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Showing posts from 2010

New Year Message

It is worth looking back at 2010 before we look forward for 2011 and onward. locally The last case reference of 2009 was 13945 and the last reference of 2010 is 17452. That is over 3,500 cases handled for people in Yardley. These vary as to how many people are affected and how important the cases are to those households. Constituency casework is important so that an MP can see what is actually happening as opposed to what they are being told by Civil Servants and Ministers. It also allows people a last resort which is at times their only way of getting their issues resolved. Thanks are due to my constituency team. This year they have had to cope with some unusual situations including protestors shutting the office down. However, they have all done a good job for Yardley. There have been no personnel changes during the year. The biggest local issue is the redevelopment of The Swan. We agreed to forgo the inflation/interest on the money due for the local park in order to speed up the

Quasi Judicial Decisions, Democratic Accountability and Fettered Discretion

Another interesting question is that of the inter-relationship between democratic accountability and the rule of law. For some time there has been a campaign to refer the matter of BSkyB to the competition authorities. Many politicians have taken a view on this. This means that they have pre-judged the decision. Given the debate about the question as to what extent politicians are bound by their statements before elections it raises a question as to whether they are then legally prevented from taking decisions about issues that they have a stated position on prior to an election. This has happened a lot with the planning committee. Planning decisions are of considerable importance to people. Sometimes people get elected to the planning committee having campaigned on an issue. Then they are prevented from voting the way they have campaigned because they are deemed to have fettered their discretion. The government have recognised that this is wrong and are changing the law so that p

Limits to Protest

There has been an interesting debate about the question as to whether or not there are limits to protest. I have always taken the view that there are limits to protest. The limits are determined by the consequences of protest. If someone dies or is seriously hurt as a result of the protest then the protest has gone too far. Similarly if there is serious vandalism then also the protest has gone too far. Protest is always going to be a bit of a nuisance to someone. However, people do have the right to protest. I have been supportive (and remain supportive) of the democracy village outside parliament. The question where there has been more of a debate over is whether the actions of protestors should lead to their actions being counter productive. This goes to the centre of the vote in parliament about tuition fees. In fact there had been an amendment tabled to defer the decision. This amendment was not selected by The Speaker for a vote on it. I would not be surprised if there we

The light up the sky campaign and yesterday's speech

The link is to a facebook page with 1,813 members of families who are unhappy with the way in which the public family law system works in England. They plan to light chinese lanterns across England on Xmas eve. I spoke about the wider issue yesterday in the House as follows: John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): May I wish you a merry Christmas, Mr Deputy Speaker? I rise on an issue that continues to concern me greatly. I repeat my declaration of interest that I chair the justice for families campaign. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House wish to see the best possible outcomes for children who enter the care system. In trying to improve this, Tony Blair encouraged adoption, but made a big mistake along the way in miscalculating the percentage of children adopted from care. Before I go any further, I should be precise about what I mean by "care". When I say "in care", I do not include those children voluntarily in care under section 20 of the Childr

Today's Advice Bureau - the scores on the doors

Number of placards - 12 Number of constituents attending advice bureau to raise issues - 10 Number of demonstrators - 7 Number of members of staff present - 2 Number of police officers - 2 Number of drunks turning up late for the demonstration carrying a can of woodpecker - 1 Number of MPs dealing with constituent's problems - 1 Number of councillors attending the first part of the advice bureau - 1 Unsurprisingly relatively few constituents attended the advice bureau given the amount of snow. I had intended talking to the demonstrators about the issue when I had finished signing Christmas cards, but they had no stamina and their demonstration - intended to last til 2pm - finished about 30 minutes after it started. Having looked at this page on the organisers website. a) I note that there were in fact 8 adult demonstrators. b) They thought I was upstairs, when in fact I was downstairs seeing constituents (and then signing Xmas cards). c) The police were present to keep the peace.

