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Experts on Retainers

I noticed that I have not posted this case to my blog.

In  this case it was put to the court that having an expert on a retainer to one of the parties stopped the expert being independent.  The court disagreed.  I disagree with the court.

I think most people would disagree with the court.

Kathleen Danby and the Court of Protection

The Court had the sense to allow Mrs Danby to purge her contempt today and be released.  G4S, however, decided that the court order was not enough and they needed permission from the prison service.  In the mean time her handbag had been left in Derbyshire and her suitcase left in a hotel in Liverpool.  Her tickets had run out to return to Orkney yesterday and she was dumped by the system in Birmingham.  Luckily the Daily Mail have agreed to help her get home.

Even if the original court orders on contact had reliable expert evidence and the conclusion of the court on only hearing one side of the argument was right (about both of which issues there are questions). Derbyshire County Council have serious questions to ask as to where the public interest was in spending the money to get her dragged out of a Ken Dodd concert to be taken around the country. It is also obvious that although there is potentially an argument to convict her in her absence there is no argument to sentence her.

Remember to wash your weeds

As we move into the new year most of the complaints received by my team have been about problems with rubbish collection. The new system is far less efficient than the previous system and as a result frailer people who need help moving around the large wheelie bins are finding that their rubbish does not get collected. People who have the temerity to put their weeds unwashed (with too much soil) into the recycling bin are being told to wash their weeds (which I find to be a rather odd requirement) and there remains large amounts of fly tipped rubbish on the streets - although much less in Yardley than other areas.  To save time the operatives are deciding from time to time to leave rubbish because the bins are not that full and people who would rather not have wheelie bins are forced to have them even though the operatives merely take the black bags out of the bin to save time.

This is a real issue to be considered within the context of the debates about how public services are to …

Secret Prisoners judgment comment

I am pleased with the judgment issued today from the court of appeal.  My concern is to stop people being imprisoned in secret.  This judgment is an important step towards that objective.  There are three key things

Firstly, it recognises that a lot of people are still locked up without proper public scrutiny.

Secondly, it adds to guidance and reinforces guidance to stop this happening.

Thirdly, it ensures that there is an authority that can be used to find out who has been imprisoned if someone finds out that a secret jailing has happened.

It does not, however, as yet accept that a secret imprisonment in itself is cause for someone to be released.  That is an issue that I will be looking at in more depth.  It is, obviously, difficult to make an application to court for the imprisonment of someone in secret as it it is entirely secret no-one will know.  Hence it is difficult to find authorities for this situation.

The problem as I see it is that people have been imprisone…

Parliamentary Motions and Yesterday's debate

Yesterday's debate demonstrated the relatively counterintuitive nature of parliamentary procedure. We had the movement of the "previous question". This did happen in the last parliament. Once.

It wasn't very clever to do this as it merely had the effect of truncating debate. If it gets moved too often we will find that the rules are changed to prevent this.

The most important point is that only a limited range of parliamentary motions have an actual effect.  Motions relating to statutory instruments have an effect.  Those on european scrutiny issues have a partial effect, but are in fact not binding as the ministers can make decisions in the European Council before such a motion passes.   Motions that affect the House of Commons (order of debate, suspending or expelling members, standing orders, committees etc) do have an effect.  Those which are in conjunction with a finance bill also have an effect.

However, a motion that says "This House instructs the Gove…

Petition about Acocks Green Post Office

I have extracted and uploaded to Youtube the presentation of the Petition about Acocks Green Post Office. There are two ways of presenting petitions. One is the process in this video. The other is to simply put the petition in a bag at the back of the Speaker's chair. Petitions are presented at the "moment of interruption" which is just before the adjournment debate. Often the Moment of Interruption is known in advance, but on Monday it happened a lot earlier than planned.

"Real" Recall

There is a debate going on about whether the Recall Bill is "Real" or not.

As usual there is a lot of confusion about what alternatives are proposed.

Zac Goldsmith put forward proposals for a different system.  The government proposal is triggered by one of two options either a criminal conviction or a decision by the Standards Committee.  Zac Goldsmith's is triggered by 5% of constituents signing a petition.  The government proposal then looks for a petition signed by 10% of constituents whereas Zac Goldsmith's then goes to a petition signed by 20% of constituents.

The first point is that the government's proposal happens to be what is in the manfesto.  Although I rebel on some issues they are generally not issues which were in the manifesto.  I am making it clear to my constituents that I take a different view to the party on some issues (such as the EU referendum) hence I am not going to be bound by what it says in the manifesto on that.

