There are a number of people who believe (on the balance of probabilities) that it is likely the Trojan Horse document is fabricated. I am one of them. At least today's arrests will give some opportunity of working out whether it is or isn't. My own view is that it has been fabricated for a particular purpose, but discussion of that purpose is potentially sub judice so I won't comment. It

You may have been deceived that all members of the Public Administration Committee are against reform of our ramshackle 10 year Census. The PASC Chair uses the Ceaucescu manual of chairmanship and denies any mention of dissent in the press release. It's a story of the committee not doing its job of challenging conventional un-wisdom.  Conservative inertia of the statistics establishment distorts judgement of census reform for 2021 as it dominated consideration of the 2011 by the same committee a decade ago.


Major national decisions are routinely based on minute samples as low as 0.0001%.  The cost of the next census will be £1billion.  Of all the thousand of reports made by the ONS, only the ten year census is a based on a 100% sample. This is wasteful and irrational. The results do not justify the cost, for less than 100% participation Frequently a distorted impression is provided even when the results are fresh. The reliable results bleed their value in ten years between censuses.

Does anyone believe that the country has 300,000 Jedi Knights?  That's what the census reported. The evidence from the statistics establishment sought the comfort blanket of the status quo.  One claimed that the manager of a supermarket would use census information to order next week's  cabbages rather than information on how many cabbages are sold this week. Much of the evidence was sentimentally loyal to the tradition of an annual census.

Little assessment has been made of an alternative rolling census that could be based on a small sample but updated from existing sources on a monthly or annual basis. These results could be incorporated into now routine publication of statistics.  These reports would avoid the attempted manipulations of the census by groups such as the Jedi Knights of weaknesses from other groups who shun the process.

A Rolling Census would provide a regular flow of information and work for the statisticians. Now it's a 10 year spike of work, then nothing. 

Sadly, inertia rules. £1billion will be spent wastefully in 2021 because of a lamentable lack of vision.

Peering out of the plane window as we descended into Sarajevo I could see the large detached houses with low pitched roofs that are a feature of the Bosnian countryside. Images flashed back into my mind of houses like these on fire.

My vivid memory was from twenty two years ago, when the full horror of the Bosnian civil war was beamed into our living rooms every night for three years. Sarajevo was under siege.  The ghastly phrase “ethnic cleansing” became part of the language of war zone reporting. Such scenes were taking place in modern Europe, a half century after the continent had last been convulsed in a war where civilians were the main casualties. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 it seemed that at last west and east Europe were past the age of dictators and would enjoy peace, democracy and prosperity. But as Yugoslavia unravelled into its ethnic components, I was angry that the promise of a new Europe was slipping away as the EU, NATO and the UN seemed impotent in the face of well armed aggression, in particular from the Serbs who had seized most of the Yuogoslav federal army’s hardware.

Now I was visiting Bosnia for the first time, not as an angry young politician, but as a government minister, leading a delegation of young community leaders most of whom were infants in the 1990s with no contemporary memory of the civil war.  Our visit was organised by the charity, Remembering Srebrenica. The massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 when 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by the Bosnian Serb army is recognised as an act of genocide, along with other post 1945 killing fields in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur. The government is funding the charity to enable over 700 young British community leaders to visit Bosnia to reflect on how advanced countries can so easily slip into barbarism and also to make a pledge to enhance community relations in our very diverse 21st century Britain.

Our three day visit started with a talk from the Director of the International Commission for Missing Persons. The ICMP was set up to deal with one of the grisly consequences of ethnic cleansing, a countryside pocketed with mass graves of unidentified bodies. As we soon learned, the bodies still being discovered are actually partial remains. The victims from those burned out villages, mainly men shot in the back of the head, were initially buried in mass graves. But soon after, in a desperate attempt to conceal the extent of their war crimes, the Serb soldiers dug up the pits with excavators , breaking up the bodies in the process and then scattering the remains over several sites many miles apart.

The full horror of this was revealed the next day (last Thursday) when we travelled to the ICMP’s mortuary and lab in Tuzla. In a chilled room, on shelves that resembled an archive or filing store, were bags of different sizes. Each bag contained unique remains, separated from each other by DNA testing. But these were not cadavers, rather they were skulls, femurs or just pieces of a rib cage.

In the lab we saw how the ICMP extracts DNA from the bones and then tries to make a match with the database of blood samples taken from Bosnians who are missing a family member.  So far, over 6,000 matches have been made. Forensic science thus gives some closure to grieving relatives and also adds to the evidence of war crimes.

The Tuzla part of the trip was horrific, but the war was still to me something that I had studied in the media, books and now with what later generations would see as grisly archaeology. History would come alive when we travelled to Srebrenica, on the border with Serbia.  Outwardly, it’s an unremarkable small town. But its name will surely be infamous in European history for many years. There we met survivors of the massacre that took place in July 1995.

First we met the Mayor, Camil Durakovic. Now in his mid thirties, he was just 16 when Serb forces surrounded his mainly Muslim town. He was the youngest member of the “death march” of men who fled into the mountains and forests to escape to the safe haven of Tuzla.  Srebrenica itself should have been safe, as there were Dutch UN peacekeepers nearby. But in one of the most shameless episodes in the history of that organisation, they cooperated with the Serb forced evacuation of the town. Camil told me that only one of his school class mates survived.

We then visited the memorial at Potocari, a mile or so up the road, opposite the battery  factory that had been the base of the Dutch soldiers, where many civilians had fled, hoping for protection. The field has 8,372 white marble columns, in the traditional Islamic design of gravestones. There is also a frieze, with each of the names of the victims.  Our guide was Hasan Hasanovic. His story was particularly upsetting, as he had lost both his father and his twin brother, Husein. He introduced us to one of the most remarkable group of people I have met in my life, the Srebrenica Mothers. Most are widows as well as grieving mothers. We sat and listened in stunned silence as they told their stories. One woman had lost fifty five relatives.  Almost twenty years on the anger was still burning and the grief palpable. They still seek justice and recognition from the rest of the world.  The encounter will probably be the longest lasting memory of the delegation.

The next morning we met the spiritual and political leaders of the Bosnian Muslims. The Grand Mufti of Sarajevo told us that the Serbs were really victims too, as they have to live with the knowledge of the war crimes that many of them had committed or condoned.   I spoke with the President, Bakir Izetbegovic (son of the leader who was a familiar presence on TV twenty years ago) about British government support for Bosnian membership of the EU and NATO.  I believe that this is the political hope for the future. Slovenia and Croatia are already members of the EU.  Two years ago I was in Macedonia, helping with their EU accession preparations. Serbia is also likely to be a member soon. Then the European family of nations can live up to the promise of the removal of the Iron Curtain. While this Easter we watch events in Ukraine, another cocktail of languages, religions and painful memories, let’s hope diplomacy triumphs.

Finally, what have we learned? On the wall of the photograph display in Sarajevo about Srebrenica is the quote attributed to my Bristol MP predecessor Edmund Burke, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We can certainly reflect on that while looking at Ukraine or, on a more ghastly scale, Syria. But soon I will meet up with my new young friends from the delegation, to discuss what we can do to make our own towns and cities more cohesive and happy places to live.

 


Ed Balls has written for the Guardian on the cost of living crisis the government fails to address and Labour’s ideas to mend the broken link between the wealth of the country and people's own finances. Over the coming weeks we can expect ministers to start telling us that the cost of living crisis is over but for most families in Britain today such a declaration, on the back of a handful of
You can listen to BBC Radio 4's thought provoking assessment of prisons here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040j3y4

My book Doing Time talked about ways to stop reoffending, which as of 2010 was around 6 out of 10 prisoners reoffending within 12 months of release. The book is still available and the BBC did an assessment of it here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-20270600
The cycle of crime, punishment and re-offending needs to be broken. I believe that working prisons and payment by results are a real step forward but Norway is the gold standard, since it boasts a re-offending rate of 20%, the lowest in Western Europe. But we need to change out attitude to crime and punishment as well.


Prisons appear to play a different role in Norway - less about punishment and more a place of rehabilitation. One in particular - Bastoy, an open prison on an island south of Oslo, where only 16% of released prisoners re-offend - has received widespread international attention. How far is its success attributable to the environment or a more humane philosophy? Guards are trained in criminology and psychology, and inmates enjoy a lifestyle described by critics as being like a "holiday camp" (despite the fact it is cheaper to run than most Norwegian prisons).
The programme asks - What is prison for, and what can we learn from Norway?
It is well worth listening to.

