Sunday, December 27, 2009

David Taylor

David Taylor, the Labour MP for North West Leicestershire died from a heart attack on Boxing Day.

There is no-one I admired more than David. He was a dedicated, able and active MP. He showed everyone what a back-bench MP can achieve via an extensive and intelligent use of the formal and informal avenues that are open to them.

He was a committed democratic socialist who cared deeply about the well-being of his constituents and for underprivileged people throughout the world.

In 2007 he won the award of "Commons Backbencher of the Year" on the vote of his fellow MPs. Yet as a non-doctrinaire member of the Socialist Campaign Group he was not a natural for such a recognition. It was his dedication and serious intent (often with a tinge of humour) which came to impress those around him, many of whom did not share all of his deeply held views. I had been lucky to be amongst those who not only admired his dedication and commitment, but also shared his general outlook on life and politics.

I met him before he became an MP, saw his impressive and regular output in the Commons when we were fellow members between 1997 and 2005 and only recently spoke to him at St. Pancras Station in passing as he rushed to catch his train back to Leicester. For he was always as active in his Leicestershire Constituency as he was in the Commons.

If Parliament is to restore its reputation then we need MPs who follow the example he has left behind him.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Failure At Copenhagen

For the scale of the failure to tackle Climate Change, see Johann Hari here on the discarding of three key ideas in Copenhagen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Merry Xmas and a Socialist New Year

For the third year running, here is the same seasonal greeting. It comes from a 1894 drawing by Walter Crane. Your not likely to find anything better. Pass it on.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tuesday In Baghdad

Doctor Mohammed is a 25 year old dentist in Baghdad. On Tuesday the hospital he was working at was hit by one of the five terrorist explosions which killed 127 people. He then ran home to find that a further explosion had also hit it - the above photo shows what remained of its windows.

Luckily his wife and young child who were in the house, were not physically harmed.

Dr Mohammed runs a blog entitled "Last of Iraqis". See his telling account of his experiences and feelings here along with the photographs of the incidents.

For more on my comment's about his blog, use the link below.

When peace, tranquility, prosperty and hope are finally established in Iraq it will have been achieved by people such as Dr Mohammed, his wife and child whose lives provide a telling example for others in today's harsh conditions.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Today In Baghdad

Dr Mohammed is a 25 year old dentist living and working in Baghdad. Here is an item he posted on his blog called "Last-of-Iraqis" a month ago about the massive but ineffective system of traffic checkpoints which operate in Baghdad.

With a series of car explosions killing 127 people and injuring 448 today, the checkpoints have again failed to protect the Iraqi people. A streamlined and more effectively operated system of checkpoints, better intelligence and no parking near public buildings; might all be part of the means by which Iraqi people can be protected. But no one should still be in doubt as to whom their main enemies are at this point of time - Al Qaeda style terrorists.

I can only hope that Dr Mohammed is not amongst the victims. I hope to read of his own experiences and thoughts about today's terrible events as I see him as a friend whom I have been in contact with over time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nostalgia Is Better Than Ever

Although I was never a coal miner, the bulk of my understandings have been shaped by life in pit communities. Perhaps it is my age, but this year in particular has seen me investigating and trying to learn further from these roots.

(1) Yesterday evening I went to the Arkwright Community Centre to attend an evening on the 25th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike which was organised by the Bolsover Women's Action Group and included a fine pie and pea supper. The key speaker was their local MP, Dennis Skinner. I have heard Dennis make many fine speaks, but this was the best ever. Not only was he on top form in the style of his presentation, but his analysis of the events in 1984-5 was highly significant. Luckily his speech was filmed. I will look out for its presentation and will publicise it. It will be a must for anyone to view. Meanwhile this video will do nicely.
(2) A week earlier I attended a meeting of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Labour History Society which examined the Derbyshire Miners’ Day Release Classes which had been run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department from 1952 to 1994. These classes were also killed off by the pit closure programme which followed the defeat of the NUM in 1985. I was an Industrial Day Release Tutor at Sheffield from 1966 until 1987 and taught on some 30 Derbyshire and Yorkshire Miners’ classes in that time. In these classes everyone learnt from each other - in particular the tutors came to understand more and more about the pits and life in the colliery communities. For more, see here. (The above photo shows the third year of the Derbyshire Miners' Day Release Course held at Hurst House in 1982-3. Appropriately the meeting a week gone Saturday was held at the same venue. It was my first visit there for 23 years.)
(3) In the past week I have also been contacted by a former Yorkshire Miner who was a member of the very first Industrial Day Release Class I taught back in 1966. He is Dave Wigley (his family originated from Wigley near Brampton in North East Derbyshire) and he was one of the younger members of a exceptional class of 20 members. Four members of the class who unfortunately are no longer with us were Jack Wake who was the Secretary of the Cortonwood Branch of the NUM during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5, Terry Patchett who became MP for Barnsley East between 1983-96, Norman West MEP for South Yorkshire 1984-98 and Ron Rigby who became leader of the Barnsley Metropolitan Council. After his Day Release studies, Dave went on to study full time at Fircroft College. He then moved on to Denmark and went on to spend time in a number of countries including Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is now settled in Holland
(4) I am Political Education Officer for the Dronfield Labour Party. The last Discussion Meeting I organised for 10 November was about the 1984-5 strike. It was addressed by Barbara Jackson who not only worked with Women Against Pit Closures in Sheffield but was herself on strike as a white collar worker employed by the NCB in their Regional Office at Queen Street in Sheffield. Details of her fine contribution to our meeting are given here.

(5) Increasingly during 2009, I have been investigating the history of the mining community I grew up in at Easington Colliery in County Durham. I was born at Easington in 1936 and apart from undertaking my National Service and becoming a full-time Adult Student, it was my home until I married Ann and we moved to Hull in 1963. Then Ann and I (and our children) regularly visited Easington Colliery and neighbouring Shotton Colliery during the lifetime of our parents. Ann originates from Shotton Colliery where her father was onsetter at the pit. As both of my late parents would have been 100 this year, I gave details about their lives here and here. They were both solidly part of the Mining family tradition. (The above photo is taken at Easington Colliery some hundred years ago and shows some of the men who sunk the pit, their families and their homes)
(6) Appropriately, as the year draws to a close I have another event to attend which deals with the 1984-5 Strike. The Crucible Theatre at Sheffield is showing Richard Rose’s “The Enemies Within”, repeating David Thacker’s original 1985 production . I have booked in a group of 12 of us. For details for the performance see here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Iraq And The Queen's Speech Debate

On Monday Ann Clwyd and Dave Anderson spoke in the Commons during the debate on the Queen's Speech, they both devoted the bulk of what they had to say to the current situation in Iraq. I give the relevant extracts below. With Dave's contribution I have also added what he said about the Tobin Tax as it could also be used to improve the condition of the people of Iraq.

Dave Anderson (fifth from the right in the back row) in Iraq with "Labour Friends of Iraq" and Iraqi and British Trade Unionists.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): .....I want to spend the time available today talking about Iraq. For the first time in many years, the Queen's Speech did not mention Iraq. The complex issues relating to that country have dominated so many debates, questions and speeches in the House in recent years, and I feel that it is important to use this moment to highlight the important progress that has been made, and to remind the House of some of the issues that still need further attention.

I spoke to President Talabani of Iraq when he was here in London recently to attend the very moving memorial service for UK troops who had been involved in operations there. I was struck by the fact that, despite all the difficulties that Iraq has faced since the overthrow of Saddam, the President retains an unwavering belief that it was the right thing to do. It is clear from talking to him, and almost any other Iraqi, that ultimately only they can solve Iraq's problems. The role of the UK and coalition forces was to get them to the point at which they had a realistic prospect of success. I have full confidence in the determination of the Government and the people of Iraq to ensure that the country continues on its path to stability.

Iraq's internal dynamics have changed significantly over the past 18 months, and I believe that it is now a nation that has changed for the better. There have been significant improvements on security, the economy and politics. Millions of Iraqis now have control over their own destiny. The Iraqi people have embraced democracy with great enthusiasm. The parliamentary elections in December 2005 saw a turnout of around 80 per cent., and provincial elections were held successfully in January this year, again with a very high turnout. National elections are due to take place in January 2010 and will provide another opportunity for Iraqis to embrace democracy. The Iraqi Parliament and the Council of Representatives are both steadily maturing as a voice for the people.

There are difficulties and delays in passing a new electoral law to regulate the next elections and the composition of the new Iraqi Parliament. Again, however, 25 per cent. of the places are going to be set aside for women, which is a point worth making here. It is another welcome sign that difficulties are being battled out in the political arena rather than on the streets.

