The Freedom of Information (Public Interest and Transparency) Bill, was introduced in Parliament as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on 19 January 2016. Its aims include extending the Freedom of Information Act to cover private companies, social enterprises and charities contracted to carry out work for public authorities and the Royal Household. 10-minute Rule Bills are devices to permit subjects to be debated as draft laws, but scarcely ever make progress in themselves, and it is almost certain that no further progress will be made.
However, the manifesto I stood on at the last election included a commitment to this same principle- extending the scope of Freedom of Information laws so that public services run by large private companies are included. During the last Parliament Labour MPs supported amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill which would have brought public providers of public services contracted out under the Bill within the scope of the FOIA. Had we been elected last year, we would have been able to build on the FOI introduced by a previous Labour government. Sadly, I fear that the present government will make no such commitment and this is likely to be an issue that will remain pending until after the next election.
On the wider principles of FOI, I believe that openness and accountability are vital for any Government and that an appropriate balance needs to be struck between the need for transparency and the right for certain Ministerial correspondence to remain confidential. The FOIA - introduced by the previous Labour Government - sought to achieve this balance but I believe it is important to now look at how this could be improved and strengthened.
I am concerned about much of the Government's Commission on the Freedom of Information, including its remit and its composition. I believe the Commission was set up by the Government in order to weaken the Freedom of Information Act. It is therefore welcome that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have held their own public, cross-party review into the Act, to look at whether there is scope to extend any part of the Act in order to achieve its stated objectives.
I hope that this is helpful
Karen Buck MP
The Freedom of Information (Public Interest and Transparency) Bill, was introduced in Parliament as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on 19 January 2016. Its aims include extending the Freedom of...
2016/17 – 2020/21
Over the next five years, West London and Central London CCGs will get the following increases in allocation (in cash terms):
Compared with other London CCGs, West London and Central London CCGs have significantly larger real terms decreases in total allocations and in allocations per head than any other CCG besides Camden.
2016/17 – 2020/21 Over the next five years, West London and Central London CCGs will get the following increases in allocation (in cash terms): Compared with other London CCGs, West...
If it looks too good to be true, it will be. And rarely does this simple maxim need trotting out than in the area of social security/welfare. Periodically, think tanks and politicians rediscover, with breathless excitement, an apparent ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card- an idea whose simplicity has been ignored by their predecessors for some perverse, unexplained reason. Step forward Universal Credit (streamlining most working age benefits into one), our old friend, the Contributory Principle (you get out what you pay in), and now, the Basic Citizen’s Income.
Now, for the avoidance of doubt, all of these have things to comment them- simplicity above all. The tax and social security systems are notoriously complex and make it exceptionally hard to people to predict how they will be affected in future- going into work, taking a pay raise. Means testing within the social security system is unpopular and expensive to administer. There is nothing wrong with seeking simplification and predictability. The trouble is, we live in a complex world, in which those designing tax and security systems have to consider huge variations in costs, limited resources and the behavioural impact everything has on us imperfect human beings. So, let’s take a look at what this means for the Basic Income.
The idea of a Basic Citizen’s Income is not, of course, new- and it has had advocates across the political spectrum, since aspects of the scheme contain and appeal to left and to right. The scheme works by scrapping benefits and tax credits/allowances so everyone receives a flat-rate allowance, with an additional element for children. Amongst the advantages cited are huge reductions in administrative complexity; a reduction in mean’s testing and the ‘poverty trap’; an end to sanctions and greater flexibility in the labour market, since people will be more confident about transitions of various kinds. What’s not to like?
Well, here a few things.
Firstly, the Basic Income begs the question, can we do without ‘conditionality’ entirely? Conditionality has been given a bad name by the horrors of a punitive sanctions regime and the inflexibility too often pressed upon Job Centres. Yes as social policy commentator Declan Gaffney has pointed out:
“Single parents in the UK offer a test case, as up to 2008 they were effectively in receipt of something very like an UBI, when not in employment. They had no obligation to actively seek work while tax credits ensured that most would be significantly better off in work. Employment rates had increased since the 1990s in response to improved incentives but remained relatively low, and from 2008 obligations to look for work were imposed. By 2014 the employment rate outside London had risen from 57% to 61%. In London the increase was dramatic from a lower baseline: from 45% to 57%. The lesson is that incentives matter”
Second, two elements stand out as risks to the comfortable simplicity of a flat-rate Basic Income- housing, and disability. Housing costs are such a large element of people’s subsistence needs, yet are so varied across the country, they could not realistically be included. (Incidentally, it was precisely this problem that defeated Beveridge!). Similarly, it is hard to see how a flat-rate system can accommodate the needs of the longer term sick and disabled, for whom costs (and, traditionally, benefits, have been higher than for others.
