Category Archives: Parliamentary failure
Aditya Chakrabortty focusses on the ‘vast disconnect between elite authority and lived experience, central to what’s broken in Britain today’ – the ‘gap’ which widened as independent working class self-help initiatives were replaced by the ‘hand of the state’ (Mount) creating’ a new feudalism’ and from two searing analyses of our divided society (Jones).
- “Why is a stalemate among 650 MPs a matter for such concern, yet the slow, grinding extinction of mining communities and light-industrial suburbsis passed over in silence?
- “Why does May’s wretched career cover the first 16 pages of a Sunday paper while a Torbay woman told by her council that she can “manage being homeless”, and even sleeping rough, is granted a few inches downpage in a few of the worthies?”
- Is “the death sentence handed to stretches of the country and the vindictive spending cuts imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne, a large part of why Britain voted for Brexit in the first place?”
“We have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters . . . Over a decade from the banking crash, the failings of our economic policymaking need little elaboration. the basic language of economic policy makes less and less sense.
“Growth no longer brings prosperity; you can work your socks off and still not earn a living. Yet still councils and governments across the UK will spend billions on rail lines, and use taxpayers’ money to bribe passing billionaire investors, all in the name of growth and jobs.”
A University College London study published last year shows that the parliamentary Labour party became more “careerist” under Tony Blair – and also grew increasingly fond of slashing welfare. Social security was not something that ‘professionalised MPs’ or their circle had ever had to rely on, so ‘why not attack scroungers and win a few swing voters?’
The trend continues: Channel 4 News found that over half of the MPs elected in 2017 had come from backgrounds in politics, law, or business and finance and more came from finance alone than from social work, the military, engineering and farming put together.
This narrowing has a direct influence on our law-making and political class and Chakrabortty comments: “We now have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters”.
He concludes that this is what a real democratic crisis looks like: failed policies forced down the throats of a public. Institution after institution failing to legislate, reflect or report on the very people who pay for them to exist. And until it is acknowledged, Britain will be stuck, seething with resentment, in a political quagmire.
At last, the case of people whose health has been seriously damaged caused by infected blood bought by a government agency is coming to the fore. But the plight of farmers, whose health suffered because government compelled them to use organophosphate sheep dips, is yet to be addressed – many affected veterans and farmers have died after long suffering.
OP-affected Richard Bruce writes: Dr Davis and Dr Ahmed wrote some informative papers on the subject. One may be read here: https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-functional-magnetic-resonance-imaging-fmri/
Allowed to sink into obscurity
In 1996 Defence minister Nicholas Soames confirmed that many of the soldiers returning from the Gulf War reporting fatigue, memory loss, weakness, joint and muscle pain and depression – a condition now known as Gulf War Syndrome, had been exposed to some sort of organophosphate pesticide.
From the archives:
1999: the US Government accepted that their veterans’ illnesses were mostly due to service in the Gulf. Of their 700,000-plus troops deployed there, 88% became eligible for benefits through their equivalent of the Veterans Agency and 45% had by then sought medical care. The US Government also accepted the extremely serious consequences of using organophosphates.
2000-2001: the UK government funded more research into the effects of organophosphate exposure and poisoning. The results of some studies provided support for the poisoning hypothesis but the research was delayed by the FMD outbreak and only completed in 2007.
2004: A study published in the British Medical Journal: ‘Overcoming apathy in research on organophosphate poisoning’, concluded that high rates of pesticide poisoning in developing countries and increasing risk of nerve gas attacks in the West mean effective antidotes for organophosphates should be a worldwide priority.
2008: the American government concluded an intensive study into the cause of “Gulf War Syndrome” Their $400,000 study found that OPs had causal responsibility for the harm inflicted. This finding was reported to the British Government by the Chief of Defence Staff [RAF].
Conflicts of interest: those campaigning for a ban on organophosphate pesticides have to face opposition from the agro-chemical industry, whose representatives sit on expert committees advising governments on pesticide safety.
As the Countess of Mar explained: There seems to be a nucleus of about 25 individuals who advise on a number of committees. The scientific community is very close-knit and because the numbers of individuals in specialties is small, they will all know one another. They are dependent upon one another for support, guidance, praise and recognition. If they wish to succeed, they must run with the prevailing ethos of their group, department or specialism Hansard 24 Jun 1997: Columns 1555-9
The Scotsman reported the findings of the 2004 independent inquiry into illnesses suffered by veterans of the first Gulf War which was headed by the former law lord Lord Lloyd of Berwick, called on the Ministry of Defence finally to recognise the existence of a “Gulf War syndrome”. It said that it was clear the cocktail of health problems suffered by an estimated 6,000 veterans were a direct result of their service in the 1991 conflict and urged the MoD to establish a special fund to make one-off compensation payments to those affected.
