Thursday, 31 May 2018

The two conservative parties are the enemies of railway improvement

Railway  campaigner Christian Wolmar has been a Labour supporter since his twenties in 1973. Yet in 1999, he was moved to write an article for the Independent which strongly criticised the Labour government for being the "motorists' friend".

while rail has been talked up, it has endured a complete policy vacuum. In its first two-and-a-half years in power, Labour has done nothing to improve the railways. The subsidy from central government to the railways has been allowed to fall dramatically, in line with the Tories' spending plans [...] Prescott has made a lot of noise about getting people out of their cars and on to public transport, but the policy has not been backed by any firm promises or any vision about the future of the railways.

One recalls that Blair-Brown repeatedly kicked Welsh electrification into touch and the go-ahead was not given until Liberal Democrats took part in government in 2010 - only to see the Conservatives abandoning electrification west of Cardiff once they were in government on their own.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Language imports and exports

It is a perpetual complaint that Americanisms are intruding too much into the English used in its native land. It is a feeling I share, especially when they replace good English terms and also lose their original sense.

For instance, "goose-bumps" has completely replaced the "goose-pimples" of my youth. We have lost the connection between the appearance of a newly-plucked goose and that of the human skin as a result of cold or fright. Take also "tad", which derives from "tadpole", an insignificant thing, but an abbreviation we have not used in Britain for a long time. I still prefer "a touch" (not now, madam, later!). How many people know that a "shoo-in" is an exact equivalent of our "walk-over"? Followers of racing will know this metaphor.

Some near-equivalents are not that bad. "Step up to the plate" from baseball conveys rather more immediacy and sense of responsibility than "come to the crease" (cricket). "Come up to scratch" (prizefighting) has diverged in meaning over the years.

It is not all one-way, either. Alistair Cooke pointed out in a Letter from America on the subject that North America adopted "strike" in the sense of withdrawal of labour from the British. I also note (on the basis of watching too many US TV drama imports) that "back to square one" is part of American English. The exact origin of this phrase is disputed (my hunch is that it results from a conflation of the explanations listed here) but there is little doubt that we used it before it crossed the Atlantic.

English terms, of UK or American flavour, have been exported all over the world, as one might expect from a language of dominance. Their appearance in foreign-language TV (I know, I watch too much) can still surprise, though. In the Belgian Rough Justice (based on the Inspecteur Liese Meerhout series of books by Toni Coppers) phrases such as "stop and search" pop up. And Liese Meerhout prefers the Californian "whatever" to a Gallic shrug.

I will wager that French speakers in Belgium do not regularly use Dutch/Flemish terms in everyday speech. The French whether at home or abroad are even more sensitive to imported words, especially of the dreaded Anglo-Saxon variety - though it seems that younger people are more objective. One notes that president Macron recently gave an interview in English in the US, something his predecessors did at their peril. We could, however, benefit from introducing a French usage. Sondage is a more accurate description of the type of opinion survey which infests our media and is too loosely described as a "poll". We have almost lost the meaning of "poll" as a real head-count at an election and it would be good to see "opinion soundings" rather than "opinion polls".

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Terrorism in Liège

Just when life on the streets in Belgium seemed to be approaching normality - the official terror threat level had been reduced at the turn of the year - a recently released convict killed two policewomen, and a student, shot other officers and terrorised a school.

Two things struck me as the reports came from the BBC. Firstly, that the gunman used the law officers' own weapon or weapons in his spree. It is an argument against routinely arming our own police. In the United States, the incidence of officers being killed by their own weapons has been as high as 9% (in 2010), though to be fair it has diminished considerably since as this table shows.

Secondly, the perpetrator was clearly radicalised while in gaol, not in a mosque or via social media. While the latter is clearly a major factor in turning the heads of younger people, the former must be taken more seriously in its effect of potentiating those already inclined to violence. This seems to be a common feature across Europe, including this island.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Double standards on UK residence rights

It looked for a short while as if the campaign to give Afghan interpreters sanctuary from reprisals in their own country was beginning to succeed. Then it transpired that the government has not made it any easier for these brave people to get here and settle.

At about the same time, Inga Lockington, who has given this country at least a score years of public service, revealed that she had given over a thousand pounds in order to apply to be safe from expulsion to her native Denmark and still has failed. (Time was when Danes automatically gained British status by marrying here.) As Mrs Lockington pointed out, she was able to afford the fees; what has happened to other continental European wives who could not?