The attempts by some to throw progress off course, as seen in the terrible bomb attacks on key ministries in Baghdad in August and October, have not had their desired impact. The response from Iraqis has been to deal with matters in a mature and considered manner. I sincerely hope that all the main political leaders in Iraq will continue to work together in a spirit of compromise and for the interests of all Iraq. Not doing so risks damaging the recent gains in security and political progress.

It is clear that many challenges remain in ensuring peace and stability in Iraq. Starting from such a low base, it is inevitable that work remains to bring about an effective human rights culture in Iraq. In my continuing role as the Prime Minister's special envoy on human rights in Iraq, I continue to engage with a wide range of Iraqis-both here and in Iraq-to help this process along. I urge those I meet to continue to focus their efforts on ensuring that the rule of law is respected.

The number of detainees held without trial has dropped considerably over the past 18 months, but sustained effort to ensure that those remaining are either released or made to face trial is needed. All those subject to the Iraqi legal system should be dealt with in a timely and humane manner.

Freedom of expression was an area that suffered greatly under Saddam. Since 2003, a vibrant media reflecting a wide spectrum of views has sprung up. There are signs of some efforts to curb the effectiveness of the media, with new regulations and legislation under consideration. This is a subject that I intend to raise when I visit Iraq shortly and meet key activists working to protect the rights of journalists. I discussed the challenges faced by the media in Iraq at one of the programmes of ongoing human rights forums or round tables held by the Foreign Office this year, which I chaired.

Industry in Iraq continues to recover and international trade links are being re-established. British companies assisted by UK Trade & Investment are showing more interest in doing business in Iraq. To support their efforts, the UKTI staff in our diplomatic missions in Iraq have been bolstered. BP and the Iraqi Government signed a new deal earlier this month to help revitalise the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq, which should dramatically increase oil production and revenue for the Iraqi Government.

There is much work still to be done to protect the rights of Iraqi workers. The British TUC, which I thank very much, continues to assist in many ways. There remain in place many Saddam era regulations restricting the rights of trade unions and preventing public sector workers from joining the union of their choosing. I am pleased to hear that a campaign launched by the Iraqi permanent co-ordination committee of trade unions and professional associations is gathering momentum. I note with some satisfaction that on 13 November President Talabani himself signed up to their campaign calling for more equitable labour laws.

I have raised from the start concerns about the treatment of women in Iraqi society. Women continue to face many problems in their day-to-day lives. Article 41 of the constitution could seriously affect the rights of women and I hope it will be revisited in the ongoing constitutional discussions. So-called "honour-based" violence has been reported as on the increase in many parts of Iraq. This is not a religious or an Islamic practice, but something rooted in the traditions of the clans and tribes. I have encouraged the leadership in Iraq, particularly the Kurds in the north, to speak out against it and to treat any "honour" crime just like any other crime. The considerable abilities of the new Kurdish Prime Minister, Barham Salih-he has visited this House several times-will, I think, be used to good effect in Iraqi Kurdistan, and I am sure that we would all want to send our good wishes to him. He has been an excellent Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq and I am sure that the Kurds will benefit from having him as Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan.

I plan to visit Iraq again before the end of the year and am sure that, as in each of my previous visits since 2003, I will see further evidence of improvements. I know I will meet Iraqis who are committed to the future of their country and to seeing peace and prosperity. I know I will meet such people because they form the overwhelming majority of the population. I am sure that they will be pleased to hear that Iraq is no longer such a regular source of bad news and that they will not be at all offended that this year they did not even get a mention from Her Majesty the Queen in her Gracious Speech.

I finish with a short announcement. On 1 December, our present ambassador in Iraq will be coming here to answer questions. The Foreign Minister will also be present, as will the chargé d'affaires from the Iraqi embassy. I hope that those interested in Iraq will come along on 1 December to ask any questions that I have not been able to answer today.

......Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Earlier tonight we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) about the situation in Iraq. She made the point that, for the first time in many years, the word "Iraq" was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. However, the Queen did say that her Government want to work for peace in the middle east, and it is impossible to have any real peace there without involving Iraq. In recent discussions that I had as chair of the Labour Friends of Iraq with the Islamic Dawa party, it said that it believes that Iraq can be a beacon for democracy, freedom and moderation in the middle east instead of suffering the tyrannies of poverty, backwardness and extremism in what is still one of the most prosperous parts of the world. The first part of my speech will ask what our Government intend to do to try to continue to improve the situation in Iraq, now that we no longer have troops on the ground to any great extent.

One of the key issues that I want to raise is something that has been a running sore for more than four years-the imposition of restrictions on the freedoms of the trade union movement in Iraq. In August 2005, the interim Iraqi Government imposed restrictions on the trade union movement in Iraq, seized its assets and reintroduced rules that said that working in the public sector, which is a huge part of the Iraqi economy, is not compatible with trade union membership. If Iraq wants to pretend to be a democracy and behave like a democracy, it has to accept that free, democratic and independent trade unions must be allowed to exist, something that trade unions in this country, our Government and the International Labour Organisation have all supported. We need to emphasise that, so I hope that the Government take that point on board.

We also heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley about the upcoming elections. They are due in January, but there are doubts about whether they will go ahead. They should go ahead, and one of the key things that we could is to sit down with the Iraqi Government and the various parties and people across Iraq and say, "What can we do to help you ensure that these elections go ahead?"

We have a strong and close relationship with the Kurds in Iraq. They are clear that we saved them from effectively being wiped off the face of the earth. I am proud to be the secretary of the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq. The Kurds fear that the Government in Iraq are retreating into a central, rather than a federal state. The Kurdistan region of Iraq is struggling to get its people to see that their future lies in a federal Iraq. If the Government in Iraq do not realise that and do not work with the Kurds, they could well experience even more problems than they have recently.

Last week a friend of mine, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the High Representative to the United Kingdom from the Kurdistan Government in Iraq, wrote a passionate article in my regional newspaper, the Newcastle Journal. She rightly paid tribute to the fallen British soldiers and expressed her "appreciation for the sacrifices made in the liberation of our country".

"Liberation" was the term that she used. It is also the term that I have heard time and again on my visits to Iraq. The people I have spoken to see what happened in 2003 as a liberation. For those of us who opposed the intervention in Iraq, that is quite a hard thing to have to accept. However, it is strange that we never hear much in this country about what the people on the ground believe. Lots of us have opinions, and lots of people outside this place have them too; but the truth is that the people of Kurdistan and the people in Iraq see what we did as an act of liberation.

Bayan knows what she is talking about. Both her father, who was the deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan, and her brother were among those killed by suicide bombers in the Kurdish capital Irbil in February 2004. I have had the privilege of visiting the monument to their death, which carries a profound epitaph: "Freedom is not free". Very true. Bayan also says: "it is important to appreciate that Iraq is far better off today than it was under Saddam Hussein and there are many great opportunities for exchange between Britain and Iraq-cultural, educational and commercial."

I hope that John Chilcot, whose inquiry starts tomorrow, asks people such as Bayan Rahman to give evidence. I hope that he asks Hangar Khan, from the regional trade union movement, and Abdullah Muhsin, who was exiled in the 1980s and became the international representative of the trade union movement, to give evidence too. They will say clearly what Bayan has said to me: "Some people seem to have forgotten the brutal reality of his long years of repression. Saddam conducted a campaign of genocide against the Kurds. His forces used chemical weapons to kill men, women and children including 5,000 people who were killed in an attack on the city of Halabja in 1988. They murdered innocent people including thousands of boys and men from the Barzan area who disappeared in 1983," never to be seen again, "and whose mass graves are being found today."

Saddam's forces also "razed 4,500 villages to the ground, destroying" the agricultural heartland of Iraq. The suffering in other parts of Iraq was the same. The key question that people ask me when I am over there is not "Why did you come here in 2003?" but "Why didn't you come here in 1983? We might have had a very different way of life."

The other thing that I want to stress to the Government is the opportunities that we are missing in Iraq. There is huge potential for investment in Iraq. The Iraqis want us there. They have a great belief in the craftsmanship of British workpeople and a great loyalty to us for what this Government and this country have done over many years. The Iraqis want us to take up those opportunities, but it is clear that other countries are getting there ahead of us. We really need to step up our game, and we need UK Trade and Investment to do that.

The Queen's Speech also referred to the need for us to ensure that we increase the 0.7 per cent. contribution from GDP to international development, a point echoed by the Foreign Secretary earlier. Over the past few weeks, we have had a discussion that I thought would never happen in this country, about the so-called Tobin tax or a currency transaction levy, which I have supported for many years.

