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Friday, October 31, 2014

Council reprimanded for misrepresenting UK Government policy

Mark Pack references an interesting and important legal ruling that may have implications for the Welsh Government and councils in Wales.

He says that the Supreme Court has excoriated Labour-run Haringey Council for running a “misleading” consultation that falsely claimed cuts were being forced on it by the government, ignoring the other policy options open to the council:

The reason? In the consultation, Haringey Council claimed that reductions in their council tax benefits for some people was being forced on them by changes in government policy, but failed to point out that there were in fact alternative policies available to Haringey Council which would have avoided these reductions – and that therefore the cuts flowed from a decision by Haringey Council not to take alternative action.

....................

These were not just theoretical options; the majority of other local councils used such alternatives to reduce or even completely remove the cuts in benefits. The judicial ruling also quoted the example of Birmingham Council’s consultation which set out the alternatives available, unlike Haringey’s.
Indeed Haringey Council so comprehensively buried its reasons for rejecting the alternative courses that in the ruling a judge said:
I speak as one who, even after a survey of the evidence filed by Haringey in these proceedings, remains unclear why it was minded to reject the other options. Perhaps the driver of its approach was political.
The importance of this ruling of course is that public bodies cannot use public money to misrepresent a particular issue or to make a political point. What intrigues me is its implications for the Welsh Government's consultation on the M4 around Newport which specifically excluded questions on a more environmentally acceptable alternative.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Obese test dummies

Nobody can accuse the Americans of pulling their weight, at least not when it comes to vehicle safety.

The Daily Mail reports that are packing on the pounds to better reflect the expanding waistlines and larger rear ends of many Americans:

Manufacturer Humanetics has developed the new model after studies found that obese drivers are 78 percent more likely to die in a car crash.

Dummies have traditionally been modeled on a person weighing about 167 pounds with a healthy body mass index.

The new super-sized dummies are based on the measurements of a 273-pound person with a BMI of 35. 

A BMI of over 30 is considered morbidly obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have all been designed for thinner people and don’t fit larger people in the same way,

Chris O' Connor, CEO of Humanetics, told ABC. Typically you want someone in a very tight position with their rear against the back of the seat and the seat belt tight to the pelvis,’ he said. An obese person has more mass around midsection and a larger rear which pushes them out of position. They sit further forward and the belt does not grasp the pelvis as easily.’

A similar conclusion was reached in a 2010 study from the University at Buffalo and Erie County Medical Center.

A sign of the times?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A monster task

For those of us still struggling with the question as to whether the Loch Ness Monster actually exists this news story is a bit of a shock.

The Independent says that the National History Museum hatched a sinister plot to slay the Loch Ness monster and display its carcass:

Documents exposed by David Clarke in his new book Britain’ s X-traordinary Files, show that in March 1934 an unnamed official at the museum issued instructions to 'bounty hunters' on how to tackle the mythical creature.

He said: “Should you ever come within range of the ‘monster’ I hope you will not be deterred by humanitarian considerations from shooting him on the spot and sending the carcass to us in cold storage, carriage forward.“

Short of this, a flipper, a jaw or a tooth would be very welcome.”

Perhaps conscious that their claim to Nessie was being challenged, the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh wrote to the Scottish Secretary Sir Godfrey Collins in the same year.

“The museum urges strongly that the RSM have the reversionary rights to the ‘monster’ if and when its corpse should become available,” the letter read.

“We think the monster should not be allowed to find its last resting place in England.”

That would have been quite a challenge for any taxidermist.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fighting to stay in the European Arrest Warrant Club

For once the Home Secretary, Theresa May makes a valid point when she warns her cabinet colleagues and Tory backbenchers that we need to stay signed up to the European Arrest warrant if we are to retain Britain’s right to keep foreigners accused of terrorism, murder, rape and paedophilia behind bars.

The Times reports that the home secretary has warned that a failure to back Britain’s membership of the European arrest warrant (EAW) system raises a risk that the country would have to release more than 500 people from jail and the prospect that EU partners such as Ireland would refuse to hand over suspected republican terrorists or Islamist jihadists for trial in Britain:

May said ditching the arrest warrant would also lead to Britain becoming “a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals on the run from justice”.

