John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Sunday, December 26, 2010
  New Year Message
It is worth looking back at 2010 before we look forward for 2011 and onward.

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 development and to get the £3,000,000 for the park so that things progress.

The development will provide an additional 600 jobs in the area as well as a new road and sorting out the piles of rubble. Residents who have driven past will have seen that now the rubble is being used as hardcore for the road and the car park. The centre should open in 2012. However, I have had all sorts of problems with predicted start dates on the past and although this is now the final stage I would not suggest anyone bets the farm on this.

The Labour Party decided to make political capital out of our decision to forgo £300,000 in the interests of getting £3,000,000 and speeding up the development. They voted to put the development on hold by rejecting the change. This would have put the project at risk and could have stopped it for a long time. At an absolute minimum it would have delayed commencement. I don't think local residents will agree with Labour on this.

The initial local consultation has also gone out about the redevelopment of The Poolway. The initial project involved the demolition of the Meadway blocks, but now has expanded to rebuild the shopping centre and put in the council hub. The Swan Development has been on the cards for over a decade. I would expect The Meadway to run faster than this.

It is also nice to see some of the other projects (such as the development of sheltered housing on Sheldon Heath Road/Meadway) come to fruition. The redoing of the street lighting to LED and improvement of the roads will also be a positive step. There have been good reports from the early part of Amey's taking over of responsibility for roads maintenance.

Nationally the big issue is the financial situation of the country. Labour's currently espoused strategy of not cutting anything ever would have led to the country following Greece and Ireland down the route of international financial rescue with much more severe cuts.

There has been a lot of ill informed debate about this. The underlying issue is that of solvency and the rate of interest charged when the government borrows money. I personally was supportive of introducing £6bn of cuts in this financial year. That was because it was necessary to drive down interest rates on government debt. It is important to remember that 1% of interest on £1tn is £10bn that has to be found in either additional tax increases or additional cuts.

Those people in Ireland who are arguing for Ireland to renege on its debt obligations have to remember that if government's refuse to pay their debts then people won't lend them money. The only way to avoid being "in hock to the markets" is not to borrow.

I have been quite surprised at how Labour have opposed every cut proposed through parliament. One of the most surprising was their opposition to cutting the child trust fund scheme. This is a scheme where the government borrows money to put it in an account that is put away for 18 years. These accounts have not been that financially successful - so that is not a justification for the scheme. Labour have not explained why they think additional government borrowing in order to do something which has no real effect for 18 years is a good idea.

I did not get involved in politics to cut things. However, it would be completely irresponsible to allow the country to go bust. That strategy would involve greater cuts.

It has been interesting how many Labour MPs fail to understand the difference between deficit and debt. They talk about "paying down the deficit" when actually the deficit is the amount added to the debt each year.

We cannot avoid the fact that some real services will be cut. We are proposing fewer cuts at 19% of departmental totals than Labour were. We are also proposing to ring fence the NHS. Labour would have cut the NHS as well.

However, some bad things will happen and some services will face real cuts in frontline services. What we need to do is to be equitable about the way in which the burden is shared. I think that is being done. Sadly some good people will lose their jobs. That, however, is inevitable.

One example is EMA. The government is concentrating the funding for 6th form students on those students that need it for their courses. That, of course, is bad news for those that bought CDs and DVDs with their EMA. However, those that use it for travel costs should find that they continue to get funding. The funding, however, will be via the college through the discretionary scheme. Any constituents who are having a problem with this (remembering that you don't have to be an adult to be a constituent) should contact my office.

There were, I suppose, two ways in which the current financial mess could have been avoided without a lot of pain. The first was to not have the property bubble that has driven much of the banking crisis. This was in part a failure of regulation, but also arose from the tendency to have a herd mentality in business where everyone makes a similar mistake at the same time.

