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 that the Goldsmith proposal has a trigger of just getting 4,000 signatures (actually 5% which is around 4,000 signatures). Although Zac's proposals would make it difficult to recall an MP as there are second and third stages, the first stage is really easy. For example his father James Goldsmith could have paid for canvassers to collect the 4,000 signatures. There are no seats I am aware of where there are not 4,000 people who oppose the sitting MP. Hence it makes it very easy to start the process. Imagine the situation if Winston Churchill had faced a recall petition whilst negotiating the end of the Second World War. It would have damaged the country's credibility at a key time.
Thirdly, there is a problem with the current bill in that it does not have an independent step for initiation. The Lib Dems are working on proposals to change the bill to enable the first step not to involved MPs at all, but
instead a judicial decision about Misconduct in Public Office. This may be brought in in the House of Lords.
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 additionally we welcome the call from the LGA to change the system. However, the key point is that the research that has been done by the government does not justify the change in policy.
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 some stomach bugs.
If you have these symptoms and have had contact with an Ebola patient,ring 111 first. Do not go directly to A&E or a GP.
If there has been no contact with Ebola, seek help from 111, your GP or A&E if necessary.
The chances of developing Ebola in the UK are low.
The solution from the chart is to ensure that the countries in Africa bring it under control by isolating victims. Symptomless victims are not that infectious. Furthermore the infection cannot be transmitted in the air, but only through bodily fluids.
The second case of someone infected in the USA demonstrates that it is health care workers that are most at risk as the greatest risk of infection arises when infected people demonstrate symptoms. That is why in the instructions above people who might have Ebola are asked not to go to A&E or their GP, but instead to phone for help. Obviously someone who has been treating a patient with Ebola is at a high risk.
We will see from Spain how effectively Spain copes with the infection of an Ebola Nurse (Teresa Romero). Their initial response was not good, but they have isolated now 16 people who had contact with her and initial reports are good.
100 people have already been prevented from travelling through the screening at departure airports. Although most had Malaria this is an essential step. I also support the government's proposals to screen at arrival airports. This may not identify any more people, but even if it only identified one at risk person that would help. Furthermore it adds to the education process for people to be aware that Ebola is a possible infection.
We also need to look at whether a small period of quarantine or independent monitoring of contacts before travelling by air would also assist in preventing the spread of Ebola from the most infected three countries. The difficulty, of course, is dealing with people who are travelling via other countries and obviously also those not travelling by air.
Happily the government are doing daily monitoring of travellers from Ebola countries. However, they are only monitoring the high risk individuals. They should monitor all for 21 days with daily phone calls or texts. That way would pick up quickly any cases that were missed. It is in the interests both of the traveller and the UK for cases to be picked up as quickly as possible.
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
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.