The second point is th…

Re D - the witchfinder general

The Witchfinder General has written about the case of Re D. I do think the case is important as it highlights the fact that one jurisdiction believes that a child should be cared for by its mother and the other jurisdiction believes that a child should be adopted or at least subject to a special guardianship. The mother is the same, the children are about a year or so apart.

The underlying issue is one of risk.  What element of risk requires the complete removal of a child from its wider family?  


The National Association of Head Teachers Guidelines and the Government U-Turn

The Department for Education are trying to talk away the story about the NAHT producing guidelines as to when term time absence should be allowed.

Earlier this year I wrote to the Department suggesting this as way towards a solution.  However, the department refused this as a proposal.  The Minister as I understand it is now signing off on the guidelines.

Hence it is a clear U-turn on the department's previous position that "exceptional circumstances" was all that needed to be said.

It remains, however, that the underlying argument still needs to be made.  At this stage I do not have a copy of the guidelines and so cannot comment in detail.

It is also important to understand the role of Ofsted.  If Ofsted pressurise schools to reduce the number of approved absences regardless of the reasons for the absence then silly decisions will continue to be made.

Hence progress is being made. The DfE have made a partial U-turn.  However, more work needs to be done.

John Hemming, Parents Want a Say, statement on term time holiday absence research

This table is from research done by the government in 2011. It demonstrates for KS2 that taking a small amount of holiday in term time does not necessarily harm a child's education (at KS2 of course) and can in fact improve achievement.
John Hemming said: "The government's obsessive demand for children to go to school almost regardless of normal family circumstances (such as illness, family bereavement and holidays) is not actually justified by the evidence that the government has in its research. Separate research looking at one primary school concluded that a small break can actually be beneficial to the children's education. We do need to be sensitive to the varied position that families find themselves in. Police Officers, Nurses and many other people often have no choice as to when they take their holidays. We should not effectively ban them from going on holiday particularly as the evidence is that it is beneficial to their children." Obviously a…

Speeches on Friday

Hansard now has Friday's speeches on the parliamentary website.  I spoke in both debates.

This is a link to my speech in the EU referendum debate.

This is the debate on the Transparency and Accountability bill

Both are I think important speeches.   The difficulty on the issue of pan-European institutions (including the Council of Europe and the European Union) is that the heat of the debate tends to obscure the underlying issues.   The underlying issues are, however, real and we should not avoid them.

Ebola - controlling it in Africa is key

This chart from the BBC demonstrates clearly the problem with Ebola and the solution.


Ebola is, of course, a threat to everyone in the world. However, the chart demonstrates how Nigeria has kept tight control of infection whereas Liberia has been particularly bad at controlling infection (starting in 3rd place, but racing into 1st place).

It is important that we recognise that it is possible that an infected person from one of the infected countries (Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, The USA, Spain and Liberia) could come into the UK without us knowing that this is happening in advance.

It is, in fact, likely that an unidentified infected person will go somewhere else in the world. What is important is that we recognise what to do in the event that someone does come to the UK.

The key for people in the UK is the following (from the BBC):
Symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding - but these are similar to more common infections like flu and som…

Green Waste: the war continues

In one sense I lost a battle in court today (having 13K costs awarded against me).  However, possibly over 500 dumps of green waste have been cleared up as a result of the legal action although not all of the ones I highlighted were removed.   Some long standing ones like in Nooklands Croft have now mainly gone (but not all).

I am likely to appeal the case.  However, the clear message of the case is simply to do lots more applications for litter abatement orders, but avoid taking them to final hearing.  I will, of course, consult with my constituents, but the early response is that they would like me to continue to fight the council on this issue.




Statement by Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in respect of UK Family Court case

This statement shows that the Latvians are taking action in respect of a case in England. There is a conference in Prague tomorrow about the problems in England (such a conference would be in contempt of court here because it would talk about cases). Sadly as a result of the Russians pulling out of the Council of Europe the report into English family law has been held back. It remains, however, that international concerns about England continue.

Japanese Knotweed in Yardley - campaign Launch

A group of residents who are concerned about the growing problem of Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) have asked me to assist in launching a campaign to bring it under control.
The following photographs are of Morden Road, the River Cole in Stechford and the River Cole near Larch Walk. A lot of the banks of the River Cole in Stechford are being taken over by Knotweed. The council have sprayed a bit of it, but a much more strenuous effort is needed.
Not only does Knotweed undermine biodiversity, but also it can do a lot of damage to properties nearby.





part sprayed by council


All above in Stechford near River Cole


Morden Road

Larch Walk

The Twitter debate about local benefits tourism

Followers of my twitter feed will have noticed a discussion between the local Labour candidate and myself about the way in which she was rehousing people living in Sandwell in Birmingham so that they could claim more benefits.  Specifically to claim more council tax benefit.

