Chilcot debate 29/01/2015
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), but I disagree with him on the idea that we see the events of 2003 as history. We see them under the cold light of eternity. They are not a matter of history for the loved ones of the 179 of our brave soldiers who fell. They still suffer a living wound that will never heal. I would like to repeat a speech I made in 2009 when I was sitting where the hon. Gentleman is sitting now. I am not allowed to repeat that speech, but not a word of it would change. The speech (below) consisted of 10 minutes of reading out the names of all the British soldiers who died. I believe that that is a far more effective way of making the point that, as the result of a decision taken here in this House by many of us, those young people lost their lives.
An American-British enterprise was not inevitable. We need not have been involved. The Americans were going in anyway and we had the choice to stay out, as Harold Wilson did many years ago. The main reason I am offering myself to my electorate in a few months’ time is because of this. I want to see the end of this and I want to see us get to the nub of the terrible mistake we made. It is to do with the role of Prime Ministers and their relationship with Back Benchers in this House.
Something happens to Prime Ministers when the war drums start to beat. They talk in a different way. They drag out the old Churchillian rhetoric. The rolling phrases come out. They walk in a different way—they strut like Napoleon—and they are overwhelmed by hubris. No longer are they dealing with the boring detail of day-to-day operations; they are writing their own page in history. Usually, it is a bloody page in history.
We do not need an inquiry into the whole Afghanistan enterprise, on which there was general agreement, but we certainly need one into why we went into Helmand when only half a dozen British soldiers had been killed in combat. We went in with a belief that not a shot would be fired and we would be out in three years, but 453 deaths followed. That is what we need an inquiry into.
There has been a profound change in this House. It happened on 29 August 2013, when the Prime Minister came here to encourage us—I believe, with a certain complicity with other party leaders—to go into Syria to attack Assad, who was the deadly enemy of ISIS. Now we are attacking ISIS, which is the deadly enemy of Assad. How on earth could we have been persuaded to be dragged into the middle of that conflict, which is ancient, deep and incomprehensible to us? Thank goodness the good sense and pooled wisdom of 650 MPs, informed by the terrible tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan, persuaded this House not to follow the prime ministerial instinct for war. That will change this House for a long time.
Along with others, I believe there is nothing political about this in any way. Those of us who remember the vote, which was the most serious vote we ever took, remember the imprecations of the Front Benchers. One hundred and thirty-nine Labour MPs voted not to go to war, against the strongest three-line Whip of my time here, but 50 others, who were very doubtful, were bamboozled, bribed and bullied into the wrong Lobby or into abstaining—and nearly all of them bitterly regret it now. It was a misuse of the organs of this House. Virtually every Committee that looked into it—those that are supposed to know better, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Defence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee—were all cheerleaders for the war. And where were the Opposition? There is nothing political here. The then Leader of the Opposition was more gung-ho for war than Tony Blair. Only half a dozen hon. Members on the Conservative side voted against the war, and to their great credit, of course, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru voted the same way.
We are being denied the truth. I find it astonishing that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) does not agree there were no weapons of mass destruction. It is amazing if he still believes there was an imminent threat to British territory. I have a document—I have no time to go into its detail—referenced by Tony Blair as evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the threat posed. It concerns a meeting on 22 August 1995 at which the principal person giving evidence was a General Hussein Kamal. For goodness’ sake, read the document!
I dealt only briefly with the intervention from the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) because this debate is about the Iraq inquiry and its timing, not about the substance, and I would have been slapped down very quickly. For the avoidance of doubt, however, the whole Security Council judged in November 2002 that there was a threat to international peace and security from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
Because they believed you and Colin Powell.
Because they were fooled. The right hon. Gentleman should recall—[Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle):
Order. This has been a good debate, and we do not want to spoil it. Let us continue in the manner we have done so far. I want to get to the end and make sure everybody gets to speak.
The intervention was contemptible. On that point, I share the view of the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway). We remember the ignominy of the right hon. Member for Blackburn walking behind Colin Powell after the latter had presented a tissue of lies about the threat. It was not true, and our representative was supporting him in those lies, and they sent all those young men and others to their deaths.
At the time, I wrote a letter and got a reply from the right hon. Gentleman. It was on my blog, and I will put it back up now. In March 2003, I told Tony Blair, “If we go into Iraq alongside George Bush, we will deepen the division in the world between the Christian western world and the Muslim eastern world, and we will create a division that will cause bloodshed from my local mosque to the far corners of the world.” The right hon. Gentleman replied to that letter, and a contemptible reply it was too—as was his reply today. He should recognise the terrible error of his ways and what he did. I agree with the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). It is nonsense to suggest there were weapons of mass destruction or a 45-minute threat to Britain. We, as Members of Parliament, the people who took that decision, should be thoroughly ashamed of it, and I will stay in this House, and I will fight to be here, until the truth is known and those who committed this terrible crime are brought to book.
This speech is now banned by Commons Standing Orders.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab):
"We could not have stopped the war in Iraq, as it was predetermined, but what we could and should have done is stopped Britain’s involvement in it. I believe that we, as Members of Parliament, should now confront that dreadful mistaken decision. The most insistent voices calling for an inquiry are those of the loved ones of the fallen. They want to believe that their loved ones died in a noble cause. Many of them are haunted by the possibility that their loved ones died in vain.
Perhaps the most appropriate way that we can face up to the results of our decisions would be now to recall and honour the names of the fallen:
Philip Stuart Guy
David Rhys Williams
Denise Michelle Rose
Anthony John Wakefield
Paul William Didsbury
Donal Anthony Meade
Stephen Robert Manning
Gordon Alexander Pritchard
John Johnston Cosby
Stephen Robert Wright
Jamie Lee Hancock
Jonathan Carlos Bracho-Cooke
Luke Daniel Simpson
Daniel Lee Coffey
Johnathon Dany Wysoczan
Joanna Yorke Dyer
Adam James Smith
Mark J. McLaren
Alan Joseph Jones
Timothy Darren Flowers
David Kenneth Wilson
May they rest in peace.”
Horizon scanners cannot save Jeremy Heywood from MPs’ well-aimed flak
Head of civil service questioned about delays to Chilcot inquiry and accused of letting prime minister pressurise him
As the serving cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, and, at the start of the Iraq war, principal private secretary to Tony Blair, Sir Jeremy Heywood was at pains to reassure the public administration select committee of his total commitment to transparency. Albeit a transparency that verged on opacity.
How did he feel about the delays to the Chilcot inquiry, asked Labour’s Paul Flynn. “Deeply frustrated,” Heywood replied, resisting his natural impulse to point out that delaying inconvenient reports was a sign of a job well done.
Would there be an audit trail of his interventions?
“Definitely not,” said Heywood, crossing his fingers.
Redactions in the transcripts of phone calls between Tony Blair and George W Bush? A few spelling mistakes had had to be taken out.
Did he know anyone who was in the process of Maxwellisation (which gives individuals an opportunity to respond to provisional criticism in the inquiry’s report)?
“Absolutely not,” he insisted, before inadvertently letting on that two people had told him they were being Maxwellised. That kind of careless talk costs lives.
Having confirmed he had done nothing in regard to Chilcot, Heywood next confirmed that he hadn’t given a moment’s thought to which party or parties might form the next government, though he was sure that whoever it was would do exactly what he said. Heywood knows exactly who runs the country: he does.
What’s more, Heywood knew exactly the type of talent he was looking to work under him. “I have a talent matrix to measure talent,” he announced.
Bemusement turned to outright amazement when he went on to add that “functional leaders manage functions”.
Conservative Cheryl Gillan asked what leadership skills he was looking for in the civil service. Heywood said he was setting up an inquiry into that and hoped to report back in five or six years. Or possibly later, if things went well.
Lib Dem Greg Mulholland was concerned about reports that the civil service was now full of “horizon scanners” and “stove-pipers”. What did these people do?
Heywood was outraged. There were absolutely no stove-pipers, and if there were they were only a very small team – a specialist cell – and “they were getting ahead of the in-tray”.
As for the horizon scanners, they were looking between the cracks.
Labour’s Paul Flynn couldn’t resist going for the kill.
“Had the horizon scanners investigated drones?” he said, as straight-faced as possible. Heywood didn’t get the joke.
“No they hadn’t,” he snapped. “But if the drones did need investigating then our horizon scanners will be on to them.”
The limitations of the horizon scanners became all too clear when chairman Bernard Jenkin ambushed Heywood, accusing him of having failed to interpret the civil service code of conduct correctly by allowing the prime minister to pressurise him into condoning the involvement of special advisers in party political campaigning.
“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” yelled an incandescent Heywood. “The prime minister doesn’t pressurise me into anything. It’s me that pressurises him.”
“We’ve consulted a number of different legal opinions,” said Jenkin. “And they are all adamant you are unequivocally wrong.”
“I don’t have a copy of the code in front of me,” Heywood hissed.
“I do,” said Mulholland.
“Well, the guidelines aren’t clear enough,” Heywood gasped, scrabbling for his temporarily misplaced certainty.
“They are perfectly clear,” said Nigel Evans, suppressing a snigger. Everyone was enjoying this.
It got worse. While Heywood had been ducking and diving, his own spad had been rummaging through some files and placed the relevant page of the code under his nose. Heywood gave him a death stare. Here was one civil servant whose immediate horizon looked bleak.
“My conscience is clear,” insisted Heywood, not looking at the document. The clarity of conscience that comes of a lifetime in the shadows.
From QUENTIN LETTS 28th January 2015
How pink Sir Jeremy was, pink as cheap nougat, when questioned by MPs about the scandalously delayed Iraq inquiry. Apart from a few white splodges where his jaw muscles twitched, his cheeks were as pink as the lovehandles of an English shopgirl sunbathing at Torremolinos.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, that is. Ah, Sir Jeremy! He is Cabinet Secretary, Head of the Civil Service, the poohbahs’ poohbah, eminence grease, fixer sans pareil.
He is the man who, in this Coalition era, has been able to slide between Whitehall’s knackered cogs and give the democratic gearings a few cunning squirts of his own – all in the cause of smooth government, doncha know.
Sir Jeremy! Once he served Tony Blair as his bag carrier. Later he did a few shimmies round Morgan Stanley’s vaults in the City. Now he serves – the verb is a loose one – David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. Sir Jeremy is the modern Sir Humphrey.
He may have a silly haircut (really, a man of 53 should have outgrown such quiffs) and a modish northern-English accent but the Humphreyesque traits are unaltered: All praise be to the System.
Its navel gazers actually ended up spending more time asking him about ministerial special advisers – there has been a bijou scandal of them being forced to campaign at by-elections – than about the Chilcot inquiry. Sir Jeremy seemed twitchy about both matters.
Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport W) went at him with a certain despatch, his first question being: ‘To what extent have you been responsible for delays to the Chilcot inquiry?’ Sir Jeremy, turning the colour of an early-season radish, claimed that his involvement had been no greater than that laid out in a ‘protocol’ governing the inquiry.
Mr Flynn wondered if Parliament should simply grab hold of Sir John Chilcot’s draft report and publish it. A ghost wandered across Sir Jeremy’s gaze. ‘It would be a mistake to rush it,’ he said. A mistake to rush it? The ruddy thing is already five years late!
Repeatedly Sir Jeremy claimed that he had ‘a bias towards transparency’, a phrase that may well have earned hyena laughter around London SW1.
Cheryl Gillan (Con, Chesham & Amersham) wondered if anyone had kept an ‘audit trail’ of interventions made by outsiders in Sir John Chilcot’s work. Sir Jeremy, who looked appalled by this idea, was glad to say that he knew of no such audit trail.
His eyes moved warily, hooded behind his Zurich-dentist spectacles. He claimed to have no idea who was likely to be criticised by the inquiry’s report. He licked his lips, as children do when about to be sick in the back of your car.
The committee asked how he and his top mandarins were preparing for the general election result and any new coalition. ‘We want to make sure we understand the parties’ manifestos,’ said Sir Jeremy. Join the club, chum. He said he had invited his predecessor, Sir Gus O’Donnell, to give a recent talk to civil servants about how to deal with coalition talks. Oh no!
Then came a passage almost beyond parody when Sir Jeremy was asked about ‘leadership skills’ in the Civil Service.
It turned out he had just organised a ‘huge exercise’ in securing ‘the right skills, the right promotion systems’ (ah yes, promotion – yum yum) in Whitehall. ‘That’s what we’ve focused on,’ he said proudly.
Even before a Lib Dem MP could ask him about official jargon, Sir Jeremy was yodelling about ‘our talent matrix’ and ‘functional leaders’.
Soon we were on to ‘horizon-scanning’ and ‘stove-piping’. He was amazed that anyone should find such terms opaque. ‘The danger with all this horizon-scanning is that it stays in a very specialised cell but we’re getting ahead of the in-tray,’ he said with relish. ‘We’re only at the start of the process of strengthening our central capacity.’
Manuel from Fawlty Towers spoke clearer English.
It was the John Major Government that blundered foolishly into the daftest privatisation of all. The then Transport Committee, with a Tory majority, unanimously warned of the certain disasters ahead. The forecasts were remarkably accurate as the present Transport Select Committee's recent report proved.
General Secretary of RMT Mick Cash said
"Twenty years of fragmentation, mismanagement and private profiteering on Britain's railways have left maintenance, upgrading, expansion and fleet replacement programmes miles behind where they need to be to keep pace with surging passenger demand.
"That has left us in the ludicrous position where rolling stock is being shifted from the north to the south, where there aren't enough units to operate on the newly electrified lines and the lashed up Pacer trains, welding a bus body to a train chasis, are stuck with us for years to come. The state of our rail fleet and infra structure is a daily insult to passengers paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on rammed out, unreliable services.
"All the time that our railways are seen as a money making racket by greedy train and fleet companies we will be left jammed in the slow lane and so it is no surprise that 70% of the British public support RMT'S campaign for public ownership.
"RMT's ongoing campaigning, particularly on Northern, Trans Pennine, the Inter City fleet and on the infra structure, will use this transport committee report as further ammunition. "
Child Abuse Inquiry
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The Home Affairs Committee was told that there will be an investigation into allegations that Whips in this House have concealed evidence of paedophilia by Members in order to blackmail them in the Division Lobby. The range of investigations being carried out by this committee is vast, involving tens of thousands of incidents. Is it not right that we look again at the scope of the investigation, because it is unlikely that it can achieve the expectations of the victims within a reasonable time, and should we not look at more forensic investigations that can be attainable with results in a reasonable time?
Mrs May: It is important that the terms of reference do not leave out anything in the work of the inquiry panel. How the chairman, when appointed, will wish to take that forward as regards the specific areas they want to consider will be a matter for them. It has been made very clear by survivors in discussions with me and others that they want to ensure that the inquiry does not inadvertently or deliberately leave out areas that they feel it should cover within the geographical limits that we have set, of England and Wales. On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I have written to party leaders to ask them to ensure that their parties co-operate fully with any requests from the inquiry.
Business of the House Questions
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As we have waited all these years to discover the truth about why this House sent 179 brave British soldiers to their deaths in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is it not a matter of urgency, to avoid future blunders, that we look now at why we took the decision to go into Helmand province in 2006, in the hope that not a shot would be fired? Four-hundred and fifty-three deaths occurred. Should we not start that inquiry as soon as possible?
Mr Hague: That is really a question—about policy on a future inquiry—to direct to other members of the Government. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have instituted regular quarterly statements in Parliament on Afghanistan, which I often delivered in my time as Foreign Secretary, and which the Defence and International Development Secretaries have delivered. We have thus ensured that in this Parliament there has been greatly increased scrutiny of our policies on Afghanistan. Any decisions about inquiries on top of that have to be taken in the future.
25 NATO non-nuclear states.
Paul Flynn: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that representatives from NATO came to my constituency last year? I was very happy to welcome them. Of the 28 countries, 25 are non-nuclear states, and they found no difficulty walking with their heads held high.
Sir Nick Harvey: It is certainly true that very few NATO states possess nuclear weapons, although a few have them on their soil. Other Members have spoken about the nuclear umbrella, but none of us knows how real it is, and let us hope that it is never pushed to the test. We are asked to focus our minds on whether we should proceed with a replacement programme in 2016. It is not of course the Trident missile that needs replacing, but, as other hon. Members have said, the submarines. I believe that we should be willing to build some more submarines at this time, but I shall add some riders in a moment.
Who protects the Baltics?
Paul Flynn: Is not the question: what will America do if there is an attack on the Baltic states from Russia? Our involvement in this is peripheral. We do not provide a deterrent; America does. We are clinging to this virility symbol as a gesture of our old national pride when it is not relevant. The whole point of multilateral disarmament is to reduce the number of nations with nuclear weapons down to two. By possessing them we are encouraging other nations to acquire them.
Rory Stewart: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but I think the fundamental nature of our disagreement is going to be about our whole relationship to the NATO structure and the kind of role we wish to play within it. Although the hon. Gentleman is speaking very eloquently about nuclear weapons, I suspect he would also disagree with many Government Members about conventional weapons, and the role we generally play in protecting countries like the Baltic states against attacks from Russia. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene again, I would be very interested to hear what he proposes Britain should do to defend the Baltic states against such an attack.
Paul Flynn: I know the Baltic states very well: I visited them four times in the ’80s and ’90s. I am not suggesting that we pretend some fantasy nuclear war is going to take place with us as the main participant. Where we have been successful is in humanitarian interventions in places like East Timor and Sierra Leone. Where we have failed is where we have gone into Iraq and Afghanistan with all guns blazing. We are good at humanitarian intervention and that is where our money should be invested.
Rory Stewart: With respect, as I suspected, the hon. Gentleman is focused on issues like East Timor and humanitarian intervention which have very little to do with the question of NATO. This whole idea of an attack on one being an attack on all is fundamentally predicated on the idea of deterrence. It is fundamentally predicated on the idea that we in the UK, as a major member of NATO, would protect these states if they were attacked, and my suspicion is that the hon. Gentleman has no strategy whatsoever on how to defend them. Giving up on the nuclear weapon is simply a symbol from the hon. Gentleman—a virility symbol, perhaps—of actually giving up in general on our obligations to protect NATO states. If I have misunderstood, I am very happy to take another intervention.
Paul Flynn: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. If he went to Tallinn, Riga or Vilnius and asked the people there who they would look to to defend them if Russia attacked, they would say they look to America, not us.
Rory Stewart: We can, of course, agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. That is true. One of the questions is working out what Britain is going to do, but of course the biggest question for Vladimir Putin is what the United States is going to do. But the reason why these questions, and the uncertainty around them, are relevant is that Vladimir Putin’s decisions on whether to use ambiguous warfare, conventional troops or nuclear weapons will be guided by his perception of what we—the United States or Britain—are likely to do in response.
"It's an appalling waste of public money. It's like scattering confetti. Time extends and extends. I have looked at this two or three times now and every time I look at it the cost goes up - not in hundreds of millions, but in billions." Margaret Hodge MP, chair of Parliamentary Public Accounts committee
Last 4th November the managing director of Sellafield, the giant nuclear waste processing plant on the Cumbian coast in NW England, issued its report to the six-monthly meeting of the nuclear sites stakeholder group covering the Sellafield plant.
In bullish tone he opened his introduction, boldly pronouncing: "This time last year, in my first report to WCSSG as Sellafield Ltd's Managing Director, I talked about our new strategy Key to Britain's Energy Future.
"I explained that I wanted a clear strategy, understood by our employees and the local community, to drive improved performance in our nationally important task of cleaning up the Sellafield Site.
"The strategy describes how we will deliver our clean up mission by keeping Sellafield safe and secure, by making demonstrable progress on all of our activities and by providing a return on taxpayers' investment through value for money and socio-economic benefit in our local community.
"Our strategy describes where we want to be, and the Sellafield plan explains how we will get there. We recently launched a companion document, the Excellence Plan which outlines activities that will improve our ability to reach our goal."
Everything in the Sellafield garden is rosy
Rising to his optimistic theme he went on to claim: "Twelve months on and I believe we are beginning to see the strategy deliver improvements in performance and this gives me increasing confidence that we can achieve what we promised to do, on time and to budget ...
"Looking ahead, we will continue to drive for reliable performance, an increasingly challenging task given the age of our plants and infrastructure. This means we need to strive to find innovative solutions to problems.
He concluded by noting: "We are being supported in this through a new collaborative approach with key stakeholders most associated with the delivery at Sellafield. The organisations include Sellafield Ltd, Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the Environment Agency (EA), Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Department of Energy and Climate Change, (DECC) and Shareholder Executive ...
"As part of our drive for excellence we have recently completed a programme of nuclear safety culture surveys. As we achieve more successes over the next number of months alongside the member organisations," he finished off, "we will share this information at future meetings."
Two months later - sacked
Barely two months later, on 13 January, Energy Secretary Ed Davey announced in a statement to Parliament that he was sacking Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), the private consortium awarded the £22 billion top tier management contract for Britain's biggest nuclear installation, in early October 2008.
Davey told MPs: "The government agreed last year with the Public Accounts Committee's conclusion that it was a priority to consider what contractual model might best deliver improved performance and value for money at Sellafield.
"In the meantime, we endorsed the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA)'s decision to roll the current Parent Body Organisation (PBO) contract forward into the second term (from 1 April 2014) to ensure that the progress made in the first five year term could be built upon.
"Sellafield Limited (the Site Licence Company which operates the site under the ownership of the PBO) continues to make progress and is currently on track to deliver against its key performance measures and milestones in 2014/15.
"Despite this progress, the NDA has concluded that a change in model is now the best way forward ... Under the new arrangement, Sellafield Limited will become a subsidiary of the NDA and will continue to be led by a 'world class team', who will be appointed and governed by a newly-constituted Board of the Site Licence Company. "
DECC's nuclear quango the NDA, the owners of Sellafield on behalf of the taxpayer, produced an 8-page so-called 'Stakeholder Briefing' to explain what was going on.
It states, inter alia, that: "This decision is the result of careful consideration and review of various commercial approaches in use where the public and private sector comes together to deliver complex programmes ...
"The review is consistent with the undertaking that NDA gave at the 4 November 2013 and 4 December 2013 Public Accounts Committee Hearings, based on the NAO report 'Assurance of reported savings at Sellafield', HC778, 29 October 2013, that NDA would consider its options in regard to the way the Sellafield site was operated and in particular the use of the PBO (parent body organization) model."
But it is as illuminating as much for what it omits as what it reveals.
A scandalous agreement to fleece the taxpayer
How could such a turn-around happen so quickly? As with everything in the nuclear industry, all is not what seems, and there is a complicated backstory to the Sellafield decision, which is startling.
I have worked on this issue with Labour MP Paul Flynn for seven years, and his attempts to make transparent the deal done to give NMP the contract have been met with obstruction - by Government and the nuclear industry at every turn.
In July 2008, Flynn got a sniff that some dodgy dealing was under way by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), then responsible for nuclear energy policy, to award a management contract for Sellafield to a new consortium.
At its crux was the stipulation that all the potentially vast liabilities would be covered by the taxpayer, while all the profits went to the consortium,
To probe this possibility, he asked the Labour minister responsible what recent communications or discussions had taken place with both the NDA and consortium applicants for the Sellafield decommissioning contract on the indemnification of the contract holder against claims arising.
The now late Malcolm Wicks responded: "The Department has been informed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) that it expects to have to grant an indemnity against uninsurable claims arising from a nuclear incident that fall outside the protections offered by the Nuclear Installations Act and the Paris / Brussels Convention to whichever of the four bidders for the Sellafield contract is successful.
"The NDA is conducting the Sellafield parent body organisation competition under the EU Competitive Dialogue procedure, evaluating the four bids received against agreed evaluation criteria. Within that process bidders were invited to make proposals for a nuclear indemnity under competitive tension against an established framework.
"It would not be viable for any of the bidders to proceed without an indemnity because any fee earning benefits of the contract would be overwhelmed by the potential liabilities. The NDA has assessed that the benefits of engaging a new contractor far outweigh the remote risk that an indemnity might be called upon. The final form of the indemnity will reflect the specific terms proposed by the preferred bidder." (Hansard, 14 July 2008 : Column 76W).
But were MPs bothered?
