Covid-19: How the year of the bus became the year of bust

Pic Credit: Wes Hicks – Unsplash

2020 was supposed to be the Year of the Bus. A newly elected Tory government promised £220m to improve services which had been in decline since 2010 when another newly elected Tory led government created the cuts.

The initiative ticked every election promise box. It was going to reverse service cuts – mainly in the shires as part of levelling up. It was going to produce a brilliant new demonstration package of co-ordinated bus and train services in Cornwall – one of the poorest areas of England. It was going to be green -promising the first total electric powered bus service in an English city. It was going to be faster with more dedicated bus lanes and expressways and it was going to be easily accessible by introducing a national data system for services and fares available on the internet.

Then came Covid 19. And as a new National Audit Office report revealed on Friday the bus plan crashed off the road.

unglamourous buses

Buses have never been a glamourous subject. As the NAO report shows they are mainly used by the poor, over 70s, the 17-21 age group before they get their own wheels and single women seeking a safe way home.

It also suffered huge service cuts and big fare rises for many of its passengers outside London. A useful map in the NAO report shows how passenger traffic has declined by an average of 10 per cent between 2010 and 2019 – falling highest in places like Tyne and Wear, Lancashire, Teesside, East Sussex and Lincolnshire but rising in Bristol and Brighton and Hove.

Pic credit: Suzy Hazelwood Pexels

Some 3000 routes have disappeared with bus mileage down from 243 million to 112 million and the average local authority support for services dropping 38 per cent with 42 authorities slashing expenditure by over 50 per cent. Some of the worst examples are West Yorkshire, Surrey and Northamptonshire. Average fares went up 18 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

free bus pass

The biggest cost to local authorities has been the free bus pass – now estimated at £650m a year – a national service – but funded by the local authority where you live. Funding from central government to bus operators has dropped from 31 per cent to 24 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

One of the problems is that since the de-regulation of services the government has had little control – so it can make a lot of noise about improving services – but it can’t force private operators to do it. The plan for a national data system for bus timetables and fares – depends on whether individual operators want to spend the money.

When Covid 19 hit the government was faced with a dilemma – only key workers were encouraged to use public transport – slashing revenue. The government did provide extra cash in tranches to bus companies to keep them going. But it also raided its shiny new support budget to improve services.

The plan for a co-ordinated Cornwall transport service from Plymouth to Penzance was dumped.

So was the money put aside to restore cut services. And it looks like – despite interest from 50 different towns and cities – to be the first to run an all electric bus service – is being delayed by Whitehall inertia.

And other promises to improve express bus services = especially in the West Midlands – have been undermined by the operators themselves.

First Worcester cut service

One check I did on Google First Worcester company had created a furore by halving the number of express buses between Worcester and Birmingham north of Bromsgrove – forcing people to use more expensive services elsewhere. Yet this is an area given priority in the government’s new bus plan and it happened before the Covid 19 crisis hit.

There are some bright spots. Bristol has improved passenger use by 36 per cent. Nottingham has increased bus use and invested in clean bio gas buses and new trams by imposing a work car parking levy. And London, which was not examined in this report, has seen bus use up 89 per cent.

The lesson is clear to all. Grandiose plans to ” level up ” the poorest parts of the country are going to be very expensive if they are to work. And if they don’t deliver there will be a political price to pay for falsely raising people’s hopes. You have been warned.

The chances of living longer are getting shorter – new Office of National Statistics figures show only small rise in longevity

Is the DWP not telling the truth over the rise in people living longer?

One of the biggest issues about funding future state pensions and the incessant demands for raising the pension age is the fact that we are all going to live longer. This ministers argue is going to be too expensive for new generations paying into the national insurance fund and therefore retirement should continue to rise, possibly eventually to 75.

This argument was used ruthlessly by the Department for Work and Pensions in the judicial review against the appellants supported by the BackTo60 campaign for not compensating any of the 3.8 million women who have seen their pension age rise from 60 to 66.

To justify this ministers always quote figures up to 2011. The reason why they use this year as a comparator is that it was last year of any big rise in longevity which had risen for decades.