Is the long and inhumane delay due to the fact that the establishment of a link between Gulf War Syndrome and organophosphate poisoning would cost the MoD vast sums in compensation?
George Monbiot recently pointed out that the Commons report on the Carillion fiasco is one of the most damning assessments of corporate behaviour parliament has ever published. It trounces the company’s executives and board and laments the weakness of the regulators.
But, as Prem Sikka said in his April article, it scarcely touches the structural causes that make gluttony a perennial feature of corporate life.
Both agree that the problem begins with an issue the report does not once mention: the extreme nature of limited liability. Sikka points out that this system, under which executives are only financially accountable for the value of their investment, has also benefited frauds and led to the self-enrichment of executives at the expense of workers, consumers, creditors, pensioners and citizens.
Monbiot adds that the current model of limited liability allowed the directors and executives of Carillion to rack up a pension deficit of £2.6 billion, leaving the 27,000 members of its schemes to be rescued by the state fund (which is financed by a levy on your pension – if you have one). The owners of the company were permitted to walk away from the £2 billion owed to its suppliers and subcontractors. (Left: the former Carillion chief executive Keith Cochrane in Westminster after appearing before the Commons work and pensions select committee)
Monbiot continues: “There is no way that fossil fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies”.
So what is to be done?
Prem Sikka (right) proposes that the bearers of unlimited risks and liabilities should be given rights to control the day-to-day governance and direction of companies.
He advocates including employees and citizen/consumers on company boards – because both ultimately have to bear the financial, health, social and psychological costs associated with environmental damage, pollution, poor products, industrial accidents, loss of jobs, pensions and savings. Through seats on company boards, they could secure a fairer distribution of income, challenge discrimination, curb asset-stripping and influence investment, training and innovation.
Across the 28 European Union countries (plus Norway), most have a statutory requirement for employee representation on company boards – unlike the UK, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Romania.
George Monbiot proposes a radical reassessment of limited liability.
He points out that a recent paper by the US law professor Michael Simkovic proposes that companies should pay a fee for this indemnity, calibrated to the level of risk they impose on society. He adds, significantly, that as numerous leaks show, companies tend to be far more aware of the risks they inflict than either governments or the rest of society. Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP
His own ‘tentative’ and ingenious proposal is that any manager earning more than a certain amount – say £200,000 – would have half their total remuneration placed in an escrow account, which is controlled not by the company but by an external agency. The deferred half of their income would not become payable until the agency judged that the company had met the targets it set on pension provision, workers’ pay, the treatment of suppliers and contractors and wider social and environmental performance. This judgement should draw on mandatory social and environmental reporting, assessed by independent auditors.
If they miss their targets, the executives would lose part or all of the deferred sum. In other words, they would pay for any disasters they impose on others. To ensure it isn’t captured by corporate interests, the agency would be funded by the income it confiscates.
Monbiot then says “I know that, at best, they address only part of the problem” and asks, “Are these the right solutions?
- support them,
- oppose them
- or suggest better ideas.
He ends: “Should corporations in their current form exist at all? Is capitalism compatible with life on earth?”
Natural England – sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – is responsible for ensuring that England’s natural environment, including its land, freshwater and marine environments, geology and soils, are protected and improved.
The Farmers Guardian reported that in 2016 Natural England’s payment record was rated even worse than that of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) as it also failed to deliver the required Countryside Stewardship payments for work already done.
Its performance did not improve in 2016; farmers were kept waiting for their first Countryside Stewardship payment. Though Natural England had pledged to make advance payments to 2016 mid-tier and higher-tier scheme holders between November 2016 and January 2017, with final payments due between January and June 2017, the NFU said exasperated members were calling the union demanding to know why their payments had not arrived. Farmers Weekly understood that ongoing delays in processing payments were because of problems with IT systems and processes at Defra.
A spokeswoman for Natural England declined to comment on the number of 2016 scheme payments already made.
FW added that farmers are yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments for work done. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee was scathing in its criticism of the RPA’s failure to distribute basic farm subsidies whilst requiring prompt applications from farmers (below left).
The extent of the Rural Payments Agency’s failure to pay farmers in England on time and in full is now clear. The RPA paid only 38% of farmers under the Basic Payment Scheme on 1 December 2015—first day of the payment window—compared with over 90% in previous years.
By the end of January this had risen to 76%, but at the end of March 2016 there were still 14,300 farmers (16%) who had not received any payment.
Government agencies should honour their own injunction: don’t leave it too late.