This was based upon a speech that she gave on the subject of Children and Families with no recourse to public funds at a City Council committee in 2013.

She explained how she didn't rehouse anyone living in the refuge she managed in Sandwell into Sandwell itself, but instead housed them in Birmingham, Walsall and Wolverhampton.  She said that this placed an even greater burden on Birmingham's resources.

She is now claiming that she was not doing this for reasons of finance, but instead because of safety issues.  According to what I have been told, however, she made no mention of safety and merely mentioned differential rules in terms of benefits.

Debates on Twitter are in public, but are constrained by the…

Results of ISIL survey

There will be a vote later today on the following motion. I am currently in Birmingham, but will soon catch a train to London in order to vote on the motion. I opposed military action against Assad and opposed the 2003 attack on Iraq.

The wonders of modern technology enabled me late last night to send out a survey (including the motion) to those constituents of mine who subscribe to my electronic newsletter.  For some reason those with hotmail accounts were blocked, but many others did get the newsletter and a lot have responded.  I will put an analysis of the responses later.

THIS IS THE MOTION
That this House:
Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing;
Recognizes the clear threat ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK…

Proposed e-Conference e-Public Meeting on Devolution in England

There does seem to be some interest in the question of devolution for England.  I am, therefore, trying to find out if there is sufficient demand to run an e-Conference or Q&A session on the issues for Constituents (and if there is space in terms of time for anyone else from Birmingham.

If you are interested in this please email tom.lister@john.hemming.name
You would need a Skype video account to be able to ask questions or make statements.

Scotland and Alienation

Quite a few people are unhappy with politics. In Scotland this has resulted in 45% of the country voting for independence with all of its potential problems.  I see that as being in part driven by increased alienation from politics more generally.

I am in the end pleased that they have voted to remain part of the UK although I don't like the Barnet Formula.   I also support proposals to strengthen devolution in England based upon City Regions.   The city region of Greater Birmingham is a much better approach than the previous concept of Government Office Regions.  It also allows the Marches to either have a devolved area of their own or to do things around the counties that exist.

It is, however, crucial that attempts to push Coventry into the Greater Birmingham area are resisted.  Coventry is part of its own smaller city region and forcing it into the Greater Birmingham (which obviously includes the Black Country) immediately creates a conflict of interest.   Coventry sits with …

James and Dana Haymore prosecution - council drops case

I am pleased to be able to say that the prosecution against the Haymores has been dropped by Essex County Council.

Although the council is relating this to them going to the USA, they did this in July a few days after the plea hearing.  In fact they faced substantial costs in fighting the case merely to travel back to the UK.

I wonder if this outbreak of common sense on behalf of the council arises because of the first Not Guilty finding relating to Kerry Capper on Friday.

It remains, however, that the rules need to change.  However, this is a clear success for the Parents Want a Say Campaign Group.

Here is Dana Haymore's statement:
"We are so happy with the decision the County Council has made to drop the case. We feel it is the right decision. No parent should have criminal charges brought against them for doing what is in the best interest of their children. Parents' roles are to know and love their families individually, better than any government does collectivel…

Ashya King and Kerry Capper (over 100 UK refugees in Ireland)

One key element of life is looking at trends in the way things are happening.   Both of the above cases were in the news last week.

I don't know enough about medicine to take a view as to whether Proton treatment is appropriate for Ashya King.   However, it is quite clear that:
a) The doctors should not have threatened an Emergency Protection Order merely because they were being questioned by his parents. b) The Courts are too ready to give EPOs when requested to do so. c) Such decisions and the over used power to prevent parents from being in contact with the courts are at times damaging to the children. d) The only way the family could in practise get a second opinion was to be in the words of Brett King "Refugees" from the UK.
It will take some time to work out where else in the process of issuing an arrest warrant and the arrest of the parents things went wrong.  Clearly if Naveed King had not been as capable as he is at dealing with social media etc their side of th…

Spare Rooms and Housing Benefit

When I took over as the House of Commons co-Chair of the DWP parliamentary policy committee in May I had two top priorities. One was to make some changes to the Spare Room Rent (aka Bedroom Tax). The other was to reduce the number of wrongful sanctions.