Since then the rise has flattened – in one year it actually fell – and last year was the first in five years that showed a small rise. Next year the ONS is warning will be the first year they will have figures of the effects of Covid-19 – and the hint is that longevity will fall because of the disproportionate deaths among pensioners.

The figures released by the ONS in this report yesterday cover three years from 2017 to 2019 – which statisticians say is more reliable than taking one year in isolation.

As you can see from this graph from the report illustrates longevity has largely flatlined. Women still live longer than men – but the greatest beneficiaries of rising longevity have been men. They are steadily catching up with women and the report wonders whether the huge drop in men smoking and moves from manual and agricultural work to less physical work in the office or behind a computer is the reason for this.

The report says: “Following decades of steady increases in life expectancy in the UK, a marked slowdown in the rate of improvements has been observed since 2011. Between 2002 to 2004 and 2009 to 2011, life expectancy at birth in the UK increased each year by an average of 16.7 weeks for males and 12.7 weeks for females. In contrast, between 2010 to 2012 and 2017 to 2019, these improvements slowed to an average of 6.3 weeks and 4.2 weeks per year for males and females respectively.”

The report also reveals another startling fact. When you compare the UK to many other developed countries both men and women have lost out big time in the longevity stakes. The countries that make up the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) are all near the bottom of the table only beaten by the United States.

Near Bottom of the league UK

Top of the league is fast growing South Korea followed by Denmark, Norway and Finland. The figures are for the number of extra weeks people can expect to live – comparing 2018 with 2011. Note again with the exception of Wales and the USA men have been the biggest gainers not women.

So while we all are being expected to wait longer for our pension in the UK, our extra weeks of life expectancy fall well below many comparable developed countries. We are being cheated – or at least not given the full facts – by our political leaders. So don’t believe any facile claims we have a world beating system for pensioners. Far from it.

Now the figures for this small rise in longevity are not uniform throughout the UK.

Another report says:

  • The lowest regional life expectancy for both males and females in 2017 to 2019 was observed in the North East; the North East’s life expectancy at birth was also lower than in the countries of Wales and Northern Ireland but higher than in Scotland.
  • Males living in the four most southerly regions of England had life expectancies at birth exceeding 80 years, whereas regions of the midlands and the north fell short of 80 years; London exceeded the North East region by almost three years.

Women live longest in the Outer Hebrides

The largest local area increase in life expectancy between 2009 to 2011 and 2017 to 2019 for males at birth was in Westminster, while for females it was in Scotland’s council area of Na h-Eileanan Siar. ( better known as the Outer Hebrides).

Live longer in London, die sooner in Blackpool

The statisticians comment:

“The rate of growth in life expectancy in London continues to surpass that occurring in other regions and the constituent countries of the UK. This has resulted in London now having the highest life expectancy for both males and females among regions in England.

“Four of the top five local areas with the highest male life expectancy in 2017 to 2019 were London boroughs, while three were for females. Since 2001 to 2003 traditional deprived parts of London such as Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney have seen strong gains in life expectancy over the time series. In fact, 17 of the top 20 local areas with the strongest growth in male life expectancy since 2001 to 2003 were London boroughs. This contrasts with Ceredigion where male life expectancy has only grown by 0.8 years since 2001 to 2003. These patterns add to the growing inequality observed across different areas of the UK over the past decade.”

inequality

This is heightened by other observations :

“Overall, for the UK, the difference was 11.3 years between Westminster, with the highest life expectancy at birth, and Glasgow City, with the lowest.

” For females, the local area gap in life expectancy at birth in England was 7.7 years between Westminster (87.2 years) and Blackpool (79.5 years), meaning Blackpool was the lowest in England for males and females. In Scotland, the gap stood at 5.5 years between East Renfrewshire (84.0 years) and Glasgow City (78.5 years). “

These findings must call into question whether there should be such a rush to raise the pension age – since the UK is both lagging behind other countries in life expectancy, has a huge inequality between the prosperous South and London and the North East ( Red Wall MPs please note). Finally the DWP is misrepresenting what is happening – both in its evidence to the judicial review over the raising of the pension age for women and to the nation as a whole. Longer life expectancy is tailing off not growing anywhere near the rate it did when decisions were made to raise the pension age.

