Thursday, 28 February 2008

Tesco's off-shore assets

As a result of reports that Tesco is avoiding paying Corporation Tax, by keeping many of its assets ‘off-shore’, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable issued this press release:

“This exposé shows the depth of the tax avoidance culture amongst Britain’s leading companies, as well as the very rich.

“Given the widespread practice of these tactics by non-domiciles, there is now a real challenge for Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. They must crack down seriously on it, as the tax burden is now falling disproportionately on low and middle income taxpayers, rather than the very rich.

“Tesco’s behaviour makes a complete nonsense of any claims that it makes about corporate social responsibility. It is very clear that this is money taken from the company’s British customers to satisfy shareholders.

“The Government must also answer why British dependent territories are being allowed to offer large-scale tax avoidance schemes at the expense of the Treasury."

I understand that Grand Cayman is a major depot for these assets. Given that this Caribbean island is low-lying, what is Tesco going to do after the ice-caps melt?

Vince goes on:
“If Germany can crack down on Liechtenstein, why can’t Britain do the same with territories for which it is directly responsible?”

There's bio-fuel and bio-fuel

I'm all for cutting the duty on recovered cooking oil used as fuel, but I'm also with the RSPB on protesting against a proposed EU directive, which could lead to the destruction of precious habitat and the irreplaceable wild-life which depends on it. You can make a protest to Ruth Kelly here.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Shoah: not a subject for Punch-and-Judy politics

All right, so it was crass of David Cameron to describe sixth-form visits to Auschwitz, by implication, as a gimmick. As a public relations professional, he should have taken care to check the offending briefing notes.

However, for Labour's spin machine to go into overdrive, culminating in an OTT question to the PM on Wednesday by Gerald Kaufman, seeking to paint the Tory leader as an anti-Semite, was stupid.

The Holocaust Education Trust is a respectable organisation as the list of its trustees makes clear. Its council covers the spectrum of party politics, Conservatives (James Clappison, Andrew Lansley) included. The others are: Louise Ellman MP (Labour), Michael Karp,
Lord Levy (Labour), Lembit Opik MP (Liberal Democrat), Sir Antony Sher KBE, Stephen Twigg. The Auschwitz visits are part of a carefully worked-out programme, and not an isolated trip.

I still have some doubts as to whether the visits to the Holocaust Museum at £1.5m of taxpayers' money annually (and, apparently, requiring a top-up from each school) are absolutely necessary, if the rest of the Holocaust education programme is doing its job. Certainly, not enough of the original installations are left to convince firm holocaust-deniers, and it appears to rely a lot on reconstruction.

The painstaking BBC TV documentary by Laurence Rees, "Auschwitz: the Nazis and the Final Solution", should be enough to bring home to people the enormity of the Nazis' operations - and also the almost insidious way in which they began. One should not forget that mentally-handicapped people were the first to be annihilated. They were followed by gypsies and homosexuals as well as Jews.

Then there is Claude Landesman's nine-hour documentary, Shoah, which makes extensive use of eye-witness evidence.

One hopes that the holocaust education programme directs students to survivors still amongst us. It should also point out that there have been other extermination programmes, whose authors should not escape the condemnation of history merely because their actions were not as well documented as those of the Nazis.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Clegg invokes the memory of Rebecca

I had to miss the LibDem Welsh Spring Conference in Llandudno last weekend, but according to the press handout, Nick Clegg included this passage in his speech:

"Time for a party that connects with Wales’s radical roots – the Chartists, the Rebecca Rioters [...]"

Welsh media led on Clegg's attack on 100 years of Labour failure in local government. I am surprised they didn't leap on his implied call for civil disobedience.

I look forward to Peter Black and John Warman in drag, riding out to destroy the toll-booths on the Severn crossings. ;-)

Monday, 25 February 2008

Botched privatisation still blighting rail development

The Daily Post reports that the proposed improvement in the Cardiff-Holyhead trains will not now go ahead. It appears that the company which owns the trains is asking too high a price for the lease to Arriva, the train operating company which has the Wales franchise.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Black and brown not in fashion

This is just one of many recent articles bemoaning the conspicuous and unrepresentative absence of non-white skin on the catwalks and in fashion shoots these days.

