Monday, June 27

More bureaucracy in Scotland

A recent study has found that public sector salaries in Scotland rose by £1bn in 2004 despite an efficiency drive which aims to cut back on public spending.

A study by the Herald newspaper found that 11,000 new public sector posts had been created in just one year.

And it showed that the main culprit was increased bureaucracy - with the number of new administration jobs increasing by up to four times the rate of frontline jobs.

The Scottish Executive announced a £1.7bn economy drive in April of last year after the chancellor Gordon Brown said 104,000 public sector jobs had to go.

First minister Jack McConnell said the public sector was "too big" and was a "drain on economic growth" in Scotland, employing nearly 25 per cent of Scotland's workforce.

But the Herald study found that the wage bill at the Executive and its agencies had risen by £34.3m last year as staffing levels went up by two per cent.

SNP shadow finance minister Alasdair Morgan called for the Executive to cut unnecessary bureaucracy. "While the rises in the number of workers in policing, nursing and other frontline services are to be welcomed, the Executive must do more to reign in unnecessary bureaucracy," he said. "The Executive must honour its pledge to cut public sector costs and deliver greater efficiency and value for money to the taxpayer."

ID Cards - What the papers say

Government confusion over ID card data sales

The government's plans for ID cards were in turmoil last night after ministers denied a report in the Independent on Sunday that details of all 44m British adults holding ID cards would be sold to private companies in an attempt to offset the cost of their introduction, which the paper claimed could be up to GBP 750 per card. The government has denied it intends to sell the data.

The Daily Telegraph - Anger over 'sale' of ID details -
The Guardian - Ministers rejects ID card claims -,11026,1515460,00.html

The Times - Rebel MPs get price promise on ID cards -

The Financial Times - Rising cost of ID card plans fuels unease of rebel MPs -

The Scotsman - Doubts over ID cards as costs soar to GBP 18bn -

Related articles -

The Independent - Ethnic minorities 'will be targeted by ID card' -

Glasgow Herald - ID cards 'will be Blair's poll tax' -

Sunday, June 26

The Sunday Quote 115

'' 'Doublethink' means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously and accepting both of them''

George Orwell - 1984.

Eric Blair, Orwell's real name, was born 103 years ago yesterday.

Booker , Blair and the Baroness

Booker's new look and expanded column, in todays The Sunday Telegraph has as the lead is a theme the Blair speeches and the EU constitution.
Tony Blair, he writes, made just enough of the right noises to convince the more gullible sections of the media that he might be about to mastermind some miraculous transformation of the EU.
Booker continues:
He talked about the need to hear the people of Europe blowing their trumpets outside the city walls. He talked of the need for "leadership", and how the EU needed to be "modernised", its economies deregulated, the Common Agricultural Policy reformed. If all this happened, he might even be prepared to renegotiate the British rebate. But examine his speeches in Westminster and Brussels closely and they include not a single proposal as to how any of these wonders might be achieved.
The financial arrangements for the CAP, as President Chirac reminds him, are set in stone for another eight years (and, as a Brussels official was last week quoted as saying, the agriculture which the CAP sustains is viewed as "the very fabric of European civilisation, a rampart against decline, the rural exodus, mushrooming urban sprawl, shanty towns, crime, violence, drugs").
Mr Blair was not so foolish as to suggest that a single power already handed over to Brussels should be returned. The Constitution may be in the deep-freeze, but the "European project" rolls on regardless, including policies which could only legally be implemented if the Constitution was ratified. The only chance the peoples of Europe had to give a verdict on all this was through those referendums which, since the French and the Dutch said no, have been suspended indefinitely. Not least in the UK, people have therefore lost their last chance to express their concerns in a peaceful, democratic fashion.
There is not the slightest indication from Mr Blair or anyone else of how the EU could be reformed so as to turn it into anything other than what it is.
The system of government which already produces half our laws is now more unaccountable than ever. We are subjected to a government which we cannot dismiss or replace, so that to a great degree we now in effect live in a one-party state. All that has happened, as a result of the turbulence of the past month, is that we face on a "European" level the equivalent of that one-kilometre zone which Mr Blair has decreed should be set up round the Palace of Westminster, in which no demonstrations are to be allowed ever again.
If the people wish to blow their trumpets, they can do so, But only so far from Jericho that they are out of earshot, so that our rulers within the city walls can continue ruling undisturbed.A very familiar theme, our readers might think, but it bears repetition.
For his second story, Booker retails the account of how, last Monday in the House of Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked about the various ways in which the EU is already implementing the "Constitution for Europe" without waiting for it to be ratified.
He asked the relevant minister, Baroness Amos, about the setting up of a "European space programme", the European Defence Agency, the European Fundamental Rights Agency and an EU diplomatic service, all of which are marching ahead without any proper legal authorisation.
The response from the minister, writes Booker, was astonishing. She made not the slightest attempt to answer his question, but merely lectured him on how he clearly did not understand the ratification process. Next day Lord Pearson, joined by Lord Waddington, a former Home Secretary, tried again. This time Lady Amos replied, "I am not aware of any formal or informal legislative proposals that rely on the treaty as their base".
Despite having been caught out the day before, she had made not the slightest effort to do her homework.Yet, as a Cabinet minister, Baroness Amos receives £98,999 a year from the taxpayers.
Why, if she is not prepared to produce slightly more serious answers to serious questions, do we have to shell out such a sum? Written questions have now been tabled in an effort to get the Baroness to do the job she is paid for.

ID Cards - a threat to liberty

ID Cards are a real threat to our liberty
The Government's Bill introducing identity cards receives it second reading in the Commons on Tuesday
This blog passionately hopes that enough Labour rebels will join the Opposition to ensure its defeat.
From the confiscation of nail scissors at airports to the introduction of indefinite detention without trial, fears about terrorism have succeeded in warping many aspects of British life.
The Government now insists that tackling terrorists requires the destruction of another cherished British liberty: the right not to have to carry an identity card on your person, available at all times for inspection by the police.
The practical case against identity cards is formidable. It seems very likely that the "infallible" biometric identification system will not function with anything like the reliability necessary to make the huge cost of installing it worthwhile. The computer system is bound to go the way of all government-purchased computer systems: it won't work.
The incompetence, delays and sheer obstruction that has characterised the workings of the Child Support Agency since its inception do not suggest that the Government will be able to install a system capable of tracking the whereabouts of everyone in the country, identifying whether they are terrorists, and determining whether they are entitled to receive benefits.
The Government promises that its plan will cost around £7 billion. Economists who have studied the project say that it will actually cost around £14.5 billion. If the Government is right, each British citizen will have to pay at least £90 for the privilege of carrying something that will enable the Government to snoop more effectively on his or her private life; if the economists are right, the cost to each of us will be more than £200.Identity card systems can only work successfully if they have the willing co-operation of the population.
There is no possibility that Britons will co-operate in the introduction of a system which effectively requires each of them to pay a poll tax of £90, never mind £200.Even if the practical obstacles to identity cards could be overcome, the fundamental moral objections would remain.
The Labour Government does not seem to appreciate that Britons are entitled to do as they please without being snooped on by the Government. That may be because many members of the Government do not seem to recognise the existence of any such entitlement in the first place.
From banning hunting to the latest proposal to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants, Labour has demonstrated its commitment to interfering with what people do, and to stopping them from doing it if the Government does not like it.It is a basic principle of a free society that the Government should not monitor, snoop, or interfere with individuals unless it is absolutely necessary, not for their own good or for the good of some small group of people, but for the good of society as a whole. No one has yet demonstrated that identity cards are necessary for the survival of British society.
If the Government succeeds in its bid to make every Briton carry one, the Government will have stolen one of our fundamental liberties. There will be no compensating benefits.