All these people committed the sin of not being rich enough. As iNews reports:

For the discerning tycoons who made their fortunes abroad, Britain is still very much open for business. Foreign investor guidance published this year bends over backwards to welcome immigrants who have a spare £2m to invest in the UK. The Home Office has become so accommodating to oligarchs that one Russian immigration consultancy based in London now proudly advertises a personal service where “Home Office employees come to our office to take fingerprints and photos”. The company claims that a visa is granted in “99 per cent of cases, within 3 days”.

It should be stressed that the source of the wealth is clearly not a bar to entry.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Anne V Coates

It is a sad reflection of current broadcasting standards in this country that the passing of one of the great British contributors to motion pictures was relatively unremarked. Anne V Coates died on 8th May. There was a short acknowledgement on Radio 4's  Film Programme which followed two days later, but one would have thought that Last Word would have made room for a longer tribute. However, the lady herself did contribute to a Front Row edition after she received an honorary Oscar in 2016 and this programme is available for download.

Fortunately, print journals, from America's Variety to our own Guardian, have not been so short-sighted.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Straw bale building

If I were younger and handier, I would be heading for the centre of Gower on 10th August. The Down to Earth roundhouse at Cilibion near Llanrhidian is the venue for the Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018. More details here.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Know your EP

The European Parliament Information Office in the United Kingdom has produced this useful guide to the UK's roster of MEPs. (Hands up those who know how many MEPs represent Wales and who they are!)

Channel 4 has also started a "fly on the wall" series about the daily work of those MEPs. It is a pity that this project was not started six years ago when the key rôles played by Liberal Democrats (notably by Sharon Bowles) in the development of policy would have been on display. Even three years ago, before the EU referendum, would have made more of the electorate better informed.

The World Trade Organisation relies too much on international goodwill

As Tahir Maher points out in Liberal Democrat Voice, "decision making in the WTO is still based on consensus diplomacy by 160 members with different outlook and views working on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is decided." As a result,

Over the last decade, numerous stalled negotiations have beset WTO credibility. [...] An ineffectual WTO will hurt everyone, but the most significant impact will be felt by the poor. In 2010 the Millennium Development Goals achieved one of its objectives, and that was to cut extreme poverty by half. Achieving this objective was aided by economic growth in poorer countries that took advantage of low tariffs and open markets where WTO played an essential role in overseeing trade rules are appropriately negotiated, implemented and monitored. A possible trade war and a weak WTO will result in wealthier countries uplifting their tariffs and introducing other protective measures. The current playing field, as it were, would be ineffective, and the strong countries would push poorer countries to accept harsher trade deals.

The disputes procedure is also hamstrung, with the result that President Trump's recent imposition of tariffs on "national security" grounds has practically passed unpunished. China has a case.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

It is not enough to be anti-Labour

Andrew RT Davies, in the wake of the Welsh Conservatives spring conference, has iterated his belief in a Plaid-Conservative pact to oust Labour from Cardiff Bay. In purely policy terms, this is bizarre. How would a socialist, EU-friendly, party agree on a positive agenda with a market-driven, isolationist outfit? The Welsh Conservatives 2016 manifesto was rather airy-fairy according to this BBC analysis, but there was enough to suggest that they would have by-passed local authorities in education and introduced competition into the NHS in Wales, surely anathema to Plaid.

The two parties would have no positive message to put forward but instead rely on public resentment against a Labour government which has been in power too long. Short of a massive sex or corruption scandal, I cannot see traditional voting patterns being upset to the extent that an "anyone but Labour" platform would succeed.  There will be a stronger pair of negative slogans threatening the two parties: "Vote Plaid, get a Tory government" and "Vote Conservative, get a nationalist".

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Swords into ploughshares, or ordnance into self-build

Gravenhill is a large-scale scheme enabling self-build homes on the site of what was, if I recall correctly, the former headquarters of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. There was also a REME workshop which I recall my father being called away to on courses during his service career.

The CAT magazine Clean Slate in which I first read about the project claims it as the largest-ever self-build scheme in the UK. The early self-builders of Crawley New Town may dispute that, but Gravenhill is certainly impressive.

It could be a model for the many disused industrial sites in South Wales.