I was a delegate to the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle in 1999, where we thought that we nearly had a deal. Unfortunately, it did not come off. We then went to the next round in Doha, where nothing like that was anywhere near the agenda, mainly as a result of what had happened on 9/11. It was therefore with some surprise that the idea of a currency transaction levy, as called for by early-day motion 1396, which I tabled earlier this year, came out of the discussions at St. Andrews. A currency transaction levy is something that our Prime Minister, our Chancellor and now other people across the world are starting to pursue.

I never thought that I would say this, but it appears that I was too timid in what I was asking for. My early-day motion, with the support of some campaign groups, suggested a currency transaction levy of 0.005 per cent., which would raise something in the region of £33 billion a year for international development. When we consider the trillions that are moved around the world, £33 billion is not very much, but it would be a huge step in the right direction for international development. I am very glad that that piece of work has taken hold in this country and across the world, because the people of this country are ready to say that it is time that the people who have made millions, billions and trillions off the back of ordinary working people across this country and across the world started playing their part.

For years, the story has been that if we do anything like that, everybody will run away and put their money somewhere else. That is the same story that people told me for years when I argued for the nationalisation of the banks, but what did we see in the past two years? Not only did they not run away; they ran towards and said, "Please, please, please, get us out of the hole that we've put you in." We have done that. We should now be quite clear and say to people, "We want you now to start playing your part in putting this right," and not just by having a transaction levy devoted to international development, but by looking beyond that. What else can we do with the money that we raise with a relatively small levy? The Austrian Government have suggested putting a 0.5 per cent. levy on financial transactions, which would produce £400 billion a year, which could effectively be spent on good causes. That is something that our Government should explore......

HAT TIP : Labour Friends Of Iraq

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gordon Finally Goes For Tobin - Now We Need Obama

Here I am in ye olde Parliamentary Days campaigning against Gordon Brown's refusal to support the Tobin Tax.

This is what my fellow MPs thought about me banging on about the issue -

Hansard 7 Nov 2001 : Column 264

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt):

"....James Tobin seems to be rather sceptical about his idea, so we may have to rename the Tobin tax—[Hon. Members: "The Barnes tax."] Indeed, the Barnes tax...".

And now I am finally being followed by the Financial Services Authority and my leader -

"PM pushes for Tobin taxes

Financial institutions could still face Tobin taxes as the prime minister seeks international support for such a scheme.

Under the plan, each financial transaction would attract a levy aimed at discouraging irresponsible speculation.

Gordon Brown is himself a recent convert to the idea and he is now looking to achieve international backing for the idea.

Although other European leaders have cautiously welcomed the plans, the US and Canada seem less keen.

Asked about the idea of Tobin taxes, US treasury secretary Tim Geithner said: "No, that's not something that we're prepared to support."

The idea of Tobin taxes was floated by Lord Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, back in August.

However, he admitted that a global consensus on the issue would be needed for the idea to work and that achieving this could prove "very difficult"."

From today's "Accountancy News"

This was part of my campaigning which explains what the Tobin Tax is about -

Early Day Motion - Tobin Tax
Proposed by Harry Barnes on 23/04/2001

"That this House notes that international currency speculation currently stands at about $1.5 trillion a day and that the vast majority of this is unrelated to trade in real goods and services; further notes that such enormous speculative flows substantially undermine the powers of national governments and regional blocs; believes that a small levy on such speculation, known as the Tobin Tax, after the name of the Nobel Laureate who originated the concept, could both help to dampen down the scale and scope of speculation and raise substantial revenues, raising as much as $250 billion each year for good causes such as development and environmental protection; recognises that such a levy would have to be universal or as near to that as possible and contain safeguards to minimise and eliminate tax evasion; notes that the Tobin Tax has the backing of the Canadian Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Finnish Government and campaign groups such as War on Want; and urges the Government to discuss the concept with its partners in international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the IMF, G8 and the European Union with a view to drawing up an internationally co-ordinated and feasible tax regime for currency speculation."

This motion was been signed by a total of 145 MPs.

And these are links to a couple of former articles of mine on the topic - here and here.

Of course I wasn't the first or the last to push the issue. But the lesson is that you never give up campaigning for a worthy cause. And this campaign now needs more support then ever to give it even greater momentum. Let us now target the man who has just delivered on Health Services - Obama. Greatness awaits him.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Those Were The Days

From 1966 to 1987 I was privileged to be a tutor on Industrial Day Release Classes which were run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department (during that time its name was changed to that of the Division of Continuing Education).

In Chesterfield we ran classes for Derbyshire Miners which lasted over a three year period. In the first year of their studies Miners attended classes for a day a week over a 24 week period concentrating on Industrial Relations issues, whilst developing their Student Skills. In the second and third years of the course they attended classes for two days a week. One day was devoted to the study of economics and the other to politics.

No exams were set on the courses and no qualifications were issued. Numbers of students moved on to full time education at Adult Education Colleges taking Diploma courses at Ruskin (where I studied from 1960-62), Coleg Harlech and the Northern College. They often then went on to study for University Degrees. Many others took up positions in the NUM or became active in other forms of public service, such as local government. Eric Varley and Dennis Skinner entered Parliament.

The students borrowed and purchased recommended books and engaged in studies in their own time, producing serious written work. When I later became an MP I missed the atmosphere of the Day Release classes. For whilst many MPs are bright, their trade is that of persuasion. In contrast the interest of the Day Release Classes was precision and an understanding that he who only knew his own side of the case knew little of that.

A group of Derbyshire Miners are shown in the above photograph. They completed their three year Day Release Course in 1960, six years before I joined the Extramural Department.

The photograph appeared in the Derbyshire Times on 7 May, 1960. The students are presenting Miners' lamps to two of their tutors, who are the men wearing glasses. On the left is Noel Williams of the Workers Education Association who taught economics and on the right is the politics tutor Royden Harrison from Sheffield University Extramural Department who was a leading Labour Historian and whose final book was to be "The Life and Times of Sidney and Beatrice Webb : 1858 to 1905 the Formative Years". From left to right the students on the course are (1) Les Ralley who became a leading figure on both his local District and Parish Councils, (2) a 27 year old Eric Varley who four years later was to embark upon his parliamentary career, (3) W. Whitaker, (4) E. Lawrence presenting the lamps, (5) E. Bradbury and (6) N. Wade. Further information about Whitaker, Bradbury, Lawrence and Wade would be welcome.

Memories about those days will emerge at the following meeting which is to be held at one of the main venues where the Day Release Classes were run. The meeting is also likely to reveal the significance of a form of study which has mainly been lost to a new world of Adult Education which is too often restricted to vocational studies, modules and starts out with only a quest for qualifications.


Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Labour History Society

Miners at University

The Derbyshire Area NUM Day-release Course 1952-94

Saturday 21 November

Hurst House, Abercrombie Street, Chesterfield (see this map)
2 pm (Doors open 1.30)
John Halstead, one of the course tutors, will explain briefly
- How and why the course began
- Its main features
- Impact of the day-release programme

Then those present who attended the programme will be able to share their experiences.

All welcome

Please note that there is parking for disabled people only at Hurst House.
Long-stay parking is available nearby at Holywell Cross surface car park or the multi-storey car park.

From : NDLHS 22 Boythorpe Avenue Chesterfield


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Easington Colliery

Up the late 19th Century the area in County Durham which became Easington Colliery was overwhelmingly farm and open land, with a small number of isolated cottages and a couple of quarries. In 1898 a pumping station was opened and the following year the first sod was cut to mark the beginning of the sinking of the pit.

The huts provided for the "sinkers" are shown above. The first two fatalities amongst these workmen occurred in 1900 when Robert Arthur and William Curry were at the bottom of the shaft and a kibble of stones became detached and fell upon them. They were the first of 194 recorded deaths during the history of the pit.

As Easington is on the North East coast and the seams of coal ran under the North Sea, the sinking of the pit ran into difficulties due to water. A body of a sinker Robert Atkinson who was killed due to an inrush of water in 1904 was not discovered until 3 years afterwards.

As progress was made towards the full operation of the pit, permanent Colliery Housing started to be built in 1909(but see note at the close*) and eventually the sinker huts were replaced by these. In time almost 1,000 houses for pitmen and their families were built within 500 yards of the pit. Workers were attracted in from far and wide, including the declining areas of the Durham Coalfield such as the pits around Tow Law.