NUS Support Progressive Graduate Contribution

Looking in more detail at the NUS website some things are clear. 1. this page confirms: NUS's Aaron Porter saying: "Graduates might have to contribute more overall, but that must not involve higher student debt on graduation or the cap on fees coming off, as we suspect the Browne review will recommend." 2. This page has the following: "With the outcome of Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding in England expected in early October, Cable's announcement sends a clear message to Lord Browne that a crude increase in tuition fees is not an acceptable outcome nor one that the Liberal Democrats would back." NUS Scotland saying: "Although we should look first to the state and businesses to fulfil their responsibilities to higher education, a progressive graduate contribution, which only kicks in when you see a genuine financial benefit, and explicitly increases the amount students have in their pocket while they study, is certainly something we sh

Secret Prisoners

I am linking to my piece at the back bench business committee about secret prisoners and contempt of parliament. Those interested in these issues will find it interesting.


John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, can now proudly declare that his constituency office is cruelty-free. John has taken the step to ensure that all his cleaning products are genuinely cruelty-free, only using those approved under the BUAV’s Humane Standard. John Hemming has joined forces with the BUAV to Clean Up Cruelty; supporting the campaign to end animal testing for household products and their ingredients. Michelle Thew, Chief Executive of the BUAV, said: “It’s fantastic that John is supporting our campaign and putting Birmingham on the cruelty-free map. I call on all politicians to follow his lead and sign up to this important campaign.” John Hemming MP said: "There is no need to test household products on animals as is proven by the fact that some manufacturers don't do this. Other manufacturers should follow their lead and sign up for BUAV cruelty-free approval.” The BUAV has spearheaded the campaign to end the use of animals in household product testing since

Progressive Graduate Contribution - the NUS Blueprint

Those that have followed the link in the previous post will have also noted the following text on the NUS webpage (previously linked and currently linked). Progressive graduate contribution NUS' Blueprint proposes that students contribute to the costs of their degree once they have graduated. Under this system those who benefit most from university by earning more will contribute more. In other words the system proposed by the goverment is much the same as that proposed by the NUS - and supporting the system cannot be seen to be a contravention of the NUS pledge.

NUS Blueprint - also breaks pledge

I have linked to the page relating to the NUS alternative proposals. On page 5 it says: More funding for the higher education sector would be available, bringing long-term security and sustainability.  After twenty years of operation, we estimate the total revenues from personal contributions would be £6.4bn each year, after thirty years it would be £7.9bn each year, and after forty years it would be £8.5bn each year  This compares with estimated revenue of £6bn each year from fees under the current system, if the cap was set at £5,000 In other words the NUS proposals increase the capitation/fees element to £5,000. Now you could say that I am right about the NUS pledge and that it refers to only stopping fees from going up with the current system and that if there is a "fairer alternative" then such a limit does not apply. Alternatively you could say that the pledge is a blunt - no more money for universities - pledge. In which case the NUS Blueprint - which involves al

The Pledge and the Manifesto - what do they mean?

There have been some questions as to what The NUS Pledge and the commitment in the Lib Dem Manifesto mean. Let us start with the NUS Pledge: “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.” This is normally misrepresented by people as a simple statement against voting against fees. In fact often only the first part is mentioned. I interpret the statement as meaning that whilst the system remains as it is then the fees should not go up. However, when we have a "fairer alternative" then the limitation on fees should not exist. This is obviously the right interpretation. Otherwise the implication would be that the capitation paid to universities would have to be static. The new system disconnects the student "graduate contribution" from the amount of fees paid to the university (by the government or an agent of the government) for the majority of students (source IFS). What the

Student Finance

The resolution and SI were passed today. Now we can continue to work to improve the system. What I am looking for is to move the whole system away from the concept of debt towards that of a future (contingent) tax liability. This is important because then people will not be put off going to university with the thought of debt. Over the years I have paid probably millions of pounds in various taxes. Had I thought that by going to University I would be asked to pay millions of pounds it could have raised some concern. However, the payments were a future tax liability. The liability only became due if tax was to be due. The same principle applies to the finance for tuition. Hopefully we won't have anyone paying fees. That is also something I am working on. We have managed to get rid of fees for over half of the students.

