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Archive for May, 2010

Sunday
May 23,2010

Yesterday, The Times reported concerns about the safety of David Cameron:

“David Cameron is rejecting the advice of top security officials by insisting on walking around Whitehall, refusing police motorcycle escorts and demanding to be allowed to keep his BlackBerry smartphone.”

The risk has been denied by Downing Street who call the concerns “ridiculous”.

Now I can applaud the decision of public figures not to want a fuss every time they want to do something that everyone else takes for granted – like walking down the street.  I can understand the desire not to be seen to be having special privileges, such as having the traffic stopped so that their cars do not get stuck in traffic jams.  I would like to be in a world where senior politicians are readily approachable by the public they serve.

However, the attitude displayed by the Prime Minister is an irresponsible one.

There are threats to his security.  They are real and genuine.  They come not just from organised terrorist groups, but from lone free-lancers.  And then there are the fixated crazies ….

To have our Prime Minister assassinated or attacked in the street would never be in the national interest.  His safety therefore matters to every one of us, whether we agree with his policies or not.

And it is not just his safety that is at risk.

Those around him – accompanying him or protecting him – or simply passing by – are put at risk by a suicide bomber or an armed individual seeing an opportunity to get at him.

And consider the job of those protecting him, having to make a split-second decision if someone comes too close, perhaps when that person reaches into their pocket or under their clothing.  We don’t want innocent passers-by wrestled to the ground or worse still shot because of a misinterpreted gesture.  But equally, not reacting to that gesture could have appalling consequences.

Mr Cameron needs to reconsider.  To do so would not be a sign of weakness, nor a sign that the job has gone to his head, but it would be a sign that he is acquiring the maturity to be Prime Minister.

Friday
May 21,2010

The full Government list has now been published and I note that no fewer than ten Ministers are not drawing a salary.  I think this must be a record.

Presumably, some Ministers are sufficiently wealthy that they regard the Ministerial stipends on offer as just not worth bothering about – although there are clearly  others who despite being very well off have decided to take the money.

It would be interesting to know whether any of those declining a salary have been given any exemptions from the usual rules about holding other external appointments whilst serving as a Minister.

For the record the unpaid ten are:

The three marked with an * are LibDems.

Wednesday
May 19,2010

I hear that, although John Penrose MP is to be a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, in practice “digital economy” policy is to be led by DCOMS.

UPDATE: I now hear it is not John Penrose but Ed Vaisey MP who is the shared Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.  or at least that is what the No 10 website says – the Cabinet Office website still has John Penrose!

I do wonder about the logic of this.  The effective development of the digital economy is going to be vital for UK business.  It will require the effective utilisation of British innovation and as a nation we should be investing to a much greater extent in developing the skills of the next generation of the workforce in this area.  Surely, this is much more the core role of DBIS?

Maybe David Cameron was not prepared to trust Vince Cable with the overall responsibility for this area of policy.

Wednesday
May 19,2010

Before MPs can be sworn in, they first have to elect a Speaker and then the appointment of the Speaker has to be approved by the Queen.  This requires some considerable amount of ritual and the wearing of robes by five senior members of the House of Lords who act as Lords Commissioner on behalf of Her Majesty.

The Speaker was elected yesterday, but the Approbation took place this afternoon.  You can watch it here – the best bits are 9 minutes in.  But don’t miss the earlier stress on the word “immediate” when the decaration is made:

“Let the Commons know that the Lords Commissioners desire their immediate attendance in this House.”

And while the Lord Strathclyde, the new Leader of the House, just about manages to keep a straight face while he intones that Her Majesty is “fully sensible” of John Bercow’s “zeal in the public service” and his “ample sufficiency to exercise the arduous duties”, sitting next to him Lord McNally, his coalition partner and Leader of the LibDems fails to contain himself, especially when John Bercow is assured that Her Majesty “will ever place the most favourable construction” upon his words and actions.

The full ritual was as follows:

3.00 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Speaker of the House of Commons

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I beg to acquaint the House that a Commission has been issued under Her Majesty’s Great Seal to several Lords therein named authorising the said Lords to declare in the name and on behalf of Her Majesty Her Majesty’s Approbation of the choice of the Commons of Mr John Bercow to be their Speaker.

Then, the Lords Commissioners (the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde), the Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman), Lord McNally, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon and Baroness D’Souza) being robed and seated in front of the Throne, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster directed Black Rod as follows:

Lord Strathclyde: Let the Commons know that the Lords Commissioners desire their immediate attendance in this House.