Monday, 21 May 2018

A very Russell T Davies scandal

Swansea's own Russell T Davies has done gaily for the Thorpe scandal what Cardiff's Andrew Davies did heterosexually for Jane Austen. Russell T was interviewed for the Sunday Supplement*, when
he confessed to playing up the Welsh connections - which are nevertheless fascinating. He also said that he had given a preview of the whole three-part series to Norman Scott who had pronounced himself satisfied with the result. Only later did the Daily Mail publish a piece in which Scott was said to have complained about the way he was portrayed.

Personally, the only characterisation I did find convincing was Ben Whishaw's Norman Scott. Hugh Grant was just Hugh Grant with a deeper voice than usual and surely Leo Abse was higher-pitched and sounded slightly posher than  played him? As I recall Lord Arran he was more Benjamin Whitrow than . With so many actors and a writer having to rely on court transcripts, a novelisation and newsreel footage for their characterisation, it was good to read at least one recollection of one "who was there", Lord Thomas of Gresford.

I felt for the son of Thorpe and Caroline Allpass who, though he has managed to keep out of the public eye, must suffer every time there is a reminder of his mother's tragic death and the scandal which will ever be associated with the name of his father.

In the course of this Vaughan Roderick matter-of-factly came out. The programme was also notable for an interview with Peter Tatchell on the illiberal "Section 28"  ("Clause 2B" in Scotland) introduced by Mrs Thatcher which ramped up discrimination and violence against homosexuals. There was also a telling contribution from Rodney Berman in the papers review.   

You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone

The European Parliament think tank has been issuing, in advance of next year's EP elections, a series of articles about the benefits to the ordinary voter of EU membership. A recent one caught my eye, bearing as it does on small farmers in Wales, a significant sector of the economy. A pdf explains Direct Payments to Farmers.

More than three quarters of farm holdings in the EU are small - below 10 ha - with the very large majority of those below 5 ha. In order to address the specific situation of these farms, member states can apply the small farmers scheme (SFS), a simplified direct payment scheme granting a one-off payment to farmers who choose to participate. The maximum level of the payment is decided at the national level, but in any case may not exceed €1,250. The small farmers scheme includes simplified administrative procedures, and participating farmers are exempt from greening and cross-compliance sanctions and controls. The scheme is applied in 15 EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Slovenia.

Note that the UK has chosen not to participate. It is quite happy to take the basic payments for greening, payments which are said to favour such people as the Duke of Westminster and Paul Dacre, Brexiteer editor of the Daily Mail, disproportionately. £1,000 may not be  a lot, but cutting administrative procedures was one of the reasons cited by Welsh farmers who voted Leave in 2016.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Names of the "royal wedding peers" have emerged

The Guardian has published the names of the peers whom Theresa May has appointed in the midst of the brouhaha about a certain love match in Windsor. The Liberal Democrats have already protested this apparent reverse spin and have wisely not taken up the single peerage which was on offer. These additional appointments push the Lords roster towards the 800 mark at a time when the Conservatives are still intent on reducing the elected membership in the Commons by fifty.

One name leaps out as that of a Brexit fanatic: Sir Peter Lilley. Of the other ex-MPs, Sir Edward Garnier was a declared Remainer, Sir Eric Pickles a Eurosceptic, Sir John Randall not known but as a supporter of David Cameron probably a Remainer, Sir Alan Haselhurst a Remainer and Sir Andrew Tyrie a Remainer. So Remainers just out-weigh Leavers; perhaps Mrs May was attempting to slip the appointments past the Brexiteers, who will no doubt have been absorbed by all things English royal family over the last few days. They would be consoled by a DUP appointment, that of William McCrea who has been criticised in the past for being soft on unionist paramilitaries.

The three Labour appointees repay service to the party but include one person accused of tolerating anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn.

The appointment of Sir Andrew should be welcomed. His was a rare voice of reason over financial matters on the Conservative benches and in my opinion retired too soon from the Commons. Perhaps he was persuaded to go, with the promise of a barony as a sweetener, by an administration whose budgets he frequently criticised from his position as chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.

Diana Barran, as recently retired CEO of SafeLives, which seeks to end domestic abuse, is another worthy appointment as is that of Catherine Meyer, the founder of Action Against Abduction. One notes that Sir John Randall is Vice-Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation, so liberal causes are well represented.