The PM programme today

There link is to a petition complaining about what I said on the PM programme today. Here is a transcript of the first part of the interview: Well I think they're still in my office. It's like occupying a CAB. We deal with people who have very serious problems. Like one problem we have been prevented with dealing with is that of someone who is not getting any benefits at all although they are entitled to them. We can normally sort these things out reasonably qucikly and the students are saying that "we are allowing people in and out of the office". Well, these are confidential problems. They're not problems that you can just deal with and announce to the whole world that you are dealing with them. You need to deal with them in confidence. It is only right for the constituent. Are you annoyed I am quite annoyed because it is so selfish of them to do that. I don't mind if they want to protest and talk to me and have a protest outside. But you've got

Student occupation and destitution

At 12.09 today I sent an email to my office about a case where a constituent is destitute because there has been a breakdown in the benefits system. At around that time a group of students occupied the office and so it was closed. I discussed the issue on air with one of the organisers of the protest and made the point that they were preventing my office from dealing with some very serious and important issues on behalf of constituents. They, however, decided to continue to occupy the office. I have been on the train to London whilst this was happening. Clearly the students are not concerned about how their actions are affecting other people. I have not made a formal decision as to how to vote on Thursday, but this sort of behaviour does not make me more inclined to support the case that they advocate.

Constituents and Families Back MP in Expenses Row

Constituents and other Families that have been helped by John Hemming MP have spoken out in support of the MP’s indirect use of Additional Costs Allowance to support casework and constituency work. Fran Lyon was a resident in Yardley for a short period before she emigrated to Sweden to escape false and legally unchallengeable allegations that she caused her own illness and threats to remove her baby at birth. She had her baby in January 2008 and lives with her daughter in Sweden. Her case was supported from Osmond House. She said “I believe that the work John does, far above and beyond what his role as an MP requires him to do, more than justifies the way he has organised his finances. The work that he and his team do on behalf of constituents and non-constituents alike is immeasurably valuable to those caught in a very ugly system. It is not necessary to agree with John's position regarding the system in order to agree that some of the most vulnerable in our society, during som

Fair Comment vs Honest Comment

The link is to the recent judgment looking at the defence of "Fair Comment" or "Honest Comment" in respect of a defamation action. In essence there is a movement on from the historic defence of "fair comment" which is basically a comment based upon asserted facts towards "honest comment". For any more information it is best to read the judgment. What worries me about this case, however, is the question of how large the legal costs bill is that has built up over a relatively straightforward issue.

Housing Benefit Changes

I am pleased that the government has made two changes that I asked for to the Housing Benefit proposals. The first was to allow local authorities more discretion to pay Housing Benefit directly to Landlords. This will enable Landlords who charge a reasonable rent to be more certain that they get paid. The second is to defer the percentile shifts for existing claimants. This will allow some market movement to occur before the new percentiles come in. It should result in a far smoother introduction of the percentile change with far fewer people having to move.

Stolen Children on Belgian Radio

The link is to a story (in French) about the stealing of children in England by the authorities. The following figures give the number of children adopted from care as a proportion of those leaving care in the past 5 years (up to March 2010) In care 42,510 42,550 41,930 41,290 42,900 Into care 7,700 7,700 7,400 8,200 9,500 Therefore out of care 7,660 8,020 8,840 7,890 Adopted from S20 280 230 220 200 180 Adopted total 3,700 3,300 3,200 3,300 3,200 Adopted from care 3,420 3,070 2,980 3,100 3,020 Proportion 40.08% 37.16% 35.07% 38.28% These are the calculations the civil servants are avoiding doing. (see my PQs and also freedom of information requests that are refused) The figures will be more extreme if we look at those leaving care under 10. Quoting from the Ofsted APA document. "A very high figure, particularly sustained over some years, should prom