What a waste

An article on The Northern Echo's Business Pages (23 June) reports that recent research shows that businesses in the north east are '' unnecessarily throwing away'' £ 1.5 billion of paper. The report states: ''that if all the waste paper binned in the North East was joined together it would stretch from Middlesborough to Moscow''. Now that could win an international job creation award.

Anyway, since most of the paper would contain the details of the mass of government regulations that impact on the business community it is indeed tempting for business people to throw most of it away. However, in order to avoid prosecution from any one of the many government enforcers it is vital, in fact necessary, to read and comply with the regulations before disposal.

Perhaps The Northern Echo could lead the way in newspaper waste reduction. by supporting a scheme by which readers could return their read newspaper to newsagents in part exchange for the current days edition could both stimulate repeat sales and encourage recycling. Alternatively why not encourage readers to view the paper free web site; accessible even in Moscow.

Friday, June 24

A Fiday in June

The result of the South Staffordshire election:

Sir Patrick Cormack (Conservative) 13,343 (52.05%, +1.56%)
Paul Kalinauckas (Labour) 4,496 (17.54%, -16.63%)
Jo Crotty (Lib Dem) 3,540 (13.81%, +2.21%)
Malcolm Hurst (UKIP) 2,675 (10.43%, +6.69%)
Garry Bushell (Eng Dem) 643 (2.51%)
Kate Spohrer (Green) 437 (1.70%)
Adrian Davies (Freedom Party) 434 (1.69%)
Rev David Braid (Clause 28, Christian Democrat) 67 (0.26%)

Majority 8,847 (34.51%)9.10% swing Lab to ConTurnout 25,635 (37.28%, -23.04%)

Other issues

Two spending watchdogs have warned that the NHS requires stricter financial management to keep debts under control. In a joint report released today the National Audit Office and Audit Commission found that the health service is likely to have fallen into small deficit last year. Although final audited figures are not yet available for the 2004/05 financial year, the report estimated an overall deficit of £140m.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt says reforms were part of the solution, "not the problem".
"Today's study shows that the vast majority of NHS bodies are managing the extra resources well but it also very clearly indicates that in a minority of organisations, leadership and financial disciple are weak," she said. "This needs to be tackled head-on and with a sense of urgency."

Karen Jennings, head of health at the Unison trade union, said the report shows too many reforms are taking place at once. "The report highlights that payment by results is a real risk to financial stability in the NHS and in turn this could damage patient care," she added. But Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation which represents trusts, said politicians should accept the need for more, not less, managers.

Sir Patrick Cormack has held the South Staffordshire constituency for the Conservatives. His majority over second place Labour rose to 8,847 despite a significant reduction in turnout.

European Union environment ministers hold talks in Luxembourg, with environment secretary Margaret Beckett and minister Elliot Morley representing the UK.

A vote is expected on proposals relating to GMOs, with the British position likely to be defeated.

Members of the Ulster Unionist Party executive vote on David Trimble's successor as party leader. The contest will be the first since the Protestant Orange Order severed its links with the party in March, removing a bloc of about 120 delegates on the Ulster Unionist Council. Three candidates - assembly members Sir Reg Empey, David McNarry and Alan McFarland - have entered the race.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has today spoken out in favour of Tony Blair's agenda for reform in Europe. "We need more open markets, we greater innovation and higher productivity growth in Europe if we are going to take on the huge competitive challenge that we are facing from China, India and elsewhere in Asia," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs may publish a summary of responses to the consultation on court broadcasting.

Constitutional affairs secretary Lord Falconer today opens the recently refurbished West London Courthouse.

Unison's annual conference concludes in Glasgow with debates on low pay, privatisation and the government's anti-terror legislation.

The British Chambers of Commerce has said that most EU regulations are not subjected to a regulatory impact assessment. A survey being published today found that only 0.5 per cent were assessed in 2003/04. Director general David Frost said: "These findings show that the systems in place at both EU and UK level to prevent burdensome and unnecessary regulation are both failing." Cabinet Office minister John Hutton said "progress" is being made but accepted that "more needs to be done".

In its submission to the government's consultation on the proposed regulations for the licensing of gangmasters, the TUC has said that thousands of temporary, mainly migrant, workers could be left vulnerable to exploitation. "Ministers must allow the licensing scheme to have the widest possible reach," said general secretary Brendan Barber. "Only a scheme covering both primary and secondary processing will be robust enough to deter those ruthless individuals who are currently making a lot of money from exploiting large numbers of mainly foreign, temporary workers."

The FBU has highlighted government figures showing that consultancy fees for setting up regional emergency control centres are forecast to hit £31.3m. General secretary Matt Wrack said the cash could pay for 1,000 extra fire fighters. "Instead they are wasting money on IT consultants chasing another technology rainbow," he added. "There is no pot of savings at the end of this rainbow." The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister says the union has "distorted" the figures.

The 'Power' inquiry into political participation and involvement holds a session in Bristol on local democracy and single issue campaigns. Witnesses include gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Red Pepper editor Hilary Wainwright, Bristol council leader Barbara Janke and Professor Gerry Stoker, chairman of the New Local Government Network.

Nurses will today join the campaign against third world poverty. RCN members will gather inside a giant white wristband, which is the symbol of the Make Poverty History campaign, outside the college's HQ in central London.

As shareholders attend Tesco's annual general meeting, Friends of the Earth today warns that the supermarket giant's growing market share is bad for British business, bad for consumers, bad for the environment and "must be checked".

MORI's Social Research Institute today launches reports on The State of Britain 2005.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs publishes an agricultural market report and data on quarterly supplies and totals for domestic usage of meat.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister sets out data on commercial and industrial property vacancy statistics and planning applications for Q1 of 2005.

The Office for National Statistics publishes a monthly digest of statistics for June.

Finally, Australia triumphed over England at Chester-le-Street yesterday, winning by 57 runs.

Thursday, June 23

Blair's pledge unobtainable.

In an what some comentators have discribed as an impressive performance in the European Parliament, Tony Blair pledged to modernise and reform the European Union releasing businesses from excessive red tape.