After a while I persuaded the party to adopt my proposals for automatic exemptions for people who need spare rooms for reasons relating to disability and secondly that people who wish to move should not have to pay until they have refused a reasonable offer.

I am pleased that once those had been put into the manifesto the opportunity came for Andrew George to press for those in a PMB.  Today the Private Members Bill passed its first hurdle.  (a second reading)

It is difficult to get PMBs into law.

In practise these changes create a better environment for many people, but change the situation from a payment through Discretionary Housing Payments to one relating to Housing Benefit.  Even in cases where people are moving they have been…

Middle East: Rome Statute needs strengthening (Gaza)

The Rome Statute is the founding document for the International Criminal Court. It is the ICC which enforces International Humanitarian Law. Because the USA and Israel have not ratified the Rome Statute it does not have any enforcibility in terms of the behaviour of those two nations. In the long term we need to strengthen the Rome Statute. As far as Europe is concerned a pre-condition for membership of Europe wide bodies should be ratification of the Rome Statute. This should apply to bodies such as the European Broadcasting Union. Frankly I do not think it is reasonable for a country to be allowed to participate in things like the Eurovision song contest whilst refusing to be accountable for war crimes.

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP)

I thought it was worthwhile putting a post on my blog that looks at the votes relating to this particular bill (during some of which votes I have rebelled and during others of which I have not).

Firstly there is a statutory instrument:
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/859/schedule/made
This is The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 No. 859 under this SI phone companies are required to hold certain information about phone calls and ISPs are supposed to keep track of who has what IP address.   Obviously this has been in place since 2009 and prior to that date other rules existed as to recording certain information relating to calls and internet access.

Obviously there are advantages to law enforcement in being able to get information about particular accounts and phone calls.  This was, in fact, used as part of the Aston Election Petition back in 2005 so although I don't know precisely what information was retained prior to 2009 it is clear that some information w…

Gaza

I have been asked what actions I have taken recently in respect of the dispute in the middle east.

I wrote to the Secretary of State on 2nd July concerned about the disproportionate response of the Israeli Government to the murders of three Israeli youths.

I issued a public statement at the demonstration in the City Centre on Friday 15th July.
"Collective punishment was one of the more reviled acts of the Nazis in the second world war.  If we wish to bring greater peace in the world then we need to avoid escalating disputes between groups of people.  The use of techniques which are akin to collective punishment are not a step in the direction of peace and should be condemned as against international humanitarian law (Rule 103)."
I spoke at a meeting on Saturday 16th July.  I explained at that meeting that the murder of innocents was not on the pathway to peace as it increased anger.

I have also signed a number of Early Day Motions relevant to the issues in recent weeks…

The disappearance of children from Care and the CSA inquiry

I did an interview on BBC world at one yesterday about the general discussion about the abuse of children in the care system. There are many stories about Elm Guest House. However, I have been concentrating on more recent issues. There remain survivors of what has happened in the past. These people have been ignored for many years, but more recently they have been listened to. To me it is very important not only to deal with what happened in the past, but also to look at what is happening today.

A point that has not been looked properly at is the disappearance of children from Care. We had the recent reports from Ireland about the deaths of children being concealed. I believe that this also happened at Haut de la Garenne. To me it seems quite straightforward that if we are sufficiently concerned about money that we should count the money and audit it, we should also count the children and audit what happens to them.

Even today children are disappearing from care for variou…

Fiscal policy - the smoking gun

This spreadsheet is part of the 2013 Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis. In this you can see the lid being taken off public spending in fact in 2001. This was reasonable up to a point, but it then resulted in increases in spending that were far too optimistic (in terms of GDP) and resulted in our financial problems being at the higher end of countries in Europe rather than the middle or lower end. I would like to thank Lord Turnbull for highlighting this for me. He makes the analytical point:
"What is unusual about 2000-01 to 2007-08 is that public spending as a proportion of GDP rose in a period of upswing. In earlier recoveries eg after 1983-84 and after 1991-92 public expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell as growth outstripped spending, reversing the opposite of the downturn."