Tesco note to residents

Dear resident, As you know, we have been unable to start work until now on the new Swan Centre, Tesco store, road network and car park due to various legal and contractual reasons. However, following final agreement with Birmingham City Council, we have now been able to resolve these issues and, I am pleased to say, we will be starting preliminary works on site from Monday 29 November to prepare for construction. I would like to thank you for your patience over this past year – it has been a very frustrating time for everyone involved and I know that everyone in the area is eager to see construction work finally start on the site. Local construction company, Bowmer and Kirkland have been appointed to build the store and will be on site throughout the build process. They have considerable experience of constructing Tesco stores and are members of the "considerate constructors" scheme. During the next few weeks, the car park site on the Oaklands side of the development will be

Photos of New Street Station Development

Work in progress on Platform 1. Platform 11-12 on the Right are going to get a bridge at Xmas. Its a bit dark, but you have an example of a train supplying materials to platform 1. Stephenson Tower on the left and the Telephone Exchange on the right. The new Western Concourse taken from the Hill Street End (plus some people).

Visit to New Street

On Monday I spent a bit longer at the station than I normally do. That was because I was looking at the development work. It is interesting seeing the redevelopment of the station progressing. This was a project I supported from its initiation. The first stage of the development is to build a new concourse on the West side of the station. This is the Navigation Street and Hill Street side. A new "kiss and ride" route will be built which comes up from Hill Street and goes down into Navigation Street. Once the work on the West side is completed they can shut down the old concourse and redevelop that side as well. The plan is to open the West side in Autumn 2012 and then the full station in 2015. The platforms are also being refurbished. Platform 1 is being worked on at the moment and hence is out of use temporarily. A train is being used to provide the materials for this. Once this has been done work will transfer to Platform 12. The real challenge is to redevelop

Student Finance - the analysis

There still seems to be a lot of confusion about the issue of student tuition finance. There always will be a cost for tuition whether you call it fees or capitation. Somehow or other the costs of the lecture theatres, lecturers etc will have to be paid for. There are three potential sources for this. One is from general taxation, another is from individual students and/or their families and a third is collectively from graduates. The government's proposals retain a proportion of funding from general taxation even though it goes through the finance system. They reduce the proportion that is raised from individual graduates. Only a minority of graduates will ever hit the cap. It increases the proportion that is raised collectively in two ways. Firstly by increasing the amount contributed by those graduates who earn over £21,000 per annum whereby the net present value contributed over a lifetime increases because the additional annual cost increases until people earn over £41,0

Office Closed

My office in Sheldon has closed today. This is because of threats against the safety of my staff and potentially also against constituents visiting for help with their problems. The police have advised us to close the office. Those people who are making the threats need to recognise that the people who suffer are my constituents who may be homeless, destitute or facing arbitrary action by the state - where their last resort is to come for help from my office. The demonstrators are arguing that we should not be making any cuts in Higher Education. It is clear, looking at the global financial situation, that we have to make cuts in some areas. Hence the demonstrators need to think carefully about what they are saying. I support wholeheartedly protecting the more vulnerable members of society against cuts in services for them. That does mean that there are quite severe cuts in Higher Education. The alternatives are much worse. We are proposing a fairer alternative to the current sy

Christopher Booker on The Sims

The link is to today's story in the Sunday Telegraph about The Sims. Those interested in the issue should see the effort that the Civil Servants are putting in to refuse to admit the truth about adoptions from care. Something like 40% of the children leaving care (defined as subject to a care order or police protection) are leaving through adoption. When you consider the children under 10 then it is a majority. That is not supposed to happen. See this written question as an example.

Stuart Syvret Jailed

According to Channel TV Stuart Syvret has been jailed for 10 weeks. Former Senator Stuart Syvret has been jailed for ten weeks and faces heavy fines after being found guilty of breaching data protection laws. This looks like an attempt to put the frighteners on people critising the failures of the rule of law in Jersey.

Axe-wielding man went on rampage at headquarters of 'wrong council'

The link is to a story about someone who was abused in care who attacked the wrong tier of government. Much that this is futile and not in any way to be encouraged I wonder where else in the world it happens. I know the USA has similar problems in the care system, but not as extreme as those in England. However, I wonder where else the children who have been through the system are often so opposed to it (not always of course).