"Whilst it all sounded very good how is he going to pare back the existing body of EU law?", asked Nigel Farage , UKIPs leader in the European Parliament. "The only mechanism that exists is to ask the European Commission to relinquish its power. This it never does. Mr Blair has a lot to learn about the way the EU works", added Mr Farage.

In a tongue in check gesture Mr Farage ended his speech to the European Parliament by saying that if in 6 months Mr Blair was able to hack back the existing damaging legislation and so turn the EU back into a Common Market he might even consider whether it is worth us staying a member.

Text of Speech: Nigel Farage, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group:

Mr President, Prime Minister, what a change since 1997 in terms of the rhetoric!

Suddenly we have a Labour British Prime Minister talking about low growth in Europe, talking about unemployment in Europe, talking about the failure of European economic policies and common policies.

In fact it all sounds a bit like the same sort of thing UKIP has been saying for the last ten years and I am delighted to hear it.

There you were at the Summit last week, the tough British Prime Minister, and I am sure that millions of people at home were watching the early evening news saying there he is! That is our boy, he is the man that is going to stand up for British interests.

In fact it seems to me that you are a europhile that has been mugged by reality. Now you are going to lead a battle for the future of Europe.

Several times in the last week you have talked about the 21st century, you have talked about the need to modernise. It seems that the devastatingly brilliant third way that you introduced into British politics is what you are going to bring in during this presidency here.

The question is, will it work in the European Union? I am the joint leader of the only Group in this Parliament that has actively been campaigning for 'no' votes in the Constitutional referendums.

So we feel that we are perhaps rather more in touch with public opinion than all the rest of the Groups in this Parliament.

(Cheers from the IND/DEM Group)

But I have to say that you are just about the only European Leader who really understands why the people of France and Holland voted 'no'.

I agree with what you said earlier, i.e. that they were saying 'no' to the direction that the European Union is going in.

I am asking you in your presidency to make sure that those people in France and Holland are not treated with contempt. I am asking you to make sure that the parts of the Constitution such as the separate military command structure, the European Space programme and the establishment of the European Union foreign embassies across the world are halted because they are only given legitimacy by a Constitution that is now best part dead.

You have talked much in recent times about Africa and I know you are very proud of the fact that the aid that will be going to Africa is going up in value. However, the one thing I have spoken on more times in this House since 1999 than any other subject are the appalling European Union fisheries deals with black Africa. There are now over twenty of these deals in place.

They are destroying any hope, any prospect for the local artisanal fishermen. We are actually killing hundreds and hundreds of local fishermen every year and what we are doing to the seas off Africa is the environmental equivalent to setting fire to the Serengeti.

Everybody here has been deaf to what I have been saying on this, but I believe there is now a body of support across this Parliament to end these deals. If you really want to help Africa, please, stop those deals. (Applause)

But of course the big challenge, and what you will be judged by, is whether you can turn this ship around; whether you can make Europe more competitive; whether you can make the Lisbon Agenda appear to be rather more than just a child's wish list to Father Christmas.

Of course my view - our view in UKIP and most of us here on this side of the House - is that we would much rather see a common market. We would much rather see a free trade deal across Europe, rather than the Treaty of Rome and all that has come since.

I know that you are not going to do that over the course of the next six months, but I think you have got a real problem.

You said earlier that you wanted Europe to do what it was set up to do. Jean Monnet was the inspiration behind this and he wanted a system whereby, under the acquis communautaire, the Community picked up power along the way.

I would argue that if you now speak to small and medium-sized businesses - not just in Britain, but right across the European Union - the trouble is that the legislation, the acquis communautaire, the body of law, has gone too far already.

The challenge for your presidency - and perhaps you could explain to me in your response - is how you are going to turn the ship around.

If you can re form the European Union, Mr Blair, then I may even change my mind. I may even think it is worth us staying as a Member State.

Hypocrites of the world unite

by Dr Helen Szamuely

No sooner do I invoke the shade of Tartuffe but I am reminded by the performances of Messrs Blair and Brown in Brussels and the Mansion House respectively of the fact that we, too, have a fine figure of hypocrisy in English literature.
Tartuffe may be a darker, more dramatic figure than Mr Peksniff but the latter is a great deal more fun.
My colleague has already analyzed the vaporous waffle produced by Prime Minister Blair to the European Parliament.
To quote the Bard (nothing if not erudite, this blog, from Star Trek to Shakespeare):
“ --I will do such things,--What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be The terrors of the earth.”
For there it is, Mr Blair does not know what can be done with the good ship SS European Union, even if he cannot quite bring himself to calling it the EU and continues to prattle about Europe.
Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon “Peksniff” Brown shakes his head sorrowfully and calls upon other EU countries to follow the spending British model.
This is how we must all behave to achieve economic growth and prosperity, he smirks, in a true and awful Peksniffian manner.
For some bizarre reason, this sort of tosh is accepted at its face value. Even the Wall Street Journal Europe [subscription on the web needed] seems to have fallen for it.
Daniel Schwammenthal in today’s issue has an article under the suggestive title “Iron Tony”, which effectively analyzes how the EU must develop along Blair’s reform ideas (unspecified) and the need to reshape Europe (in fact, the whole article uses the word Europe, when the European Union is meant) “a little more in Britain’s image”.
Just to bolster that image, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has produced a report, to prove:
“that Britain’s work and welfare model is better at creating jobs and improving working conditions than its ailing continental European counterpart”.
Of course, productivity is not so hot and we are lagging behind in that but nobody seems to know how to calculate it, so that does not matter. Everything in the garden is wondrous; Mr “Peksniff” Brown can look magisterial and virtuous while the Mr Pinches that are the poor European countries can slink away in mortification (or bluster if they are France and Germany).
Ahem, says Neil Collins in today’s Daily Telegraph, things are not quite so. Even without reading his acerbic piece one cannot help noticing a glaring omission in the CIPD report: there is no distinction between private sector and public sector employment, whereas economically there is a lot of difference between what brings in money and what is largely a burden on the taxpayer.
“However much Mr Brown might like to blame the EU (in fact he's careful not to) the BCC reckons that 70pc of the new regulations are home-grown. It cites the minimum wage, the impenetrable thicket that is his "tax credit" scheme, and paid maternity leave.
Every company, down to the tiniest, must hold the job open, regardless of the damage to the business or fellow employees.
Even the barmy stuff that really does come from the EU is Labour's fault, a direct result of its decision to give up Britain's opt-out of the Social Chapter, as a communautaire gesture when it came to power.
Our performance may look good compared to France or Italy, but it looks pretty poor against the world outside the eurozone.”In fact, much of what appears to be home-grown originates in framework EU directives that is then dutifully implemented, often with knobs on.
Actually, things are worse than that:
“All the other "anglo-saxon" economies have outperformed Britain since 1997. The OECD calculates that by next year Mr Brown (or his successor) will be spending over 45p of every pound generated in the economy, against 40p in 1998. We're shooting up, while Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Spain and even Italy are all managing to cut back. At this rate, the eurozone may become more "anglo-saxon" than Britain.”
The same theme is taken up by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.
“According to OECD data, Britain's public spending will rise to 45.2pc of GDP in 2006, up from 40.2pc in 1998 and now far above the average for developed countries worldwide.
Meanwhile, Spain and Italy have both cut state spending by 9pc of GDP, Sweden has come down 16pc, while Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and Austria have all cut by over 6pc. Germany has reduced the state sector to 46.1pc of GDP.
“If even Germany is moving in the right direction, even if it is at the speed of an arthritic snail, and Britain is definitely moving in the wrong one, then where does Mr Brown get off lecturing everybody else?''
More to the point, should he not start looking at the problems? If memory serves me right, Mr Peksniff’s goings on ended in the complete destruction of his family and collapse of all his ambitions. Mr Brown should take note.