Yet paying a higher rate of Basic Income to people with higher housing costs, or to those who can’t work because of disability, re-introduces means-testing, taper rates, work capability assessments…bringing us full circle.
The ‘Get out of Jail Free’ policy card doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the aspirations behind the Basic Income. There’s lots that can be done to make both our tax and social security systems fairer, more efficient and more humane- and that includes seeing both in a wider social policy context that embraces health, education and housing. There may not be one mega-solution, but everything is connected.
If it looks too good to be true, it will be. And rarely does this simple maxim need trotting out than in the area of social security/welfare. Periodically, think...
Westminster City Council Planning Department
I write to enter an objection to the proposed development on the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site (31 London Street/128-142 Praed Street) known as the ‘Paddington Shard’. Although I accept the need for our growing city to provide new homes, infrastructure, amenities and economic/business capacity, and have no aesthetic objection to tall buildings (rather the reverse), major schemes such as this must still be considered on their merits and must be considered in the context of proper consultation and a strategic policy.
My objection is based on the following grounds:
1) The ‘Paddington Shard’ would represent a clear departure from Westminster Council’s tall buildings policy, without that policy having been amended after full consultation. The policy currently states that a single tall building- the 42 storey tower proposed for 1 Merchant Square, be approved within the Paddington Opportunity Area. As my colleagues from Westminster Labour Group have stated in their objection,
“The proposed design of a single, narrow but extremely tall, tower has a massive impact on the skyline but is not a particularly effective use of the space available. Westminster Labour would have preferred to have seen a design for the site that delivered a similar or greater number of housing units at a much lower height, entirely possible given the space available as shown clearly in the planning objection put forward by Terry Farrell”
Therefore, not only does the building have an unprecedented impact upon the Westminster skyline, the application is not being considered within a revised tall buildings policy which can be explained and justified to Westminster residents and others.
2) Given this fact, the specific application for 31 London Street has proceeded exceptionally quickly, from outline proposal in the autumn to planning application over Christmas- and potentially, a decision by March. This is despite the high level of controversy locally, and the concerns being expressed by Heritage England and the Skyline campaign.
3) The proposed benefits offered by the developer- including the ‘Sky Gardens’ and Paddington Bakerloo station upgrade, whilst welcome in themselves, are likely to be primarily of benefit to commuters/users of Paddington station rather than residents, whose outlook will be fundamentally and irrevocably altered by this construction. Wider public realm benefits are also welcome, but would also potentially drive up rents for businesses in and around Praed St . If the scheme is approved in any form, commitments regarding employment and apprenticeships should be transparent and measurable..
4) The development proposes 330 luxury housing units. There is no affordable housing on site, and the affordable housing offer is unacceptably small at 15%- well below Westminster Council’s own – already inadequate- guidelines of 30%. Of this, the main proposal is to rebuild and expand the Almshouses in St John’s Wood Road- a project which needs to be undertaken but where there are currently not transparent allocations procedure for nominations from Westminster Council so as to ensure those in housing need can benefit.
I would be grateful if this objection could be noted.
Karen Buck MP
Westminster City Council Planning Department I write to enter an objection to the proposed development on the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site (31 London Street/128-142 Praed Street) known as...
Westminster Council Planning department
I write to object to the current proposal for 285-329 Edgware Road (West End Green) with specific reference to the inconsistency of the tower proposal with the Council’s current tall buildings policy, the inadequate timescale for consultation/community involvement, and the inadequate arrangements for affordable housing.
I am pleased that the West End Green site is finally due for development after decades in which it stood empty. London needs more homes and the capacity to continue to grow its (sustainable) economy, and it is entirely possible to increase density without having a detrimental impact upon the wider community. However, each major scheme must be considered on its individual merits, both in terms of design and impact.
My concerns over this scheme are:
1) Westminster Council’s tall buildings policy proposes one additional tower in Paddington, at 1 Merchant Square. The policy is, I believe, due for revision, yet both this scheme and the proposed 72-storey tower at 31 London Street face being rushed from outline to planning permission over the course of just a few weeks, and in the absence of a revised policy. Towers can be aesthetically attractive and are, indeed, a key component of world cities, but there should be proper public consultation on both the policy and these individual major schemes given the level of public concern. This is perhaps especially the case given the proximity of conservation areas and the strong views held by both local residents and many others concerned with the London skyline.
2) Out of the proposed 691 flats, an unacceptably low number of 154 (22%) are designated as ‘affordable’ . This is despite both the depth of the housing crisis- which impacts especially on lower-middle earners, and Westminster Council’s own (already inadequate) guidance that developments should include 30% affordable.