Garbled Article in The Times about Mortgage etc

There has been a garbled article published in The Times today about the mortgage on my london flat. It is based mainly on what I put on my weblog in May 2009 here It gets a bit complex with me having a mortgage on Fletcher Buildings then clearing it and then getting another one. It remains my view that what I did was not only within the rules and cleared by the authorities at the time, but also saved money for the taxpayer. If you look at my posting of May 2009 you will find that my personal expenses over a period of years were £45,075 less than those of Khalid Mahmood MP. There were other options such as selling and repurchasing or renting out my own flat and renting another via ACA. Those would have cost the taxpayer more. What doing this achieved, as opposed to simply leaving the flat without a mortgage, was to enable me to put more revenue expenditure into the subsidy that I provide to my constituency activities. I know that parliament now doesn't allow MPs to buy properties

The Last Minute Labour Nasty

The link is to the story about the Oldham East and Saddleworth Election Court. This was a case about some last minute Labour leaflets making allegations that are clearly untrue. It is a common habit of the Labour Party to deliver a last minute negative leaflet on the Wednesday before the election day (normally Thursday). Hence it is good to have them warned that they are not allowed to make things up about their opponents.

Hollie Greig, Bill Maloney and Community Champions

This is a video that is worth looking at although it is a bit long and you don't get into the issues right at the start. I don't agree with everything they say, but it is clear that they have some things right. There are some real problems in the system. To find out more about it you need to follow my questions about Secret Prisoners.

A future tax liability

The two things I was pressing for as part of the funding of student tuition have been announced today. The first of these was to make the scheme more progressive so that those graduates who earn quite a lot more pay more than those who earn more than average. The second was to have some system whereby those who wish to pay upfront pay a premium and participate in burden sharing on an equitable basis. That makes good progress down the route that I am looking for as a "fairer system" as I am pledged to do.

Labour Manifesto 2010 and the housing benefit cap

On Page 20 of Labour's 2010 Manifesto it looks at welfare reform. More people with disabilities and health conditions will be helped to move into work from Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance, as we extend the use of our tough-but-fair work capability test. This will help to reduce the benefit bill by £1.5 billion over the next four years. We will reassess the Incapacity Benefit claims of 1.5 million people by 2014, as we move those able to work back into jobs. Our goal is to make responsibility the cornerstone of our welfare state. Housing Benefit will be reformed to ensure that we do not subsidise people to live in the private sector on rents that other ordinary working families could not afford. And we will continue to crack down on those who try to cheat the benefit system. on page 19 Our job guarantees will put an end to long-term unemployment and a life on benefits. No one fit for work should be abandoned to a life on benefit, so all those who can work will b

Christopher Booker on public family law

I think there is getting to be a bit of momentum behind the campaign to sort out English child protection. The link is to a story in the Sunday Telegraph. The only people in a position to reform this system fundamentally are those who set it up in the first place under the 1989 Children Act – the politicians. But they have, with one or two shining exceptions – notably John Hemming – walked away from the Frankenstein's monster that Parliament created. It is now up to them to support Mr Hemming and all those horribly maltreated families who are campaigning for one of the most out­rageous scandals in Britain today to be brought to an end.

Secret Prisoners

I mentioned one of the UK's secret prisoners today in the House of Commons. These prisoners are different to those imprisoned through the courts where the Family Court bans the name of the prisoner being revealed. These are people whose legal capacity to decide where they live is removed from them by the Court of Protection. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 specifies in detail the circumstances in which someone can be jailed ostensibly to protect them. In these situations the system decides that someone does not have either the capacity to decide where they live or indeed to instruct a solicitor to argue about the issue. There are two problems with how the system currently works. The first is the wider one of accountability. Someone is locked up with no right to instruct a solicitor to contest the jailing and the media are banned from talking about it. Obviously my comments in the House of Commons can be reported, but without that it cannot be talked about on threat of imprisonment.

