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Archive for June, 2011

Thursday
Jun 30,2011

The BBC is reporting that:

“Both reactors at the Torness nuclear power station have been shut down after huge numbers of jellyfish were found in the sea water entering the plant.”

The report continues:

“It is not known why there are so many jellyfish in the area.

Water temperatures along the east coast of Scotland have been relatively normal, but it is thought higher than average temperatures elsewhere in the North Sea may be a factor.

Operations at nuclear power plants in Japan have been disrupted by large numbers of jellyfish in recent years.”

I am sure many people will be disturbed by the idea of plagues of jellyfish around our shores, but when they start clogging up the inflow of cooling water into nuclear power stations it is time to get worried.

Climate change is real.  It is happening and some of its effects are not what you might expect.

Thursday
Jun 30,2011

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and the Commissioner has, in answer to a question from me, told the Authority that there are currently 14,029 people on bail who are potentially affected by the extraordinary (my word not his) ruling by a High Court Judge to overturn 25 years of previous interpretations of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

Of the 14,029, 175 are on bail for murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to murder.

He has raised it with the Home Secretary. Action from her is awaited.

Thursday
Jun 30,2011

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and the Commissioner has told the Authority that 90% of the police staff who would normally be working in the Met’s emergency call centres, known as METCALL, have not turned up for work today as a result of the industrial action. Police officers have been drafted in to the call centres to deal with calls – although given the hi-tech nature of METCALL, the Commissioner is clearly worried that if they have his personal level of technological eptitude this is not an ideal situation.

No doubt Mayor Boris Johnson will use this as more ammunition in his campaign to outflank Prime Minister David Cameron from the ultra-right by calling for greater limitations on the right to strike

Thursday
Jun 30,2011

It is the Annual Meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, putative Deputy Mopsy*, is in the Chair.

And the Deputy Mopsy has already had a head-in-hands moment after only five minutes.

It started off with Clive Lawton challenging the figures for his meeting attendance in the last year. He was recorded as being at only three of the five meetings of the sub-committee he chairs. He pointed out that he had been at four and that on the occasion of the fifth he had turned up at the correct time only to discover that the other members had got there early and had the meeting without him. Victoria Borwick muttered that perhaps the other members were trying to tell him something and I pointed out it was unlawful for a public body to meet and take decisions before the time published for the meeting (surely an issue for a POLICE authority).

The Deputy Mopsy then proposed that his report be taken as read, only to be told that we would if we had seen it.
“Never mind. Any questions?”
“What? On a report we haven’t got?”
“All right, I’ll read it out…… Oh, I don’t seem to have a copy either.”
At this point the Deputy Mopsy put his head in his hands …….

*Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime

Thursday
Jun 30,2011

This afternoon the House of Lords debated my amendment to ensure that there are proper governance structures around elected police and crime commissioners (and the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime in London).  Although the arguments were sufficiently strong to convince 35 of the 39 cross-benchers who voted and also induced 3 Liberal Democrats to defy their whips, the vote was not quite enough – the amendment fell by 201 votes to 186.  My amendment was supported by 139 Labour Peers, 35 cross-benchers, 9 unalligned Peers and 3 Liberal Democrats; opposing the amendment 136 Conservative Peers, 59 Liberal Democrats, 4 cross-benchers, one unalligned Peer and a Bishop.

For the odd reader – and I mean that in the nicest possible way – who wants to understand the detail of what we were debating, this is what I said in moving the amendment:

“There has been considerable concern about the central principle of the Bill, the idea of a single, directly elected individual who is to be responsible for the oversight and control of the police service. That is why I have tabled Amendment 3. Amendment 20 applies similar provisions to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

At Second Reading and in Committee, there were widely held concerns about the concept of a single individual with this very strong responsibility for policing matters. The vote in Committee essentially removed from the Bill the principle of police and crime commissioners. The Committee voted in that way because of the fear of having a single individual with responsibility for such an important area of public life, an area where the police have such powerful responsibilities over the liberty of the citizens of this country and over the way in which the citizens of this country operate. That is the core of the concerns that have been expressed from many corners of your Lordships’ House.You could argue that we have solved the problem. By the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and agreed in Committee, there will not be a single directly elected individual. However, I am mindful of what the Minister said repeatedly in Committee—that the Government are determined to reinstate that principle. If the Minister wants to stand up and tell me that the Government have changed their mind and have suddenly realised that the House of Lords was right on this point, I might consider withdrawing this amendment, but if, as seems likely, the Government intend to reverse the House of Lords position on this and bring back to this House proposals for a single individual with those extraordinary powers over policing and with the police having such extraordinary powers over the citizen, we need something that looks at these matters. In fact, I submit that even if the Government were to accept the position taken by the House of Lords in Committee, there would still be value in having non-executive members around the police and crime commission to bring to the deliberations of the commission expertise and independent-minded judgment. However, given that the Government intend to reverse that position, this amendment is essential.Amendment 20 relates to the position in London. There are no changes, so far, to the position in London. We will have a single elected individual—the Mayor of London—who will delegate some of his functions to the deputy mayor for policing and crime.  