50s women pension judgement: How the Court of Appeal rejected their case

Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls

I have spent this morning reading the 21,000 word judgement of the Court of Appeal led by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton.

For the faint hearted I warn you this will make grim reading. But I think the women who have fought so hard to get their pensions back need to be properly informed about the logic used by the judges to come to their decision. It doesn’t mean I agree with it.

Their judgement will cause widespread misery and angst for the women themselves and total delight for the government, ministers, the Department for Work and Pensions and the small number of vocal detractors, mainly from the financial advice and private pensions industry, who didn’t want the women to get a penny.

Appeal on four grounds

The appeal was on four main grounds each of which were dismissed by the judges. Since it is a judicial review it depended a lot on case law which ranged from an immigration case, the bedroom tax, to a sex change case and to EU law and the Convention of Human Rights. It even included a novel way of approaching the law to consultation from Michael Mansfield QC.

To a lay person the case law might sound bizarre but the aim of the lawyers representing the women is to draw out rulings from these diverse set of cases to benefit the cause of the 50swomen to get their money back.

The four grounds for appeal were age discrimination according to an article from the European Convention of Human Rights; indirect sex discrimination or sex/age discrimination;notification and delay.

On the first case the judges rejected it. – citing they could not overrule an Act of Parliament.

“Despite that evidence and despite the sympathy that we, like the members of the Divisional Court, feel for the Appellants and other women in their position, we are satisfied that this is not a case where the court can interfere with the decisions taken through the Parliamentary process. “

They did concede that women got lower state pensions than men.

Women pensioners’ life expectancy – a strain on public fiances

“DWP figures in August 2018 for the mean weekly amount of state pension for men was £158.87 and for women £131.27.  Though they may have shorter life expectancy, men will still receive much more state pension than women even taking into account that women live for two years longer.  That does not, however, undermine the point that the SSWP [ Secretary of State for DWP] makes that longer life expectancy for women places a strain on public finances,(my emphasis) even if they would have received a lower pension over the years 60 – 65 than a man would receive.”

They rejected the indirect and age/ sex discrimination saying any EU directives allowing a differential age for men and women were a temporary measure.

women carry out 60 per cent more unpaid work than men

The judges note the argument that 50s women are hard done by. They quote facts” that women carry out an average of 60 per cent more unpaid work than men; 86 per cent of single parents are women and single parents have a higher risk of poverty than any other household type.  In the 50 – 64 year old age group, women are much more likely to give up work than men because of caring responsibilities.  The Appellants submit that it is therefore indirectly discriminatory, subject to the question of justification, for the state pension to be withdrawn from them because their gender adversely affected their ability to earn a living.”

But they recoil from accepting the arguments for fear that a victory would lead to a flood of new demands from other groups.

“it becomes clear what a significant expansion of the law would result from such a broad application … It is undoubtedly the case that many groups have traditionally suffered discrimination in the workplace because their protected characteristic meant that there were fewer opportunities open to them for advancement in stable, well-paid work.  That is the case not only for women but for disabled people, for lone parents, for some BME groups and for transgender people.”

They conclude that the state pension is a universal not a means tested benefit therefore it should not be used to right problems caused by discrimination – that should be left to other measures in the political field.

“In our judgement.. there is no sufficient causal link here between the withdrawal of the state pension from women in the age group 60 to 65 and the disadvantage caused to that group.  The fact that poorer people are likely to experience a more serious adverse effect from the withdrawal of the pension and that groups who have historically been the victims of discrimination in the workplace are more likely to be poor does not make it indirectly discriminatory to apply the same criterion for eligibility to everyone.”

DWP gave ” adequate and reasonable notification”

On consultation they buy the argument from the DWP that there was enough consultation going back to 1991 when the pension age change was first debated and they cast doubt on even sending a direct mail to everyone on the grounds that people might not read it anyway..