The cat was out of the Sellafield Boondoggle bag. By 22nd October - after an exchange of letters with both the then chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Tory right winger, Sir Edward Leigh, and The Speaker, over the summer, Flynn tabled an early day motion (EDM 2321) - a kind of Parliamentary kite flying with political wallpaper covering - under the title 'Parliamentary oversight of Sellafield indemnification'. It read:
"That this House notes that when the Government decided to provide indemnification against insurance claims following nuclear accident at the Low-level Waste Repository at Drigg, for the new American management company, the then Minister for Energy published a written statement in Hansard of 27th February 2008 and the associated Minute was placed in the Library to allow 14 sitting days for objections from hon. Members; contrasts this open procedure with the approach adopted for a similar insurance indemnification for the new private sector management company for Sellafield, Nuclear Management Partners, when no written statement was placed before Parliament but instead, the then Minister for Energy wrote on 14th July 2008 to the chairmen of the Committee on Public Accounts and Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, enclosing a copy of the Minute setting out the proposed arrangements and stating that a copy of the Minute would be placed in the Library; further notes that this Minute arrived in the Library on 14th October, more than 75 days after the period for hon. Members to object officially elapsed; believes it is unacceptable for hon. Members to be denied the opportunity to comment on this Minute, the effect of which is to privatise the profits of the Sellafield management contract leaving the potentially multi-billion pound liabilities with taxpayers; declines to give approval to the proposed indemnification arrangements; and calls upon the Government to reopen the period in which hon. Members may signify objections to Government guarantees for which no statutory authority exists."
In so doing, he flagged up a scandal in the making, but few fellow MPs noticed. Flynn asked a clarificatory question to the energy minister, by now Mike O'Brien, (in the newly formed Department for Energy and Climate change, headed by Ed Miliband as Secretary of State).
Specifically, he enquired on what dates between 14th July and 6th October 2008 Ministers or officials of his Department met officials of the NDA to discuss the indemnification of the successful bidder for the PBO chosen to manage Sellafield, and what meetings his Department and its predecessor had had with the European Commission on the compliance with state aid rules of the Government accepting an indemnification for Sellafield.
Mike O'Brien told him: "There were no meetings between 14 July and 6 October 2008 between the NDA and Ministers or officials of BERR about the indemnity for the successful bidder for the Sellafield PBO ... There have been no meetings with the European Commission on this issue. As a normal commercial arrangement involving no subsidy for the new PBO the proposed indemnity does not raise any State aid concerns." (Hansard, 11 Nov 2008: Column 1143-4W.)
'It's all a ludicrous conspiracy theory'
Perhaps ministers believed there were no subsidy concerns, but there were a raft of other very worrying, unresolved concerns. To air these, Flynn secured an unusual Parliamentary debate, held in Westminster Hall on 19 November 2008, under the headline: 'Nuclear Industry Finance' (Hansard, 19 Nov 2008: Column 119WH)
Mr Flynn was dismissed by Mike O'Brien as a conspiracy theorist asserting that "his concoction of conspiracy theory, innuendo and hyperbole has reached new heights in the House", further telling MPs that Flynn had "exaggerated, went way over the top in his condemnations."
Mr Flynn's Labour colleague, Jamie Reed - who then, as now, represented the Copeland constituency, which includes Sellafield - chipped in with the observation that Mr Flynn's exposure was an "incoherent concoction". (Hansard, 19 Nov 2008: Column 125WH)
On 13 th January, after the Sellafield contact cancellation, the prodigal MP Jamie Reed, pronounced to his local paper, The Whitehaven News, that "If the contract has been terminated, it's the right decision: both inevitable and overdue ... and common sense, operational sense and business sense has now prevailed. The site will move on from this and improve. This decision is in the best interests of the industry, the site workforce and my constituents."
The Ecologist's readers may judge for themselves, now that the current energy secretary has sacked NMP from their £22 billion contract, who was exaggerating - and whether or not Mr Flynn's criticisms were coherent.
Freedom of Information request spills the beans
Just before Christmas in 2008, the NDA delivered to my inbox 140 pages of internal memos, emails and other documentation concerning how the Sellafield contract had been awarded - after a protracted battle over disclosure for many months.
Many of the documents were very heavily censored prior to release with whole pages, and the names of most of the officials involved had been systematically blanked out.
Nonetheless, they included buried in the pages released, the extraordinary revelation that BERR, and the NDA, wanted to go ahead with awarding the deal to NMP, by avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny and circumventing democratic oversight, detailing how the deception of Parliament was to be effected. It was a clear scandal.
The collusion between Government and the NDA on behalf of the private consortium, and manifestly against the public interest of the taxpayer, was revealed on 4th January 2009 in The Independent on Sunday - with my detailed assistance - in an article by Geoffrey Lean, 'Officials plotted Sellafield cover-up: MPs were denied the chance to challenge sweetener to private firm's nuclear deal':
"A rushed timetable was drawn up which involved naming a preferred (PBO) bidder for the contract on 11 July 2008 and signing a transitional agreement on 6 October 2008. But this clashed with the long parliamentary summer recess, which ran from late July to the very day set aside for the signing.
"If the Government were to stick to its speeded-up timetable, the documents say, 'the very earliest date' in which the minute could be laid before Parliament would be 14 July, shortly before the recess began on the 22nd.
"Determined not to slow down the handover, the Government decided to reduce the period in which MPs could object. On 26 March, an official whose name and department has been blanked out emailed the official Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to stress the requirement to 'shorten the 14 working parliamentary days that an indemnity would normally need before it can become effective'.
"The official added: 'To get this down to five days, we will need to muster some persuasive arguments and I wondered where you had got to on assembling these.' Two days later he was sent a 'first draft' of the argument including an assertion that the 'vulnerability of Sellafield operations is already seen as a significant safety risk'.
Any time at all for MPs' scrutiny is too long
"But by early June , the idea of giving MPs any time at all to object had been abandoned. Another email to the NDA, from apparently the same blanked-out official, reported a 'conclusion' that a letter should merely be written to Edward Leigh MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, 'rather than go for a shorter notice period to the House'.
Thus a minute 'explaining what has happened' would be laid before MPs only 'when Parliament reconvenes in the autumn', by which time it would be too late to raise objections. On 14 July, the then energy minister Malcolm Wicks duly wrote to Mr Leigh; he did not object and the indemnity went into force before MPs knew about it.
"Other confidential documents, received after two Freedom of Information Act applications, divulge that three local Councils in Somerset asked for £750,000 to fund a planning officer and legal advice from companies that want to build nuclear power stations in their areas, raising questions about conflicts of interest, and that the officially neutral NDA considered coming out in favour of new reactors."
Fast forward to the Coalition's governance of Sellafield: Mr Flynn tabled another EDM, number 1048, two years ago, on 6 February 2013, which included the observation:
"DECC were questioned on the probity of such huge sums being awarded (to NMP) without Parliamentary scrutiny; recalls an earlier EDM 2321 on Parliamentary Oversight of Sellafield Indemnification tabled on 22 October 2008 observed accurately that the agreement would privatise the profits of the Sellafield management contract leaving the potentially multi-billion pound liabilities with taxpayers; acknowledges the subsequent release of internal memoranda and emails between DECC and NDA officials which expose the deliberate cover up from Parliament."
A damning critique hidden from Parliament
In the summer of 2013, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the NDA for any internal review they had conducted on the performance of Nuclear Management Partners, who had been controversially been awarded the PBO management contract for Sellafield.
Finally, following the Coalition announcement that the NDA was extending the NMP PBO contract worth several more billions, the Public Accounts committee - now chaired by former Labour minister, Margaret Hodge - announced it would investigate the extended contract.
Then, after initially turning down my FOI request, on appeal, NDA conceded, and sent me a copy late on a Friday afternoon in early November, just before the PAC hearing on the following Monday with the NDA and DECC officials on Sellafield.
After reading the explosive criticisms contained in the internal evaluation by auditor, KPMG I forwarded it to Mrs Hodge, suggesting she might raise it with the PAC witnesses. Here is a transcript of what happened in the opening of the hearing on 4 November, as published the following day:
Q9 Chair (Mrs Hodge): "On the KPMG report, which we only got this morning, my understanding is that that was never shared with the NAO. Why not?"
John Clarke (NDA CEO): "The KPMG report was only completed very recently."
Chair: "No, you had a copy of it in September."
John Clarke: "We had a draft copy of it in September."
Q10 Chair: "Well, we only got it this morning because of a freedom of information request. The final copy has a September date."
John Clarke: "We have spent a considerable period of time redacting what we believe was commercially sensitive information."
Q11 Chair: "That information was absolutely pertinent as to whether or not you took the view on whether to renew the contract. Why was that not shared with the NAO, even in draft form? I do not know whether you want to comment, Amyas."
Amyas Morse, National Audit Office chief executive: "It would have been illuminating, knowing that we were producing a follow-up report. It certainly would have been illuminating to know of the existence of this report. I have carefully checked with my staff. As far as we know, we did not know of its existence, let alone having seen it."
John Clarke: "There was certainly no intent to keep it secret. There was a lot of talk about the fact that we were producing it. It is worth pointing out that KPMG's report assessed the performance of the site over a wide period of time. It was not advising us on the right course of action."
Q12 Chair: "I understand that. The report, which I have only just shared with my colleagues on the Committee, is a terrible indictment of the contract: it says that progress on major projects within legacy ponds and silos, which no doubt we will come to, 'is behind schedule and has exceeded ... cost estimates. It appears this is principally attributable to SL', Sellafield Ltd, 'often as a result of poor project management ... whilst savings have been made, overall schedule progress has not met PP11 targets, which over time risks costing more than efficiency savings generated.'
"On Sellafield Ltd's capability, it says that 'there remain continued deficiencies in project management, supply chain management and resource allocation'. We then go on to leadership, where there has been a 'high turnover of SL executive secondees and a predominantly reactive response to issues.'
"Governance 'does not appear to be effective or unified.' On alignment, 'parties in the PBO model are not aligned in their objectives, with fractures evident in many relationships due to complexity, competing priority and contractual tensions'. Interfaces 'do not deliver', incentives do not work, there is no appetite for risk and there is no stakeholder confidence. I cannot see anything good in that.
John Clarke: "Essentially, the comments about performance fall into three categories. There is the inherent nature of Sellafield itself, with the complexities that it presents. The Major Projects Authority came in to review it recently, and their conclusion was that Sellafield presents unique technological project management and leadership challenges unparalleled anywhere.
"So there is the inherent nature of the beast that is Sellafield. Many of the comments you related there relate to the capability of Sellafield Ltd itself. Sellafield Ltd is the enduring entity, the site licence company, the licence holder and the environmental-"
Chair: "It is wholly owned by NMP."
John Clarke: "Yes it is, for the duration of the contract. But the 10,000 people work for Sellafield Ltd. One of the things we have asked NMP to do-"
Chair: "NMP is responsible."
John Clarke: "We have asked NMP to improve the capability for Sellafield Ltd."
Q13 Chair: "What have you been doing for the last four to five years?"
John Clarke: "I would say that the rate of improvement in that capability has been less than we would have wished. There have been improvements in capability, but not as much as we would have wished for."
DECC Permanent Secretary Stephen Lovegrove told the PAC: "The Department knew of the KPMG report. I did not personally, but officials had sight of it and read it."
Mrs Hodge observed: "It's an appalling waste of public money. It's like scattering confetti. Time extends and extends. I have looked at this two or three times now and every time I look at it the cost goes up - not in hundreds of millions, but in billions."
NMP: contrite all the way to the bank
Indeed so. A month later the NMP bosses themselves were instructed to appear before an enraged PAC. It was a veritable political mauling of the NMP witnesses inside the committee's coliseum.
Tom Zarges, the chair of NMP, backed up again by the hapless NDA boss John Clarke, and Sellafield Ltd's MD Tony Price, told the MPs that he was "humbled and truly sorry" for mistakes made during his firm's five-year tenure at Sellafield, and vowed that they would "not be repeated in the future."
Mrs Hodge observed she was "bewildered" the NDA had recently awarded NMP a five-year extension to run the nuclear site, adding caustically: "Mega-bucks are paid to NMP in fees, yet NMP does nothing [to address issues] other than waiting for the NDA to chivvy you along."
Mr Zarges defensively said: "While we have had achievements, we are not satisfied with these. We are a long way from satisfied ... If we have not learned from these experiences, we are not doing our job."
Meanwhile Mr Clarke conceded that he has been "disappointed with elements of NMP's performance ... The quality of leadership has been less than what we would wish for, and we have been disappointed with elements of performance. But to continue with the contract will provide a better outcome than the alternatives."
Two months later, on 4 February 2014, the PAC published its devastating report 'Managing risk at Sellafield', which inter alia concluded the NMP contract for Sellafield achieved "little improvement" commercially "for extra money spent".
Another conclusion was that "The use of cost reimbursement contracts for Sellafield Limited and its subcontractors means the financial risks are borne by the taxpayer. This contracting approach may be the best option where costs are very uncertain.
"However, as project and programme plans firm up and the lifetime plan becomes more robust, it should be possible to move away from cost reimbursement contracts. The Authority should determine how and when it will have achieved sufficient certainty to expect Sellafield Limited to transfer risk down the supply chain on individual projects and then to reconsider its contracting approach for the site as a whole."
An appalling waste of public money
One re-imbursement was not so much financially huge as extraordinary in its absurdity: an NMP executive claimed £714 taxi fare for a family cat to go to an airport! And was paid (although later it was recovered after a public uproar).
Margaret Hodge proclaimed the contract was an "appalling waste of public money ... The cost of one project soared from £387 million to £729 million in 18 months; another rose from £341 million to £750 million, with completion delayed for six years, in much the same short period."
The most damning conclusion read: "In 2011-12, the Authority paid out £54 million in fees, £17 million for 'reachback' staff and £11 million for executive staff seconded from Nuclear Management Partners. Sellafield Limited also awarded contracts to Nuclear Management Partners' constituent companies worth some £54 million in 2011-12.
"That means, in effect, that those who let contracts awarded their own constituent companies contracts, which raises concerns about fair competition and value. The Authority should ensure all payments are linked to the value delivered and that payments are not made where companies have failed to deliver. It should also routinely provide assurance on the operation of its controls over payments for Nuclear Management Partners' constituent companies."
Tom Zarges nevertheless maintained: "The first term of our contract has been characterised by many successes but also a number of disappointments and areas for improvement. Our job now is to build on our experience of the last five years to safely and reliably deliver our customer's mission, while further accelerating the pace of change and providing value for money to the NDA, Government and the UK tax payer."
An NDA statement insisted that "[we] now have a much better understanding of the issues and complexities that exist at the site and the challenges that lie ahead. Whilst progress has been made on a number of fronts we will require significant improvements during the next contract period.
"We have had extensive discussions with NMP and made clear where these improvements must be made. We will continue to monitor performance closely and remain focused on achieving our goal of safe, effective, value for money decommissioning at Sellafield."
Contract termination 'an operational matter'
A few weeks later, the then energy minister, Michael Fallon, since promoted to Defence Secretary, told Paul Flynn in a written answer:
"The contract review at the first break point, and the decision to continue with the contract into a second five year period, was an operational matter for the NDA. The NDA reached its decision based on a thorough review of performance in the first period of the contract and consideration of all available options.
"The Government endorsed the NDA's decision on the basis that it represents the best way forward at this time, giving NMP the opportunity to build on the progress made in the first five years of its contract for Sellafield Ltd (it has met some 90% of its targets to date and safety at the site has improved), address weaker areas of performance, and make further real progress in this next five year term." (Hansard, 24 Feb 2014 : Column 142W)
On the day Ed Davey announced the big U-turn, by chance Treasury Permanent Secretary, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, appeared before the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee inquiry on 'Whitehall: capacity to address future challenges', to be challenged by committee member Paul Flynn, asking:
"Just as a general principle, are you happy for the public purse to take all the risk, as I pointed out as clearly as possible in 2008, and for the private company, a foreign company, to take any profit that will come out? Is that an abiding effort for the Treasury?"
Sir Nicholas Macphersonanswered: "Put in those terms, I would never be happy with any contract like that. Ensuring that risk is borne in the right place is one of the biggest lessons of the financial crisis. I do not want to get into this individual issue, because I am not sufficiently informed about it."
Meanwhile, John Robertson MP, Labour chair of the All Party Nuclear Power Group (a nuclear cheerleader set-up) said on 16 January, three days after Sellafield management were sacked:
"The industry really has turned Parliament around. We do now have a political House singing from the same hymn sheet on nuclear power. We need to work hard to keep it that way!"
In so saying, he revealed just how out of touch the pro-nuclear cheer-leaders in Parliament really are.
NMP paid shareholders 145m in dividends
The Sunday Times Business section reported on 18 January that the failed NMP was paid its shareholders £145.1m in dividends during its tenure, starting with a £24.5m payout in 2009-10. The terms of its deal entitled it to £50m a year in fees from the NDA, "dependent on performance".
NMP said last week it was "surprised and disappointed" to be ditched and had improved its performance and saved taxpayers £650m during its tenure. It declined to comment on the dividends.
The ruling nostrum of the Civil Service is the unimportance of being right. Calamities come and go. Ministerial careers are ruined. Civil servants who challenged accepted wisdom of their political masters are usually sidelined. Their careers wither. Those who collaborate with political calamities survive and they progress inexorably into top jobs and honours.
Not this time. The media vividly revealed a crisis of anxiety as passport applications were unanswered or delayed. The anger of public and select committee was multiplied by the imperturbable calm of the Passport Office's response. The Home Affairs committee were told there was no 'backlog' of applications. Photographs of rooms with tables and chairs stacked high with unanswered correspondence suggested otherwise.
The Chief Executive Paul Pugh set my pulses racing by condescendingly explaining that a backlog of half a million applications was not a ‘backlog’, it was ‘work in progress’. This is the now familiar defence of solving problems by euphemism. ‘Torture’ was redefined by the US CIA as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, delivering prisoners to be tortured is ‘extraordinary rendition’.
My constituency of Newport had suffered the loss of 150 jobs in in the process of reducing the service to the emaciated state that failed when under strain. Apart from a computer crisis, the public’s loss of confidence in 2014 was unprecedented.
The only reason the service did not collapse altogether was because hundreds of employees were working seven days a week and reinforcements had been brought in from the Border Agency and other departments. Still Mr Pugh continued with his ‘Crisis, What Crisis? ‘ defence.
All MPs had constituents worried sick about their delayed passports. Promises were given to them by the call centre that phonecalls would be returned or the passports would be sent. Rarely were promises honoured. Desperate to avoid cancelled holidays many of my constituents travelled to Liverpool to get the service that was until 2012 available in my constituency of Newport West. Many passports arrived at the very last moment. Often the day before the journey and, in at least one local case, on the morning of the day, that the family's plane was due to leave in the afternoon.
Home Secretary Theresa May had the political nous to avoid defending the indefensible and apologised to the nation.
The Home Affairs committee had done its job by exposing and rightly mocking an appalling predictable and predicted calamity of management by panic. The agency was not helped by the surplus of £124million it made in the previous two years. An excess of entrepreneurial zeal has delivered weeks of anxiety to millions of families. Loyal staff had lost their jobs in unwise cuts that led directly to excessive burdens of overtime for their colleagues.
The Select Committee’s unamimous verdict was that “There has been a complete management failure at the highest levels of the organisation. Despite making a surplus of £124 million over the past 2 years, making record overtime payments and giving its chief executive a salary larger than the Home Secretary's it is scandalous that bonuses of £674,000 have been awarded during this period. The management of this organisation would be unlikely to survive to the final round of " The Apprentice". The HMPO should lose its agency status and be brought back under direct ministerial control following this appalling series of failures.
They have delivered a shamefully poor service to the estimated 5.6 million British citizens living abroad.”
Nemesis was delivered by ending the Passport Office’s role as an executive agency and effectively sacking Paul Pugh who was instructed to remain in his role until a successor - in the form of a Director General - was appointed.
Contrary to the tradition of the service the importance of being wrong was paramount on this occasion. The Home Secreatray has eaten humble pie, the agency has been humiliated and its Chief Executive removed-a precedent worth emulating.
On Tuesday Ed Davey was forced to defend the government’s ludicrous policy of continuing to award lucrative, nonsensical contracts to the building of nuclear power plants. The latest at Hinkley point has guaranteed that the tax payer will purchase electricity off of NMP a French company for a hugely inflated price for the next 35 years.
In 2008, I had an Adjournment debate to point out that the huge costs and risk of the operation would be borne by the taxpayer and not by the private company. It was a mistake to start the operation and a mistake to renew it, but it is also a mistake not to learn the lesson. Have not the Government just risked another £10 billion as a gift to a foreign company at Hinkley Point and agreed a price for electricity that will continue, guaranteed, for 35 years? Again, the pubic bear the risk and the cost, and private people from abroad—from China and France—will take the profit.
Let me try to agree with something the hon. Gentleman said. The costs of decommissioning are huge. Two thirds of my Department’s budget goes towards decommissioning nuclear power stations from the past and dealing with that legacy, so we need to think about value for money as we do that vital work safely. That is one of the reasons that, with the new nuclear programme, it is vital that the contracts and prices we agree include the costs of decommissioning and waste management, and they do.
Obviously, we need to deal with the cost of legacy waste, but as well as announcing the change in the contract the NDA has announced an increase in the estimated cost of cleaning up the site, which now comes to a staggering £110 billion over 120 years. Given those figures and that time scale, how can the Secretary of State possibly give the assurance he gave to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) that the costs of new nuclear will be met by the companies, which may well not be around in anything like 120 years?
Let us be clear that those costs relate to decommissioning the legacy waste. In answer to the hon. Member for Newport West, I was referring to the negotiations with EDF and its partners on the strike price for the new build at Hinkley Point C. That will include the cost of decommissioning, so that is in the price. Legislation went through this House under the previous Government to set up the nuclear liabilities fund and to ensure that it is independent and ring-fenced so that the moneys that go into it are properly managed. We have done a huge amount of work to ensure that that ring-fenced resource will grow and meet the future decommissioning costs.
The great thing about a National Audit Office report is that it is consensually agreed between the Department and the NAO. I am afraid that rather disproves the points that the Secretary of State has tried to make. He tried to locate the original plan in 2008 under the now Leader of the Opposition, but the report says that the previous plan was designed in 2007. The Secretary of State called this the revised plan, but the NAO report is very clear that, in fact, the
“Authority accepted the revised plan in May 2011”,
so this is a revision of the revision that his predecessor approved. Finally, the report was produced in 2012, when the Secretary of State was in post, and states that there were significant uncertainties back then. Why did he not act on the uncertainties that he agreed with the NAO existed then and work up an improvement for the time break in the contract?
Given the criticisms of the NAO and the PAC, is the Secretary of State really telling us that he knew there were concerns about the model, but did not think that he could change it? Will he explain what monitoring procedures he and the then Minister with responsibility for energy, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), put in place to keep a close eye on the company? Will he tell us what meetings they had, what figures they required and what evidence they wanted from the very beginning of the process for renewing the contract?
To be clear, the renewal of the contract was the NDA’s decision, which we endorsed. When we endorsed it, we obviously asked the chief executive, the chairman and the board of the NDA some serious questions, including about the model, and that led to the review of the model and to today’s statement.
In relation to the renewal of the ongoing contract, I of course met executives from the NMP. I cannot give the hon. Lady details of all the meetings that my Ministers or I had. I am happy to write to her about them; there is nothing secret about them. The key thing was to ensure that the contract renewal covered improved performance during the ongoing review of the model, and the facts show that performance has improved.
Three of the world’s top 10 engineering challenges are at Sellafield. As other hon. Members have said, it is a very complex site. Will the Secretary of State ensure that he and his fellow Ministers undertake very complex monitoring to make sure that the value-for-money challenges identified by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee do not slip again? I mean value for money in not just the cost of the contract but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said, the impact on the supply chain, because Sellafield should not deaden the local market, but build it and help it to thrive.
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that the project on the site is hugely complicated. Anyone who visits it can see that for themselves. I should tell her, however, that the prime responsibility for managing it lies with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The NDA was quite rightly set up under the previous Government—with cross-party support—and we believe that it is the right model.
