Monday, 9 July 2018

What a shambles

Within 36 hours of Mrs May proclaiming Cabinet unity on her Brexit plans, her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has described the process and the outcome as ‘like polishing a txxd’ and her Brexit Secretary, David ‘Bulldog’ Davis has resigned as he believed the plans were fundamentally flawed.
In truth, they’re both right. And that was inevitably the outcome of trying to manage the contradictions of the fundamentalist Brexiteers, who made so many completely unachievable promises, and the soft Brexiteers who know that without a deal with the EU, the UK’s economic prospects are, at best, challenging and, most likely, awful and fundamentally damaging.
At least David Davis has had the guts to resign. Although, in truth, this is mainly because his own negotiating strategy had been completely useless. This lead Mrs May to take over his responsibilities last week, including taking the key civil servants out of the Brexit Department and putting them directly under her control in No 10.
Meanwhile, the ever-opportunist Boris Johnson, whose whole political strategy has been solely driven by his own ambitions to be prime minister, has declared himself officially fully supporting Mrs May’s plans whilst, at the same time, leaking stories to the media of him describing the plans as useless. Nothing new there.
It is a shambles and, at this rate, we’re heading for an even bigger shambles economically.
So, perhaps now is the time just to take stock of the last 8 years of Conservative government with a few facts:
  • Wages are lower in real terms than in 2010 and are falling
  • The gap between lower and higher earners is increasing. FTSE100 CEOs are now paid 160 times average earnings.
  • 3 million people, that’s 1 in 10 of the workforce, are now in insecure jobs (no guaranteed hours or employment rights) and the number is rising with 883,000 already being on zero-hours’ contracts
  • The poorest 10% pay 42% of their income in taxes, whilst the richest 10% pay 34%
  • 30% of British children now live in poverty, the highest since 2010, and the number is rising
  • Almost 60% of those living in poverty are in working households. It’s little surprise that nearly 1.4 million foodbank parcels were distributed last year.
The Conservatives have led us in to this mess and there is no sign of their having any strategy or policies to get us out of it.
What a shambles.

Monday, 2 July 2018

The Brexiteers’ Business Britain

Do you remember Boris Johnson’s promise of an extra £350m a week for the NHS if we leave the EU? Yes, that promise posted all over the side of a red double-decker bus.
Well, having tried running the NHS in to the ground, creating such a public backlash that Mrs May has had to do a U-turn and promised to increase NHS funding by about £350m a week, you would have thought that the Brexiteers would have been celebrating their promise coming true, wouldn’t you?
Except, no. We learn that the £350 million is to be funded half by taxes and half by borrowing. What about the Brexit bonus, you ask. Well, it’s now been confirmed that even if the UK gets everything it has been demanding – fat chance! – there won’t be any Brexit bonus for at least a decade.
Then, do you remember the Brexiteers claims that there would be scores of countries queueing up to do new trade deals with the UK after we quit the EU at enormous benefit to British business and jobs in Britain?
But now we know that there aren’t scores of countries queueing up to do deals. Actually, there are a few countries who are prepared to do deals…but only if Britain concedes to concessions which fly in the face of other promises (for example, amongst other things, India says that it wants a massive increase in UK visas for its citizens) or concessions with massive implications for the UK economy (for example, New Zealand wants open access for its lamb and dairy products, which would in one stroke destroy Welsh agriculture).
And what does British business think about the prospects? Not much.
Investment in British car factories fell steadily after 2016 and by nearly 50% in the past six months. When Airbus said it was now actively considering moving airplane wing production out of the UK and on to mainland EU, Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative Health Secretary, said the government should ignore the concerns, and Boris Johnson said “Fxxx business.” How asinine can you get? Remember that Airbus employs 14,000 workers directly and supports another 110,000 in other businesses and generates £1.7bn in tax each year.
And do you remember the Brexiteers’ promises of cutting business regulation and bureaucracy? They would never answer the direct question about which regulations and which bureaucracy, but now an investigation and report from Nottingham University tells us precisely what they meant.
It is exampled in that burgeoning new industry, seemingly cropping up on every vacant space in the country. Mrs Thatcher had us all taking in each other’s washing to grow the economy. The Brexiteers have found the solution to economic growth and Britain’s business future in…car washes.
The investigators discovered that there are up to 20,000 hand car washes, most unregulated. A two-year study found not one car wash paying the national minimum wage. Tax evasion by hand car washes is costing the Treasury between £500 million and £1 billion a year. Some staff have their passports seized while others are effectively in modern slavery.
Welcome to the Brexiteers’ Britain.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Let’s commit to a civilised society