Over 10,000 farmers who had received a payment had not been paid in full. Two thirds of the additional payments made to these farmers were in excess of €1,000 and were first paid in September 2016, over 9 months after the first payment should have been received.
Farmers Weekly reported in February this year that the RPA boss was ‘blasted’ over farm payment delays and mapping.
At a NFU council meeting on 30th January at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, farmers took RPA’s chief executive Paul Caldwell to task over BPS payment delays. More than one in 10 farmers are still waiting, according to an NFU survey (see “Survey uncovers extent of delays” right) – although the RPA’s own statistics suggests that figure is nearer to one in five. NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “When you look at current payment performance and the levels of outstanding issues from previous years you could describe the RPA as ‘just about managing’.
In March 2017, having received what Miles King described as a ‘verbal beating’ (Countryside Stewardship in front of the EFRA committee) Guy Thompson, Chief Operating Officer, left Natural England and now works for Wessex Water.
Natural England announced in the autumn that it would increase first tranche payments, traditionally paid in the autumn, from 50% to 75%, with the remaining 25% following later, reflecting payment reductions or penalties.
Missing payments have reduced cashflow, leading some to take out bank loans
According to farm leaders, many claimants are still waiting for that first payment, with some now being forced to take out bank loans because of their resulting cashflow difficulties. Max Sealy, NFU county delegate for Wiltshire and a consultant with the Farm Consultancy Group, said some farms were waiting for substantial sums of money for work which they had already completed.
“What we need is clarity on the situation and better communication,” he said. But a Natural England spokesperson declined to clarify how many payments were still outstanding and when farmers could expect to see them.
Farmers who have signed up to Countryside Stewardship, or still have an old Higher-Level or Entry-Level Stewardship agreement, have yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments. Farmers Weekly reports that farmers want to know when they can expect to receive their agri-environment scheme payments, with ongoing delays leading to budgeting problems and growing resentment about the way the schemes are being managed.
The Farmers Guardian then reported that Defra is to transfer delivery of the Countryside (agri-environment) Stewardship scheme from Natural England to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) – more confusion?
NFU Deputy President Guy Smith (right) said:
“The Countryside Stewardship scheme has been plagued by poor delivery from its launch in 2015 and the NFU has been raising these concerns from day one. It seems almost every day we have complaints from members about the muddled application process, wrong maps, moving goalposts, late start dates and delayed payments. All this has undermined farmer confidence in the schemes leading to very poor uptake. Plans to improve delivery have to be welcomed but until we see improved delivery we will withhold judgement.
“I know many farmers will not be reassured that delivery is moving from NE to the RPA, which is notorious among farmers as the organisation which comprehensively screwed up the payment of the as then new Basic Payment Scheme back in 2014. A highly complex new IT system was commissioned to enable farm payments to be moved online. 7 years later the system is still not working properly.
Conservationist Miles King went further, calling for the abolition of the Rural Payments Agency before the introduction of the government’s England Agriculture Policy which is expected to be published this spring: “We need a publicly-funded independent champion for nature (as Natural England was intended to be when it was set up) and a new body which will deliver the public goods for public money”.
The rational case against metro mayors ably set out by Richard Hatcher, George Morran and Steve Beauchampé, has been shattered for the writer by the media-feeding chaotic, emotion-led, vicious, counterproductive squabbling in the Labour & Conservative ranks.
Still, evidently, a tribal people, we appear to need the ‘high-profile leadership’ extolled by Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities , largest funders Gatsby Charitable Foundation (Lord Sainsbury) and Catapult network, established by Innovate UK, a government agency. (see report cover right)
As yet, the announcements made by the West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street, respected even by most opponents of the post, with a business record seen as a guarantee of efficiency, are provoking little dissension.
Dan Jarvis, who is expected to win the Sheffield election becoming Britain’s seventh metro mayor, intends to continue to sit in the House of Commons to work for a better devolution deal and speak for the whole county. (map, regions in 2017)
His desire to stay in parliament while serving as a mayor is thought, by the author of FT View, to reflect a recognition that the real authority and power of these positions is limited:
- The six mayors have no say on how taxes are raised and spent.
- Outside Greater Manchester, the mayors have little control over health policy.
- Major spending decisions on transport policy are still taken by central government.
Days after taking office in Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s announcement of a new fund to tackle the region’s homelessness problem was backed by ‘a chunk’ of his own mayoral salary.
Andrew Carter points out that England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent, compared with their counterparts in other countries.
FT View describes this extra layer of government as yet merely creating cheerleaders, adding:
“Voices alone will not be enough to shift economic and political power to the regions. England’s mayors need more control. If the government is serious about devolution, the mayors need the powers to match that ambition”.