” We therefore dismiss Ground 3 of the appeal on the basis that there was no duty to notify those affected by the change in state pension age and that the Divisional Court were entitled to conclude as a fact that there has been adequate and reasonable notification given by the publicity campaigns implemented by the Department over a number of years.”

Criticism of Ms Justice Lang

Finally they condemn Ms Justice Lang for allowing the judicial review in the first place on the grounds that it was already out of time.

They castigate her for extending the time limit.

“Unlawful legislation is not a continuing unlawful act in the sense that the time limit for challenging it by way of judicial review rolls forward for as long as the legislation continues to apply.  If that were the test, there would effectively be no time limit for challenging primary or secondary legislation or for that matter administrative conduct which continues to affect a claimant unless or until the action is withdrawn or revised.”   

Lawyers for BackTo60 have asked the judges for permission to appeal their judgement.

Their judgement today shows what a big struggle it is to convince people of their case but it doesn’t meant it is wrong to fight this injustice for 3.8 million people.

Top international experts join the People’s Tribunal campaign to end discrimination against women and girls

Aim is to write the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] into UK domestic law.

Meghan Campbell: Pic credit Birmingham University

Nearly 40 years ago Margaret Thatcher signed the UK up to the UN convention to end all discrmination against women but successive Tory, Labour and coalition governments have never passed the convention in British law.

Now in an age when the Boris Johnson led Tory government is trying to renege on international law agreements during European Union negotiations and opt out of parts of the European Convention on Human Rights it will face the wrath of women and girls who feel they have been treated as second class citizens for too long in the UK.

The movement has grown out of the far too long campaign by BackTo60 to get women born in the 1950s compensation for the loss of their pensions from the age of 60 which will be decided at a Court of Appeal hearing on Tuesday on grounds of discrimination.

The issue of inequality under CEDAW was an issue in the court case – but because it is not part of British domestic law – it is difficult issue to argue.

Now it looks like with real support from international figures and human rights lawyers that the Conservative government is going to face a campaign that will make the BackTo60 fight look like a sideshow.

It will begin with the setting up of a People’s Tribunal under John Cooper QC and renowned human rights lawyer who was Chair of the International Steering Committee and Prosecutor at the Iran Tribunal in The Hague and is named by The Times as one of the top 100 lawyers in the country.

Andrew Byrnes Pic Credit: Oxford University Law Faculty

Now he is joined by three international experts. One is Andrew Byrnes, Professor of Law of Law at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where he served as Chair of the Australian Human Rights Centre from 2005 to 2017.

He is an expert on both People’s Tribunals and CEDAW . With Gabrielle Simm (a senior law lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney) he recently published the edited collection Peoples’ tribunals and international law (Cambridge University Press, 2018) and forthcoming publications includes chapters on the work of the UN Committee on the Discrimination against Women and the UN Committee against Torture, as well as the protection of economic and social rights through the parliamentary process.

He also was involved in the drafting of the CEDAW Optional Protocol, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is working with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions in current UN discussions about a possible new convention on the human rights of older persons. 

The second international expert who will join the advocacy team is Meghan Campbell, an Associate Professor at the University of Birmingham and Deputy Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub. Her monograph, Women, Poverty, Equality: The Role of CEDAW (Hart 2018) was shortlisted for the Socio-Legal Scholars Association-Early Career Research Prize. The bookoffers an interpretation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to demonstrate how equality and non-discrimination can address the harms of gender-based poverty.

Professor Christine Chinkin Pic credit Twitter

The third international expert is Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads three major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC, ‘Gendered Peace’ funded by the ERC and the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub. Professor Chinkin was Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security from 2015-2018.

 She co-edited the book ‘The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: A Commentary’ and authored the chapter on violence against women and girls. She was scientific advisor to the Council of Europe Committee that drafted the Convention on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’), the most far-reaching international treaty aimed at tackling violence against women and domestic violence.