It seems to me that there are fashions in models, as well as models in fashion. It as if the fashionistas felt they had ticked a box when Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks and Iman broke through. They then moved on to the next category - one which endures, judging by the photos in this weekend's supplements - wan, emaciated and apparently addicted and/or abused.

There may be hope. According to the Independent, Liverpool and North-West England generally are going to be the new centres of catwalk talent. Those much-photographed women who have already emerged from the Mersey-Irwell axis have normal-shaped bodies and, far from wanting to appear chalky-white, have in some cases over-bronzed their skin.

The promising bit is that this area of the UK has, next to Cardiff, one of the longest-established and best-integrated non-white communities. It surely cannot be long before beautiful Afro-Caribbean-Chinese-Irish models stride out of the North-West and on to our fashion pages.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Alcohol epidemic

Gary Lewis (Maesteg) draws my attention to a British Medical Association report claiming that pricing and promotion of drinks was fuelling an "alcohol epidemic". He points out that Filco stores are selling 3 litres of white cider, 8% alcohol per volume, at just £2. This amounts to 24 units of alcohol: less than 10 pence per unit.

However, as an Independent reader points out in today's letter column ("Higher alcohol tax would penalise us all"), just raising the duty on alcohol would be another stealth tax. To have a serious deterrent effect on young drinkers, it would also penalise connoisseurs of fine wine and whisky, not to mention Aunt Gladys who likes a drop of sherry for her birthday and at Christmas.

As Mr Dunton of Appledore points out, it is the easy availability which is the problem. A better solution would be to stop supermarkets and corner groceries from selling booze. It should be relatively simple to draft legislation to restrict licences only to those premises whose main business is selling beers, wines and spirits. This would help the many pubs which are feeling the pressure from supermarket off-sales, and may even reinvigorate off-licence chains, like Oddbins.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Immigration rules changes

Amidst all the hoo-hah about citizenship rules (largely trailed, as pointed out here) serious changes to immigration rules have been slipped under parliamentarians' radar.

I am grateful to Liberal Democrat activist Mark Ynys-Môn for the following. It is a long message, but for a non-lawyer to attempt to summarise it would be a risky business. However, please read the last paragraph even if you skip the rest:

General grounds for refusal - changes in the immigration rules HC321

On 6 February 2008 the government published the latest statement of changes in the immigration rules. As expected the rules establish the new regime under which Tier one – the highly skilled tier of the points based system - will be implemented. The regime commences on 29 February 2008, when any highly skilled foreign national who is currently working in the United Kingdom will have to apply under the new rules for an extension of their stay. From 1 April 2008 highly skilled people in India wishing to
enter the UK in that category will have to apply to enter the UK under the provisions of the new rules. By the summer the rules will apply to all highly skilled applicants for entry anywhere in the world.

What were not expected are the changes to the “General grounds for refusal” section of the immigration rules. These new provisions will affect anyone making any application for entry clearance and anyone applying for extensions or variations of leave to remain in the UK from 29 February 2008. The new rules also affect people entering the UK in possession of entry clearance from 29 February 2008. From 1 April 2008 penalties, in the form of the mandatory refusal of their applications, will be imposed on anyone who has either:
• previously overstayed their leave to remain in the UK,
• entered the UK illegally on a previous occasion,
• used deception in any immigration application less than 10 years ago, or
• not kept to the conditions of his or her permission to stay in the UK when here previously

The penalties are severe, particularly in cases where deception is involved. Any application from people refused entry clearance after having used deception in their applications will be refused outright. This will go on for 10 years. People who have overstayed their leave to remain for more than 28 days will have all future applications for entry clearance refused outright for one year, provided they left the UK at their own expense after this time. But if they left voluntarily but at
public expense their applications will be refused for a period of 5 years. If they were removed or deported from the UK they will have all applications refused for 10 years.

