Saturday, 29 October 2011

Conservatives persisting with Labour's legal aid cuts, LibDems resisting

Peter Black has the story.

If the government is worried about the increasing cost of legal aid, then they should seriously look at enforcing "equality of arms" - setting an hourly rate for legal aid and insisting that the other side in court sticks to the same rate.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

That EU vote

I have extracted from Hansard the list of those MPs who voted for Monday's motion calling for a referendum on the European Union and attached the party affiliations. Although most "ayes" are ultra-conservative - and in the Labour context, that would include Kate Hoey and Frank Field - there are one or two who voted "for" on grounds of pure democracy. Both Gisela Stuart and Adrian  Sanders can be counted as broadly supporting membership of the European Union (though Ms Stuart can be rated a critical friend). There are also some unreconstructed socialists - Dennis Skinner in the van - who have always been against both the EU and the EEC which preceded it on the grounds that they were rich men's clubs. Sadly, the latter have rather more grounds for complaint than the first.

In copying across the names, it was surprising how few I knew. It has been observed that many of them were not in the last Parliament. Most were not alive when we last had a referendum on the subject of European cooperation. It goes without saying that none had a memory of European conflict on a large scale. It was this memory that convinced Winston Churchill (though he didn't see the UK as forming part of it), Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath of the need for a European Community which was more than just a common market. It is incorrect to say that Heath concealed his political objectives. He may have emphasised the economic advantages of union, but he was open about his political vision.

It was Mrs Thatcher who promoted (and if anyone doubts that she once did, BBC-TV has the evidence to prove it) the EEC as just a trading bloc. Mind you, she was not above giving up UK powers in the cause of the City. I wonder how many of her young disciples realise that it was Mrs T who opened up our ports to Spanish and Portuguese fishermen as part of a deal which gave access to the Spanish insurance market to British companies. Which reminds me: one hopes that reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is still high on the agenda of our ministers in the Coalition, as it is for our MEPs. (I doubt that we will make any progress on the other reform we have had in our manifesto, because too many Conservatives benefit from the Common Agricultural Policy.)

What shocked me in what little of the debate I was able to watch on BBC-Parliament was not just that the motivation for so many of the supporters of David Nuttall's motion was to unwind most of the social protection legislation originating in Brussels - that was well-known before the debate - but also the desire on the part of one or two to abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights as well. These were people who knew full well the difference between the EU and EHCR.

