John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Saturday, March 12, 2016
  Animated political map of Europe 1000ad-2000ad
This is an interesting thing to look at. UK history has been relatively static particularly since 1700. However, the continent has historically been quite fluid. Not so much since 1945, but still some changes.
 
Friday, March 11, 2016
  Home Alone - law and cases in the UK and abroad
Justice for Families has been publicly campaigning on the issue of the law in respect of children left at home without parental or other adult supervision. Our biggest concern is that the law is not clear. The government claim that parents are allowed to decide whether their child is mature enough to be left alone. That, however, is not true. What happens is that either the police or local authority social workers decide whether in their opinion the parents have neglected their child.

What is most unfair is when parents are prosecuted or have their children taken off them for something which they have done reasonably and with the best intentions for their child/children.

There is, in fact, no published information about what does happen and when action is taken. Some of the cases are covered by family court secrecy which makes it much harder to review the case. Others have injunctions on the criminal cases which make looking at the case harder. However, here are a few examples:

  1. Dad left a toddler in the car for five minutes whilst getting Calpol. Dad was convicted in the magistrates court, but this decision was reversed on appeal.
  2. Mum, who was a working single mother, left the house before the babysitter arrived. The babysitter was delayed and turned up after the landlord had called the police. The toddler had filled her nappy and had a nappy rash. Mum was cautioned by the police and her baby was forcibly adopted into another family. The local authority had recently increased their adoption targets.
  3. Dad left his 8 and 6 year olds at home whilst he went to the bank. The children were tired and did not want to go to the bank. The police knocked on the door searching for evidence as to a the murder of Mohammed Saleem and the children admitted to being home alone. The children were taken into care and dad was banned from caring for them.
  4. Mum and her partner went on holiday leaving another adult to look after the 12 year old. The other adult did not sleep in the same house as the 12 year old. The teachers called the police who prosecuted mum and her partner, but they were found not guilty.

The only published guidance in England is from the NSPCC here. Personally I think it is over the top to say that a child must be 12 before you can go to the shops without the child. Particularly in an era with mobile phones and other communication systems it should not be necessary for a child to be dragged out of the house because of state edict.

It appears to me that the police and social workers are following the NSPCC guidance when it has no statutory basis. There are places where this guidance is the law, however.
Addendum 14/03/16 - The NSPCC spokesperson has just said (on the Radio) that leaving an average 10 year old whilst going to the shops for an hour should be OK.

What the UK Needs

  1. Firstly, we need to tell people what is happening and this needs to be discussed publicly. There is no collated information as to what decisions police and social workers are taking.
  2. Secondly, we need to have a public debate about what the risks are and what more detailed and whether more flexible guidance is needed than that from the NSPCC. Many other countries such as Germany allow younger children to be regularly home alone. What about when the parents have a mobile phone and there is a 9 year old left at home able to speak to their parents whilst they go to the shops?
  3. Thirdly, we need to consider what is optimal, what is ill advised and what should be criminal or require action from the local authority.
  4. Finally, we need to be more supportive of parents who generally try to do what is best for their children. The judgment of parents should be treated with some respect.

The situation in other countries

This is a particularly useful document from the US Government which summarises the situation in the USA. It includes: " Only three States currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Illinois law requires children to be 14 years old before being left alone; in Maryland, the minimum age is 8, while in Oregon, children must be 10 before being left home alone." This is an interesting court case in Canada where the courts decided to change the law such that children had to be 10 before being regularly left at home alone.
This is from Australia. Germany and Switzerland seem to be quite tolerant of children left home alone during the day from about 7.
 
Monday, March 07, 2016
  The EU and Democracy (making some reference to the referendum)
The debate about the EU has in many ways similarities to that in respect of the Scottish independence referendum. The SNP argument could in essence be summarised as "we can do a lot better on our own our problems are caused by London." The Leave argument is "we can to a lot better on our own our problems are caused by Brussels".

In any rational sense the wheels fell of the financial argument for Scottish independence as the price of oil plummeted.  Although I expect oil prices to go back up (and there may even be a spike as a result of the cuts in investment) it remains a really tenuous argument.

The narrative on this issue, however, is difficult because it is easy for the Scottish Executive to blame everything on the UK parliament.    The fundamental political debate that creates much division is about how to respond to the financial crisis of 2008 and the cut in GDP that resulted.  There are many people (myself included) who do not like the consequences of cutting public expenditure on people.  However, there are practical limits on what government can spend.  We are, in fact, operating a Keynesian demand boost by running a continuing, but reducing deficit.  However, public spending cuts in real terms are an inevitable consequence of the errors in public spending policy (increasing spending at a higher rate than the economy expands) prior to 2008.  I have written about this in detail on this blog.