Ensuring that senior citizens and adults with chronic disabilities and illnesses are supported and cared for is one hallmark of a civilised society. Unfortunately, right now, each and every day, we are moving further and further away from matching that ambition.
I’ve written and spoken many times about the short- and long-term challenges for adult social care and the impact on individuals and their families, friends and carers.
I am the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee [HoCoLoGo Comm]. Sarah Wollaston is a Conservative MP and a GP and Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee [HSC Comm] Committees.
Because we believed this was so serious, our committees got together, determined to investigate and make informed and evidenced recommendations about the future of personal adult social care.
Governments have commissioned report after report, and made promise after promise, about the need to implement new policies and funding arrangements to address the growing chasm between the need for care and the resources to fund it.
Each and every promise was broken.
We end up with hospital bed-blocking, chaos in Accident and Emergency departments, 500,000 fewer people receiving support than just 5 years ago, councils being told to implement year-on-year inflation-busting council tax increases to plug some of the gap, and all-purpose councils now spending more than 50% of their budgets on adult social care.
We’ve had nothing but dither and delay.
The latest promise of a government report and action in the Autumn is one that must be met.
But, if any issue needed an all-party review, which engaged citizens in the debate, then adult social care is that issue. We knew that the matter was so serious that people expect all parties to put away sectarian interests, be open and transparent about the challenges and to stop shrouding their deliberations in secrecy.
That is why MPs of all parties on our committees decided to tackle the issue in an open way, putting aside party interests, inviting evidence and contributions from all interested parties and the public at large, and hold public evidence and scrutiny sessions. We even established a Citizens’ Assembly to consider the issues and report to us
If anyone ever wanted an example of everyone working together in the public interest, this report is it.
And, that’s why we have no reservation in asking the government, opposition parties and the public to take seriously what we are saying and what we are recommending.
This is about how we support and care for our grand-parents, our parents, brothers, sisters and cousins and, eventually, about how each and every one of us is cared for.
Doing nothing is not an option.
Every alternative we have considered has advantages and disadvantages.
We were very conscious about the need to be fair between individuals and between generations.
We believe that the six principles for funding social care have captured the correct balance between competing interests:
* Providing high quality care
* Considering working age adults as well as older people
* Ensuring fairness on the ‘who and how’ we pay for social care, including between the generations
* Aspiring over time towards universal access to personal care free at the point of delivery
* Risk pooling - protecting people from catastrophic costs, and protecting a greater portion of their savings and assets
* ‘Earmarking’ of contributions to maintain public support.
You can’t pick and choose the bits you like and reject the rest.
This is a complete package of recommendations which addresses both today’s acute problems and the challenges for many years to come.
I want you to read our report and to tell me what you think.
You can find the report, including an executive summary, at