The second, and one which really we should have followed, was to avoid building up the deficit from 2005 to 2008. I did try to get access to the Treasury figures during that period, but was refused access. The creation of the OBR has the potential of avoiding this mistake in the future. However, responsibility for both the mistake and the refusal to provide the information lies directly with Gordon Brown and the Labour Party - as has been recognised by Tony Blair and Lord Turnbull (the top civil servant in 2005).

There have been lots of rows about student finance. The issue has not been resolved fully as yet and I am working to try to move the system away from debt. However, it is quite clear that the proposals from the NUS for a "progressive graduate contribution" with an effective tuition fee of 5K are not massively different to those from the government for a "progressive graduate contribution" with an effective tuition fee of 6-9K.

Given that the proposals from the NUS appear to fit my interpretation of the NUS pledge (which I believe is the only rational interpretation) I find it sad that we have allowed the argument that we have broken a pledge to get acceptance. However, what we really need to do is to get the debt scrapped. Once that is done then the rest can be argued about. It is in some sense shocking that a scheme which results in the poorer graduates paying less over their lifetime is thought by anyone to act to prevent the disadvantaged from going to university. That, however, is a failure of communication.

The question is also asked as to whether the coalition is the Lib Dems proppoing up the Conservatives or a true coalition with policies from both parties.

The question has to be asked as to whether anyone would have expected a Conservative Government to do any of the following:
There are other things which were in the Lib Dem Manifesto that are being delivered.

There is a more detailed document with explanations of the above that I can send to anyone who asks for it.

The key is that the above are proposals that were in the Lib Dem Manifesto that have been implemented.

There remain some areas which need to be sorted out. One is the reduction of the period for which someone can be imprisoned without charge. Another is dealing with the issue of control orders.

Some of the above proposals were ones which were also in the Conservative Manifesto. Others were not. However, those people that voted for the Lib Dems in the general election have had delivery on the above proposals.

Parliamentary Activity
I sit on 4 Select Committees. Regulatory Reform, Procedure, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments/Select Committee on Statutory instruments and the Back Bench Business Committee. I have also been on a number of bill committees and SI Committees.

One of my key areas for work is in sorting out family law. The system both for public and private family law in England and Wales is a complete mess. This is not a party political area, but instead is one that I am working with politicans from all parties and non-politicians to get the system changed.

Two key things I am trying to do are to ensure that the right of constituents to tell MPs of their problems is protected by parliament and also a parliamentary inquiry into secret prisoners (that is those people whose liberty is constrained about whom the media are not allowed to talk).

There are more details about this on my weblog. In particular the comments I made to the Back Bench Business Committee are important about this they are available here

I am also working on a petition to The Speaker about protecting constituents. On this project a number of colleagues in the Labour and Conservative parties are helping. There is considerable concern in parliament about constituents being bullied by public authorities in an attempt to stop them talking to MPs. This undermines parliament.

The Speaker is advised by House Officers. They are advising him not to take action to protect constituents. This was a key issue when Michael Martin was Speaker and there was considerable concern then that he would not act to protect constituents. David Davis wrote about this in the Mail on Sunday here.

We are collecting signatures for a petition because that allows those people who don't sign EDMs to sign the petition.

All of this forms part of the work I have been doing to strengthen parliament as a body independent of the government. One thing it has been nice to see in operation is a process whereby the failure of departments to answer questions can be taken to the procedure committee. This was something I pressed for in the previous parliament.

This is key for achieving accountability of government. It can be seen in the evasive answers from the civil servants in education about adoption from care that the civil servants really don't want to account for the situation.

The objective is to stop mistakes in government more quickly than has been the case in the past.

Another useful change is that parliament can now change its standing orders without the permission of the government. The procedure select committee can come up with proposals and put those to the back bench business committee that can table them for decision and implementation.

I have done a certain amount of work on international issues particularly relating to Kashmir, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Iran.

On Kashmir I have been pressing for the UN to further the investigative work of Dr Angana Chatterjee. It is crucial, if we wish to resolve long standing disputes, to investigate and take action relating to human rights abuses. Peace is not just a matter of negotiation. It also requires the resolution of issues of concern. This has been seen in many places including Northern Ireland and South Africa.
Friday, December 24, 2010
  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 planning can be more democratically accountable.