In the circumstances in which we are to have single individuals with these responsibilities, there has to be a governance structure around them. I think there is consensus among your Lordships about the value of a collegiate approach and robust and strong governance. The amendment is not about going back to police authorities. It is not about creating some new bureaucratic structure. It is not even about going to the appointed boards that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, coruscated earlier in our discussions today. It is about good governance. It is about making sure that decisions are taken properly and transparently so that these single individuals cannot be subjected to criticism that they have acted in a wilful or inappropriate way. It says that on key financial matters, key personnel matters and on matters perhaps relating to equalities, they must act with the support of a group of non-executives who would be appointed for this purpose.Non-executives appointed in the way that I have suggested in my amendment would provide the public with an assurance that good governance was being followed. It would provide a mechanism by which you could make sure that those decisions were taken in a sound and proper way. It would also deal with what I suspect will be one of the issues. If you look forward to May 2012, when the Government hope that the first directly elected police commissioners will be elected, you will have elected individuals with an enormous personal mandate. The only person in the country with a larger personal mandate—I do not want to get into double entendres here—will be the Mayor of London. They will be the biggest political beasts in their regions. The elected police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands will be chosen by an electorate of more than 2 million people and will have a bigger mandate than a directly elected mayor of Birmingham, should such a creature come to exist following the passage of the Localism Bill. Those individuals may think that they can walk on water, I do not know. I hesitate to make such a remark in the presence of the Bishops’ Bench. However, we are back to the principle of being reminded that you are human, the way that Roman emperors had to have someone around them just to remind them of their human responsibilities.  When I was the leader of a local authority—I was not directly elected by the people of the borough; it required endless arcane processes within the Labour Party before I ended up as leader—I did have tremendous authority within my local council. Sometimes I came up with ideas that were perhaps not as sensible as they might have been. My problem was that the officers of my authority would say, “Yes, Leader, it will be done tomorrow”. What I actually wanted were officers who would say, “You are out of your tiny mind, Leader, have you not thought about the following? What about the implications of this? You do realise that there are going to be the following unintended consequences”. The danger of having a single elected individual with a personal mandate bigger than that of any local authority person or Member of Parliament is who will say to them, “Hang on, just think about this, think again, consider it”? Or, “Let us just go through a proper, transparent process for making this decision”. That is what creating a small board of non-executives would provide: that safeguard and those circumstances in which that challenge and proper governance can take place. It does not undermine the principle that the Government are trying to achieve. That is not the intention. It is simply trying to provide robust good governance.Actually, it is a principle that I thought the government parties endorsed in other contexts. The Conservative Party in the past brought forward the Cadbury report and saw the value of non-executive directors in the private sector. The principle is established in the health service. I understand that one of the arguments that is still going on—in so far as anyone can follow the minutiae of the debate on health—is the extent of the involvement of external boards in some new health structures. The report reviewing the position of the Children’s Commissioner—a rare example of a corporation sole—recommended a small non-executive board to support the commissioner’s activities and enable good governance. This is somebody saying, “I am in this position but I would like some effective systems of governance around me”. That is why this is so important.It also helps mitigate some of the problems with politicisation that are seen as potentially causing difficulty. I have seen circumstances involving the much maligned outgoing police authorities where the independent members have sometimes said to the political members, “Come on, hold on, let us not be political about this—let us just look at this in terms of the interests of the public of this area and good policing in this area”. So it helps deal with that. It provides some of the checks and balances that Members of your Lordships’ House are so keen to see enshrined in this Bill. It provides a mechanism whereby additional expertise can be brought in. A police and crime commissioner or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime may want, for a specific purpose, someone with extensive external experience of human resources questions or particular types of financial management. Bringing in that expertise is the capacity that would be created. It provides resilience and a support mechanism to enable the enormous task that the Government want to place on these individuals to be carried out. It also provides a mechanism whereby that work can be carried on.The amendment provides for robust good governance and some collegiate elements to decisions where it would be dangerous and difficult for an individual to act on his or her own. If it is the Minister’s intention to tell us, “Well, actually, there is nothing in this Bill that prevents it happening”, I would say one thing. No, there is nothing in the Bill that prevents it happening, and I am sure that plenty of sensible elected police and crime commissioners would want to do that. But it would be precisely those police and crime commissioners who do not think that they need that sort of external support—those independent non-executives around them—who will be the ones who cause us problems in the future because of potentially wilful or maverick decisions. That is why this is so important. I beg to move.”