Gilt Yields over the century

John O Shea has now started a bidding war on gilt yield graphs. I think, however, that looking at 1900-2009 is sufficient. The figures here are annual averages, but they show clearly how it is possible to have problems with the interest rate on government debt. The peaks were indeed during the Labour Government of 1974-9. Labour, although they were in theory talking about cuts of just over 40bn do now seem to be arguing against all the cuts. Incidentally given that "there is no money left" the funds for Royal Mail do have to be raised on the equity markets. Labour have left no choice on this. Labour were aiming to do a similar thing. There are a number of key priorities 1. Protecting the Post Office Network 2. Maintaining the Universal Service Obligation. These are our objectives.

Gilt Yields

The chart below is the current 10 year gilt yield chart from bloomberg. It looks back at what happened with gilt yields. As we went into the recesssion and there was an attempt to drive down interest rates the gilt yields followed. Then they popped up a bit and averaged around 4% going into the general election although there was a peak with a bit of extra uncertainty. Then they went down to the 3% level where they have remained. We as a country are "in hock" to the markets because we borrow money from them. The only way to be less "in hock" is to borrow less. The government's policies are in many ways traditional keynsian as there is not an attempt to remove the deficit overnight. The Coalition Government's cuts are about of the same order of magnitude in fact as those initially proposed by Labour. They get rid of the deficit faster because of lower interest rates (1% on 1 tn is 10bn). Labour now appear to be arguing against any substantial cuts. Th

Dutch Orchestra Protest

The link is to a story about a Dutch Orchestra protesting about funding cuts. The protest of performing in a commuter railway station is at least more musical than average. However, what we are seeing across the developed world is the consequences of the recession. Initially it was a private sector recession and has turned into a public sector recession - inevitably. John O Shea complained about me using the crocodile on a plane analogy. Much that the previous (Labour) government were responsible both for overspending (believing their own publicity) and a failure of regulation, the recession was also caused by high oil prices and the lack of liquidity in the housing market. These things were hard to predict (in the same way as a crocodile on a plane), but they cause a big problem. Labour are in the "spend your way out of the problem" camp. That is exactly the policy adopted by Greece before their debt crisis. Remember that interest is affected both by the amount of deb

The Communication Workers Union

I find it odd that on one hand the Communication Workers Union are setting out publicly to defeat me personally at the next General Election and then in the next minute they want to meet me. There is always a question of priorities. I am happy to meet constituents at my advice bureau (which does not have appointments). However, I find it a bit odd that my political opponents would expect me to find time to meet them. It is all a question of priorities. It is not possible to do everything that people ask you to do. Hence you need to prioritise. My priority is serving my constituents.

You couldn't make it up

Here on 22nd October it says: The Work Foundation, which bills itself as "the leading independent authority on work and its future", announced today that it had been acquired by Lancaster University. The move came after a winding up petition, citing a £26.9m pension deficit, was filed at the high court yesterday. The university claims the purchase minimises losses to creditors, including pension fund members, and safeguards 43 jobs, including that of the foundation's executive vice-chair, Will Hutton. Hutton is a former editor of the Observer, a member of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, and an adviser to the government on public sector pay. Two days later also in the Guardian here Will Hutton says: The gamble did not have to be taken. The scale of spending cuts were not "unavoidable". The country was not and is not on the brink of bankruptcy. The stock of national debt built up over the decades lies in the middle of the international average as a sha

Taxation and the Graduate Contribution

When I graduated (in 1981) I faced basic tax rates of 30% and a higher rate of 60%. People who graduate with the graduate contribution in place will face a tax rate of 20+9=29% and 40+9=49%. That is a lower marginal rate of taxation than I faced on graduation in 1981. I think this is important because the case is often made that those people who benefited from tertiary education in the 1970s have been changing how the system works. I made this point on the politics show today.

Do people care about Elected Mayors

The link is to the story about Tower Hamlets. The turnout was 25.6%. I am not quite sure of exactly why people want elected mayors. There is a claim that it creates "accountable" local government. I don't see this myself. There is also an argument that it encourages higher turnouts. Well the evidence from Tower Hamlets does not substantiate that.