The first coal was drawn from the pit in 1910. It was to be the final pit to be closed in County Durham in 1993; although Wearmouth Colliery (on which Sunderland's new football ground is built) was closed a few months later and formed part of the wider Durham Coalfield.

Easington as a mining colliery went through many harsh times. It suffered badly from the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918, experienced a 13 week lock-out in 1921, was out on strike for thirty weeks in 1926 which extended out of the General Strike, suffered from the inter-war economic depression with the closure of a main seam in 1933, suffered a major mining disaster in 1951, was out on strike for the entire 1984-85 conflict and faced the blight of its community following the final pit closure in 1993.

Yet on the other side of the coin, by the end of the second world war in 1945 it had grown into a closely knit and self-supporting community. From 1912 passenger services commenced at the local railway station and schools, shops, cinemas, working men's clubs, pubs, chapels, churches, private terraced housing, council housing, communal doctors' services, bus services, Aged Miners Homes, the Miners' Welfare and the Welfare Grounds with football pitches, a cricket ground and other facilities all came to be established.

Many of the social facilities were provided by communal efforts, including significant contributions from the Easington Miners' Lodge, from elected Labour Councillors who were community activists and from self help groups such as those who at one time established three Methodist Chapels within a few hundred yards of each other on one side of the main roadway, Seaside Lane.

The future seemed bright with the election of the Attlee Government in 1945 and the growth of post-war full employment, the Welfare State, the National Health Service and the operation of a mixed economy. When the pits were nationalised in 1947, Manny Shinwell was present at vesting day at Easington in his capacity as the responsible Government Minister and the local MP with a staggering 32,000 majority.

But counter-changes were already underfoot. Some moved out to the nearby town of Peterlee as it developed. Full-employment and improved educational opportunities provided new avenues for the sons and daughters of the local miners. Private cars and further public transport meant that there were new alternatives to home grown entertainment. And then as the coalfield contracted, Easington became something of a cosmopolitan pit with more workers travelling in from neighbouring areas. Above all the wider society that impinged itself upon Easington's life via TV and other avenues stressed a possessive individualism which rubbed up against the organic norms the community had developed.

Both my father and mother came from solid mining traditions and my father spent his working life at Easington pit. My first memories of Easington Colliery date back to when I was 4, in late 1940 or early 1941. Although all of Easington Colliery's history interests me, I am currently focusing on my inheritance - its pioneering years from the very late 19th century to 1940 or so. I am pursing numbers of published and unpublished sources. But if anyone has access to local family or other local records and notes from that period, I hope they will get in touch with me via the comment box to this thread - which has just been reopened. If you don't have the facilities to do this, then please try the comment facilities to my piece here.

* = Note added 2.11.09 - I have now come across evidence from the 1905 Electoral Register which indicates that four streets of such houses already existed by that time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ta ta for now

The start of life as a blogger on becoming three score years and ten ; with Ann, Stephen and Joanne.

This blog was set up for me by my son, Stephen. Unknown to me, he undertook a test run for it on 4 May 2006 using the text of a letter of mine which the New Statesman had published. He then added the preface I had written for the TUC publication "Hadi Never Died : Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Union Movement" by Abdulah Muhsin and Alan Johnson. He placed the blog upon the screen of his own computer for me to see for the first time on my 70th birthday.

This is the third anniversary of the blog being given to me. This is the 479th item to appear.

Halfway through its current life, my daughter Joanne decided that I needed a scanner to improve its presentation. She had to show me how to scan and I first made use of the scanner with this greeting on Christmas Day 2007.

After 3 years I have decided to place the blog on hold for a while so that I can concentrate on some other tasks. I have, therefore, also closed down the comment box for now.

One of my alternative tasks is to concentrate on making contributions to the alternative blog which I am linked to entitled "Dronfield Blather". It is administered by Blogger Brader and is the blog of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group. There is a debate to initiate on the thorny topic of the future of the Labour Party.

I will, of course, be able to make passing comments in other people's comment boxes and can always return to using this blog when confronted with a matter of great importance. But I will attempt to resist the passing temptations of this blog for a while.

I am, of course, old enough the remember Mrs Mopp on Tommy Hanley's 2nd World War wireless programme "ITMA". She always ended her spot with the comment "TTFN" . So it is "ta ta for now".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How To Fry A Snowball

Today the Daily Telegraph carry an obituary for the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski (see below). They point out that he came to dismiss the idea of democratic socialism seeing it as being as "contradictory as a fried snowball". For he pointed to the dangers of the development of unrestricted power entering the hands of an omnipresent bureaucracy.

It seems to me that we can indeed fry the snowball as long as we perpetually provide checks and controls against the very dangers which Kolakowski feared - and we use a wok. But we must always be on our guard. We don't want the snowball to fall into the fire. Below I give my recipe.

1. Regular elections and full enfranchisement for local, national and supra-national legislative bodies.

2. Written constitutions which safeguard devolved powers, democratic rights and civil liberties.

3. Separations of powers amongst legislative, executive and judicial bodies.

4. Extensions of public ownership to incorporate democratic controls for producers and consumers.

5. Elected representatives to have their sole or main place of residence in the communities they represent.

6. Political parties to operate under internal democratic structures.

7. No individual nor any company or institution to own more than one media outlet.

8. Open opportunities for lifelong learning which extend well beyond re-training schemes.

9. Moves to social equality with maximum and minimum earnings and ownership rights.

10. Avoid taking shortcuts to socialism by always using and advancing the democratic pathway to social change.

July 22, Essential Update : I missed out an important section from the above recipe and also add necessary covering clauses -

11. The restoration and development of Individual Ministerial Responsibility, Cabinet Government (instead of Prime Ministerial Government) and a public service ethic throughout the Civil Service, Public Services and Nationalised Industries.

12. Regular debate and discussion throughout society to ensure that the principles underlying the above recipe become living truths and not dead dogmas.

Monday, July 20, 2009

At Last

The Committee on Standards in Public Life who are conducting an enquiry into MPs' expenses have finally published the submission I sent to them on June 2nd.

They have received some 682 submissions. At an average of just over one submission per constituency, this is hardly a grand inquest of the nation. Even then, to date the Commission have only got round to publishing a maximum of 214 of these - although in the lists they produce there is some double counting with David Blunkett's submission appearing twice.

The Committee is playing catch up. But what it has published so far about its hearings and the submissions it received can be found via this link. As no one seems to have discussed my proposals, I suppose that is that. But it will allow me to say "I told you so" when things go wrong next time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More From the Iraqi Communist Party

See this video clip of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) celebrating the 51st anniversary of the 14th June 1958 National Democratic Revolution which led to a period of social improvement and hope under the Government of Abd al-Karim Qasim whose portrait is seen being carried by the demonstrators.

Unfortunately a counter-coup against the regime took place in February 1963 involving the Ba'thists when the ICP saw that what was needed instead were democratic reforms.

This item provides links to my four-part history of the ICP which towards the end of part 1 and throughout part 2 covers the Qasim era. Whilst this item is also of relevance to this important period in Iraqi History.

If anyone can provide me with an English translation of the commentary on the video this would be most welcome.

Hat Tip - Labour Friends of Iraq.

Monday, July 06, 2009

In Memory Of My Father

It is 100 years ago today since my father Joseph Barnes (known as Joe) was born. He died in 1996.

The above photograph says a great deal about him. He is the young man in the centre of the back row. He is part of a locally organised football team of coal miners from Easington Colliery in County Durham. He was the goalkeeper and will be in his mid-teens when the photo was taken. Directly in front of him is his brother Bobby who was five years his senior and to your far right in the back row is his brother Arthur who was almost 2 years his junior. (Click onto the photo to enlarge it).

The team is sitting at the edge of an open field with a row of terraced colliery-owned houses in the background. This is Boston Street. Behind it is Baldwin Street which my father, mother and myself moved into some quarter of a century later.

Seven rows of streets further back is Bolam Street, where my father and Uncles lived with my grandparents John and "Polly" Barnes. These houses were part of a complex of almost 50 rows of terraced houses for miners which were clustered around the local pit.

The team are in their best suits, waistcoats and cloth caps. The man in the trilby is probably in charge of the team.

The photo explains the comradeship, spirit, commitment, family links, team competitiveness and football fanaticism of those times. It is likely to have been taken around the time of the aftermath of the General Strike of 1926.

No-one belonged more to Easington as a mining colliery than my father. He arrived there in 1912 before his third birthday as part of John and Polly's fully established family of seven children. Coal had only first been drawn at the local pit in 1910 and a community was rapidly being established on what had been farm and open land.

