Thursday, February 28, 2008

Labour drug strategy another paper tiger

Commenting on the Government’s 10-year drug strategy announced today, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“The Government has already been through one ten-year drugs strategy and a failed drugs tsar, but drug addiction is still the most significant contributor to crimes against property with 35 per cent of those arrested testing positive for opiates such as heroin or cocaine, including crack.

“Cutting benefits for addicts is a gimmick that is more likely to increase crime than reduce it, and the police already have the powers to freeze the assets of anyone who is arrested for serious crime.

“This is a medical and social problem which must be addressed with effective treatment programmes, yet the Government is lamentably failing to fund programmes that can cut reoffending rates by half. The Department of Health and the Home Office do not coordinate their efforts, and the result is a continuing public health and crime crisis.”

The situation is no better in Wales. A member was recently appalled to see illegal drug transactions taking place openly in the centre of Swansea, in a supposedly tightly-policed zone.

The Home Office's own figures show that between a third and a half of all acquisitive crime is estimated to be drug-related, and that 35 per cent of those arrested tested positive for opiates or cocaine.

Winter Fuel payment losing its value

Gordon Brown boasted at Prime Minister's Questions this week of Labour's introduction of the Winter Fuel Payment. What he neglected to mention was how far its original value has been eroded by inflation and recent extreme price rises.

In fact, it now it only just pays for a quarter of a pensioner’s fuel bills.

The amount of the Winter Fuel Payment has been frozen at £200 for
five years.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Danny
Alexander said:

“As fuel bills rise, thousands of older people won’t be able to afford to
heat their homes this winter.

“While the cost of heating homes has rocketed and the value of the basic
state pension has plummeted, the Government has frozen the Winter Fuel Payment at £200 for five years.

“The Liberal Democrats would restore the earnings link to pensions to ensure older people would be better off.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Government knew for years of council tax overcharging

Commenting on the reports that ministers and officials might have known for years that tens of thousands of householders were paying too much council tax, Liberal Democrat Shadow Communities Secretary, Julia Goldsworthy said:

“Many people are already struggling to pay for their council tax bills, and this comes as a bitter blow to those people whose homes have been placed in the wrong tax bands.

“If the situation were reversed, you could guarantee these people would have had the taxman breathing down their neck demanding the money to be repaid.

“The Lyons Review made it perfectly clear that the current council tax system was not fit for purpose, yet Gordon Brown has done nothing more than kicked the report into the long grass.

“This makes it clearer than ever that we need to replace the unfair council tax with a local income tax based on people’s ability to pay.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prison system heading for meltdown

A series of revelations highlighted the current crisis caused by prison overcrowding:

· The Government has ordered that dangerous criminals on
indeterminate sentences be moved to lower-security prisons

· Figures from a ministerial written statement show that the
Government is asking for an extra £35m to cope with the costs of Operation
Safeguard (Previous parliamentary questions by the Liberal Democrats revealed that
the Government spent £28 million on Operation Safeguard in 2007)

· A report published today last Wednesday by the BMA says that ‘prisoner safety is being put at risk by the Government’s inhumane, expensive and overstretched use of temporary prison accommodation’

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Secretary, David Heath said:

“This marks a new low in the Government’s mishandling of our penal system. Britain’s mismanaged prisons are in a state of complete disarray and the Government is having to take increasingly desperate measures to prevent a complete meltdown.

“The decision to move dangerous criminals into lower security prisons highlights how the Government introduced indeterminate sentences in a blaze of publicity but with scant regard for how they would work in practice.

“The Prison Service is having to take drastic action now because Government legislation has driven prison numbers to record levels.

“Holding prisoners in police and court cells has left forensic physicians
unable to cope, prisoners at risk, and contributes directly to reoffending. The answer is not to further burden the police or court services but to take people out of prison who should not be there, such as those with mental health problems and drug addictions, and move them to more appropriate accommodation.