This raises the same question as the BSkyB question. People and organisations should be subject to the rule of law where who someone is should not affect how they are treated.

Rupert Murdoch's particular difficulty also arises from the fact that he participates substantially in party politics.

So we now have two contradictory requirements. One for the rule of law and the other for democratic accountability. The question is one as to what extent judicial review could quash a decision taken by a politician who has a stated view on the issue.

My feeling is that for such quasi-judicial decisions that the issue of a fettered discretion should not be a ground for certiori and that only the Wednesbury reasonableness test should apply as well as the usual vires questions.
  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 people who were of the view that the decision had to be taken and not deferred because in part of the uncontrolled nature of the protests and the need to move on.

My own view, as I have made clear, is that the proposals to have a progressive graduate contribution were a reasonable way forward. They may not be a perfect way forward. However, it benefits the less well off members of society and as such was one I felt I should support.

There was an argument that the decision on the amount of money that universities get should have been deferred. However, the Universities need to do their planning for people who start studying in September 2012 by March 2011. That is the main reason for making the quantum decision at such an early stage.

It remains that the decision as to what students pay when they graduate has not been made although general principles have been stated.

Returning to the issue of the limits of protest, however. It is quite clear that violent protests are likely to cause decisions that could be delayed to be taken earlier. I do not think that is an unreasonable position to take although there was in the end no vote taken on whether or not to delay the decision.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
  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 1989. In 2005, for example, 8,600 children left care and 3,400 of those left through adoption. That is 39.5%. If I could get the Department to analyse the figures by age, it would be clear that the majority of young children are leaving care through adoption. In Scotland, however, only 17% of the children who left care in 2009 aged under five left care through adoption. I accept that this includes a broader category, but if we take the numbers and uprate them for population size, we see that England has a rate of adoption from care in excess of 50% more. That is more than 1,000 children a year in England who are adopted rather than returning to their parents.

It appears that the substantial shift, which was a result of the previous Government's pressure on authorities to increase the number of adoptions, was that children left care through adoption rather than returning to their parents. I see this in terms of individual cases where the judgments at times defy reason. It can also be seen very clearly when comparing practice in Scotland with that in England.

The Department has refused to provide many figures about the English system although some are now trickling out. When the adoption targets came in, there was a net flow into care. That would imply that the adoption pressure did not result in additional children leaving care, but instead caused the destination to change. Because the adoption target was miscalculated, there has been a general belief that adoptions from care were only a low percentage. An article written by Alan Rushton in 2007 about adoption from care states:

"Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that any wholesale moving of children from birth families into adoptive families is taking place. Adoption from care concerns just a small proportion (6%) of all looked after children in England."

That is clearly a misunderstanding of the situation. The Department was reporting 6% for a figure that, properly calculated, was more like 40%.

The concentration on adoption also means a lack of child protection. Peter Connolly died in August 2007, but nothing much changed until the criminal prosecution in 2008. Some 7,400 children were taken into care to the end of March 2008, 8,200 in 2009 and 9,500 in 2010. However, often the wrong children were taken into care and more babies were suspected to have died from child abuse in calendar year 2009 than in calendar year 2008. In 2008, the figure for England alone was 47 babies and 97 other children. In 2009, that increased-notwithstanding the increase in numbers of children taken into care-to 75 babies and 111 other children. There are two sides to this problem and both are unacceptable. Although the adoption targets and financial incentives were scrapped from 1 April 2008, the practice is still skewed by the pressures that gave rise to the initial changes.

The children themselves are asking why their families have been split up. There was a meeting recently in the House, attended by the Minister of State with responsibility for children and families, at which a girl asked why her sister had been adopted and she had been banned from seeing her. Additionally, as children such as Winona Vamey and Tammy Coulter get older, they are acting to reverse the adoptions.