Political events today

Tony Blair has called for an "open and frank" exchange of ideas on the future of the European Union.
In a keynote speech to the European parliament this morning, the prime minister set out his agenda for a "modern social policy". The PM denied Britain wanted to reduce the EU to a free trade zone. He called for a "modern budget for Europe" that reduced spending on the common agricultural policy. "Europe is in the midst of a profound debate about its future," Blair said. But he added that "in every crisis there is an opportunity". "I believe in Europe as a political project... I would never accept a Europe that was simply an economic market," he said. "Of course we need a social Europe, but it has to be a social Europe that works."
There was no mention of the projects that it was indented to be endorsed by the EU constitution which are being implemented by the EU in any event.

The delayed general election ballot for the South Staffordshire constituency takes place, having been postponed from 5 May due to the death during the campaign of Liberal Democrat candidate Jo Harrison. Conservative candidate Sir Patrick Cormack is defending a majority of 6,881. His opponents are Joanne Crotty (Lib Dem), Paul Kalinauckas (Lab), Malcolm Hurst (UKIP), Kate Spohrer (Greens), Adrian Davies (Freedom Party), Garry Bushell (English Democrats) and Rev David Braid (Christian Democrats).

New statistics on the MRSA superbug show there were 7,212 cases in 2004/05, a fall of 6.1 per cent on 2003/04. However, 68 out of 173 NHS trusts saw infection rates rise despite government efforts to tackle the problem. Seasonal factors were blamed for a 164 rise in the number of cases between April-September 2004 and October-March. Health minister Jane Kennedy said there had been progress but "much more work needs to be done". "Everyone can contribute to reducing healthcare-associated infections and therefore it is everyone's business," she said. "It is not the responsibility of the infection control team alone." Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said government initiatives "do not represent across the board action to support infection control procedures". For the Liberal Democrats, Steve Webb called for a "sustained evidence-based approach to tackling the problems".

The result of the Scottish Liberal Democrats leadership election is announced. The successful candidate - either health spokesman Mike Rumbles or transport minister Nicol Stephen - automatically becomes deputy first minister of Scotland.

Jack Straw hosts a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in London. The ministers will seek to prepare the ground ahead of the Gleneagles summit. Iran, the Middle East peace process and Afghanistan are among the issues on the agenda.

In the wake of yesterday's tax credits row, Gordon Brown has said that overpayments will not be reclaimed if the government is at fault. "We're trying to deal with some of the overpayments," the chancellor told GMTV. "Where there's been a mistake by the Inland Revenue and where we are to blame as a government then we will not take the overpayment. Where there is hardship and where there is a disputed claim we will not deduct the money until that is sorted out."

A major shake-up of primary care which will make GP surgeries more flexible and patient friendly will be outlined today by health secretary Patricia Hewitt. The changes could include specialist GP surgeries for teenagers and family doctors being given greater autonomy to order diagnostic scans rather than having to refer to a hospital. People could also register with GPs near their workplace rather than their home as a better reflection of modern lifestyles. Speaking to an Opinion Leader Research conference on effective public engagement, Hewitt will also suggest that public involvement in health services can help to counter the decline in trust in modern politics.

Education secretary Ruth Kelly and TUC general secretary Brendan Barber speak at the CBI 'people's summit' in London.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears and Labour MP Tony Wright speak at the annual conference of the Centre for Public Scrutiny.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper speaks at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Harrogate.

Work minister Margaret Hodge speaks at a Crisis event to mark the launch of a book about helping homeless people back into work.

John Redwood has said that the chancellor's Mansion House speech last night showed that eurosceptics are winning the argument on the future of the EU. The shadow cabinet member said he was delighted ministers "now think they have to say that much of the European integration agenda is both unpopular and backward-looking, that it can't possibly work, that it will make people less prosperous and less free". "It is no good just being eurosceptic in your rhetoric if you are about to run the presidency of the European Union. What we need from our government is a government well prepared, determined to win certain arguments and make changes that are going to work," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Labour MP John Denham is among the speakers at a ESRC/Hansard Society event on identity, political engagement and civic activism in modern Britain.

Minister for disabled people Anne McGuire, Labour MP Roger Berry MP and Bob Niven, chief executive of the Disability Rights Commission, are among the speakers at a reception for the all party parliamentary disability group being hosted by Lord Ashley.

Rod Aldridge, chairman of the CBI's public services strategy board, today challenges the public, private and voluntary sectors to be more radical in putting consumers at the centre of public service reform and delivery. "Too many public services seem to exist and to operate for the benefit of the provider interest and the institutional framework of the public sector," he will say. "The public will not continue to support taxation and public expenditure levels for services that do not address their needs, continually improve and offer value for money."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, has urged the government to abandon plans to transfer millions of records of births, marriages, and deaths from the UK to India. "These are important records charting the births, deaths and marriages of this country's population which should be maintained securely in the UK public sector by people accountable to us all," he said.

The TUC today calls on the government to make good its earlier commitment to push for an agreement on the EU temporary agency workers directive. General secretary Brendan Barber said: "The temp trade should not be about getting workers on the cheap, holding them back from quality permanent jobs and throwing them on the scrap heap when employers and agencies are done with them."

Unison's annual conference continues in Glasgow, with debates on the EU constitution, Iraq and the Make Poverty History campaign.

Privacy International announces the winners of its annual UK Big Brother Awards, which "recognise the people and organisations that have done the most to devastate privacy and civil liberties". Categories cover worst public servant (nominees are Martin Linton, Richard Granger and Michael Howard), most invasive company (New Labour, Intellect), most appalling project (road charging, iris recognition, e-borders), most heinous government organisation (Council of the European Union, UK Passport Service, Land Registry) and lifetime menace (Data Protection Act, Tony Blair, Capita, European Union).

At an event hosted by the Adam smith Institute, Dr Michael Goldsmith and Professor David Gladstone discuss their plans to reform the NHS.

