tuition fees. In fact there had been an amendment tabled to defer the decision. This amendment was not selected by The Speaker for a vote on it.

I would not be surprised if there were…

The light up the sky campaign and yesterday's speech

The link is to a facebook page with 1,813 members of families who are unhappy with the way in which the public family law system works in England.

They plan to light chinese lanterns across England on Xmas eve.

I spoke about the wider issue yesterday in the House as follows:
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): May I wish you a merry Christmas, Mr Deputy Speaker?
I rise on an issue that continues to concern me greatly. I repeat my declaration of interest that I chair the justice for families campaign. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House wish to see the best possible outcomes for children who enter the care system. In trying to improve this, Tony Blair encouraged adoption, but made a big mistake along the way in miscalculating the percentage of children adopted from care.

Before I go any further, I should be precise about what I mean by "care". When I say "in care", I do not include those children voluntarily in care under section 20 of the Children Act…

Today's Advice Bureau - the scores on the doors

Number of placards - 12
Number of constituents attending advice bureau to raise issues - 10
Number of demonstrators - 7
Number of members of staff present - 2
Number of police officers - 2
Number of drunks turning up late for the demonstration carrying a can of woodpecker - 1
Number of MPs dealing with constituent's problems - 1
Number of councillors attending the first part of the advice bureau - 1

Unsurprisingly relatively few constituents attended the advice bureau given the amount of snow. I had intended talking to the demonstrators about the issue when I had finished signing Christmas cards, but they had no stamina and their demonstration - intended to last til 2pm - finished about 30 minutes after it started.

Having looked at this page on the organisers website.

a) I note that there were in fact 8 adult demonstrators.
b) They thought I was upstairs, when in fact I was downstairs seeing constituents (and then signing Xmas cards).
c) The police were present to keep the peace. These demo…

NUS Support Progressive Graduate Contribution

Looking in more detail at the NUS website some things are clear.

1. this page confirms:

NUS's Aaron Porter saying:
"Graduates might have to contribute more overall, but that must not involve higher student debt on graduation or the cap on fees coming off, as we suspect the Browne review will recommend."

2. This page has the following:

"With the outcome of Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding in England expected in early October, Cable's announcement sends a clear message to Lord Browne that a crude increase in tuition fees is not an acceptable outcome nor one that the Liberal Democrats would back."

NUS Scotland saying:
"Although we should look first to the state and businesses to fulfil their responsibilities to higher education, a progressive graduate contribution, which only kicks in when you see a genuine financial benefit, and explicitly increases the amount students have in their pocket while they study, is certainly something we should con…

BIRMINGHAM MP JOHN HEMMING LAUNCHES A CRUELTY-FREE OFFICE

John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, can now proudly declare that his constituency office is cruelty-free. John has taken the step to ensure that all his cleaning products are genuinely cruelty-free, only using those approved under the BUAV’s Humane Standard.

John Hemming has joined forces with the BUAV to Clean Up Cruelty; supporting the campaign to end animal testing for household products and their ingredients.

Michelle Thew, Chief Executive of the BUAV, said: “It’s fantastic that John is supporting our campaign and putting Birmingham on the cruelty-free map. I call on all politicians to follow his lead and sign up to this important campaign.”

John Hemming MP said: "There is no need to test household products on animals as is proven by the fact that some manufacturers don't do this. Other manufacturers should follow their lead and sign up for BUAV cruelty-free approval.”

The BUAV has spearheaded the campaign to end the use of animals in household product testing since Ma…

Progressive Graduate Contribution - the NUS Blueprint

Those that have followed the link in the previous post will have also noted the following text on the NUS webpage (previously linked and currently linked).

Progressive graduate contribution
NUS' Blueprint proposes that students contribute to the costs of their degree once they have graduated. Under this system those who benefit most from university by earning more will contribute more.

In other words the system proposed by the goverment is much the same as that proposed by the NUS - and supporting the system cannot be seen to be a contravention of the NUS pledge.

NUS Blueprint - also breaks pledge

I have linked to the page relating to the NUS alternative proposals.