The aggressive way in which the courts have gone after families has created many refugees from the UK-mainly from England although there is one from Scotland. Susen McCabe, Kiel and Lucille O'Regan, Fran Lyon, Kerry and Mark McDougall, Sam Thomas, Emily Burgess, Sam and Vanessa Hallimond and Angela Wileman are only a few examples for whom emigration was necessary to fight the system. Sam Thomas made the mistake of coming back to England-Somerset-and her daughter has now been put up for adoption.

At the same time, the rights of mothers such as Rachel Pullen and Husan Pari to even contest their own cases are removed on the basis of expert reports saying they are too stupid but which are later found to be in error. However, the Court of Appeal passes these cases through on the nod. False allegations of satanism and Munchausen's syndrome continue to be accepted by the courts without a legal right to a second opinion. Dr Fintan Sheerin, Professor Mary McCarron, Professor Cecily Begley and Dr Jo Murphy-Lawless from Trinity College, Dublin wrote to me recently asking why these cases still happen in countries that pride themselves on respect for human rights. My answer was that the courts do not always properly follow the law in hearings that are held in secret where people get imprisoned in secret for complaining about injustice.

All this is in fact inhumane. Given time, the European Court of Human Rights may point this out. However, I hope that the Government will respond to this more quickly. More work on analysing the SSDA903 return is needed. It is not acceptable to use the code "other" for something as important as this.

Journalists such as Christopher Booker, Camilla Cavendish, Sue Reid, Denise Robertson, Daniel Foggo and many more have raised concerns about how the system is a machine for miscarriages of justice, but it keeps steamrolling over families and children. Many of the families affected will be lighting Chinese lanterns as a protest on Christmas eve at 10 pm. They will include Phil Thompson, whose great-grandchildren were put up for adoption for no good reason by Walsall council.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and it might give him chance to catch his breath as he seems to be in a great rush. I do not wish to detract from the serious cases that he mentions, but does he recognise that in many cases in which children are adopted from care it is because of the serious problems in their families and the neglect and abuse that they have, sadly, suffered?

John Hemming: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. There is a need for a care system, but it has to get things right. One of the reasons children are often taken into care is that the mother has been a victim of domestic abuse. Women's Aid argues that we should protect the mother and child and keep them together, rather than say, "Oh, you as a mother have been a victim of domestic abuse. We are taking your child."

This morning or late yesterday, I received an e-mail about Kirsty Seddon's case in Oldham. She was brought up in care and essentially that has been used as an excuse to remove her child. Luckily, the European Court of Human Rights is taking the matter seriously, and has now written to the UK Government asking them to comment on the admissibility of her case. There is a fair chance that, whereas this has gone through the UK courts on the nod, it will end up being picked up by the ECHR.

Even if the Government fail to do something, Parliament should be able to act to identify what is going on. Things happen that defy reason, which is why people have to emigrate to get away from the system. I will not rest until Parliament or the Government act to stop these miscarriages of justice. Sadly, the family justice review does not seem to recognise the true situation. The Munro inquiry seems to have a better focus, but both inquiries are hobbled by not having enough members who are not part of the system. We have the usual "quis custodiet" question when the people who are substantially part of causing the problem are being asked to correct a problem that they themselves do not recognise exists. That needs to change.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
  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 demonstrations have a record of turning violent.

I think they did frighten people off as although I saw more people than demonstrators that was before the demonstrators turned up.

It remains, however, that picketing advice bureaux is not appropriate.
Monday, December 13, 2010
  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 consider in Scotland."

What can we conclude from this. Firstly that the NUS are not opposed to graduates collectively paying more. Secondly, that they would support a "progressive graduate contribution."

I read into this as well that initially they would not have minded an increase in the fee level as long as it wasn't a "crude increase", they have now moved away from this position as it is politically hard to defend.