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Search me

When we give the police the power to search premises in pursuit of criminal investigations, the law has to strike a balance between the powers of the state and the rights of individuals.
On such an important issue, you might think that the law would be simple and clear, easily understood by judges, the police and the public.
So, let’s start with a quick quiz:
  • How many statutory powers are there to issue a search warrant?
  1. Between 1 and 50
  2. Between 51 and 100
  3. Between 101 and 150
  4. Between 151 and 200
  • Since 2010, how many judicial reviews have there been in England relating to the issue of a search warrant or conduct of the search?
  1. Between 1 and 15
  2. Between 16 and 30
  3. Between 31 and 45
  4. Between 46 and 60
  • Which kinds of materials may not be searched for under section 8 of PACE or most other powers?
  1. materials subject to legal privilege; for example, communications between a lawyer and a client
  2. medical and counselling records and confidential journalistic material
  3. confidential business records and non-confidential journalistic material
  4. all of these – a), b) and c)
Well done if you got all of them right…without cheating!
The answers are
  • (4)1
  • (4)2
  • (4)3
The answers tell us that the law is far from clear and simple. It also isn’t understood by many of those who have to issue a warrant, or undertake searches, or be the occupier when the police (or others) come knocking.
That’s why, with all party support, the Home Office asked the Law Commission4 in December 2016 to identify and address problems with the law governing search warrants and to produce reforms which will clarify and rationalise the law.
Since then, the Commission has undertaken wide consultations on all the issues surrounding search warrants. It concluded that:
  • the current system for granting warrants is too complicated
  • there is a risk applications are not prepared properly or given sufficient scrutiny.
  • investigations may be significantly hindered as search warrants do not reflect the modern world in which the internet and digital sources have a significant role
  • the law around search warrants should be modernised with more protections put in place to protect individuals’ rights
As a result, the Commission proposed modernising the powers available to authorities under search warrants and bringing in extra protections for the public. In particular, the Commission proposed more protections should be put in place to protect individuals’ rights so that people know that a search under a warrant is limited to what is necessary and proportionate.5
Their proposals include:
  • exempting confidential journalistic material and medical records from searches under warrant
  • bringing in procedural safeguards and requiring judicial authorisation for late night or early morning searches
  • introducing a requirement to record and publish statistics to monitor the use of search warrants
  • introducing safeguards whenever electronic devices are seized under a search warrant so that devices are examined and returned swiftly
  • a new procedure to challenge defective search warrants which would avoid the cost and delay of judicial review
  • clarifying forms and amending guidance to make clear what duties investigators must follow when applying for search warrants
  • making search warrant powers more consistent so investigators know what powers they have and when they can use them
  • a new mechanism in large-scale investigations to require assistance with the identification and segregation of privileged material to prevent the law being used as a delaying tactic
  • allowing more agencies with enforcement powers to apply for a search warrant, rather than going through the police as a third party
An area of particular concern is the lack of clarity surrounding how the law treats electronic information. Problems arise because of:
  • the enormous volumes of electronic information that can now be stored on devices, and
  • the location of the material, which may be stored remotely abroad albeit accessible from the premises
Consultation on the Commission’s proposals will now run until 5 September 2018.
What is worrying is that the government is already indicating that time will not be found in the parliamentary diary to take forward the legislative changes that would be necessary to implement the proposals.
Why? Brexit, of course.
Meanwhile, we will leave everyone in a state of confusion and continue to waste millions of pounds.
It’s just another of those Brexit costs that you weren’t told about.
1 The Law Commission identified 176 search warrant provisions, which are listed in Appendix 1 of its consultation paper. This list does not include warrants to enter premises (“entry warrants”) and warrants to enter and inspect premises (“inspection warrants”).
2 There have been more than 50, with millions spent by public bodies in damages and legal fees.
3 Law Commission Search Warrants Summary Para 120
4 The Law Commission is the statutory independent body created by the Law Commissions Act 1965 to keep the law of England and Wales under review and to recommend reform where it is needed. The aim of the Commission is to ensure that the law is fair, modern, simple and cost effective. Since then, more than two-thirds of all reports have been accepted or implemented in whole or in part.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Getting closer to a ban

I have been a long-time campaigner for the introduction of a ban on ivory sales.
Around 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered due to the global demand for ivory, an average of around 55 a day. The number of elephants in the wild has declined by almost a third in the last decade.. There are now approximately 415,000 African elephants - a 20% reduction over the last 10 years, mainly due to poaching.
The UK isn’t one of the countries of most concern about the global illegal ivory trade. But, there is evidence that the, currently legal, UK ivory market is being used to launder illegal ivory, and ivory in the UK is both legally and illegally shipped to other countries.
I thought we would finally achieve a ban on ivory sales after the three biggest UK political parties promised one in their 2010 election manifestos. What could possibly hold this up?
Well, we all found out. David Cameron and Nick Clegg made all sorts of promises – on student fees, house-building, the NHS and many more – and broke most of them, including the commitment on ivory. So, we carried on campaigning for the ban. Despite repeating the promise in his 2015 manifesto, David Cameron’s Conservative government still failed to act.
And then, being frustrated about the failure to make progress, things got even worse. Mrs May’s Conservatives dropped the promise altogether from their 2017 manifesto.
So, we’ve carried on campaigning and, finally, after China decided to close its domestic ivory market last year, this government has brought a Bill before the UK Parliament.
It isn’t perfect and I hope that it will be amended and improved, in particular to ensure that evaders face civil and criminal penalties, including imprisonment as well as heavy fines. There also needs to be action to tackle illegal ivory dealing on the internet.
Once the Bill becomes law, it will give the UK more credibility in trying to persuade other countries with a history of ivory trade – especially in south-east Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Laos and Myanmar – to close their domestic ivory markets.
When an international ban is in place, the decline in the number of elephants in the wild may be halted.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Red light means Stop!