CBI director general Sir Digby Jones addresses the business group's annual summer banquet in Birmingham.
Finaly, a 16,000 sell-out crowed will be at the County Durham Riverside cricket in Chester-le-Street ground today to see England play Australia.
Reaction on all this tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22

An eel in a tub of grease

Tony Blair has changed tack over the British rebate, offering flexibility in return for a deal on the EU budget.

Following talks yesterday with Swedish counterpart Goran Persson in London, the prime minister described the rebate as "an anomaly that has to go", and made clear that he believes talks should begin again once Britain takes over the EU presidency in July.

The Guardian, who likes being kind to the PM, says the surprise shift is designed to outflank Franco-German opposition to reform.

Only a week ago, Blair told MPs that the rebate was not "to be negotiated away".

Foreign secretary Jack Straw said yesterday that he hoped Britain could negotiate a deal.

He said: "It is in nobody's interests for us to go into 2006 without an agreement, or even 2007."Both the German and French media have described Blair as the strongest leader in Europe.

The Conservatives condemned the shift in strategy, with shadow chancellor George Osborne describing Blair as "more slippery than an eel in a tub of grease".

Tuesday, June 21

Today is mid-summer's day.
''Lord, what fools these mortals be !''
Shakespeare: Midsummer Night's Dream

The Empty Pot in the North East

''Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor doggie a bone, but when she got there the cupboard was bare, so the poor little doggie had none.''
Many North East rural businesses will find that applying for grants and loans from funds administered from OneNorthEast (ONE), the Regional Development Agency (RDA), will be impossible to obtain, despite encouragement by business agencies to apply.

The source of the funding obtained by ONE, which is distributed to projects and businesses, takes some understanding. In general terms funds are obtained from the European Regional Structural Fund (ERSF) at the EU Commission in Brussels via the Government Office for the North East (GONE) which was set up primarily for that purpose in the early 1990's. The Structural Fund is in turn funded from the gross contributions from the EU member states.

The funds, once successfully bidden for on behalf of ONE are blended with an other fund that is supplied direct from HM Treasury, known to those it the business support 'trade' as 'Single Pot Money'. These 'blended' funds, often referred to incorrectly as European Money, are in turn distributed to a variety of development and business needs, in part, via the Regions Business Links under the control of ONE.

The Single Pot money in the North East is currently exhausted leaving only the ERSF as the lifeline. Since ERSF funds can only be used in areas that are defined by the EU Commission as ''socially deprived '' much of the rural locations in the NE will be excluded, since they are not officially designated as deprived areas.

Since the single pot allocation is not regularly allocated, the last tranche, being a little over £ 100 million, there is apparently little hope of a further allocation in the short term.

In the meantime Business Links covering rural Northumberland and Teesdale continue to process applications for hopeful business people despite there being absolutely no prospect of success. ONE have apparently not been very forthcoming with the detail about the empty 'single pot ' fund in the region.

Perhaps the representatives of businesses in the North East (particularly the Federation of Small Businesses) will, once they are aware of the problem, address the issue at one of their many meetings with the Regional Development Agency.

Until the 'Single Pot' is refilled, the cupboard will remain bare for most rural projects in the North East. Thus there will indeed be a lot of disappointed 'little doggies'.

Can you pass a citizenship test?

Do you pass the test test, click below?
Put your score in the comments section.

Born-again losers

by Dr Richard North

Mr Blair's new-found enthusiasm for "Europe" looks set for a rocky path if he insists on trying to broker a budget agreement during the British presidency.That is the obvious conclusion to draw from the comment made by The Financial Times which thinks that the idea of squaring both Germany and France by December "seems fanciful".
Not only is Blair at odds with Chirac and Schröder, but he has managed to upset Poland and the other central and eastern European states, all of which wanted a bad deal rather than no deal at all at the Council meeting.
Not that General Blair sees it that way, having told the House of Commons yesterday that the "inadequate" budget review put forward at the Council was not "fit for purpose" and not one he could not have recommended to Parliament. "It was not the right deal for Britain. It was not the right deal for Europe," he declared. "Europe's credibility demands the right deal," he added, "Not the usual cobbled together compromise in the early hours of the morning."
But, if a deal is to be reached, the indications are that it will be Britain that pays for it. Blair has indicated that the UK could be prepared to revisit the proposal tabled by Luxembourg to freeze the rebate at around €5.5bn providing a mid-term restructuring of the budget, in 2008, was satisfactory.
That wealthy countries would pay more and the poorer countries less "is entirely justifiable if the budget in Europe is spent on sensible things," says Blair.
Unwilling to wait ten years for reforms, by 2008 the prime minister is banking on Chirac having followed Schröder into political oblivion, whence new leaders might be in place, not least Angela Merkel as German chancellor, with the possibility of Sarkozy as president of France.
Somehow, though, the idea that the "colleagues" are going to sit back and let the perfidious Anglo Saxon Blair wade in and sort out the budget, claiming all the glory while France and Germany sit on the sidelines is indeed fanciful.
We already know Chirac is out for blood, so it is not a question of when but how he manages to sabotage the British presidency.
After a tense six-months, we can expect a newly disillusioned Blair washing his hands of the whole affair, and dumping it in the lap of the Austrians, with his grand plans in tatters – no longer the born-again European but a born-again loser.
Even if Blair wins out though, it is very clear that the British people will be losers. Having been denied a referendum on the constitution, we are still getting parts of it implemented, and there is no promise of any fundamental "reform" of the EU. All we can expect is a juggling with the amounts paid, for which our reward will be that we get to foot the bill.
This, while for Blair, there is at least a prospect – however remote – of him winning the political game, the British people lose out every which way. We are the real born-again losers.

Sunday, June 19

... We have Humbug

At the limits of Europe

It happens, sooner or later, to all British prime ministers. They begin with hopeful talk about putting Britain at the heart of Europe; they end up isolated.
It happened to Margaret Thatcher in 1988 when she found herself ambushed over the Delors plans for closer union. It happened to John Major in 1996 over the beef ban. Now it has happened to Tony Blair.

For eight years, Mr Blair has made concession after concession to Brussels in the belief that this would win him influence. He joined the Social Chapter, throwing away Britain's competitive advantage. He reversed the UK's long-standing opposition to an EU military capacity outside Nato.

He ratified the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, discarding the national veto in dozens of areas. He even signed the European Constitution. None of it was enough. Faced with restive electorates, the leaders of Old Europe did what came most naturally: they bashed the Brits. Like Mr Major before him, Mr Blair has learned the hard way that Euro-diplomacy is conducted on the basis of future advantage, not past gratitude.

It may seem strange that Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder should have seized on the budget as the weapon with which to belabour the Prime Minister. Mr Blair, after all, had all the advantages. For one thing, Friday's deadline was wholly artificial, so Britain could afford to be relaxed about not reaching a deal.

For another, Mr Blair had the better case: given that the UK is already paying two-and-a-half times as much to Brussels as France, a country of comparable wealth, it was outrageous of Mr Chirac to demand that Britain pay even more, and France less. For a third, Mr Blair has a fresh electoral mandate, while the French and German leaders have the reek of political death on them.