Now I am entirely content to accept that there are different types of "progressive graduate contribution". However, it is also clear that the NUS and the Government are not that far apart on the basic principle that it is not unreasonable for graduates to make an additional contribution as long as it is the better off graduates paying more.

To me the big issue that needs to be sorted out (and I believe it should be possible to do this) is the issue of debt.

There is no need to see the payments post graduation as being debt. From many perspectives they won't be debt.

If someone dies - it is not debt.
If someone goes bankrupt - it is not debt.
If someone gets a mortgage - it is not debt.
From the perspective of credit reference - it is not debt.

The question I ask, therefore, is why it is called debt at all. There is a need for the government to raise the funds secured against the revenue stream from the graduate contributions.

However, this already happens when a record company signs a band. The record company invests in the band and then gets a stream of profits (hopefully) from the band.

The same principles can apply with government investing in students' education and then securing the finance on that against a revenue stream from the graduates as they progress.

To me this would be a lot better. Actually it is much the same numerically, but it means graduating without thinking about debt. If you think about how much tax you have to pay then over the years it is going to be a big figure. However, it is only payable if you earn the income.
  Secret Prisoners
I am linking to my piece at the back bench business committee about secret prisoners and contempt of parliament.

Those interested in these issues will find it interesting.
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 March 2008. BUAV’s high profile and successful campaign, Clean Up Cruelty has already gained widespread support from politicians, retailers and the public. Since its inception, BUAV has taken Clean Up Cruelty around the UK, visiting MPs and politicians to encourage them to make their offices cruelty-free. The BUAV’s Clean Up Cruelty campaign also won a huge victory recently, when the Coalition Government pledged to ban the use of animals to test household products in its plan for government.
81% of the public said they would support a ban on the testing of household products on animals , despite the fact that many ingredients in UK household products have been, and can continue to be, tested on animals.

Sunday, December 12, 2010
  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.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
  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 almost doubling the fees element - would break the NUS pledge.

It is just some more evidence that my interpretation of the pledge is clearly right.
  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 students pay is the key issue rather than what the universities get from the perspective of the pledge.

Hence if we really do have a "fairer alternative" the pledge is satisfied by getting the fairer alternative.

Given that the NUS are proposing their own fairer alternative which is quite similar to that proposed by the government then I would assume that this is also the interpresetation of the NUS.

As far as the manifesto goes we had set out an objective of phasing out fees (which means the government paying them) over a period of 6 years. That was in a strict sense not scrapping fees, but paying them out of general taxation.

The coalition's proposal is a hybrid where there is a capped graduate tax subsidised by general taxation. It is not the same as the manifesto proposal, but it is not a U turn.

-- further point added after comments.
The alternative interpretation of the pledge that under no circumstances fees should go up is in fact in conflict with the Lib Dem Manifesto. The Lib Dem Manifesto argued that the government should pay for fees over a 6 year period. The "no circumstances" interpretation would imply therefore that the sum paid to unversities should not be increased even if more of it was paid from general taxation. This is clearly an absurd interpretation.

Thursday, December 09, 2010
  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.
Monday, December 06, 2010
  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 think there are people in society who are quite vulnerable who are short of money and are having all sorts of things, serious problems and these students don't seem to care about them at all.

Have you had a conversation with them about tuition fees.

I did have a conversation with the President of Birmingham University Students Union and one of the Vice Presidents a couple of three weeks ago. They asked to come and see me and I agreed to mee them and and we had a meeting. It was described as an occupation, but it wasn't in fact an occupation.

And how did that conversation go

Well, we had a discussion. You see my view is that the proposal from the government involves effectively a combination of the general taxation being used for perhaps a third of fhe funding and two thirds of funding coming from a collective form of funding based on graduates. Akin to a graduate tax, and my view is therefore that this is akin to the fairer alternative that we pledged to achieve or to press for.

Some people might find that hard to follow not least those who are sitting in your constituency office. It is not exacrtly the pledge you signed isn't it.