I was pleased the Borough Council withdrew the original plans for Wokingham Town Centre and Elms Field. They consulted widely, and there were worries expressed about the amount of development and the extent of change planned for Elms Field in particular. They need to alter them in the light of public views, which is what they are now doing.

There is plenty of support for Town Centre redevelopment, and agreement to building on brownfield sites, which includes the site next to Elms field created by knocking down the old offices. The Lib Dems who have been critics of the Council scheme themselves want to see new investment in the Town Centre, accept building on land that has been developed before, and want to make profit on property improvements for the taxpayer, just as the Conservative group wish to do. There is perhaps more common ground than the parties admit in the run up to a Council election.

The Lib Dems want to commit to an investment of £30 million , where the Conservative have proposed a substantially higher sum. They fear too much Council debt. I think the answer to this disagreement will come from the private sector, who will decide how much property they want to buy or rent and how large a redevelopment they will help finance. There is no need to build up large debts as the Lib Dems fear. The Lib Dems seem to want to limit the scale of the investment to keep more public sector control , whereas the Conservatives are happier to welcome in more private sector money and accept the Council cannot own all of it.

Any development of the differing sites in Wokingham will be phased. The Council can complete one area, sell all or part to private sector investors on long leases or freehold and then move on to the redevelopment of the next part. One of the big possible investments is in a food store to the east of Elms Field. This should only go ahead if a large food chain wishes to sign a contract to use it. If it does the finance can easily be raised from the private sector. If it does not want to, there is no point in building a large food store. We should know soon whether this is wanted.

Both parties agree with some extra housing adjacent to Elms Field, though the numbers, design and scale are still under discussion.

I think we will end up with a better plan thanks to public responses to the consultation, and through the usual process of local political disagreements over the details. It is important that the final plan is ambitious enough to provide an expanding Wokingham with the shops and other central facilities we are going to need for the future.

At noon, from my kitchen table in Thames Ditton, I joined Tim Stanley and Ben Brogan at the Daily Telegraph, plus former MP Louise Mensch in New York, for an online discussion on the Conservative Party.

You can watch it here.
Mark Reckless attends recent jobs fair in Chatham's Pentagon Centre

Mark Reckless attends recent jobs fair in Chatham’s Pentagon Centre

Mark Reckless has welcomed new statistics which show that the number of people in work in the South East has increased by 216,000 since the last election – meaning more families in Rochester and Strood have the security of a pay packet at the end of the month.

Hardworking people in Rochester and Strood have benefitted from new jobs and opportunities being created recently across the Medway Towns.

Mark Reckless MP said:

“It is great news that there are 216,000 more people in work in the South East since 2010. That means 216,000 more hardworking people bringing home a regular pay packet, giving them and their family more financial security for the future.

“There is still more to do, but these figures show that the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan is working. We need to stick to the plan, which is getting people off benefits and into work, and delivering a more secure future for people in Rochester and Strood who want to work hard and get on in life.”

The plan to install six wind turbines near the villages of Cranfield, Marston, Brogborough and Lidlington has now been filed and it is vital that residents object, here, now. I’m convinced that in fifty years time our grandchildren will look at the...
Frank is backing Usdaw’s campaign to persuade the Government to change Universal Credit rules that mean working people will only be allowed to keep 24p in every extra pound they earn.
Over the coming weeks we can expect ministers to start telling us that the cost of living crisis is over. Will people buy it? I don’t think so. Because for most families in Britain today such a declaration, on the back of a handful of economic statistics, will only confirm just how out of touch this government is. First, while growth [...]

Another day, another mess up by Labour-run Haringey Council. In the past we’ve seen yellow lines painted days before the entire road was dug up and potholes filled days before resurfacing work. And they still haven’t learnt. This new roundabout below might look fine at first glance  (apart from the cones) but take a closer look at the arrows and which way they point.

Wrong way roundabout - Stapleton Hall Road, Stroud Green

It is, unfortunately, what we have come to expect from the Council. But there is a serious point here about both road safety, first and foremost, and about taxpayers money, too. All of these mistakes add up – and it’s the taxpayer that ultimately pays.

And if they can’t be trusted to get something as simple as this right – it makes you wonder about what else they’re messing up! Haringey needs fixing – and Labour clearly aren’t capable of doing it!

To read my quarterly casework report for January to March 2014, please click here...
Last weekend saw the reopening of the railway line at Dawlish in time for the Easter holidays and the reconnection of Cornwall to the rest of the country by rail. Credit where credit is due it has been a huge effort by First Great Western and Network Rail and it is a great achievement to have the line up and running two weeks ahead of schedule. Every weekend I travel down from London to Camborne on the sleeper and I will be just one of many in our area who are welcoming this news.

The last few weeks at Dawlish have seen a large team of engineers, known as the 'Orange Army' for their fluorescent vests, work around the clock to get the line restored. It has been a massive job because overall around eighty meters of the track was deemed unusable and the logistics of working so near the sea made it even more difficult. There was also further bad weather to deal with and a landslide had to be forced just south of Dawlish when a large chunk of earth became dangerously exposed at Teignmouth. Overall it is estimated that the initial costs are around £35 million, although the costs to our local economy meant we needed to see the line restored as soon as possible.

We now need to look at what can we can do to further improve our rail link and to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again. There has been a lot of talk around developing an existing line via Okehampton as an additional emergency line in case of further damage, or as an alternative main line in the future. There are also other ideas around further tunnelling on the existing route. Network Rail has commissioned a report to look at these and I think that is a good first step. No one doubts that more should be done but we need to make sure change is sensitive to the places like Dawlish whose economy has grown up around the railway.

We also need to make sure we get a better deal for Cornwall and I have always pushed for fairer funding to allow this to happen. Finally we are making some progress and there are discussions taking place that could see an extensive sleeper upgrade as well as a huge improvement to signalling on the tracks. This in turn could see far more frequent services from Penzance to Plymouth and with more rolling stock becoming available in the next couple of years it would also mean more capacity.

I think this is encouraging news because these targets are achievable in a short timeframe and will make a real difference. As we are on a Peninsula the journey to London is always going to be a long one, but we need to keep prices down and offer more flexibility.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

I am glad to see that following my press release last November calling for a safe crossing over Royston’s A505 By-pass, funding proposals for the bridge were recently discussed at a meeting held by the A10 Corridor Cycling Group. I understand those at the meeting looked at the SUSTRANS report which examines cycle links in and out of Royston. Clearly a crossing over the A505 would greatly help both with improving these and the connection of cycling routes within the A10 corridor as well. Local councillors briefed those at the meeting about the funding bids that are being submitted to help pay for the construction of the crossing and there was discussion about the cycling group’s annual bike ride (intended to raise awareness about cycling in the area) which is scheduled for 18 May. There will be two rides departing simultaneously from Royston Heath and Trumpington Park and Ride in Cambridge. I am a firm supporter of cycling within the constituency and I hope that the funding bids for the A505 crossing are successful. More details about the A10 Corridor’s Cycling Group’s campaign and its ride can be found on the group’s website.


Next week, on the 15th of April, it will be the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. There are expected to be thousands at the service at Anfield and it […]

It is a great privilege to have been appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury. This is a fantastic opportunity as well as a great challenge.

Before entering Parliament I spent 25 years working in the banking and finance industry so I am pleased that my role focuses on financial services.

I look forward to continuing the government's work to reform the banking system so that it focuses on consumers, and helps our economy grow.

Last week us lot / Labour / the Opposition benches voted to freeze energy bills.

And what did them lot / the Tories and LibDems / the Government do?  They blocked it!

The Government claim that an energy bill freeze is impossible, but energy firm SSE has recently announced that it will be doing just that!  The Coalition are simply making up excuses to enable them to ignore the growing cost of living crisis for a little bit longer.

If they'd have voted with us last week to freeze energy bills until 2017, 41,506 households in Edmonton would be around £120 better off.  Sadly, we're just on the Opposition benches, but if we weren't we'd be breaking up the big energy companies, putting an end to their secret deals; making tariffs simpler and fairer; and, yes, freezing gas and electricity bills until 2017.

The Government's failure to act is yet another kick in the teeth for so many struggling families.

Dear David

The speed with which you responded to publication of Sir Antony May the Interception Commissioner’s report yesterday was impressive.

I did not notice a response to the European Court of Justice’s important – and relevant – decision [1] on the ‘wide-ranging and particularly serious’ interference of the Data Retention Directive with two fundamental rights of our citizens, the right to privacy and protection of personal data. Perhaps I missed it.