Thursday
Jun 30,2011

I was delighted to be joined by Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, this morning when we presented the first copies of the book “But It’s Not Fair” produced by the Freedom Charity to help educate teenagers about the danger of forced marriages and what they can do protect friends who may be facing such a situation to a group of London schoolchildren.  The aim is to distribute the book to all secondary schools in the country to raise awareness of the problem.  At the same time a twenty-four hour helpline is being launched to provide advice to those at risk.

Monday
Jun 27,2011

Peter Bingle, the influential Conservative commentator and Chairman of Bell Pottinger, has posted a devastating critique of the Cameron Government:

“If there is one thing that the public expects from its government it is competence. Thatcher’s government was always competent. John Major’s was not. The debacle over the ERM gave the impression of a government in chaos. From that moment the government was dead in the water.

In recent weeks u-turns have become the norm rather than the exception. The narrative of being a listening government is wearing very thin. This is a government which is starting to develop a reputation (rather like the Heath government from 1970-1974) for being pragmatic rather than principled. It is a dangerous game to play. It encourages strikes and civil unrest. As Norman Tebbit pointed out earlier this week: “Weakness, not strength, provokes ­aggression and the Coalition lacks a reputation for a steely sense of purpose.” Not a smart strategy when you have a police service which believes that the government hates them.

In addition to having a backbone inserted there are some simple things that need to happen and quickly. There are some ministers who are truly hopeless. We all know who they are, don’t we? They should return to the backbenches without delay and be replaced by colleagues with real ability.  ….

The government also needs to start giving the impression that it believes in something. Defence and the police are two obvious ones but there are others.  ….

I have mused before why the government needs to change tack over policing. They are in a similar mess over defence spending. When defence chiefs go public with warnings about lack of resources ministers should start to worry. Yesterday’s article by Stephen Glover over the Falklands should have instilled fear in Number 10, HM Treasury and the MoD. If the President of Argentina decides to invade the Falklands would we be in a position to do anything about it? If not the government would fall.”

He concludes:

“In the comedy classic Up Pompeii Frankie Howard played the character Lurcio. One of his standard lines was: “Oh woe is me …” This sums up rather well how many Tory supporters are currently thinking about the government.”

If that’s what his friends are saying, David Cameron should be worried.

Monday
Jun 27,2011

Sadly, Baroness Hayman who has been an excellent Lord Speaker, has announced her intention to stand down at the end of her term of office.  Nominations have now closed for the election of her successor and the race is now on.

There are six candidates:

  • Lord Colwyn, a Conservative “elected” hereditary peer and former dentist;
  • Lord Meghnad Desai, a Labour peer, an academic and an economist;
  • Baroness D’Souza, the just retired convenor of the Cross-bench peers and a former academic;
  • Lord Goodlad, a Conservative peer, a former Minister and former High Commissioner for Australia;
  • Baroness Harris of Richmond, a LibDem peer and former Police Authority chair (a Government rebel on the Police Reform Bill);
  • Lord Redesdale, a LibDem peer (formerly an hereditary peer but then made a life peer) and  Chair of the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership.

Each candidate is allowed to circulate an election address of up to 75 words.

Lord Redesdale’s is the shortest – just 24 words:

“I believe in a self-regulating House of Lords. If elected I intend to do as little as possible in the Chamber for the money*.”

I am sure that in these days of austerity that sets the right tone ……

*    The Lord Speaker is paid a salary equivalent to a member of the Cabinet who sits in the House of Lords c £110,000 plus various allowances.
Saturday
Jun 25,2011

There are two productions of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” on in London at the moment which must be something of a rarety in itself.  One at the Wyndhams has two celebrity actors in the roles of Beatrice and Benedict (Catherine Tate and David Tennant respectively). I have not seen that production, but having today been to see the Globe’s production, all I can say is that Tate and Tennant have to be exceptionally good to out-perform the Globe’s Beatrice and Benedict: Eve Best and Charles EdwardsEve Best (who played Wallis Simpson in “The King’s Speech“) is a particularly fine Beatrice.  Well worth a visit.

Theatre/2011/Much Ado/beatrice and benedick letters

Thursday
Jun 23,2011

It is noteworthy that there have been as many strikes on the London Underground in three years of the Boris Johnson Mayorality as there were in the full eight years when Ken Livingstone was Mayor.  Cynics suggest that (1) Mayor Boris Johnson doesn’t care because he never uses the Underground and (2) he believes that the more disruption there is on public transport due to poor industrial relations the more he can try to blame the Labour Party (despite the fact that the RMT is not affiliated to the Labour Party).

Now, of course, I am not a cynic …

However, my eye was caught by a sentence tucked away towards the end of Allegra Stratton’s article in this morning’s Guardian which said:

” Osborne is pressuring Boris Johnson to stop London Underground members of staff getting free travel. Tories believe that until underground managers and executives pay for their travel they won’t keep fares down because they don’t need to.”

So perhaps there is a Tory masterplan after all which envisages provoking major industrial relations problems in London in the run up to next year’s Mayoral elections.