Westminster View - June 2011
June. Bad, mad and sad. Bad weather, bad for Britain in Europe, bad for international football, bad for the old and frail, bad for schoolchildren, mad for the constabulary, mad for human rights and a sad time to be a Christian. Thank God for Prince Philip, for his wife and for the junior Royals. They, at least, have had a good month.
A Dutchman, Johan Hulbers, is building a replica of Noah`s Ark. It will be 450 x 75 metres, weigh three thousand tons and is costing M. Hulbers one million pounds. Relaxed animal quarantine laws may make life easier for M. Hulbers who wants to bring his vessel up the Thames in 2012 “to prove that there is a God”. Unlikely to get much coverage from the BBC, then!
The “ageist, box-ticking, anti-Christian, diversity obsessed” Broadcasting Corporation did, however, find ample time to relay the thoughts of Chairman Williams, or “The Archbishop of Canterbury” as he is, for the present, known. Dr Williams has used the columns of The New Statesman to voice his secular opinions about the democratic legitimacy of the present Government of the United Kingdom which, he believes, has no mandate. While it is, I suppose, reassuring to know that the “Pew Labour” Primate of All England still believes in something his assertion that he had to resort to the columns of The New Statesman to propagate his own brand of socialism because he “has no platform” strains credibility a little. The man has a pulpit and a Cathedral and a Palace, for goodness` sake! And as for the undemocratic bit, the goodly Doctor might recall that he is himself a Member, by virtue of his office, of a wholly unelected Upper House of Parliament and, as the Archbishop of Canterbury was appointed. The Commons, on the other hand, is democratically elected and has an absolute right and mandate to create, at the request of Her Maj, a government. The man who is presiding over division and fragmentation and bringing the Anglican Church to its knees in entirely the wrong way might also care to consider that every Act of parliament is preceded by democratic and majority votes. A prayer for guidance might, perhaps, be in order.
While on the subject of democracy it is worth glancing, fleetingly, at that wealthy banana dictatorship known as “FIFA”.
It should come as no surprise at all that Mr. Sepp Blatter, the man upon whose watch the name and reputation of international football has been dragged through the gutter of corruption has been re-elected unopposed as the head of this rotten state. Why on earth any nation with any self-respect left at all continues to maintain Membership of this thoroughly discredited organisation is beyond me. And to make matters worse, while two hundred and fifty thousand British taxpayers, including the families of some competitors, cannot get tickets for the 2012 Olympic Games , because Fatty Blubber is a member of the IOC, FIFA`s freeloading dodgy junketeers are to be given prominent seats! Their governance and conduct makes even the European Union look honest.
The coalition Government has, courtesy of the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clark, established a reputation for being less than robust on crime. This was enhanced, early in the month, by Hush Puppy Ken`s proposals to slash some gaol sentences in half in order to create space in prisons and cut costs. While the suggestion that we should allow robbers and rapists and murderers and child-molesters and armed criminals back onto our streets even earlier than at present may be orgasmically appealing to the liberal intelligentsia, Ken`s plans did not go down well with that corner of the House of Commons still known as “The Conservative and Unionist Party”. It took Man David until the third week of the month to knock this nonsense on the head and to reassert the concept that crime ought not to pay.
“Reconsideration” being fashionable, the Tory party`s favourite Europhile then astonished everyone by announcing that it was okay for grannies to brain intruding burglars with the family poker, even unto death! Now, those of us who, like myself, have been endeavouring for years to clarify the right of an Englishman to defend his castle, his family and his chattels by whatever means may be necessary and appropriate at the time can only applaud this sudden change of heart. It has always seemed to me that nobody compels a man, or women, to put onto a balaclava and to break into someone else`s home in the dead of night and that if they do so they leave their rights, up to and including the right to life, on the threshold or on the windowsill as they break and enter. Inevitably, within a few days of the Chancellor`s proclamation four masked men were interrupted during an intrusion by a householder who may then have stabbed one of them to death and was, with his son thrown in for good measure, arrested on suspicion of murder. It is for precisely this reason that the law must be changed.