When my father died after 84 years at Easington, the pit had shut down just 3 years earlier. It was the final pit in County Durham to close.

My father's life, therefore, covered a distinctive era within a single tightly knit mining community. Not many people could have fitted Easington's mining existence so precisely.

In his 80s my father continued his daily walk down Easington's main road called Seaside Lane. He stopped to speak to friends and family. When my mother was moved into a nursing home (on the far side of the field shown in the above photo) he just walked further past long familiar territory to spend much of the day with her. The nursing home was the house of the former Colliery Manager.

Although Easington went through some tough pioneering years, by the time the 1931 economic depression broke and my father was 22 the population (of Easington Colliery and adjoining Easington Village combined) had reached 12,000. This meant that even with relative impoverishment it established a range of shops, cinemas, clubs, pubs, churches, chapels, schools and Miners' Welfare facilities. The Miners' Federation was committed to building Aged Miners' Homes and providing medical facilities. Whilst the Labour Council embarked upon Council House building.

It meant that although my father did not have an easy life, he had a full life. These fulfilments need to be appreciated if we are to put the harsh aspects of his life in perspective.

Tom and Polly had six sons and a daughter. The boys all became Miners on leaving school at 14 and Aunt Ada invariably went on to marry a Miner. Only Uncle Arthur finally deviated from this pattern when he moved out of the area to join the RAF in 1937.

( 3 of the 7 Barnes siblings who arrived in Easington Colliery in 1912. Uncle Arthur (left) was the only one of six brothers to move away from links with the local pit, when he joined the RAF in 1937 and then eventually retired to Eastbourne. Yet he often visited "home". Aunt Ada was the only girl and raised her own family living in the same Council House for over 60 years before moving into sheltered accommodation. They are with my father.)

The family went through tough times. In 1918 they were in the midst of a serious influenza epidemic, in 1921 the pit was subject to a 13 week strike, in 1926 the pit was at standstill for 30 weeks following the collapse of the General Strike, then the inter-war depression hit coal production at the local pit. In the midst of such developments John and Polly's children married and set up homes of their own. Even when post-war prosperity, full-employment and the welfare state helped to transform life; Easington experienced the terrible cost of coal when a mining disaster at its pit took the lives of 79 Miners and 2 rescue workers.My father was in the pit at the time, but in a different seam from the explosion. He later assisted with the salvage work. The extended Barnes family were lucky to avoid deaths in both the 1951 disaster and the earlier 1918 influenza epidemic.

My father then managed to engage in flying picket duties in the 1973 Miners' Strike before retiring the following year. He was then to share in the communal traumas of the 1984/5 Miners' Strike before witnessing the communal loss which came with the final closure of the pit in 1993.

He married in 1933 in difficult times (see here for my tribute to my mother). They spent several years in differing rented "rooms", essentially a bedroom with shared kitchen and toilet facilities. In 1936 I was born in "rooms" to add to the complexities.

Around this time my father was off work for almost two years with kidney trouble and could only return to "light work" for a period before he returned to the coal face.

A war-time move into a semi-detached Council house with a front and back-garden helped to improve life. As time moved on his luxuries became visits to the workingmen's club, meeting his mates, his continuing family links, betting (at one time the bookie sent him Christmas presents) and the visits from his grandchildren. And always there was football.

He had an extensive career as a local amateur goalkeeper playing for a variety of teams throughout the Durham coalfield. At 21 he had a successful season with Easington Village Rovers who acquired two trophies. He then moved to play for Stanley United in the Northern League. This led to him playing in a practice match for Hartlepool Reserves against the first team. They won 2-1. As a result he signed amateur forms with them, but when they sort to sign him as a professional Stanley United (who held his prior registration) insisted on a transfer fee of £25. Hartlepool either wouldn't or couldn't meet the fee!

He continued to play football until he was 40, disrupted by his spell of kidney trouble and the vagaries of war-time football.

I went with him to home and away games after the 2nd World War when he returned to play for Easington Village Rovers.

When I was 10, I walked with my mates to the neighbouring colliery of Horden to see Easington Colliery Welfare play our rivals Horden Colliery Welfare in the FA Cup Preliminary Round. Imagine my shock and predicament when my father turned out in goal for Horden. He had gone to the game to support Easington, but when Horden's goalkeeper didn't turn up he was signed up to fill the vacancy. It is the only time I saw him play other than for Easington Village Rovers.

Despite his 84 years in Easington, he was born in a terraced house close to Roker Park the then home of Sunderland AFC and became a lifelong supporter. At 10 his father first took him to see them play. The team he saw included the great Charlie Buchan. I was the same age when my father first took me to see Sunderland play. As we approached the ground my father showed me the house where he had been born. It was next door to a pawnbrokers.

But Easington was my father's home and the only time the two of us went to Roker Park to support the opposition was when Easington Colliery Welfare got to the final of the Shipowners Cup and played Sunderland Reserves on its hallowed turf. We lost, but only just.

In retirement my parents eventually moved into sheltered accommodation and enjoyed life as part of its elderly community. Pride of place in their flat was given to my father's football cups and to the photos of their two grandchildren which now look down on me as I type this.

(Enjoying retirement. My Mother and Father on your right, with neighbours.)

UPDATE 1st AUGUST, 2009. This is worth veiwing about what happened to my father's Easington Colliery. And although there are a couple of factual errors, this brief history of the pit community he belonged to is impressive.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Left Split - But Find A New Hero

Yesterday the Government was defeated in the Commons by 250 votes to 247 and thus lost Clause 10 of its Parliamentary Standards Bill. The Socialist Campaign Group split down the middle on this issue, with those left-wing twins Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell being in different lobbies.

The Clause in question related to the powers of both the proposed Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority (IPSA) and the proposed Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations when they undertake their roles relating to MPs' salaries, allowances, financial interests and conduct. It would have allowed these bodies when proceedings against an MP in the courts or elsewhere to use evidence gleaned from proceedings in the House of Commons. Yet MPs enjoy freedom of speech in the Commons and Clause 10 would have removed this right in certain areas related to the work of the IPSA and the Commissioner.

The dilemma faced by MPs was (a) would the removal of Clause 10 inhibit the work of the IPSA and the Commissioner on the one hand and/or if passed (b) limit a right of freedom of speech in the Commons which MPs need in order to defend the rights of their constituents and others. The Clerk to the Commons and the Justice Committee (who rushed out a report on these matters) advised that the IPSA and the Commissioner would not be seriously effected in the absence of Clause 10, but that if adopted it would create a worry as far as MPs' freedom of speech under Commons' procedures was concerned.

Outside the power of the whips, a further dilemma faced by Labour MPs over the Clause was what would their constituents think if they voted down an item which their Government claimed was important in the battle to stop MPs using their position for personal gain.

In making their minds up on this matter the Socialist Campaign Group split three ways. 9 voted with the Government (including John McDonnell), 8 voted against (including Jeremy Corbyn) and 4 abstained or were not present (including Bob Marshall-Andrews).

As the Government lost the vote by three, it should also be noted that two former Cabinet Ministers helped to swing the result. Both Margaret Beckett and John Reid were in the "no" lobby.

In fact the Socialist Campaign Group ignored the discussions on the Bill. These lasted over three days in the Commons and it was only some 10 minutes from the end of all this that lefty Lynn Jones finally intervened to complain about the procedures under which the Bill was being rushed through the Commons. The absence of Socialist Campaign Group members meant that matters such as the case for having full-time MPs and otherwise getting value-for-money from them went by the board.

Jack Straw carried the bulk of the Bill from the Government side. The bits and pieces that were covered by his side-kick on the front-bench, Barbara Keeley were handled in an inept fashion. Only five MPs on the Labour back benches made speeches over the three days and only five others who had turned up for bits then intervened. The work on the Bill was mainly handed over to the Tory benches, with Sir George Young (the Chair of the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges) gaining concession after concession from Jack Straw and improving a rushed Bill that now still needs to be bashed into shape in the Lords.

Yet this Bill arose out of the event that has transformed British politics - the expenses scandal. Its consideration should have been dealt with as a major parliamentary contribution to what should be a grand inquest of the nation. Yet the bulk of Labour MPs (in particular) ducked for cover.

It turned out that Tory Grandee Peter Tapsall (see photo) of all people hit the nail on the head just a few minutes into the start of the three days of debate -

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con) : Why is it appropriate to go through this great constitutional rigmarole in advance of the recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee, which is bound to cover all the same ground? The Prime Minister has said, I think unwisely, that we are going to accept in full all that committee’s recommendations, which are bound to cut across some of the proposals in the Bill, which means that we will have to go through the whole thing again.