Britain has opted out of 130 EU police and justice directives but plans to rejoin 35, including the warrant, which makes it easier to extradite suspects within the EU The plan is, however, the subject of a cabinet row. Senior ministers say Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, and Michael Gove, the chief whip, have urged David Cameron to consider ditching the arrest warrant because he faces a rebellion of 100 Tory MPs if he forces a vote on it.

The rebels think the warrant makes it too easy for British citizens to be sent abroad on trumped-up charges.

George Osborne, the chancellor, also considers the situation a potential political disaster because a decision has to be made by December 1, just 11 days after the Rochester by-election, which the Tories are expected to lose to Ukip. Cameron summoned May and Gove to No 10 on Tuesday and told them to devise a way of persuading MPs to back the plans.

May will this week launch a PR offensive, warning of a “high” risk that the 524 people remanded in custody in the UK on European warrants will launch “successful litigation” allowing them to be released if Britain withdraws.

They include people accused of involvement in 12 murders, 18 rapes, 14 armed robberies and 14 incidents of grievous bodily harm. Suspects in a terrorism case and in seven child sex offences are also remanded on such warrants.

The Home Office has warned, in a briefing note for MPs, that other countries “would have to discharge suspects held on EAWs issued by the UK”.

Let us hope that they listen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Court rules that women are 'persons'


The picture above is part of an installation outside the Canadian National Parliament in Ottawa. It commemorates an historic legal ruling in 1929 which enabled women to be appointed to the Canadian Senate. But it was much more wider ranging than that as the Canadian Broadcasting Company archives make clear:

On Oct. 18, 1929, women are finally declared "persons" under Canadian law. The historic legal victory is due to the persistence of five Alberta women -- Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

The battle started in 1916. From Murphy's very first day as a judge, lawyers had challenged her rulings because she is not a "person" under Canadian law. By 1927, the women have garnered support all across Canada. They petition the nation's Supreme Court. After five weeks of debate, the appeal is unanimously denied. Shocked, the women take the fight to the Privy Council of the British government; in those days it was Canada's highest court.


Wikipedia adds:

The Persons Case was a landmark case in two respects. First, it established that Canadian women were eligible to be appointed senators. Second, it established what came to be known as the "living tree doctrine", which is a doctrine of constitutional interpretation that says that a constitution is organic and must be read in a broad and liberal manner so as to adapt it to changing times.

It is quite shocking to think that as late as 1929 the constitution of a liberal democracy like Canada did not recognise women as persons.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Remembering Corporal Nathan Cirillo,


The crowds are still gathering at the Ottawa war memorial this morning to pay their respects to Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot by extremist gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau on Wednesday. The Parliament is reopening to visitors tomorrow when I have a day of meetings there, but as can be seen from the picture of the changing of the guard above and the memorial below, people have been laying flowers for days and continue to applaud soldiers guarding the monument.


I walked around the Parliament building this morning and was a bit surprised that I could do so quite freely. Although armed police were evident at the memorial, they were not so apparent on Parliament Hill. But then that is the mark of a democratic nation - protect your citizens but do not allow terrorists to dictate your agenda.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Off-the-wall interview of the year



Enjoy

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ed Miliband under fire again

It is almost as if the Labour Party cannot help itself; today's Telegraph says that Len McCluskey, Unite's General Secretary, becomes latest senior Labour figure to give a less than glowing account of Mr Miliband's leadership since the party's annual conference:

"I'm not sure the last time we had a laugh to be blunt, and I don't really know him well enough to say that I like him."

"Yeah, any talk about is he the right guy, it really doesn't enter into our vocabulary. You know Ed, and I hope this doesn't happen, could get run over by a bus tomorrow, it really wouldn't matter who takes his place."

"No, what matters is the policies. You know we've been saying this to Ed since he became elected. Labour have got to show they're on the side of ordinary, working people.

"If he does that, he'll be the next prime minster. If he fails to do that, then of course, he'll be defeated and he'll be replaced as the leader."


The paper goes on to list other senior Labour figures who have been critical of their leader, including John Prescott, Frank Field and Jack Straw. With friends like that.....