Hannah Wilson Pic credit: Women’s Link

She will be joined by Hannah Wilson who works for Women’s Link Worldwide, an international human rights organisation which seeks to use the power of the law to promote social change which advances the rights of women and girls, particularly those facing multiple inequalities. She is based in Madrid and has recently raised issues about the poor conditions of workers harvesting strawberries in Huelva Spain who are mainly women and women’ rights in Rwanda.

Bright energetic women

In addition the People’s Tribunal have recruited a number of new bright energetic women legal associates as volunteers who are starting out in their careers after graduating. They include Isabelle Ehiorobo, a Law graduate from the University of Sussex; Shauna Lyttle who read history at King’s College London and is now completing a graduate LLB and Natalie Payne a recent LLB graduate from the University of Warwick, ( my former university) beginning a postgraduate study in Human Rights Law in 2020.

When the tribunal gets going it will be on a much broader canvas than the BackTo60 campaign. It will raise issues about poor working conditions, poverty, job discrimination, domestic abuse as well as pension discrimination among many others. It should prove a catalyst making discrimination against women a mainstream issue. It will also be a big fight with the government to get legislation on the agenda.

In the meantime the group has a spanking new website which can be reached here. The campaign is just beginning.

Former Minister X v. Ryan Giggs and Sir Philip Green : Parliamentary hypocrisy or protecting a complainant?

Parliamentary Privilege: All right for some

Today I am reproducing a blog by Alistair Parker, a solicitor, with the firm, Brett Wilson LLP, a specialist media and professional litigation solicitors, on the issue surrounding the former Tory minister under police investigation for the alleged rape and sexual assault of one of his female staff.

My position has been that he should not be named – solely to protect the claimant who requested anonymity not to spare him embarrassment. But what this article highlights is the hypocrisy over the use of Parliamentary privilege by MPs – they use Parliamentary Privilege to name other prominent people, whether it is a famous footballer or a well known businessman, knowing they cannot be sued. But when it is one of their own the shutters come down and Parliament protects them as they are supposed to be honourable members.

The irony is that probably every MP and every lobby journalist knows his name but keeps quiet – perhaps only telling curious close friends. Thanks to Brett Wilson LLP for giving me permission to reproduce the blog. The link to their media blog is here.

Suspect anonymity: The hypocrisy of parliamentary privilege – Alistair Parker

1 August 2020 marked the parliamentary revelation that a sitting MP had been arrested by police on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and controlling and coercive behaviour. All offences were alleged to have taken between July 2019 and January 2020 against the MP’s former staffer. Police confirmed the suspect was a male Tory in his 50s, and a former minister. Subject to police guidance, the name of the man was not revealed. This is because he has not been charged and is still under investigation, with a police bail date now extended until early November 2020. 

A man suspected of a serious sexual offence therefore remains a serving MP. He has not had the Tory whip removed or been sanctioned at all, (apparently) for fear that this would identify him. Indeed, his anonymity has been carefully guarded by all sides of the House. Is this a proper observance of the right to pre-charge anonymity, or can we detect a whiff of hypocrisy?

Parliamentary privilege, which by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 guarantees that “the freedom of speech and debates of proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament”, has long allowed members of Parliament, be they in the Commons or the Lords, to name criminal suspects in these situations.

Both peer and MPs have on occasion exploited this privilege, even identifying individuals who were protected by court injunctions:-

In 2011, then Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs as the footballer who secured an anonymised injunction to prevent publication of allegations he had an affair with a former reality TV star.

Also in 2011, Mr Hemming revealed that the banker Sir (as he then was) Fred Goodwin had obtained a super-injunction protecting his identity in relation to an alleged extra-marital affair. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham poured oil on the fire adding “How can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague?” he asked. “If true it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would know about it.”

In October 2014, Labour MP Jimmy Hood used parliamentary privilege to make serious accusations against Sir Leon Brittan (both have since passed away). Mr Hood said “By the way, the current expose of Sir Leon Brittan, the then home secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children will not come as a surprise to striking minors of 1984”. Sir Leon was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing once it was finally established these allegations were among the prolific lies of Carl Beech. 