Andrew, Stuart (Con, Pudsey)
Baker, Steve (Con, Wycombe)
Baron, Mr John (Con, Basildon & Billericay)
Bingham, Andrew (Con, High Peak)
Binley, Mr Brian (Con, Northampton South)
Blackman, Bob (Con, Harrow East)
Brady, Mr Graham (Con, Altrincham & Sale West)
Bridgen, Andrew (Con, North West Leicestershire)
Brine, Mr Steve (Con, Winchester)
Bruce, Fiona (Con, Congleton)
Byles, Dan (Con, North Warwickshire)
Campbell, Mr Gregory (DUP, East Londonderry)
Campbell, Mr Ronnie (Lab, Blyth Valley)
Carswell, Mr Douglas (Con, Clacton)
Cash, Mr William (Con, Stone)
Chope, Mr Christopher (Con, Christchurch)
Clappison, Mr James (Con, Hertsmere)
Cooper, Rosie (Lab, West Lancashire)
Corbyn, Jeremy (Lab, Islington North)
Crouch, Tracey (Con, Chatham & Aylesford)
Cruddas, Jon (Lab, Dagenham & Rainham)
Cryer, John (Lab, Leyton & Wanstead)
Davidson, Mr Ian (Lab, Glasgow South West)
Davies, David T. C. (Con, Monmouth)
Davies, Philip (Con, Shipley)
Davis, rh Mr David (Con, Haltemprice & Howden)
de Bois, Nick (Con, Enfield North)
Dinenage, Caroline (Con, Gosport)
Dodds, rh Mr Nigel (DUP, Belfast North )
Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M. (DUP, Lagan Valley)
Dorries, Nadine (Con, Mid Bedfordshire)
Drax, Richard (Con, South Dorset)
Engel, Natascha (Lab, North East Derbyshire)
Field, rh Mr Frank (Lab, Birkenhead)
Field, Mr Mark (Con, Cities of London & Westminster)
Fullbrook, Lorraine (Con, South Ribble)
Godsiff, Mr Roger (Lab, Birmingham Hall Green)
Goldsmith, Zac (Con, Richmond Park)
Gray, Mr James (Con, North Wiltshire)
Heaton-Harris, Chris (Con, Daventry)
Henderson, Gordon (Con, Sittingbourne & Sheppey)
Hermon, Lady (Ind, North Down)
Hoey, Kate (Lab, Vauxhall)
Hollingbery, George (Con, Meon Valley)
Holloway, Mr Adam (Con, Gravesham)
Hopkins, Kelvin (Lab, Luton North)
Jackson, Mr Stewart (Con, Peterborough)
Jenkin, Mr Bernard (Con, Harwich & North Essex)
Jones, Mr Marcus (Con, Nuneaton)
Kelly, Chris (Con, Dudley South)
Leadsom, Andrea (Con, South Northamptonshire)
Lefroy, Jeremy (Con, Stafford)
Leigh, Mr Edward (Con, Gainsborough)
Lewis, Dr Julian (Con, New Forest East)
Lucas, Caroline (Green, Brighton Pavilion)
Lumley, Karen (Con, Redditch)
Main, Mrs Anne (Con, St Albans)
McCabe, Steve (Lab, Birmingham Selly Oak)
McCartney, Jason (Con, Colne Valley)
McCartney, Karl (Con, Lincoln)
McCrea, Dr William (DUP, South Antrim)
McDonnell, John (Lab, Hayes & Harlington)
McPartland, Stephen (Con, Stevenage)
Mercer, Patrick (Con, Newark)
Mills, Nigel (Con, Amber Valley)
Mitchell, Austin (Lab, Great Grimsby)
Morris, Anne Marie (Con, Newton Abbot)
Morris, James (Con, Halesowen & Rowley Regis)
Mosley, Stephen (Con, City of Chester)
Murray, Sheryll (Con, South East Cornwall)
Nokes, Caroline (Con, Romsey & Southampton North)
Nuttall, Mr David (Con, Bury North)
Offord, Mr Matthew (Con, Hendon)
Paisley, Ian (DUP, North Antrim)
Parish, Neil (Con, Tiverton & Honiton)
Patel, Priti (Con, Witham)
Percy, Andrew (Con, Brigg & Goole)
Pritchard, Mark (Con, The Wrekin)
Reckless, Mark (Con, Rochester & Strood)
Redwood, rh Mr John (Con, Wokingham)
Rees-Mogg, Jacob (Con, North East Somerset)
Reevell, Simon (Con, Dewsbury)
Robertson, Mr Laurence (Con, Tewkesbury)
Rosindell, Andrew (Con, Romford)
Sanders, Mr Adrian  (LD, Torbay)
Shannon, Jim (DUP, Strangford)
Shepherd, Mr Richard (Con, Aldridge-Brownhills)
Simpson, David (DUP, Upper Bann)
Skinner, Mr Dennis (Lab, Bolsover)
Smith, rh Mr Andrew (Lab, Oxford East)
Smith, Henry (Con, Crawley)
Stevenson, John (Con, Carlisle)
Stewart, Bob (Con, Beckenham)
Stewart, Iain (Con, Milton Keynes South)
Streeter, Mr Gary (Con, South West Devon)
Stringer, Graham  (Lab, Blackley & Broughton)
Stuart, Ms Gisela  (Lab, Birmingham Edgbaston)
Sturdy, Julian (Con, York Outer)
Tapsell, rh Sir Peter (Con, Louth & Horncastle)
Tomlinson, Justin (Con, North Swindon)
Turner, Mr Andrew (Con, Isle of Wight)
Vickers, Martin (Con, Cleethorpes)
Walker, Mr Charles (Con, Broxbourne)
Walker, Mr Robin (Con, Worcester)
Weatherley, Mike (Con, Hove)
Wheeler, Heather (Con, South Derbyshire)
Whittaker, Craig (Con, Calder Valley)
Whittingdale, Mr John (Con, Maldon)
Wilson, Sammy (DUP, East Antrim)
Wollaston, Dr Sarah (Con, Totnes)
Wood, Mike (Con, Batley & Spen)

Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough) and
Mr Philip Hollobone (Con, Kettering)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

We promised an "in or out" referendum - we should keep our promise

There has been a failure of nerve on the part of Liberal Democrats in government. We should trust the people to give the right opinion and go along with the Conservatives calling for an "in-out" referendum in a debate in the House next Monday. (One trusts that the referendum would be an advisory one, rather than binding.) Menzies Campbell made it part of his campaign, and Nick Clegg took it over.

If nothing else, the fact that so many Tories are in favour of coming out should convince most Labour voters to opt for staying in!

Later: Peter Black points out that our 2010 manifesto called for a referendum if "a British Government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU". I plead guilty to not checking the actual wording, before writing the headline. However, I still think that an in-out referendum before the end of this parliament would lance a boil.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Plan A Plus

Nick Thornsby joins me ("The 50p tax rate should stay", second paragraph) in calling for moving swiftly to complete the coalition's promise to take the first £10,000 of earnings out of tax.