I find it hard to swallow that they care so little about vulnerable people that they are willing to disrupt the operation of my office.
The pledge is normally misrepresented by the NUS because the pledge has two strands to it. One strand is about not voting to increase tuition fees and the other strand is pressing for a fairer alternative and within there cannot be the concept that the amount of money that universities get has to be static the concept has to be that we are aiming to improve the system to a more equitable one. One that is based not on frightening off people on low incomes, but one that is fair and equitable one and that is the one that the government is proposing.

Would you say that you are a man that knows his own mind?

I am yes.

How are you going to vote on thursday.

At the moment I am very likely to vote for the increase simply because we cannot reward the bad behaviour from today. I have ...

Just a second, just a second part of your thinking may be to punish protestors

Well if they're going to behave this badly.
The problem you've got is this. If you reward this form of behaviour. If it has any effect which is a positive effect you are encouraging the behaviour in the future.

So you part of the reason you are going to reach your decision is based upon the protest.

Part of the reason has to be based upon the protest because I cannot allow that to have influenced me in any favourable manner whatsoever.

Why don't you know for sure how you are going to vote.

Because there are some factors that need to be identified between now and Thursday,.

What are they

One of the issues is what happens if people want to pay the tuition fees up front. I believe there should be some form of contribution towards lower earning graduates thats made during that process. There are also questions about the detailed implementation of the statutory instrument and the resolution as they come forward.

My view has been made entirely clear in that interview.
Part of the reason has to be based upon the protest because I cannot allow that to have influenced me in any favourable manner whatsoever.

Let me be entirely blunt about this. Disrupting the office today was not acceptable. Hence it should not have any favourable effect on the view I take when I come to vote.

It may not have any negative effect as well. However, those who are pressing this petition are arguing that such occupations are acceptable and that preventing my office from dealing with people's problems is an acceptable part of the political discourse.

I do not think it is.
  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.
Friday, December 03, 2010
  Woolas Judgment
The link is to the judgments in respect of the judicial review of the election court.
  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 some of their most vulnerable time are in need of robust and informed support, which it is impossible to deny that John provides where more often than not the state does not. Without his and his team's advice and counsel I would not have had either the knowledge nor the strength to fight the system as I did: likely as not the happy, healthy home and future I have with my daughter would not have existed.  “

Andrew France, who lives in Sheldon, was wrongly convicted of rape. His successfully
challenged his criminal conviction with the Criminal Cases Review Commission with the assistance of his MP, John Hemming’s Office. Because he criticised a social worker he then faced separate family court proceedings. He was assisted in appealing those proceedings as a Litigant in Person by an advisor part funded by the ACA money. He said “Litigants in person have very little support in this country. The work done by the advisors is very important and that extra support was essential to me as part of my appeal.”

Kerry and Mark McDougall lived in Scotland until they were told that Kerry was not intelligent enough to marry Mark and was also not intelligent enough to keep her baby. They emigrated to Ireland whilst remaining in touch with John Hemming’s Office. They are now married and have their son Ben living with them. Mark said “Kerry, Ben and I really appreciate all that John has done to help us and wouldn't be together if it wasn't for his help and advice.  “

Ms K who lives in Acocks Green has recently had a baby. She was helped in court by the Mackenzie Friend who is part funded by the ACA money. She cannot be named at the moment, but has said “Without the help from my Mackenzie Friend, I would not have been allowed to take my baby home. The advice from John Hemming’s office is invaluable.”

John Hemming MP had been criticised for using a mortgage swap to raise funds via the Additioanl Costs Allowance to support Constituents. “I knew when I became an MP”, he said, “that my income was going to reduce, but I wished to subsidise constituency activity. I therefore, arranged my finances to enable me to best serve my constituents.”
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
  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.

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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Published, promoted, and printed (well not really printed I suppose, more like typed) by John Hemming, 1772 Coventry Road, Birmingham B26 1PB. Hosted by part of 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View, CA 94043, United States of America. This blog is posted by John Hemming in his personal capacity as an individual.

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