The fact remains that the House of Lords is now far too large because the system of appointments has been misused by successive governments. It could all have been so different if the Lords Reform Bill had been allowed to proceed in 2012. It received overwhelming support at Second Reading, including a majority of Conservative MPs, and all that was needed was agreement to a programme motion to prevent the Bill being talked out by the reactionaries (on either side of the House!). However, the then leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband opposed this and would not discuss any alternative to Nick Clegg's proposed timetable. It is typical of Labour hypocrisy that they are now spreading the story that it was the Conservatives who blocked Lords reform.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Government maintains its iron control over MPs

Once again, the plight of the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill sponsored by Afzal Khan MP, which cannot be enacted because the government will not move the necessary money resolution, was highlighted at business questions. The shadow leader of the House made the point that Bills much lower down the pecking order had received their money resolutions while the Afzal Bill, only the ninth to be brought forward, was still stalled. The leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, insisted that the government looked at Bills on a case-by-case basis. They want to stall it until the final Boundary Commission report is published. However, the Boundary Commission had been instructed to work on the basis of a reduced House of 600 MPs, while the Afzal Bill would fix the number at 650.

The point was made in a debate on the matter last week, and reinforced by two Conservative MPs,  including the normally ultra Christopher Chope, that if the government did not like the Bill, it should have turned out to oppose it in democratic debate rather than resort to this underhand use of an arcane parliamentary mechanism.

This sort of thing is not raised on the doorsteps, but it points to the perpetual drive by government to take power to itself and therefore the need for parliament - even in the unlikely form of the House of Lords on occasions - to insist on its democratic rights.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

We should boycott Israel's Eurovision Song Show, says prominent Lib Dem

Paul Walter wrote in Liberal Democrat Voice of an enjoyable experience in Lisbon at the Eurovision Song Contest final. But he concluded:

This was a “bucket list” trip for me. A one-off. Any temptation to become an annual Eurovision camp follower was cut short with the prospect of a 2019 contest in Israel.
From a musical point of view, Israel deserved to win last Saturday. The scoring system is, nowadays, fairly balanced between national juries and the vote of viewers throughout the 42 participating countries. So, they won fair and square.
On Sunday I was resolved to resist any 2019 Eurovision trip to Israel. While I might one day tour Palestine, Israel and Jordan as a triplet itinerary, visiting specifically Israel for Eurovision would feel like condoning injustice.
Then came Monday’s events – described by the High commissioner of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, as “outrageous human rights violations”. In a further tweet, @UNHumanRights condemned “the appalling, deadly violence in #Gaza (on 14th May) during which 58 Palestinians were killed and almost 1,360 demonstrators were injured with live ammunition by Israeli security forces.” Yet another @UNHumanRights tweet said “The rules on the use of force under int’l law have been repeated many times but appear to be ignored again and again. It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press, first responders, bystanders, & at almost any point up to 700m from the fence.”
I was struck by the words of American Rabbi, Rabbi Latz who said:
I am a rabbi. I love Israel. I condemn without reservation the bloodshed in #Gaza. Not so hard. You can challenge the Israeli government’s policies without being anti-Semitic.
Audrey Bruner of Jewish Voice for Peace said:
As a Jew, I have a responsibility to speak out publicly when violence is committed in my name.
This is a horrifying day to be a Jew. We dishonor our ancestors who yearned to be free for generations when our freedom comes at the expense of another people. If we are to be free, the Palestinian people must be free as well. Those who deny their freedom deny ours as well.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb commented:
I am shaken to the core that Israeli military forces are continuing to shoot unarmed men, women & children engaged in nonviolent protest. We cannot be silent. The killing/maiming of Palestinians seeking their human rights must stop.
It’s a long way away, but I think it would be unconscionable for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to hold the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel, after the events of Monday.
If the EBU somehow do hold the contest in Israel (which would entail considerable security and arena capacity issues, apart from anything else) then the UK should boycott it. If we participate, it will be condoning the “outrageous human rights violations” on Monday.
OK, there is blame on both sides and the events should be properly investigated, but to go ahead with planning a cheery family event in Israel next May, and somehow pretend things are normal, would be ludicrous and unethical.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Dorothy Wadham née Petre

Today is the 400th anniversary of the death of the first woman to found an Oxbridge college. There is a slight personal connection in that my mother's father, a master at Monmouth School, graduated from Wadham as did the senior English master at Oldershaw Grammar when I was there.

