Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2006

Rule of Law vs Rule of Person

One thing that was interesting about the last demonstration that I attended was that George Galloway did not turn up. It was a demonstration about unjust systems where people are punished because allegations are made against them not because they are actually found guilty. Yes, it was the demonstration by about 100 Bankers and Directors about the extradition of the NatWest 3. This is just the same issue as parents whose children are stolen from them because of false allegations; teachers punished because of false allegations; a Brazilian shot because people thought he was a terrorist; Muslims in Forest Gate whose main crime appeared to be having a beard. The underlying issue is that the processes that society uses are important. We cannot simply jump on people becase someone thinks that they are a terrorist/fraudster/paedophile * (delete what is not applicable). The interesting thing about this demonstration is that I thought it was the second demonstration I have attended in contrave

Written Parliamentary Question: 28th June 2006

OM Energy Ltd Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress the Department has made in relation to the trading activities of OM Energy Ltd.; what support the Government have provided for the company and its associated companies; and if he will make a statement. (John Hemming) A: OM Energy is a research stage company and is one of a pipeline of early-stage companies being assisted by UK Trade and Investment's Global Entrepreneur Programme (GEP). The GEP, which aims to attract entrepreneurial talent and technologies based overseas to relocate and carry out business in the UK, has provided normal Dealmaker support including information and guidance to the scientists and founders on the following, during Phase 1 of the project: Information on establishing a UK company Establishing a UK bank account Assigning the core patent to the UK company Introductions to non-governmental private equity sources of seed capital for early-stage high-risk research projects Filin

Draft Legal Services Bill - "Tyranny of the Consumer"

One of the committees that I am on is the Joint Committee to consider the Draft Legal Services Bill. This bill creates a legal services board which has the power to stop barristers and solicitors working on behalf of their clients. The members of the LSB are appointed by the Secretary of State. The minister responsible is Bridget Prentice who said: "If it is the tyranny of the consumer, I would have some sympathy with that." This potential tyranny of the consumer is of course ensured by the actions of the Secretary of State. The key debate around the bill is whether it is more important that the members of the Legal Services Board are "independent of government" or "independent of the legal profession." The UK constitution and many others operate on the basis of a separation of powers. It is important that the process of interpreting law is independent of government. That is key for avoiding a corrupt tyrannical society. Ideally justice needs to be do

More vacuous nonsense from David Cameron

In the simplistic world of PR the "Human Rights Act" works to undermine all the actions of the government in taking "action" to deal with security. The first point is that you cannot have security without justice and to simply revert to a form of society without the "rule of law" where people are guilty because Tony says so is not a more secure society. The second point is that before the 1998 Act there were similar rights in English common law that could quite easily be enforced. The third point is that many of the cases cited arguing for the repeal of the act are actually not based upon the act. What the act does is to codify the situation and give a much clearer position than the previous situation. The European Convention itself was based upon the UN Declaration and involved Britons in its writing and relates not to the European Union, but instead the Council of Europe. The tories seem to want a "British Bill of Rights". Well, there is one

Random Distribution

I had my record advice bureau today with 60 people turning up in about 19 different groups (the largest of which was 9 people). It is odd really as there is no reason I can identify as to why suddenly so many people decided to descend on the advice bureau. Some of the cases were relatively complex. However, I was only about 40 minutes late at the end having only started about 10 minutes early. There was no real pattern either.

Written Parliamentary Question: 23rd June 2006

NHS Trust Finances Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much each NHS trust, including foundation trusts, owed to other NHS bodies in the final period of the financial year 2005-06 broken down by NHS body; and how much was owed by each strategic health authority to each NHS trust.(John Hemming) A: The audited information for national health service trusts, primary care trusts and strategic health authorities will be available in the autumn following validation by the Department. The information requested from NHS foundation trusts is not held centrally and may be obtained by contracting the chairman of each organisation. (Andy Burnham, Minister of State (Delivery and Quality), Department of Health)

Parliamentary Bike Ride

Its that time of year again. Various parliamentarians collected at St Pancras Station and then set off at 10am on a mixture of their own bikes and others hired for the day. Notwithstanding televised rows between the cycling police and white van man, half the group taking the wrong route, and the usual large number of delaying red lights all of the group managed to get to the House of Commons in about 45 minutes. John Hemming, Andrew Stunell and Tom Brake The Bike Ride in full flow. You can see Tom Brake and Andrew Stunell, but I was taking the photo. A couple of TV crews attended each with their own bike powered transport such as this mobile plastic tray.