The NDA needs to be involved in all local decisions. It would not be very sensible for that to be managed by Ministers and officials in Whitehall—the NDA is on the front line—but it is the job of Ministers and, indeed, this House to hold the NDA to account. We do that through regular reports and through the officials who regularly work with the NDA, and the House does it through the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Public Accounts Committee.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) mentioned, the French company AREVA, which is part of the NMP consortium, also has a very big interest in Hinkley Point. I know that the sites are very different, but will the Secretary of State use this opportunity to give assurances that the challenges and risks talked about today have been fully addressed at Hinkley Point?
The risks are very different in all senses of the word. The new build at Hinkley Point C has already undergone huge regulatory processes. There is the time needed for the generic design assessment for a new nuclear reactor—in this case, for the EPR reactor, it took three years—and then regulatory approvals are needed for the site itself. The regulatory oversight of the new build at HPC is therefore of a very different nature. However, it is certainly extremely detailed, and I hope that that gives her the assurance she seeks.
One question leapt out of the dross and bedlam of PMQs.
Non-partisan, relevant, vital and delivered with enviable aplomb, the Father of the House asked who is delaying the Chilcot Report? Sir Peter speaks for the most under-represented group in parliament. In spite of great progress in improving the diversity of the Chamber, octogenarians are still disgracefully few. At 80 MPs are not as good as they used to be. They are much better-less vain, ambitious or nervous- liberated to speak freely and independently.
New horrors cascades on old horrors and invade our minds. Only 40 days since the massacre of the innocents in a school in Peshawar. Now the slaughter of the cartoonists overlays our stored memories of the Breivik, Boko Haram and Mumbai murders. Instant communications dump the bloody images in our homes. I tweeted "Nous sommes tous les Francais".
Thrilled to hear inspirational speeches by two aspiring MPs-Jo Stevens Cardiff Central and Ruth Jones Monmouth. Both are fresh voices for Westminster who can emerge triumphant from the bewildering turmoil of voter’s clashing disloyalties of May 7th. A vibrant fresh Parliament is certain.
Eagerly accepted an invitation to an election hustings in Newport West, the same day that PM dodges a TV debate. Incumbent politicians are urged to shun debates that provide platforms to smaller parties. The PM's excuse is rightly mocked. On November 10th I was the only Labour or Conservative MP to sign the Green Party’s letter seeking their inclusion in TV debates. With astonishing chutzpah David Cameron strains credibility with this belated spasm of support for fair play to the Greens. Lord Tebbitt says he may appear to be 'frit'. Andrew Rawnsley described it ‘as one of most terrible excuses in the history of politics.’ Bit of an under-statement there.
Powerfully moving show of world unity against barbarism of religious fanaticism. Wales played its part as all parties demonstrated by candlelight outside the iconic Senedd. It's now the focus of national emotion. 'CHARLIE Hebdo' ydym ni.
Select Committee exasperated with Minister Sam Gyimah's devotion to one democratic reform only. Why equalise constituency boundaries without reform of Lords, PR and the oath? Could it be that the new boundaries is the only reform that will help Sam's party while still distorting the will of the voters? Chris Chope unfavourably compared our degraded democracy with newly minted ones in former dictatorships of Council of Europe countries. All enough to make reformers a tad cynical.
Bad day for Treasury Mandarin to pontificate before the Public Administration Committee. Why had the Nuclear Management Partners (NPM) 17 years contract been cancelled eleven years early? He had not been briefed. The loss to taxpayer will be in the hundreds of £millions in this £40billion contract -now heading north to £100bn. Nick Macpherson said it would not happen again.
Reminded him that it did happen again this year with the new £10 billion gift to French and Chinese companies to build Hinkley Point C, plus the 35 year long guarantee to pay twice the going rate for electricity. Isn’t nuclear the most fragile fuel source with all Japanese and German nukes closing down after Fukishima? The only two new nuclear stations being built in Europe are now six and five years late.
I gently advised him to read my speech on NMP in 2008 and the many questions I have asked as recently as February 2014. The warning was then and is now proved that all profits from both deals would go to foreign firms, all losses would be paid by taxpayers.
Confused, he promised to write to me. Oh dear.
2015 will be a turning point towards a better Newport.
Newport’s problems are temporary. Our treasures are permanent.
The wasteland of the City Centre has been a depressing neuralgic albatross. But from the dereliction, a sparkling new shopping centre emerges. Problem? Serious but temporary.
The local economy has taken a few knocks but is bouncing back with AIC leading a return of blue-collar jobs. We continue to be a great habitat for thousands of quality Public Service jobs. Probem? Serious but temporary.
Two of our secondary schools are among the best ten in Wales. Here, there are no sink schools that disfigured education in many cities. The feeder primary schools that nurture our youngest are safe havens of enlightenment blessed with dedicated staff. Newport education. A treasure and permanent.
Unlike large bloated cities, Newport has a rich accessible natural hinterland of wild places. Wentwood, the Usk and Wye Valleys, Twym Barlwm, the Beacons National Park mountains plus Wales only fenland are our neighbours. A treasure and permanent.
The sumptuous attractions of Tredegar House and grounds have been discovered by national television. Bought in 1974 for £1million against strong local opposition, it is the city’s best ever investment. A treasure and permanent.
Never before has our unique history been more widely acknowledged. Caerleon’s roman remains and Newport’s role as the cradle of democratic idealism is now celebrated with pride. The memorial artifacts change, sometimes painfully, but the message of the Chartists still inspires. A treasure and permanent.
The personality of Newport remains distinctive, robust, individualistic and proud. Attempts to swallow us up as a suburb of Cardiff or Bristol will be defied. We are the product of layers of immigration over 200 years that created a colourful tolerant community. A treasure and permanent.
The soaring towers of Newport’s Transporter Bridge lift the spirits of visitors and Newportonians. It came close to destruction or sale overseas fifty years ago. Against the odds it survives. A treasure and permanent.
New world-wide lustre has been added to Newport’s reputation with the Nato Summit and the Ryder Cup. Newport is arguably the best venue in the United Kingdom for major world events. The enhanced prestige will continue to benefit the wider city. A treasure and permanent.
Our sporting history legacy is magnificent in soccer, rugby, baseball and cricket. The glory days returned in two marvellous victories on Boxing Day-and more since. A treasure that we pray will become permanent. C’mon Newport!
On New Year’s Eve, more than 2,300 workers at City Link found out their jobs had been axed. However in addition to this, more than 1,000 self-employed van drivers and agency workers who earned a living from the failed parcel delivery firm can’t even expect to receive a redundancy letter.
These subjugated workers have had no communication from the company that many have worked for for years. One employee who has been part of the team for nearly a decade has received no letter, no text or email thanking him for his loyalty and confirming that his job is finished. Instead he learnt like everybody else that the company had folded whilst watching the news on Christmas day. The reason for this is that these self employed drivers and agency workers were never counted as employees of City Link, instead they were given titles such as service delivery partners. Why were not employed directly you ask? The answer; so that City Link could employ a fleet of contract workers with no guaranteed hours, sick pay, holiday pay or entitlement to redundancy. City Link owes many of these workers thousands of pounds for weeks of hard work, but following the collapse it highly unlikely that they will ever see this money.
Even after last-minute talks to save the firm failed, City Link was still advertising on its website for “passionate” people who wanted to be their own boss. The firm, owned by multimillionaire Jon Moulton, claimed that drivers could earn £43,000 a year. Phil Valentine, a contractor who has worked for City Link “on and off” for six years and runs six vans, dismissed the £43,000 figure. Once a driver paid for fuel, insurance and a weekly charge for a van, earnings would be more like £28,000 a year. Another worker named Baginton said: “Gross-wise it looks good, but net-wise you are probably looking at around half of that £43,000” Officially self-employed, he paid his own taxes and national insurance. Work started at 4.30 in the morning and sometimes didn’t finish until 7.30 at night.
Other examples of exploitation include holidays as it was often hard to find a replacement driver. “If we have two weeks’ holiday, it will take us two months to recover. It is a double whammy. First because you lose your wages and second because you have to pay someone else to do your job.”
Illness was an even bigger problem. Last year, City Link docked him £75 for missing a morning’s work after he came down with food poisoning. “I rang in sick the night before and I said I didn’t feel well. They rang throughout the morning and asked ‘where are you?’” He went in at lunchtime, still feeling unwell, but found out a week later he had been fined. “I asked my boss: ‘What’s this charge for?’ And he said it would have been £150 if I had missed the whole day. So I had gone in sick and I had basically worked for free.“Before Christmas I had a chest infection for two weeks and my wife was saying I should stay at home. But you can’t. You have it at the back of your mind: ‘I am going to get charged.’”
These City Link contract drivers represent only a tiny part of the army of self employed labour that has flourished during the recession. Around 4.6 million people are self-employed in the UK, 15% of the working population, the highest proportion for 40 years. Delivery workers are not counted separately in the statistics, but there is little doubt their numbers have grown as Britons have embraced online shopping. Around 1.7bn parcels were delivered in the UK in 2012, up from 1.3bn in 2005. However with this upsurge in demand we have seen an upsurge in competition with mega companies such as Amazon deciding to throw their own hat into the delivery ring. As such, companies are increasingly trying to cut expenses and it is the self employed contractors who are being squeezed.
Self-employed contracts are playing a major part in the so-called economic revival. However under such contracts, worker rights and access to legal protection are minimised if not removed altogether. The sad story of the City Link workforce is yet another example of this compassionless capitalism. We are consistently hearing stories of millionaire owners out to make a quick profit with little or no regard for the workers that are effected most by a company’s survival. That this announcement was made on Christmas Eve is possibly the most glaring example yet of exactly how far detached these vultures are from those hard working people who are at the coalface of this economic recovery.
By Owen Jones.
Original article can be found on the link below.
DAILY MIRROR 31st Jan 2014
The BBC’s decision to shelve a documentary about the royals after pressure from Prince Charles’s lawyers was last night condemned by MPs and campaigners.
The national broadcaster axed two-part documentary Reinventing The Royals from its prime-time 9pm slot this Sunday.
It was due to feature claims that PR expert Mark Bolland was employed to make Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles more appealing to the public after Diana was killed in 1997 – a campaign dubbed “Operation Mrs PB”.
The programme had been cleared by BBC lawyers and included in schedules, but was put on hold at the last minute by BBC news chief James Harding after lawyers acting on behalf of the royals wrote of their concerns to the BBC.
Labour MP Paul Flynn said: “The BBC should have held firm. We are not being treated like adults when it comes to the royals.
“The BBC has no right to censor the truth about what is one of the most sophisticated PR operations in the country – and one we are paying for.”
Prince Charles’ advisers are understood to have been concerned that they had no input into the programme.
The documentary is presented by Steve Hewlett, the editor of Panorama during its infamous interview with Diana in 1995 in which she referred to Charles’s affair with Camilla, saying: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
Following the interview the public turned against Camilla. She was viewed as a home wrecker, the most hated woman in England, aka “the rottweiler” – Diana’s name for her.
But Camilla’s patience has been slowly rewarded. She has become accepted, even admired by the public.
However, Prince Charles’s intervention could backfire, said Mr Flynn.
He explained: “All this will do is whet the public’s appetite. This will greatly increase the amount of interest and coverage this story will get.”
Graham Smith, of pressure group Republic, which is campaigning for an elected head of state, added: “The BBC cannot be negotiating its news coverage with the royals.”
The filmmakers were invited along to Sydney during Prince William and Kate’s visit to Australia in April, but it is understood royal aides became increasingly concerned about the film’s content which led to the lawyers’ letter being sent.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said: “The BBC is delaying broadcast of Reinventing The Royals, due to be shown on BBC2 on January 4, until later in the New Year while a number of issues including the use of archive footage are resolved.”
A spokeswoman for Clarence House said that scheduling was a matter for the broadcaster.
Guardian 31st 12 2014
Prime minister criticised for appointing Tory peer as lobbying watchdog chair
Former Conservative minister Angela Browning will head Acoba, as Labour attacks failure to overhaul ‘toothless’ system
Rowena Mason, political correspondent
David Cameron has been accused of encouraging the revolving door between Westminster and the private sector by appointing a former Conservative minister, who earns up to £800 a day from a political consultancy firm, to chair the government’s lobbying watchdog for a five-year term.
The prime minister named Tory peer Angela Browning as chairman of the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), which recommends whether ministers, senior civil servants, and top aides can take up private sector jobs on leaving their government posts.
The installation of a party insider to such a sensitive role is likely to reignite concerns about the effectiveness of Acoba, which has been criticised by Labour for being toothless when it comes to stopping former ministers taking up lucrative lobbying jobs.
Her appointment was announced on the last day before the Christmas recess.
Browning has promised to be “absolutely” independent in the role.
She was a minister in the Home Office until 2011 and is now paid between £300 and £800 a day for occasional work for a political consultancy firm, Cumberlege Eden. The firm trains people in the health industry on topics such as “how to influence the political agenda” and how to “gain experience of influencing the local MP over a topical health issue”, according to its website.
Lady Browning, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, will take up the role four months before the general election, after which it is possible a raft of her colleagues will want to take up private sector jobs, and will need approval.
A senior Tory source said Browning had been through the usual process for public appointments including applying for an advertised role and having a panel interview, while a spokesman for Acoba stressed that her private sector job was fully declared to the committee, of which she is already a member.
Her appointment was also accepted by the House of Commons public administration committee, chaired by Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin. However, not all members of the committee were happy with the choice, with opponents including Paul Flynn, a Labour MP, and Greg Mulholland, a Liberal Democrat MP.
Flynn said the appointment was a sign of Cameron’s failure to overhaul the system that scrutinises lobbying, which the prime minister once warned would be the next big political scandal.
“I have known Baroness Browning for a long time. She was a very good backbencher. But she sees nothing wrong with the way the committee currently operates,” Flynn said. “The revolving door is deeply corrupting not just when ministers leave government but when they look for these jobs while still in government. It’s not theoretical, it’s actually happened.”
He added: “You’ve got the great and the good who think it’s normal to pick up huge sums for a few days’ work and are actually presiding as judge and jury over what people like themselves do. In no way is it a watchdog. In no way is it a body in the public interest. It is a body to protect their own over-awarded jobs in retirement years. It ... goes to the heart of what is wrong with the political system.”
At the public administration committee hearing Browning stressed that she would be neutral, pointing to her work as an electoral commissioner and on the standards committee as an example of where she had to “balance sometimes quite delicate facts and issues in a very non-partisan way”.
The appointment is one of several instances in which Cameron has allowed political figures to run independent watchdogs.
He was criticised earlier this year for allowing Tony Caplin, a former Tory chief operating officer, to chair the £60bn Public Works Loans Board. Caplin was forced to resign after it emerged he was made bankrupt in 2012.
Cameron put Laura Wyld, a PR consultant and former Conservative campaigns officer, in charge of his public appointments unit, a politically impartial role.
Browning was a Conservative MP for Tiverton from 1992 until 2010, during which time she was an agriculture minister, sat on the shadow front bench and was a deputy chairman of the party. After being made a peer in 2010, she was made a minister for crime prevention in 2011 before stepping down for health reasons.
A former teacher and then management consultant, Browning will receive around £8,000-a-year in public money for the role, which will be two to three days a month of work.
Labour has already accused the advisory committee of being “toothless”, even before the appointment of a Tory peer to run it, because the body has never recommended any outright ban on a former minister taking up a private sector job.
Ed Miliband’s party has said it will shake up Acoba and give it proper powers to curb lobbying.
The series was due to have documented a PR plan to make Charles and Camilla more popular after Diana's death in 1997 in a campaign called 'Operation Mrs PB'.
Informed sources close to the Royal Family said its makers said it would be a 'general look' at the relationship between the media and the monarchy but 'appears to have become a hatchet job'.
Welsh Labour MP Paul Flynn told MailOnline: 'It seems to be gross interference with the BBC in their role to tell their paymasters, the British public, the truth.
'The Royals have used their expensive PR operation to influence the BBC.
'People are right to believe this is sinister censorship. This is not Moscow - the BBC should be fearless and free to broadcast.
'All this will do is increase pressure to have it shown and increase the number of people who will watch it when it is'.
Meanwhile bombshell official figures show David Cameron’s posh local authority has NONE and George Osborne’s council only two.
Of the 27,000 asylum seekers pending a decision on their status, most are being housed in cities such as Glasgow, Liverpool or Cardiff.
Labour veteran Paul Flynn said huge disparity showed there was more than enough space for Britain to house more refugees from Syria.
And he called on the Government to house them in the “leafy suburbs” that are failing to carry their share of the burden.
He blasted: “It’s nonsense to say the country is full up. The South-East of England outside of London has virtually no asylum seekers at all.
“We could bring in a very large number of Syrians whose lives at under threat.”
Asylum seekers make up little more than one tenth of the overall net number of immigrants who have come to Britain in the past year.
But an official report earlier this year said immigration was so high it was placing huge pressure on schools and housing in parts of the UK.
Mr Flynn said half his casework was taken up by immigration cases.
Referring to the PM, he said: “I doubt David Cameron really understands the pressures caused by migrants given the rarified atmosphere of South Oxfordshire.”
His comments come just two weeks after a top economist sparked outrage by saying Britain had “masses of room” for more immigrants.
Stephen Nickell, an expert at the Office for Budget Responsibility, said there were more golf courses than houses in the county of Surrey.
Alp Mehmet of the Migration Watch think tank last night said Mr Flynn was talking nonsense. He told the Sun: “This smacks of social engineering.”
“I don’t think we should be directing asylum seekers to different parts of the country.
“The far bigger problem is dealing with high levels of immigration that we have.”
The Home Office last night insisted it tried to ensure a “reasonable spread” of asylum cases across the UK. A spokesman added that all agreements with councils were voluntary.
He said that those councils who “do not participate” faced other pressures.
He told the Sun: “Agreements between national government and local authorities are voluntary and have been in place since 2000.
“We review this regularly, working closely with local authorities to ensure the system is fair for asylum seekers and for taxpayers across the country.”
View the very revealing Sun Map
We are children of a lesser war
A petty skirmish, nothing more,
The bluebirds won’t sing over
The white cliffs of Dover
There’ll be no fuss
Just a footnote in our history
No Vera Lynn, no mystery
No Nazis in the countryside
Or turning back the evil tide
Just tattered gaps in people’s lives
No fly-by at the Cenotaph
Sing songs where people laugh
Through the Blitz,
We envy them that cause
Not like our wars
No equals in Afghanistan
No tussles man to man
No Luftwaffe in Iraq
No Bletchley Park
Just car bombs and smell
A cut-price hell
No Winston, just windbags
We won’t see waving flags
Just body bags and sad parades
Until a sordid peace is made
From today's Observer.
In March 2006 the Commons had a debate on the planned incursion into Helmand Province. Defence Secretary, John Reid said he ‘hoped it would last three years without a shot being fired'.
I was the only person in parliament to make a speech opposing the incursion on the grounds that it would stir up a hornets’ nest. I hoped that I was going to be proved wrong. Sadly this warning proved lethally accurate.
Public Administration Committee 20/04/2006
Q346 Paul Flynn: This report that you produced would have been the poorer if you knew it was going to come into the public domain. Is that true? The conclusions that you reach, which are uncomfortable for the Government, are that the Government is charging off in one direction and you are pointing to another direction. What does this say for future reports of this kind? If you knew this report was going to come into the public domain, how much the poorer would you have been?
Lord Birt: It is reasonable that governments think in private. It is neither one thing or the other.
Q347 Paul Flynn: You believe that parliamentarians should be denied the best thinking of the Government. I have this report which has at the top of it "Confidential Policy" on every page. It would not have been available to me and other parliamentarians who take an interest in this subject, whereas the pack produced by all government on this is available.
Lord Birt: We have a tension here which is not easily resolved. On the one hand we have the need for the widest possible information to be available to Parliament and to the citizenry at large, and on the other the reasonable inclination of politicians in our current political climate to do the most sensitive thinking in private, and there is a tension there.
Q348 Paul Flynn: So future reports, if it is known they are going to be published, will be the poorer for that.
Lord Birt: There is that risk. It would be a real risk if any government, because it was fearful of the consequences of a leak, denied itself the opportunity to do really searching evidence-based strategic work.
Q349 Paul Flynn: If Blairism ever becomes a religious cult, do you think you will be its Pope?
Lord Birt: I am a great admirer of the Prime Minister.
Q350 Chairman: It must drive you mad when you have got governments (I do not mean this Government) obsessed with tomorrow's headline in the Daily Mail and what they are going to do about it.
So what exactly does a blue sky thinker do - and how do we know when he has done it?
Unfortunately for the MPs, the prime minister previously banned Lord Birt from answering them. What on earth might he reveal then?They are the questions members of the Commons public administration committee have been itching for years to put to Tony Blair's former blue sky thinker John Birt.
Now, six years after getting the unpaid post and some time since he has left it, Lord Birt appeared before the eager committee members to put them out of their misery. Except he probably didn't.
It was Labour's Welsh terrier Paul Flynn who first sought to find out exactly what advice Lord Birt had offered the prime minister - on drugs policy in this case - and whether he had been happy or disappointed with the response.
"I do not want to go into any of the detail of my advice to the prime minister or the response to that advice," declared Lord Birt to the sound of journalists' pens being slammed down on notebooks in frustration.
We did learn, however, that one poor civil servant toiled for six months over one page of the report.
"Strategy is hard intellectual work," explained Lord Birt. " It can take a very long time and you have to wrap a wet towel round your head."
The committee's irritation at the lack of detailed information then vented itself through Tory Ian Liddell-Grainger who harried the ex-BBC chief to tell the committee what he regarded as his three "crowning achievements".
He failed to get a response because, suggested Lord Birt, that was not the nature of his work - but he had enjoyed some of the most fulfilling years of his life working in Downing Street.
Mr Liddell-Grainger was, to say the least, unimpressed, claiming he was starting to sound like a child of the 60s. "Which I am," declared Lord Birt, adding teasingly: "I could tell you lots of things, you will have to take me for a drink."
"Sounds like an open invitation to Annie's bar at 12 o'clock," suggested the MP. (I have news for him, Annie's bar was closed permanently by the Commons authorities on the advice of another committee of MPs a month ago).
However, the MPs did discover that Lord Birt had never operated as a one man band - Tony Blair's hit man in Whitehall - but as part of the strategy unit.
And that his long term (3 to 5 year) strategic thinking across areas like transport and energy had sought to address the age old problem of the weakness of government "at the centre".
He had never been aware of government departments resenting his presence or viewing him as an irritant, as suggested by committee chairman Tony Wright.
And no, he had not been offered his job by the prime minister after a game of tennis - apparently he is not good enough to challenge the pm on the court. In fact he could not quite remember how the job offer came about.
"I would remember if the prime minister offered me a job," said Labour's Gordon Prentice, a well-know rebel.
"I think we would all remember," suggested Mr Wright in the instant everyone else in the room had the same thought.
And it was back to Mr Flynn to round things off by asking if Blairism became a religious cult, would Lord Birt become its Pope.
Michael Connarty MP is a fine MP, but he clashed with Speaker Bercow on the length of Prime Minister’s Questions last week. Michael has been diligent and hard working member and stood out against some bullying colleagues in Europe. But on this clash I am on the Speaker’s side.
I have pontificated in the past on PMQs. My advice is:
Devise half a dozen possible wordings before the day on the issues that people are talking about on the streets. Be prepared to ditch them all for the news item that breaks at 11.30 am on D-day.
PMQs fall into the five categories: shroud-waver, shock and awe, current mania, parish-pump and the immediately topical. Devise half a dozen possible wordings before the day on the issues that people are talking about on the streets. Be prepared to ditch them all for the news item that breaks at 11.30 on your D-day.
Write the question out. Ruthlessly edit out any syllable that is not crucial. Try out the questions on friends. Don’t accept polite praise. If their faces do not light up at the final ‘punch’ word in the punchline, start again. Get it right. Your party and voters depend on you. You may not get another chance for many years.
Try and work it out with a group. lf the final version exhilarates them, it will impress the House. Ask them to anticipate the Prime Minister’s reply. Then amend your question to crush his answer.