Margot Kidder

The Canadian-born (what would US TV and film do without a ready supply of talent from across the border?) actress died last Sunday. It is sad to think that, if her bipolar disorder had been diagnosed earlier, she would have had a more rewarding career, apart from the rôle for which she has always been associated. She was the perfect Lois Lane, tough, independent-minded but feminine. The parts she had to accept after Superman in order to pay the rent were unworthy of her, including Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, of which she is quoted as saying:

A noble attempt at saying something about the nuclear proliferation on the planet through Superman. Unfortunately the script was just dreadful. I mean there's no two ways about it, that script was terrible. And there's that old saying in Hollywood - you can make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script. And I don't think it had a chance from the get-go.

At least she did manage to keep working in spite of a breakdown and a bad accident, and I cherish the memory of catching her in one of the many Mary Higgins Clark TV adaptations in which she played the secret other love of the heroine's late father. Typically, she was independent (an artist), feisty and with a wry sense of humour.

That was clearly what she was like away from the screen. According to her IMDB bio (which is worth reading in full), she made the great sacrifice of becoming a US citizen in order to vote against George W Bush because of his promotion of the Iraq invasion. It seems inevitable that she would support the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Natural cycles

2018 so far has been a good year for yellow wild-flowers. A glut of dandelions and a good show of lesser celandines have been followed by buttercups and kingcups. When this has happened before, blackbirds have also thrived. The same appears to be happening this spring: blackbirds are everywhere. It is unlikely that there is any direct connection between the two flourishings, but perhaps the populations are operating on a parallel cycle.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Excuses, excuses

BBC reports Carlos Carvalhal as saying that:

the results under his predecessor Paul Clement were the cause for Swansea's relegation.
"I think the few points we did in the first 20 games - just 13 - made it difficult to recover and achieve a better position," Carvalhal added.
This is, to use a technical sporting term, bollocks. Swansea City were, at the time of his appointment one of half-a-dozen teams in danger of relegation and were not reckoned to be favourites for the drop. Since then, their rivals have pulled away with a combination of determination on the field and tactical planning by their managers. To take a couple of comparative results, Swansea lost to Chelsea at home, whereas Huddersfield held them to a draw at Stamford Bridge; Huddersfield held Manchester City to a draw at the Etihad, after Swans were tanked 5-0 there. Southampton beat Bournemouth 2-1; Swansea lost 1-0 when they should have at least have gleaned a draw against a team which had nothing to play for at the time. I could quote several other examples.

The truth is that Carvalhal scores highly on enthusiasm and media-friendliness, but low on tactical nous and team selection. The loss to Brighton (where Huddersfield drew 1-1) is a prime example. Carvalhal  turned a narrow deficit into a rout by poor half-time substitutions.

The owners, as detailed in that BBC report, have accepted part of the blame for Swans' relegation. It is surprising that Carvalhal cherishes any hope that his contract may be renewed. The owners have nothing to lose by taking their time in selecting the right man to take Swansea City forward. It would be great to see the Swans promoted again playing the attractive passing football which they plied under Martinez and Rodgers, but they must at least appoint someone with man-management skills and a tactical brain.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Congratulations, Southampton

Saints snapped up the (to my mind) unjustifiably discarded Stoke manager Mark Hughes, and turned their season round, just as he had turned the Wales international side round in his first managerial appointment. He restored belief, and method, to a team which had seemed resigned to the Premier League trapdoor. As the two teams' comparative results in April stacked up, there was an inevitability about the result of the crucial clash at the Liberty. Hughes may well drive Southampton on to a top ten finish next season.

What of Swansea? Lifetime fan, writer and cultural historian Peter Stead, on Radio Wales, was justifiably in despair at what has happened to the team since the great days of Barca-on-the-Bay. However, he goes too far in dismissing all the players as poor. There are several who would grace any Premier League side (and probably will in 2018/19). There are several other good players who could be very good under the right management but one must admit have been "marking it" since signing for the Swans. It is clear, though, that there have been too many replacements worse than the men sold.

Fabianski has been outstanding, on and off the pitch. Mawson was a great capture and is certainly a better central defender now than the transferred Ashley Williams has become at Goodison Park. Without those two, Swans could well have been down weeks before Stoke. The Ayew brothers and Abraham have shown that they can score goals given the right sort of service. Welsh junior internationals Connor Roberts and Daniel James offered a glimpse of the future. (How many of these will we hang on to in the Championship?)