Finance (No 2) Bill - creates constitutional conflict

One of the problems with the British Constitutional system is that we don't have a clear constitutional system. Although a written constitution would help, I do not think it is necessary to go that far. It would, however, help to have some clear understanding as to what are and what are not constitutional pieces of legislation. The Magna Carta started the ball rolling in 1215. Another early clear one of these is Revocatio Novarum Ordinationum which in 1322 made it clear that for statutes to have force they needed to go through both houses of parliament and be signed off by the monarch. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 obviously changed that. The Act of Union, Scotland Act 1998 and Government of Wales Act are also material. The Reform Acts are also constitutional. The Bill of Rights (1688/1689) established a number of important principles although more minor legislation such as the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 and Parliamentary Privilege Act 1770 modified that. The 1972 Europ

Written Parliamentary Question: 20th June 2006

National Asylum Support Service Q: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many (a) properties and (b) bed spaces are available for use under National Asylum Support Service contracts, broken down by local authority; how many of these were (i) occupied and (ii) unoccupied at the end of March 2006; and what the mean cost was of each (A) bed space and (B) property as at the end of March 2006, broken down by local authority. (John Hemming) A: Under its new accommodation contracts the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) no longer procures or maintains properties or bed spaces. (Liam Byrne, Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office)

Independence of Legal Profession

The government seem to have forgotten the importance of the idea of the "Rule of Law". The principle is simple. Parliament establishes laws. The courts enforce them. The idea is that individual human beings are treated equally regardless of how well they know Tony and Cherie. One of the most absurd sights recently was a judge being attacked by the government for doing exactly what the government have told him to do. Yes, the outcome is absurd (the short minimum sentance issue). However, that is a point at which the rules need to be looked at rather than a judge criticised for doing exactly what he was told to do. Yesterday was an interesting meeting of the Joint Legal Services Bill Committee. We had the Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls as well as other people involved in legal regulation attending the committee to give evidence. It is quite clear that if the Secretary of State (DCA) can appoint political clones to the Legal Services Board that it reduces the ind

Family Court Secrecy

There are many issues that are clearly political, but not actually party political. One of these is secrecy in the Family Courts. From the answer given here: Last year something like 200 people were sent to prison by the family courts, which happens in complete privacy and secrecy. The idea that people are sent to prison without any reports of the proceedings makes even more important the work that we are undertaking with the family courts, and with the important intervention of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, to open them up so that they act in the public interest while maintaining personal privacy ... It is clear that things are happening which would shock us if they happened in any other country. They are happening in this country without being reported. To me it seems clear that the secrecy and obsession with court injunctions to prevent any discussion of issues such as the most recent high profile case is designed to protect the authorities rather than the children and par

Written Parliamentary Question: 15th June 2006

Payment by Results Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what formula is used for calculating payments to a hospital under payment by results. (John Hemming) A: Under payment by results, hospitals are paid according to the number and complexity of cases treated and on the basis of the national tariff. The national tariff paid to individual providers is adjusted for market forces factor (MFF), to account for unavoidable cost differences in land, labour and buildings. This could be expressed as a formula: activity x (tariff x MFF). (Andy Burnham, Minister of State (Delivery and Quality), Department of Health)
Payment by Results Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what formula is used for calculating payments to a hospital under payment by results. (John Hemming) A: Under payment by results, hospitals are paid according to the number and complexity of cases treated and on the basis of the national tariff. The national tariff paid to individual providers is adjusted for market forces factor (MFF), to account for unavoidable cost differences in land, labour and buildings. This could be expressed as a formula: activity x (tariff x MFF). (Andy Burnham, Minister of State (Delivery and Quality), Department of Health)