Either way, I am concerned that your statement yesterday that Commissioner’s report ‘provides authoritative… assessment of the lawfulness, necessity and proportionality of the intelligence agencies’ work [2] may mislead the public. This could be avoided if you are willing to clarify and reassure the public on the points I will outline in this letter.

First, in my view, you need to clarify the limits of the Commissioner’s statutory function. As he said himself, contrary to your assertion, he is ‘not appointed or authorised to oversee all of the activities of the intelligence agencies, only those specified in s57(2) RIPA.’ [3]

Second, his report in fact expresses significant concern about the potential for institutional overuse of powers to request information on communications data, inadequate records kept, and lengthy periods for over which public bodies store such data. [4] Again, contrary to your statement, the Commissioner draws attention to the variable practices of law enforcement and intelligence agencies and the absence of regulation of the storage and use of communications data, in contrast to regulation on contents data. Here the Commissioner concludes that he is not satisfied that data retention periods are justified and he is not able to comment on the use to which such data is put. [5] He points out that, because of inadequate material on communications data provided to him, his own statistics are ‘liable to be misleading.’ [6]

You will know that the ECJ confirmed yesterday that communications data does indeed provide precise information on the private lives of citizens, as many human rights organisations have claimed for some time. By demolishing a major part of the apparatus used by the intelligence agencies – the requirement on telecommunications companies to retain data – the decision strongly reinforces calls for an end to ‘mass snooping.’ It is no co-incidence that the Information Commissioner shares some of the EJC’s concerns about unnecessary retention of communications data.

Third, as the Commissioner points out, [7] it is not, with respect, for either him or you to answer the legitimate policy questions posed on the adequacy of existing safeguards to British citizen’s privacy in the age of Internet use. That must for parliament, and must follow informed debate. The report must not be used as a device to bypass proper parliamentary scrutiny of RIPA, and whether it is indeed fit for purpose.

In the light of these points, I must ask you to reassure the public by:

(i) clarifying your statement on the Commissioner’s report. This must include public acknowledgment of the concerns of Sir Antony May; and your intention to promote informed public debate on the adequacy of RIPA in parliament;

(ii) implementing the Commissioner’s 299 recommendations with an emphasis on those involving serious non-compliance;

(iii) providing the Commissioner with full access to information on both the periods and use of communications data so that he can complete performance his duties;

(iv) revising the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice immediately to address the Commissioner’s concerns in the short term.

I also urge you to read the APPG on Drones Submission to the Home Office as part of the Consultation on Covert Surveillance. The Submission further highlights the need for review of the regulatory framework which applies, inter alia, to the storage and retention of surveillance data obtained by civil drones. In my view the Submission is made pertinent following the European Commission’s proposals to introduce tough new regulation of storage and use of data obtained by surveillance drones, also published yesterday. [8]

Given keen interest in the effect of the ECJ decision in the UK now, [9] I invite you to respond in advance of this Friday’s meeting in Brussels [10] although I will understand if this not possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Tom Watson MP
West Bromwich East

 

1. http://www.scribd.com/doc/216980523/Judgment-of-the-ECJ-in-Digital-Rights-Ireland-data-retention-challenge
2. as reported: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/08/david-cameron-welcomes-all-clear-spy-agencies-surveillance-watchdog-anthony-may
3. http://www.iocco-uk.info/sections.asp?sectionID=8&chapter=4&type=top
4. See for example paragraphs 3.48-3.56, 4.21 and 4.29
5. 3.56, 4.21
6. 4.23 [check]
7. 6.5.56/7
8. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-384_en.htm?locale=en
9. Data Retention Regulations: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2009/9780111473894/contents
10. I understand that Member States were scheduled to meet regarding the implementation of the Directive, but will now presumably discuss the implications of ECJ judgment

Jonathan Edwards: Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Bone. It is an honour to serve under the chairmanship of the best slow left-arm bowler in the Westminster cricket team.

It is with pleasure that I rise to support new clause 2 and new schedule 1, and I will be pushing for a vote at the appropriate time. The UK Government commission on devolution in Wales, headed by Paul Silk, published the first phase of its report in November 2012, which concentrated solely on fiscal powers. Some 18 months later we are still waiting for an essential part of the cross-party Silk commission recommendations to come to fruition: the devolution of responsibility for long-haul air passenger duty. The original cross-party report recommended that responsibility for APD be transferred to Wales at the earliest opportunity and that the Finance Bill was the appropriate vehicle for doing that. The commission had the 2013 Finance Bill in mind, following the precedent set during the 2012 Finance Bill when APD was devolved to Northern Ireland.

It therefore comes as no surprise that I am here yet again attempting to transfer APD to Wales, as was agreed by all the parties in the commission. I will seek to divide the House and to hold other parties to what their representatives on the commission said and, perhaps more importantly, what their representatives in the National Assembly say back in Wales. I would of course be ecstatic if by some divine intervention their masters here in London listened to them for once and voted in favour of the policies they advocate—I do not hold my breath in much hope.

I will go on to speak about the discrepancies between what the Unionist parties say in Wales and how they vote here on devolving APD. First, let me inform the House a little about the background to the UK Government commission’s recommendation to devolve APD as part of a comprehensive package of financial powers and about the stage we are at now. In short, the cross-party Silk commission recommended that powers over stamp duty land tax, the aggregates levy, long-haul APD, landfill tax and business rates be devolved in their entirety. It also advocated a sharing arrangement for income tax, with Wales having the ability to vary each individual income tax band and rate.

After having been made to wait for more than a year by the London Government to grace us with a response to the commission which they themselves set up, we find ourselves already having debated the Second Reading of the Wales Bill in this Chamber. We expect it to be confirmed tomorrow morning that the whole House will return to consider the Committee stage of that Bill after the Easter recess. Yet the Wales Bill has some glaring omissions. It seems like a long time ago now when, last autumn, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister swept into the Senedd building in Cardiff, to flashing camera lights and an adoring paparazzi, in order to announce new financial powers for Wales. Very few questioned what exactly was being proposed. Only later did it emerge that the Westminster Government were prepared to accept the cross-party commission recommendations only in part and that they would be ignoring some. That is despite the fact that they had representation on the commission in the form of a commissioner representing the Conservative party and a commissioner representing the Liberal Democrats.

In essence, the Government have cherry-picked the commission’s recommendations, even though they were agreed on as a comprehensive package of reforms. It is therefore greatly disappointing that the Westminster Government have decided to ignore the will of the people of Wales, who believe that Wales should have greater power over its own affairs, according to successive polls, not least the ones conducted by the commission while it gathered evidence as part of its reports. Those polls represent some of the most detailed research undertaken on attitudes towards devolution since we first had our own devolved legislature in 1999.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Is all that not doubly disappointing given that our representative on the Silk commission was prepared to compromise in order to get a unanimous report? We gave ground and support to the recommendations of the Silk commission, but the Government are cherry-picking.

Jonathan Edwards: My hon. Friend makes a very important point and of course he is right. As I will go on to say, the Silk commission was a huge compromise for Plaid Cymru, yet we find ourselves the only party represented here in Westminster, and the only party represented in the National Assembly in Cardiff, trying to preserve the integrity of the Silk commission. That is a vital point which the people of Wales will realise in good time.

The devolution of air passenger duty was an important element of the package recommended by the Silk commission. It was therefore a slap in the face for Wales when it was omitted from the Wales Bill, which is currently progressing through this House. Both my colleagues and I have spoken several times about that Bill so I will not go into it too much further save to say that my party and I have been dismayed by the attempts of both the Government and the Labour party to put narrow party self interest ahead of the Welsh national interest and to lay down road blocks in terms of the Silk commission.

The Government have sought to water down the financial powers recommended by the commission by constraining them through a lockstep.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I note the hon. Gentleman’s points about the Silk commission and about how the principal parties reneged on it. That also happened in Scotland with the Calman commission, which was set up by the Conservatives, Liberals and the friends of Labour, who then reneged on the Calman proposal to devolve ADP to Scotland.

Jonathan Edwards: That is an interesting point. I am sure that the people of Scotland are watching these developments intently, as they will be voting in a referendum on independence in September. The issue is, can they trust anything that the no campaign says in advance of that referendum? I am sure that that will become a growing theme as we approach the closing stages. I wish the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues well in the forthcoming months.

As I was saying, the Government have sought to water down the financial powers recommended by the commission by constraining them through a lockstep, essentially making it impossible to vary income tax in Wales. Meanwhile, the Labour party says that it will block any income tax powers via its Government in Cardiff unless the Barnett formula—the way in which Wales is funded—is reformed. That is despite having 13 years to do so while it was in government.