Sometimes, it’s difficult to believe just how stupid or malign some people can be.
Over the last 10 years, there have been more than 14,000 reported incidents of someone directing a laser light at aircraft pilots in the UK. The only good news is that the number of aircraft incidents reported last year (989) to the Civil Aviation Authority was nearly 50% lower than the peak number in 2011.
Research shows that most attacks took place during take-off and landing, or against hovering police helicopters, and are carried out using cheap, high-powered handheld devices that are readily available on the internet. The attacks can distract pilots and flight crew, obscure instruments and dials, and cause short-lived ‘flash’ blindness or even permanent eye damage. The potential for catastrophic accidents with significant loss of life, as well as life-changing effects on individuals are obvious.
And the problems are not just in the skies. There are too many reports of laser lights being pointed at the drivers of trains and of vehicles on our roads.
Although It has been clear for some time that the police do not have the powers to effectively tackle and investigate the inappropriate use of laser devices, there have been a number of false starts for legislative change. However, last December, the government published a Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill.
As you might imagine, there are some tricky lines to be drawn between civil liberties and criminal action, between activities which may be described as ‘not unreasonable’ and behaviours which are reckless or malign. Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong, but defining that clearly in law is not always easy. Unsurprisingly, there have been some robust debates on where those lines are to be drawn and on the definitions of various words and phrases such as actions ‘likely to dazzle or distract’.
Following amendments in the House of Lords, the Bill It makes it clear that the offence can be committed against any ‘vehicle’, which “would apply to all forms of vehicles, including aircraft, road vehicles, trains, trams, ships, hovercrafts, invalid carriages, and cycles”…and even horse-drawn vehicles.
If found guilty, on summary conviction, you can be sent to prison for up to a year. If found guilty in the Crown Court, you could be sent down for up to five years. The Act comes into effect on July 10th.
Let’s hope that we see much less stupidity and malign behaviour in the future.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Our NHS safe in Conservative hands?

Draw your own conclusions from the latest government statistics.
Accident and Emergency (A&E):
  • Last year 2.5 million people waited over four hours in A&E, up from 350,000 in 2009/10.
  • Just 76.4% of patients at major A&E departments were treated within the 4 hour target in March - well below the 95% standard. This was the worst performance since records began.
Trolley waits:
  • 613,957 people waited over 4 hours on trolleys in 2017/18, up from 61,696 in 2009/10.
  • 3440 people waited over 12 hours on trolleys in 2017/18, up from 123 in 2011/12.
  • 353 patients waited over 12 hours on trolleys in April 2018 and 48,002 patients waited over 4 hours on trolleys, the worst figures ever for the month of April.
  • Ambulance crews in England had to look after 186,000 patients, either in the back of their vehicle or in a hospital corridor, for more than least 30 minutes (Nov 2017 – March 2018)
  • Nearly 600,000 ambulance arrivals had delays of more than 15 minutes in handing a patient over to hospital A&E staff (Jan-March 2018), when no handover should take this long.
18 week waits
  • Waiting lists are now more than 4 million, up from 2.5million in 2010.
  • Cancellation of elective operations has seen waiting lists rise by 5% since last year.
  • More than 2000 patients had waited more than one year for treatment (Feb 2108).
  • 454,342 patients were waiting longer than 18 weeks for elective treatment (Feb 2018).
  • The 18 week target for planned treatment has now not been met in two years.
  • 26,693 people waited over 62 days for cancer treatment in 2017, twice the rate in 2010 when the total was 13,354
  • One patient waited 541 days for treatment following a GP referral against a target of 62 days.
  • Two-thirds of NHS trusts had at least one patient waiting over six months and 69% had longer waits than in 2010.
Hospital alerts
  • The number of hospitals operating at the highest emergency alert level has nearly doubled in the last year.
  • More than half of NHS Acute Trusts in England declared emergency measures - an Operational Pressures Escalation Level 4 (OPEL 4), equivalent to the old 'black alerts' - on at least one day (Dec 2017 - March 2018).

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

No immunity

The latest NHS performance data ought to be shocking us all.
In March, fewer patients received treatment in Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments within the 4 hour target than at any time since records began. Just 76.4% of patients at major A&E departments were treatedwithin 4 hour target. For all A&E units, performance was 84.6%, well below the 95% standard.
Waiting lists for treatment have increased to more than four million. Waiting-times for out-patient and in-patient diagnosis and treatment are increasing day-by-day. We see ambulances backed up outside overcrowded hospitals, operations cancelled, and elderly confused vulnerable patients stranded on trolleys in the corridors of bursting wards.
Waiting-times for GP appointments are increasing and, in many areas, there are problems in recruiting new GPs because the Coalition and Conservative governments actually cut the number of training places.
Now, we’ve had the revelation that 450,000 women did not receive an invitation for breast cancer screenings as they should have done. We all know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and the pain and anguish that brings. To learn that you, or your grand-mother or mother or sister has not been invited to screening just adds to the concern and anguish.
Screening rates are at their lowest level for a decade. Ministerial concentration should be on ensuring that the NHS has the staff and resources need to get that back on track, instead of investigating how these historic mistakes were made. We are entitled to know how this has been allowed to go on for so long and why the problem wasn’t identified earlier.
Do you remember when David Cameron told us that our NHS was safe in the Conservative’s hands? It wasn’t true then. And it isn’t true now.
Why do waiting-times and waiting-lists – like crime – always go up under Conservative governments and always come down under Labour governments?
We must not become immune to what Mrs May and her Conservative colleagues are doing.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Dangerous desktops