Above all, Mr Blair could appeal over the heads of his counterparts to their electorates, who have plainly rejected the European policies of their own leaders.

Yet, from the point of view of Paris and Berlin, the summit has been a success. Instead of a painful analysis of the recent "No" votes, there has been a traditional Euro-row with Britain as the spoiler. We can expect more of this. Mr Blair's Euro-optimism has passed its peak.
This is not, as is sometimes argued, because the balance of power is tilting Brownwards (Douglas Alexander, the Brownite Europe Minister, has proved spectacularly ineffectual). It is, rather, because the Prime Minister has visibly reached the limits of Europeanism.

For all his exaggerated matiness towards Mr Chirac - he uses the familiar tu when speaking to him, a privilege not even Mrs Chirac allows herself - he remains outside the EU's magic circle.
Perhaps Mr Blair will now stop fretting about his communautaire credentials and concentrate on protecting the national interest. Since he is fond of showing off his French to Mr Chirac, he might usefully quote his predecessor, Lord Palmerston. Told once by his French counterpart that the English had no word equivalent to the French sensibilité, Pamerston replied: "Yes we have: humbug."
'The Limits of Europe' from extracrewd from The Sunday Telegraph 19 June 2005

The Sunday Quote - 114

Of the Ferench the EU, Blogs and North.

In reply to a request for a ''very simple guide to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy's life '' Dr Richard North wrote this week:

''Can't be done simply, without distorting it. The very story is the complexity.'' North however provides a valuable summary. '' In a nutshell, though, the story of the CAP is the story of the EEC/EU. One of the primary reasons why the EEC was set up in the first place - from a French perspective- was to devise a support system for French agriculture, by which means other countries, first Germany and then the UK could pay for it.''

Dr Richard North 16 June

Saturday, June 18

Devil in the Detail

The Queen's Vase at 4.55 -Royal Ascot at York was won yesterday by Melrosee Avenue. The hot tip posted yesterday Almighty , finished last but one.


Friday, June 17

Why I'd join the nutty protester in Parliament Square

Why I'd join the nutty protester in Parliament Square
By Tom Utley
Like most Londoners, I have had plenty of cause over the years to curse political demonstrators, who descend in their thousands on the capitalto bring their protests to Parliament.
Nothing is more maddening than tobe stuck in the traffic behind an endless stream of marchers -particularly when one doesn't agree with a word that they are chanting.
Brian Haw is a pain in the neck for a different reason. He is the loneeccentric who has kept a 24-hour vigil in Parliament Square, oppositethe gates of the Commons, for the past four years. I cannot rememberwhat exactly it was that first prompted him to leave Redditch in Worcestershire, where he was a carpenter, to set up camp at Westminster. These days, he concentrates on protesting against the war in Iraq, whichbegan long after he started demonstrating. His favourite chant is "45 minutes to Mr B-Liar", which he bellows, allday long, through a megaphone. He doesn't hold up the traffic. But his one-man shanty town of placards is an eyesore, scarring the finesttourist attraction in the capital.
It was because Mr Haw was such a pain that MPs made very little fuss when David Blunkett, in his days as Home Secretary, sneaked a clauseinto his Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which comes into fullforce on 1 August .
The new law gives ministers the power to draw up anexclusion zone, anywhere within a kilometre of Parliament Square, inwhich demonstrators are to be banned from protesting without permissionfrom the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
True, the commissioner is obliged by the Act to authorise anydemonstration of which he has been given at least six days' notice,where that is "reasonably practicable", or 24 hours' where it is not. But, crucially, he has the power to impose conditions on the demo. Hecan say, for example, that it should last for no longer than half an hour. He can lay down a maximum number of demonstrators, or ban the useof megaphones.
The purpose of this new law, we were told when it was going throughParliament, was purely and simply to get rid of the irritating Mr Haw. Everything else had been tried. Westminster council had sought aninjunction to evict him - but this was overruled by a judge, on thegrounds that Mr Haw was not causing an obstruction.
In May last year, the Commons Procedure Committee scoured the statutebook in the hope of finding some long-forgotten law, under which the nutty protester could be forced to pack up his placards and go home toWorcestershire. But no luck. Mr Haw was not contravening the ancient statute that guarantees MPs safe passage through the streets ofWestminster, nor any other law.
He was just a bloody nuisance, actingperfectly within his rights. But if the purpose of Clause 134 of the new Act was only to get rid of Mr Haw, its effect will be very different.
This week, the new Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke, exercised to the full his new power to set anexclusion zone around the Commons.
Not content with forcing Mr Haw outof Parliament Square, he has banned all spontaneous demonstrationswithin half a mile of the Palace of Westminster. That means that if you or I should take it into our heads to stand onthe other side of the Thames from the Commons, and announce to thetourists queuing for the London Eye that we disapprove of closinggrammar schools, the police will be entitled to arrest us (unless, ofcourse, we have given six days' notice of our intention to the Metcommissioner). This is not only a mad law, but an extremely bad one. Iam not saying that the police would actually be barmy enough to arrestyou or me, in the circumstances that I have just described. But the veryfact that they would be entitled to do so is an outrage.
The right to demonstrate peacefully, without the permission of the Government or its agents, is an absolutely fundamental part of our democracy.
Elections and opinion polls may measure the numbers of peoplewho support a particular party or policy. But only demonstrations andprotest marches can show the strength with which people hold theirconvictions. It is one thing to stroll round the corner on election day and put across on a ballot paper. We can all do that, whether or not we care verystrongly which candidate should win. But to join a protest march onParliament requires vastly more time and commitment, and shows astrength of feeling that no ballot can.
The actual numbers of people who supported the Countryside Alliance in its campaign to stop the ban on foxhunting were not all that enormous, as a proportion of the electorate. But the fact that so many of themwere prepared to go to the trouble of organising coach trips to Westminster from Aberdeen and Penzance, and marching all the way toLondon from Wales and Yorkshire, showed the sheer passion with whichthey held their views.
All right, the campaign failed. But there were many MPs representing urban constituencies who simply didn't realise how strongly people felt,before the marchers arrived in Parliament Square. At least the marchersmade them think - and that can only be good for an MP.
Politicians are insulated quite enough, as it is, from the people whomthey represent. They are insulated by their index-linked pensions, theirgenerous expenses and secretarial allowances, by the concrete tank-trapsoutside the Commons and the cheap beer inside.
This new Act, with its powers to restrict the numbers and noise of demonstrators, can only cutthem off further. I wonder what the young, idealistic Tony Blair would have thought if somebody had told him in his student days, as he strummed his guitar and campaigned against apartheid and the Bomb, that one day he wouldrestrict the freedom of British subjects to demonstrate. What would hehave thought, come to that, if he had been told that he would introducehouse arrest, restrict the right to trial by jury and try to force all British subjects to carry identity cards?
Mr Haw may be a nuisance and a pain. But suddenly I feel the urge to join him in Parliament Square. Who is up for a mass demonstration, supporting the freedom to demonstrate?