Labour also now supports the lockstep principle, despite the protestations of the First Minister. There is of course the added twist that the bands can only be moved upwards, which is why I have labelled Labour’s policy “lockstep plus”.

Needless to say, the agreement that was the Silk commission’s recommendations fell far short of what Plaid Cymru was advocating as a party, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) alluded earlier. We wanted a more comprehensive list of job-creating and economy-boosting powers including VAT, corporation tax, resource taxes and capital gains tax. However, in the interests of compromise, we settled on the final recommendations.

The Silk commission argued that should corporation tax be devolved to Northern Ireland, Wales should not be left behind. I follow with interest the unanimous support in Northern Ireland, among all parties, pressure groups and interest groups, for the devolution of corporation tax—[Interruption.] Exactly, that is a very interesting point: the Unionists in Northern Ireland want corporation tax and a whole range of job-creating powers for their devolved Government, yet we have unionists representing Welsh constituencies trying to block any move towards further powers for our country.

The Silk commission argued that should corporation tax be devolved to Northern Ireland, Wales should not be left behind. The fiscal powers recommended by Paul Silk and his team in the commission’s report are still desperately needed for the sake of the Welsh economy. The ability to vary some taxes and to borrow for investment would enable us in Wales better to deliver job-creating and economy-boosting measures and policies to help turnaround the continuing bad performance of the economy.

It was also interesting to hear the Secretary of State sing the praises of the lockstep income tax provision of the Wales Bill in a TV interview. He said that it could be used to vary rates and would put Wales at a competitive advantage, but that the devolution of long-haul air passenger duty would put Bristol airport at a competitive disadvantage. That incoherence shows that the cherry-picking of the Silk recommendations falls apart unless they are introduced as a comprehensive and whole package.

Long-haul APD was devolved to Northern Ireland in last year’s Finance Bill, and the Silk commission has recommended the devolution of long-haul APD to Wales. It is clear therefore that today’s debate is the appropriate legislative vehicle to move this issue forward. Although I failed to do so last year, I live in hope that I might succeed today, but given that all the Labour MPs have disappeared home—AWOL again when the interests of Wales are under discussion—I am not holding my breath.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. He has mentioned Northern Ireland in relation to corporation tax and APD. Does he recognise though that one big argument in relation to Northern Ireland is the fact that we have a neighbour to our south, another EU member state, which competes directly with Northern Ireland? We also have a land border, and the corporation tax and APD rates down south are much less than they are in Northern Ireland, so there is a unique case in Northern Ireland—but I am not for one minute setting aside the merits of his case

Jonathan Edwards: As usual, the right hon. Gentleman makes a reasoned argument. Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic, of course, but we would argue that we have a sea border. I normally find myself making the case for equality with Scotland in this place, but in this instance I am calling for equality with Northern Ireland. What is good enough for Northern Ireland is certainly good enough for Wales.

Just over a year ago, the Labour Welsh Government acquired the national airport of Wales, located just outside Cardiff near Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. The ability to attract long-haul flights to the airport would significantly improve its competitiveness. It has more than 1.5 million people within its catchment area, and long-haul flights could attract people from even further afield given that that is the only airport in Wales or the west of England with a runway large enough to accommodate transatlantic aircraft. The development of the airport could act as a spur to growth in the south Wales economy, bringing in greater foreign direct investment through better business links, which would in turn bring jobs and growth. Quite frankly, I am amazed that the Labour party has not proposed its own amendment to the Finance Bill and that only goes to show that the First Minister has absolutely no influence over his bosses down here in London or, at least, over Labour MPs based in Wales.

In response to the UK Government’s proposals for the Wales Bill last November, the Labour First Minister said that he was “disappointed” that air passenger duty on long-haul flights would not be devolved. I am not surprised, given that his Government had brought the airport under public ownership only a year earlier. In a lecture at the London School of Economics, the First Minister said:

“Air passenger duty is another tax that should, in my view be devolved. While London struggles with where to build additional airport capacity, we in Wales face a very different problem. Our national airport in Cardiff has not enjoyed the growth in passenger numbers and destinations that we need to help drive economic growth. Devolution of air passenger duty would give us a useful tool to incentivise the growth of Cardiff airport and other smaller facilities, such as Anglesey in north Wales. APD has already been devolved to Northern Ireland for long-haul flights; at a minimum, I believe Wales should have parity.”

The First Minister makes my case for me, but where are his MPs? Where are they? It is just a shame that he could not get his MPs to the Committee to vote when he has the opportunity to do what he keeps preaching to the people of Wales in the Western Mail and on the BBC.
MPs representing Welsh constituencies who fail to vote in favour of devolving air passenger duty do not only ignore the economic needs of Wales, the First Minister of Wales and the overwhelming majority of Welsh public opinion.

Mr MacNeil: I am intrigued by the behaviour of Welsh Labour MPs. Does the hon. Gentleman think that Welsh Labour MPs hold their First Minister, Mr Carwyn Jones, in contempt deliberately or accidentally?

Jonathan Edwards: The key point is that if the First Minister cannot persuade his own MPs and those on his own Front Bench in Westminster to propose policies that he is promising to the people of Wales, why should the people of Wales listen to a single word he says to them in the media? It is a test of his credibility and authority and, based on tonight’s and last year’s evidence, I would argue that the First Minister has no credibility or authority whatsoever.

Hywel Williams: Does my hon. Friend agree that the First Minister has form on this matter? He will recall that we proposed a new clause to the Water Bill to implement the Labour Administration in Cardiff’s policy on borders and the control of water. Of course, the Labour Benches were entirely empty and, as he has mentioned, Labour failed to vote on that matter, too. Labour is entirely bogus.

Jonathan Edwards: Once again, I am grateful for that intervention. That is one in a long list of political issues on which the First Minister and his Cabinet members say one thing in Cardiff while Welsh Labour MPs operate completely differently down here. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be the Westminster Labour party manifesto. We will see what influence the First Minister has over that, but the manner in which he has been completely bullied by the shadow Secretary of State, who now supports a lockstep on income tax powers, seems to show that the balance of power is quite firmly here in London.

Bob Stewart: The hon. Gentleman has referred to Cardiff airport. Is there another airport in Wales to which air passenger duty applies?

Jonathan Edwards: Cardiff is the only international airport. We are talking about APD relief on long-haul flights, and it would apply primarily to Cardiff, but I imagine that the Welsh Government would have ambitions to redevelop other airports in Wales—[Interruption.] If they had the ambition, they would want to improve those airports.

As I was saying, public opinion clearly supports the devolution of the tax to Wales. Only yesterday, the Western Mail published the results of a survey that showed that 78% of respondents supported the devolution of APD. On this, as with so many other issues, the powers that be in Westminster are at odds with what the people of Wales demand. In response to that poll, the Welsh Labour Government said:
“We will continue to put forward the strong case for it”—

APD—
“to be devolved in the hope the UK Government will eventually listen to us and the overwhelming majority of the Welsh public who support this move, as reflected in this poll”.

A day after the poll, we have an opportunity in the Finance Bill to achieve that objective, but where is the Labour party?
I am glad that, since Cardiff airport has been brought into public ownership, new management has driven up passenger numbers by 9%. That is a crucial point—the national airport of Wales is publicly owned. I agree with that, as the airport is an essential part of Welsh national infrastructure, but Labour MPs from Wales are not here to ensure that something that is publicly owned by the people of Wales has the best chance of succeeding in the long term.

The devolution of APD could help to ensure the long-term future of the airport and draw passengers away from congested airports in the south-east of England—something I am sure many MPs and their constituents in and around the south-east of England would welcome. I therefore look forward, perhaps somewhat over-excitedly, to some of those MPs joining us in the Aye Lobby. I am similarly amazed that the Secretary of State for Wales is not pushing for the devolution of APD at the highest level, as it would provide us with the ability to develop the Welsh economy, which should be one of his core objectives.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) is not in his usual place, which is slightly strange, considering that the airport is in his constituency. The livelihood of many of his constituents depends on the vitality of the airport, as well as the aircraft engineering industry that has grown around it, and they will be dismayed to learn that their MP does not support measures that could give the airport a competitive advantage. I should like to make reference in passing to the difficulties that engineering companies operating from the St Athan airbase, which is close to the international airport, face as a result of the management of that airfield by the Ministry of Defence.