What could have been was briefly on show in the Cup match and replay against Notts County, an up--and-coming side from the lower divisions. It is remarkable that the goals scored in just that one fixture were a third of Swansea's total haul in the whole Premier League season up until today's matches. The key factor was that County ceded control of midfield to Swansea, enabling City to play the sort of passing football reminiscent of Martinez' and Rodgers' times - tantalisingly, for one day only. If Swans had the players to contest the midfield day in and day out at Premier League level, players of the quality of Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson who were sold by City, things might have been different.

The club must use the Premier League "parachute payment" well, ploughing it into team development, not for the short-term purchase of the offerings of the agents on whom Swans became too dependent - or worse still, passing it on to the owners. The next manager, too, must be committed to providing a firm basis for the future.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Grammar Schools - consequentials?

Layla Moran, for many the Liberal Democrats' leader in waiting, has made the correct response to Mrs May's latest move to boost grammar schools in England:

We now know what we suspected: Justine Greening was moved on to make way for a lap-dog for Theresa May’s pet projects. Grammar schools are the wrong answer to the wrong question. This money should be spent on local schools so that every young person across the country can get the education they need to prepare for the future. The Government do not have the support for these proposals in their own party, never mind the country. They simply must listen to teachers and parents and stop wasting money on grammar school expansions.

Knowing government sleight-of-hand, this is unlikely to be new money. One wonders which budget has been raided to provide it. So it is unlikely to trigger any consequential grant to Wales, which has set its face against the tripartite system anyway.

There is a social consequential, though. These new moves are likely to increase the number of young people who see themselves as part of an underclass. I predict a rise in crime which could affect Wales as well as England.

Congratulations to Huddersfield Town

on fighting to the end, successfully, to keep their place in the Premier League. The owner should be praised for keeping faith with David Wagner, the coach who brought the team up from the Championship.

One wonders if Swansea City would have shipped so many goals against Liverpool, Brighton and Manchester City, thus ruining their goal difference, if Paul Clement had remained in charge.

Perhaps the time has come for John Hartson to be granted the fulfilment of his long-held ambition to manage his home town club. It may have seemed a risky move when Swans were in mid-table in the Premier League, but surely it is not so chancy for a Championship side.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

No relief on Valleys rails

Today is Europe Day, VE Day and Sir Kyffin Williams' centenary. Since I seem to have used up my weekly quota of EU posts yesterday, and cannot usefully comment on the other two, I shall address something more fundamental.

The Western Mail has reported that the favoured rolling-stock for the Valleys Metro scheme has no provision for toilets. Moreover, the current operators are intending to lock toilets rather than improve their facilities for those with disabilities. The matter was brought up by Plaid's Adam Price in the Assembly:

Adam Price: Cabinet Secretary, this month's edition of Modern Railways magazine, which I know is required reading material for all Assembly Members, reported that future Valleys lines trains will no longer offer toilets on board for passengers. I'd like you to confirm whether or not this is the case. But, before you do that, I'd like to point out that there are two aspects to this question, really.

In the short-term, it's suggested that, in order to avoid failing accessibility requirements and disability legislation, instead of proactively upgrading the existing Pacer stock to comply with the persons of reduced mobility specifications, the Welsh Government has opted to lock the toilets instead. Now, you've denied that, but I'd like you to set out in detail how you plan to make the Pacer trains compliant with the legislation.

The second element, looking to the future, is that it's widely believed that light rail trains, which do not normally include toilets, are being considered for some of the Valleys lines as part of the development of the south Wales metro. Can you confirm that it's the bidding companies that will decide whether or not toilets will be provided on board these new trains? As toilets take up significant space, which impacts on revenues, it doesn't take an expert, perhaps, to guess what their recommendations may be.

Ken Skates: Can assure the Member that doors will not be locked on trains to get around regulations that require operators to provide facilities for people of limited mobility. The bidders in the procurement exercise have been challenged with demonstrating how they will ensure that rolling stock complies with the regulations that are coming into force shortly, and it will require them to do that without the locking of any doors whatsoever. Equally, as part of the procurement exercise, we undertook a number of consultations with passengers and the wider public to ascertain exactly what it was that people prioritised when they were considering whether or not to use railways. Public transport and the quality of rolling stock were amongst the most important and significant factors in determining whether to use the train or their own private car. And so, as a consequence, this has become one of the primary areas of concern during the procurement process. We've required the bidders to demonstrate how they will ensure that there are toilet facilities on board trains.