Michael asked this until the Speaker silenced him.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The most recent OECD report, No. 163, on income inequality, shows that the UK economy would be 20% bigger if tax policies had redistributed income to the bottom 40% of citizens. Can the Prime Minister resist the temptation to waffle and consider seriously his policies and those of Chancellor Scrooge over his five years, of rewarding the rich with tax cuts and hammering middle and low-income people with rises in the cost of living, not only—
Mr Speaker: Order. I call the Prime Minister.
Furious Michael gesticulated and complained. The Speaker mouthed the words “Too Long” to him. Later Michael raised this point of order.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have noticed that I was somewhat disgruntled at being cut off and told that my question was too long at Prime Minister’s questions. I take everyone who visits me at the House of Commons to see the picture of Speaker Lenthall. I know that it is difficult to apply a principle to all cases proportionately, but will you find the time to meet me to discuss the fact that I do not believe that the principle of defending the ability of Back Benchers to ask questions of the Executive was upheld proportionately in all cases today?
Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I say in response that the Speaker does not refuse to see hon. or right hon. Members. If a Member wishes to see the Speaker, the Speaker will be happy to see that Member at a mutually convenient time. I say in the very gentlest way to the hon. Gentleman, first, that the Chair has to be the judge of whether a question is too long. With the greatest of respect, no Member can be judge in his own cause. Secondly, I intend no discourtesy to him, but he was in my view—and I have to make the judgment, not he—taking too long to get to the gravamen of his question. I say very kindly to him that he ought not immediately to think, “Where did the Chair go wrong?” but perhaps to think, “Where did I go wrong and how might I do better?” But of course I will happily see him—[Interruption.] I am not debating the matter with him now. I am telling him, in a very gentle and understated way, what the position is. With that statement, the hon. Gentleman will have to rest content. We will leave it there.
Michael Connarty is correct in that his was not the longest question of the day. That was Tony Baldry’s below. But Tony followed the rule of capturing the House’s interest by his unexpected quote from Marx. Everyone wanted to hear his punchline. Michael Connarty unwisely jumped into tedious detail. Who cares if it’s the ‘latest’ report' or whether it’s ‘No 163”. Michael was stopped because that was no sign that the final question was coming
Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May I commend to my right hon. Friend some advice from Karl Marx, who, as European correspondent of the New-York Tribune, observed that there were
“vital interests which should render Great Britain the earnest and unyielding opponent of the Russian projects of annexation and aggrandisement.”
He went on to say that in
“the arrest of the Russian scheme of annexation…the interests of…Democracy and of England go hand in hand.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree that for the United Kingdom, Europe, the west and indeed the whole world, one of our most important foreign policy priorities for 2015 should be to see that Russia behaves, as one would expect a member of the Security Council to behave, in the interests of international law?"
The House will be tolerant of lengthy questions that capture their interest but unsympathetic to a repeated theme loaded down with verbal Polyfilla.
We all must do better.
Very sorry to hear today of the death of former MP Alan Williams. He was a great friend, decent, hard-working, dedicated and principled.
In his 46 years in parliament he did all possible tasks as a front and backbencher. For an MP, he was remarkably self-effacing and avoided the spotlight. He was a pundit and a broadcaster before he was elected. His seat in Swansea West was never safe in the way that many Welsh seats are. He was a serious unselfish MP who nurtured all new Weslh MPs in the eighties and nineties. Unfortunately his career peaked at a time when Labour were in opposition and he did not have a chance of serving in the cabinet.
His spell as Farther of The House was not marked by the posturing of some of his predecessors. He rarely used the privileges of the position. He continued to work as chair of the key Select Committee and a strong republican voice on the Public Accounts Committee.
Thanks to BBC Wales tonight for letting me pay a brief tribute to Alan. I mentioned an extraordinary vote-rigging incident that had a profound effect on both our lives. I am sure most listeners were baffled. It was a deeply shocking incident. I described it my book the Unusual Suspect.
‘How you getting on, Butt?’ Neil Kinnock asked, ‘I’d like you to go on the frontbench with Alan Williams.’ Alan was the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. I had had only a few months of parliamentary experience and I had already bungled the offer of a place on the prestigious Treasury select committee. I agreed, astonished and grateful. It was so simple. No summons to the Leader’s office, or handshake – only a half-minute phone call. Later that day, the announcement was made that the first of the 1987 intake to be made frontbenchers were Mo Mowlam, Sam Galbraith and me.
It was generous of Neil Kinnock to give me the Wales spokesman job because our relationship had been rocky and his explosive temper had been directed at me on several occasions. Alan Williams welcomed me warmly and told me that I was his second choice. He would not say whom his first choice was, and I did not press the point. I believed it was Paul Murphy because of their shared prejudice against the Welsh language and devolution.
It was at my first frontbench question time that I raised the need for a Welsh Language Act to tackle Wales’s most divisive issue. It was a new experience to be speaking from the Dispatch Box, opposite Peter Walker on the Tory frontbench. It was hard to ignore his constant mutterings ‘Legislation, legislation! . . . Why do we need legislation?’ It was Wyn Roberts from the Tories’ side who answered my question. As always kind and courteous he generously said my question was ‘a tour de force’. I think he meant it was too long.
I greatly enjoyed supporting Alan Williams. But he was in a losing fight with Peter Walker. Alan was a valuable mentor to me. An ex-minister and ex-shadow leader of the House he knew all the intricate by-ways of Parliament’s rules. He had also worked as a reporter for BBC Wales. Sadly Alan was better at teaching than performing himself. He outdid all other Welsh MP in combating Peter Walker’s brilliant public relations stunts. Welsh MPs grumbled and plotted against him. The formidable and resourceful Elizabeth Bachelor had long been his researcher and secretary. She was a past aspirant parliamentary candidate whose hopes had been frustrated by male chauvinism. Her experience of Parliament was greater than that of most Welsh MPs, but in 1988 she was the Berlin Wall, protecting Alan from the hostility of the outside world. She had once worked for Labour Deputy Leader George Brown – who needed protection from the press because of his alcoholic excesses. Alan did not.
I have heard her tell reporters and MPs, with Alan standing by her side, ‘Alan is not here at the moment, but I can tell you what he will say.’
A group of over-the-hill Welsh MPs, Donald Coleman, Roy Hughes, Ray Powell (and occasionally Brynmor John), were nicknamed the Sewing Circle. It was rumoured that they met together to gossip maliciously while knitting their anti-macassars. The Sewing Circle was plotting to replace Alan Williams with Barry Jones. In my innocence, I did not know that they were able to rig elections. That was to be a future shock. Meanwhile Alan and I were suffering the full Peter Walker bombardment. He was like a B-movie trailer. He used the words ‘colossal’, ‘staggering’, ‘tremendous’ and ‘fabulous’ in almost every one of his press releases, sometimes more than once. He fumed when I pointed that out. He then replaced them with a new set of adjectives: ‘lively’, ‘vibrant’ and ‘vigorous’. It was a case of incurable hyperbolic incontinence.
The truth slowly dawned on me. I was doing the most miserable job in Parliament, that of a junior frontbench spokesperson in opposition. The responsibility was immense. Every word uttered was carefully crawled over by opponents. No extra resources or staff were provided to juniors like me. Yet we competed on even terms in debate with the pampered government ministers, who were shored up with a small army of advisers and civil servants. Speeches and answers were written for them. In debate notes would be passed to them providing in-flight fuelling when they ran short of facts or inspiration.
With terror I prepared for my first major speech. It was on education. Alan generously allowed me to make the opening speech. Much midnight oil was burnt as I prepared. On the day I had enough material to deliver a Castro-style five-hour oration. It did not work out that way. At least half of my allotted thirty minutes was spent disputing Wyn Roberts’s speech. Wyn said Wales was in the fast lane; I said Wales was stuck on the hard shoulder with hazard lights flashing. Far from oratory, but it was genuine debate. This was easier than I expected.
But in my bliss of early promotion, I was innocently unaware that an elephant trap was being dug for Alan and me.
Immediately after the recess in October 1987 the annual Labour Party beauty contest – the shadow cabinet election – was held. The members of the Sewing Circle were silently plotting to oust Alan Williams in favour of Barry Jones. The whips had enormous power of patronage in allocating jaunts abroad, offices, days off and other favours. It was common for toadies to hand their blank ballot papers to the whips for them to fill in. Even though Ray Powell had an official role as a whip, he still unashamedly canvassed my vote for Barry Jones. I refused. The next move astonished me.
Partly due to this heavy duty wooing, Barry was elected to the shadow cabinet. Alan Williams was not. Barry replaced Alan as shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Peter Walker was delighted. He had little respect for Barry and had a cruel nickname for him.
The result made no sense. Alan was popular and had done the donkey work against Peter Walker, the media darling. Many years later Alice Mahon and Brian Sedgemore revealed that the elections were rigged in a way that no one guessed at the time. Brian described in his book The Insider’s Guide to Parliament how
Alice Mahon, elected to scrutinise the counting of votes in the shadow cabinet, discovered the scam. The ballot boxes were opened by a Whip the night before voting officially ended. A preliminary count was made, thus enabling one of the Whips, who had a fistful of empty ballot papers handed to him by sleazy MPs, to vote in such a way as to ruin the chances of some MPs who would otherwise have been elected and ensure that other MPs who should not have made it, did so.
I am sure the revelation of vote rigging was as big a shock to the genuinely honourable Barry Jones as it was for me. The process was changed after Alice spilt the beans.
The sacking of Alan Williams was too much for me. He had done a good job without loyalty or support from many of his fellow Welsh MPs. Now he had been ousted on the back of a rigged ballot. Against my interests as an ambitious MP, I let my heart rule my head. I believed that Neil Kinnock should disregard the ballot result – as Tony Blair did later. I put out a press release saying Alan’s sacking was cruel and unfair politics. Personally loyal, politically suicidal.
Kinnock called me in. ‘There is no choice really, mate. You’ve sacked yourself, haven’t you?’ I did not argue. Life working with Barry as my boss was not appealing. Neil shook my hand and told me he would keep me in mind for another job, if one came up. I appreciated that I was being let down lightly but accepted the sacking as final.
I prepared a press release for the announcement the next day. It said how glad I was that my friends Paul Murphy and Alun Michael were joining the Welsh Office. I hoped they would gain as much from the experience as I had. I gave David Cornock of the Western Mail a copy of the press release, embargoed until the following day. Later that evening I had a telephone call from Neil: ‘How would like to go on Social Security kid? Just up your street?’ It was a wonderful way out and I agreed enthusiastically. Working with my hero Robin Cook was a dream job. How could I get that press release back from Cornock? David respected the embargo and there were no reports that I had been sacked. It was seen as a sideways move.
THE FILM PRIDE
Date tabled: 17.12.2014
Primary sponsor: Flynn, Paul
That this House applauds the film masterpiece Pride as an authentic, moving, witty, rumbustious story of how two bullied tribes were tormented into a touching triumphant solidarity.
CUBA AND USA
Date tabled: 17.12.2014
Primary sponsor: Flynn, Paul
That this House congratulates Raoul Castro and Barak Obama for formalising relations between their two countries; and looks forward to many future benefits if the US trade embargo is lifted.
DISTRIBUTION OF ASYLUM SEEKERS
Date tabled: 16.12.2014
Primary sponsor: Flynn, Paul
That this House believes that asylum seekers should be homed widely in the country to assist community assimilation and to share fairly the strains and burdens on services that newcomers create; is astonished that Cardiff has 976 section 95 migrants, double the total in all of South East England outside of London and that Newport has 391, while the constituency of the Home Secretary has one and those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister have none; and calls on hon. Members to encourage their areas to accept their responsibilities and welcome at least the average total of migrants homed elsewhere.
7 Dec 2014 : Column 1422
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A distinguished former British ambassador to Afghanistan said yesterday of our conduct of that war that it was
“a massive act of collective self-deception”
by politicians and generals. We must recall that 453 brave British soldiers lost their lives in that war. A major inquiry was promised by the Leader of the House into the war and into why we went into Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired. Is it not essential that we should hold that inquiry before we contemplate sending more British soldiers to risk their lives in foreign lands?
Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a wily operator if ever there was one. I think he knows that his question was directed not at me but at the Secretary of State for Defence and at tomorrow’s Official Report. In that respect, he has achieved his objective. He has made his point and it will be recorded; it has also been heard by those on the Treasury Bench.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Although the humanitarian work is valued and appreciated, should we not avoid mission-creeping into a new war before we have had an explanation of why 632 British soldiers died, having been ordered into Iraq in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and into Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired?
Michael Fallon: I think that everyone in the House is awaiting the well overdue publication of the Chilcot inquiry, and anything that can be done to accelerate that would be welcomed on both sides of the House. Helmand is a better place than it was when our troops went in, however, and we should pay tribute to the work done there and the sacrifices made.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Will not EVEL accentuate the differences and deepen the divisions between the four countries and accelerate the progress towards the break-up of the United Kingdom?
Mr Hague: Not if done in the correct way. We are talking here about determining whether there is consent in England, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will study the Command Paper and some of the options, such as option 3, of the Conservative proposals, which talk about determining English consent for proposals that only affect England, rather than excluding MPs from other parts of the United Kingdom from each stage of the legislative process. We all have to give the necessary care to keeping the United Kingdom together.
This Government vowed to avoid excessively high salaries. The top was measured as that of the Prime Minister i.e. about £145,000. Now we learn that Mr Deakin supremo at NATS will trouser more than a £million this year.
A stranger writes: "
I think you have spotted his responsibility - this piece of software was a fundamental component in the efficient operation of his enterprise - thus it was his responsibility to have ensured at the time of adoption that it was signed off as "fit for purpose" and that it was regularly maintained in that state. If this came down to some ordinary techie in an office or workshop then I'm sure that Deakin and his apologists would be quick to tell us how they have disciplined the person responsible, but given that this was a key enterprise "solution" it lands squarely on the man's plate. Will the man be big enough to admit it ? He should walk with minimal compensation."
I won't hold my breath. Is there a point when bosses are salaried and promoted beyond the zone of responsibility?
Oral evidence: Pre-appointment Hearing, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), Baroness Browning
Q12 Paul Flynn: My chief problem this morning is: what is a nice woman like yourself doing applying for such a futile job? It took 18 months for the Government to reply to our criticism of this body. I expect that at the end of April, we are going to find a whole host of sacked, discredited Ministers wandering around hawking their contacts file and their insider knowledge to the highest bidder in order to sell their expertise for a large amount of money. What can you do to stop them? You are supposed to be a watchdog, ACOBA, but you are watchdog without teeth or claws.
Baroness Browning: Mr Flynn, I am aware of the Committee’s 2012 report, which you mentioned. I have to say that it is a very long time since anybody said to me, “What is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Paul Flynn: You should get out more.
Baroness Browning: Thank you for making my day. I understand why you are asking me that question in the way in which you phrase it. I have to say that having served in ministerial office in two Governments, I do not quite share your view of ex-Ministers. I do hope that you will live in hope that within the body politic there are many people who do a good job, behave with integrity and honour, and adopt the Nolan principles as Ministers and when they leave office.
You are right to say that we are not a regulatory body in the sense that we have powers that we can impose on people of our own volition. We are set rules by the Cabinet Office, and we have to look at each of the cases that are before us in the light of those rules, but those rules are not totally toothless. For example, we apply many restrictions on the applicants to ACOBA, and we have the powers to make sure that that information is in the public domain. In its report, the Committee gave a lot of worth to the need for transparency. That transparency means that when somebody moves to a company from ministerial office or having been a senior civil servant, not only does the company that they go to work for see what constraints we may have put on them, but so do that company’s competitors.
Q13 Paul Flynn: What are the Nolan constraints that you can put on them? What can you do?
Baroness Browning: Of course, we can and frequently do put a constraint on their ability to lobby for two years—
Q14 Paul Flynn: But how do you know whether they are lobbying?
Baroness Browning: We do not have a body that checks up, but the fact that it is in the public domain means that if we have put a constraint on their lobbying, there is an opportunity there for others, such as the media and the competitors of that company, to be aware of that. If people have applied to Government for a contract or a grant or something and they feel that there has been unfairness because of the position of an employee in another company, and that employee is somebody who might have inside information from a previous job, others could make that complaint. I would have thought that competitors would most certainly jump up and down if they felt that there had been an unfair advantage.
Q15 Paul Flynn: What you are telling me is that you have no ways of imposing your will on people. You say to them, “You are not allowed to lobby,” but if they do, all you can say is, “Tough.” There are no powers that you have.
Baroness Browning: There are no powers as such for the Committee to take action retrospectively against that person—
Q16 Paul Flynn: Okay. So what is the point of ACOBA? You rely on the good will, honesty and sanctity of the people involved. We are not dealing with saints here; we are dealing with politicians. You were a very distinguished Back Bencher and I was delighted to support many of the campaigns you ran as a splendid Back Bencher and Minister, but you were rather exceptional; that does not apply in all cases.
Baroness Browning: I see the role of ACOBA as a double lock. Primarily—I may disagree with you on this, because I am not sure quite where you are coming from, Mr Flynn—I believe that when people leave ministerial office or public service they should be allowed to gain remunerated employment elsewhere. As a principle, that is right. The question is whether their previous employment or position is one that needs to be scrutinised in order to ensure that the public can be confident that people are not breaking the rules. That is the role of ACOBA; it is the double lock after the Ministry has itself looked at what the conflicts of interest might be.
Q17 Paul Flynn: We are in a situation in which politicians are held in very low regard for very good reasons, because of their behaviour in this House and in the Lords. We are looking to build that regard. Are you familiar with the case of Lord Blencathra, who recently was disciplined by your body in the Lords because he had a contract with the Cayman Islands. There were two investigations, and in the first investigation it was found that he forgot that in the contract, which paid him £12,000 a month, he had agreed to lobby Parliament—it went out of his mind. When the actual copy of the contract was produced and sent, there was another investigation. For £12,000 a month—what’s that—possibly you would read the contract! Apparently, he did not. He then made an apology and that was it. It was forgotten about after that brief apology to the Lords. Do you think that that is a way to build public confidence in our legislators, when people get away with things like that, with conduct that would be outrageous anywhere outside politics?
Baroness Browning: I hope you will not mind if I do not reply to the individual case, but the general point that you are making about standards in public life is one that I have always considered very important. I mentioned earlier that I was an electoral commissioner before I took up ministerial office in the Home Office, and I was involved with the internal governance rules in the Electoral Commission. I take this subject very seriously. I agree with you that any of us in public life need to take responsibility for what we do and that there should be not only checks and balances, but in some cases opportunities for people to be called to account. If you are telling me that you believe ACOBA should have enhanced powers in that direction, I have applied for this job, which I am keen to do, on the basis of the powers that it has today. If the decision of the Cabinet Office was to enhance those powers, obviously that would be a matter for them, and the committee would of course follow those powers. I would be wrong to pretend, as a potential chair of the committee, that I have any of those powers.
Q18 Paul Flynn: Your work for Cumberlege Eden is voluntary, is it?
Baroness Browning: No, it is paid. It is remunerated.
Q19 Paul Flynn: How much are you paid?
Baroness Browning: I am paid depending on the sort of course that I am involved in running. It would be between £300 and £800 a day.
Q20 Paul Flynn: For how many days a year?
Baroness Browning: For about 10 to 12 days a year.
Q21 Paul Flynn: Virtually all the members of your committee have similar interests. If I go through the names, they do not read like a cross-section of society. There is a Sir Hugh, a general, another sir and the mister I believe was a former civil servant; there is an honourable—an American title—and a right honourable, a baroness and a lord. These are the least suitable people to judge these things, in many ways in that most ordinary people—bus conductors or waitresses—would regard it as extraordinary that people can get, say, six times what their pension is for a few days’ or weeks’ work a year. The people on this committee are the elite, judging by their own standards, who think it is absolutely normal to have part-time work paying huge salaries. Don’t you think you need people there who are more of a cross-section of society and have normal standards?
Baroness Browning: Having worked for six months with the people you have just described, I have to say I have found them very knowledgeable. When people decide to take up an appointment with a committee—particularly people doing consultancy work, for example—I have found that there is quite a pool of knowledge here that understands how that works. I would have no objection at all to the idea that the sort of people you are suggesting—a bus conductor or a hairdresser—might make very able members of the committee, but I would have to ask whether they would understand and be knowledgeable about matters concerning quite complex business considerations.
For example, in the six months I have been on the committee as a member, when individual cases have come before us, I have very often asked the secretariat to make further inquiries. Many of the questions that I have asked them to inquire further on, as all committee members do, have been based on previous knowledge and experience. Sometimes I am drawing on ministerial knowledge; sometimes I am drawing on my life as a business woman before I came into Parliament. Certainly, having been a Minister, I know how civil servants might relate to people, for example. I would hope that the cross-section of people that you see on the committee today—albeit that we have three vacancies at the moment—and whether they have titles or not, represent people who can ask the pertinent questions when a case comes before them.
Q22 Paul Flynn: Have you seen the programme made at the end of the last Parliament on former Ministers in the previous Government? It was a sting operation in which a large group of former Ministers publicly disgraced themselves by saying they would do anything. They were taxis ready to be hired—one of them actually said so—for money. One Back Bencher was there. It exposed entirely the ignoble ambitions of former Ministers in this case, but we have generals and former civil servants doing the same thing.
One item on that programme was significant. One of the people interviewed was the former chairman of ACOBA. He did not agree to take up a contract straight away, but he sent his CV to the stingers on the television programme, offering his services. Do you think it is appropriate for the person who is in charge of this—the person who sets the rules and acts as the policeman—to want to be involved in getting another new job to line his pockets? Shouldn’t he have kept out of that because he was chair of ACOBA?
Baroness Browning: I hope I will be able to reassure you. I, too, was approached through telephone messages before the end of the last Parliament by what I decided was a sting. I have to tell you, Mr Flynn, when I suggested to them that they were not contacting me about a bona fide operation, I didn’t hear any more from them. I hope I can reassure you that if I am appointed as chair of ACOBA, there certainly will be no question of my being enticed down a route whereby I would be prepared to—
Q23 Chair: The question, though, is whether you would preclude yourself from taking any further outside posts.
Baroness Browning: It is not my intention to do any further work; I think I would probably have enough. My real ambition is actually to write some books, which I hope would not be outwith the work that I do at the moment. I have, of course, Mr Flynn, read your volumes. Knowing I was appearing before this Committee, I got one out of the library just to refresh my memory of it. I am not planning to apply for any more external jobs, either publicly or privately.
Paul Flynn: Unfortunately, I think the chapter you will write about your future with ACOBA will be the least interesting in your book, but I look forward to reading the rest of it.
Baroness Browning: I could make it very spicy, I can assure you.
Public Administration Select Committee
Oral evidence: Whitehall: capacity to address future challenges, HC 669
Tuesday 9 December 2014
Witnesses: Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, Jon Day CBE, Head, Joint Intelligence Committee, Cabinet Office, Rear Admiral John Kingwell, Director, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, Ministry of Defence, and Dr Campbell McCafferty OBE, Director, Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office, gave evidence.
Q121 Chair: I welcome our team of distinguished witnesses to this evidence session on future challenges facing UK Governments for the next 10 or 20 years. May I ask each of you to identify yourselves for the record, please?
Jon Day: I am Jon Day, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in the Cabinet Office. I also run the Government’s horizon scanning process, along with the chief scientist.
Dr McCafferty: I am Campbell McCafferty, Director of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat.
Professor Dame Sally Davies: Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health.
Rear Admiral Kingwell: John Kingwell, Director of the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, the MOD’s independent think-tank.
Q123 Paul Flynn: Could you describe the greatest triumphs of horizon scanning in your own experience in the last 20 years? These are forecasts made by the groups and predecessor groups that will be superior to someone staring into a crystal ball.
Jon Day: I will start with what I think is the biggest achievement of the current machinery.
Paul Flynn: I think the past machinery would give us some idea, surely, because we can see things that were forecast, begun and we can now make a judgment on them. Are there any great triumphs that would have occurred only because of horizon scanning forecasts?