Another suggestion for increasing economic activity without chucking a fiscal uey and thus frightening the gnomes of the rating agencies, comes via the October issue of "railwatch", the magazine of the Railway Development Society.

London Midland recently introduced new Bombardier class 172 trains to routes around Birmingham (there's an enthusiast's video here). Railwatch says that this "is the train that should transform the lives of people who are currently shuttled around the railway network in crowded and unsuitable trains [...] Building more class 172s would be a good way to relieve the problems of unsuitable Pacers and overcrowded Sprinters. It could also secure Bombardier's future in Britain." The magazine goes on to advocate Bombardier's being "asked to build about 100 electric power cars for the diesel Voyager and Meridian trains [...] so they use electric power when they are travelling 'under the wires'. And Southern, which already operates Bombardier Electrostars, wants 30 more units to meet an expected increase in passengers."

The magazine then lists a number of other train operating companies which could benefit from modernised or augmented fleets, all provided by Bombardier. In addition, it points to various line re-openings and/or electrifications which could be brought forward.

There must be examples, in other fields, of schemes which involve capital spending mostly within the UK and which could be brought forward by a year or so to improve our sluggish economic performance and put Plan A back on track.

Cost of energy supply

Peter Black states that the agreement reached by Chris Huhne with the energy bosses is not enough. The fact that energy costs are a major contributor to the rise in inflation announced yesterday points up the folly of privatising a natural monopoly, namely the distribution of electricity and gas. For instance, Western Power Distribution recently announced profits of roughly 40% of turnover.

It's a bit rich for Ed Miliband to criticise the coalition government for allowing energy rises to rise, when his party had thirteen years in which to reverse the measures creating the current sellers' market.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Wrexham - breaking records again?

I wasn't looking forward to two days in Wrexham for LibDem conference last weekend, (a) because last time I was there there was a huge snowfall overnight; and (b) because the weather forecast was rather mixed. In the event, Saturday was beautiful and Sunday was pleasant until I got back to Neath, when the heavens opened. I would not be surprised if the temperature on Saturday broke records for the middle of October. People were sitting outside in the garden of the Plas Coch pub in summer attire. (I must put in a word for this hostelry, where we had our pre-conference get-together, situated as it is by the top entrance to Glyndwr University, on whose campus we were meeting. The bar was staffed adequately at all times, and the people were efficient and unfailingly friendly.)

Conference was enjoyable and productive (some reports are at and the only blight was the sporting results. It seems that only Scarlets and, appropriately, Wrexham FC triumphed over foreign opposition - the latter while Kirsty was delivering her keynote speech about 100 metres away from The Racecourse ground. Perhaps the national rugby team should insist on taking Kirsty on their next campaign overseas.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bristol heritage

Hats off to Bristol Culture for web-pages which allow people to investigate the city's past:

This is something which would be invaluable here for tourists and residents alike. It is unlikely that any one authority would have the money to mount such a scheme, but perhaps Swansea and Neath Port Talbot who already share in the West Glamorgan Archive could pool some cash and top it up with private sponsorship? Both centres have great pioneering industrial heritage to show - and Neath can boast the Romans, too.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Special tax treatment for Goldman Sachs

No doubt Labour will attack the coalition government over the chief taxman's decision to let Goldman Sachs off around millions of pounds in interest on delayed national insurance payments. It is not clear from the Independent's report, but it was in December last year that Dave Hartnett, permanent secretary for tax at HM Revenue & Customs, waived the interest, estimated at £20m. However, there is more detail in the Private Eye expose ("Dave reckoning?", Eye no. 1299) quoted by the Indy. The affair goes back to the start of the Labour government and should have been settled in respect of Goldman Sachs as far back as 2005.

Starting in 1997/98, 22 firms had instituted a scheme to avoid paying national insurance on bankers' bonuses. By 2005, this had been judged to be illegal, and 21 firms had coughed up. Goldman had been allowed to wriggle for another five years. The Eye says: "By the time the bank lost the technical point in a tax tribunal last year, it should have received a national insurance bill for more than £23m plus interest going back 12 years and approaching the same amount again." But there was to be no penalty for having resisted for five more years.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

In which I agree with Adrian Hamilton - twice.

It is a rare day.

Not so much a murder plot as a screenplay

It is, for all the reasons Hamilton gives, incredible that the Iranian government should sponsor an assassination attempt on the ambassador of a fellow-Islamic nation, and a powerful one at that. That is not to say that some ultra-Shi'ite group wouldn't strike at the leading supporter of Sunni Islam. Nor is there one controlling mind in Iran. It is administered less by a government than a collision of interest groups. Nevertheless, it is more likely that the plot, if it existed, is a provocative act by some third party.