Intra Balance Deficit Possibly £200m or More

The link is to a press release on the Monitor Website. A detailed consideration of the Audit Commission report into 2004-5 and other communications gives the following information: During 2005-6 Auditors had concerns about the financial standing of 59% of NHS bodies. This means that there was a risk of deficit at 59% of bodies. NHS foundation trusts have reported £28m of provisions against potential bad debts with primary care trusts (PCTs). While these figures are subject to audit, it suggests that nine NHS foundation trusts have significant concerns about whether their commissioning PCTs will make payment for work which has been carried out. PCTs commission services from NHS foundation trusts on the basis of legally-binding contracts. - this is a quote from Monitor's press release. They may think that this is an overestimate, but it gives an indication that intra NHS Balance reconciliation could reveal at least £200m of hidden deficit for the last financial year (2005-6). On

The MFF and the NHS

I do have an answer now to the way in which tarriff payments are calculated for hospitals. It is the simple one of: payment = MFF * unit cost. What this means is that a central London hospital gets paid roughly 25% more than a Birmingham hospital and 40% more than the Cornwall hospital. The real absurdity comes from doing this when they are actually ignoring the massively variable fixed costs. The fixed costs are due to be paid regardless so whereas they take into account local variations on a theoretical basis they don't take into account local variations on a non-theoretical basis. I read through the Audit Commission's resport on the NHS finances for 2004-5 and as I expected much of the post audit increase in deficits comes from intra NHS balances. I have asked a question to tease out these figures for 2005-6 (which will probably not get answered). However, what is clear is that the figures reported by the Department of Health are not yet reliable. Some local MFF figures

Accountability and Bathrooms

One aspect about the question of scrutiny is that the last time the House of Commons held back finance is reputed to be in 1919 when a proposed lift and bathroom at a cost of £3,800 for the Lord Chancellor was refused by a Standing Committee of the House. I have found some references to this on the web from Punch of the era: THE COUNTER-ORDER OF THE BATH. [A Standing Committee of the House of Commons has refused to vote £3,800 for a lift and a second bathroom in the proposed official residence of the LORD CHANCELLOR within the precincts of the House of Lords. In a letter to Sir ALFRED MOND Lord BIRKENHEAD wrote: "I am sure both yourself and the Committee will understand that my object in writing is to make it plain that I never asked anyone to provide me with a residence, and that I am both able and willing, in a house of my own, to provide my family and myself with such bathroom and other accommodation as may be reasonably necessary."] I did not ask for it; I never yearned W

Boothroyd on Scrutiny

The linked article extracts what the BBC journalists thought was the most important parts of Betty Boothroyd's interview on accountability. She also recognises that our system fails to hold the government to account. Basically to hold the government to account they need to answer questions. They don't answer questions that they find difficult. I would not be surprised if the Special Advisers were part of this.

Another 1,000 jobs to go in NHS

What I found intersting yesterday was confirmation (of course I cannot give sources) that there is some effort placed into news management from local trust by central NHS adminstration. This is something I expected, but the real question then is how bad would things be found to be if the news management stopped. These job losses are in Yorkshire. I am also a little confused on Herceptin. We are told it will cost about £100 Million nationally, but the local estimates for half of Birmingham are £6 Million.

Written Parliamentary Question: 9th June 2006

Personalised Learning Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what pilot studies involving personal digital assistants and other mobile technology are being conducted to help enhance personalised learning in the education system; and if he will make a statement.(John Hemming) A: The Department is currently supporting an innovative project in Wolverhampton called Learning2Go, involving provision of hand held devices to 1,100 students and their teachers across a range of institutions. This exercise is seeking to understand the impact: (a) on learner achievement when individual and personal access to a device enables learning to continue beyond the school day; (b) on individual and family learning when enabling access to school related digital content beyond school hours; (c) on teacher planning and preparation time in line with the aspiration for saving teacher time. The Department provided funding to Wolverhampton local authority to enable them to fund the conversion o