Jon Day: From my own experience, which is primarily defence and security, I would say that in the last 20 years, an example is the work surrounding the change in the international environment away from one based on polarised blocs to a set of ungoverned spaces that generated terrorism.
Q124 Paul Flynn: The ungoverned spaces multiplied greatly, from one country to about a dozen countries. Who forecast the falling of the Berlin Wall; who suggested that looking for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was not a good idea; who suggested going to Helmand in the hope that not a shot would be fired? Where was horizon scanning in forecasting those moves, all three disastrous?
Jon Day: Well, it depends how you define horizon scanning. In all of these circumstances, there was a great deal of policy work done on the potential consequences of these policy decisions. Whether you can describe that as horizon scanning, I am not sure.
Q125 Paul Flynn: Could I give another example to Dame Sally, which is something I have heard you giving evidence on to another Committee? That is, the H1N1 flu epidemic. Your predecessor forecast with some certainty the number of deaths in the United Kingdom at somewhere between 3,000 and a third of a million, and the figure he gave as a likely outcome was 65,000. We planned accordingly to spend £1 billion. The number of deaths in the United Kingdom of people who died with flu was 500. The actual number of those who died of flu was fewer than 150. InPoland, to give an example, they decided not to use the antivirals or the vaccines, because they didn’t think they had been properly tested. They spent about seven złotys on their campaign. The number of deaths per million of population in Poland was half the number that we had here. Is this a failure of those who were responsible for forecasting?
Professor Dame Sally Davies: No, actually. The modellers and infectious disease experts forecast that we will experience intermittent pandemics. A feature of a flu pandemic is that it spreads widely and that we in the community do not have immunity against it, therefore it can wreak havoc with a lot of illness and deaths. That can have a secondary impact, first, on the NHS and on the workplace but through that on the economy. We were prepared and still are for H5N1 to come from Asia, where it is in the birds and it appears to have a significantly high death rate. We started thinking it was 80%. We now think it is about 50%. But we got swine flu and the original data that we had from Mexico showed that there was a significantly high death rate in the patients that they knew about. Our modellers therefore, as it came to our shores, worked out the variety of options and possibilities for us. We are prepared anyway for pandemic flu—it is top of the Government’s risk register—and we had to get into action. What we wondered about but did not know until much later was whether there were other infections in Mexico other than those that they knew about, reported on, and gave us a death rate from. It turned out that there were. We saw the tip of the iceberg and we were prepared for something that was significantly more serious than, I am pleased to say, it turned out. That does not mean that we were not prepared.
Q126 Paul Flynn: Are you aware that the World Health Organisation changed the definition of a pandemic a month before it declared it a pandemic? It chose a definition that was based on geography rather than the seriousness of the disease. The epidemiology for Mexico suggests that there was one death per 1,000 people who had it. Are you also aware that the committee which decided to declare a pandemic was heavily influenced by those members who were in the pay of the pharmaceutical industry at the time? I suggest that it is about time we had an examination of what happened there. We need to examine our experience compared to Poland, and examine the role of those representatives of the pharmaceutical industry who stood to make a lot of money—billions, in fact—from the vaccines and the antivirals. Should we not look backwards, using not so much foresight as hindsight? We need to look at the disasters which have taken place when we have got things badly wrong.
Professor Dame Sally Davies: We should look backwards, and we have. Let me give you two examples. The first is the Hine review of how we and the devolved Administrations responded. A number of recommendations were taken on board, and we have since published a new pandemic flu plan for the UK and for each Administration.
The other way in which we looked backwards was by publishing peer-reviewed—I think it was in The Lancet—serial individual patient data of 26,500 patients, looking at the impact of oseltamivir, which is the Tamiflu that I think you are referring to. This showed that it did have an impact on patients, although this was not as dramatic as we had hoped. On average it saved a day in hospital. If you look at the defence of our stockpile which I gave to the Public Accounts Committee about a month ago, you will know that I believe that we have a sensible stockpile and we should continue with it, based on the scientific evidence.
Q127 Paul Flynn: Perhaps I could refer you to an article in the British Medical Journal in 2008 on the topic of “My dog ate my Tamiflu research papers”. It was based on the inability of the BMA, for all its efforts, to find hard evidence for the efficacy of Tamiflu. The FDA approved it, not because they could find any evidence of its doing any more good than a slight delay in the onset of symptoms, but so that doctors could give people something if there was an epidemic, rather than not being able to give them anything at all. The efficacy of Tamiflu was never proved, apart from a very slight advantage over a placebo or over a couple of paracetamol. Yet we still continue believing that it is effective and worth spending millions and millions on. Is it not anti-scientific of you still to support Tamiflu?
Professor Dame Sally Davies: No. I have explained the evidence to the PAC, but let me go through it again. The Cochrane review shows that for children—of whom there were a small number in the review—there is a gain of about 27 hours less time with symptoms, and for adults about 17 hours. That, of course, is for seasonal flu, where people already have some antibodies and they are healthy. The data that we have to look at are the data I referred to a little earlier, which are the peer-reviewed individual patient data of 26,500 patients through the pandemic which looked at the impact of Tamiflu. Those data, which were collected very carefully, do persuade me and the flu experts that we are right to have a stockpile and to be prepared.
Q128 Paul Flynn: The Cochrane collaboration were very critical of what we did in Britain. Would we not be better off looking to an independent group such as the Cochrane collaboration? It does not have a vested interest—as I may say that all of you do—in defending the record. We need someone from outside to look at it. I do not want to spend too much time on this, but—
Professor Dame Sally Davies: Let me just highlight what I said about the Cochrane review, which—as a matter of fact—we fund from the R and D budget that I hold. It does not apply to pandemic flu. If you look at where the Cochrane reviewers have previously worked, they are less clean than I am on independence.
Q129 Paul Flynn: Perhaps I could go back to my original question, because I am not overwhelmed by the answers. What of the major triumphs in other witnesses’ area, horizon scanning?
Jon Day: Having now thought about your question, from my perspective, over the period you are talking about the development of what we call defence diplomacy—which is the use of defence resources to prevent rather than fight crises—probably falls into that category. It led to a massive engagement with eastern Europe in the Balkans and it has led to upstream capacity building across a whole range of countries, from Sierra Leone through to Indonesia. Its implementation has sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed; but, based on the sort of analysis that we are talking about in this Committee, the principle was absolutely right.
Q130 Chair: Would either of our other two witnesses like to comment on basically what the point of horizon scanning is—is there a point to it and can it be objective?
Rear Admiral Kingwell: Certainly in DCDC’s case, DCDC were tasked to establish a permanent global trends programme in 2001. A part of the work we do professionally is looking back at the gaps that have emerged in our thinking. So, for instance, in this year’s version, looking back, that is to address 23 other areas of specific work. If I were to highlight from that very early report in 2001 two areas where I think we were absolutely correct in identifying the trends—noting of course that identifying trends is not predicting the future—I would highlight that in 2001 we were stressing the future of autonomous and automatic systems on the battle space, and that we were right. If anything, we were slightly too conservative. We said that they would be on the battlefield within 30 years, but they actually appeared within 10. So it was a slightly conservative estimate, but the trend was correct. Secondly, we highlighted the role of social media in undermining certain autocratic regimes and others, and the importance of that. That was in the first report and we pulled this through into the current GS statement.
Q131 Paul Flynn: Did you plan the role of social media in recruiting people born in my constituency, educated here and being convinced by social media that it was right to go across to the other side of the world and execute people?
Rear Admiral Kingwell: The work highlights the trend of social media for the good and for the bad. So, absolutely. The import of it in shaping society and individuals within the state is also highlighted.
Dr McCafferty: In the field of civil contingencies, I think that the national risk assessment that came out of the disruptive challenges the country faced before 2004 is an example of successful horizon scanning. If you look at the foot and mouth outbreak and the costs to the country pre-2004 and compare that with what happened post-2004, it was a much more contained outbreak. At least in part, that was because the national risk assessment identifies a range of disruptive challenges to the United Kingdom and allows us to put generic capabilities in place at the local level to handle the disruptive challenges more quickly.
Professor Dame Sally Davies: Would you like a couple of positive examples? With genomics, we can see the positive advantage; the challenge is how we can get it into the NHS. So we have the 100,000 whole genome project. That arose out of scanning and saying we needed it. Gene therapy: with the opportunity and now, through careful funding, the nurture, we are leading the world in gene therapy for inherited blindness
Q183 Paul Flynn: Isn’t it true that the history of the WHO is that when it is confronted with a situation that will make it huge profits from rich western people, it moves at the speed of a striking cobra, but when it involves poor people in Africa who can’t buy expensive medicines, they move at the speed of an arthritic sloth?
Professor Dame Sally Davies: I disagree. On this occasion, it expected the African regional office to take control and sort it out once it involved more than one country; the African regional office did not. Therefore, Geneva had to come in and, sadly, because of that time lag when the African regional office should have done it, and it has significant funds, we lost time in those countries. But from the UK security perspective, 8 August was fine; from the perspective of those countries and what we could do to support them, it was late.
Nothing changes in politics. The government of the day uses parliamentary chicanery to cast itself in the best light. Desperate to avoid appearing to give in to pressure from a Labour member on its decision to attend the Vienna conference on nuclear weapons, Nadhim Zahawi appears to have been used by the Tories to avoid just that humiliation. Zahawi asked a question on t the government's decision just two days before my written question would have forced the government to announce its change of mind over attending the conference.
House of Commons debates - Tuesday 02 December 2014
Will the UK Government be represented at the forthcoming Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons?
We have decided to accept Austria’s invitation to attend the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons on 8 and 9 December. We will be represented by Mrs Susan le Jeune, the UK ambassador to Austria and permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency
Written Questions for answer on Thursday 4 December 2014
Paul Flynn (Newport West): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, pursuant to his Answer of 25 November 2014 to the hon. Member for Moray, Official Report, column 776, whether the UK will attend the international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in Vienna; and what the reasons are for the decision on attendance.
My question was then duly answered on the 4th when it was old news.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (216630):
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, pursuant to his Answer of 25 November 2014 to the hon. Member for Moray, Official Report, column 776, whether the UK will attend the international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in Vienna; and what the reasons are for the decision on attendance. (216630)
Tabled on: 01 December 2014
Mr Tobias Ellwood: The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) announced in the House on 2 December that the UK has accepted the Austrian Government’s invitation to attend the Vienna Conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. It is clear that a large number of states wish to discuss this issue. We are willing to attend the Vienna conference to do so.
The answer was submitted on 04 Dec 2014 at 14:46.
I was delighted to read the Bronllys Park: a vision for the next 100 years report and share the dismay at the untrue and damaging picture of the Welsh NHS promoted by the media. Below is an extract from an email I received from the Powys Heath and Well Being Action Group about the great healthcare work they are planning:
"We are really fed up with the recent ultra negative opinions that are flying about in England about our Welsh NHS. We think that what we are proposing in this Bronllys Park project is a really positive example of what could be done in Wales, showing how communities can work with the NHS to make world class services.
In December 2013 we were asked to engage with Powys teaching Health Board, to come up with ideas for the use of the grounds of Bronllys Hospital near Talgarth, in Mid Wales. Our local community proposals are being put forward in the “Bronllys Park: a vision for the next 100 years” report. It is a Well Being Park, within an Eco Garden Village. Respecting Bronllys’s beautiful setting we aim to bring even more facilities of value, to our rural community.
The Well Being Park will include some “Fit homes” specially designed for families who have a member with dementia incorporating smart technology and telehealth link ups. Individuals and their carers will receive support from “ Bron Home”. This facility will specialise in dementia, offering outreach, breaks and eventually residential care, to people who have become unable to live independently. A range of other homes in the Eco Garden Village will cater for a range of community housing needs workers from home, downsizers, key workers and selfbuilders. This means that Bronllys Park will be a vibrant community to live work and relax in. A Maggie Day Centre for people who have Cancer and other life threatening conditions is also planned, with our adjoining hospital offering palliative care.
The proposals also includes bringing jobs to the area and to enhance sport and leisure facilities to increase well being in the area. We also propose to set up the Park to be financially self sustaining with built in financial instruments, which will generate ongoing funding of social care.
We are also including one really big idea to enhance Health and Well Being in the area and bring in jobs and visitors. That is to make Bronllys Park the Welsh National Home for Road Cycling, putting our steep hills and sparse population forward as a positive!
We have shared the Bronllys Park proposals with our community and there has been widespread support and enthusiasm for what is planned. The Park proposals have also been shared with a range of Health and Social Care agencies who have also applauded what is on offer. We have had very constructive meetings with Bob Hudson the Powys teaching Health Board Chief Executive and with Jeremy Patterson the Powys County Council CEO and meet with them jointly on Monday the 1st December. At this meeting we hope we can get agreement on how to make the Bronllys Park proposals a reality. On the following Wednesday we have been asked to present the proposals to our County Community Health Council.
It is acknowledged that Bronllys Park would make an excellent demonstration project for the One Powys Plan and the community participation inherent in that approach. We are reliably informed that the Park would be unique in Britain and would be Welsh Flagship Project Internationally; in meeting the age related illnesses and challenges facing us in the 21st Century.
When we get the green light the Park Project it is proposed that a Community Interest Company will take over the development, delivery and governance. We have the candidates for that Board waiting in the wings. We are very passionate about how much positive and genuine good could come out of the Bronllys Park Development."
We would all welcome your views, advice and support to make Bronllys Park become a reality and wonderful resource for Wales.
If this is what our military top brass advise, we are in deep trouble. The fantasy self-delusional picture of ISIS was described by Rear Admiral Chris Parry on BBC Wales this week. He is optimistic that ISIS is a small containable problem.
He said, ‘Local People are sorting this out.’ Everyone hates ISIS. Not just us in the West but most Muslim populations.’ He forecast that ISIS ‘will be eradicated.’
I was on the same programmed and said that the Rear Admiral has serious mis-judged the situation. ISIS has the support of many people in the areas they occupy because they welcome a Sunni force after being unfairly dominated by the Shias from Bagdad. An insurgency that has the support of the local population is very difficult to defeat. ISIS has the fanatical support of some Britons, born and educated here, who are putting their lives at risk to back them in their war. The longing for a Caliphate is a centuries old dream among millions of Muslims. Neighboring countries are divided and many are supporting ISIS with weapons and money.
The ignorant complacency of the Admiral’s views are reminders of those who believe that the Iraq War would eliminate non-existent weapons of mass destruction and invading Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired. Those blunders cost the UK the lives of 632 brave soldiers and left 2,000 maimed for life.
General Dannatt, as always, is demanding an invasion. We should wait until Chicot is published. Then we can understand the scale of one of our past mistakes before we blunder into a new avoidable wars.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Can we do something practical about prosecuting cases of female genital mutilation? Many such cases have been taken to court in France, but we are in a disgraceful position here. Can we get it through to the communities that tolerate FGM that we in this country are serious about this issue? This barbarism has to stop.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Being the fourth highest spender on defence in the world has led to the deaths of 632 of our brave British soldiers in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and in Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired. Why cannot we pursue an independent foreign policy and recognise that spending above our budgets and trying to punch above our weight always results in dying beyond our responsibilities?
Mr BrazierThe fact is that we should be proud of what we have achieved in Helmand province. That operation started, as did the previous one, under a Labour Government.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): In implementing the summit’s call, which said that developments in green energy will support economic growth, will the Prime Minister concentrate not so much on nuclear, which is always billions over budget and years late, but on the vast resources that this country has in wind, wave and tide. All are green, clean and eternal.
The Prime Minister: I think we should do both. We need a balanced energy policy that draws our energy from many different sources. I am proud of the fact that we have in Britain the largest offshore wind market of any country anywhere in the world. The rate of investment in green technology and green energy has increased under this Government. It is worthwhile looking at the proposals for Swansea, in which the hon. Gentleman takes an interest. There are opportunities in these green technologies, and if they can be made to pay, we should use them.
This does not happen very often.
I sent a letter warmly congratulating Tory Minister Andrew Murrison. Two years ago he called at my London Office to discuss Government plans for commemorating the WW1 anniversary.
The plans to celebrate an immense tragedy as a glorious victory were wrong. Murrison is a former soldier who served in Iraq. He understood.
Parliament is in no mood for new wars. The public agree and hailed the rivers of poppies at the Tower as a powerful reminder of the true bloody cost of war.
Our Newport Commemorations attract more people every year. On Saturday at 11.30 a remembrance service that is almost unique to Newport will recall the city’s maritime past at the Merchant Navy Memorial. See you there.
* Serious discussions are underway on the future of higher education in Newport.
Painful decisions ended the proud history of the Newport Art College. Other courses are threatened including the world-renowned Documentary Photography Course. Newport has a magnificent new city campus. But we must ensure that quality education attracts future students.
Thoughtless foghorn protests can do more harm than good and accelerate the decline. All elected representatives in the city are striving for intelligent remedies that will secure a sustainable future to prolong a fine Newport tradition.
The 175th anniversary of the Newport Martyrs is a good time to repair our tattered democracy with a new Charter. The Chartists of 1839 would be astonished that we still have a House of Lords, that elections are decided in only 100 marginal seats, and that bright young people are disenfranchised. The propaganda power of the tabloids is almighty.
Here are my new six points. Make all votes of equal value. Use national funding to liberate parties from dependence on outside interests. Extend to all media the broadcasters statutory duty of balance. Franchise for sixteen-year-olds. Make power the exclusive gift of the electorate, never to be inherited or bought. Broaden political horizons to encompass all of humanity, one environment, and one world.
What are your six?
* The Newport Renaissance is on the way. After a hideous period of decline and self-laceration, there are now firm grounds for optimism. Prosperity and optimism are contagious. The re-born city centre will help to change attitudes. Less of the blame game: more Newport pride in our robust heritage. Then the future will be bright.
Paul Flynn MP said:
“The Claystone Report,to be published tomorrow, quotes my antagonism to the appointment of the chair of the Charity Commission and extrapolates from that, by implication, that I may believe the Commission is behaving unfairly to Muslim Charities. It is interesting that the Commission faced widespread criticism and legal action last year claiming they were discriminating against Christianity in the shape of Hale's Exclusive Brethern
I do not agree with Claystone’s criticism of the Charity Commission. Comments of mine of two years were critical of possible political balance. I do want to be associated with this report until I have seen and considered the evidence of their conduct against all religious groups.
Page 13 of the Claystone report reads:-
2.2 Appointment of Sir William Shawcross as Chairman of the Charity Commission.
In September 2012, Sir William Shawcross became the chair of the charity commission.15 His candidature was supported by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude MP.
His appointment was also considered by the public Administration Select committee as part of the process. In attendance were MPs Bernard Jenkin (chair), Alun Cairns, Charlie Elphicke, Paul Flynn, Robert Halfon, David Heyes, Greg Mulholland and Priti Patel.
this committee voted in favour of his appointment by 4 votes against 3.1 Liberal democrat MP Greg Mulholland and Labour MPs Paul Flynn and David Heyes voted against the appointment. Issues raised included views he had expressed in the past, such as supporting the Iraq war and urging people to vote for the conservative party.16 the 4 who voted in favour were all conservative MP’s.
On September 5th 2012, at the meeting where Sir William Shawcross was appointed, Paul Flynn MP expressed concerns about the chairman Bernard Jenkin MP being “partisan” and that Francis Maude MP had been involved in “political hatchet jobs” with public appointments:
Chair: this is not about your views, Mr Flynn; this is about the candidate’s objectivity. Please ask about that.
Paul Flynn: I can understand your obstruction to this because you clearly have a partisan view on this, Chairman, not for the first time, may I say. If I may continue-as usual struggling again the bias of the chairman on this-my role on this committee is to introduce some impartiality and do the job that we should be doing, which is to ensure that you are not going to face accusations or suspicions from the charity bodies, who are bruised and battered at the moment, that they have someone who is going to do the political hatchet job that Maude is doing elsewhere. You would be an independent person: can you assure us of that?
William Shawcross: I can assure you of that. If you have any misgivings I would wish to come back at any stage and talk to this committee, whenever you wish to do that. I am absolutely convinced, as you are, Mr Flynn that the independence of the regulator is vital and it would be utterly wrong of me to infringe upon that independence in any way. I would not do so.
That this House believes that a coalition bill will become a major landmark in legislative futility; further believes that the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill described by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, a former Conservative Attorney General, as utter tosh is designed to create volunteers and heroes by legislation; salutes the intention of Lord Lloyd to move against all three clauses of the bill so that only the title will remain; is alarmed that responsible bodies warn that the bill could do harm, including the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers who say the bill will put vulnerable people at risk and the leading law firm Slater and Gordon who described the bill as pointless and potentially dangerous; calls on the Government to avoid the derision from judges that a former Conservative Solicitor General said will be provoked and drop this lamentable headline-seeking example of crude populism.
Lord Hurd of Westwell (Con): My Lords, I was brought up on a fundamental principle about legislation, which I sometimes feel your Lordships would do well to memorise. It is the following: if it is not necessary to legislate, it is necessary not to legislate. Of course, it is a sweeping statement, and everyone in this House will have occasion to disagree with it, but it is not a bad working principle—and it is a principle that is entirely neglected in this Bill.
If you are contemplating a brave action which may carry some risk, such as diving into a pool or rescuing somebody from a dangerous situation, you are almost certainly taking a quick decision on the spur of the moment. You are not going to creep away and find a book to memorise the course of a debate in your Lordships’ House. So this is a bad way of sending a message. The message is good and well meaning, but we should not clutter the law book of this Parliament with such messages.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick (CB)
Having said that, I have to warn him that on this occasion, and in relation to this Bill, I come to bury Caesar—in the shape of the Minister—rather than to praise him.
This Bill is indeed exceptional—not because it is of any importance but because it is of no importance at all. It is useless. It received negligible support in the Commons.
I remind the House of what actually happened in the Commons. There were only two Back-Bench speeches on the government side. One was by Sir Edward Garnier, a former Solicitor General. He opposed the Bill in the strongest terms. He described it a silly Bill. He said it would be greeted with “derision” by the judges. Mr Dominic Grieve, a former Attorney-General, described it as “utter tosh”. We should listen to what former Law Officers have said, coming as they do from the government side. They should know. So
The Bill, it will be remembered, has three operative clauses—to encourage volunteering, to tackle the so-called compensation culture and to encourage, or at least not deter, brave actions. On Clause 2 the Lord Chancellor relied on a survey of 300 people carried out seven years ago, in which 47% of them said that they would have volunteered but for the fear of being sued. That seems to be the sum total of all the evidence the Lord Chancellor had to support the clause. His view on the matter, however, was contradicted by a recent Cabinet Offence paper which states that, on the contrary, volunteering is doing well and that section of the community is thriving.
More importantly, it was contradicted from the Government’s own Benches by a former Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, to whom a great deal of credit is due for all his tireless efforts in this area. He told the Commons that the number of volunteers is rising, not falling: but it may not matter, for the evidence of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations warns that this Bill is not going to make any difference one way or the other, so I leave it at that.
Turning to Clause 3 on the so-called compensation culture, the Lord Chancellor said that claims by employees against their employers have gone up by 30% in the past three years. No one seems to know where that figure comes from. The evidence the other way is that workplace claims have actually gone down by half in the last 10 years, and half of those claims were for less
The Bill is unnecessary. The subject matter of all three clauses is already adequately covered by Section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006, to which the Minister made scant reference in his speech. I thought that it had always been the Government’s case that this Bill does not change the law. The key thing about the Bill, according to the Lord Chancellor, is that it simply lays down a set of principles. Mr
There is a further reason for taking this view. In truth, the Bill is unamendable. That was the view taken by the Law Society, and it was right. The Bill is so defective in all three operative clauses that the only feasible amendment is to take each of the three clauses in turn and remove it from the Bill, one by one
Andrew Slaughter MP : "This is a frankly pathetic bill that simply reveals how painfully little David Cameron has to offer in the final year of this parliament.
"Access to justice is under threat and our prisons are in crisis but this is what the Conservatives waste our time on. The committee stage of the bill has shown how little support there is for these measures which Chris Grayling himself admits will not change the law in any way."