Come on, let's hear it for the little guy

The refusal of the Slovak parliament to ratify the initial EU support package for Greece at the first time of asking may have had more to do with domestic politics (the departing PM had made it a vote of confidence), but there was a point of principle too. Slovakia is a new member of the EU and was in no way a party to the finagling which brought Greece into the euro.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Interesting developments at the top of the civil service

There is to be a three-way split following the departure of the current cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, Sir Gus O'Donnell. This raises questions about lines of responsibility and the possibility of "turf wars" which I thought might be investigated at Deputy PM's Question Time in the Commons yesterday, but not one MP raised the subject. Even the quality press has been caught out. The Guardian report comes nearest to speculation of the ones I've seen.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Neath and Port Talbot Ramblers

I have recently received the October to March programme of the Neath & Port Talbot Ramblers Association. Non-members are welcome to join the group on two or three walks before deciding whether to join the Ramblers' Association, though there is advice that people should be suitably shod and clad, and provide their own necessary food and drink.

Walks take place on most Sundays, starting at 9:30. The meeting point is the Prince Of Wales Drive car park, by Neath Civic Centre.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Mortgage designed to encourage energy-saving

The Ecology Building Society has launched a discount scheme which rewards energy efficiency and carbon saving measures. C-Change Retrofit offers 0.25% off its standard variable rate for each grade improvement made in either the energy effiiciency or environmental impact rating once works are completed - on the whole mortgage, for the full duration of the loan.

This is a departure for EBS. They say: "for the first time, we're extending our mortgage range specifically to support people who own ordinary properties. With our homes using three times as much energy as our cars - contributing over 27% of our [carbon dioxide] emissions in the process - we feel it's essential to help everyone make their home as eco-friendly as possible. We hope that adding a cheaper mortgage to the prospect of lower energy bills and better air quality will provide a tangible incentive for people to live more sustainably."

The EBS autumn newsletter also includes some helpful links to other organisations with an interest in retrofit. (Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs is an advocate)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Balconiers' 40th Anniversary Celebration

The St Helen's Balconiers were founded in August 1972 as a result of a then county record hard-hitting opening partnership of 330 by Alan Jones and Roy Fredericks during the match against Northamptonshire at St Helen's. In the immortal words: I was there.

Since that day, the Balconiers have committed themselves to maintaining Glamorgan's playing matches away from Cardiff, in the face of great commercial pressure. That means such as Colwyn Bay, as well as Swansea. (I wonder if we'll ever see county cricket back at the Gnoll, though.)  The County has now recognised their efforts and, in connection with their drive to increase the membership of Glamorgan Cricket in west, north and mid-Wales, as well as celebrating the anniversary, have agreed to pay for Balconiers' membership in their 2012 membership package.

There is a special "Price Buster" membership of £99 (offer expires 31st October), details on To contact the Balconiers' Chairman, email john.balconiers at

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Port Talbot railway station

Network Rail's proposals for rebuilding the station have been formally submitted and are available to view as planning application P2010/0865 on the council's website. They will no doubt come before the planning committee before the end of next month.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Human Rights Act

Peter Black has beaten me to commenting on Theresa May's desire to take the Human Rights Act 1998 off the UK statute book. However, I would just like to emphasise that if the HRA were still in place, we would still be bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. Repeal of the HRA would mean a return to the situation where the aggrieved had to take their case to Strasbourg instead of having it settled here. The HRA enabled complainants to cut their costs and cut the time spent in waiting for a decision (there is currently a huge backlog in Strasbourg). In view of Lord Carlile's assessment of European Court of Human Rights judges, the quality of decision-making is probably better, too.

We must not let a few hard (and possibly apocryphal) cases, such as Theresa May cited in her speech today, deprive justice to the majority of deserving cases.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The cops of the world are now the vigilantes of the world

James Stewart has morphed into Clint Eastwood, Destry into Dirty Harry.

When the news came through that Osama bin Laden had been tracked down and assassinated, I admit to having felt relief (though no triumphalism), while regretting that, because of the reported fire-fight, it had not been possible to capture him alive. That mood shaded into disgust as the truth was gradually revealed, that Osama had been shot in his bed. Since that incident, more ostensible terrorists have been killed, more often than not by armed drones, as in the recent assassination of Anwar al-Awlaqi.

The United States, even though she has long claimed extra-territorial rights and stood aloof from most international tribunals, used to abide by the rule of law as she saw it. Punishment came after conviction, not before. Now that even a relatively liberal president can order a remotely-controlled (with all the dangers of "collateral damage" which this implies) missile attack in a nation with which the US is not at war on a man who has not even been brought before a court, we should all be worried.

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