These effects are achieved by the new rules 320(7A) and 320(7B) These sub rules (along with the other sub rules of rule 320) are listed under the heading “Grounds on which entry clearance or leave to enter the United Kingdom is to be refused”. They state:
“(7A) where false representations have been made or false documents have been submitted (whether or not material to the application, and whether or not to the applicant’s knowledge), or material facts have not been disclosed, in relation to the application.”
“7B. where the applicant has previously breached the UK’s immigration laws by:
(a) Overstaying,
(b) breaching a condition attached to his leave,
(c) being an Illegal Entrant,
(d) using Deception in an application for entry clearance, leave to enter or remain (whether successful or not), unless the applicant:
(i) Overstayed for 28 days or less and left the UK voluntarily, not at the expense (directly or indirectly) of the Secretary of State,
(ii) used Deception in an application for entry clearance more than 10 years ago,
(iii) left the UK voluntarily, not at the expense (directly or indirectly) of the Secretary of State, more than 12 months ago,
(iv) left the UK voluntarily, at the expense (directly or indirectly) of the Secretary of State, more than 5 years ago, or
(v) was removed or deported from the UK more than 10 years ago.
Where more than one breach of the UK’s immigration laws has occurred, only the breach which leads to the longest period of absence from the UK will be relevant under this paragraph.”

The word “Deception” is defined in a new rule 6A. The definition is as follows:

““Deception” means making false representations or submitting false documents (whether or not material to the application), or failing to disclose material facts.”

Rule 320 (7A) comes into force on 29 February 2008. So from that date any application for entry clearance which has been supported by false documents or in which false representations have been made, even if the applicant did not know that the documents were false or that the representations were not true, and even if they were not material to the application he or she made, will be refused. This is a major development in the rules. Prior to this statement of changes the only comparable
immigration rules were in respect of the submission of a false document (rule 320 (21) – and this said nothing about making false representations) Most importantly this rule fell under the heading of “grounds on which entry clearance or leave to enter will normally be refused”.

Now the refusal is mandatory. The exercise of discretion by entry clearance officers has been removed. Of course this has a further effect upon the jurisdiction of Immigration Judges when considering appeals against the refusal of entry clearance. At the moment judges are required to consider whether the discretion of an entry clearance officer should have been exercised differently from how it was exercised in any decision to refuse entry clearance, and to allow appeals if the discretion was
wrongly exercised. From 29 February this jurisdiction will go, because refusals under 320 (7A) are mandatory.

Rule 320 (7B) makes applicants liable for their past breaches of immigration control by imposing the penalties referred to above. That rule will not be implemented until 1 April 2008.

The changes also affect people already in the UK who have come to the UK having obtained an entry clearance in those specific circumstances where that entry clearance does not operate as leave to enter the UK. (These categories of entry clearance are those endorsed on refugees’ Convention travel documents on or after 27 February 2004, certificates of entitlement, EEA family permits, exempt visas and direct airside transit visas). In this scenario the immigration officer can (he or she doesn’t have to), from 29 February 2008, refuse leave to enter where he or she is
satisfied that false documents were submitted or material facts were not disclosed or false representations were made “in relation to the application for entry clearance”. This is the effect of the new rule 321 (i). The previous rule enabled immigration officers to refuse leave to enter in similar circumstances, but the false representations had to have been made for the purpose of obtaining the entry clearance and there was no mention of false documents.

There is also a new rule 321A (2), which will from 29 February 2008 require immigration officers to cancel entry clearance which does operate as leave to enter the UK. The heading of this section of the rules, and which remains unaltered by the statement of changes, is “Grounds on which leave to enter or remain which is in force is to be cancelled at port or while the holder is outside the United Kingdom.

The current rule 321A (2) makes cancellation of leave to enter mandatory where:

“the leave was obtained as a result of false information given by that person or by that person's failure to disclose material facts;”

This is to be replaced by:

“false representations were made or false documents were submitted (whether or not material to the application, and whether or not to the holder’s knowledge), or material facts were not disclosed, in relation to the application for leave;”

So as in the new rule 321 (i) the inclusion of false documents in an application for entry clearance which operates as leave to enter or the fact that false representations were made or that material facts were not disclosed, regardless of whether or not the person with the entry clearance knew that such things had been done or of whether they had any effect on the grant of the entry clearance, will now result in the cancellation of leave to enter.