3) I note the concerns expressed by the local health practice regarding their capacity to meet the primary care needs of additional population on this scale. Whilst higher population density can be made to work well, it does not happen without the commitment not only of the developers but of the Council and other agencies to ensure there is both the physical capacity (public realm, transport) and service provision (health, education, policing) to meet the needs of residents.
Karen Buck MP
Westminster Council Planning department I write to object to the current proposal for 285-329 Edgware Road (West End Green) with specific reference to the inconsistency of the tower proposal...
As the Conservatives voted against requiring landlords to make all properties 'fit for human habitation', here's a report on why it is needed, based on research by my office.
As the Conservatives voted against requiring landlords to make all properties 'fit for human habitation', here's a report on why it is needed, based on research by my office. ...
I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. Thank you also to the children of Christ Church Bentinck School for their excellent Christmas Card designs.
I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. Thank you also to the children of Christ Church Bentinck School for their excellent Christmas Card...
I am very pleased that this important issue was debated in Parliament earlier this month, albeit on ‘Backbench business’ which was not be voted upon.
Whilst on this occasion due to a packed diary of other commitments, I was unable to attend the latest debate (Like most MPs as well as attending debates on the floor of the House I also have numerous committee duties and long-booked diary meetings)
On the substantive issue, I am in total agreement of the need to protect the bee population.
I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed about declining bee numbers and the impact this could have on food production, the economy and our countryside.
As I am sure you are aware, the EU Commission announced in April 2013 that it would restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to crops that are not attractive to bees and other pollinators for two years after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that three commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides posed an unacceptable danger to bees.
During the last Parliament, the Coalition Government opposed the European ban on neonicotinoids but the decision to enforce the ban was taken by the Commission after a qualified majority could not be reached amongst member states.
I support the European-wide ban on neonicotinoid use because I believe it is a proportionate response to the evidence on the contribution of the three neonicotinoid pesticides to pollinator decline.
However the current Government has approved an application by the National Farmers Union (NFU) for the ban on neonicotinoids to be lifted this autumn to allow these chemicals to be sprayed on rapeseed in order to help prevent crop damage.
I believe the Government should have rejected the calls from the NFU to lift the ban to allow for the effect to be properly analysed. It is important to take a science-led approach to the use of pesticides and to consider how best to support farmers, to protect wildlife and reverse the decline of pollinators.
I also believe that the Coalition Government's 10-year national pollinator strategy for bees and other pollinators, which was published in November 2014, did not go far enough. It does not, for example, tackle habitat destruction, damaging farming practices, bad planning decisions and neonicotinoid use, which are the primary causes of pollinator decline.
I hope the Government will listen to the concerns that have been raised about this issue and I will continue to fight for the protection of our natural environment.
I am very pleased that this important issue was debated in Parliament earlier this month, albeit on ‘Backbench business’ which was not be voted upon. Whilst on this occasion due...
My views on this vitally important and complex matter remain as they were - I believe we do need trade to be governed by international agreements but that these must provide security over the full breadth of public interest– including consumer and environmental protection- and not simply be a means by which unaccountable multi-national corporations are able to promote their own interests. The final agreement must protect the rights of democratically elected governments to protect public services- in this case, the NHS. The most controversial element of TTIP involves, of course, the disputes settlement mechanism, which permits investors to bring proceedings against a foreign government, in tribunals outside the domestic legal system.
Earlier this year, Parliament’s Business and Skills Select Committee produced a report on TTIP. The Committee concluded that it remained to be convinced that ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) provisions were needed in TTIP and that the UK Government and the EU needed to show that the legal systems in the EU and US did not provide adequate protection for foreign investors before ISDS should be considered. If ISDS were to be included in the Treaty, the Committee recommended including a number of safeguards including: clauses to dismiss frivolous claims, a presumption that the loser should pay and a statement that Government’s right to regulate must take priority over investors’ rights to invest.
You may be interested to know that, following on from the pressure being placed on governments and the EU; the European Commission published proposals for the new system last month. The proposal includes a clause emphasising government’s right to set policy – in particular saying that:
1. The provisions of this section shall not affect the right of the Parties to regulate within their territories through measures necessary to achieve legitimate policy objectives, such as the protection of public health, safety, environment or public morals, social or consumer protection or promotion and protection of cultural diversity.
2. For greater certainty, the provisions of this section shall not be interpreted as a commitment from a Party that it will not change the legal and regulatory framework, including in a manner that may negatively affect the operation of covered investments or the investor’s expectations of profits.