In November 2018, Labour peer Lord Hain used Parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip Green as the ‘anonymous businessman’ who had used Non-Disclosure Agreements in settling numerous claims of bullying and sexual harassment with five complainants. This was despite the fact the High Court had maintained the injunction preventing publication of Sir Philip’s name and also that two of the five complainants supported this. We wrote about this matter at the time

The past decade therefore shows that UK politicians, in both houses, have been prepared to use Parliamentary privilege even when it:-

– Breaches civil court orders with impunity,
– Reveals personal details such as extra-marital affairs of high profile individuals, and
– Names a suspect in a serious criminal investigation, where the allegation turned out to be provably false.

Fast forward to the present day: The complainant of ‘Former Minister X’ has apparently been lobbying for his identification by urging MPs and peers to use parliamentary privilege to put his name into the public domain. If this is true, she is doing so despite the strong chance it will result in her own identification.

However, this led to an unprecedented response last week, when the Speaker of the House stepped in to urge MPs not to do so. Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned MPs that “while the investigation is ongoing, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for any further reference to be made to this matter in the House, including an attempt to name the member concerned.”

Sir Charles Walker MP: Former chair of the procedure committee which ruled MPs who are arrested should not be named Pic credit: Twitter

Indeed, back in February 2016, the cross-party Procedure Committee voted to end the tradition of the automatic naming of any MP who had been arrested. Its Chairman at the time, Tory MP Charles Walker said that MPs “should have the same rights to privacy as any other citizen, and in future their names should not be put in the public domain if they were arrested, unless this was directly connected to their role as an MP”. It seems Mr Walker had not considered the irony that the right to privacy of “any other citizen” can be trampled on via the use of parliamentary privilege. 

The conclusions we can draw are that, in the last decade, various parliamentarians have been happy to use parliamentary privilege to name and shame those being investigated for crimes and those embroiled in personal civil proceedings – even where they have court orders protecting their anonymity. However, when the ‘shoe is on the other foot’ and the accused party is himself a parliamentarian, it seems the House of Commons is a zealous believer in the right of pre-charge anonymity.

In simple terms, if you are being investigated of a crime, then any parliamentarian can publicly name you without any consequence to themselves. But if you name a parliamentarian who is in a similar predicament, get ready for formal legal consequences.

Although the identity of “Former Minister X” remains a mystery, surely the pattern of politicians protecting themselves could not be any clearer.

British stalkers and abusers rejoice: Life will get easier in Europe after Brexit

Government Campaign Poster on Domestic Abuse

Imagine you are being pursued by a stalker or an abusive ex. You get a court order or an injunction to stop them pursuing you. You decide to take a break to get out of the country and away from it all . Your abuser follows you abroad and starts to pester you. You call the local police.

If that happened now a European directive would allow you immediately to invoke the order in 27 countries and the person would be arrested and would likely end up in jail.

But from January 1 the order you obtained from a British court will no longer be recognised and you will have to start from scratch if you want your abuser to be stopped. And the change is coming just as good legislation under the Domestic Abuse Bill will give courts new powers to stop abusers – mainly but not exclusively men – harassing you on pain of being jailed.

Details of this state of affairs has come to light in an obscure report to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee. The issue was thought to be so minor that neither the EU nor the UK thought it worth even discussing in their negotiations – which shows you how low down the agenda domestic abuse is for top officials.

Victims Right Directive

The directive – known as the Victims Rights Directive -allowed any UK court order including restraining and stalking orders to be automatically applicable in the 27 EU countries, including when a person was on holiday there, without having to resort to separate civil action.

It has actually taken a committed Brexiteer – Bill Cash as chair of the committee – to raise the issue at all.

He writes in a report:

“From 1 January 2021, it will no longer be possible for orders made by UK courts to safeguard an individual against a criminal act that may endanger their life, physical, psychological or sexual integrity, dignity or personal liberty to be recognised and enforced in a foreign jurisdiction if that individual moves (even temporarily) to an EU Member State.”