Also from 29 February 2008 similar provisions will apply to people who are applying either to extend or otherwise to vary their leave to remain in the UK. The heading of what is now the only sub rule (rule 322 (1) – which is “the fact that variation of leave to enter or remain is being sought for a purpose not covered by these rules”) which makes refusal of these applications mandatory is currently:
“Grounds on which an application to vary leave to enter or remain in the
United Kingdom is to be refused”
This will be changed to:
“Grounds on which leave to remain in the United Kingdom is to be refused”
It’s difficult to see what the difference in the heading is meant to achieve. However there is then inserted rule 322 (1A) which provides:
“where false representations have been made or false documents have been submitted (whether or not material to the application, and whether or not to the applicant’s knowledge), or material facts have not been disclosed, in relation to the application.”
So someone whose application for an extension of stay contains, in his or her ignorance, false documents or false representations or from which material facts have been left out – whether or not they make any difference to the application will have their application refused.
The effect of these changes is yet to be seen, but the intention is clear from the explanatory notes which accompany the statement of changes. Paragraph 7.22 of these notes says:
“The first amendment, which will come into force on 29 February 2008, provides that any application in which deception is used should automatically be refused.
The immigration rules for Highly Skilled Migrants already stated that any application in which forged documents were submitted should automatically be refused (unless the
applicant could prove that he or she did not know that they were forged). Because of the importance of ensuring that immigration applicants tell the truth, we are extending this to all applications, and to all forms of deception (not just the submission of forged documents).”

The removal of discretion from entry clearance officers considering applications for entry clearance is explained in paragraph 7.24 of the notes. This states:

“The previous immigration rules on this subject did not cover all the above breaches. They also gave a great deal of discretion to caseworkers, with the potential for nconsistent decision-making. The new immigration rules replace this by setting out a clear period during which a previous immigration offender will have any future applications to come here refused.”

Since this is a statement of changes in the immigration rules, and not a statute, it is not “primary legislation”. Therefore there did not have to be a statement from the Secretary of State to the effect that she was satisfied that the changes complied with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Some people might say that that was fortunate for the Secretary of State, since it is difficult to see how the consequences of these new rules will not include the separation of, for example, parents from their children for many years – as well keeping out people likely to make a valuable contribution to the UK’s economy. These will be the results of people making innocent mistakes which did not advantage their applications at all.

Monday, 18 February 2008


These are clearly a good thing in the right place. We have been pressing for one to serve Cimla (no GP surgery), Pontrhydyfen (part-time surgery now closed) and Tonmawr (part-time surgery about to close) for some time now.

However, the news that Lord Darzi may force a universal policy of polyclinics on England is ominous, given the centralising tendencies of the present Plaid/Labour Assembly Government. (Of course, in adopting the model, the minister will clearly differentiate the Welsh system, as she did with walk-in centres. "Polyclinics" will no doubt become "multi-disciplinary local health facilities".)

As Norman Lamb, the LibDem spokesman for health policy in England says: "There is a remarkable gap between the Government’s rhetoric on local decision making and its obsession on imposing models of care from the centre.

"Polyclinics might be a solution for some communities, but particularly in rural areas access to a doctor could become a nightmare.

"As long as the Government continues to impose its one-size-fits-all policies on local communities, patients will be denied the access to a high standard of healthcare they are entitled to."

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Specialist shops

The Sustainable Development Commission has reported on supermarkets. (See also Nick Tregoning's comments.) Parliament has enacted, with cross-party support, legislation to revive the local high street and community enterprises.

But what is to happen if people, particularly younger people, are not prepared to come forward to run the shops? JD Meats, the last specialist butcher in Skewen, will close as soon as the owner can find a buyer. She (yes, women can be butchers, too) has given up on selling the business as a going concern, because new people are not entering the trade.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Misleading Party Political Broadcast by Welsh Labour

The deacons of spin would have viewers believe that if they vote Labour on May 1st, they will have refuse collection services on a par with Neath Port Talbot's or an anti-crime patrol like Newport.

