Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2006

Sad death of 100th Service person in Iraq

John Hemming MP together with Lorely Burt MP, John Barrett MP, John Leech MP and Richard Ross MP attended the vigil in memory of the deaths of 100 British Servicemen and Women at 5pm on Tuesday 31st January 2006. The Liberal Democrat MPs shared in the reading out of the names of the servicepeople who had died. John Hemming MP said, "The government have a key responsibility for the lives of our service people. They need to recognise that there is no good reason for keeping our boys and girls as military targets in Iraq. Work should commence for their return to the UK." "This war was a mistake. The continued occupation is also a mistake." "We do recognise that in theory we could have been arrested for reading the names of the service people. However, it is important that MPs stand up for free speech and the right for people to have their voice heard." Lorely Burt MP said, "Our hearts go out to the families of the service people who have been

Written Parliamentary Question: 27th January 2006

Passports Q: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to the answer of 9 January 2006, Official Report, column 378W, on passports, whether the notice added to the UK Passport Service website on photograph standards was published on 22 November 2005 as referred to in the answer or on 21 December as referred to on the UKPS website. (John Hemming) A: The UKPS website was updated on 22 November to reflect the revised policy adopted after consideration of feedback following the introduction of new photo standards in September 2005. Changes are made to the website as the need arises, and on 21 December a further change was made to advise customers that the digital enhancement of photographs was not recommended. The date on the web page reflects this latter change. The website has been amended to make the timing of these changes clearer. (Andy Burnham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office) Passports Q: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant

Smoking Rooms - a Liberal Alternative

As someone who has never smoked anything (apart from other people's smoke) and who is quite anti-smoking, I still have some problems with banning smoking in public places. I am happy with the argument about protecting the workforce, but feel that a simplistic ban is not necessary the best way. I will probably go along with banning smoking from all pubs. I have some difficulty with clubs, however. What I think might be a good way forwards is to have "Smoking Rooms" which are licensed for smoking on the basis that they have good ventilation and staff are protected from breathing in smoke. This at least would prevent the entrances to pubs ending up plastered with fag ends and having people walking through smoke. I have, therefore, tabled such an amendment to the Health Bill to have a debate about this. My amendment would allow local authorities to license certain rooms for smoking. There are clearly good cases for such provision such as specialist smoking shops where peop

Written Parliamentary Questions: 25th January 2006

Predictive Diallers (DTI) Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many calls were made from call centres in his Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres.(John Hemming) A: The Department of Trade and Industry does not use predictive dialling in any of its call centres. (Alun Michael, Minister of State, Industry and the Regions, Department of Trade and Industry) Predictive Diallers (NI) Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many calls were made from call centres in his Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has ma

George and Mark: Pushing the envelope

George Galloway and Mark Oaten appear to have decided to challenge the "any publicity is good publicity" theory. I have frequently qualified the statement as almost any publicity is good publicity. With Mark Oaten it is entirely clear that the particular NOTW article is not good publicity. The situation for George Galloway will not be entirely clear until the dust has settled when he leaves the "Big Brother House". On one side he will continually have replayed the cat act and the photo above. On the other hand he may end up on loads of chat shows. He may even become "Chatshow Georgie". In the mean time Channel 4 will have paid him a reasonably substantial fee. I suppose if he is aiming for an income as a chat show guest then that will give him a chance. He would, however, have to find even more absurd things to do than those he has done on Big Brother. In the mean time the NHS is in a financial crisis, strife in Iraq continues and the country's

Mott MacDonald's Optimism Bias Report

The link is to a treasury web page with various PFI reports on it. Mott MacDonald researched "optimism bias". I think that it is not entirely fair to call it "optimism bias". Generally people don't know all the details of a large project when they start it. However, Mott MacDonald found that there were various reasons why projects both traditional and PFI/PPP ended up having an "optimism bias". Meanwhile back at the ranch only Public Sector Comparators have an "optimism bias" penalty added to them. Noone is likely to complain because they want the projects to proceed and they know if they complain they won't get their projects. This has only changed because PbR means that people really are looking at the real costs (eg what they have to pay out rather than fiddle factors). Such arcane issues of accounting really do matter because when they are wrong (which is generally the case at the moment) wards get closed, new hospitals are not b