The new clause effectively seeks to give Wales an essential tool to support and provide jobs locally in south Wales and the wider Welsh economy. The financial powers recommended by the Commission on Devolution in Wales are needed as soon as possible as a spur to jobs and growth in Wales. The Westminster Government, in the Wales Bill, have cherry-picked the recommendations and omitted the devolution of APD as well as other proposals. The powers included in the Bill may not be implemented until well into the second half of the decade, provided that no more roadblocks are put in place by other parties. Every month that passes without the devolution of those powers, the Welsh economy languishes even longer at the bottom of the economic league table of the nations and regions of the UK, with job and economic prospects diminished, hopes and dreams dashed, and lives stalled.

Plaid Cymru has made jobs and the economy its absolute priority, which is why we have again tabled an amendment on air passenger duty. We want to create a modern and prosperous Wales and, unlike our political opponents, we have little faith in London government of whatever colour achieving that ambition. That is why we want Wales to have the tools to get on with the job without delay. Diolch yn fawr.

In closing the debate, Jonathan Edwards said:

Jonathan Edwards: We have had an informed and very interesting debate. We have also had an incredible revelation, which I hope the Welsh media will pick up tomorrow. Let me make it clear for the benefit of Labour Front Benchers that Carwyn Jones is the Labour First Minister of Wales.

We heard excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Crawley (Henry Smith) and for Macclesfield (David Rutley), a typically passionate speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), speeches from both Front Benches, and many good interventions.

The people of Wales own—via the Welsh Government—our national airport, which is a key piece of our national infrastructure, and we need to control air passenger duty if we are to maximise the potential of that asset. This is primarily an issue of jobs and growth, but it is also an issue of gross hypocrisy, given that parties operating in a devolved context say one thing in Wales and something completely different here in Westminster. The Labour First Minister of Wales says that this is an economic priority for his Administration, but he cannot persuade his own bosses here in London, or Labour Members of Parliament based in Wales. This is therefore an issue of the First Minister’s credibility and authority. If he cannot convince his own side, why should anyone in Wales take anything that he says seriously, and how can he possibly engage in detailed negotiations with the United Kingdom Government on these very fine and important fiscal matters?

It is necessary for us to divide the Committee so that the people of Wales can see the truth for themselves, and I therefore wish to press new clause 2 to a Division.

Parliament breaks up for Easter this week. I always look forward to the recess because it provides an opportunity to get out and about in Swindon even more than usual. It all starts tomorrow morning when I’ll be opening the…

British exports to the world aren't rising, but falling. In February sales of UK exports were down 1.6 percent to £23.5 Billion.

This is the lowest level since November 2010 – despite the fact that the world economy is 5 to 10 percent bigger now than it was then.

What has gone wrong?

Mainstream economists have struggled to account for this export enigma. Despite all the best efforts of government to rebalance the economy, and make the UK less reliant on domestic consumer growth, we are today more reliant on domestic demand than ever before.

In my recent paper on monetary policy, I hinted at one possible explanation.

Years of ultra easy money – low rates, QE, cheap credit – have created lots of "zombie firms". According to some estimates, 1 in 10 UK businesses is now a zombie firm, in that they have debts that they are able to service – while rates remain low. But have little chance of ever being able to pay the debt back.

Zombie firms are undead. They are able to keep on going. Serving existing customers, but not expanding into new markets – as exporters would need to. They can carry on doing what they do, but not adapt or change.

Normally an economic downturn means that economic resources – capital, plant, people – are reshuffled. The process in painful, but leads to restructuring that ultimately leaves everyone better off.

Low interest rates in recent years might have prevented this process from happening. Much of that malinvestment, made during the Brown boom, is still there in the system. Like cholesterol, it continues to clog up our economic arteries.

Britain last ran a current account surplus in the mid 1980s – at around the time we abandoned monetarism. The massive trade current account deficit that now looms seems to me to be a clear indication that we are, as a country, living far beyond our means.

Years of using cheap credit to engineer growth has given us lots of shopping malls. But fewer factories producing goods that foreigners want to buy. It has encouraged overconsumption, not export driven production.

It is not a coincidence, in my opinion, that countries that have maintained a sound approach to monetary matters, like Germany, tend to have done better as exporters.

North Oxfordshire MP, Sir Tony Baldry has written to the Chair of the Keep the Horton General to refute claims made recently that the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust treats the Horton as “an annoying little outpost in the North”.

The text of Sir Tony’s full email is below:

Dear Keith,

Recently, you and other members of the “Keep the Horton General” campaign have written to me complaining that the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust is treating the Horton as:

“an annoying little outpost in the North”.

The facts simply do not support this assertion.

Five years ago, the Horton General Hospital had 39 full time equivalent consultant doctors.

Today, the Horton General Hospital has 46 full time equivalent consultant doctors – an increase of 15%.

There are more consultants at the Horton today than at any time since the establishment of the NHS in 1948.

There are more consultants at the Horton today than at any time in the history of the Horton General Hospital.

There are only 8 General Hospitals in England, including the Horton, that have a consultant delivered children’s service – i.e. all children’s medical care at the Horton is delivered by consultants.

There are no junior doctors involved in children’s services at the Horton.

(However, the number of General Hospitals, such as the Horton, with a 24/7 consultant delivered children’s service is likely to be a substantially smaller number as the records of the Royal College of Paediatricians are unable to distinguish between General Hospitals with a 24/7 children’s unit, such as the Horton, and hospital units which do not have any junior doctors in children’s services, and are part time units.)

The Horton also has one of the smallest Consultant-led Maternity Units in the country.

Indeed, there are a number of maternity units in England with more live births than the Horton which are midwife-led.

The Horton still retains an Accident and Emergency unit.

This is the settlement that we secured following the serious threat to services at the Horton during the last Parliament and under the last Government.

There are many towns with significantly larger populations than Banbury such as High Wycombe which have lost all children’s, maternity and A&E services.

By any objective standard, we collectively achieved a very good settlement for the Horton General Hospital and those whom the Horton Hospital serves.

Since then, wherever appropriate, the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) has moved further services to the Horton such as a new Renal Dialysis Unit and a daily fracture clinic and it is the clear policy of the OUH to have more specialist outpatient clinics at the Horton whenever possible.

Indeed a number of outpatient and day surgery services are being relocated to the Horton for patients to increase the number of patients treated locally where appropriate.

Work has recently begun to refurbish the Ultrasound Department at the Horton to improve patient facilities and provide dedicated waiting facilities for ultrasound outpatients and inpatients.

There are plans for a dedicated children’s out-patient facility in the former general management offices and there are also plans to refurbish and redesign the reception area of the main Horton outpatients department.

Paediatric day-case ear, nose and throat surgery has been re-introduced at the Horton and a rapid access paediatric clinic has just been launched.

However, it is important to remember that the Horton General Hospital has not been a complete stand-alone District General Hospital for many years.

For some considerable time the Horton Hospital has been part of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.

For many years patients needing to access a wide range of specialist services have gone to receive those services at the John Radcliffe.

So if one has a stroke, one goes straight to the JR.

If there is a serious, major road traffic accident on the M40, patients get taken straight to the trauma centre at the JR.

Surgery has become ever more specialist, with most surgeons now specialising in surgery on a single part of the body. The days of the surgeon in general medicine are over.

As against that background, I think it is not surprising that GPs locally have supported the moving of the very small amount of out of hours surgery that hitherto took place at the Horton to the JR the hitherto very small amount of out of hours surgery that took place at the Horton.

I suspect that there is not a GP in Banburyshire who would want themselves or a member of their family to be treated as an emergency case for gall stones in the middle of the night by a surgeon who spends his working days undertaking surgery on completely other areas, such as for example breast reconfiguration.

Moreover, because the Royal College of Surgeons have ruled that the Horton is no longer an appropriate site for training of junior doctors, any emergency surgery done at the Horton, would have to have been done 24/7 by consultant surgeons and I suspect there will be many GPs throughout Oxfordshire, having regard to the consultant-delivered and consultant-led services already protected at the Horton who would wonder whether that was an optimal use of finite local NHS funds.

With on average four to five Emergency Abdominal Surgery cases a week previously at the Horton, by definition it would have meant that there would be many days when there were no emergency operations at all.

Is it really best use of NHS funds to pay a highly valued consultant surgeon for shifts where they either do no work, or possibly a single operation?!

Considerable elective surgery of course continues to be carried out at the Horton and I strongly suspect that more elective surgery will be carried out at the Horton.

I see that the Oxfordshire County Council Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee that unanimously decided to agree to this particular service change, was made up of County Councils of all political parties – Conservative, Labour, Liberal and Independent.