The people of Merthyr, who have stuck with Labour for twelve years, may have a different story to tell. They also pay the third highest council tax in Wales. They are beaten only by Blaenau Gwent (Labour) and Neath Port Talbot (Labour).

Thursday, 14 February 2008

"Stop Tony Blair in Europe" campaign

I don't think it's a serious possibility (Blair's view of Europe has many serious opponents on the continent), but some people want to take no chances on Tony Blair becoming the first president of a post-Lisbon European Union. They are mounting a petition.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Wind Nazis

I'm not sure whether Glyn Davies or Ioan Richard first coined this phrase, but it seemed that MEP Chris Davies had joined those who wanted to impose wind farms from the centre when I first saw the headline:
Local councils should be required to identify possible windfarm sites in their area according to a North West Euro-MP.

But Chris Davies goes on to say that building more
windfarms must not be at the expense of the many valued landscapes
across the North West. I would add, "or Wales".

He said: “Wind energy has a role to play, but if precious landscapes
are to be lost the public must be convinced that our hills and moorland
are not simply being exploited to support the latest get-rich-quick
scheme from powerful property developers.”

Mr Davies says community based schemes similar to those used in Denmark
should be put in place. Under this model each local authority would
publish a map showing the locations, if any, where average wind speeds
are sufficient to justify windfarm development.

Through public consultation they could then identify the places where
this would command the greatest and least public support and amend
planning guidance accordingly.

This public consultation must be genuine; it was alleged to us recently by the commoners of Cwmllynfell ward, fighting a proposed wind-farm there, that unscrupulous tactics were used in an attempt to secure an appearance of acquiescence by voters there.

(A database of average wind speeds can be
accessed online
, and map of current UK windfarms can be seen here.)

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Hopefully, not a false alarm

It is rumoured that Burry Port may be used for exteriors for a biopic of Amelia Earhart.

Sex discrimination in pay

When I joined the civil service in 1960, the unions were still celebrating the recently achieved aim of "equal pay for equal work". This blessed situation continued until the Thatcher-Heseltine "reforms" of the 1980s, when many government functions were devolved to agencies and even further to private companies.

The latter were not bound by agreements reached between the civil service trade unions and the government. They no doubt ran a tighter, more entrepreneurial shop, but they also had the scope to save money on working conditions and by paying female staff less. New Labour, far from restoring the balance when it came to power in 1997, has extended the outsourcing of government work.

I was reminded of this by Sarah Teather's recent statement.

Monday, 11 February 2008


As Nick Clegg said in his interview on the BBC yesterday:

If you are serious about decentralisation, you've got to put your money where your mouth is. There is no system of governance which is truly decentralised, truly devolved, truly localised anywhere I know of, which doesn't put its money where its mouth is - and that's why I think it is so important to realise that it's only the Liberal Democrats who are prepared to scrap council tax, give local communities more say about how they raise money and how they spend it. Both the Labour and the Conservative Parties talk the talk of devolution, de-centralisation, and don't deliver it.

Some of us remember Mrs Thatcher being very vocal in support of "town hall, not Whitehall", when she was in opposition. It was a very different story when the Conservatives came to power, and imposed oppressive measures on local authorities which have been maintained by New Labour.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Wales and the World

For those who have not come across it, I can thoroughly recommend Carwyn Edwards newsletter on the activities of Welsh and Welsh societies throughout the world.

A recent gem is:
As you may be aware, I have written a nofel about the Welsh colony in Patagonia (Y Wladfa), titled "El Riflero de Ffos Halen", which, after its nomination for the prize "Revelación" (Diario "La Nación", Buenos Aires, 2001) was later translated into cymraeg and published in Wales by Gwasg-Carreg Gwalch (2004), being nominated as "Y nofel y mîs" in July 2004 by the Welsh Book Council (see:
The fact is that the nofel was recently translated into english by David Morgan and now we are trying to find if a publisher -either in Great Britan or U.S.A- may be interested in publishing the story for the english-speaking community.
Since you are greatly involved in welsh activities, I thought that perhaps you could give us some advice or at least tell us about the possibility of contacting publishers in USA.
In any case, let me thank you very much for your interesting bulletins, which keep me duly informed about welsh affairs all over the world.
Diolch yn fawr a cofion cynnes iawn!
Carlos Dante Ferrari.