Faith in the Almighty

A 'hot tip' direct from those in the know this morning is:

Almighty - running in the 4.55, the Queen's Vase, at Royal Ascot at York today.

Thursday, June 16

The Rebate - in euros

Whilst we try to understand what is actually going on in the 'Council' in Brussels and the consequences for the UK it is worthwhile revisiting the rebate issue - this time for the benift of our 'European' readers in euros.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has stood firm in his defence of the UK rebate, the discount the UK receives on its contribution to the European Union budget.

France is leading European calls for the UK rebate to be abolished, as the European Union's budget negotiations begin.

Mr Blair has rejected calls for Britain to make a "gesture of solidarity" with other EU nations by renegotiating the rebate.

"First of all, Britain has been making a gesture, because over the past 10 years, even with the British rebate, we have been making a contribution to Europe two-and-a-half times that of France," he said. "Without the rebate it would have been 15 times as much as France."

All EU countries contribute to the EU budget, and in return benefit from EU spending in their countries.

Because the bulk of the EU budget is spent on supporting farmers' incomes, countries with a large agricultural sector (like Spain, Portugal and Greece) generally get more back than they put in.

Large countries like Britain and Germany are net contributors to the EU budget, while Italy and France are broadly neutral.

However, in 1984 Britain negotiated a reduction of two-thirds in its net contribution, to be paid by other EU members, on the grounds that as a relatively poor member state it paid too much and received relatively little in return.

Now the other EU members, including the 10 new members mainly drawn from former communist states in Eastern Europe, want to abolish or reduce that rebate, on the grounds that Britain is no longer one of the poorer member states, and support for agriculture is a diminishing part of the EU budget.

Britain's central argument is that if it did not receive the rebate, its contribution would be unfairly high.

The relative contributions of member states to the EU vary considerably from year to year.
In 2003, the latest year in which official figures are available, France paid 15.15bn euros into the EU coffers, but received 13.43bn euros in return, making a net payment of about 1.7bn euros.
This 1.7bn euros figure includes a 1.6bn contribution to the UK rebate.

Britain paid 9.97bn euros into the EU budget but received 6.22bn euros in return, so it made a net contribution of about 3.8bn euros. This figure would have been much bigger, but for the 5.2bn euros the UK received as a rebate, one third of which came from France.

So- hypothetically speaking - if the UK did not get a rebate, then France's contribution to the EU would be just 100m euros while the UK's contribution would be 9bn euros.

France's contribution to the UK rebate is large because Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden have negotiated a 75% reduction in their share of rebate contributions. So Italy and France together pay more than half of the cost of the UK rebate.

The UK government prefers to calculate the net cost of EU membership over a longer period.

The Treasury says that over the nine years between 1995 and 2003, the French net contribution to the EU totalled 13bn euros, while the UK paid net contributions of 35bn euros.
The Treasury argues that if the UK had not received a rebate, it would have paid a total of 67bn euros, while if France had not paid a rebate contribution of 8.5bn euros, then it would have paid in just 4.5bn euros - 15 times less, as Mr Blair has claimed.

As striking as these figures appear, some experts argue that it is misleading to analyse the rebate in this way.

Professor Iain Begg, an expert in European finance at the London School of Economics, says that this hypothetical comparison of payments without the rebate is not very meaningful.
He says that the best way to calculate the cost of EU membership is to look at contributions as a proportion of a country's economy.

On this basis, the France made a net contribution of 0.12% of GDP in 2003, and the UK 0.16% of GDP, a difference of about 33%.

Britain clearly benefits less than many other countries from an EU budget which is still focused on agricultural support.

However, a direct comparison of payments, subtracting out rebate payments, between just two countries, can exaggerate the differences in contributions.

Of Councils and Confussion

The European Council

There is a lot of confussion and misunderstanding regarding 'The European Council'. Perhaps this blog can help, since the ''Council'' today and tomorrow will be featured a lot on news programmes.

Misunderstandings are very understandable since the descriptions and definitions of the EU's principle segments all have confusing and similar titles.

The European Council was informally established in 1970 as an institution of the then EEC, but it did not become formally recognised until the Maastricht Treaty - Title I Article D, whence it became a formal institution of the European Union. Its tasks, as set out in the Treaty, are "to provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development" and to "define the general political guidelines thereof". It must be distinguished from the Council of the European Union - otherwise known as "the Council", and is of course entirely separate from The Council of Europe, the latter of which is not a segment of the European Union and is separate from the EU, even though it established the now familiar EU flag and adopted Beethoven's coral sympathy which is now the anthem of the EU. As they say in the East End of London it was 'alf inched' by The Council of the European Union. I suppose that should be half 10 centimetres but it would not rhyme (nor reason).

Confused, don't worry, so are a lot of journalists who often get it wrong.
As regards its formal role in treaty making, the European Council has no competence (i.e., power). It's sole role is to convene an Inter Governmental Conference (IGC), which it can do by a majority decision which is the formal body which negotiates the treaties such as Maastricht , Niece and Amsterdam, the details of which impact on all 'citizens' of Europe.
What is further confusing is that the European Council and the IGC have the same membership - heads of states and governments. The difference is that, constituted as the European Council, they represent the collective will of the European Union (in theory at least) while as an IGC they represent the interests of their member states. That's important and my dear reader may wish to re-read that point.
The European Council has no formal powers to impose its decisions on member states, and its decisions are not "judicable" under the European Court of Justice. It certainly cannot make or amend treaties, and cannot impose a treaty - or any of its provisions - on any party to an IGC.

Waiting prohibited

Today is the 47 th anniversary of the introduction of Yellow 'no waiting' lines on British roads.
The first yellow road markings were introduced in London on 16 June 1958. Trafice wardens, parking meters were to follow shortly. The rest as they say is history.

Wednesday, June 15

Letter published in The Northern Echo 14 June


Despite the No vote on the EU Constitution in both France and the Netherlands and a head of any referendum in the UK, large chunks of the EU constitution are being implemented regardless of the democratic will of the people.

The setting up the EU's own world-wide diplomatic service and its police college in Hampshire, co-ordinating EU-wide police training and procedures, launching the EU's Galileo space programme and the European Defence Agency to create a European defence force and policy are all being currently implemented. The plan for an integrated 'United States of Europe' continues.

So much for Mr Blair's period ''of reflection''.

Peter Troy

Unemployment in the UK

The number of unemployed people fell by 15,000 in the period February to April, latest figures show.

However, the impact of the MG Rover job losses pushed the claimant count measure up by 13,200 in May, taking the total to 855,300.

Around half the increase in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits was put down to the car company's collapse.

"The trend assessments are that both the employment and unemployment rates have levelled off," said the Office for National Statistics. Work and pensions secretary David Blunkett said the figures told "a positive story about the British labour market".