Hence were Scotland to be independent they would have to implement quite similar policies on a macroeconomic level even if they had enough oil taxation (which they would not have).

This in a sense highlights one of the difficulties of the merits of the debate in the public arena in respect of politics.  There is reality.   The Executive (normally the government) has to deal with reality.  Reality is often not that popular.  As reality is not that popular politicians are not that enthusiastic about defending reality in any detail and often reality gets left out of the public discourse.

Hence we have a public debate which is badly informed and leads to debates about structures (Scottish Independence, leaving the EU) which often would have no impact on the issues that cause the tension.

One big issue with the EU is that of migration.  I can understand the difficulties for David Cameron of persuading the Eastern European political leaders to accept that we should stop subsidising migration to the UK from Eastern Europe.

I personally think that subsidising migration is to be avoided.  It undermines the poorest in society in the area to where migrants are moving and often creates tensions between people.  For example there are thousands of people who have moved to the UK to sell the Big Issue.  This is subsidised by providing Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit to the people who do this.   I have difficulty in finding any public policy benefit from this.

However, the fundamental problem is that we have been offered a deal by the other members of the EU.  Realistically if we leave the EU we would be likely to  be looking at an option similar to Norway.  That is of being with the EEA (which is the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - and temporarily Croatia whilst a candidate for EU membership).  This has the same rules on availability of in work benefits as the EU.  Furthermore the people we are negotiating with would be the same people as currently is the situation.  To think that we might get a better deal on this issue (which must be one of the biggest) is not a rational position.   The financial argument that we would save money by leaving is silly as can be seen from the fact that Norway pays a lot for access to the common market.

The problem with the public debate about the EU, however, is that again reality is often left out of the debate.

For example the EU is criticised for having rules about what shape a good quality banana should be.  Well, if the EU is supposed to be a trade area obviously there has to be rules about what qualifies as a good quality banana.  The distinction was made between Extra Quality, Class 1 and Class 2 bananas.   Should we really have different rules in different countries about how to classify bananas?  The EU rules are in fact much more picky about cucumbers.

Inherently having a trade area where the rules are the same throughout the trade area requires those countries that participate to agree on common rules.  That means that the rules may not meet 100% support in each of the countries.  Indeed that is quite unlikely.

The question then is whether we are likely to get more flexibility remaining in the structures of the EU or shouting on the outside.  In the end we are likely to have a take it or leave it option.   We would then be forced to take it as we need to be in the system in order to export.  Importing is not a problem as a rule.

One of the biggest questions is how rules need to change before any expansion of the EU or EEA occurs.   At the moment we can veto expansion until rules changes occur.  However, in the EEA we would not be able to do that.  This is really the killer argument against leaving the EU.

There are a lot of problems with the EU.  We can put aside the debate about Human Rights as that is not relevant to the EU.  The debate about Human Rights relates to the Council of Europe which is a completely different body.    I personally am supportive of the 1998 Human Rights Act although critical of the lack of democratic accountability of the European Court of Human Rights (which should be subject to some guidance procedures in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, but is not).   However, I will not look at this in any detail as it is not relevant to the EU debate.

Again we come back here to the question of how decisions are made and how separation of powers operate.  The Executives (governments) are often quite remote from the legislatures and the public debates.  Often very few people will properly defend the policies of the executives frequently because they don't understand the issue properly.   Often the proper information is not really available. Hence the debate is dominated by the legislatures.

The UK model has a strong executive.  The EU model has a much stronger executive where the legislature is really quite weak.  Hence people tend to ignore the European Parliament.

There are many things wrong about how the EU operates.  However, the alternative to its structures for a common market is much more opaque and resistant to challenge.

We can see this in the discussions about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.   Rather than policy papers that are discussed publicly and can be followed through the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament everything is being cobbled together in secret (as is necessary given the nature of the negotiation).   If we leave the structures of the EU we will have to accept compromise, but it will be a compromise cobbled together in secret.

The change proposed to the way in which national parliaments can block EU legislation has been a long time coming and the movement away from talking about "ever closer union" are both good.  One opens up the national debates on changes to EU rules.  The latter puts a line in the sand against continuing centralisation.   One of the difficulties with subsidiarity has been that it is good to say that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level,  However, the problem arises with the question as to who decides what is the lowest possible level.  Continual pressure for "ever closer union" leads to more and more decisions being taken centrally.  We must resist this.

Hence unenthusiastically I will be voting to remain.   The structures really do need changing to introduce greater accountability and transparency would follow from that.   However, the alternative would be much worse.





 

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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