New Statesman 21 JULY, 2014
A cursory glance at the legal blogs and coverage shows that this Bill has been almost universally panned. Even the website ConservativeHome found space to criticise it. Last week it was slammed by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers as potentially putting "vulnerable people at risk"
Lord Beecham (Lab)
Such was the significance of the Lord Chancellor’s proposed measure that of the 18 witnesses he invited to give evidence in support of the Bill, only five bothered to turn up.
Frankly, I do not think that a Bill as trivial as this should attract such an amendment and we will not support it. It gives a trivial Bill far too high a profile for its contents
I have concerns that the legislation could worsen the position of workers. Hugh Robertson, head of health and safety at the TUC, described the Bill as “gobbledegook” and said:
“There is not a shred of evidence that there is a problem”
Slater and Gordon Lawyers.
A proposal to offer have-a-go heroes and good Samaritans protection in law has been dubbed “pointless and potentially dangerous” by a leading Slater & Gordon lawyer.
Responding to the Queen’s speech, Group Litigation Lawyer Fraser Whitehead pointed out that the Compensation Act 2006 already provided the protection needed and accused the Government of chasing easy headlines.
He added that the Government was perpetuating the myth of a compensation culture in Britain.
“In all my years as a lawyer frivolous cases such as the ones Chris Grayling seems to think are common place have not been taken on – lawyers simply won’t risk it and a Court would drop it,” Fraser said.
Public Administration Select Committee
Oral evidence: Whitehall: capacity to address future challenges, HC 669
Tuesday 4 November 2014
Witnesses: Professor Robert Hazell CBE, Professor of British Politics and Government, and Director, University College London Constitution Unit. Professor Michael Clarke RUSI
Mr Evans: Just the one?
Paul Flynn: Do you think that, now we have the emergence of English nationalism—it is a sleeping giant that has been there for a long time—with the demand for English votes for English laws, this is the inevitable slippery slope for division, Balkanisation and the break‑up of the United Kingdom? Stronger English nationalism will strengthen nationalism in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Professor Hazell: Clearly, that is part of the planning to be done in connection with developing a workable policy for English votes on English laws. That is partly a technical question, first of all defining an English law and then deciding what procedures in this House would be different in the passage of English legislation. You are quite right that a second issue to be addressed before that policy is introduced is the possible political consequences. Again, forgive me, Chairman, unless I have really misunderstood the purpose of this session, I did not think that you asked us here to discuss that.
Chair: That is a yes or no.
Professor Hazell: You have the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
Paul Flynn: We do indeed.
Dredging is a two‑way street. This place flooded in 1924 because of dredging; water can flow out and come back in quickly. We had a debate that was based on raw politics of lobbying and who was making the case, who was shouting the loudest.
Chair: Can you ask a question?
Paul Flynn: What happens when pure science comes up against impure politics?
Professor Dame Julia Slingo: That is a very good question. Just on the flooding, it was an exceptional winter by any measure. The point you are making is the point I made right at the beginning that environmental risk—that flooding was really an environmental hazard—requires us to understand our changing exposure and vulnerability as a result of, in your example, what we have done to the landscape. If you are living in an urban environment, the impact of a severe thunderstorm will be very different from the impact if you are living in a rural environment, so it is now moving much more from the hazard to the impact and understanding how our behaviour and what we do with our environment affects the impact that we feel from natural hazards.
Professor Clarke: Yes. There are so many competing views about Afghanistan, from 2001 and then again from 2006, that I personally would favour a formal inquiry from next year that would put as much as can reasonably be known into the public domain.
Professor Clarke: I think the Helmand decision in 2006 has got to be seen in light of the events from 2001 onwards, because both the military and political establishment faced a dilemma more than a choice in 2004. They had a strategy in Afghanistan that was clearly failing. It was an American strategy and it was failing because of American action in Iraq. The issue they faced was whether they could rescue that strategy by greater engagement, or whether they should live with the strategic failure. The 2006 decision has to be seen in light of what had gone before.
Professor Clarke: That is a political question as to where our responsibilities lie.
Professor Clarke: With respect, I think we do have an independent foreign policy, but America is our most important ally, so we line up with that when it suits us. Remember, though, that, over the present Iraq crisis, we did not line up with the United States when President Obama announced his campaign against ISIS. We have gone into that campaign with a national caveat that we will not go into Syria. We would not be doing that unless we considered that we had our own distinctive foreign policy objectives. It seems to me that it is not a binary choice that we either line up with America or have an independent foreign policy that is somehow detached from it; the policy we have is what we consider to be in our best interests.
Professor Clarke: I am satisfied that the Afghan policy was an answer to a strategic dilemma that the Government faced. Could it have been tactically better? Yes, it could. Personally, I would defend the strategic thinking behind that commitment as it has run through up to the withdrawal now, but these things are never easy and it will be controversial. I have not much time for the strategy behind the Iraq war in 2003, but I am much more personally persuaded by the strategic decisions that were made over Afghanistan from 2001 onwards.
Professor Clarke: I would not describe it like that. You are absolutely right that—
Chair: Let him answer the question.
Professor Clarke: The prospectus that was thought through in 2005, prior to the 2006 engagement, was ridiculously optimistic, and that was a prospectus that came out of all of the NATO nations, for a range of reasons that I and others have written about. It was absurd to say that an involvement would achieve those things, and it was rather foolish of the United Kingdom to take responsibility for narcotics when we could do so little about it.
That said, this has been Britain’s fourth Afghan war, as I said in the piece you quoted in The Guardian. The question as to whether it is a strategic success or failure has partly got to be measured in longer‑term trends. There is a counterfactual here. If the western powers had not stayed in Afghanistan in December 2011, it is entirely plausible that Afghanistan would have split up and created a much greater crisis across the Durand line in Pakistan. We may have been looking at an even more unstable South Asia now as a result of it. It seems to me not unreasonable to argue that the actions of western powers, unsatisfactory though they were, based on a ridiculously optimistic premise as they were, have nevertheless had an effect of containing what would have been a worse crisis.
Professor Clarke: I felt the shades of Bagehot inhabit the whole parliamentary building that day in August last year. It was the House rejecting the recommendation of the Executive on a matter on which it had not resolved itself. Whether that was the right or wrong decision for the House to take, it was taken on the basis that the strategy being offered by the Government and the American Government was simply not credible. Whether it was right or wrong to reject that strategy is again a matter of political judgment, but I agree; I think it was a very important moment in the constitutional evolution of our national attitude to defence.
Professor Clarke: I would not agree with that. I would not accept the proposition that politicians lied about Afghanistan. There was some very imprecise thinking.
Paul Flynn: But do you think—
Professor Clarke: I would not accept that politicians lied about Afghanistan, but I do accept that we are in a different constitutional era now, partly as a result of the Syria vote in August last year to which you referred. At the time, we wondered as analysts whether this was a blip in our thinking or the beginning of a tilt, and I think the decisions that have been made recently indicate that it may be a tilt more than a blip. We are into new territory in terms of our willingness to engage in foreign operations.
Professor Clarke: No, Mr Flynn, it was not a lie, because, when the Taliban had control of Afghanistan, they allowed it to be hijacked, in effect, by Osama bin Laden and al‑Qaeda, who were able to launch attacks from there. The Taliban never directly attacked Britain in terrorist terms, but they created a permissive environment in which others could plan terrorism. I do not see that that was an inconsistent thing to want to do.
Paul Flynn: But Al Quaeda had gone in 2002.
Professor Clarke: I agree. The strategic defence review of 2010, the national security assessment of that year, actually laid out that aspiration when it said that what we are trying to defend in the UK is not necessarily the territory of the United Kingdom but the ability of British citizens to go about their business freely and with confidence. Those are the key words: the ability of British citizens to “go about their business freely and with confidence”, by implication both in the United Kingdom and abroad. That was an easy tagline to create and I think a very good tagline.
How we do that is very, very different. That relies on understanding the inter-relationship between military policy, foreign policy, intelligence, Home Office policy, counter-terrorism. Defence and security is a continuum; I think that is well understood. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, understanding the nature of the challenge is not so much of the problem; it is knowing what to do about it. Stating the challenge is comparatively easy, and I think the Government have done that, cognisant of the fact that we do face more asymmetric threats, not just from terrorists but also from big powers.
The sort of challenges that President Putin is posing to the West are as much asymmetric as anything else. They rely on cyber offensives; they partly rely on strategic communications offensives; they blackmail over energy supplies and all sorts of things. It is that asymmetry of technique that we need to understand better. The Government have articulated the problem quite efficiently, but we are not very far ahead in gearing up to do it in a more holistic way.
There is a deliberate policy to disguise the fact that the people who sacrificed their lives are sadly not victors, as we would like to believe, but victims. It is Government trying to play that down. There will be no parades after Afghanistan, as you rightly say, but it has been a deliberate attempt to present warfare as something that is successful and desirable in order to prepare us, presumably, for the next war. Isn’t it right that the glorious tribute to the fallen in the first world war at the Tower of London is the way to remember a war, rather than vainglorious celebrations and fooling ourselves that successes have been achieved, which have not been?
Professor Clarke: I absolutely agree that the art installation at the Tower of London is very moving and has struck a chord with the British public, those who have seen it and those who have seen photographs of it. …….
I would not deny that the military had an ambiguous attitude towards the Wootton Bassett effect, because it made all the servicemen look like victims of Government policy, not instruments of Government policy. All service personnel want to be clear that they are instruments of Government policy. There was some ambiguity about that, but the shift to Brize had nothing to do with some sort of propaganda campaign; it was an operational closure of one base and the shift of the transport fleet to the other.
We need a new charter for the twenty-first century:
Point one: Make all votes of equal value. Our eccentric and irrational electoral system means that elections are decided by a small number of footloose votes of the weakly motivated and the least well informed. Voting in the second ballot at Assembly Elections is a gamble that often perversely elects the party the voter dislikes the most.
Point two: Use national funding to liberate parties from any dependence on outside interests. Lobbyists still infest politics, promoting the causes of their rich privileged clients at the expense of the needy and deserving. We have the scandal of foreign millionaires spending vast amount to buy victory in marginal seats.
Point three: Extend to all media the broadcasters statutory duty of balance. A handful of newspaper moguls abuse their massive power. They proselytise irresponsibly without the discipline of balance imposed on broadcasters. Meanwhile, regional papers are dying and begging for state subsidies.
Point four: Franchise for sixteen-year-olds. The election of a monkey in Hartlepool and more votes for Pop Idol than local elections proves that politicians are out of touch.
Point five: Make power the exclusive gift of the electorate, never to be inherited or bought. Only two countries in the world allow their hereditary chieftains to make laws: Britain and Lesotho. The hereditary principle must be finally buried.
Point six: Broaden political horizons to encompass all of humanity, one environment, and one world. The narrow local focus of politics accelerates the global neglect and looting of our environment. All decisions should be on a worldwide scale.
This is incompetence piled on incompetence. There are judges, unconnected with the Metropolitan establishment, who have carried out enquiries with great sensitivity and intelligence. The Home Secretary should look outside of London for a new Chairperson. I believe I was first MP to ask Fiona Woolf to resign in this exchange.
Paul Flynn: Do you accept that there is a very powerful perception that the reason why the terrible abuse by Sir Cyril Smith and Sir Jimmy Savile was never exposed in their lifetimes is that there was an establishment cover-up and they were regarded as being too powerful or of too high a celebrity?
Fiona Woolf: I have read a number of reports, but I think it is for this inquiry to get in among that.
Q67 Paul Flynn: In the light of that, if you accept that—and many of us see that these people were feted in their own areas; they seemed to be untouchable in their own domains; they were guests of royalty and at 10 Downing Street year after year—the establishment itself is under suspicion because of this covering up of decades of child abuse. Isn’t that what the public feel?
Fiona Woolf: I think the public feels absolute abhorrence at all these reports that continually come out, which is why this inquiry has been mobilised by the Home Secretary.
Q68 Paul Flynn: The feeling is that people are worried about the duration of the abuse that went on, publicly known by thousands of people, which never came out because the figures involved were powerful figures of influence and celebrity. Isn’t that the perception?
Fiona Woolf: There are clearly reports. I read one by HMIC that said mistakes were made—I think that is the title of it—so, yes.
Q69 Paul Flynn: You are not answering my question. These are the points I want to get. It is about establishment, celebrity and that perception is there. What I want to follow up is the e-mails and tweets I get saying, “We want this inquiry divorced from the establishment in any way”, the reason that Mrs Butler-Sloss pulled out because she was thought to be an establishment figure and you are seen to be an establishment figure as well. Shouldn’t you resign in the interests of the report being accepted?
Fiona Woolf: I have already said I have never been a member of one of those bodies that are accused of having covered up. If I had been, I wouldn’t have begun to be even thought of as being—
Q70 Paul Flynn: No, but you are perceived, rightly or wrongly—and we can go into your background—as a member of the establishment. You have Cabinet Ministers’ wives to lunch.
Fiona Woolf: I don’t accept that I am a member of the establishment and I think it is down to me to keep making the point and to communicate in a way with the victim community that I can do that.
Q71 Paul Flynn: Do you believe that the perception is there and it comes to us in the form of tweets and e-mails? People are saying, “Why have we got rid of one member of the establishment and why are we having another member of the establishment judging the sins” if they are “of members of the establishment?”
Chair: Mr Flynn, I think that Mrs Woolf is clear that she does not regard herself as being part of the establishment. That is correct, isn’t it?
Paul Flynn: Does she accept that there is a public perception of it?
Q72 Chair: Do you accept that there is a public perception that you may be because of your history of corporate leadership, your presidency of the Law Society and the fact that you are Lord Mayor of London?
Fiona Woolf: The organisations that I belong to have never been in a position to cover things up.
Chair: That is very helpful.
Q73 Paul Flynn: But you have not answered the question, I am afraid. It is the public perception that matters.
Fiona Woolf: You are predicating a question about do I accept that there is a perception on a definition of the establishment, which I am struggling with because I think there is a perception of cover-up, and there may well be evidence of it, but I am asking myself by whom.
Q74 Chair: We will come on to the specifics. I think what Mr Flynn is saying is that you, of course, don’t regard yourself as being part of the establishment, but do you believe that there is a perception that you may be because of the posts that you hold and the positions that you have held so far? They may say, for example, that Mr Flynn is a member of the establishment because he is a Member of Parliament, the oldest club in the world.
Fiona Woolf: Yes, indeed, and that is mentioned in the terms of reference.
Q75 Chair: Would you accept that perception about you or not?
Fiona Woolf: I can understand that there are people who don’t know what the Lord Mayor of London does, but as an ordinary solicitor in private practice I really don’t think I count as the establishment.
Yesterday the House debated the UK's drug policy. It was very heartening and so much better informed than previous debates. While Sarah Wollaston seems to be unaware that the rotten world of major trafficking is the product of prohibition, I hope Norman Baker is right that the genie is out of the bottle. Below is a copy of my contribution to the debate.
UK Drugs Policy Debate - Thursday 30 October 2014
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley). We are both old lags in this debate and were both mentioned in the drugs report of 2002.
I am more optimistic than I have been during the past 27 years in which I have made 28 speeches on this matter in this House. At one time we had an annual debate, which was an amazing ritual. The Government, whoever they were, said how wonderfully and successfully things were going, and the Opposition would say, “Yes, we agree.” One moment I prize was when, about half way through, both Front-Bench speakers had to leave the Chamber for a fix—they were both chain smokers. They saw nothing wrong in denouncing young people and then going off to any of the 16 bars in this place and having a whisky and a cigarette. They would have a couple of paracetamol in their pockets for the headaches they were going to have the next morning. They could not see any contradiction between that and laying down laws for young people.
The hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) talked about the myth that the use of drugs has gone down because of Government action. There is absolutely no correlation. Let us look at the past 43 years. When the Drugs Misuse Act 1971 was passed with the support of all parties—always a worrying thing—there were fewer than 1,000 heroin and cocaine addicts in the whole country. The last figure I saw was 320,000. There has been a steady increase over the years. The reason there has now been a decline in cannabis use and other activities by young people is that they have a new addiction. They have an almost universal addiction to their Tablets and iPhones—that is where their attention is going. It is all to do with fashion. Drug taking might be cool one year and naff the following year. It all depends on that.
The hon. Lady made a point about Portugal, which is a great success story. It changed its policy in 2001. Within a very short time the number of deaths went down by 50%,and it does not have the cost of prosecutions and so on. It has been a continuing success. The change in the Czech Republic is relatively recent and we have yet to see the results, but there are encouraging signs.
I have to apologise to the Minister. I was so ungracious as to believe that he was going to follow the path of all the other Ministers with responsibility for drugs, including some very distinguished ones. I remember when the beloved Mo Mowlam was in charge of drugs. Her letters would comprise the civil service reply and a little note on the top, written by her, saying, “See you in the Strangers Bar to tell you what I really think.” [Laughter.] When the current Minister came before the Home Affairs Committee, I asked him whether he had had the compulsory lobotomy to become a Minister with responsibility for drugs in exchange for his red box. It was not true! The Minister stuck to his views, and here we have the first ever intelligent document on drugs from Government in 43 years—the only one that is evidence-based. We have had evidence-free, prejudice-rich policies for years from politicians who were cowardly. They would not take on the tabloids. Some years ago, the Liberal Democrats decided that they were going to pursue the policy that we are encouraging today and they were denounced by The Sun as going to pot.
There is cowardice because of prejudice, but we know that public opinion is way ahead of us. The public know the stupidity and impotence of our drugs policy. I regularly ask how many prisons in Britain are drug free. I always get the answer that there are none. If we cannot keep hard drugs out of prisons, how on earth can we keep them out of schools, clubs or anywhere else? It is a pretence.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Women go into prisons like Holloway drug-free and come out with a drug habit, such are the difficulties of keeping drugs out of prison.
Paul Flynn: There is a splendid book called “Invisible Women” about Holloway prison, which I commend to everyone. It tells the terrible story of what is going on there.
Another point about prison is that one medicine that was given to young women who had been badly treated and were mutilating themselves was largactil. There was a name for them in prison: they called them muppets. This was a drug for those who had serious mental health problems. The whole sorry story of drugs in prison is one of abuse by many medicinal drugs. A blind eye was turned to cannabis use because it kept a lid on things. If prisoners were on alcohol they were aggressive, but if they were on cannabis they would give everyone a hug. That is how the prisons liked it. The prison policies pursued by all parties are completely hypocritical and they illustrate the futility of prohibition.
I received a call before I came to the House from someone talking about the use of medicinal cannabis, which I have supported for a very long time. It is not that I want to use it. I have never used any illegal drug and I have no plans to use cannabis. The point is the irrationality of the Government’s stand. Cannabis in its natural form is one of the oldest drugs in the world. It has been used on all continents for 5,000 years. Now, because we are nervous and it is an illegal drug, we allow people to have only little bits of cannabis. Dronabinol, nabilone or TAC are available, but they contain only a small number of ingredients from the hundreds in any natural substance.
Mike Thornton: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is very strange that a doctor can prescribe heroin in the form of diamorphine, a controlled and very dangerous drug, but not cannabis?
Paul Flynn: Indeed, and I would like to get on to that. We have just been involved in a war, which I mentioned at business questions. We went into Helmand province five years after we went into Afghanistan. We had lost only two soldiers by that time, but our main purpose in going in—hon. Members should read the speeches from 2006; I have just put them on the website—was all about stopping heroin being grown and ending the drug crop. In 2006, 90% of our heroin came from Afghanistan; yet here we are, years later, and 90% of our heroin still comes from Afghanistan. There is a difference, however now it is cheaper because there is more of it. The efforts to control it were utterly futile, yet there is a shortage of morphine throughout the world—another issue that we have not addressed.
I come back to the point that we should look at the chemistry. Nobody knows what the effect of the various ingredients of natural cannabis is. It might well be that ingredient No. 36 neutralises ingredient No. 428. We do not know, and by stopping people having a natural drug that has proved to be beneficial, we are imposing torment on many who have serious problems, such as multiple sclerosis and other diseases that we know can be cured. It is prejudice that has driven our policies for all these years. I am heartened today by the Minister, by his courage and by the report, which is the only report—I repeat: we have waited 43 years for this—that is based on the truth and the evidence. Marvellous things are happening in other countries throughout the world, and there is a recognition that prohibition has been a curse.
Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In the litany of good signs that the hon. Gentleman is seeing, I am quite certain that he will have read the article by Sir William Patey, who was our ambassador in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2012. He says:
“For the sake of both Afghans and British citizens, senior politicians must take responsibility for the failings of global prohibition, and take control of the drug trade through legal regulation.”
When someone like him says that, it is another reason to sit up and take notice.
Paul Flynn: That is absolutely right. We are following what happened with the prohibition of alcohol in America, where the deaths came from the use of distilled spirit. The content could not be controlled, and it was poisonous. We now have people taking drugs—often in the most concentrated form and in the most dangerous way—that are produced by people who are irresponsible. I believe that if we did not have prohibition, people would be using heroin beer and other things by now. In Amsterdam, they take their cannabis without smoking, because the danger—as with tobacco, where it is not the nicotine—is in smoking the substance. The best way would be if we relaxed about this and if people could have their drugs of choice—all dangerous and to be avoided if at all possible, but we cannot stop people seeking relaxation and comfort from drugs; that will go on. The way to do it is to end prohibition and for a courageous Government to reform our laws.
In answer to my question earlier today, William Hague promised that there would be a debate or statement on Afghan withdrawal. It was suprisng there was no statement on earlier this week. Clearly Members do want to express their views.
Business of the House Questions - Thursday 30 October 2014
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): When can we debate early-day motions 409 to 435, which record and honour, and express our sorrow at the deaths of, the 453 of our brave soldiers killed in Afghanistan? Is it not time to initiate an inquiry into the Helmand incursion? In 2006, we were told that we were going in for three years in the hope that not a shot would be fired; at that time, only two British soldiers had been killed in combat. Should we not inquire into the matter, which was possibly the worst military blunder in our history since the charge of the Light Brigade?
Mr Hague: If we were to make a list of military blunders throughout history, it would be long and substantial before we came to anything in the last few years. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s first point. The next step is for the House to have a debate or a statement from the Defence Secretary in the coming weeks, given our withdrawal from Afghanistan, about the sacrifices made and what has been achieved. Sometimes more has been achieved on some issues in Afghanistan than we sometimes get the credit for. There will be either a debate or a statement, and I will be following the matter up.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions – Thursday 30 October 2014
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): How many badgers were killed in the recent pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset?
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Elizabeth Truss): Bovine tuberculosis is a terrible disease which threatens the future of our beef and dairy industries. We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy which includes improved cattle movement controls, vaccination in the edge areas, and culling badgers in areas where the disease is rife. We will publish all the data and the results of this year's culls once the quality assurance processes and the independent audit have been completed.
Paul Flynn: No answer, of course. Why are the Government so determined to carry on with this failed project, which is unpopular, ineffective, cruel, and bad science on the part of the nasty party?
Elizabeth Truss: Let us remember the situation that we inherited in 2010. Tthe last Government failed to take any action on this issue, and we ended up with the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe. Are Opposition Members proud of that record? Are they proud of the fact that the disease increased ninefold on their watch? As I have said, we are pursuing a comprehensive strategy which includes improved cattle movement controls, vaccination in the edge areas, and culling where the disease is rife.
Now the troops are leaving, all are wise AFTER the dreadful events in Afghanistan. This is what they said in 2006.
John Reid said the role of the British forces in Helmand was fundamentally different to that of the US forces elsewhere in Afghanistan. He said: "We are in the south to help and protect the Afghan people construct their own democracy.
"We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction."
26 Jan 2006 at 12.20 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid):
British Government have undertaken an unprecedented degree of cross-governmental co-ordination to ensure that this is a fully integrated package addressing governance, security and political and social change.
Last September, I visited Afghanistan. I saw for myself the real hope that the international community has brought to a new generation of Afghans: the hope that at last the Afghan people can rebuild their country, the hope that Afghanistan can take its rightful place as a country where men and women alike can live in peace and freedom, the hope for a better future.
.We cannot ignore the opportunity to bring security to a fragile but vital part of the world, and we cannot go on accepting Afghan opium being the source of 90 per cent of the heroin that is applied to the veins of the young people of this country. For all those reasons, it is in our interests, as the United Kingdom and as a responsible member of the international community, to act.