Everyone understands that with a combination of advances in medical technology and an ageing population will present considerable challenges for the NHS. I am confident that the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust sees a strong Horton General Hospital delivering as many services as possible being a key part of their ability to deliver 21st century health services to the people of Oxfordshire.

As a matter of record, I am releasing this letter to the press.

Best wishes,

Tony

Celebration - but we couldn't be sure for another 13 days...
After a hearty celebration two weeks ago, when it was announced that the Judicial Review brought by TrasHorfield had been dismissed, we found it wasn't the end of the story.

Our petition, www.bristolsnottrash.bristolpetitions.com attracted over 13,000 signatures of support for the Memorial Ground being sold for a Sainsburys, housing, community facility, parking and memorial park, in order to enable to building of a new Stadium for Rovers in South Gloucestershire.

The reasons why the petition was so popular were clear: This was not just about Bristol Rovers fans, in fact, I received some very kind words and support from arch-rivals, Bristol City - they know what it's like to have a major and exciting infrastructure project that will benefit the whole city stopped by a minority group, skating on the edge of legislation to impose their view.

It was also supported by people who wanted to see Bristol give out a loud signal that this is a city open for business, a place worth investing in, and not a backward backwater where any good and exciting idea or investment is met with a muttered 'not in our backyard'.

It was supported by people who want to see major music acts come to our city, who want to see major sporting events - like our own Lee Haskins defend his title to a huge home crowd...

...and it was supported by many who want a transport revolution in our gridlocked city of fumes, knowing that the Rovers Stadium would play a huge part in boosting the business case we need to win, to get a full Henbury Loop Line. 

Contrary to what you might think, many traders on Gloucester Road also supported it - they are not competitors of a supermarket, and the extra footfall and parking space was something they saw as a positive.

After the decision was announced, Trash then appealed, the appeal was dismissed by the judge, and thankfully, Trash did not take this decision further to the High Court. That is a relief. To do so would have been painful and very costly for all involved - and those who are always winners in these situations, and who tend to defend and like judicial reviews - the lawyers - would have been the only ones certain to gain.

No, we had already spent enough public money on this, and so it was with joy and relief that decency and common sense - having been approved by the democratic planning process, then by the judicial process, finally prevailed.

It's impossible to name everyone who was so brilliant in getting Rovers the home they have wanted for over 30 years - but David Thomas is a hero, Angela Betts, Nigel Currie, our Councillor Claire Hiscott, George Maggs, Nick Higgs who was superb and unwavering,  the 13,000 who supported our petition... 

And personally, a very warm thank you to all those who posted such lovely, and supportive messages for the campaign, both on the Rovers fan-page and on twitter. It really made the world of difference and really helped keep morale up. Thank you.

So, A huge thank you and well done to all those who campaigned so hard, and to those thousands who signed the petition. This is your victory  #UTG 

 

Via BBC Worldwide, classic stuff from Yes, Prime Minister: All too true, I imagine.

Paralympians Rachel Morris and Kylie Grimes get behind the Waverley Para Games

Thursday 3rd April 2014, Charterhouse Club, Godalming, Surrey

 

The team behind the Waverley Para Games is delighted to announce that Paralympians Rachel Morris and Kylie Grimes will attend the inaugural event of the Waverley Para Games to be held at Charterhouse Club on Thursday 3rd April 2014. The Waverley Para Games was conceived by local MP Jeremy Hunt following his involvement in the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in his capacity as then Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Sport and Olympics.

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I have had a really busy weekend in Stockton, starting with the Conyers School Sport Relief mile.  900 pupils ran dressed as their heros (historic, sporting or political!) in what was a great event.

After that I visited the Five Lamps organisation in Thornaby to meet clients and discuss their work, followed by a meeting at Stockton Riverside College with the excellent Phil Cook.

Just after lunch time I went to Yarm School to take questions from sixth formers, followed by my surgery as Sainsbury’s at Whitehouse Farm in Stockton.

Saturday was the AGM of Stockton Conservatives and afterwards we went out campaigning on the budget in Eaglescliffe.  We have a great response and a big team of volunteers came out to brave the rain and deliver our important message!  Thank you to everyone who gave some time to help out.

First published by The Observer Parliament talks ceaselessly of “the next generation”. But, in Cumbria, where I’m an MP, voluntary activity and politics are generally driven by people over the age of 55. Every village seems to have a retired engineer attempting to build a community fibre-optic cable network and baffling the most confident civil servant […]

The post Our culture excludes the old when they have so much to contribute appeared first on Rory Stewart.

The issue of culture and standards in banking has been much debated in recent years. Driven by mis-selling scandals, Libor rigging and a culture of reward at the top that is beyond the comprehension of most people, the question is asked what can be done to foster a different culture, one where the customer comes first and where responsibility and accountability are faced up to rather than avoided. Partly this is a question for rule makers – for legislators, Governments and regulators. But partly it is a question for the banks themselves. As Sir Richard Lambert, who has been asked...
See below
From: Alison Little <Alison.Little@Express.co.uk>
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2014 14:24:14 +0000
To: robert.halfon.mp@parlimanet.uk<robert.halfon.mp@parlimanet.uk>
Cc: roberthalfonoffice@gmail.com<roberthalfonoffice@gmail.com>
Subject: press enquiry

Robert

Very interested in your Sun column today and your arguments about why your party can claim to be the party of workers and should stop bashing trade unions, etc.

Just wondered how serious, if at all, you are about the name change and discount cards, and what kind of reaction you’ve had from party colleagues? Also (off record if necessary) – do you sympathise with colleagues complaining in the FT that David Cameron’s manifesto-writing team is too posh?

 

Thanks so much

Alison Little

(Dep Pol Ed Daily Express)

 

0207 219 3387 or 07768 446 154

 

 


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EXN2006

Royal Mail Advice

 

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A few months ago the Coalition Gov't brought forward a bill to fulfill its promise to control lobbyists and introduce more transparency into government. I thought there were major improvements needed, and I arranged meetings with the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley who is responsible for taking this Bill through Parliament. Today we reached the stage where the House of Commons were  considering amendments made to the Bill in the House of Lords. Those we overturn will be sent back to the Lords for more consideration before coming back to the Commons. This process in known as 'ping-pong'. This post lays out where we are and how we got there. I have written it because there has been a orchestrated campaign pressurising MPs to abandon the Bill. Though its written as my take on it, I accept that its also written from a Coalition Gov't standpoint.

Its important for democracy that campaigning in elections is transparent and properly accounted for. Fundamentally, this Bill contains reforms to bring greater transparency and accountability to the political system. The measures in the Bill do not affect organisations who do not seek directly to influence the outcome of elections.

During its passage through the Commons, the Gov't made many concesions to meet the concerns of MPs on all sides. The bill sent to the Lords was much changed. In addition, during passage through the Lords Government made amendments which address the concerns raised about the potential impact of the Bill and existing rules on non-party campaigning at elections. These changes have been welcomed by charities and other groups.

Fundamental to the amendments was the raising of the registration rates to £20,000 for England and £10,000 in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will effectively exempt most campaigning groups and charities who are either small or undertake limited political campaigning from the requirement to register as a third party, and the associated reporting requirements that entails.

Other key Government amendments to which the House agreed were:

• Increasing the spending limits in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from the levels originally set out in the Bill, giving an uplift of £20,000 to each nation.

• Removing all burdens from low-spending participants in a campaigning coalition by allowing larger campaigners to provide a single report on their behalf.

• Removing the requirement for a return, or a nil return, in relation to spending returns, donations reports and statement of accounts, if a recognised third party has not spent above the registration threshold.

• A review of the effects of the provisions of Part 2 to report following the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election, to ensure the regulatory system remains effective and proportionate.

• Reducing the length of the 2014/2015 regulated period for non-party campaigning. It will now commence the day after the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September 2014.

• An exemption for the costs of translating material from and into Welsh, and for campaign costs relating to disability and security.

My view is that the Lobbying and Transparency Bill is now much better than it was, and that a lot of my concerns have been met. On balance I am now willing to support it. The Bill does not prevent third parties from campaigning, but it does require that they be upfront about their spending, and not be allowed to overwhelm and outspend candidates and parties.

It remains the case that there remain some constituents that disagree with me, and I'm sorry about that, particularly bearing in mind the work I've put in. I do have to add that some of the tactics employed by an organisation named 38 Degrees have been extremely non transparent and have not been at all helpful to anyone. I sense that the Bill has now reached its final form, and will go as it is foward to Royal Assent.