James Brokenshire is the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG). Near the top of his in-tray will be the health and safety of high-rise buildings in the light of the Grenfell disaster.
The all-party HCLG Committee has been having a robust debate with Ministers and Dame Judith Hackitt, who is leading the government’s review, about future requirements and standards.
Dame Judith has indicated she does not favour a “prescriptive” approach which would simply ban combustible materials, whereas we are clearly recommending a ban on the use of combustible materials on tower blocks.
Meanwhile, the HCLG Ministry is currently running a consultation about using desk-top studies only to assess fire risks.
A ‘desktop study’ is a way of trying to find out whether or not a cladding system would meet particular standards in particular circumstances without actually testing it. It involves using data from previous tests of the materials in different combinations to make assumptions about how it would perform in the proposed use. The alternatives to a desktop study are full scale testing or not using combustible materials.
So, why don’t we think desk-top studies are sufficient? Well, because we already have the evidence which shows that cladding approved through desk-top tests has later failed fire safety tests.
In this instance, I’m clear that desktop studies alone are simply dangerous if any combustible materials are permitted to be used in the cladding of tower blocks. I’m concerned that the overuse of desktop studies would be a contributory factor to a weaker, less stringent regulatory regime and would increase the likelihood of dangerous materials being used on high-rise residential buildings.
This week, I’ve written to Mr Brokenshire to tell him very clearly that we believe there should be a total ban on the use of combustible materials on high-rise buildings1 .
But, if Dame Janet Hackitt recommends a risk-based approach to assessment, it is simply not acceptable for such risks to be assessed only in desk-top studies.

Monday, 30 April 2018

There are times to be intolerant

Each year, we pay hundreds of millions of pounds in taxes to try to ensure that we get a swift and professional response to our emergencies.
If it’s a road accident or a heart attack, we want that ambulance or para-medic to arrive as quickly as possible, to take control, to save lives or give treatment to ensure we have the best chance of survival or return to full health.
If our home or place of work is on fire, or dangerous chemicals are spilt, we want that fire-engine to get to us before we’ve even ended our 999 call, to get the fire put out or to smother or neutralise the chemicals so that we are not endangered by toxic fumes.
When someone is breaking in to our home, or a fight breaks out in the street, or another vehicle smashes in to our car and then drives off at speed, or a child or grandchild goes missing, we want the police to get to us soonest to catch the perpetrators, end the violence or find and return the child safely.
Those police officers, fire fighters and para-medics are acting on our behalf. We want and need them to respond so much better than we could manage to save lives and property and to give security.
That’s why we should be absolutely intolerant of, and take tough action against, those who assault emergency workers in the course of their duties.
There are flaws in the way in which statistics about these assaults are collected, so the numbers must be treated with some caution.
However, it is believed that there were more than 23,000 assaults on police officers last year. That is 450 a week; the equivalent of an officer being assaulted every 22 minutes. The Police Federation says the true figure is closer to 6,000 assaults every day, with most not being reported and prosecuted. And, there were more than 70,000 recorded assaults on NHS staff and more than 500 attacks on firefighters in England in 2016. Worryingly, the numbers are increasing.
That’s why I’m backing a Private Member’s Bill currently being promoted in Parliament by my colleague Labour MP Chris Bryant. This would create a new offence of ‘assaulting an emergency worker.’ This proposed new law has support from the Royal College of Nursing, Unison, the Fire Bridges Union, the Police Federation, Alcohol Concern, the British Transport Police and the GMB union.
I’m also supporting amendments that are being tabled to the Bill as it goes through the Parliamentary process. One amendment would ensure that sexual assault against an emergency worker becomes an aggravated offence – of particular importance as, locally, we have had reports in the last few days of a known offender sexually attacking police officers who had gone to arrest him. Another amendment will clarify that the disgraceful (and potentially health-threatening) act of spitting at an emergency worker is a common assault.
If we claim to be a civilised society, we need to be absolutely clear that we simply won’t tolerate assaults on those who we have asked to put themselves in danger to save lives.