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Council tries to flog off artwork it doesnt own and dummy cameras

The South Wales Evening Post has two stories today that cause one to pause with astonishment.

Firstly, there is the tale of Neath Port Talbot Council's attempt to plug its budget gap by selling off
four works of art in their possession, including the Ludwig Von Hofer statue, the Roman Emperor Statue, Benjamin West American picture and a pair of pictures attributable to the studio of Allan Ramsay.

The paper says that at a council cabinet meeting in September, members voted to sell the four works through Sotheby's, but these plans have now been put on hold after it was discovered they might not belong to the council:

The authority's head of property and regeneration, Gareth Nutt, said: "We have been contacted by the National Museum of Wales to tell us the pictures attributed to Allan Ramsay were part of a loan agreement with them some 40 years ago."

Mr Nutt said any sale of the pictures would be subject to "proof of prominence".

A National Museum Wales spokesman said: "The Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales artworks on loan at Margam Orangery are large portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte by the Studio of Allan Ramsay.

"Neath Port Talbot Council are aware that these paintings are owned by National Museum Wales and are currently on loan to the Orangery.

"We are in contact with the council and further discussions regarding this loan will take place in due course."

Meanwhile, those of us who have been struggling through road works on Fabian Way, the road between Swansea and the M4, will be astonished at this story in the same paper.

For the last four months or so contractors have been building a new entrance to the university campus that is being built there. They have put in place a 30mph zone to protect themselves and drivers and placed average speed cameras in situ so as to enforce it.

Naturally, the Evening Post wanted to know how many drivers had been caught speeding through this section of road. The answer was none, because they had not switched the camera on, even though up to 200 speeding offences are being committed there every day:

A spokeswoman for GoSafe, Wales’ road casualty reduction partnership, confirmed that no speeding offences had so far been “processed”.

She added: “On average there are between 125 to 200 offences that have been recorded daily. This is dependent on day of the week and traffic management activity at this location.

“The average speed recorded is currently 39.4mph with the highest recorded speed of 70mph.

“The system will be going live imminently and we would ask all drivers to comply with the relevant speed limit which is there for a reason.”

The £2.6 million road access work began in the middle of June and is due to take 40 weeks to complete.

The first £250 million phase of the Bay Campus will welcome students and staff at the beginning of next academic year.

A Neath Port Talbot spokesman said the cameras would be in situ until the road access work was completed, and that the decision to switch the cameras to “live” was down to GoSafe.

In other words, they forgot to switch them on and only now that they have been reminded will they press the go live switch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Political footballs and the Welsh NHS

As a Welsh politician I am the last person to defend Labour's management of the health service this side of the border.

Hard-working and dedicated staff are being put under pressure by the under-resourcing of key services, waiting time targets are being missed and major services such as the Wales Ambulance Service Trust are under-performing. There is a clear case for an independent and over-arching inquiry into the way the Welsh NHS is being run.

You only have to read the articles on Freedom Central here to get a picture of everything that is wrong and needs fixing with the Welsh Health Service.

Having said that one has to sympathise with the director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, who told the BBC that arguments between politicians are just adding to the pressure on staff.

Labour have once more fallen back on the claim that the Daily Mail and Tory Ministers are conducting a war on Wales and on NHS staff. They claim that statistics are being distorted and lies are being told.

Of course they have done exactly the same thing with regards to the English NHS so it is a bit rich for them to call foul now. Claims by Labour that the NHS is being used as a political football do not stand up either. After all, as anybody who remembers the War of Jennifer's Ear in 1992 will know Labour has been using the health service in this way since it was founded in 1945.

Amongst all these accusations and counter-accusations it is difficult to establish the facts but, as Nick Servini points out on his BBC blog, it is clear that in certain areas Wales is trailing behind England in terms of how its health service is performing. I have not seen many examples of where the reverse is the case.

This row is going to escalate of course as the General Election gets nearer. After all Ed Miliband invited the comparison when he started to use the Welsh Government's record as an example of what Labour can do.

But we must not forget the essential truth that this row is about political mismanagement. It is not about the staff who, for the most part are exceptional, professional and hard-working. It is about what patients can expect from their health service and whether those in government are delivering on those expectations on both sides of the border.

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