Today (22 January) the coalition government's controversial 'Lobbying Bill' returns to the House of Commons after it has been debated and amended in the House of Lords. The government has been forced to make concessions in response to the strength and breadth of opposition. It is nevertheless likely that the Government will seek to overturn at least some of the amendments made in the House of Lords which have gone some way to improve this ill-considered Bill.

It has already had to drop its proposals to cut the total that charities are allowed to spend on campaigning in the run-up to a general election and concede that the election period is specified as the period from the day after the referendum here in Scotland rather than a full 12 months.

These changes are welcome but they simply make a bad bill slightly better. So far, the Government has refused to accept other amendments such as the one excluding background staff costs from the spending limits and requiring lobbying of special advisers to be included on the statutory register.

I was pleased to see that both of these were passed in the House of Lords despite the Government’s opposition and I and my Labour colleagues will be voting to keep these two Amendments in the Bill if the Government seeks to overturn them.

Charities are already forbidden to campaign in a partisan way by existing legislation on the way they operate and as a spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has pointed out, it is hard to see the problem that this Bill is seeking to solve.

          There are many other things wrong with the Bill. It would have been even better if the
          government had dropped it entirely and rethought its proposals after proper consultation
          with charities, NGOs, and trade unions, but the Commons does at least have the chance
          to make it a little better today.

This morning I attended a Westminster Hall debate on Planning Reform and Local Plans called by David Heath MP. In attendance were a large number of my colleagues who all raised issues similar to those we are experiencing here in Stratford. Unfortunately as the debate was so well subscribed I only managed to intervene on the Planning Minister Nick Boles and not give the speech I had planned. However if you are interested in what I would have said you can read it in full below. May I first thank my honourable friend for securing this debate on such an important issue. He has spoken eloquently about the challenges with local plan generation in his own constituency and I would like to add the experiences of my own constituency to the body of evidence being presented. As my honourable friend the planning minister will remember from his approval of 800 houses on land overlooking the historic Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Stratford Upon Avon, my own constituency is no stranger to controversial planning applications. However in recent months it has come under intense attack from what I can only describe as rapacious developers. That is developers who are determined to undermine the Government’s good intentions to deliver bottom up planning and much needed housing with the support of the local community. The planning authority of Stratford-on-Avon is one of many across the country that is yet to submit and adopt a local plan. It is also one of many planning authorities that is working hard to identify a 5 year land supply plus a 5-20% buffer as required by paragraph 47 of the NPPF. As a result the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development kicks in, and rather than going through the plan led approach, speculative developers are instead identifying farmland, large gardens, arable farmland and greenfield sites in order to shortcut the planning process and pick-up land at much cheaper prices than those identified in the plan. If such applic...

Amnesty have launched a new action today to keep the campaign for a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty in the political spotlight as we enter a crucial phase in the negotiations. Last July I attended the first couple of days of the month-long UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in New York: a frustrating couple of days in which very little progress was made, but useful in that it gave me a real insight into the complexities of trying to bring countries with very different agendas to a state of consensus.

I met David Grimason on that trip, who lost his two year old son to a stray bullet when a gunfight broke out in a Turkish cafe nearly ten years ago. Since then David has campaigned for arms controls, and particularly for tougher controls on small arms, which are responsible for many deaths and maiming, and also for the sexual assaults and rapes at gunpoint to which women and girls across the world are being subjected in ever increasing numbers.

On returning to the UK I kept a close eye on what was going on in New York, with regular updates from Amnesty and others from the global Control Arms campaign. At times things looked to be moving in the right direction, with real hope of progress being made. But at the final hurdle the talks collapsed.

We are now 21 days away from the talks resuming. The UK Government is in theory committed to securing a comprehensive ATT, but that is not enough. The idea of an ATT was first floated by senior figures during the last Labour Government, and over those years a real sense of momentum developed as other countries signed up in spirit to the concept. It now needs real political will and strong leadership from the current UK Government to seal the deal, and get as many countries as possible to commit not just in spirit but with their actual signatures on the treaty.

Amnesty’s action is designed to show William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Alistair Burt, the FCO Minister with direct responsibility for the ATT, that the public wants and expects them to show leadership in March. It’s not enough for the UK to turn up to the talks as spectators, or semi-engaged participants. Now is not the time for a half-hearted approach. This could be an historic moment, which will benefit millions of people across the globe by protecting them from the devastating impact of living in countries where arms are freely available and gun violence is a part of everyday life.

I would urge all of you to sign up to Amnesty’s action, and to watch their video – and get your MP to watch it too!

The video your MP must see


One of the welcome features of the new expenses system is that constituents can see all expenses claims online here, including everything from claims for rent on the constituency office, office phone bills or standard class rail tickets to Wesminster.

In addition, the subject of MPs' accommodation arrangements in London continues to be the focus of some attention, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide an update on my own arrangements.

When first elected in 1997 I rented a room for a short period but it quickly became apparent that in the longer-term it would be cheaper to have a mortgage and claim the interest.  Over the years I have stayed overnight and claimed mortgage interest on a bedsit or one-bedroom flat in Westminster. 

Under the rules of the scheme, I would be entitled to retain any profit made from increases in the value of such property prior to the 2010 General Election.  But I have made it clear that in my view the purpose of the scheme is simply to give MPs somewhere to live whilst in London and not to provide a profit.   I have therefore said for some years that when I no longer owned a property in Westminster I would return any profit to the taxpayer.  I am now making arrangements to do this.

In October this year I sold my London flat and am now renting (and ceased claiming for mortgage interest in July).    I estimate that I made a profit, net of capital gains tax and legal fees etc. of around £22,000 through increases in the value of the properties on which I have claimed.  I have therefore written to IPSA confirming that I wish to return this sum and asking for details of how I can return this amount to the taxpayer.
Shadow Fisheries Minister Tom Harris has welcomed a campaign by representatives of the smaller fishing industry to win a fairer share of UK fishing quotas.

Speaking on the day that Greenpeace and NUTFA (the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association) launched their Manifesto For Fair Fisheries, Tom called on the government to take the lead in supporting small fishing communities. He said the case had now been made for a “radical overhaul” of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK.

Smaller “inland” fishing vessels make up three quarters of the UK’s fishing fleet and employ nearly two thirds of all full-time workers. But they are restricted from catching more than four per cent of the UK fishing quota, with 96 per cent being allocated to the larger industrial fleet.
 
Tom added: “Labour wants reform that tackles vested interests and rewards those who fish more sustainably and selectively, with less impact on the environment. It is unacceptable that fleets representing the smaller, sustainable end of the industry, and which employ nearly two thirds of full-time workers, should have to survive on just four per cent of the UK fishing quota.
 
“The Government should be taking a lead in supporting our small fishing communities that are the lifeblood of many coastal areas.

“The case has now been made for a radical overhaul of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK. The Government needs to issue a definitive list of who exactly owns the rights to UK quota, and begin urgent talks on significantly increasing the percentage quota allocated to the Under Ten fleet.”



Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s Challenge on Dementia – a new initiative to tackle one of Britain’s most serious health concerns. As Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, I believe that our approach to dementia care in Britain is unsustainable, with the figure of 800,000 people who currently live in the UK projected to rise to 1 million within a decade and 1.7 million by 2051.

Aside from the obvious human tragedy of the condition, which affects one in three people over the age of 65, there are serious financial consequences of dementia. Through increased healthcare costs and other expenses, the condition costs the economy £23bn, compared to £12bn for cancer and £8bn for heart disease which, per patient, means that a single dementia patient will cost the economy £27,000 – four times higher than a cancer patient and five times higher than someone with heart disease.

Despite this, research into the condition receives significantly less funding than research into other diseases. The Government’s announcement that it will double dementia research funding to £66m by 2015 is therefore extremely welcome and represents not only a fantastic opportunity for greater research into the cause, cure, care and prevention of dementia, but a greater recognition from Government that this is an issue that must be addressed.

The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was timely as APPG is investigating how to improve the rate of dementia diagnosis. The Group has heard from a range of people involved in the condition, including clinicians, social workers, those with the condition and those working to support them. The Government’s additional commitment to funding an additional £54m to help increase early diagnoses of the condition represents a fundamental appreciation of the importance that early identification of the disease plays in transforming dementia care.

There are important benefits to diagnosing dementia as early as possible and early diagnosis is key to living well with the condition. It means that GPs can work together with patients from an early stage to help plan their care and start treatment to slow down the progression of the disease. This can help to lower the risk of dementia-related accidents and complications, reducing both the probability that a patient will need to go into residential care as well as the overall cost of dementia to the health service.