Domestic Abuse Bill

 Her added: “There will no longer be a relatively simple mechanism for ensuring, for example, that the domestic abuse protection orders envisaged in the Domestic Abuse Bill will be recognised and enforced within the EU.”

The junior minister in the Justice department, Alex Chalk, also confirmed this.

“There is “no comparable fallback option” after transition as the European Protection Order is “a unique European Union law-based mechanism”. As a consequence, “an individual seeking a protective order after transition will need to secure a domestic (civil) protection order from the EU Member State that they are visiting.”

Frankly it seems extraordinary that this issue has been overlooked. As it is this measure is very simple – allowing British law to be extended to 27 countries to protect British citizens. Yet we are throwing this away on January 1 for the sake of ideology. I have written about this measure for Byline Times earlier this month.

There is a glimmer of hope that the matter could be taken up by the Women and Equalities Committee in Parliament or the Joint Committee on Human Rights. But sadly there is very little time to do anything about it. Ministers have promised to include the provision in domestic law – so people will have to have a staycation to stay safe.

Revealed: The EU deal that allows the DNA and fingerprints of 100,000 people to be shared with 31 countries before they are convicted in court

Digital fingerprint on a black background close up. 3d illustration.

If you are one of 100,000 people who are at any one time charged with an offence and are pleading not guilty you might be rather surprised by a deal that has taken place between the UK and the EU.

While the UK is officially playing hard ball in the official negotiations with the EU Commission it appears to have capitulated to demands to share DNA and fingerprints with 31 European countries not only of criminals but anybody who is charged with an offence in the UK.

What is more all this has been done behind Parliament’s back. The House of Commons was only informed when the deal was completed and not consulted about it. I wrote about this in Byline Times last month.

Reverses Parliament’s view

What is particularly egregious is that five years ago David Cameron’s Conservative government specifically refused to sign up to the same deal because it argued that people were innocent until proved guilty and should not be bracketed with known criminals. And Parliament was not only consulted, it even debated the matter.

None of this would be known now if it was not for the European Scrutiny Committee, chaired by veteran Tory Brexiteer,Bill Cash, had not revealed the row in a recent report .

To do this ministers have used a mechanism known as the Prum Convention, named after a small German town, to change the sharing of information and plan after Brexit to make further changes using “diplomatic notes” so Parliament will again not be consulted. The Convention allows “third party countries to join and covers Iceland, Norway, Liechenstein and Switzerland as well as the 27 EU countries.

James Brokenshire, security minister; Pic credit: gov.uk

 James Brokenshire, the security minister, has defended the changes as necessary as “important public safety benefits”. He added “the Government’s policy to date of not sharing the DNA profiles of criminal suspects “puts us out of step with EU Member States”.

 He also said one other reason was the National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service have identified “risks and missed opportunities associated with not sharing suspects’ data” and support the inclusion of criminal suspects in the Prüm data sharing mechanism.”

Not impressed

However Mr Cash is not impressed and has written to him.

He said: “A change in the Government’s policy on access to the DNA profiles and fingerprints of criminal suspects therefore merits particularly close scrutiny by Parliament, given that it alters the very basis on which Parliament agreed to UK participation in Prüm data exchanges in December 2015.”

He challenged the minister’s written statement to Parliament asking him” to confirm that the notification given to the EU institutions on 15 June 2020 concerning the exchange of suspects’ data covers DNA and fingerprints and, if so, why this was not made explicit in your Written Statement to Parliament of the same date.”

Interestingly the Scottish government has not yet agreed to the change as policing and criminal justice are devolved matter. It has had the support of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The whole saga seems to be yet another example of double standards by the government. They make tough noises about Brexit then give away something that both a former Conservative government and Parliament refused to countenance.

They also like many other issues by-pass the UK Parliament and do deals under wraps and seem to have devised a system that will ensure that Parliament will have no say in any further changes. Another move towards an elective dictatorship rather than Parliament ” taking back control.”

Revealed: How “Failing Grayling” derailed transport billionaires Richard Branson and Brian Souter

Ex transport secretary Chris Grayling Pic credit:BBC

Chris Grayling – who tomorrow is expected to become chair of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee – is a byword for wasting public money.