These are helpful, but of course the proposals now form the basis for the next round of negotiation with the US and we will see what emerges - including in respect of the machinery of the revised disputes mechanism.
There is still some considerable way to go on these negotiations and we will have to make a judgement based on the final outcome. We are not yet sure whether or not this will involve ratification by the British Parliament:
If a trade agreement comes under EU exclusive competence, the Council and the European Parliament adopt or reject it. The European Parliament cannot amend the agreement; it can accept or reject it under the ‘consent’ procedure, which includes a vote in the Committee for International Trade followed by a vote in the plenary. Then the Council authorises conclusion of the agreement.
If a trade agreement is mixed competence (EU and Member State competence), the Council, the European Parliament and all 28 Member States must adopt or ratify it. There is no fixed timetable for the ratification process and it could take two or more years.
My views on this vitally important and complex matter remain as they were - I believe we do need trade to be governed by international agreements but that these must...
I am extremely conflicted on this difficult issue- though having listened to the Prime Minister’s statement, I have to say he has not yet convinced me of the effectiveness of a policy which seems to rest on a number of disputed assumptions about the ground capacity of anti-Assad moderate forces, such as the Free Syria Army (regarded as essential to defeat ISIL since airstrikes alone cannot) and the prospects for a wider settlement and an end to the civil war. Without this, it is hard to see how we can achieve an outcome we can all agree is necessary.
I hope you do not mind if I set out my thoughts fully.
I would rejoice at the destruction of ISIL/Daesh. They are an exceptionally vicious and dangerous organisation, inflicting hideous barbarity on Christian and Muslim communities within the Middle East, and sponsoring terrorism abroad. As the massacre in Paris demonstrated, they have the capacity and intent to do us terrible harm. At the same time it is also true that the Assad regime has been conducting a murderous civil war against the Syrian people, and it is largely, though not exclusively, the terror and the brutality the regime is inflicting which has contributed to a refugee crisis on a scale not seen since World War Two.
Committing our country to military action is sometimes inevitable, in self-defence or in fulfilment of our ‘duty to protect’- and the choice NOT to act can also lead to terrible suffering and death (Bosnia, Rwanda). Hence I have supported military action in the past, and voted in favour of backing the Iraqi government in strikes against ISIL inside Iraq when this came before Parliament last September. I acknowledge the real dangers of militant Islamism in the various forms this has manifested itself in recent decades, and I do not believe that the horrors we are not witnessing are all a consequence of Western interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. But I have opposed military action in the past too, including when the Prime Minister sought backing to take action against Assad in 2013 (with the very real risk that it would have given more scope for groups such as those which eventually become ISIL to gain ground), and voting for the rebel amendment against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
When we voted to support the Iraqi government against ISIL last year, Labour said that we would extend that support to Syria if ministers could present a coherent plan that met a number of tests about its aims and legality. So I have been open to the argument, and the situation is, of course, changing almost daily. For example, the unanimous vote at the UN last weekend means that there is now a legal basis for action. I also accept the argument that we have obligations to our allies and these must be properly weighed in the balance.
On the other hand, defeating ISIL and ensuring it, or another group in its image, does not re-emerge, means we have to learn from the mistakes of the past and not rely on vague and wishful thinking. Extending our role in the bombing campaign against ISIL in Syria is almost the simplest part (which is not to say it is simple or risk/cost free). Contributing to a lasting solution to the crisis is far more challenging.
So these are the key issues as I see them:
I agree with my colleague Dan Jarvis when he says one test is that “we need clarity about the difference that extending Britain’s intervention will make to hastening ISIL’s defeat. Our role should not solely be justified by solidarity, but on how we can make a practical difference”.
Given that the coalition has already conducted an estimated 2,700 air attacks in Syria (and 4,900 in Iraq, where we are already involved) it certainly cannot be argued that we are starting from a position of inaction. As Ewan MacAskill writes:
“In private briefings and in public testimony to Congress, a long line of senior American officers have acknowledged frustration with the battle against Islamic State. General John Allen, who was in overall charge of the US campaign in Syria and Iraq, has quit after a year. A marine commander, Lieutenant General Robert Neller, offering his best assessment of how the war is going, described it as a “a stalemate”. By the middle of last month the US-led coalition engaged in air attacks in Syria and Iraq had conducted 7,600 attacks (4,900 in Iraq and 2,700 in Syria). Their main problem is finding targets to hit”
David Cameron’s statement, whilst making a case for extending British air strikes into Syria, recognised the need for ground troops, since airstrikes are not sufficient to ensure victory. The assumption is that there are potentially 70,000 “moderate” Syrian forces to undertake this task.- but is this figure reliable in operational terms and is it sufficient? (The US alone had 170,000 soldiers in Iraq in 2007, when the insurgency was at its height). There are real differences of view as to the location, capacity and operational cohesion of these 70,000- not least as for many, their over-riding objective is defeating Assad. Meanwhile we are effectively backing these forces against ISIL despite the fact that one of our practical allies for this purpose- Russia- is also bombing some of them in de facto defence of Assad! So the assumption that airstrikes will easily support moderate Syrian forces to victory is an ambitious one, with huge potential to unravel.
