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Archive for December, 2010

Friday
Dec 31,2010

The New Year’s Honours List contains a well-deserved knighthood for Steve Bubb, the Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations. I first knew Steve when we were both involved in the Young Fabians in the 1970s. However, we were also the Chief Whips of our respective London Boroughs, Haringey and Lambeth, from 1982 to 1986 and were inevitably at the centre of the campaign against rate-capping -the attack on local authorities by the then Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher.
It is an irony therefore that, as another Conservative Government again imposes massive cuts on local councils, Margaret Thatcher’s successor, David Cameron, has honoured Steve, who was, of course, one of the Lambeth Councillors who ended up being surcharged and disqualified from office for defying the central government.
Incentivising dissent?

Thursday
Dec 30,2010

Inspector Gadget at the Police Inspector blog – after the usual rant about political correctness gone mad – has an interesting take on the lessons to be learnt from the awful murder of Joanna Yeates.  As he puts it:

“One set of people who certainly can not be considered as politically correct are the detectives investigating the murder of Joanna Yeates. They have gone and used the tried and tested CID strategy of ‘arresting the bloke with the silliest hair’, and nicked the landlord.

‘Mr Jefferies was vice chairman of his local Neighbourhood Watch, and an active member of Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society which campaigns to conserve buildings’. He is a former teacher and has been described as a ‘pillar of the community’.

Just the sort of person who might be elected as local police commissioner.”

No doubt, it’s a point that the House of Commons will bear in mind as it considers the new Policing and Social Responsibility Bill in Committee next month.

Friday
Dec 24,2010

Hat tip: Dave Hill

Friday
Dec 24,2010

Hat-tip: Team Cymru

Thursday
Dec 23,2010

I am not that surprised by the so-called revelations about the not-so-private thinking of LibDem ministers unveiled so breathlessly by the Daily Telegraph’s undercover squad.
What have we learned?
LibDem ministers have an over-blown sense of their over-weening importance (‘I can bring the Government down any time I want.’ and ‘I see myself as like Helen Suzman’)? And that’s a shock?
And that they are hypocritical?
Disloyal?
Two-faced?
Some of us have known that for years.

Wednesday
Dec 22,2010

This afternoon in Lords Question Time Lord Taverne asked the Government:

“what steps they are taking to discourage United Kingdom universities from offering Bachelor of Science degrees for courses in alternative medicines such as aromatherapy, reflexology and Chinese medicine?”

The following exchange then took place:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, universities decide what they should or should not teach. This is a key protection of academic freedom and helps to maintain the world-class reputation of our higher education institutions.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, with great respect, as lawyers used to say when they meant the opposite, will the Minister convey to his department that that is not an entirely satisfactory Answer? How can the Government justify supporting universities that show no regard for academic standards and offer science degrees in courses which teach that certain essential oils cure specific diseases, areas of the foot lead to pathways to certain inner organs, and health depends on the pattern of energy flows within the body? If the Government believe in evidence-based science, can they really remain indifferent to the fact that some of their funds are used to promote quackery and mumbo-jumbo and call it science?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I again remind my noble friend that it is very important to remember that universities are autonomous bodies and it is for them to make decisions about these matters. The Government have no power to intervene. I have some sympathy with the message that my noble friend is getting across but it would be wrong for the Government to intervene in these matters.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, is it not the case that the Government have differentially removed resources from universities on the basis of some of the courses concerned? Does the fact that resources are not being withdrawn from these Bachelor of Science courses suggest that the Government are endorsing the pseudo science that is implicit within them? If they are not endorsing that pseudo science, why are they allowing the funding to continue?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is trying to take us back to a debate we had last week. Those matters have been dealt with. I am making clear that it is not for the Government to interfere. We offer guidance to HEFCE. The letter to HEFCE from Dr Vince Cable and David Willetts went out yesterday. That sets out the parameters for HEFCE to make the appropriate decisions about university funding, but it is not right that we should do that.

Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, given the legislation that went through this House last week, which will now see the taxpayer underwriting degree courses at £9,000 a year, does the Minister accept that the taxpayer should fund what is little less than quackery in universities such as Thames Valley which offer BSc honours courses in homeopathy?

Lord Henley: My Lords, again I make it clear that it is for the higher education institutions themselves to make these decisions. It would not be right for the Government to interfere.

Lord Krebs: My Lords, in choosing to fund these courses in universities, will HEFCE treat them as science, technology, engineering and medicine courses, in which case they will receive a higher allocation than if they were not treated as such?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. I do not know the answer to it but I will certainly make inquiries and write to him. Again, I reiterate the fundamental point that these are matters for HEFCE to decide, not the Government.

After a brief diversion, while a number of peers described their personal affection for chinese remedies, the Minister was pressed again:

“Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the noble Lord says that it is at the discretion of HEFCE as to how university courses should be funded differentially. Is he actually saying to the House that it is a matter for HEFCE as to whether or not funding for the humanities and social sciences teaching is to be cut by 100 per cent?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we have offered guidance to HEFCE in the letter that I mentioned, which was published yesterday. I will make a copy available to the noble Lord. It is then for HEFCE to make its decisions.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, what does that guidance say about pseudo-science and the courses which the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, mentioned in the first place?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I will make the letter available to the noble Lord as well.”

So the Government have given “guidance” about funding but can’t say what it is ….

Monday
Dec 20,2010

This afternoon, the first three of the Conservative Coalition’s reinforcements were introduced into the House of Lords.  When they have all arrived the Government will have an effective majority in the House of Lords of around seventy.

“Michael John Dobbs, Esquire, having been created Baron Dobbs, of Wylye in the County of Wiltshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Tebbit and Lord Hunt of Wirral, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.”

Was it symbolic therefore that as the third of the three, Lord Dobbs, the creator of Francis Urquhart, formally took the oath of office this afternoon, a large mouse/small rat ran past the Woolsack under the fascinated gaze of the Lord Speaker and just past the foot of the Lord Chairman of Committees?  Are the vermin becoming bolder?

Monday
Dec 20,2010

Parliamentary budgets are not treated in the same way as other elements of public expenditure, but both Houses usually take account of the stringency being faced by the rest of the public sector.  So as Peers arrived today, they found the building especially cold (often many parts are maintained at nursing home temperatures).  The general consensus seemed to be that the heating had been turned off over the weekend (despite record low London temperatures) to save money.  It is not yet recorded how many water pipes have burst as a consequence.

Thursday
Dec 16,2010

The Metropolitan Police Authority is not meeting today. It was going to – primarily to discuss the budget for next year. However, as some of the figures for Government grants are still not clear, it was decided to change the meeting into a private briefing session to discuss the emerging picture.
I have a strict rule never to report on this blog the contents of private meetings I attend.
So unfortunately I cannot describe the first half hour of the meeting. This was devoted to ‘an update on proposed changes to police uniforms’ – a subject particularly dear to the heart of Caroline Pidgeon AM (who asked the Commissioner about the subject at the last – public – meeting of the Authority). A pity because it was a truly surreal 30 minutes with two miserable-looking constables modelling the various items and members of the Authority taking a keen issue on such topics as tightness of fit and the price of shirts.

Wednesday
Dec 15,2010

Colin Talbot at Whitehall Watch has some interesting predictions here.