Regional Wall of Fame - Writers Voting Numbers

The polls will close on Writers by the end of February. The numbers to phone are: Historical Vote for Arnold Bennett (Staffordshire) - 09011962040 Vote for George Eliot (Warwickshire) - 09011962041 Vote for A. E. Housman (Shropshire) - 09011962042 Vote for William Langland (Shropshire) - 09011962043 Vote for Philip Larkin (West Midlands/Shropshire) - 09011962044 Vote for Wilfred Owen (Shropshire) - 09011962045 Vote for Sir Philip Sidney (Shropshire) - 09011962046 Vote for J.R.R Tolkien (Birmingham) - 09011962047 Vote for Izaak Walton (Staffordshire) – 09011962048 Vote for William Shakespeare (Warwickshire) – 09011962049 Contemporary Vote for Jonathan Coe (Birmingham) - 09011962050 Vote for Jim Crace (Birmingham) - 09011962051 Vote for Judith Cutler (Dudley, West Midlands) - 09011962052 Vote for Roshan Doug (Birmingham) - 09011962053 Vote for David Edgar (Birmingham) - 09011962054 Vote for David Lodge (Birmingham) - 09011962055 Vote for Meera Syal (Staffordshire) - 0901196205

Written Parliamentary Question: 20th January 2006

Terminator Seeds Q: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what his policy is on proposals for changes to the United Nations convention on biological diversity to legalise an international market in terminator seeds. (John Hemming) A: I have been asked to reply. Terminator seeds' are plants bred using genetic use restriction technologies known as GURTs. The parties to the United Nations convention on biological diversity decided, in 2000, that there should be a precautionary approach to the use of GURTs while research into the possible impacts of these technologies was carried out. Parties at the meeting in March, this year, will consider a recommendation by the convention's subsidiary body for scientific technical and technological advice to reaffirm the previous decision. The subsidiary body's recommendation also encourages parties to continue to undertake further research on the impacts of GURTS and to share information from these studies and address

Written Parliamentary Questions: 19th January 2006

Local Strategic Partnerships Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what (a) guidance and (b) advice the Learning and Skills Councils have issued as to who should chair local strategic partnerships.(John Hemming) A: The consultation paper "Local Strategic Partnerships: Shaping the Future" launched on 8 December by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister examines the future role of LSPs, their governance and accountability, and their capacity to deliver sustainable community strategies and local area agreements. Membership of LSPs is drawn from a wide range of local partners, including the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). The leadership of individual LSPs is a matter for local discretion and members' views can be sought on their chairmanship. The LSC has not issued guidance on who should chair LSPs. (Bill Rammell, Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education) Department for Education and Skills) Habitual Residence Test Q: T

Health PFI - Everyone plays "pass the parcel"

PFI has been TINA (There is No Alternative) for some time. There are a lot of games played with PFI. The first one is that it is basically very expensive compared to traditional procurement. However, if the traditional method is found to be cheaper then PFI cannot be used. Because there is no funding for the traditional method it means that people "make assumptions" [fiddle the figures] to make sure that PFI looks cheaper. The biggest fiddle comes from multiplying the traditional cost by a multiplier for notional increases in cost. However, the public sector comparator (as it is called) is still adjusted until it fits. The second one is FRS5. There is a sort of ideological demand for the payments for a PFI project to be more than just leasing a building. Hence you have a demand to transfer the management of a service into the private sector. This creates a massive conflict. There are two real things about PFI. The first is that all the effort goes into specifying the

Lovelock, Gaia and Global Warming

I have not read James Lovelock's new analysis in any detail. There are issues relating to global warming, however, that don't seem to have hit the consciousness of government. The essential problem is that if it is the case (which it most likely is) that a certain level of CO2 concentration implies an increase in the amount of heat trapped, then even if CO2 concentrations stabilised at the current levels then temperatures would continue to rise. All the Kyoto and similar proposals talk about continuing to have increases in CO2 concentrations. Hence they really do not deal properly with the issue. At the same time, however, little attention is given to carbon capture. There are mechanisms for carbon capture other than growing trees. There needs to be further work done on this.

Written Parliamentary Questions: 17th January 2005

VAT Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has plans to charge VAT on domestic flights.(John Hemming) A: VAT is already charged on aircraft fuel supplied for flights within the UK at either the standard rate or reduced rate of 5 percent., depending on the type and quantity of fuel being supplied. (Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General, HM Treasury)

Energy Security Debate

I managed to get three key points into the energy security debate about the nature of the gas market about the fact that nuclear raw materials are imported about importing into storage. My actual speech is on the gas blog.