Twinkle and Beauty

There has been a bit more interest in Twinkle and his missing sister. Here is a photograph of them both. In terms of various questions about the kitten(s) a) They were named by my daughter (age 4) - they are her cats. b) They are due to be chipped, but are not yet. c) They are now about 6 months old. I would like to thank those who have replicated the photos of Beauty for their support of the attempts to find Beauty. That even includes Andy Howell who has set up a twitter account and a facebook page even if it is a bit tongue in cheek. For those who don't know Andy Howell used to be Deputy Leader of the Birmingham Labour Party. However, the Labour Party in Birmingham have been quite helpful within the context of trying to find Beauty.

Kitten Missing

If anyone has seen this kitten please contact me at the House of Commons. There is a reward for its return. (note that people are welcome to republish this picture of Beauty on the basis that they are aiming to get her returned.)

Labour's cuts would be more

One reason why the Coalition's cuts are less than Labour proposed is that the Coalition is really committed to reducing the deficit quickly. That means simply that people will lend money to the UK at a lower interest rate. That means less interest and hence the cuts don't need to be as much. Simples. Remember that Labour's lax approach to public spending means that they have to cut more.

Student Finance - the Options

Regardless of reports in the press, I have not yet made up my mind as to which way to vote. I cannot practically do this until the government has produced any proposals. However, in terms of the debate some things are clear: Ideally tertiary education should be funded directly from general taxation. That is not an option so there are various options. 1. Up front fees. 2. A graduate tax (an open ended tax) 3. Up front fees with an option of the government providing a loan 4. A scheme which shares the burden between graduates on the basis of their earnings (not their parents' wealth), but which is not an open ended "pure" graduate tax. What would you pick? I think the fourth option is the fairest (or most socially just) because it shares the cost of tertiary education between graduates on the basis of the income of the graduates. This does, however, require the option of an up front payment without penalty being removed. It also requires more work on the calculation of

Student Fees and the NUS Pledge

There is rightly a debate about the signing of the NUS pledge by Lib Dem MPs, including myself, and what happens now about the Browne Report and any subsequent proposals. The pledge said: “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative” It is clear from that pledge that the objective is to have "a fairer alternative". The question, therefore, is whether the government's proposals are, indeed, a fairer alternative. The test is whether they have moved from being effectively a tuition loan to what is a capped progressive graduate tax (or graduate contribution). I am still not sure that they are progressive enough and have raised this with the government, but in defence of the proposals: a) Up front fees are scrapped for part time students - this is important. b) 30% of graduates pay less under the Browne proposals than under Labour's proposals. The proposals are far more progressive

Jobs for long term unemployed and people with disabilities

The link is to Hansard where I have made progress with the idea of requirign those people contracting to supply services to the government to take on some long term unemployed and some people with disabilities. John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat) I congratulate the Secretary of State on the proposals for the universal credit, which will make it worth being in work. As well as trying to fit people to jobs, will he consider trying to fit jobs to people by using the Government's contracting power to require that there be some jobs for the long-term unemployed and some jobs for people with disabilities? Iain Duncan Smith (Secretary of State, Work and Pensions; Chingford and Woodford Green, Conservative) We will certainly ensure that we look at that suggestion.

Today's Sunday Mirror

The link is to the story in today's mirror about the attempt to get justice by approaching international courts. Hundreds of heartbroken parents who claim social services "stole" their children have launched a legal bid to win them back. The 500 mums and dads say it is impossible to get justice in the UK and have turned to an international court. Families argue they are the victims of social workers who are over-zealous after cases such as Victoria ClimbiƩ and Baby Peter and a process in family courts which is excessively secretive. There are a number of procedural problems in the Family Division. The secrecy makes it difficult for people to know what is going on. The biggest problem relates to the way expert evidence is handled. The fact that parents have to live with the Local Authority's preferred experts and have no right to a second opinion makes the judgments of the courts unreliable. The Court of Appeal will not correct this obvious error simply because they