“We used to say that the Government was spending more on keeping prisoners in police cells than it would cost to have them stay at the Ritz. But now Jack Straw could have used the £35 million extra he’s been given for Operation Safeguard to buy his own chain of hotels.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Labour wants doctors to join the social police

Commenting on Alan Johnson’s speech today in which he set out plans to change Britain’s ‘sick note culture’ into a ‘well note culture’, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary for England, Norman Lamb said:

“This serious issue deserves a more sophisticated approach, but we should
be wary of moving to a system where doctors find themselves policing the
benefits system rather than treating the sick.

“If Alan Johnson is serious about helping the large number of people on
long term sick leave back to work, he should focus on providing better
access to effective treatment for the huge numbers of people on incapacity
benefit with mental health problems.”

We await Edwina Hart's take on this. While Westminster controls both the benefits system and doctors' contracts in England, the Assembly Government has responsibility for health matters in Wales.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Belated Northern Rock nationalisation the right decision

Responding to the Chancellor’s announcement that Northern Rock bank is to
be temporarily nationalised, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince
Cable said:

“Belatedly the Government has made the right decision.

“This is the option the Liberal Democrats have argued for from the outset,
unlike the Tories who have no alternative to offer.

“In an issue of such major national interest the focus must now be on the
next steps.

“The first priority must be to work out the seriousness of the problems at
the bank with an independent audit of its loan book. This must be
conducted under the auspices of the Bank of England, not the FSA.

“Secondly, the bank must stop irresponsible lending at more than the value
of property, and aggressive deposit-taking.

“Thirdly, there will be difficult times ahead, especially for the
employees, as the bank is downsized. However, there is now hope for the
long-term future of the bank when it is eventually sold in more
satisfactory conditions.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions, about who for example is paying
the expenses for the long detour exploring the Branson bid, but at least
the Government has now made the first move towards tackling this mountain
of a problem.”

Frank Little adds: “George Osborne's knee-jerk reaction is evidence that the Conservatives are still dominated by Thatcherite thinking. He should realise that Brown & Darling's decision, late though it is, is a pragmatic one on a par with Edward Heath's action to keep Rolls-Royce Engines viable.

“These decisions were taken in the long-term interests of the country, can only be taken by government, and cannot be left to the short-term mechanism of the market. RR's position, having been returned to private ownership, as one of the two top aero-engine manufacturers in the world, vindicates Heath's action. One anticipates that Northern Rock will return as one of the top five mortgage lenders in the UK, in rather less time than the sixteen years it took Rolls-Royce”.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Coroner's remarks sum up treatment of armed forces

Commenting on today’s remarks by Coroner Andrew Walker, accusing the
Ministry of Defence of breaching soldiers' trust by sending them to
Afghanistan without basic equipment, Liberal Democrat Shadow Defence
Secretary, Nick Harvey said:

“These stinging comments sum up the way our armed forces have been
consistently betrayed by the Government.

“For years soldiers have been left overstretched and under-equipped. How
many more tragedies like this must there be before ministers stop
rewarding bravery with incompetence?”

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Real Referendum

In the next few weeks Parliament will be voting on whether to hold a European referendum. The Conservatives are proposing a restrictive referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. My colleagues and I are campaigning hard for the British people to be given a real choice through a referendum on our membership of the European Union as a whole:

In British politics, only the Liberal Democrats have argued consistently that Britain's place is at the heart of Europe.

While Labour and the Tories have torn themselves apart over the issue, we have been steadfast for decades in our support for Britain's membership of the European Union.

Why then, you may ask, are the Liberal Democrats now alone among the main parties proposing a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union or get out?

The answer is because the European debate has poisoned British politics for too long. If we as a nation are to stride forward confidently into the 21st century and tackle all the new global issues like climate change and terrorism we need to decide once and for all whether that future lies within the European Union, or outside it.