PFI encountering problems in health

The linked story is a story in "The Times" which refers to the costs of PFI. It also includes the following: "The issue was brought into focus last month by an admission by Queen Elizabeth Hospital trust, in Woolwich, that the trust was technically insolvent." The fact is that it is only adjustments by the Treasury for Risk that make PFI appear superficially OK. In fact although leasing a van for a short period is not necessarily a bad idea leasing a hospital for a long period is. You could not lease a hospital for a short period. Hence financially it is a really bad idea.

One effect of the Internet: My daughter sings in Romanian

My daughter (15) has a tendency to download songs from the net. Recently she has been singing along with a Romanian song. She plays a couple of Romanian songs. It is an interesting sound. It sounds just on the edge of the Romance Languages (Vulgar Latin - French, Italian, Castillian, Catalonian etc) a sort of slavonic pronunciation of such a melange.) One of the effects of the internet. In fact she is learning Japanese and we wonder sometimes with her kimonos (which she bought for £9 reduced from £45 in M&S in the sales) whether or not she is turning Japanese, but singing in Romanian is something new.

Meeting the Challenge

I attended the "Meeting The Challenge" conference which started with speeches from all four contenders for the Lib Dem Leadership. They all did a good job in their own way. Mark Oaten particularly by working from memory performed the most visually effective speech. I preferred Ming Campbell's Speech. Ming Campbells LSE Speech "I want to begin today by paying tribute to Charles Kennedy. In his resignation speech Charles displayed the dignity and courage, which made him such a success as leader of our party. He led us to new heights in two general elections. Today we salute Charles, wish him well and look forward to him returning to the front-line. I also want to say to my colleagues Mark, Chris and Simon let us have a vigorous contest for the leadership, let us debate issues and policies - but let us remember how much unites us and let us never forget for one second that the real battle for us Liberal Democrats is against Labour and the Conservatives. I have come he

Members back Hemming

I now have the final results from the opinion poll on the Lib Dem Leadership Election. There were a large number of questions asked in the poll, but I particularly needed to know whether or not I should progress my candidature given that we now have a contest. A large number of people contacted me directly to support my campaign and expressed a view that they preferred me to the other potential candidates. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I initially declared as a candidate to ensure that there would be a contest. The good news is that 64% of members think I was right to do this. 27% think not and the rest don't know. However, only 14% of members believe I have the right experience to lead the party (70% do not). That does not surprise me as I have always been marginal about this. A few more years experience is really needed in parliament. As a consequence 58% of members believe that I should withdraw. The good news for me is that 31% of members believe that I

Energy Security Debate

Today I took a few moments out from my frenzied Leadership Election Campaign to speak in the Energy Security Debate. The problem was that too many people wanted to speak. With Front Benchers taking about 75 mins for starting and the about 30-45 mins to sum up there is little space for others. I, therefore, tried to get my key point for gas (which is that there is no incentive to import into storage on warmer days) on an intervention. I tried intervening on a tory asking about Nuclear Energy Imports. He got a bit confused and waffled on about the electricity interconnector. I don't think he knows that we don't have uranium mines in the UK.

Passport Photos

The link is to the current photo rules. At the time of writing these have not been changed. This link is about the simplified standards for children . At the time of writing it is dated 21st December not 21st November (unlike the answer below). Being a sceptical sort of individual I wonder if we have a coverup of the timing of the decision to simplify children's photos. This would be an important issue because if they are willing to hide when they changed the rules about baby photos what about issues relating to the War in Iraq - or any other government embarrassment? I suppose it could be "baby photo gate" Perhaps that is pushing the "watergate" analogy a bit far. The government will fall !!! :-) !!! [incidentally if they change the website I have printed a couple of copies to disk to prove they have changed it.] The issue about baby photos is actually relatively minor, but it shows the stupidity of the bureaucratic process. It does not take a bear of ver

Written Parliamentary Questions: 12th January 2006

Gas Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the recent reduction in gas production from mixed oil and gas fields. (John Hemming) A: Production of "associated gas" from the mixed oil and gas fields located principally in the northern and central North Sea has varied over time for a number of reasons. The rate of production is affected by contractual nominations, by planned and unplanned maintenance, by the effect of investment in new production or injection wells or well workovers in existing fields, by the effect of past production reducing reservoir pressure in existing fields and by the effect of new fields coming into production. Total associated gas production from the UK continental shelf peaked in 2002 and has since declined. Production from new fields coming on-stream has not matched the decline in production from existing fields, though there have been significant changes from month to month. Production in August 2005 was