The Justice Department is suffering grief at the hands of the Institutions of Europe. It is okay for a preacher of hate, Raed Salah, to march through Heathrow Airport past the armed and watchful eyes of the United Kingdom Border Agency in spite of a Home Office ban upon his entry but it may, now, be a breach of his Human Rights to chuck him out again! Neither may we deport a couple of hundred Somali Criminals or other illegal immigrants who, having committed and having been sentenced for offences, ought to be packed off home. In tandem with this nonsense a British judge has now ruled that the police may not bail suspects under investigation for more than 96 hours which will make the investigation of serious crime virtually impossible. As a result of this bizarre ruling the Home Secretary now has to introduce emergency legislation – and all because of Labour`s Human Rights Act that enshrined in British law and gold-plated the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is some twenty-five years since I last served as a Parliamentary Delegate to The Council of Europe. At that time there were twelve Member States. There are now forty-six but little else has changed. Vast amounts of European taxpayers money is spent discussing, in largely socialist language, The Rights of Man. Debate not infrequently centres around which European city your committee should meet in next and that, in turn, may be determined by where the Chairman or the Rapporteur or the Clerk or all three lives, or keeps a mistress, or has a favourite restaurant. Those of us who have the temerity to suggest, for example, that The Parliamentary Assembly might choose not to “deplore counties that are cutting spending on welfare” or might reduce its budget find ourselves in a tiny right-wing asylum while the lunatics remain firmly in control.
At the most recent plenary session in Strasbourg this last month the Attorney General of the United Kingdom, Dominic Grieve, paid a visit to lay the foundations for a six-month UK presidency commencing in the Autumn. Not surprisingly D. Grieve, whose parliamentary dad was a respected figure on the European stage, was confronted by French socialists demanding that, in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights, we give voting rights to prisoners. Not sure where that leaves our burglar-bashing Granny but the French, and the Maltese, and many other signatories to the Convention on Human Rights would do well to ask themselves just how many prisoners are being held in prison, in their own countries, for more than a year without any trial at all, never mind conviction. The answer might expose the cynicism rank hypocrisy of their politicians and some European judges.
That hypocrisy is nowhere more noticeable than in response to the influx of immigrants from North Africa, generated by the “Arab Spring”, that is landing on the shores of Southern Europe. While M. Barosso wants to relax European immigration rules Home Secretary Theresa May finds herself more in tune with a France and Italy that are seeking ways to extricate themselves from the free movement of the Schengen agreement and recognising that, as Mrs. May has said, it is the European Free Movement directive that is the source of many problems. In Strasbourg this is high on the list of priorities as many of the socialist southern parliamentary representatives try to reconcile their human rights agenda with a local electorate that has become alarmed by the number of immigrants that, instead of transiting to the United Kingdom, are seeking to settle on the shores of the Mediterranean.
The European Union, which is making a thinly-disguised takeover bid for a Council of Europe over which it would dearly love to control, would like to increase its budget by 12%, which would mean an additional contribution of some £2 billion from the UK. Of course it would! In this age of austerity the Commission seeks to spend another £280 million on as vanity-building to house its Brussels bureaucrats. While at home Francis Maude, in the Cabinet Office, seeks to cut Whitehall waste by £10 billion, our “friends” in the Commission headed by EU President Barrosso wish to impose a budget tax, a sales tax and a financial transaction tax upon Member States. And all that as the Big Fat Greek gravy train trundles on and Europe gets set for another Euro-rescuing bailout package. While riots in the streets failed to prevent the Greek parliament from voting through the austerity package demanded by the bailiffs it is by no means certain that there is, in fact, a Greek word for “austerity”. Even given Man David`s rearguard Brussels battle to extricate the UK from further contributions to the European Financial Stability Mechanism to which Chancellor Darling signed us up it is clear that another UK billion will quietly disappear into lifeboat coffers via the International Monetary Fund.