Like most people, I want to see a reformed, liberal Europe where decisions are taken at the most appropriate level. That is why the Liberal Democrats are in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. It will make the EU more effective, more efficient and more accountable, enabling us to cope better with enlargement. It will help us to tackle issues such as cross-border crime and climate change and it will give the EU a stronger voice on the world stage.

The old, abandoned Constitution would have scrapped and replaced all the previous treaties. The Lisbon Treaty is just an amending treaty. So our proposal is closest to the commitment made by all three parties at the last election for a referendum on a European constitution.

Over the next few weeks we will be stepping up our campaign to demand that the government honours that commitment to the British people:

The Conservatives are conspiring to deny the public a real choice over Europe. Over the years their Euroscepticism has hardened into outright hatred of everything to do with the European Union. In Government they denied the British people a referendum on really important Treaties like Maastricht and the Single European Act. In opposition they call for a referendum on even the smallest change.

We must not let the Tories con the British people again. Their call for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is a side show to the real debate on Europe which they are afraid to have with the British people.

We want that real debate. We want a referendum on Europe that really matters. In that referendum we will argue long and hard for Britain's vital place in the EU, and, I believe, defeat the Eurosceptics for a generation.

I would relish the chance to lead the Liberal Democrats at the forefront of that campaign.

Please support our campaign for a real referendum by clicking here and signing up to our petition:

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Sending Welsh Children to Prison Fails to Cut Reoffending

Claire Rayner once said that statistics showed that crime rates could be halved by the simple expedient of locking up the male population between the ages of 18 and 25.

It seems from Jenny Willott's latest research that the government has already embarked on this scheme. The next stage is to lock children up for longer. ;-(

The alternative may be more expensive in the short term, but will surely save money and contribute to a better society in the long. As Jenny says: "We should focus our efforts on restorative justice programmes where communities have the powers to establish panels which would require offenders to face up to their crimes and engage in community work as reparation.

"We need to provide more effective non-custodial punishments and preventative work based in the community. Young offenders should be given full access to education and training opportunities so that they have the skills to break out of the cycle of reoffending."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Government only talking tough on Northern Rock

Responding to reports that the Treasury has told the Virgin-led consortium
that it is the frontrunner to take control of Northern Rock but
nationalisation is currently regarded as the better outcome for the
taxpayer, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

“I would like to believe that the Government has finally seen sense and
recognised that in the current market conditions temporary public
ownership is the best way to safeguard taxpayers' interests.

“I fear however that the Government is determined to make a private sale
to Richard Branson's consortium and may just be talking tough in order to
extract some last minute concessions.

“These will then be used to camouflage a bad deal in which the Virgin
consortium takes the profits and the taxpayer is left with most of the

Those of us who signed a petition, headed "No City Bail-Out", to 10 Downing Street last year received a dry and rather sparse reply. However, it did contain the important sentence:
It is not the role of taxpayers to protect directors and shareholders from the consequences of their decisions.

Vince Cable and the parliamentary party will be holding the Chancellor to that.

Non-Doms: Cable derides government proposals

Responding to the Government’s clarification this afternoon of their
policy towards non-domiciled residents, Liberal Democrat Shadow
Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

“The Government has made an unholy mess of this issue and is being made to
look thoroughly foolish, now it has been demonstrated that ministers
haven’t thought through the implications of their own policies.

“However, there has been some outrageous special pleading from the City
with wildly exaggerated accounts of the damage that would be done by
taxing non-domiciled residents.

“British taxpayers do not understand why they should pay 40% top rate tax,
while the super-rich may pay little more than council tax on houses worth
tens of millions.

“The Liberal Democrats have argued that non-domiciled status does provide
some unjustified tax loopholes, but the flat-rate charge proposed by the
Government and the Conservatives is not the way to end this scandal. It
will hammer many useful non-doms of moderate means, whilst super-rich
Russian tax exiles will regard it as no more than a fleabite.