Peak Oil: Energy prices dominate G8 agenda

There is an organisation called the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. They produce a monthly newsletter. This month's newsletter looks at oil production from Saudi Arabia - which is the largest producer in the world. The real evidence is that Saudi Arabia may now have passed the year of peak production. ASPO's base case prediction for the peak of production of regular oil is 2005. Venezuela has bought 100,000 barrells of oil a day from Russia because it (notwithstanding the fact that it is the 5th largest producer) cannot produce the oil it has promised to produce. Venezuela has a lot of Heavy Oil, but this contract shows that Heavy Oil is not a good solution to a shortage of regular oil. Oil from gas and deepwater oil will give the chance of increased production to 2010, but regular oil appears by a number of sources of evidence to have now peaked.

Answer the Question

Having found a few spare minutes outside Standing Committee A etc I managed to issue the papers for R v The Prime Minister ex parte Hemming yesterday. So far the Cabinet Secretary, Prime Minister and Prime Minister's solicitors (Treasury Solicitors) have been unable to give a substantive response to my complaint that Ministers of the Crown don't answer questions. There are now very tight deadlines within which they are forced to provide a substantive response. Judicial Review has two main stages. The first stage is to get "permission" for JR. This involves the papers being issued, served a response (ackknowledgement of service) from the other side and a desk consideration by the Judge. That can then be taken to a permission hearing if needed. In this case the Speaker's Counsel is an "interested party" because of the issue relating to the 1688 Bill of Rights. However, the Speaker has the view that the content of questions is not a matter for him.

Written Parliamentary Questions: 7th June 2006

Queen's Flight Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on what occasions she has travelled on the Queen's Flight since 2002; what the (a) departure point, (b) destination, (c) distance travelled and (d) cost was of each flight; how many (i) other Ministers and (ii) officials travelled on the same flight; how the costs are calculated; and on what basis decisions are made on whether such flights are cost effective. (John Hemming) A: The use of 32 Squadron flights is governed by time and cost considerations. The rules on the use of special flights are set out in "Travel by Ministers". The annual lists of overseas travel by Cabinet Ministers costing over £500 set out when special flights are used, and the purpose of each trip. Copies are available in the Library. Carbon dioxide emissions arising from 32 Squadron flights are included in the Government's carbon offsetting commitment. Carbon emissions arising from the use of these flights

ASBOs and "The Respect Agenda"

There have been stories today about the government wanting to make progress on the "respect agenda". As usual they have no real idea of how to achieve things. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders have been around for centuries. They are originally known as court injunctions. Much that there is criticism of ASBOs I do support their use. They are not a complete solution. It takes police resources to enforce them. Where the government go wrong is targeting the number of ASBOs issued rather than trying to reduce anti-social behaviour. If there is less anti-social behaviour one would expect fewer ASBOs. In Birmingham when we took over (with the Conservatives) from Labour we substantially increased the number of ASBOs. However, that is as a tool to reduce anti-social behaviour rather than as an end in itself. Efficient and just processes are the key to success in this area. What ASBOs do do, however, is to move towards considering people rather than events. Although a court proced

Deficits and Patient Care

The linked blog entry from an NHS GP give a good example of how what is potentially a good idea (caring for some patients at home rather than in hospital) starts becoming a problem in a financially constrained situation. Basically to save money the local health service is aiming for "care in the community" where potentially this could be argued rather than a balance made upon medical judgements.

NHS Deficit bigger than thought

The link relates to Cornwall. There was a news piece about Coventry that I have not been able to find on the web. Those talk about a forecast deficit of £30m. As usual it is difficult to work out from the reports whether this relates to financial year April 2005-March 2006 or the current financial year. The govetnment are still refusing to reveal their most up-to-date predictions. The problem, however, is that although they allow a Market Force factor, which means that being dead on arrival in Cornwall pays the Hospital £71 and in central London it is £99, they don't take into account fixed costs which vary substantially from hospital to hospital. This is an accounting error as the decisions to incur those costs were taken before they mattered ... and ... they are underwritten by government in any event. At least in Birmingham we do not have to suffer from a massive reorganisation of PCTs.