Could well-endowed, unsuborned metro mayors out-perform successive corporate-bound national governments?
The following 2004 broadside was fired by Lord Steyn, described in his Times obituary as an “Outspoken law lord whose liberal views became a thorn in the side of the Blair government, especially over Iraq and Guantanamo Bay”, following Lord Hoffmann’s suggestion that the courts should not interfere with certain Government decisions.
“Courts must never abdicate their duty to protect citizens from the abuse of power by governments . . .The United States government has already created a hellhole of utter lawlessness at Guantanamo Bay by committing such abuse.”
Lord Steyn was born and bred in Cape Town and was one of the few native Afrikaaners who fiercely opposed apartheid. He won a Rhodes scholarship to read English at University College, Oxford and after being called to the bar and sitting as senior counsel in South Africa’s supreme court emigrated to Britain in 1973 to start on the bottom rung of the legal ladder.
Though English was not his native language, his Afrikaans accent remained thick and his ‘delivery’ in court was hesitant, he was admired for his clear arguments and his skill in cross-examination. Having served as the presiding judge on the Northern Circuit, Steyn moved to the Court of Appeal in 1992. He was made a life peer in 1995.
A detainee from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher before being interrogated by military officials at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Telegraph 2016)
In 2003 he accused the home secretary, David Blunkett, of using “weasel words” to justify his policy on asylum seekers. Five months later, Steyn branded the US regime at Guantanamo Bay “a monstrous failure of justice” and declared that the system of trial by military tribunal was no more than a “kangaroo court” that “makes a mockery of justice”.
The unkett then blocked his appointment to a House of Lords judicial committee
The senior law lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, was asked not to include Steyn on the nine-judge panel to decide on the legality of detaining foreign terror suspects without trial – the first time a government had ever sought and obtained an alteration in the composition of the House of Lords’ judicial committee.
His other achievements include:
- being one of the judges who ruled by a 3-2 majority that the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was not entitled to claim sovereign immunity from prosecution;
- reproving Lord Irvine of Lairg, the lord chancellor who sought ‘an unfettered right to impose rule changes on the legal profession; “He is a member of the executive carrying out the party political agenda of the Labour administration. He is a politician. To entrust to a cabinet minister the power to control the legal profession would be an exorbitant inroad on the constitutional principle of the separation of powers”;
- claiming, when Britain introduced executive detention without trial in 2001, that the UK opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights was not justified “in the present circumstances”.
- arguing, as chairman of Justice, the human rights group, that the Iraq War was unlawful and said that, “in its search for a justification in law for war, the government was driven to scrape the bottom of the legal barrel”;
- dismissing Tony Blair’s suggestion, just months after the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, that the war had not made London a more dangerous place as a “fairytale”.
A champion of the Human Rights Act 1998, he retired satisfied that it had already “transformed our country into a rights-based democracy”. Hmm . . .
Anthony Lester, QC, wrote: “He has woven the Human Rights Act into the fabric of our legal system. He has a terrier-like tenacity and the courage of a lion. He’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to replace.” Agreed.
“100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit” – The Observer July 2017.
In the same month, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study attributed 80% of the recent rise in evictions to the “no fault” process under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
Two months’ written notice is all that private landlords need to do: they don’t need to give any reason when they ask tenants to leave.
It allows the worst landlords to ignore disrepair – tenants who complain are given notice – a process officially recognised under the name ‘retaliatory eviction’.
Read more about retaliatory eviction’ – the subject of Commons Briefing paper SN07015 by Wendy Wilson – published on June 13, 2017.
Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue forcefully in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions
Mr Corbyn reviewed the government’s record:
- Homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has doubled. Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010.
- Evictions by private landlords have quadrupled since 2010. There is no security in the private rented sector.
- One-for-one replacement of council housing sold off through the right to buy was promised, but just one in five council homes have been replaced.
- Hundreds of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists.
Campbell Robb, chief executive, said: “With the possibility of eviction with just two months’ notice, and constant worries about when the next rent rise will hit, the current rental market isn’t giving people – particularly families – the stability they need to put down roots. The stable rental contract offers renters a five-year tenancy and gives landlords more confidence in a steady income, all within the existing legal framework”.
Scotland for best practice to date: the Scottish secure tenancy
In Scotland, under Jack McConnell’s Labour government, by an order under section 11 of the 2001 the Housing (Scotland) Act tenants of local authorities, housing associations & tenants who are members of fully mutual co-operative housing associations, from 30 September 2002, became Scottish secure tenants.
Read the excellent terms here. Will a Labour government in this country adopt this Rolls Royce standard model and also introduce a stable rental contract for those in private accommodation? Or will the profit motive win the day?