Many of those concerned by an ‘ISIL first’ (Cameron’s words) approach want to be convinced both that there is a realistic prospect of securing a victory on the ground - bearing in mind the previously unpredicted scale of Western involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan that proved necessary over many years- and that defeating ISIL contributes towards an end to the civil war.
There needs to be credible plan for a political agreement to end the conflict, beginning with a cease fire and with an emphasis on the establishment of safe havens for civilians, and this can only be secured by agreement with the other key partners now involved. It is surely impossible to see President Assad remaining in place as part of that process, given his regime’s role in atrocities which has substantially driven the mass exodus from the country, and which is responsible for more than 90% of the 200,000 deaths since 2011. In turn that means clarity on a political agreement which has the commitment of the key powers involved in the conflict, including Russia and Iran. The alternative- defeating ISIL whilst leaving Assad in a stronger position domestically, means no end to the suffering or to the outflow of refugees.
In the recent past, post-conflict reconstruction has proved far harder than anticipated following interventions, such as Iraq, whilst the experience of Libya shows that airstrikes may have an immediate impact but do not of themselves prevent the disintegration of the state. Lessons may have been learnt from Iraq regarding the risks of dismantling the apparatus of the state, but it is reasonable to want to know how Syria can be assisted given the very different interests within the anti-ISIL coalition.
In the short as well as the long term, we need to be looking at the economic, financial and ideological factors underpinning the conflict. How are ISIL being funded? Today’s government statement revealed that ISIL are generating an astonishing $1.5 million dollars daily from oil revenues- money which funds their terrorist as well as military capabilities. Where is the oil being pumped from within ISIL territory being sold to and why? How is money getting in and out of the territory it controls? How are funds from sympathisers being generated and transferred? And how do we bear down on the extremist theology being practiced and exported by countries in the region with which we are otherwise allied? As Paddy Ashdown said on the radio this week, there also has to be pressure on the Gulf states to stop the flow of Sunni jihadism.
The Paris atrocities demonstrate ISIL’s terror capacity - as was previously the case with Al-Queda, and as to varying degrees is the case with other groups, such as Jabbat Al-Busra; Boko Haram and Al-Shabbab. Of course it is right that we want to deal with the terror threat, yet the journalist (and David Cameron’s former speechwriter) Ian Birrell, has written:
“blasting it to bits will not solve the issues that sparked its rise. We can destroy it, just as we defeated al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but similar groups will flare up again in a different guise. The militants feed on poverty and poor education, the alienation of minority groups, sectarianism inflamed by repression, colonial borders that fail to match realities on the ground, and cack-handed foreign interventions. And generations are growing up for whom conflict is normal as ethnic, political and religious divisions worsen. More than ever we need focus in foreign policy, yet it seems sorely missing amid endless talk of fighting”
Finally, both at home and abroad we must continue with, and constantly refine, an effective intelligence, community policing and counter-terrorism capability, complemented by a comprehensive strategy for working with the majority of Muslim opinion which rejects extremism.
I still do not absolutely rule out the possibility of a package of measures which would, together, include and justify further military involvement. Yet neither the latest statement to Parliament- measured in tone though it was, nor the comments of the Defence Secretary earlier this week saying it would be for a “moderate Syrian government” to provide the necessary ground troops to support airstrikes, help defeat ISIL and maintain the peace, provided a sufficiently firm outline as to how to reach that desirable outcome to convince me. Our inability to find a coherent and internationally co-ordinated response to the refugee crisis doesn’t bode well, either, despite Britain’s undeniably important financial contribution.
So in conclusion: I believe taking part in an extension of military action without an robust, internationally agreed plan for Syria- including, but not restricted to - the defeat of ISIL, how we would deal with the aftermath, how we might build a lasting peace and what an exit strategy would be, risks repeating recent history. I may still be convinced by the precise proposal put before us, or by new information or circumstances, but as of now I think it unlikely.
Karen Buck MP
I am extremely conflicted on this difficult issue- though having listened to the Prime Minister’s statement, I have to say he has not yet convinced me of the effectiveness of...