The bilingual original title of the novel, and Sr. Ferrari's Welsh spelling of "nofel" are especially intriguing.

Friday, 8 February 2008

The Energy Debate

Swansea councillor Ioan Richard wrote a letter to the South Wales Evening Post on this subject, but has not seen it published so far. (I know the feeling.) It is clearly more informed than the usual Punch-and-Judy about wind-farms, so it deserves a platform:

An exclusive letter for “POST”:-


The Energy Debate is heating up again in the letters page of the “Evening Post”.

Anyone who takes part should firstly comprehend the truly vast consumption of Energy this United Kingdom consumes. Seemingly many Politicians cannot grasp this concept! Are they mostly innumerate?

In fairness, probably none of us can grasp the concept of the huge numbers in this issue of many billions of Kilowatts. The basic fact is that this country needs reliable bulk power energy sources that are as clean and sustainable as possible. All this airy fairy talk of Solar Power; Bio Fuels; Wind Power and Wave Power (note “Wave” power is not tidal – wave power is wind dependent – ask any surfer – whereas tidal is moon gravity dependent), is all an expensive time wasting distraction and utter nonsense to our vast energy needs. Bulk reliable energy can only be got from the Fossil Fuel sources of Coal; Oil or Gas; and from Nuclear and Tidal and in some countries only from Hydro. We have to make serious decisions as to which of these, or what form of combinations of these, we are to use, in order to survive as not only an environment, but also as an economic nation. Fossil Fuels are not only Carbon emitters, but are being rapidly depleted except for huge reserves of Coal. We also have to wake up and snatch this debate back from the present control of ignorant innumerate pseudo “Green” control freak fundamentalist politicians like those in the Green Party; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace and the Al Gores of this world. Sadly a lot of opportunity was lost over the Severn Barrage when perhaps the Second Severn Crossing Bridge could have been a road on a barrage dam. They have such roads in Holland. Probably the most secure and sustainable future bulk energy production in the UK will have to come from a combination of Clean Coal and Tidal and Nuclear. Possibly with some Gas to ramp up and down the Grid, when the Tidal is at its regularly timed (four times daily) lower output level.

There’s been far too much scaremongering about Nuclear – our next door neighbour France is full of modern Nuclear Power Stations, several are closer to London than Swansea is to London – so if a French reactor blows up, then we go up with it!

I am quite favourable to a Severn barrage – which will allow the water to go up and down to power the generators – unlike the stagnant waters in the Cardiff Bay Barrage! Don’t confuse a stagnant barrage like Cardiff Bay with a cleaner tidally active barrage. I’d like to know more about a Severn Barrage from genuine Scientists and not from the whines of amateur innumerate “Greenies” or Wind Turbine developers who only want to reap the massive public subsidies available for pitifully small erratic outputs.

Yours, Ioan M. Richard.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The Flowers of Manchester

6th February, 1958

Like the assassination of Kennedy and (for the current generation) the death of Diana, I shall always remember what I was doing when the news came through.

I had come out into the front garden of Uncle Albert and Aunt Betty's house at 4 Sandiways Road, Wallasey. Diagonally opposite to the left was the newsagents, "Stear's" on the fascia, but really run by a Mr Wilkinson. He was helped by his son, Tony, who was kindly described by my mother as "a bit simple", and an old scouser.

It was the latter who rushed out of the shop and called to anyone in the street, "there's been a crash in Munich. They're bringing out a special edition of the Echo.".

My recollection of the period following was of shared sadness, even among diehard Liverpool and Everton supporters. There was less resentment of United's star status than today, even though there was just as much hype surrounding Busby's side as Ferguson's.

The song
Eric Winter penned "The Flowers of Manchester", dedicated to those who perished at Munich Airport. The song was published anonymously in "Sing" magazine - which Winter co-founded - shortly after the tragedy, and was quickly taken up by performers on the folk club circuit, including The Spinners. Winter died in 2000.