"They demonstrate our success in creating more jobs, in cutting unemployment and moving people into work, particularly people who have in the past been outside the labour market," he added.

The ONS data showed there are 28.6 million people in work, up 196,000 over the last 12 months.

Taking the credit for the success of British Business Blunket continued:

"In my first month as work and pensions secretary, I have seen the positive contribution our policies make in helping people get back to work. "I am, however, concerned to see a rise this month in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits, even though the number of people dependent on these benefits remains at levels not seen for 30 years. We have a platform of high employment that is the envy of others. But I am not prepared to accept that this is the best we can do. We are continuing to help those affected by the MG Rover redundancies to return to work as quickly as possible. ''
David Bluked concluded:
''And we must re-double our efforts to extend employment opportunity to all, especially to those who have become stuck on benefit for long periods of time."

What is not being widely published, or stated by Blunket is that some 1,000 small businesses are under threat directly due to the Rover collapse !

Answer Wanted Dead or Alive

In advance of the European Council meeting tomorrow, Michael Howard, has written to the Prime Minister asking him to clarify the government's aims for the meeting.
In his letter, sent after prime minister's questions today, Howard, said:

I think everyone will have noticed that at Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon you refused to accept that the European Constitution is dead. You talked about finding a way round the Dutch and French votes and about renegotiating the Constitution.Before you go to the European Summit (sic) on Thursday I believe that the British people deserve to know what the government's aims actually are. Will you be arguing for the constitution to be brought back or declared dead?
The reply is stil awaited.

Our masters must not be disturbed

by Dr Helen Szamuelz

Well, well, so the politicians must not be disturbed by protests.
After all, what have they to do with disgruntled people of any kind? Or with people in general?Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has used the powers granted him by the Serious and Organized Crime and Police Act and has created a half-mile exclusion zone around Parliament for all unauthorized protests. And what are the chances of an authorized protest being permitted?
This is supposed to ensure that MPs are not held up by noisy (or quiet) people , who are demonstrating for or against something they feel strongly about, and prevented from getting into the Chamber to do their duty, that is passing on the nod the legislation that is sent over from Brussels. There are just one or two problems with it all.
For example, how can one person prevent hundreds of MPs from getting in? The Order on the exclusion zone makes it clear that even one person is a demonstration and if it is not authorized, it is not allowed.
Given that the exclusion zone is wide enough to include St James’s Park and the London Eye on the other side of the Thames, the possibilities for police intervention to protect our masters are barely limited. Of course, we know what is at the bottom of all this.
No, gentle and perspicacious reader, it is not fear of terrorism. The abject terror of our elected politicians has already caused Westminster and, more specifically, the House of Commons to be turned into a miniature police state. The House of Lords remains the only part that does not boast squads of armed police officers.
While the rest of London might go for weeks without sighting a friendly bobby (or even an unfriendly one), the area around the Houses of Parliament is so crowded with uniformed and heavily armed guardians of the law that it is sometimes rather hard to get from A to B on perfectly legitimate business.
The two crucial reasons for this pathetic exclusion zone are that famous incursion by a bunch of teenagers in t-shirts during the protests against the authoritarian and oppressive ban on hunting, since imposed by a completely unconstitutional method; and the continuing presence of Brian Haw with his large selection of increasingly weather-beaten protests against the Iraqi war.
Mr Haw is something of a nuisance and he has managed to turn Parliament Square into a rather squalid squat. However, it is not true to say that he has been all the time for the last nineteen months. He vacates his spot every Monday to collect his social security.
Rather than imposing draconian measures on the entire population, would it not have been simpler to suggest to Mr Haw somewhat forcefully that it was about time he did a bit of job searching or his social security might come to an end? Other people are told that all the time.
If they cannot do that, then let them leave Mr Haw alone.But, of course, it is not even the appearance of Parliament Square that is bothering our political masters. It is the thought that they might be accosted by the sans-culottes, a group that includes all of us.
It might not hurt Charles Clarke and his quaking, terrified colleagues to read a little French history. The sans-culottes do not stay silent for ever.
Or they could read some English history. They could, for instance, read about the House of Commons that stood up to the King and led the fight for parliamentary liberties.Or they could contemplate what happened after the assassination of Spencer Perceval in 1812. Certain lily-livered predecessors of our own elected members called for protection after the dastardly assassination in Central Lobby, only to be told that such behaviour was “unmanly” and those who enter into public life must bear the consequences.

Stop at the start not at the end

Small Businesses Penalised Under New Licensing Regulations.

Working my way, in the manor of an insect, around the many news sources now available on the internet this morning I noted a report from 'bdaily'

'bdaily' an e news letter based in the North East takes up the issue of the impact of the new Licensing Law.

''Small pubs and businesses that do not make the bulk of their profit from alcohol will be unfairly penalises by the new licensing regime, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Up to 40,000 small businesses including wedding venues, corner shops, tea rooms and agricultural shows will be hit by the increase in fees as larger pubs, bars and nightclubs.

FSB NE Policy Chairman John Wright said: “The new licensing scheme is such a blunt instrument that it fails to distinguish between a city centre fun pub and a bed and breakfast that makes less then £100 a year from alcohol sales. “The government has underestimated the vast array of businesses that come under the new regime, and has made no attempt to recognise that for many of them alcohol is just a very small proportion of their total sales.”

Affected businesses are urged to accept the licensing regime and complete their applications in time to avoid being shut down, while the FSB calls for the licensing regime to be urgently reviewed by an independent panel. The changes proposed by the FSB include changes to the fees system to make them operate on a genuine sliding scale based on more distinct bands of rateable values, a reduction in fees for wholesalers and businesses that do not make the bulk of their profit from alcohol, and measures to combat red tape.''

The point that is not made by bdaily, or elsewhere, is that the FSB is comlaining rightly but far to late about the implementation of the new law. The FSB did not address the devil in the detail of the legislation whilst it was being drafted three years ago, a point I made to the FSB policy unit in the North East many times.

Parliament is now unable to make any change to the Licensing Law until, at the earliest, next Spring, by which time the damage will have been done.

The Federations reaction to the Licensing legislation is the same as its attitude to the new law that will shortly seriously effect electrical contractors. The wide ranging Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Restriction of the use of Hazardous Substances Directives. Both these directives will impact on small businesses between June 2004 and June 2006.

Dealing with the matter of how to comply, or how to change to details of implementation once the laws have been drafted, is not to relevantly nor effectively address the problem of regulation. Neither is it meaningful to repeat broad statements of intent. What is needed is to effectively influence the process of law making at the pre-drafting stage.

When pressure groups complain that the law is wrong after the law making process has been completed and when the law has been added to the statute book is in reality to admit failure. It is the function of established pressure groups to opose legislation that will adversly effect its members not to complain after the event.
Once the law is made all that can be then done is for representative groups to organise a token public whinge, unless that is mass non compliance is advocated in a style the trade union movement was once so adapt at implementing.