Let us hope that next time Labour left, right and centre will use that opportunity to stir the conscious of the nation - for a starter trawl down here to Graham Allen. This short book also written by the Nottingham North MP is the classic text.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nothing To Report?

It is almost 8 weeks since the expenses scandal started to produce a massive upheaval in the politics of the UK. So you would think there would be widespread interest in arguing out what new arrangements can be put in place to see that the scandal is never repeated. But the debate just refuses to take off.

In Parliament : After coming to a rough and ready deal with the leaders of the other parliamentary parties, the Government is pushing through a Parliamentary Standards Bill to try to put the matter to rest. Its Commons' Stages are being rushed through in three days - yesterday, today and tomorrow. If yesterday's proceedings are anything to go by, then only a handful of MPs are themselves willing to contribute to the very matter that has dominated their lives in recent times. The silence is particularly deafening on the Labour side. Excluding the 7 speeches by Front Bench and minor party spokesmen (doing their duty slots) there were 16 speeches by bank-benchers. Only four of these came from the Labour side. The Government side of the House was almost empty. Not one Labour left-winger made as much as an intervention, let alone seeking to speak or even (as far as I could see) showing their presence.

The Committee On Standards in Public Life : Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee is in a peculiar position. They are conducting the inquiry into MPs' expenses and the main three parties leaders have in the past promised to act on whatever the Committee finally recommends. Yet by the Committee report in the autumn, the new Parliamentary Standards Bill is intended to be an Act. So Sir Christopher's recommendations will have to be stuck onto this measure. In the meantime, the media pays little or no attention to what parliament and Sir Christopher's Committee are doing. Nor do the medias' expert commentators seem to come up with any ideas of their own. (If anyone has come across exceptions to this rule, then I would pleased to be supplied with the links).

In the meantime, the Committee on Standards in Public Life has finally managed to publish 102 of the submissions which have been put to it. But that leaves more than 500 submissions still unpublished. Yet some of the material they are sitting on might just hold the efficient secret that will help them resolve this conundrum.

Update 8.15 pm : Two items of significance which have been highlighted during the Commons' debates on the Parliamentary Standards Bill to date appear here and here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Burying Good News

The saturation coverage of Michael Jackson's death has meant that the bulk of the media have been able to bury the good news about the total victory of the unofficial strike by the workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery.

Thanks to the Morning Star. however, we can discover that all the 647 sacked workers have been reinstated, offers of new jobs are being made to the 51 workers whose forced redundancies sparked the original walk out on 11 June and no one is to be victimised for taking solidarity action.

This boost is just what the wider Labour Movement needs. No wonder it only makes headlines in the Morning Star.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Told Them So - 14 Years Ago

In 1995 I appeared before the First Inquiry that was ever conducted by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It was then known as the Nolan Committee and was starting off life with a general enquiry into "Standards In Public Life". I concentrated upon matters such as the need for MPs to be full-time and to have no paid outside interests whatsoever and never to have long parliamentary recesses.

It is this Committee which is now chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly that is conducting the Inquiry Into MPs' Expenses. However back in 1995, I did briefly raise a matter that is central to its current investigations. I was responding to a point raised by a committee member, Anne Warburton who is now I believe a Dame. It went -

HARRY BARNES..... I do not like the current system in which there are allowances for Members of Parliament to determine, both in terms of their accommodation in London under a London allowance and in terms of other work they do, that they have control of those amounts and determine who they employ and generally how that money is to be used.

It also is taken very much on trust by the House authorities when people fill in forms to say they are using money in various ways without a great deal of checking taking place, on the grounds that everyone is an Honourable Member and therefore to be trusted in what they do. I think it would be much better if there were specific areas of facilities that were supplied by the Commons authorities, both in a Member's constituency and in the Commons itself. So that it should determine the size staff that a Member of Parliament should have. That staff should have to have suitable qualifications in order to do that job. But then the Member should be able to select, because he (sorry, should have added "or she" HB.) has got people who have political interests that he wishes to be associated with, as to who it is who does that work on their behalf. But I do not think that the business of filling in allowance forms and therefore having control of the finances oneself within a restricted area is something that is useful for MPs to be involved in. Some MPs make very good use of those arrangements and extend them very very considerably. But a system that you can use can also be rather abused and used very fully. I think it would be better if there were systems that were put into operation that would help to run MPs as well. It might be that some MPs actually emerge with rather limited experience in terms of running office facilities and organisations. If there are structures that are expected to operate, people who are appointed to them, then to some extent initially they may begin to run the MP but the MP then should come to be in control of that situation. The more they are in touch with their constituents' concerns or interests, then the better they are at knowing what to do.

ANNE WARBURTON. Mr Barnes, I think that I must leave it to colleagues who know that life in Parliament to ask further about you ideas of the organisation of work. But you have in your letter, used the word "abuse", that you think the allowance system - I think you said - "is" rather than just "can be" abused. I think that, it seems to me to come within the heading of - I don't like the word - "sleaze". So I feel I ought to ask you a little bit more on that front. Are you saying that you actually are aware of abuse which does take place. (Note : I had not in fact used the claim about abuse in the letter I had sent to the Committee, but I had used the following term in my above comment - "can also be abused" HB.)

HARRY BARNES. No. Maybe I have worded it rather strongly. It is just that the system is such that the forms are filled in and claims are made. Some areas require specific backing because money has been spent on a copying machine or something of that nature and the information has to be put forward. On other occasions it is claims for allowances for accommodation etc. and I know of no arrangements by which that is checked as to whether it operates, or any receipts begin to be required. That seems to me to be problematic and puts some temptation in people's way. Given that we are talking about a random sample of human beings, it is likely to be succumbed to in various cases." (We now know that although I never had any evidence to back me up that my speculation has since been shown to be correct in a number of high profile cases HB.)


In the above I indicate that it would be better if a system of expenses was replaced by a controlled system which provided needed services to allow MPs' to do their job. This is the basis of my current submission to the Committee. Unfortunately, my viewpoint has not yet been placed on its web-site.

My immediate step is to see if I can get anyone to raise my concerns during the discussions on the new Parliamentary Standards Bill in the Commons on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. But don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Still Ducking The Answer

The handling of the expenses' scandal gets stranger and stranger. Just look at the position of the three main sets of actors.


Yesterday the Government published its Parliamentary Standards Bill. According to Harriett Harman in a statement to the Commons, this Bill is directed at establishing "a new, wholly independent authority to take over the role of the Fees Office in authorising Members' claims, overseeing a new allowances system, following from proposals from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and maintaining the Register of Members Interests". The Bill is presumably intended to be passed into law quickly to seek to respond to public anger over MPs' expenses. So the aim seems to be to have it passed into law before the Commons goes into recess on 21 July.

Yet the Committee on Standards in Public Life is not expected to issue its report and recommendations until the autumn, so the Commons will then be unable to act on these until after it returns from the lengthy recess on 12 October. If the Committee recommends something entirely different to the road the Government is now going down, what then ? For the leadership of the three main parties are all signatories to a blank cheque agreeing to act on the Committee's recommendations come what may.

Or has it already been established that the Committee will act in conformity with what the Government is now doing? If so, that makes the current enquiry rather restricted as to what it can recommend. My own proposals, therefore, don't stand even a theoretical chance of being adopted as they would need the new Parliamentary Standards Bill to be mainly scrapped and for a fresh bit of legislation to be introduced. For I don't want a new expenses' regime. I want the present set-up to be replaced by a new system entirely which provides services instead of the filling in of allowance forms. Perhaps the Government never realised that such an alternative was possible. Which is understandable as Gordon's staff haven't even acknowledged the letter I sent him on all of this at the end of last month.


His Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently ploughing through the submissions it has received and also has a set of evidence sessions to complete by 16 July. It also has to keep an eye on what the Government, Parliament, the Daily Telegraph and the rest of the media (who keep trying to play catch-up) are up to. The Committee did manage to publish a further single submission today, making the current total 74. The trouble being that they hold over more than 500 other submissions which have been in their possession since the final date for these on 5th July. At this rate my submission could emerge early in 2011.


They have produced acres of details on MPs expenses and call for more and more openness - that is, until we start to read the small print. In their lead editorial today when the Government's new Bill calls for more information to be provided about MPs' outside connections and earnings they state - "Yes, voters have the right to know what their MPs do outside of Parliament, but if the level of detail that must be declared proves intrusive as is planned, it will drive out high-quality people, or inhibit them from standing in the first place." It sees the move to publish such information as, shock-horror, being directed almost exclusively at Conservative MPs. It sounds like redacting to me.