"Trojan Horse" - a summary

We now have the publication of most of inquiries and inspections relating to Trojan Horse. There will be more reports, but not so much into individual schools. It is important to remember where this started. There was the trojan horse document and then Khalid Mahmood MP said: ‘There has been a serious bid to take over most of the schools in the east and south of the city.’ There are, of course, a lot more schools than the 21 that were inspected. The real challenge in this is the use of the word "extremist". That is normally taken to be someone who is supportive of terrorism rather than someone who does not like tombolas because they are gambling. The idea that there was effectively a terrorist style plot to take over schools was always a nonsense. It has now been solidly disproven. I don't personally think it was a good idea to put a terrorism expert into running the investigation as it semi confirmed the allegation. An allegation that was always untrue and fo…

Statement re: Oldknow Academy

The situation with Oldknow Academy is different in the detail to that with Golden Hillock. There remains, however, the more general problem of tarring everyone (particularly Muslims) with the same brush. It is not unusual for there to be a falling out between the Head of a school and the Chair of Governors. This has happened in Oldknow Academy. Also there have been things that have gone on that I do not think are right. In particular the celebration of religions other than Islam were downgraded by the school (referred to publicly as the cancellation of Christmas). As I said with Golden Hillock: "To me it is very important that there are no secrets in any UK schools. Schools also need to provide a broad British education." What did happen with Oldknow Academy is that a number of parents, all of whom are Muslim, were complaining about the curriculum being narrowed and the school offering a less than broad education. I do think they have a point that needs to be looke…

Statement re Golden Hillock Academy

Golden Hillock Academy is in my constituency. To me it is very important that there are no secrets in any UK schools. Schools also need to provide a broad British education. I am unhappy with Tristram Hunt pointing the finger of Muslim Extremism at the Head of Golden Hillock and the Chair of Governors at Golden Hillock. The Head happens to be a Sikh. Tristram Hunt may not understand this, but Sikhs are not Muslims. The Chair of Governors (Mohammed Shafique) is someone I have known for over 15 years. He is not an extremist. He has at times been and may still be the Chairman of the Sparkbrook Ward Labour Party. [Sparkbrook is the ward on the other side of Golden Hillock Road outside my constituency.] It is difficult commenting on leaked reports particularly as I don't have a copy of the report. I did ask the school to tell the staff body that they had legal protection in talking to the local MP as I was told some staff members were frightened to talk to me. The school d…

Evidence of postal vote fraud

This was in 2014. More details coming when I get them.

Labour's 2/3rds claim

The above is an extract from a comment used on a number of Labour leaflets.  It indicates that the money that Birmingham has available to spend has been cut by 2/3rds.


I have asked Sir Albert Bore to explain where this figure comes from. The spending power of birmingham in the current year was cut by under 6% not over 60%.

Speech from March 2014 about National Finance

Here is the debate in Hansard.

It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, but in one sense that is wrong. Dealing with Government finance and the economy takes multiple years, so the problem that we had in 2010 will take at least eight years to resolve. People who interview me every so often say, “Oh, we have more cuts this year,” but those decisions were made in 2010 and they were driven by Government policy in the previous years. I shall quote a few comments about Government policy from 2005 to 2010 because they are relevant to this debate and the issue of budget responsibility in the long term. One person said in his memoirs: “However, we should also accept that from 2005 onwards Labour was insufficiently vigorous in limiting or eliminating the potential structural deficit.” That was Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister at the time. Lord Turnbull, who at one stage was the Cabinet Secretary, the chief civil servant, noted that excessive borrowing started to be a problem fr…

Labour face trial of green waste policy on 11th June

I received an email from the court indicating that the trial into the Labour Party's policy of leaving the city in a mess (apart from the odd clear up) will be on 11th June. It will be interesting to see if they concede the point now that they have done one rather erratic clear up. Many constituents have contacted me asking for a refund as well.

Council Budget figures (why Labour's leaflets are misleading - Green Waste and Cuts)

The Labour Party have made many claims about how much money is being cut from Birmingham's budgets.  They are doing this to justify their prioritisation of cutting the green waste collection.  It happens to be that Solihull spends in total around £700 per annum less per dwelling, but still provides a free green waste service (one bin - they charge for a second bin)

However, these are the figures in total (in £million) including the forecasts.  It is important to remember that Labour nationally are committed to the 15/16 figure and have said they will make further cuts if they come into government (although the cuts may not be the same)

I have in front of me a Labour leaflet claiming the total cuts are two thirds.  I don't see that from the quoted figures below.


Net Budgets 2011/12 onwardsActual FiguresForecasts based on 2014+ LTFP2011/122012/132013/142014/152015/162016/172017/18Council Tax332.198333.218252.104258.529267.499273.394281.919Government Grants691.206646.52783.3847…