My correspondent in his covering email reckoned in almost so many words that either the Minister did not know what was going on, or he believed in unicorns.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Buttons missing from the money laundering legislation

Many people, including notably the International Consortium of Investigate Journalists, who exposed the "Panama papers", have welcomed the government's U-turn on an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, requiring overseas territories to publish registers of who owns shell companies registered there. However, it was not a complete 180 degree shift, as Private Eye #1469 points out:

The cross-party move, promoted by Labour's Margaret Hodge and Tory Andrew Mitchell, conspicuously excludes Britain's tax havens closer to home - the crown dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. 

The Eye suggests that Andrew Mitchell has a conflict of interest in that he is retained by EY*, which promotes VAT avoidance schemes using the IoM.

* The financial services company which grew out of the merger of accountancy firms Ernst & Whinney and Arthur Young & Co.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Brexit myth: Switzerland's border

The negative Euromyths (straight bananas etc.) seem to have been replaced in the public prints by more positive Brexit myths. One which has recently been promoted is that Switzerland is a model for Northern Ireland.  Denis MacShane explains in the New European:

The latest myth to be peddled is that Switzerland has little or no regulatory controls on goods that travel between the Alpine nation and its neighbours.
Brexit propagandists try to deny that [...] re-partitioning of Ireland will be a problem. One way in which they have tried to achieve this is by implying that Switzerland’s borders with the EU are virtually non-existent, as Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP, suggested on Newsnight recently.
He even had the cheek to write, in an article for the Sun: “I cross the EU’s border with Switzerland every month. Not that I’d notice if I didn’t know it was there. Most of the crossings between the EU and its neighbour are unmanned. Some are invisible.”

Of course there are many small paths and narrow rural roads that cross into Switzerland – like those that bisect other frontiers in Europe – which do not have physical check points. And, as part of the EU’s Schengen area (unlike the UK), there is no need for passport checks. But Swiss customs laws remain in force, all along the Swiss frontier. The border is still there, in a very meaningful sense. The absence, in some remote spots, of physical check points does not constitute a “frictionless” frontier. And the border posts on main roads are far from invisible.
When I worked in Geneva, before becoming an MP, I lived 100 metres from the French-Swiss border post on a minor road between the French Jura region and the Geneva canton. Border posts on both sides were staffed all day and all night. Of course, most cars were waved through, especially those with local number plates. But some were stopped and checked in case they broke Swiss law and brought in more meat, poultry or alcohol than permitted.

MacShane may be an ex-alcoholic expenses trougher but as a former Europe minister he knows his stuff. However, if you do not believe him, believe the official government advice on exporting from the UK (we are still in the EU) to Switzerland:

All imported goods and services must be cleared with customs.

Kate Hoey on the European community and poorer countries

The member for London Vauxhall often speaks from ignorant prejudice on matters European, but at least on the occasion of last Thursday's debate on Customs and the Border, she had some evidence on her side. Admittedly, the evidence was from almost fifty years ago, but it bears examination. She began by quoting Joan Lestor from 1971:

“The political significance of British entry into Europe will have far-reaching effects upon the third world, the developing world.
Because of the protectionist policies of E.E.C. we shall not close the narrow channels between the rich and poor nations but rather widen them. Much has been said about the ability of E.E.C. to increase assistance to the developing world and to guarantee that the Community will continue to be outward looking in the future.
I cannot understand—and nobody has explained this to me from either side of the House—how an organisation like E.E.C., which everybody agrees is based on a protective tariff wall to which this country must agree as part of the price of entry and which will mean erecting a fresh tariff barrier against helping other parts of the world, can be said to be outward-looking. I do not believe the interests of the E.E.C. are identical with the interests of the smaller, developing and weak nations of the world.”—[Official Report, 21 October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 954.]
I will take Members back a little further to 1962—I genuinely do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was here then—and the words of Clement Attlee:
“I think that integration with Europe is a step backward. By all means let us get the greatest possible agreement between the various continents, but I am afraid that if we join the Common Market we shall be joining not an outward-looking organisation, but an inward-looking organisation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 November 1962; Vol. 244, c. 428.]
All these years later, some things have changed, but the European Union is still an inward-looking organisation. Do we really want our future arrangements to be tied to that?