Military Deployments (Afghanistan)
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am most grateful for the opportunity to have this debate and to the Minister for coming to listen to it. I thank him for the time that he gave to me recently, and I have no doubt that his reply to everything that my colleagues and I say will be similarly measured.
It is St. Valentine's day and we should spare a thought for the wives, families and girlfriends of the marines of 42 Commando Royal Marines who left for Afghanistan today. I have no doubt that, as their commanding officer said, they are focused and full of energy, drive and aggression, but the girls they leave behind will not be. The next few months will be extremely difficult, dangerous and worrying for them, and we should bear them in mind.
It is into that maelstrom that we are about to plunge more British soldiers. Afghanistan is no stranger to the British Army and the British Army is no stranger to Afghanistan. We had three semi-successful expeditions there in the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, and when operations began in Afghanistan in 2001, I thought that we would be able to bring it back to the condition that it reached during the 1960s when there was a democratic Government, when there were elected representatives, when there was peace throughout the country—if peace can ever be created in Afghanistan—and when the country was on its way to a new form of prosperity that it had not seen for many years. The British military intervention—the allied intervention—after 11 September 2001 was correct and I salute those soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in that expedition. I would not hesitate to support a similar expedition again if the circumstances pertained.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a cogent case. There is another factor about the deployment which is, I think, unique. The Secretary of State has made it clear that there will be a deployment only if there is an alternative livelihoods programme, supported by the Department for International Development. I know of no precedent in recent times when DFID was involved in a similar ongoing conflict, trying to maintain an alternative livelihoods programme. When the period of conflict ended in places like Sierra Leone, there was post-conflict reconstruction involving DFID and the development agencies, but I know of no examples of DFID and non-governmental organisations being caught up in the complex situation that he outlined. It has not happened in the other PRTs in Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere in Afghanista
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Many of us have concerns about precisely that point. No sooner had British troops been deployed to north-west Afghanistan than they were asked to go and help the Norwegian force in the north of the province. The Minister needs to make clear what their objectives are. Are we there to help security in the south, or are we now there—because of mission creep—as a rapid reaction force for the whole of Afghanistan.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I am unsure whether the Minister is aware of a written parliamentary answer that I received from the Minister for the Middle East on 9 February 2006, in which he quoted President Karzai as saying at the London Conference:
"In my view, and in the view of the United Nations that shares it with me, perhaps Afghanistan will need at least 10 years of a strong systematic consistent effort in eradication, in law enforcement and in the provision to the Afghan farmer of an alternative economy".
Will my hon. Friend press the Minister on what the objectives are in this troop deployment and on whether, if the situation gets worse or if we do not achieve the aims, he is prepared to commit further troops to achieve that?
Mr. Ellwood : It is worth pointing out that we are sending 5,000-odd troops to an area twice the size of Wales. Although I want a successful transition to a peaceful Afghanistan—we all do—that will simply not be possible if we do not have the right manpower on the ground.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): I join in his congratulations to our soldiers in Afghanistan on their courage and professionalism, but I cannot share any of his optimism. I feel a sense of hopelessness about the whole operation. We all pray that it will be a success, but there is very little to suggest that it can be.
The likely outcome is the "Colombianisation" of the whole of central Asia, and the possibility that we are entering into our own British Vietnam. Look at the experience of the Russians: they went into Afghanistan with great hope and confidence, but they were there for 10 years and lost 15,000 soldiers. When they left, there was an army of mujaheddin of 30,000 surrounding Kabul because the occupation antagonised Afghanistan's population. We know that the answer to terrorism is not to go in with guns blazing, but to win the hearts and minds of the people. By going into Helmand province we are losing the hearts and minds of the people. The province has been relatively peaceful, but it has one economy: growing poppies. The rest of the economy was destroyed, partly by the Soviet invasion. We are about to go in and eradicate the region's only means of support and the only way for its people to escape the dirt poverty of their existence.
There is an alternative, which is to respond to another crisis in the world. If someone in a developing country is dying of AIDS or other diseases, there is only a 6 per cent. chance that they will get relief from their agony by using diamorphine. There is a world shortage of the drug. Some 70 per cent. of the world's supply of morphine is used in 7 per cent. of developed countries, so there is little chance of it being available for someone in a developing country. In Afghanistan, we are destroying the raw material for making morphine, as it is also the raw material for making heroin. The alternative is to license some of the poppy growers in the Helmand province, to win them over to our side, and to solve the problem of the world shortage of morphine. That is a simple solution. It is not guaranteed success and there are difficulties involved, but it offers at least some hope. The alternative is one of hopelessness.
Going into Afghanistan was justified on the grounds of attacking the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but it was also justified on the basis that the country produced 90 per cent. of the heroin on the streets of Britain. What is the situation now? It is exactly the same. Have we reduced the crop? Not at all. In fact, the heroin on our streets is now cheaper than ever because there is a greater supply than ever. We have achieved nothing in the years there. Our mission—the British soldiers' mission—is to eradicate the crops. There has been a reduction of 20 per cent. in the area cultivated, but a reduction of only 2 per cent. in the amount of heroin produced, because of increased production. If the mission were successful and we destroyed the entire crop of Afghanistan poppies, all that would happen would be increased planting in Myanmar, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and north Pakistan. But that eradication will not happen; the squeezed balloon principle will operate. So we are on a mission impossible as far as the eradication of poppies is concerned.
Far more dangerous is what we will do with the population of Helmand province. If we are successful and reduce the poppy crops, we will affect farmers there, who want to make a living. That is their primary motivation. Four of them were here last week, talking about their position. They would love to go into the legal production of opium for morphine. They want a peaceful future, but we are repeating exactly the folly of the Russians, who created the mujaheddin and incited them, and who were driving the Helmand farmers into the arms of the Taliban.
I do not wish to add to the fears of the families who today saw off their loved ones, but I believe that we are sending our troops into the gravest danger. You asked for brevity, Mr. Weir. I should have liked to go on at some length, but I shall make my points briefly. I am more concerned about this military expedition than any other that we have ever taken. We are putting our brave soldiers at the gravest possible risk by sending them to Helmand province. There is no precedent of success in such circumstances. Operation Enduring Freedom has become "operation enduring stupidity".
The idea that we can eliminate a drug at the supply stage has been proved to be false. In a report published by the Government's strategy unit, Lord Birt—who no longer works there—emphasises again and again that we cannot eliminate drug use from the supply side because of the enormous demand and the sums of money to be made. We must solve the drugs problem on the streets of Chicago, Cardiff and London; otherwise, the enormous demand there will suck in the drugs. The trade is lubricated by the huge amounts of money made at every stage, from the poppy field to the street corners. The answer is not to try to destroy the supplies. That has been a total failure. We spent much money and achieved no reduction.
One of our newspapers had a headline on the subject yesterday and was mocked for its pains by a Minister at the Foreign Office, who mentioned the muesli-eating and The Independent-reading people who attend the first nights of Harold Pinter plays. That is a despicable attitude to something so serious. It is not a subject fit for humour. What The Independent wrote had an air of prophesy about it. Its front-page headline was "Into the Valley of Death". Someone looking back on this folly in 10 years' time—a latter-day Tennyson—might well amend the words of Tennyson's poem about ministerial and officer folly to talk about the tragedy that is about to unfold. Tennyson started off by saying:
"Someone had blunder'd . . .
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death"—
or into the mouth of Helmand—drove the 5,000.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con):
Although I do not necessarily agree with everything that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) said, I should say that of all the operations in which British armed forces have been involved during the past decade, this deployment to Afghanistan fills me with a degree of trepidation.
My fear is that unless we are very careful indeed, people in Afghanistan, whatever the wiring diagrams or mission statements, will see coalition forces not just as supporting their Government, but possibly as the enemy as well. Indeed, the Taliban and al-Qaeda will knowingly go out of their way to provoke the coalition forces into aggression.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
That is a real dilemma. How long will the situation last? Who will take the action?
There is a view that the situation is containable, because our worthy people will go in for so long, but it would be nice if my right hon. Friend the Minister would tell us about the time scale and the exit strategy.
Let us not misunderstand the point: Afghanistan was taken back to the stone age by the Taliban. We are not talking about going back to the 1960s and rebuilding. Aspects of life in Afghanistan were taken back to the dark ages. We were driven past the Olympic stadium—it is wonderfully named—to see where people were slaughtered daily. We all saw images of that. It was a ritual way of allowing the Taliban to enforce their power. The experience was terribly moving and deeply concerning, given the level of depravity that any regime can manage.
My final point—I make no apology for finishing on this—links directly with what my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West said and is about narcotics and relocation. I have asked this question a number of times, because part of the strategy was to work with the Pakistani authorities, but I ask it again: what is the relationship between what we are asked to do in the south of Afghanistan and the Pakistani authorities' original pledge to move northwards? Since then there has been the earthquake, which has caused terrible devastation and destabilised the Musharraf regime, but we still need to know what is happening.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con
If I may pose the big question: why on earth are we trying to create an Afghanistan and keep it united in the first place?
Helmand is an extremely dangerous area. Government offices are regularly attacked and schools are set on fire. Indeed, the latest reports are that 165 schools—about half the schools in the province—are now shut because of the dangers. The local police force for the entire area, which is twice the size of Wales, is about 500. The police have about 30 trained people dealing with narcotics, not one of whom operates on the border. The situation is very dangerous indeed. There were 20 attacks last month and suicide bombers regularly cross the border from an al-Qaeda training camp about 20 miles south.
If we deal with the poppy problem, we will deal with much of the threat in Afghanistan.
The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board allows 16 countries to grow large quantities of opium under licence, including Canada, France, Austria, Turkey and India. I encourage the Minister to have words with his counterparts in those countries and ask why they cannot relinquish their licences, give up the trade and allow Afghanistan to produce and sell opium legally for medicinal purposes.
Paul Flynn : I am interested by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that countries should give up their licences. There is a huge shortfall of diamorphine in the world, so what we need is additional production, not for anyone to end production.
Mr. Ellwood : If that is the case, I stand corrected, but I pose the question to Minister: why have we not gone down that road and legalised what is required in Afghanistan? I understand that there is an annual requirement of about 10,000 tonnes of opium for medicinal purposes, and in Afghanistan about 4,100 tonnes are illegally produced. The maths is simple and there is a straightforward solution to Afghanistan's biggest problem.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):
The Liberal Democrats support the Government and the international consensus on what is proposed for Afghanistan.
This is not meant as a flippant comment: perhaps deployed alongside our troops there should be a detachment from the National Farmers Union, or at least some people who can give guidance on alternative cultivation as well as the poppy cultivation to which the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) referred.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con):
I start with strategy. On the surface, it seems fairly straightforward. We should have two strategic aims in Afghanistan: the defeat of terrorism, which took us there in the first place, and the building up of a society so that terrorism cannot return. I slightly take issue with the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), although I agree with him on other things, on the comparison that he made with the Soviet invasion. The invasion by the allied forces after the 2001 atrocities in America was very different to the Soviet invasion because it was not about outside society seeking to overturn the indigenous rule of the local people; it was about outside society seeking to protect itself from the unmistakeable aggression that originated from that territory as a result of the way in which the regime there, which had hijacked control of that society, had opened up that territory for terrorist training.
Paul Flynn : The hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about such things, but is he aware that the Soviets saw the invasion of Afghanistan as being almost wholly benign? They saw their mission there as rescuing the Afghan population from the middle ages and were astonished by what happened. They certainly created the mujaheddin in such numbers.
Dr. Lewis :
Saying that is, perhaps, to repeat the parallel with Vietnam. Hon. Members shuddered a little when the hon. Member for Newport, West brought that up, but I do not share his counsel of despair. There is no reason why this campaign should fail. There is, however, a parallel with Vietnam because when insurgencies were taking place there, the campaign was fought in such a way that restrictive rules did not enable the counter-insurgency techniques that had been pursued successfully in other campaigns—such as the Malayan campaign—to be applied sensibly.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram) :
We all know why we are in Afghanistan: the terrible events of 11 September 2001 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania led to a greater knowledge and understanding of what was happening in that troubled country. That backdrop of profound evil is why we are playing a major role in Afghanistan and why the international effort is so deep, determined and committed.
It is right and proper that we show the people of Afghanistan that we support them. We need to show them that when people stand up for democracy and reject terrorism, as they are, we will give them our help. By helping them bolster stability, we counter extremism in this country and so help ourselves. By assisting the Afghans to rebuild their society and legitimate economy, we help end the flow of opium that floods our streets.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) said that alternative uses can be made of the opium poppy. That is unquestionably the case, but time and again he has asked the question and been given an answer, which he may not wish to accept. The suggestion has been analysed, as it could well have been a way forward—and it may be part of the answer at some time further down the line—but it is wrong to think that there is a simple solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, we seek to do what we did in Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere. We want to deliver engagement with civil society, or normal society, and be imaginative about alternative livelihoods. As I understand it—I have not been in Helmand, but I have been in Kandahar—extensive infrastructure is already in place. The Americans put in much of it in the 1950s and 1960s, and it could be the core of the solution. The area once was the bread-basket of Afghanistan. Can we get that back? We must because it will be the source of an economic future, not just for that part of Afghanistan but for the whole country.
On the comprehensive manner in which we went about the analysis, we spent a great deal of time dealing with senior military planners. The plan did not simply come out of the head of a senior politician who said, "Let us now do this." The objectives are clear for not just the UK Government but for NATO and, I believe, the international community. There seems to be an assumption that this country will provide all the people on the ground. It will not. Eight nations will be in the south. There will be extensive force packages from the Americans, the Dutch and the Canadians, and they will have considerable air support. The Harriers, which were mentioned, were in action yesterday to good effect.
Whatever threat manifests itself will be dealt with, and there is no contradiction between the missions in the east and the rest. If that were the case, it would have been the case all along, but we have not failed. We have achieved measures of success in the north and the west. We now face a bigger challenge.
A celebration of the life of Tony Lynes was held yesterday. I was grateful to his widow Sally and daughter Hannah for an allowing me to pay this tribute.'
"Parliament is many things – a snake pit for the ambitious, a playground for charlatans and crooks; it is also a giant mechanism for doing good. That’s the parliament that Tony Lynes inhabited.
On a happy day in 1988, a guardian angel weaved his way between the desks in an office I shared with
seven other MPs. He was a strange figure resembling an Old Testament prophet: thin, with a long black beard. ‘I’m Tony Lynes,’ he said, ‘I work for Margaret Beckett. I think I may be able to help you.’
Tony was the best stroke of luck I have ever had in 27 years of parliamentary life. I had just been jettisoned from Neil Kinnock’s Welsh frontbench team to the Social Security frontbench – from day one instant mastery of the impenetrable encyclopedic social security regulations was expected. Tony was a life support system for me as he had been for dozens of past Labour Governments, ministers and shadow minister for decades. One of the country’s greatest experts on Social Security, he was ex-civil servant who then become first director Child Poverty Action Group. He could have effortlessly enjoyed a career as a top civil servant an academic or a journalist. But he never sought wealth or status. He single-mindedly devoted his prodigious intellect and energies to improving the efficiency and justice of social security.
He drafted more (and better) amendments to social security bills than anyone else, alive or dead. We know that to be true because he wrote it himself and he was modest man.
Tory was my hero and mentor. I rapidly grew to admire his awesome work on the committee stages of the bills that dominated our lives.
Opposition Social Security teams are scourged with at least one bill every year. I was hopelessly out of my depth. Tony Lynes kept me afloat with briefings that were authoritative, clear and infallible. As each clause was debated on bills, teams of different civil servants would troop in to advise the minister. Margaret Beckett, later Clare Short and I relied on Tony alone. He never let us down. It was the army of Civil Servants who were outclassed by Tony’s memory, skill and guile. Tony was the brain: we were the glove puppets. So confident did I become in him that I happily stood my ground when ministers told me I was wrong. When Tony was nodding his head at me at the end of the committee room I was never caught out.
Decisions were being taken that would drastically affect millions of people on tiny disposable incomes. Try telling that to the world outside. Journalists know and care about mortgages. They all have mortgages. None of them were on housing benefit, or income support or a state pension.
There were millions more people on each of housing benefit, income support and state pensions than had mortgages. But it was close to impossible to capture the interest of the hacks
It’s impossible to catalogue a Tony's lifetime achievement. It is made up of the micro surgery of tens of thousands of reforms, from the small changes in Government terms such as restoring the disability facilities grant that had not been uprated for four years to the mammoth error of the Tory Personal Pension calamities in the eighties that cheated and impoverished seven million pensioners. There were many further horrors of useless, malign and damaging bills that became law.
Tony was especially proud of his successful destruction of a Tory Denial of Information stunt in the eighties. Confusingly next step agency questions were printed in Hansard but the answers were not published in Hansard. Tony Lynes and I published a monthly selection of answers called Open Lines sent to all MPs. After two years the Government nationalised our private enterprise venture. Full Hansard service was restored. A significant victory by Tony had been scored for the Legislature over a secretive Executive. An achievement rewarded with the Freedom information award for 1991.
He set a fine example of how to grow old productively-how to stay angry and fighting. He adored the spirit of Barbara Castle, almost blind, feeling her way around the corridors of the Lords but exploding with inspired conviction. A grateful Labour Party should have elevated Tony to the Lords. They did not. He never complained. He was a man of depth and sincerity who was steadfast and strong even in grief and adversity.
He was a kind, gentle, creative, practical man who enriched all our lives and gifted Parliament with his honesty and integrity. We are all bereaved. All those who never knew his name but who struggle on minute incomes are bereaved.
A frequent regret on sudden bereavements is that we never said how much we appreciated the one we have lost. I am comforted this morning because I said the following about Tony in a published book.
“He taught me the concept of excess earnings. He had been receiving at one time in his life more money than he needed to survive. He set up a trust to hold the ‘excess’ cash so he could later give it away to worthy causes, Gratefully I served as one of the trustees to redistributed our excess wealth.
Tony is one of the very few saints that I have ever known”.
Rest in peace, beloved Comrade!
A Thanksgiving and Celebration of the Life of
3 October 1929 – 12 October 2014
The Conway Hall
25, Red Lion Square WC1R 4RL
Thursday 23 October 2014 at 12.30pm
WELCOME The Reverend Canon Cecil Heatley
FAMILY Hannah Lynes
FRIENDSHIP 1946-2014 Marie-Magdeleine Amory
‘How lovely are thy dwellings fair’
From A German Requiem – Johannes Brahms Opus 45
A LIFE WITH MUSIC Peter Smith
PRAYER/POEM? John Lynes
SCHOLAR AND CAMPAIGNER
Jonathan Bradshaw CBE, FBA
Professor of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
LIFE IN PARLIAMENT AS A POLITICAL ADVISER
Paul Flynn MP Member for Newport West
CONTRIBUTION TO SOUTHWARK AS A PENSIONER
Councillor Dora Dixon-Fyle MBE
Cabinet Member for Adult Care, Arts and Culture,
London Borough of Southwark Ward: Camberwell Green
The Work of the Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority and National Statistician on Tuesday 21 October 2014.
Paul Flynn: Pursuing my spirit of curiosity, could you tell me if you think that the hope in the Act that set up the Statistics Authority, which was to persuade politicians, particularly Government, to be less cavalier in their use of statistics, has been achieved and been successful?
John Pullinger: Successful, yes; achieved, no. That would be my very short answer. It has been successful. In my paper, I describe as one of the successes of the last five years the role that Sir Michael Scholar and Sir Andrew Dilnot have played in putting a hand up and saying, “You shouldn’t mess with statistics. They’re far too important for that,” and doing that without fear or favour, coming in and making an intervention. It has made people more careful, and I would count that as a success. That is something we can bank and we can pursue.
Statistics are just another part of normal discourse, and they get used and abused in a natural human way. My concern is when it really undermines the currency. Before the Statistics Authority came into being, the reason the Act was debated and passed by Parliament was a concern the currency had been corroded and that was not good enough. There has been a successful turning of that tide and I expect that to continue. I observe on a daily basis that people are much more careful in the political space and also in the media space, but I do not think we can declare that the target has been achieved. It probably never will be, but progressively we can make it better.
Paul Flynn: Do you think that the Prime Minister was being very careful when he said that the Government is paying down its debts? You wrote about this and you gave the figures and very helpful charts on this, which show the debt as ever increasing. There are blue lines. This is a falsehood and, in fact, in the period involved, the Government has increased its debts by £435 billion over the original period. How would you describe this: a lie, a distortion, a falsehood, a mistake?
John Pullinger: On that occasion, the Prime Minister clearly misspoke. I heard him at another event a week later and he got it right; he said the Government is reducing the deficit. Whether or not that would have happened without the intervention, I do not know. We are in a spirit of general improvement here; the purpose of this is to make things better. I observed in that particular case an improvement in the space of a fortnight, in describing the numbers in a much more accurate way.
Paul Flynn: You can use language to distort the meaning, which I assume he did, but when he makes a clear statement, which you have rightly nailed as untrue, and says it is paying down its debts—at a Tory Party conference, I think it was—whereas in fact he is a small matter of £435 billion out in his claim, where do you get to the point when you have to embolden yourself, or the Authority has, to say, “The Prime Minister is lying; the Prime Minister is attempting to deceive the country”? The hope expressed by Andrew Dilnot before he had his present job, while the Bill was going through, was that that Bill setting up the Authority was the most significant Act of the last Government. There was a lot of truth in that—if it had worked, and if politicians of all parties were inhibited by the need to produce the objective truth, instead of going on some wild political hyperbole, which this was, surely.
John Pullinger: Each should make their own judgment, but my own judgment is that particular case was a success. There was a statement made. There was a reference made to the Authority to look at the validity of the statement. The Authority, as you have it in front of you, has made absolutely clear what claims can and cannot be justified on this, and the Prime Minister, in this case, is then accountable for whether he has misled or not. I think that is the system working. I think that is a very powerful act, and that would just not have happened had this Act not been passed.
Paul Flynn: I treasure a letter I received in answer to a worry expressed by a statistician that their work was going to be distorted by politicians. That letter was saying that this was a very unworthy suggestion that politicians would ever want to distort statistics and to pollute the work of statisticians. That letter was from Margaret Thatcher and I had it in 1988. Nothing seems to have changed, except the shock of politicians at any suggestions that they are misleading.
You wrote, on 9 October, to Mr David Hanson, about a comment by Mr James Brokenshire, who said, “We have cut net migration by a quarter since the peak under Labour.” You were asked how accurate or misleading that was. Would you like to comment on whether Mr Brokenshire’s statement gave a truthful impression?
John Pullinger: I am not going to comment on that particular case, but I am going to comment on the process, if I may. What we have with this Act, and what we have with the current Chair of the Statistics Authority, is a legal basis on which misstatements and falsehoods can be challenged in public. We have a Chairman who is very prepared to do that, without any fearfulness.
Paul Flynn: If you look at the truth of Mr Brokenshire’s statement, you have again provided very useful proof of this. The point he chose was one where there was a freakish increase in immigration and a drop in emigration. It happens to be there is suddenly a peak that goes up, and that is compared rather than any of the other periods over the 13 years. The clear trend you have here is one of increase and the graph is going skywards. The impression given by Mr Brokenshire was intended to be a false one. This is straight from the manual of how to lie with statistics. You have rightly, given the figures here, pointed out that immigration is increasing and has been increasing recently, and Mr Brokenshire’s statement is a falsehood. Can you come out? Do you think you can be less inhibited yourselves, nail them and say, “Look, the Government is lying on immigration; the Government is lying on the state of debt,” and challenge them in that way? This is the job that the Statistics Authority and you have been set up to do.
John Pullinger: From the Authority perspective, if I may say so, the kind of response you have in front of you is an even more potent critique of what was said than just a statement of an opinion. What we are doing here is putting out the evidence in a very clear way, which states our view on a particular case. That is out from our point of view. The extra thing is you now have that evidence as well, by which to challenge the Member on the Floor of the House or in any other situation.