Back at home Iain Duncan Smith`s Centre for Social Justice describes an ageing population experiencing “an epidemic of poverty and loneliness”. The population may be rising at a faster rate than at any time during the past 50 years but at the bottom end that increase is born into a Benefit Class that do not, at present, contribute to the economy. Add to that advances in medical science that are maintaining people alive if not healthy for thirty or even forty years into retirement and we have a demographic time bomb that is leading to a toxic demand for pensions and residential care that, at present, the nation cannot afford. Those that have to sell modest homes, the product of a hard working life, to pay for retirement care instead of grandchildren`s education send out a clear message: there is no value in savings in cash or property if those who are spendthrift receive all end-of-life services for free. Add into that the reductions in local government spending and the postcode lottery that is the cost of domiciliary or residential homes and it is inevitable both that standards of care services are falling as homes cut corners to survive and that some establishments – Southern Cross is the most high profile example but there are many others – hit the financial buffers. The Dilnot Commission is due to report shortly but to date successive governments, back to Peter Lilley as John Major`s Secretary of State for Social Services, have tried and failed to produce an equation that allows for high standards of care, fair funding and an incentive for those that are able to do so to not only provide for their own old age but leave a reasonable proportion to hand on to children and grandchildren. It is a hydra-headed problem but one that can no longer be left on the back-burner.
One of my school reports said that “his second thoughts are best”! I did not attend the illustrious alma mater patronised by many members of the present administration but it is clear that those educated in some public schools have suffered from the same weaknesses as us grammar school boys for “reconsideration” has become the order of the day. Grown-ups might feel that whether it be Forestry or Health or Welfare or Student Visas or Dustbin Collections or sentencing policy it is better to get it right that to blunder on down doctrinaire paths that will only lead to a Vale of Tears. Others might feel that even a government in a hurry might do well to fine-tune legislative proposals before, rather than after, they are inflicted upon parliamentarians for consideration.
Difficulties afflict both sides of the Chamber, however. I hesitate to intrude upon private grief but Lord Foy of That Persuasion, if you remember him, has surfaced like Valdemort to suggest that Milipede the Younger “must be less timid” and that he is “too concerned with Trades Union interests”. Given that he was dependent upon the Union Barons and their troops for the success of his act of political fratricide it is not surprising that the Leader of Her Majesty`s Opposition finds himself, faced with a summer of irresponsible, unnecessary and unattractive strike action, in some difficulty. Trailing personally in the polls behind even the dour St. Nicholas of Clogg, with a “popularity” rating that matches that of Iain Duncan Smith at his nadir, of minus 21 I doubt that the Milipede is sleeping too well. Brutally, the lad is just not up to the job. From the viewpoint of the Government benches, though, we need him to remain precisely where he now is as a constant reminder that the political failures of the past thirteen years would be repeated with interest were he ever to take office. It remains to be seen, if the comrades decide to leave the frying pan, into which fire they will jump.
Under article 8 of the UN Convention on Human Rights people are entitled to “a family” life. So it is comforting to note that, at the taxpayer`s expense via the National Health Service, a prisoner has been allowed to father a child by IVF. He will, presumably, be released in time to start working to support his child, as the remit of the Child Support Agency does not extend to those detained at Her Majesty`s pleasure.
The taxpayer has also subsidised parking tickets to the tune of £2.4 billion. That is the amount donated in “excess” charges by people who do not have change making overpayments in order to obtain a ticket from the machine.
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is awaiting determination of an application for extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape. That did not prevent him from attending the Hay on Wye literary festival which is sponsored by the cromwellian “Daily Telegraph”.
Lord Taylor of Warwick, a failed election candidate elevated to the Peerage under the last Conservative government and a spiteful critic of William Hague during his 2002 election campaign as Leader of the Tory Party finds himself in prison. His last action as a sitting Member of the House of Lords was to table a question relating to the rights of prisoners to vote.
Lord Patten, the new chairman of the BBC Trust, will no doubt want to know how it is that the Corporation has managed to spend £6,400 per day on non-economy staff travel. Some of this executive transport arises from the idiotic move from West London to “Media City” in Salford and the consequent need for staff to shuttle between Manchester and London. Projected staff travel costs from the North to cover the Olympic Games are rumoured to be in the region of five million pounds. But then for an organisation that can cheerfully dole out licence fee payer`s cash on 200 rooms across some 14 hotels to attend to the needs of the Glastonbury festival on the grounds that “it is a legal requirement to provide for employees working away from home” I suppose £5m is a bagatelle. Is this the same BBC whose reporters criticise Members of Parliament for having to stay in London while the House is sitting? I do not recall any such reporter commenting upon the “legal requirement to…..etc” during any of those interviews.