Then, the Commons being at the Bar, Mr Speaker-Elect (Mr John Bercow), addressing the Royal Commissioners, said:

Mr Speaker-Elect (Mr John Bercow): My Lords, I have to acquaint your Lordships that, in obedience to the Royal Command, Her Majesty’s faithful Commons have, in the exercise of their undoubted rights and privileges, proceeded to the election of a Speaker, and that their choice has fallen upon myself. I therefore present myself to your Lordships’ Bar and submit myself with all humility to Her Majesty’s gracious Approbation.

Lord Strathclyde: Mr John Bercow, we are commanded to assure you that Her Majesty is so fully sensible of your zeal in the public service, and of your ample sufficiency to execute the arduous duties which her faithful Commons have selected you to discharge, that Her Majesty does most readily approve and confirm you as their Speaker.

Mr Speaker: My Lords, I submit myself with all humility and gratitude to Her Majesty’s gracious Commands. It is now my duty, in the name of and on behalf of the Commons of the United Kingdom, to lay claim, by humble petition to Her Majesty, to all their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges, especially to freedom of speech in debate, to freedom from arrest, and to free access to Her Majesty whenever occasion shall arise, and that the most favourable construction shall be put upon all their proceedings. With regard to myself, I pray that, if in the discharge of my duties I shall inadvertently fall into any error, it may be imputed to myself alone, and not to Her Majesty’s most faithful Commons.

Lord Strathclyde: Mr Speaker, we have it further in Command to inform you that Her Majesty does most readily confirm all the rights and privileges which have ever been granted to or conferred upon the Commons by Her Majesty or any of her Royal predecessors. With respect to yourself, Sir, though Her Majesty is sensible that you stand in no need of such assurance, Her Majesty will ever place the most favourable construction upon your words and actions.

Mr Speaker and the Commons then retired.

Tuesday
May 18,2010

One of the casualties of the “wash-up” period just before the dissolution of the last Parliament was that part of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill that would have ended by-elections to replace hereditary peers who had seats in the House of Lords and who die.

Apparently, members of what is now the new Coalition felt that these proposals were too controversial to be allowed to go through, despite having been supported by the House of Commons.

So the first by-elections of the new Parliament will take place in the House of Lords next month.

The deaths of the Earl of Northesk on 28 March 2010, and of Viscount Colville of Culross on 8 April 2010, have created two vacancies among the 90 hereditary peers who sit in the House of Lords under the terms of section 2 of the House of Lords Act 1999.

Under House of Lords Standing Order 10 these vacancies are to be filled by means of two by-elections, in which those eligible to stand are all those hereditary peers whose names are listed in the ‘Register of hereditary peers who wish to stand for election as members of the House of Lords’.

The Earl of Northesk was one of 42 hereditary peers elected by the Conservative hereditary peers, and Viscount Colville of Culross was one of 28 hereditary peers elected by the Crossbench hereditary peers, so hereditary peers on the Register are being asked to declare whether they wish to stand as a candidate in the Conservative by-election, the Crossbench by-election, or both.

Just let me repeat that:

hereditary peers on the Register are being asked to declare whether they wish to stand as a candidate in the Conservative by-election, the Crossbench by-election, or both.

In each by-election, the voters will be the hereditary peers who sit in the House as members of that party/group: when hereditary peers elected to serve as Deputy Speakers or in other offices are included, this means that there are 47 Conservative electors and 29 Crossbench electors.

Again for emphasis:

47 Conservative electors and 29 Crossbench electors.

The two by-elections will be conducted simultaneously: lists of candidates will be available on Tuesday 1 June, and the results will be announced on Wednesday 23 June.

Isn’t democracy a wonderful thing!

Tuesday
May 18,2010

The LibCon coalition government is in danger of getting a reputation for trying to gerry-mander Parliament.

First, it pledges to protect itself from being thrown out of office by proposing the 55% rule, which would overturn the centuries-old process whereby a Government defeated (by one vote not 65 votes) in the House of Commons had to resign.

Now, we are learning more about the proposal to pack the House of Lords with coalition supporters.  Last week, I reported that the coalition agreement between the Tories and the LibDems talks about the House of Lords in the following terms:

“In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

And speculated:

“So this sounds – in the short-term – like a proposal to create 96 new Liberal Democrat peers and 77 new Tory peers (assuming no Labour ex-MPs are appointed to the House and the Crossbench numbers remain the same) so as to reflect the votes secured in the election.”