Paul Flynn: You did another report or a comment in July about A and E waiting times and about how Government was further distorting the figures. We have a vigorous, hysterical campaign being run by one newspaper now, which is making a wholly unscientific comparison between NHS statistics in Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. There was a scientific investigation of this carried out by the Nuffield Trust, which said that there was not that much difference between them, if you add them all up. There is now a campaign, which is propaganda dressed up as news, in the Daily Mail, which lies to their readers every day. This is then carried on by the other media, which reports what has been said. The impression is not one that is based on fact, science or any kind of objective examination. Do you as an authority feel that you should look at this and make a comparison between what is happening in the health services in the four countries, and report accordingly?
John Pullinger: If there is a case where the evidence base has been misrepresented or misreported, and that is brought to our attention, then the kinds of responses that you have in some of those other cases will be forthcoming. They will put the particular question into context.
Thanks to St Modwen's for Saturday's strirring visit to a place that is both new and familiar to me. High quality new homes have been built on the old steelworks site. The transformation is wonderful.
Two resting Gwent Dragons, Matthew Screech and Cory Hill, oppened the fine new houses. The start of a great day when their fellow players beat Stade Francaise by 38 points to 22.
"From natural beauty to industry and now back to natural beauty.
Before the Llanwern steelworks arrived the site was a beautiful part of Wales' only fenland. In 1962 it was transformed into a massive four mile long steelworks. The ancient drainage of willow-lined reens survived modified into the industrial landscape. The steelworks protected the site as far as and added a new lake that rapidly became a wildlife habitat.
The loss of skilled well paid jobs is bitterly regretted. But having worked at the steelworks from 1962 to 1984 it is deeply satisfying to see new natural beauty emerge. St Modwen has earned the gratitude of Newport with the sensitive development of a new community which will combine lakeside living with fine community amenities. Croeso Glan Llyn."
How the dream faded
Extract from my book 'The Unusual Suspect'.
'Our first awkward nervous negotiation for a pay increase succeeded beyond our fevered imaginations. We gained a rise of nearly 25 per cent. We had asked for 40 per cent. My role placed me, psychologically, in conflict with the managerial tribe. There was no chance of any promotion. Shop stewards were cast as agents of antagonism and confrontation. One dispute about the safety of a new procedure for identifying nitrogen in steel resulted in a bitter altercation with management. My promotion goose was cooked. For the rest of my time at Llanwern I became resigned to my fate working under bosses for whom I had decreasing respect.
Work became a meaningless chore, which I performed with my mind and imagination detached. So what? I had the joy of witnessing the daily miracle of my two young children discovering their joie de vivre. I was content to prostitute my time in exchange for money to build the comfortable home that was the centre of my life.
The steelworks was a great national enterprise. A political fudge by Prime Minister Macmillan divided the giant plant between Ravenscraig in Scotland and Llanwern in Wales. Decades later, both plants suffered from that act of cowardice. The Llanwern steelworks had attracted an army of six thousand incomers from steel centres throughout the United Kingdom. The accents of Glasgow, Llanelli and Birmingham were heard more frequently than those of Gwent. In the early 1960s Llanwern enjoyed great publicity as a model, newly minted works with staff that were the elite of British steelworkers.
The dream faded fast. In the bleak, self-destructive spirit of the early 1960s the simple-minded union bigots ruled. Management was weak. The huge site encouraged the creation of small protective self-contained units. The management was remote in their hutted village on the edge of the site, at Lliswerry. The union empire built around the Cold Mill was four miles away, skirting the village of Bishton.
The works Balkanised itself into nineteen separate conspiracies all at war with each other and with management. Loyalty ended at the boundaries of each department. Success could only come from a united team, one that worked together from the point where raw materials entered in the west to the place where finished steel was dispatched in the east
New equipment saw production records broken. But the works were plagued by disputes, strikes and an endemic atmosphere of bloody- minded lethargy. At a Labour Party conference in the late 1960s Michael Foot, MP for Ebbw Vale, answered a debate in which there had been a routine demand for more investment for industry. Michael pointed to Llanwern. ‘They are up to their necks with investment there but they are not delivering the goods.’
The works were out of management’s control. It became a deeply unhappy place. Pride, excitement and hoped faded. Stories spread about the indolence and inefficiency of the workers. Demand for steel was falling and international competition was threatening Llanwern’s products in the marketplace. As a socialist and trade unionist, I was upset to see my convictions challenged. Justice for working people achieved through combined strength against greedy employers was a prime tenet of socialism. It was our answer to the bitter inequalities of wealth and power that created the cruelties of Crawshay Bailey’s work slaves and the victims of the potato famine.
Equality of power between union and management had been the aim of early socialists: the dream was that it would evolve into shared responsibility between self and community interests. At Llanwern I witnessed a cherished ideal metamorphosing into waste and abuse. Ill-disciplined union power was a bloated brainless monster. Cowed management retreated behind the barricades of their department’s defences. The worst union leaders surfaced, ignorant, self indulgent, naive and brutal. The arteries of that great works became clogged with futile contrived conflicts. Gloomy forecasts of doom were heard. The possibility of allowing the whole place to sink back into the marsh on which it was insecurely built was feared. Shock therapy was a long time coming.
In retrospect, I mourn for those wasted twenty-two years. All were on shift-work, the pattern consisting of shifts from 6.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m., from 2.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. and from 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 am. The one upside was that they were substantial numbers of shiftworkers in the local communities. That made our status as a sub-stratum of society bearable. The pattern of our lives was abnormal. The shifts undermined the routines of family and social life.
Nights out were marred because of afternoon working. The need for an early start the following day or having to leave events early to start a night shift imposed an untidy routine. Young children could not understand why father was sleeping in the middle of the day. I resented the tyranny of a life that was out of kilter with the rest of society. The shared misery brought shiftworkers together in a freemasonry of mutual interest. My work was undemanding and the long hours were made bearable only by the stimulus of intelligent companions. Overtime was regular and essential to build a decent wage. Half of my waking hours were spent in the company of the same ten men who shared my shift.
Life was monastic in its intimacy. Relationships were close, intense and potent. The spasmodic nature of the work allowed for hours of chat. We were part of a production process which had peaks of intense activity separated by periods of idleness. Friendships were forged and broken. Faults and irritating habits were magnified."
Yesterday hundreds of his family and friends attended John Rizzo's funeral service in St Mary's Church in Stow Hill Newport.
John had a full great life. A skilled versatile builder, Newport County's number one fan, enthusisatic worker for the Labour Party, staunch Roman Catholic, Newport City nationalist, flyer of flags, collector of roads signs and above all else a great family man.
I owe him a great personal debt of gratitude.
In 1987 I had a struggle to establish my parliamentary candidature against a sitting Tory MP. A striking visible presence was essential. Agent David Mayer designed giant posters and banners. John provided the skill and muscle to erect them on suitable buildings. It was said, at yesterday's funeral, that John persuaded dozens of Labour supporters that the only way to keep Newport West a Tory free-zone was to erect giant banners proclaiming the name Paul Flynn. It worked. I scraped home unseating a popular Tory. John has been a life support machine for every election since then.
The flagpole in John's Preston Avenue front garden was a barometer of the mood of Newport City.
He frequently flew a European flag. Born in Malta, he was an enthusistic Euro-phobe. He had flags of many other nations. The Welsh flag was his second favourite displayed on all sporting occasions when Wales was involved. Many times I took unnecessary detours down his road to check on the day's flag so I could discover the hot topic of the day. One of the happiest day's of John's life was the day Newport played at Wembley to gain promotion. He shared the joy with thousands of others who had supported the County through good and difficult times.
He had been raised in the Pillgwenlly area of Newport. In Bolt Street, I believe. Much of Pill has been redeveloped and John collected the discarded street names which he proudly displayed on his garden wall. He had assembled a unique slice of Newport's lost history. Eventually he put the signs to good use and auctioned them off for a favourite charity.
John had suffered serious illness in recent years. There was a sad sombre mood at his funeral tempered by the knowledge of suffering ended. His wonderful wife Gwyneth and family exchanged loving memories of this marvellous man. All who knew him celebrated the satisfying life of love, work and friendship that he had enjoyed.
Rest in Peace, Comrade.
A pub that once made its own money just reopened in Caerleon.
The Red Lion has been a pub since at least the sixteenth century. It has just had a £180,000 refurbishment. But it has not had its character ruined with a plastic and chrome makeover. It's still as cosy, welcoming and intimate as a traditional pub at its best can be.
There is little published on the history but Caerleon historian Primrose Hockey's notes were kindly provided to me by Gwent Archives.
"Hostelries have been found in Caerleon since Roman times. However, names have been altered or changed or the house has been neglected and pulled down. Many changed ownership or, for political reasons, changed names. During the Civil War particularly, anyone proclaiming his or her trade had to be sure, at least, of keeping in with the authorities, so names were constantly being changed.
On the pretext that small coins were in short supply pubs in the 18th century made their own coins - exchangeable only in their premises. It was a great racket in keeping customers captive and sometimes ripping them off with devalued exchange rate. Sometime pub farthings web valued only at a sixth of a penny instead of the quarter they should have been.
Shocked and grieved to hear of the death of my hero and mentor Tony Lynes. He was involved in a traffic accident and died yesterday morning. Tony was one of the very few saints I have ever known. He selflessly served all his life. As a preliminary tribute, I reprint what I have written about my first meeting with him.
“A guardian angel appeared one morning. Weaving his way between the desks in our over-crowded office, a strange figure approached me. He looked like an Old Testament prophet: thin, with a long black beard and a triangular shaped face. ‘I’m Tony Lynes,’ he said, ‘I work for Margaret Beckett. I think I may be able to help you.’ Tony was the best stroke of luck I have ever had in my chequered parliamentary life. He is one of the country’s greatest experts on Social Security. An ex-civil servant, he left to form the Child Poverty Action Group, which he headed for years before Frank Field joined it. The author of several standard books on social security, he had never sought wealth or status. He was single-mindedly devoted to improving the efficiency and justice of social security.
He taught me the concept of excess earnings. He had been receiving at one time in his life more money than he needed to survive. He set up a trust to hold the ‘excess’ cash so he could later give it away to worthy causes. Tony is one of the very few saints that I have known. He was then working part-time for Margaret Beckett, one half of the Health and Social Security portfolio. Robin Cook headed the team. My hero worship would soon prove to be justified. Robin kindly welcomed me to the job, explaining that he had been offered several names. He picked me because he thought I was a hard worker who would do the research.
Gulp! Research? I was already doing a more than full-time job as a backbencher. I had other ideas. I employed Tony Lynes on the one day a week that he was not working for Margaret Beckett. I rapidly grew to admire the awesome powers of Margaret, especially on the committee stages of the bills that soon dominated our lives. She was a toweringly authoritative presence in a bill committee.
Social security frontbenchers are plagued with at least one bill every year. I was hopelessly out of my depth. Tony Lynes kept me afloat with briefngs that were clear and infallible. As each clause was debated on bills, teams of different civil servants would troop in to advise the minister. Margaret and I relied on Tony alone. He never let us down. So confident did I become in him that I happily stood my ground when ministers told me I was wrong. When Tony was nodding his head at me at the end of the committee room I was never caught out.
Working on social security trapped us in parliamentary purdah. No one was interested. Decisions were being taken that would drastically affect millions of people on tiny disposable incomes. Try telling that to the world outside. Journalists knew and cared about mortgages. They had mortgages. None of them were on housing benefit, or income support or a state pension.
There were millions more people on each of housing benefit, income support and state pensions than had mortgages. But it was close to impossible to capture the interest of hacks. Their interest would have encouraged radical change from the Tory government. Many times I briefed them on some cataclysmic government decisions that were robbing defenceless millions of substantial amounts of their tiny disposable incomes. Their eyes would glaze over. If the point was pressed, they would stare skywards, focusing on a spot in the firmament just to the left of Jupiter.
And, in the absence of good information from the press, the public did not know that the government was picking their pockets. In one of my first speeches in the Chamber, on the report stage of a social security bill, I warned that in the future MPs would have dozens of constituents complaining about the unjust claw-back of compensation payments that we were about to enact. Four years later the sago hit the fan. A fellow MP began a campaign against the unjust grabbing of the payouts. What were he and everyone else doing when the law was going through? The whole process of social security legislation is inevitably so complex that an intimate private priesthood of gurus makes decisions. No MP foresaw with clarity the hideous consequences of the Child Support Agency when the bill was drifting through Parliament. There were many further horrors of useless, malign and damaging bills that became law. The legislative process is an ossified idiocy long overdue for reform."
The mission is about to creep.
In the recall debate the “GIVE WAR A CHANCE PARTY’ were vocal from both sides of the House. They called for bombing of Iraq and boots on the ground. ISIL are playing on our fears and manipulating British public opinion cynically and skillfully.
The anatomy of mission creep is predictable. Claims that air strikes don't work. There has never been a chance that they would. Bombing is crude weapon against a group who are embedded into a community that identifies with them as Sunnis. So, it will soon be troops on the ground. UK casualties will occur so more troops will be sent in. Fighting a guerrilla war will produce a stalemate leading to war everlasting.
Politicians’ lies will conceal the true futility of outsiders intervening in a Middle East war. The Generals will be grateful to be occupied and arms manufacturers will be delighted with the regular business.
The Military Top Brass is already airing their tunnel thinking and demanding that more money should be spent on arms. More? We are already the fourth higher spender in the world. In pursuit of our obsession to punch above our weight, we will again spend beyond our interests and die beyond our responsibilities.
High UK arms spend won't protect us against asymmetric warfare. High spending will not deter terrorists. Their spending is a few pounds to make a fertilizer bomb or buy a knife. They did not need a smart bomb or a nuclear weapon to bring down the twin towers.
A Middle East crisis will only be solved by Middle East solutions. Why are we again fighting their wars for them? Why did one Newport solider die in the first Iraq war in 1991 and none from United Arab Emirates (UAE) ? The UAE would have been the next country at risk from a Saddam Hussein invasion if we have not expelled him from Kuwait. But why us? We have our own crisis at home in the staggering radicalization of young Muslims born and educated here. The seduction through the Internet of young minds into twisted idealism is alarming. But we can never win hearts and minds with bombs and bullets.
Action should be taken to block ISIL propaganda. Why repeat their threats and pictures of barbaric murders? This is their tactic to provoke a global war between West and East. They believe insanely that they could win it.
Already we have a blackout on news of some kidnappings. It should be extended to our video and statements from ISIL. Public opinion must not be manipulated to serve ISIL’s war plans. It’s time for practical remedies not more lethal political and military posturing. As always, politicians lie: soldiers die.
Vladimir Putin? Alexander Lukashenka? These are the names we associate with 21st century European dictators and the worst violations of human rights. Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s President, is another leader in the region to add to the list. His government currently holds nearly 100 political prisoners. This is double the number in Russia and Belarus combined. To many he is a sinister menacing threat, growing richer by the month, who could bring war back to Caucasus.
The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, criticised the Azerbaijani government for the "totally unacceptable" human rights situation which he said "flies in the face of the human rights obligations undertaken by Azerbaijan" as a member of the Council.
In Strasbourg this week there was an opportunity for members to voice their concerns. I said: “It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. In my 17 years of membership of this Organisation, I do not think we have faced a bigger scandal as the one that faces us now. In that time, there have been some wonderful moments. I particularly treasure the times when small countries such as mine – Wales, whose people speak a unique language – have come to this body and made their presence felt in a very honourable way. I think particularly of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia. We are, however, in a position where one country presides over this Assembly and disgraces our name. The report last month from our Commissioner for Human Rights spoke in the strongest possible terms about how Azerbaijan has persecuted, chased and humiliated those who are protesting against an oppressive Government. The last time we met, groups of people complained and demonstrated. They were in the public gallery and most of them are now in jail.
We find ourselves as the mouthpiece of human rights throughout this continent, but the country that is presiding over us is the most disgraceful perpetrator of human rights abuses. We have to look to our reputation. More rapporteurs will be appointed to look at the situation in Azerbaijan in future, and we should ensure that they all have clean hands and that none of them has been accused of being sympathetic to the regime or spokespeople for Azerbaijan. When we appoint rapporteurs, we should choose those who we know have an honourable record of defending human rights.
There is a great danger that the whole reputation of the Council of Europe will deteriorate. We have had a marvellous record down the years of fighting for the rights of people in many countries. I remember the brave stand of one of my colleagues on Chechnya. There are difficult years behind us, but we have always been led by countries that have had an illuminating view on the best of human rights. That is not the situation now. The presidency is disgracing the name of the Council of Europe. We want honourable members of this body to ensure that the breaches of human rights taking place in Azerbaijan are condemned by us.”
When I questioned President Aliyev earlier this year on his violation of human rights he lost his temper as he did with all challenging questioners. He accused me of lying. He added to his previous hyperbole of his country's immaculate human rights record by denying the charges. The deputy executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, Mubariz Gurbanly, says "there are no problems with human rights in Azerbaijan... Those, who talk about human rights violations in our country, are biased and try to blacken Azerbaijan's image”. Meanwhile Aliyev's vast oil wealth continues to seduce the world and convince us of his bottomless virtue. Observers of the conflict express fears that he may be planning military action. Our best hope to avoid bloodshed is to ensure the conflict remains in permafrost.
Who to believe? Bookies or pollsters?
Ladbrokes have revealed their betting odds ahead of next year's general election. Based on their work around the Scottish referendum earlier this month, the odds were a more accurate prediction of the result than the polls. So, who do we trust? Bookmakers or pollsters?
It looks like a good picture for Labour in Wales. Newport West is a red-hot favourite at 1/100 along with Blaneu Gwent, Caerphilly, Cardiff South, Cardiff West, Cynon Valley, Islwyn, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath, Ogmore, Rhondda, Swansea East and Torfaen. Labour looks set to take back Cardiff North at 1/6 next year compared to 7/2 (Con). Unfortunately there are no odds for Cardiff Central.
Recent polling by ITV Wales suggest three seats are projected to change hands in Wales next year. Labour is expected to capture Cardiff Central from the Liberal Democrats and Cardiff North from the Conservatives, while the Tories are expected to take Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats.
The Ladbrokes results are interesting because Plaid Cymru thrashed Labour in the Ynys Mon Assembly by-election last year but the bookies think Labour will retain the seat at 1/4 compared to 3/1 (Plaid Cymru). So it's good news for Albert Owen. The Vale of Glamorgan looks to be just retained by the Conservatives at 8/15 (Con) and 11/8 (Lab). Should Alun Cairns be worried? The bookies seem to think so.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): This motion is the thin end of a bloody and ugly wedge that will grow and expand and mission-creep into a prolonged war with unforeseeable consequences. In the middle east, we are falling into a vortex of hatreds that are ancient and deep. Once we start this process, it will be almost impossible to extricate ourselves from it in future.
We speak under various delusions, one of which is a feeling of omnipotence in thinking that our presence is absolutely essential, although we do have a contribution to make, it's a minor one. During the 2003 war in the Gulf, we were told that we had to go in because otherwise Saddam Hussein would continue, but that was not the case because the Americans were already there. The Americans, to our great gratitude, are there now. That country has sacrificed more of its sons and daughters in seeking democracy for the people of other countries than any other land in the world. We should look to having our own policies. Why cannot we become independent in our foreign policy? We have not done that since the time of Vietnam, but that means there is a terrible prospect for us, and we are facing it now.
The result of the war in Iraq was to deepen the sense of suspicion and alienation between the western Christian communities and the eastern Muslim communities. When we went in into Iraq in 2003, only a tiny minority were involved in al-Qaeda, and they hardly figured at all. Now we find, to our horror, that young children who were born here, brought up here and absorbed our values through education are suddenly, in their adolescent years, having their idealism twisted and marching off to behave like mediaeval barbarians. How on earth has this happened? It has not happened because of the mosques or the imams, who were not much in touch with them, but because of the internet and the propaganda that comes from it. That is the source of this evil.
Once people become radicalised in this way and lose all their standards of common humanity, as they are doing in ISIL now, there is no question but that they will come back here. We are living in a world of a war in which on one side there are marvellous, sophisticated, clever weapons, but those are not needed to fight terrorist activity. It did not need a nuclear weapon to bring down the twin towers or a smart bomb to murder a soldier on the streets of Britain. In this asymmetric warfare, there is no military solution. That solution will bring its own consequences in more terror. We must look to having an independent foreign policy free from the United States.
George Galloway (Bradford West) (Respect): Mr Speaker, time does not permit me to tell you how many millions of times “I told you so” is currently being said in the country—or will be once people read of this debate. Millions of ordinary people knew what the expensive talent governing our country did not know, namely that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq and that there was no Islamist fundamentalism in Iraq before Mr Blair—and his mouthpieces who are still here—and Mr Bush invaded and occupied the country. What a tangled web we have woven is abundantly clear to everyone watching this debate. The mission creep has not even waited for the end of the debate. The words on the motion are about bombing Iraq, but there is a consensus in here that we will soon be bombing Syria. The words do not mention boots on the ground, but there is a consensus here that there will be boots on the ground, the only question being whose boots they will be.
The debate has been characterised by Members of Parliament moving around imaginary armies. The Free Syrian Army is a fiction that has been in the receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of tonnes of weapons, virtually all of which were taken from them by al-Qaeda, which has now mutated into ISIL. The Iraqi army is the most expensively trained and most modernly equipped army in history. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on the Iraqi army, which ran away leaving its equipment behind. ISIL itself is an imaginary army. A former Defence Secretary no less said that we must bomb its bases. It does not have any bases. The territory that its personnel control is the size of Britain and yet there are only between 10,000 and 20,000 of them. Do the maths. They do not concentrate as an army. They do not live in bases. The only way that a force of that size could successfully hold the territory that it holds is if the population acts as the water in which it swims. The population is quiescent because of western policies and western invasion and occupation. That is the truth of the matter. ISIL could not survive for five minutes if the tribes in the west of Iraq rose up against it.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman understand how appalled people will be to hear him say that women who have been buried alive or enslaved have been quiescent in their persecution by these people? What a total disgrace.
George Galloway: They don’t like it up them, Mr Speaker. They would rather have an imaginary debate, moving around imaginary armies. ISIL is a death cult. It is a gang of terrorist murderers. It is not an army and is certainly not an army that will be destroyed by aerial bombardment. ISIL is able to rule the parts of Iraq that it does because nobody in those parts has any confidence in the Government in Baghdad, a sectarian Government helped into power by Bremer and the deliberate sectarianisation of Iraqi politics by the occupation authorities. The Government know that. That was why they pushed al-Maliki out—even though he won the election, by the way, if we are talking about democracy. They pushed him out because they knew that far too many people in ISIL-occupied Iraq had no confidence in the Baghdad Government. Nobody has any confidence in the army emanating out of Baghdad.
This will not be solved by bombing. We have been bombing Iraqis for 100 years. We dropped the world’s first chemical bombs on them in the 1920s. We attacked them and helped to kill their King in the 1930s. We helped in the murder of their President in 1963, helping the Ba’ath party into power. We bombed them again through the 1990s.
Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I am sure we are all ever so grateful for the lecture, but what is the hon. Gentleman’s solution to this problem?
George Galloway: Now that I have an extra minute, thanks to the hon. Lady, I will be able to tell her.
This will not be solved by bombing; every matter will be made worse. Extremism will spread further and deeper around the world, just as happened as a result of the last Iraq war. The people outside can see it, but the fools in here, who draw a big salary and big expenses, cannot or will not see it, like the hon. Lady with her asinine intervention.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for giving way, but will he please bring us towards his solution to this problem?
George Galloway: In five minutes it is difficult, but we have to strengthen those who are already fighting ISIL. We have to give them all the weapons they need—the Baghdad Government have paid for weapons that have still not been delivered. We have to strengthen the Kurdish fighters, who are doing a good job of fighting ISIL.
The Saudi, Emirati and Qatari armies are all imaginary armies. They have not even told their own people that they are on the masthead. Has anyone here seen a picture of them fighting in Syria? Anyone seen a picture of a Saudi jet bombing in Syria? Saudi Arabia is the nest from which ISIL and these other vipers have come, and by the way, it does a fine line in head chopping itself. Saudi Arabia has 700 warplanes—get them to bomb. Turkey is a NATO member—get Turkey to bomb. The last people who should be returning to the scene of their former crimes are Britain, France and the United States of America.