Despite this, only between thirty and forty percent of those with dementia are diagnosed, with huge variations in diagnosis rates not just across the UK but within counties themselves. In Medway, for example, 44% of those with dementia are diagnosed compared to just 38% in West Kent. Additionally, only five to ten percent of diagnoses are made at an early stage of dementia, meaning that many of the benefits of its early identification are lost.

Some of the evidence that the Group heard suggests that a huge barrier to people coming forward for assessment is that stigma associated with dementia and it is essential that the media plays a role in helping to change the perception of those with the condition. The image of people with dementia on television is one of invalidity and ineptitude while it is often the case that a patient diagnosed early enough can live independently and with a high quality of life for many years. As with many medical conditions in the past, changing the image of dementia in the media to show it in a more realistic light is essential in getting people to visit their GP if they have concerns.

It is also therefore essential that clinicians are appropriately trained in recognising the symptoms of dementia and knowing which services are available to refer patients to. Amazingly, a quarter of GPs say that they do not receive enough training on dementia and it is therefore unsurprising that so many people with dementia slip through the net and get misdiagnosed with other conditions such as depression.

However, we cannot just rely on patients going to see the GP to get diagnosed because they are concerned about symptoms; professionals across a range of fields must work to actively recognise symptoms of dementia when interacting with older people. One of the doctors giving evidence to the Group pointed out that if a patient went into a hospital for an unrelated medical condition, it would be inconceivable for health care professional to notice potential symptoms of cancer and not follow it up, but that is not the case if they spot some early symptoms of dementia. It is only through this kind of proactive approach that we will significantly increase the rate of diagnosis.

While I look forward to the Group’s publication of the report in the summer, it is clear that we must take action to raise awareness about how important early diagnosis is and remove the stigma that stops people going for assessments while ensuring that all our healthcare professionals are properly trained to spot the early signs of dementia. The Prime Minister’s challenge to tackle dementia and improve both diagnoses and care for the condition is extremely welcome and, I hope, represents the turning point in the fight to end the unsustainable dementia status quo.

There are many groups and charities in Kent which can provide support for those with dementia and their carers. For more information, contact my office on 020 7219 2828.
I recently organised a meeting with a number of local residents about the upkeep and maintenance of Kew Bridge Railway Station. I met with representatives from Strand on the Green Association, St George's, Kew Green, The Kew Bridge Society, Express Tavern, West Thames River Group, a disability interest group, Friends of Stile Hall Gardens, Brentford Community Council and Network Rail.
Prior to the meeting, I had already been in touch with Network Rail, to strongly urge them to deal with some of the key issues around the station. Network Rail confirmed at the meeting that, as a result of my request, they had immediate plans in place now to paint the station, address the rodent problem, board up unused windows and clear graffiti They had also requested additional litter bins from Hounslow Council. At the meeting, St George's highlighted the work they had been doing too to clear up graffiti in the local area.
I am very pleased that Network Rail responded so well and are giving Kew Bridge Station a 'facelift,' which will help local residents. It will make the station seem cleaner and safer and I welcome their efforts to improve it for passengers. As a group, we are also in discussion regarding the future of the station building at Kew Bridge. As it is a Listed Building, it is obviously of architectural importance. It would be excellent if it could be restored to its former glory and put to good use.
The group is going to meet again within the next month to review progress and discuss next steps.
Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke, has welcomed the Localism Bill published by the Government on 13 December. The Bill will give individuals, groups, and their local councils a much greater say in decisions affecting their local communities.

 

Maria said: “This new legislation will make a real difference to how local matters are decided. The Community Rights measures, for example, will give new rights to local community and voluntary groups to protect, improve and even run important frontline services that might otherwise close down, such as local shops, pubs and libraries,.”

 

Maria added: “This Bill offers great opportunities for Basingstoke. Among other things, it will radically reform the planning system so that local people have a greater say and influence over what Basingstoke looks like in the future. Giving local people the opportunity to shape the development of the communities in which they live is something that I have long campaigned for, and I am delighted to see it being enshrined in law.

 

“The Borough Council’s current consultation on the number of new homes needed in Basingstoke is part of this process of taking local people’s views into consideration in developing a vision for the future. I would urge all residents to let the Council have their views on this before the end of the consultation on 14 January.”

 

Starting with a Bang

The long parliamentary recess has started - weeks without time being spent in the weekly grindingly boring train ride to London and back. Mind you its a hectic pace back at Southport but you can control your agenda better.

Yesterday I found a little time for light exercise the odd game of table tennis and a workout with heavy weights.
I've done the latter all my adult life and it has a slight addictive quality. If you don't do it for a while you actually feel muscle cramps only relieved by putting the old system under pressure.
Constraints of time often mean I forego all the warm ups and warm downs etc. So there I was on Tuesday doing a few front squats in excess of 300lb. I finished, replacing the barbell on the shoulder-high squat stand or so I thought. The stand was not aligned right .It tilted sideways as I released the weight and as the weight crashed to the floor the stand was pulled rapidly down by it pausing on its way to hit the stooping me on the head and catching me on the hand.
If you wanted to dramatise it , it might be compared to being hit on the head by a 20 stone man with an iron bar from a short distance. I thought I'd better take a break. We've had enough by- elections recently
When the family saw me with a lump as though a tennis ball had been buried in my scalp I was advised to pop into A&E. So clutching a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to my temple and bleeding from my finger I was run there and tested by some very nice jolly staff who established so far as we could tell that there was no skull or brain damage.At any rate I could still recall who the Prime Minister and reigning monarch was. I left a wiser man with a determination to avoid photo opportunities for a few days.
Desperate to prove they are doing something about the rising toll of deaths from guns and knives the government have resorted to the old idea of an "amnesty." This will enable a few aging war veterans who collected a "souvenir" and some farmers who forgot to renew their shotgun licenses to hand over guns that would never have been used for any kind of crime. Some of the younger "wannabe" gansters may also find that their weapons, usually replicas, are handed in by angry mothers.

This will be enough for the amnesty to achieve its real objective - photos of a smiling Minister in front of an impressive looking array of guns claiming that the government have "taken action".

But make no mistake the serious criminals will continue to roam the streets without any fear of being stopped and searched, (human rights) and knowing that even if by some chance they are found in poossession of a gun or knife the sentence will be minimal.

The toll of death will continue to rise.

Parents from Hove Park School, many of whom live in my constituency, have been in touch this week to ask for my support for their campaign to oppose plans for the school to become an Academy. I was happy to give it.

When the Academies Bill was being debated in Parliament I expressed my opposition to removing schools from the control of parents, teachers, the local authority and the local community.

 I warned that one inevitable consequence of numbers of schools becoming Academies in a local area is that there will be less funding to support other, non-Academy schools for provisions such as special educational needs, free school meals, music services and library services. The risk being, that unless the Academies buy into the Local Authority Services, these could be become unsustainable.

The children’s author Michael Rosen has highlighted that asset stripping is also happening every time a school becomes an Academy. The local authority has to hand over the title deeds of a school to whoever runs sponsors or owns the Academy. Those title deeds are worth roughly £5 million per school - yet the Secretary of State has kept no central records and nobody has strategic oversight of who owns our nation’s schools.

The Secretary of State’s not keeping track of how many unqualified teachers are in free school or academy classrooms either. And if Hove Park School becomes an Academy it may not have to tell you, because a growing number of Academies are protected from Freedom of Information laws on the grounds of commercial interests. This also has implications for financial transparency. National education campaigner Fiona Miller reckons between £1-7 bn is being given to schools that are completely unaccountable.

There’s already a vast body of evidence that points to the ways in which Academies and other free schools are letting our children down. Academies are part of how this Government, building on the foundations laid by previous governments, is promoting a marketised model of education, pitching schools and colleges against one another as they compete for funds. This isn’t good for schools, their staff or local communities. It’s definitely not good for our children and I think those at Hove Park School deserve better.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference is taking place in Brighton this coming weekend and I am looking forward to speaking to teachers there. I know from my mailbag and inbox that huge numbers of them are also opposed to what’s happening to our schools in the name of choice. Teachers who, despite the changes foisted upon them, are getting on with inspiring their pupils.  

So I’ll be saying a huge thank you to every single local teacher that’s still in the profession. That’s still committed to our children. That still believes in education as a force for change. And I’ll be standing alongside them, and alongside the parents and pupils of Hove Park School, to demand a fair, accountable education system that puts the best interests of children centre stage.

If you want to support Hove Park School staying within local authority control, please sign this petition.