On page 5 it says:
More funding for the higher education sector would be available, bringing long-term security and sustainability.
 After twenty years of operation, we estimate the total revenues from personal contributions would be £6.4bn each year, after thirty years it would be £7.9bn each year, and after forty years it would be £8.5bn each year
 This compares with estimated revenue of £6bn each year from fees under the current system, if the cap was set at £5,000

In other words the NUS proposals increase the capitation/fees element to £5,000. Now you could say that I am right about the NUS pledge and that it refers to only stopping fees from going up with the current system and that if there is a "fairer alternative" then such a limit does not apply.

Alternatively you could say that the pledge is a blunt - no more money for universities - pledge. In which case the NUS Blueprint - which involves almos…

The Pledge and the Manifesto - what do they mean?

There have been some questions as to what The NUS Pledge and the commitment in the Lib Dem Manifesto mean.

Let us start with the NUS Pledge:
“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.”

This is normally misrepresented by people as a simple statement against voting against fees. In fact often only the first part is mentioned.

I interpret the statement as meaning that whilst the system remains as it is then the fees should not go up. However, when we have a "fairer alternative" then the limitation on fees should not exist.

This is obviously the right interpretation. Otherwise the implication would be that the capitation paid to universities would have to be static. The new system disconnects the student "graduate contribution" from the amount of fees paid to the university (by the government or an agent of the government) for the majority of students (source IFS). What the stu…

Student Finance

The resolution and SI were passed today. Now we can continue to work to improve the system.

What I am looking for is to move the whole system away from the concept of debt towards that of a future (contingent) tax liability. This is important because then people will not be put off going to university with the thought of debt.

Over the years I have paid probably millions of pounds in various taxes. Had I thought that by going to University I would be asked to pay millions of pounds it could have raised some concern.

However, the payments were a future tax liability. The liability only became due if tax was to be due.

The same principle applies to the finance for tuition. Hopefully we won't have anyone paying fees. That is also something I am working on. We have managed to get rid of fees for over half of the students.

The PM programme today

There link is to a petition complaining about what I said on the PM programme today.

Here is a transcript of the first part of the interview:
Well I think they're still in my office. It's like occupying a CAB. We deal with people who have very serious problems. Like one problem we have been prevented with dealing with is that of someone who is not getting any benefits at all although they are entitled to them. We can normally sort these things out reasonably qucikly and the students are saying that "we are allowing people in and out of the office". Well, these are confidential problems. They're not problems that you can just deal with and announce to the whole world that you are dealing with them. You need to deal with them in confidence. It is only right for the constituent.

Are you annoyed

I am quite annoyed because it is so selfish of them to do that. I don't mind if they want to protest and talk to me and have a protest outside. But you've got to …

Student occupation and destitution

At 12.09 today I sent an email to my office about a case where a constituent is destitute because there has been a breakdown in the benefits system. At around that time a group of students occupied the office and so it was closed. I discussed the issue on air with one of the organisers of the protest and made the point that they were preventing my office from dealing with some very serious and important issues on behalf of constituents. They, however, decided to continue to occupy the office.

I have been on the train to London whilst this was happening. Clearly the students are not concerned about how their actions are affecting other people. I have not made a formal decision as to how to vote on Thursday, but this sort of behaviour does not make me more inclined to support the case that they advocate.

Constituents and Families Back MP in Expenses Row

Constituents and other Families that have been helped by John Hemming MP have spoken out in support of the MP’s indirect use of Additional Costs Allowance to support casework and constituency work.

Fran Lyon was a resident in Yardley for a short period before she emigrated to Sweden to escape false and legally unchallengeable allegations that she caused her own illness and threats to remove her baby at birth. She had her baby in January 2008 and lives with her daughter in Sweden. Her case was supported from Osmond House. She said “I believe that the work John does, far above and beyond what his role as an MP requires him to do, more than justifies the way he has organised his finances. The work that he and his team do on behalf of constituents and non-constituents alike is immeasurably valuable to those caught in a very ugly system. It is not necessary to agree with John's position regarding the system in order to agree that some of the most vulnerable in our society, during som…

Fair Comment vs Honest Comment

The link is to the recent judgment looking at the defence of "Fair Comment" or "Honest Comment" in respect of a defamation action.

In essence there is a movement on from the historic defence of "fair comment" which is basically a comment based upon asserted facts towards "honest comment".

For any more information it is best to read the judgment.

What worries me about this case, however, is the question of how large the legal costs bill is that has built up over a relatively straightforward issue.