“We believe that the best way forward is to allow non-dom status for seven
years, but after that treat them in the same way as all other British

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Incapacity: Labour & Tories just as rigid

James Purnell is following in Peter Hain's footsteps as Work and Pensions minister in more ways than one. His approach to incapacity benefit is equally prescriptive, no doubt dictated by the Treasury.

Commenting on last week’s Public Accounts Committee report, "Helping
people from workless households into work", Liberal Democrat Shadow Work
and Pensions Secretary, Danny Alexander said:

“This report highlights problems that have been evident for a long-time:
the Government’s one-size-fits-all programmes are ignoring hard to reach
groups that must be supported back into work.

“A fifth of Incapacity Benefit claimants suffer mental health problems,
yet the Government has done nothing to support this group back into work.
Ministers seem content to leave them stagnating on sick pay for six months
before getting involved.

“Rather than threatening to evict people from workless households, the
Government should start by getting its own house in order.”

The Conservatives also proceed from the assumption that people on benefits are scroungers. But when was the last time a Tory knocked on a door in Croeserw?

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Peter Black has long been known as a campaigner against fluoridation of our water supply. (See his entry "The fluoride state" for February 9th on his blog)

He is not alone. One of our own members wrote recently:
Once again, I have read that there is a call from some politicians, and so-called “professors” to introduce fluoride to the water supply, but only in deprived areas. This is a quote taken from this BBC link

Of course this isn't for everyone - it won't be necessary in the wealthier home counties for instance.

I am extremely concerned about this proposal, as I have done extensive research into the affects of fluoride in children. The fluoride that’s added to the water supply is a highly toxic waste product from the fertilizer industry, and its affects on children can be devastating. (But, hey, as long as they die with no cavities, what’s the problem?)

Friday, February 08, 2008

"Faceless Britain" campaign

Are you happy with dealing with Job Centres, Tax Credit or other public service queries over the phone?

Or would you prefer to sort out your problem face to face?

Why not browse the campaigning pages just launched by Julia Goldsworthy and Danny Alexander?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

90 years of women's suffrage

Never mind that we were 25 years behind New Zealand, and that the franchise was limited to those women over 30 with a certain standing in the community, we - under Liberal PM, David Lloyd George - gave the vote to women the vote in 1918.

The trouble now is over equal representation. The Liberal Democrats in Wales can take satisfaction from the 50/50 split, right from the start, in the Welsh Assembly. But more needs to be done in Westminster and in local councils. The message needs to go out that this party has always insisted on equal treatment of the sexes in its selection processes, right up to the final short-list.

Women who subscribe to our principles, and want to make a difference to their communities by standing for council (in May this year) or for the UK parliament (whenever Gordon Brown dares to call a general election), will find that they are pushing at an open door with the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


This blog has drifted into too much of an ego-trip for me. My excuse is that it has been necessary to keep the thing going, and it is so easy to fill the space with personal reflections.

However, things have come to a head with an interchange, on the subject of the future of power generation, with Councillor Ioan Richard. My own views are not entirely on-message. I don't want to embarrass fellow-moderators by arguing them here, nor be constrained. Therefore I have revived an old internet nickname, ffranc sais, for a more personal and wide-ranging blog.
Frank Little

Friday, February 01, 2008

Targetting the vulnerable

Elected representatives (councillors, MPs) have recently noticed an increase in their postbag from parents claiming disability living allowance. It seems that allowances which have been paid without quibble for many years are now being abated or cut completely.

This target-driven government has clearly set target reductions to each of its spending departments across the board, in an attempt to fill the huge hole in its finances. DWP has cut where it is easiest, which unfortunately means hitting those who are least able to fight back.

Sentenced to death for an interest in women's status

The greatest enemies of organised religion are those who feel uniquely qualified to interpret their sacred writings, usually imposing their interpretation with violence. Christianity and Judaism are not blameless, but few will contest that Islam currently carries the heaviest burden.
Frank Little