I would contend that, so far from remaining inward-looking, the EU is now more conscious than ever of its responsibilities on the world stage. Although at first sight, the UK's contribution to overseas development aid is slightly more generous (£13.4bn in 2016 as opposed to EU institutions' £12bn), the EU also has a scheme (the General Scheme of Preferences or GSP) which grants tariff-free or reduced tariff access to the EU market to countries of lower-middle-income and below. In 2016-17, 23 countries benefited from reduced tariffs and a further 49 from duty-free access.

Moreover, Ms Hoey should be careful who she shares a Brexit bed with. She will find that there is a significant number of fellow-Leavers who also want to do away with the UK's commitment to a share of  our GDP to international development.

This is giving the British people back control?

Peter Black last week drew attention to the shameful vote of the House of Commons to keep secret Home Office internal documents which would have informed the debate about depriving pre-Callaghan legal immigrants of their rights.

On the same day, Valerie Vaz, the opposition's speaker on parliamentary business, repeated her attack on Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom's manoeuvres to suppress discussion of Statutory Instruments* (secondary legislation) and delay implementation of primary legislation:

many people are upset about what the Leader of the House said last week about the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. At business questions, she accused the Opposition of being “tardy” in making a request for the debate on the statutory instrument
“having prayed against the SI one month after it was laid.”
In reality, however, it was prayed against well within time. She also wrongly claimed that it had been
“too late to schedule a debate within the praying period without changing last week’s business”.—[Official Report, 26 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 1030.]
But she and I both know that we have done that many times, and sometimes I have been monosyllabic in agreeing with the change of business.
At Justice questions last week the Lord Chancellor said that the Government are waiting for information from the Labour party. Will the Leader of the House please correct the record and say that the Opposition had prayed against the regulations, and that there was nothing else that we needed to do? They were prayed against on 22 March, and the praying period ended on 20 April. The Opposition were waiting for action from the Government. She will know that time stops on a statutory instrument when the House is not sitting for more than four days, so perhaps there was some confusion about that. Will the Leader of the House please correct the record and say that that had nothing to do with the Opposition?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) has prayed against the Immigration (Guidance on Detention of Vulnerable Persons) Regulations 2018, No. 410, and the Detention Centre (Amendment) Rules 2018, No. 411. When will that debate be scheduled? The statutory instruments were laid two days before the Easter recess.
It seems that the Government are playing KerPlunk with our money resolutions, pulling out Bills at will—[Interruption.] Hon. Members remember it! The Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill has got its money resolution, but there is nothing about the Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill, which was ahead of that Bill. When will we have a money resolution on the boundaries Bill?
I thank the Leader of the House for her letter on the statutory instrument tracker. She has made good progress on that, but the Hansard Society got in touch with me and said that it took them about seven years to get a unique statutory instrument tracker. It is very good and people have used it, so I wonder if there could be co-ordination between the two so we can do what you want to do, Mr Speaker, which is to make the House open, accessible and transparent to everyone.

Loyal readers will recall that the refusal by Hague and Cameron to move a money resolution prevented Andrew George's amended Affordable Homes Bill being enacted, which would have repaired much of the damage wrought by the "bedroom tax".

* There is an explanation of SIs here:

Sajid Javid: points of attack

Much has been made of Kerber's cartoon which has been described as "racist" (Javid is depicted at his new desk at the Home Office saying: "I just want to settle in, get organized, then deport my parents!"). It is rather a savage attack on the racism of Mrs May's Conservatives and the permanent staff of the Home Office.

More to the point, the ostensible reason for his appointment - to maintain the balance in the Cabinet between Europhiles and Europhobes - is rather tenuous. Although he joined David Cameron in supporting the Remain side in the referendum for pragmatic business reasons as well as presumably loyalty to the man who appointed him to government, his basic Euroscepticism has come to the fore since June 2016. It seems therefore that the government line against any cooperation with the EU27 will harden.

But BBC Radio's "World this Weekend" yesterday drew attention to possibly the most worrying aspect of the appointment: Javid is a devotee of Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American "philosopher" who espoused "rational egoism". He seems to have been turned on to her by watching the film of  Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead starring Gary Cooper, who must have found the part of the self-obsessed architect much to his liking. Cooper had clear fascist sympathies and was one of the leading supporters of the HUAC drive to rid Hollywood of liberals and socialists.

WtW could not trace any disavowal of Rand's philosophy on the part of the new Home Secretary. The programme also implied that he was not the only Conservative MP to be influenced by the philosophy which also drives the Tea Party movement in the US.