The Times confirmed this yesterday and speculated that the first wave of appointments would be soon and listed possible nominees. 

The LibDems are in an ecstasy of excitement about the possible preferment on offer.  Apparently, they have already had “an election” to choose their nominees and LibDem Voice has the top thirty lucky winners – headed by my old friend, controversial Brian Paddick, the former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropoltian Police and LibDem Mayoral candidate for London.  However, (and this could only be the LibDems) the validity of this election has already been called into question and other LibDems are describing the names as “odious”.

However, this triumphalist bickering misses the point.

The new coalition already commands 37% of the seats in the House of Lords.  This is in practice a working majority, as the non-political Crossbenchers who comprise nearly 30% of the House do not vote as a bloc and turn out less frequently.

The previous Government never had more than 30% of the seats in the Upper House and was regularly defeated by a combination of Conservative and LibDem peers. 

It had previously been agreed that following the departure of most of the Hereditary Peers, there should be approximate parity between the two main Parties in the Lords (and, in practice, it took nearly ten years after the election of 1997 for Labour to have the same number of Lords members as the Conservatives) .  This was to avoid a situation in which the Government of the day would ever have an automatic majority. 

This convention is apparently now to be set aside.

While the House of Lords exists in its present form, its raison d’etre has been its ability from time to time to challenge the Government and make the House of Commons think again about the details of legislation – in a recent session approving 3,000 amendments to Government Bills.

This rigour is too much for the new Coalition – so their response is to pack the House of Lords with their own supporters.

Most people would call that gerry-mandering.

I couldn’t possibly comment.

Monday
May 17,2010

A few days I commented on the seating arrangements in the Lords Chamber and the need for some changes now that there were two parties of Government.

A new seating plan is now being circulated.

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And the LibDems have been swapped over to the Government side of the House with a compensatory move by some of the Cross-benchers.

But why are they not going to mix more extensively with their new Coalition colleagues?

The only test will be whether Members remember to sit in their new places tomorrow, when the House meets for the first time.

Monday
May 17,2010

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” is supremely powerful.

The violence erupts on stage with a vicious street brawl between the Montagues and Capulets making the subsequent tragedy all the more believable.

Mariah Gale’s Juliet is particularly fine, evoking the sulky teenager uttering the Shakespearean equivalent of “Whatever” as her parents plot her marriage, but maturing first into a flirtatious girl and then into a sensual and passionate young woman as she falls in love with Sam Troughton’s hoodied Romeo (and yes, he is the grandson of Patrick Troughton, the greatest Dr Who of them all).  Strong performances also from Noma Dumezwemi as the Nurse, Forbes Masson as Friar Laurence, and Jonjo O’Neill as Mercutio.

Well worth it.

Thursday
May 13,2010

A quiet – bordering on the boring – meeting of the Strategic and Operational Policing Committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority suddenly burst into life this afternoon when it was asked to authorise £10.6 million to provide kennelling for another 400 dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

I growled that it would be a lot cheaper just to shoot the dogs rather than cage them (which in itself is fairly cruel for large dogs) for six months or more while the legal processes following their seizure grind through the courts.  Much to my surprise, the sentiment attracted unanimous support from other Committee members – even the saintlier-than-thou Jenny Jones AM admitted that she didn’t like attack dogs.

It was agreed that the DCiC*, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, Chair of the MPA, who has been making his name tackling the issue of dangerous dogs in London, should write to the new Home Secretary, Theresa May, asking her to agree fast-track culling powers for the Police in relation to the animals.

However, even though everyone knows that the new Con/Lib Coalition** Government walks on water, it was decided to authorise the money just in case the new powers take a bit of time to come through.

*     Dog-Catcher-in-Chief

**  aka “the mongrel” – copyright Mayor Boris Johnson

Thursday
May 13,2010

On BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning, the new Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said that he expects to go beyond the efficiency savings already planned by the outgoing Government and he said that these had “implied something like three to three-and-a-half percent, probably about three percent efficiency savings each year in the NHS”.

He also said that the NHS could not expect to continue to receive increases to cover ‘NHS inflation’  – ie the higher rate of cost increases that have been faced by the NHS in the past to cover demography changes and the cost of new drugs and treatments.

It looks like the softening up has started ……