Nominations going well

Nominations are going well particularly as MPs are able and willing to sign more than one nomination paper. I have personally signed the paper for Mark Oaten, not because I support his campaign, but because I support his right to stand. I have offered to sign that of Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne as well. There are at least four MPs who will sign more than one paper if requested to give the members a choice. I, however, need to ask members whether it is right for me to continue to progress my candidature. I stood with the objective of forcing a contest and not having a "coronation". It was important for members to have a choice. It looks like there will be four candidates now which is far better than having no election. Although I could get myself nominated I will continue consulting members and supporters and make a decision when I get the results of a formal consultation exercise of party members.

Children's Passport Photos - success

Lib Dem Leadership Contender John Hemming MP today claimed a major success in his campaign to simplify passport photograph rules. I am pleased that following my questions on the bureaucratic nightmare of the new passport photographs that the government are starting to see sense. The most stupid rule was to require babies to keep their eyes open and mouth closed. Between 12th September and 27th November 15,441 child passport applications were rejected because of the new photo rules for children aged 5 and under. I started asking questions about this in early autumn and the government changed the rules (which they revealed in a written question dated 9th Jan). Now photographs of children five years and under will be accepted if they show the child smiling or frowning, with their mouth open, their eyes looking away from the camera and reflection or glare on their glasses. Babies under one year do not now need to have their eyes open. I have heard of one person who sent 20 photograph

Nominations Details arrive

My team have now obtained the details of how to get nominated. There are, in fact, nomination forms and the use of Email formally for nomination is insufficient. We are, therefore, posting out nomination forms to those people who are collecting constituency nominations. Later today we had people approach us from, Ashfield and London WC1. [note that this does not imply that the whole constituency supports my campaign] If you want nomination forms please email me at

Nominations Coming in from Across the UK

Early nominations today are from Teignbridge and Aberdeen. I am close to having nominations from 20 constituencies now including the Birmingham Constituencies. It is, however, important that my campaign is broadly based. I am consulting with supporters on details of the position statements that are needed. It remains, of course, that I may have some difficulties getting the backing from MPs. However, we still have a fortnight for that. Once I have support from the constituencies there is a solid case that I should be allowed to stand because the members want me to stand.

Going for It!

After conversations today and yesterday with other possible candidates it is quite clear that the position at the moment is not clear. Potential Candidates such as Simon Hughes have a short time in which to declare that they either are or are not standing. I need 7 MP nominations. Nominations from members are already starting to flood in from across the country. If 33 MPs support Ming Campbell that leaves 29 that could nominate Simon, Mark Oaten or myself. There are some people who will nominate either Simon or myself. What I am doing, therefore, is collecting nominations. If I get the Members support, but MPs decide they don't want me to stand then that is life. An argument is used by some MPs that I don't have that much experience as an MP. Given that I have 15 years experience as an elected politician and 22 years experience in running my own business I find that a bit unreasonable. Still things are going well at the moment.

First nominations arrive

Obviously I can get a lot of nominations from Birmingham. However, the first formal nominations have now arrived from: Blackpool Charnwood Chester East Twickenham London SW8 Scotland (not sure which constituency yet) Somerton and Frome South West Hertfordshire For which I thank people.

Lib Dem leadership campaign

Without breaking any confidences and based in part on newspapers reports as well as other communications it seems clear that there are four potential candidates in the running. Ming Campbell is the favourite. Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten are possible runners. I am not inclinded to stand if both Simon and Mark stand and probably won't stand if there is a contest otherwise, but that depends upon the response from activists next Saturday. Out of the three I am not yet decided who I would support. I am gathering volunteers and supporters (please email me at to volunteer) as there will be quite a rush to get nomination papers sorted out.