They could, of course, put this argument and their other thoughts to Sir Christopher's Committee. But I don't think they have. If they had been amongst the backlog of the 500 plus unpublished submissions, then they do have a newspaper in which they can push their ideas. After all it has been full with nothing else but expenses details for some seven weeks now. If anyone has a duty, therefore, to tell us how to solve the problem over MPs' expenses then it is them.

After all even I have made this submission. If it ever takes off there is an interesting position which would be available under the Government's new Bill which is to set up an "Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority". One of its five members has to be someone "who has been (but is no longer) a member of the House of Commons". I wonder if they will pay expenses!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Standards And When?

I am becoming increasingly worried about the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in relation to its current inquiry into MPs' expenses. It is the key body which can recommend a new watertight system to replace the current and much abused arrangements. All three major political parties in parliament are committed to accepting its findings. Yet is it up to the job?

First of all it called for evidence to be submitted to it for its enquiry and gave the closing date as 5 June, which is 18 days ago. By that time it had published 71 submissions on its web-site. As it was holding its first hearing on 16 June and was questioning Harriet Harman the Leader of the House and her opposite numbers Alan Duncan and David Heath from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, it rushed out evidence from the Government and the Lib-Dems that morning. Evidence from the Conservative Party Leadership having been published earlier. But up to now no more of the outstanding evidence has been published.

I complained about the fact that my own evidence had not emerged and received this following reply from the Committee's Business Manager -

Thank you for your email of 13 June. We have received over 600 submissions to date and therefore there is a backlog of submissions that need to be uploaded onto the website.
Please accept our apologies for this delay but we are working our way through this.

When will the 500 plus outstanding submissions be published? Who do they come from? Of the mere 73 published to date 33 are from MPs, one from an ex-MP and one from the Parliamentary Labour Party (to add to the three submissions considered at the Committee's first hearing). But of those published none come from the Daily Telegraph or the media who have given the expenses' scandal such detailed coverage. I would like to know if they have submitted evidence which is still in the pipe-line. If not, I would like them to explain why not?

A second matter which concerns me is that I have asked the Committee that when it gets round to publishing my submission, if it will add the evidence I gave to it when it held its very first enquiry. For the volume they published this in is not available on the Internet. I gave this evidence no-less than 14 years ago, on 15 January 1995. I raised the point that the expenses system "could be rather abused" and, off the top of my head made some suggestion as to how this could be tackled - although this wasn't particularly the subject matter of their first enquiry. My current submission which I placed on my blog here is in line with the case I put to them then. If they don't publish my submission soon nor add the 1995 evidence, then I will need to type this key extract from the past up and place it on this blog. But this is no substitute for the real thing.

Note 1 : the photo is an old one and I am in the thick of it. But its not 14 years old, because I am sat on the Government side.

Note 2 : two more MPs' submissions have just been placed on the web-site as they are appearing in front of today's hearing. There are still over 500 outstanding submissions awaiting publication.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Michael Martin And Me

I owe a considerable debt to Michael Martin. He played a major role in helping to save the few brain cells I have left when I had a stroke in the Commons in 1998.

He was Deputy Speaker at the time and when he saw the condition I was in he immediately helped me into his car and rushed me to the Accident and Emergency provision at St. Thomas's Hospital.

He brought Dennis Skinner with him. It was late in the day as the Commons' was moving towards its adjournment, yet Martin and Dennis kept a watch over me in the hospital for two hours until my son had been contacted and travelled to St Thomas's to take over the vigil.

I have others that I am greatly indebted to at that time. These include Dennis who also contacted my wife by phone and an attendant at the Commons' Chamber who looked after me and helped me down difficult flights of stairs. Then there was, of course, the magnificent staff at the hospital and the attention of my son and of my wife. Ann quickly made it from our home to London, not just to help me with my physio exercises but to take over as my Constituents' de-facto MP for several weeks.

Yet the person who took determined action at a crucial stage was Michael.

I hope that it is not just from a sense of gratitude that I resent the fact that lesser parliamentarians helped to hound him out of office when they foolishly thought that this would help save their own embarrassment. They did not know that when you try to feed someone to the wolves, that it only makes the animals more bold.

Michael handled the Commons' far differently than seen from the edited TV snippets which were used against him recently. He mixed with MPs at Westminster in a way that no Speaker in history has ever done, for he broke down the barrier that had hidden his predecessors within the Speaker's quarters. When he held receptions and meetings in his own rooms he acted with dignity, intelligence and kindness and always brought the best out of others.

He has my eternal gratitude. This might not matter for most people, but I hope that in a small way it matters to Michael - as it does for me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

MPs' Expenses : What Is The Answer?

Nothing can seriously move and develop in parliamentary politics in the United Kingdom until the current utterly discredited expenses system is replaced by an open and clear alternative. Yet I see little detailed discussion taking place as to what that alternative should be. Perhaps I have missed out on this and have instead just been carried away by the deluge of negative criticism about MPs which has appeared in the media. I am not for banning this outcry. But I do feel that when the media shouts and yells, it also has a responsibility to analyse, debate and recommend.

Everything in the meantime is being left in the hands of the Inquiry into MPs' Expenses which is being run by Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee on Standards in Public Life (see above photo). Perhaps the media and those who see themselves as "opinion leaders" are just following the leaders of our existing three main parliamentary parties in saying that they will accept whatever Sir Christopher's Committee comes up with.

This does, however, mean that we should be focusing our attention on the Committee's investigations and seeking to influence its outcome. The three main parliamentary parties have, of course, put in their own submissions and their spokespersons have given evidence at the Committee's opening hearing. I don't know whether the Daily Telegraph, the rest of the outspoken media, Esther Rantzen and our network of noisy opinion leaders have done the same.

One problem has arisen since the Committee made 5th June the closing date for submission about MPs' expenses. Up to then it had published 71 such submissions on its web-site. Two more appeared on the morning of 8th June - as these were from the Government and the Lib Dems who were appearing before the Committee that day. But although the Committee holds more than 500 more submissions none of these have emerged although they were all received at least 2 weeks ago. Perhaps Esther's and the rest are in the backlog.

My own submission is certainly held up in the back-log, so I posted it here. Essentially, I propose getting rid of the expenses system altogether and replacing it with the provision of essential services for MPs to be run (or supervised) by an independent outside body. We are now in an age of key-board technology and such a system is by no means beyond us.

To get the debate at the level it needs to be, we need to concentrate on Sir Christopher's enquiry and get him to update his web-site. If you are desperate, there is always my comment box to turn to.

Note 25 June : The first eight comments on this thread have nothing to do with the above subject matter and can fruitfully be ignored.

Note 28 June : There is now a ninth comment which fits the above pattern and given the obsessions of the "Coventrian" (whoever he or she is) there could in time be more.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Submission On MPs' Expenses

The closing date for submissions to the "Inquiry Into MPs' Expenses" which is being run by the Committee on Standards in Public Life was 5 June. I have been informed by the Business Manager of the Committee that over 600 submissions have been received. Yet since the Committee opened a web-site for the publication of these on 14 May, only 73 submissions have so far been posted. And tomorrow sees the Committee's first evidence session!

I had felt that I should not publish my own submission on this blog until it had first been posted on the Committee's web-site. But that could take some time given the current rate of progress. The Committee's Report could be out before then. So it appears below, less my home address and signature.

2 June, 2009.

Dear Committee Members,

This is a submission for your inquiry into MPs’ expenses.

I was the Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire from 1987 to 2005. I gave evidence to your Committee in 1995, which appears on pages 66 to 70 in Volume 2 of your Committee’s First Report (Cm 2850-II). *

Throughout my parliamentary career I was obliged to operate under an expenses system which I always felt was fundamentally flawed. Yet I had to make use of it if I was to be in a position to undertake both my parliamentary and constituency work. Although the remit of your Committee’s initial enquiry in 1995 differs from that of your current enquiry, you will see that some of my concerns were expressed in my earlier evidence.

I always felt that rather than the responsibility being placed upon MPs to operate expenses’ claims, matters should have been transferred instead to a body equivalent to that which provides facilities for MPs on the Commons’ Estate. I have come to see that this body should be controlled by an independent outside body, or even run by that outside organisation. This new body should be responsible for providing a list of services which MPs could draw from. This approach forms the basis of the points I make below.

(1) Initially I will draw from my own experiences, although I am aware that MPs undertake their duties in a wide variety of differing ways. Changes may also have been made in some of these types of arrangements since 2005.