Fred Goodwin took out an injunction to try to prevent publication of details of an affair with a member of his staff “because it might damage my career”. No, Fred. It was the failed management of the bank that you were supposed to be running that damaged your career.
The Metropolitan Police “Civil Actions Unit” which handles the legal side of claims against the constabulary has issued guidance indicating that it is not an arrestable offence to be abusive to the police. So you can call the Pigs (of whose brotherhood I am proud to have once been a part-time Member) any effing thing under the sun with virtual impunity. That will be seriously good for morale.
Those footing bills will also be pleased to know that while ordinary mortals find it well-nigh impossible to access legal advice Mr. Asil Nadir, the former boss of the Polly Peck empire who fled from UK justice to the illegal and unrecognised territory of “Northern Cyprus” and has now returned to face trial will receive taxpayer-funded legal aid. Apparently the man, currently living in a flat that costs £2000 per month in rent, has an income that has “been assessed in line with the means testing regime”. So that`s alright then.
Another rift between the Milipede Brothers. Ed feels that Labour should be concentrating on the “squeezed middle” while it is reported that Dave wants to focus on the “squeezed bottom”. Don`t ask.
The Train operating companies have added a further excuse to the litany of reasons for late trains. Making it into the Top Five, alongside leaves, snow and heat – cows on the line.
Boy Scouts (as they used to be called before they went unisex) in Knowsley have been denied Council funding to renovate their dilapidated hut because they do not make provision for the rehabilitation of young offenders or addicts. Part of the point of the Scouting movement, of course, is that wholesome and well-motivated young men and women are less likely to take drugs or commit offences but it’s clear that the Knowsley Troop will just have to DIY. Happily, the Scouts have just introduced a DIY badge. My requests for suggestions for a Family Planning badge were largely unrepeatable in polite society so perhaps we could have a go at a DIY badge instead.
Philip Hollobone, the robustly independent Conservative MP for Kettering, asks Ken Clarke why Magistrates have to retire at seventy. A hard call, as the Secretary of State for justice is 71 himself. Meanwhile, my colleague Matthew Offord, the MP for Hendon, wants to use human rights law to enable him to take his Jack Russell into his office in the House of Commons. While I have long thought that a canine facility would be of both more use and more popular that the vastly expensive and under-occupied crèche I am not entirely certain that my thirteen stone of hooligan Newfoundland would find favour with either the Sergeant at Arms or Mr Speaker.
Don`t try to tell me that the NHS cannot save money. The Eastern and Coastal Kent NHS Trust is asking patients to take in their own gluten-free pasta, purchased from a supermarket at around £2 a bag. The NHS procured variant comes out at about £47 a pop. I do not think, though, that the Cardiff Royal Infirmary`s efforts to save cash fall into quite the same category. Instead of electronic devices to summon assistance from nurses it was suggested that elderly patients should be issued with tambourines instead. Now we`ve all heard of Sister Anna but this is going too far. It will be Zuzuvelas next.
Spotted in the House of Commons Members` Post Office a week ago, three men with hard hats and a scaffolding tower deployed to change a light fitting on the nine-foot ceiling. They Came. They Saw. They Departed. The hard working postal workers are still functioning in stygian gloom. Now what about their Human Rights?
And the House of Commons Enforcement Police have ordered the MP for Preston to remove the red rose from his taxpayer funded website on the grounds that it may not be used to promote the emblem of the Labour Party. The slight difficulty is that the rose is the red rose of Lancashire and the MP, the excellent Ben Wallace, is a Tory!
The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Gaffes, celebrates his 90th Birthday to huge national affection. The Trooping of the Colour, sporting three generations of Royals in Colonel`s uniforms, is magnificent. Her Maj is visibly very happy as is the Grand Old Duke and the newly-weds on the balcony of Buck House make up the picture of an institution that is still very special indeed. The Firm is in good shape. Long may it reign.