Meeting the Challenge

This is the process whereby the party is reviewing its policies. I wrote an article for this which is posted on the website here For those who have asked what "taking soundings" means it means a) Seeing who else may stand - because there may be someone else I could back b) Starting to collect nominations - it will take a certain amount of time to collect the constituency nominations for which I need at least 200. I will check on Monday if I can obtain them via email, but I think I need the names, addresses and signatures of party members including their membership number and constituency party. People have been asking how to do this - see later (in time) for that. [edited when nomination forms came out]

Coronation or Election

It is rather sad for Charles Kennedy to end up resigning the way he did. He did get the party to the best result for a third party since the 1920s. It also means that the party members have not had the chance to vote on the issue. This means it is crucial that the party members have a chance to vote as to who the next leader is. Next Saturday is the "Meeting the Challenge" Conference. I shall continue consulting with party members and activists until after that Conference and make a decision as to whether or not to formally stand in the election then. I think it is important that there is a contested election this time. Many of the MPs will back Ming Campbell. We owe it to our activists to give them a real choice. If it is a Campbell-Hemming battle then I would argue the case that I am a potential candidate with a lot of real experience of running things successfully rather than successfully running :-) However, Ming Campbell is a very effective and impressive politicia

Liberal Democrat Leadership Election

Somewhat surprisingly and in a rather rushed manner there is about to be another election for the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party. I have always said that it is a job that I was interested in doing at some stage. I am currently in the process of taking soundings as to whether or not I should stand. There are quite a few people in Birmingham who are quite enthusiastic about that idea. My view is that Charles Kennedy's bravery in accepting publicly that he has a problem with alcohol should be recognised as a courageous step that in no way prevents him being a good party leader. Winston Churchill was known to be drunk on many occasions, but people recognise his merits as a leader. It is also only fair to recognise that if someone denies to themselves that they have a problem then it is not dishonest if they deny that to someone else. 60 Lib Dem MPs signed the nomination papers for Charles Kennedy last May. One didn't. That was me. The reason I did not sign the nomination

You need to act now to Stop Silent Calls

Silent Call Campaigning MP John Hemming has called upon the victims of Silent Calls to make sure that their voices are heard by Ofcom. Writing on his blog he said: "Silent Calls cause considerable anxiety and nuisance. Ofcom's policy consultation ends on 9th January. It is important that people tell Ofcom that they want Silent Calls to stop. They can email: or write to Frank Phillips, Ofcom, Riverside House 2A Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA or phone 020 7981 3040 (press 0 to speak to someone)" "We need to make sure that there are no more silent calls. I have been putting pressure on the Tax Man to stop making nuisance calls. Charities have said they will stop doing it. We need the cold calling business to be forced to stop this nuisance. People only have 4 days left to respond. It is important, however, that the message is clear "No More Silent Calls".

The Sheldon Pub

The Sheldon Pub is an odd pub because it specialises in pool and attracts a specialist and relatively rowdy clientele, but is based in a residential area. After the minor disturbance caused by the clientele at new year something is going to have to change. The owners "The Spirit Group" were drinking in the "last chance saloon" and now we need to call time.

Written Parliamentary Questions: 3rd January 2006

Cooking Oil (Duty) Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what reason Inland Revenue decided to charge fuel duty on recovered cooking oil. (John Hemming) A: Fuel produced from vegetable oil is eligible for the rate of duty for biodiesel (currently 27.10 pence per litre) if it meets the legal definition of biodiesel for tax purposes set out in section 2AA of the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979. In other cases it is liable to duty at 47.10 pence per litre, as has been the case since Royal Assent to the Finance Act 2002. Before that date biodiesel was liable to the same rate of duty as ultra-low sulphur diesel.(John Healey, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury) Data Protection Q: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the deterrent effect of court awards for compensation for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998. (John Hemming) A: None. The purpose of compensation under the Data Protection Act 1998 is not to act as a deter

Lib Dem Councillor Martin Mullaney - Moseley and Kings Heath - launches blog

Martin is the third Lib Dem Councillor in Birmingham to run a daily blog. Dave Radcliffe one of the three Lib Dem Councillors for Selly Oak was the second. With three Lib Dem Councillors and one Labour Councillor now running Birmingham Blogs that must give us the chance at a record in terms of numbers of blogs for one authority.

Friday/Saturday's BIizzard

The link is to a "model tracker" which is a moving pictures/sound (multimedia) description of what might happen at the end of the week. As usual people need to keep an eye on what the numerical models and other forecasts say as we get closer. People such as the BBC would never talk about such forecasts as they are so far in advance that they cannot be relied upon. It is, however, a useful introduction to numerical forecasting if anyone is interested in that. At the moment (and this is almost a week out) a lot of snow is being forecast for the UK.