Panorama on children in care

The link is to Panorama's story on children in care in Coventry where they looked at the situation for children in Coventry by following them for 6 months. Much that at times children do need to be taken into care, at other times they are kept from their families for no good reason. The young Connor in the programme who has already had a disrupted (aka failed) adoption is a good example of a child who has many symptoms of reactive attachment disorder. This results in his behaviour being from time to time particularly difficult and would be likely to cause a subsequent adoption to fail. However, the authorities are set on getting him adopted again - this is probably the worst thing they could do to him and he would be best to remain with his current foster family. The thing to note about this is that it is likely that the RAD has arisen subsequent to him being removed into care. The older Connor is basically angry with the state for keeping him away from his mother and young half

Blears calls Labour wicked and malicious - and then denies it

The interesting thing here is that there are recordings of her first saying one thing than saying another. My transcript of what she says one day is "nobody knows what Ed Milliband stands for. Actually if you are a bit of a blank sheet of the paper to the public you have a chance of doing something new and for goodness sake. I feel this personally so much. Don't we need something new. After 13 years that sense of trying to put behind us the kind of wicked, malicious stuff that's gone on in our party." The next day she claims it is a comment about the coalition. She says "I think I was talking about tory cuts." Indeed bang to rights.

"A new generation for change"

It is hard to believe that the Labour Party would already start on the "change, change, change" bandwagon with the above slogan. We know that they have already reversed position on the necessity of imposing a change to the civil service pension scheme. It appears that they are moving away gradually from supporting cuts in public spending. Otherwise from a policy perspective changes are substantially to policies set by the Labour Party themselves. We also appear to have David Milliband saying that if he cannot be in charge he doesn't want to play. In a sense this is a symptom of the obsession with the executive and the traditional weakness of parliament. Personally I believe that there is a lot that can be done simply as a back bench MP and that parliament should be seen as more than a nursery for government. That is why I have been working to strengthen parliament (as the voice of the people). Parliament is the fundamental democratic institution not the cabinet or shado

Hemming backs Farron for President

John Hemming MP has publicly backed Tim Farron in his campaign to be the next president of the Liberal Democrats. He said "Tim is an impressive communicator. Communicating is key to politics, particularly in government. We need to ensure that people are aware that the Coalition is cleaning up the mess that Labour left whilst protecting the weak. I think Tim will help in getting this message across to the party throughout the UK."

FII (MSbP) in the USA

The link is to a story in the USA where a child was improperly diagnosed and as a consequence taken into care and not treated appropriately for his condition whilst in care. This sort of thing really concerns me. Medics are too willing to blame patients for their undiagnosed symptoms. This causes them to stop researching for the real causes.

Turnbull and Blair

The comments by Lord Turnbull and Tony Blair are key simply because the former was the top civil servant and the latter the Prime minister at the time when things started going particularly wrong for the country's finances. I have extracted elements from Tony Blair's memoirs which basically talk about the economic problems we face now and how they were exacerbated by the government whilst he was Prime Minister and then when Gordon Brown took over. They speak for themselves. However, basically he accepts that a) The financial problems were exacerbated because Labour overspent. b) That making serious cuts is inevitable and that Labour cannot challenge the overall envelope of public spending. c) That Labour should have put up VAT. d) That a Labour - Lib Dem coalition was a non-starter. e) That the target public spending of 42% of GDP is actually not that low. He argues that Labour should avoid going into opposition mode. From p679 onwards The economic crisis, strangely enough,

Now the Mandarins Speak Out (a bit late really)

The link is to this article on Civil Service Live. This refers to an interview here with Lord Turnbull the previous Cabinet Secretary. He agrees with Tony Blair Turnbull said that that excessive borrowing started to be a problem from 2005. “It kind of crept up on us in 2005, 2006, 2007, and we were still expanding public spending at 4.5 percent a year,” he said, arguing that the Treasury should have been putting more money aside. “You might have thought that we should have been giving priority to getting borrowing under better control, putting money aside in the good years – and it didn’t happen,” he commented. Turnbull said that “there were some other places that had begun to accumulate surpluses for a rainy day; places like Australia.” While Turnbull argued that the primary reason Britain is “in the mess that we’re in” is because “public spending got too big relative to the productive resources of the economy, by error” he added that a loss of output caused by the financial crisis