A great deal of my time as an MP was taken up with desk work. At Westminster, I was provided with a range of facilities on the Commons’ Estate for this purpose. These provisions did not come out of my expenses, apart from the peculiar arrangements under which the use of House of Commons paper and pre-stamped envelopes and cards are debited against an MP.

Eventually I was provided with a suitable room off the Upper Committee Corridor. It contained two desks, two typists’ chairs, two lamps, a telephone, a computer with a printer, a notice board, four filing cabinets, a book case, a storage unit, a waste paper bin and an easy chair which could be used also as a bed (for at one time the Commons’ had numbers of all night sittings). Initially, I shared the room with Ken Livingstone who was then an MP. But he eventually moved out into an office elsewhere on the Commons’ Estate. The second desk which he left behind proved useful, as it provided a base for members of my staff from my Constituency if they visited the Commons. There were also copying machines available for use on matters related to my work. These were at the end of the corridor where my room was situated.

An Assistant of mine who was based elsewhere in the Commons worked for me on Parliamentary rather than Constituency matters. He had a room of his own with its own separate set of facilities. Yet he also needed to visit my office and undertook desk work there on occasions.

When I ceased to be an MP, the rooms of my Assistant and myself and the contents as described above were all taken back for the Commons’ Estate. For they had owned them all along. I merely removed the considerable number of private files, parliamentary papers and books which I owned.

I feel that similar facilities should be provided for an MP in his or her own Constituency on the same pattern which operates on the Commons’ Estate. This would replace the need for an MP to be provided with an Office Costs Allowance. When an MP retires, the facilities he or she had used would remain in the hands of the body which had provided them in the first place.

To ensure that an MP’s demands for office facilities have limits placed upon them, he or she would draw them down from lists showing the range of provisions available and these would need to contain details of the maximum combinations of provisions which could be obtained. In some cases perhaps in rural constituencies, an MP and their Constituency Staff might prefer to work from their own homes. Suitable arrangements could be made for this.

In other cases, the MP might wish to set up a separate Constituency office. They could make recommendations for the hire of such accommodation to those running the scheme. This body would need to ensure that the MP’s request met their own requirements in terms of both costs and accessibility for local constituents. The relevant body would then be responsible for the payment of the rent, rates and office running costs.

(2). All other expenses provisions for MPs would also be ended and further regimes of service provisions would be put in their place.

a. An MP’s Staff appointments could be restricted to cover, say, no more than 100 hours total work a week. Whilst the MP could recommend who he or she wished to appoint, the body running the scheme would be responsible for checking that nominees were suitably qualified for their posts. This body would also be responsible for determining such Staffs’ contractual arrangements, salary scales and eventual redundancy arrangements. It would itself handle the finances involved. It would also instigate occasional checks to ensure that such Staff were performing their contracted duties.

b. Rented furnished or hotel accommodation in London would be available for MPs from Constituencies outside of the Capital. Initially MPs would themselves need to make provisional arrangements for such accommodation, within a set price limit. The contractual arrangements and payments would, however, be operated by the new body. When an MP retired or sort to move into fresh accommodation, that body would decide whether it would itself purchase the facility for potential use by another or a future MP.

c. An MPs travel costs in pursuit of their constituency and parliamentary duties would also be met by the new body. Rail warrants, air travel cards, bus passes, and electronic cards for the purchase of petrol and the use of taxis and phones would be issued on request. These would all be issued and controlled by the newly established body. It would be possible to monitor the use of such documents and cards and to place limits on their use.

d. All the above services (and any similar requirements such as the booking of rooms to hold MPs surgeries) would be provided by the new body who should be run from the Commons and would itself be subject to inspection by an outside and independent organisation, who would audit the new bodies accounts, issue an annual report and make recommendations on the development of the above system.

e. There would be no communication allowances for MPs . Local media outlets covering an MP’s Constituency would be encouraged to carry news items about their MPs’ activities and work load. There would also be available a free supply of Commons’ paper and pre-stamped envelopes and cards, sufficient to cover an MP’s needs for Constituents’ cases and for wider parliamentary issues; but restricted to such usages only.

(3). No provisions for “second homes” would be in operation other than those mentioned in 2(b) above. This arises from the following proposal. It is, however, a proposal which is made for reasons which extend beyond those of your Committee’s remit on the expenses of MPs . It involves the only constitutional change which I propose. I do, however, suggest an alternative to this at the close of this section, which falls within your remit.

No-one would be permitted to register to vote other than where they held their sole or main place of residence. When they change their sole or main place of residence, their electoral registration should automatically be transferred to the appropriate electoral register. A requirement for standing for Parliament in a specific Constituency would then be that the person concerned appears on that Constituency’s Electoral Register. If an elected MP then moved their sole or main place of residence outside of the Constituency they had been elected for, they would lose their parliamentary seat. Exceptions to this would, however, be in operation for the Prime Minister and Members of his Cabinet whilst they held their posts.

The main reason behind this proposal is to facilitate the election of MPs who will tend to have roots in the community they represent. Whilst the proposal will not exclude newcomers in a community from standing for parliament, it will aid local representation. As a spin off, it will end the need to cover the costs of any MPs accommodation other than for direct parliamentary purposes as in 2b above.

Whilst this proposal is my “ideal” solution, for the purposes of ending the expenses regime on “second homes” outside of London these entitlements could merely be withdrawn. Successful parliamentary candidates in these areas would then (in most practical circumstances) be required to find their own means of living within or near the Constituencies they represented.

(4). MPs should be expected to work full-time covering their parliamentary and constituency duties and to be motivated by a sense of public duty. Whilst these objectives can’t be legislated for, they can be facilitated in the following ways.

a. An MP’s job should be a full-time one. The taking up of further employment or outside paid interests should be banned. It is hard to see how an MP can effectively undertake his or her constituency and parliamentary duties on a part-time basis. If a ban on the holding of paid outside interests is not put in place, then at least MP’s annual tax returns should be published so that their constituents can judge their actions and priorities. An MP’s tax returns would, of course, no longer include a parliamentary expenses section if my earlier proposals were acted upon.

b. Except when an MP is ill, on short annual holidays or is dealing with a personal emergency such as the death of a close relative, no-one from their staff should act on their behalf as if they were a “substitute MP”. Normally the MP’s staff should assist the MP in their work and not act as a replacement for them. This is a matter for the body I wish to see established to check upon when investigating whether an MP’s staff are fulfilling (but not exceeding) their contractual commitments.

c. The time-table for the Commons should no longer allow for lengthy summer breaks of 12 to 13 weeks. Normally, the Commons should not sit during August. For the rest of the year (outside of emergency sessions) it should sit for a total of at least 30 weeks, but never be in recess for more than a fortnight. This time-table is designed to ensure that an MP will always have a reasonable access to parliament to pursue their constituent’s concerns and for what they see as other emergency needs. This adds to the need for full-time MPs .

5. Whilst my proposal in (3) above would end the practice of MPs spending public funds on second homes outside of London, the sweep of my proposals are not directed at finding means to reduce the overall costs of providing the nation with parliamentary representation. They are directed instead at ensuring that public funds are directed at providing needed services and that the schemes in operation will no longer be open to abuse by (or be burdensome to) MPs . For instance, under my proposals no MP would be in a position to ever acquire any Commons’ financed property nor facilities which they would then own.

6. A breakdown of the costs of supplying services for each MP will need to be published annually.

7. With the end of an expenses regime, the myth that MPs are self-employed for tax purposes will end and they can than be classified as being employee’s of the House of Commons.

8. Some of the principles I have raised were included in my evidence to your Committee in 1995. The major change in my stance since then is that in 1995 I was opposed to any outside supervision of parliament on these matters. This is because I am a strong believer in the need for an MP to enjoy full parliamentary privileges in order to be able to pursue his or her constituents’ interests and for wider political concerns. Recent revelations (which I knew nothing about earlier) have, however, convinced me that such privileges are inappropriate when it comes to the regulation of an MP’s individual financial operations.

Under my proposals MPs’ expenses would be zero, yet they would be provided with the services they need under a system which none of them could abuse. MPs’ costs beyond their salaries would be covered in a similar way to those in operation for Government Ministers, although they would remain much less costly. There would be no need to increase MPs’ salaries as a means round the current expenses’ scandal.

Yours sincerely,

Harry Barnes.

c.c. Gordon Brown MP.(I have made some minor amendments to a copy of the above which I posted to 10 Downing Street on 31 May, 2009.) **

* I have asked the Committee to attach my former evidence to the above.

** I sent a covering letter with this, but there has been no reply.