I have already written for Byline Times on his activities – and so extensive were his failings it took two long articles to add up the cost of Chris Grayling. You can read them here and here. He seems to have cost the nation some £2.7 billion – an extraordinary achievement for one individual – as well as causing misery for the probation and prison service and for millions of commuters.

Yet every human being can sometimes get things right. And last month Chris Grayling did so in a decision which involved risk.

A court judgement – virtually unreported except in the Financial Times – vindicated a very controversial decision he took as transport secretary way back in April last year on every count.

Grayling decided to disqualify three bidders from getting hold of three very lucrative rail franchises – the West Coast main line from London Euston to Glasgow and Edinburgh; the East Midlands franchise and the commuter lucrative South Eastern franchise from Kent into London.

Sir Richard Branson : A quote that came back to bite him

The bidders banned were Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains (as part of the West Coast partnership with the French state owned SNCF) Sir Brian Souter’s Stagecoach and Arriva owned by German state railways Deutsche Bahn.

The reason why Grayling disqualified them is because all three did not want to take on a big share of the liability for paying out pensions to some 346,000 retired and active train drivers and staff while they were running the services. Instead they wanted to make as money as they could by dumping the pension cost onto the state – that’s you and me.

pension costs

Their move was despite a ruling by the Pension Regulator which said anybody running a privatised rail service should have to fund any pension shortfall and not taxpayers.

Their decision caused consternation in rail franchise industry since two of the contracts were subsequently let to new providers. The East Midland franchise was awarded to Abellio East Midlands Ltd and the West Coast Partnership franchise was later awarded to First Trenitalia West Coast Rail Ltd. The South Eastern competition was cancelled.

Expensive law case

A lengthy and extremely expensive trial followed with costs building up not only for the ministry but the three companies and the companies who subsequently won the contracts who had to keep an eye on the case. Deutsche Bahn’s owned Arriva decided to settle out of court.

So complicated is the judgement from Mr Justice Stuart Smith that it runs to 193 pages and the Courts and Tribunals Service issued a rare explanatory memorandum to help the public understand it.

If it had gone the other way it could have thrown the whole rail franchise system into further chaos – since it would have meant that the two private contractors would have won the franchises by an illegal competition and they would have to bid again.

But it didn’t. As the Department for Transport said; “We strongly welcome this decision, which finds our franchise process was fair, our conduct was transparent, and the disqualification at the heart of this case was proportionate.”

There is a sting in the tale. The Department of Transport want Sir Richard Branson and Sir Brian Souter to pay all its costs.

Sir Brian Souter was chairman of Stagecoach when Grayling took action. He is still a member of the board.

This is a blow to Sir Brian who condemned the ministry when it took the original decision as ” dysfunctional and deceitful”.

And it will be lesson for Sir Richard who once wrote: You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.

This time he has taken a real tumble, particularly after suing the NHS when he failed to win an £82 million contract and then blaming the NHS Commissioners. See the riposte here. The case was settled out of court and it is understood his company Virgin Care got £328,000.

This new judgement may explain something else. The Department for Transport is very wary about continuing the present franchise system. And because of Covid 19 it has virtually nationalised the railways. I suspect it won’t return to the old system as it won’t want any more nail biting court cases even though it won.

Labour is much clearer – they will simply nationalise the system permanently – a decision that its new leader Sir Keir Starmer has followed through from Jeremy Corbyn.

Universal Credit: Fear and Loathing for 2.9 million in the Poverty Trap

The government’s Universal Credit logo – the slogan is makes work pay. Pic Credit: gov.uk

Today the National Audit Office produces a timely report on the operation of Universal Credit and the impact on claimants of having to wait five weeks to get paid.

It comes when the numbers claiming the benefit has jumped from 2.9m to 6.1 million because of Covid 19.

The report investigates the plight of those needing to claim before Covid 19 struck and it paints a particularly bleak picture.

It is also relevant to the group of 1950s born women whose pension has been delayed from 60 to 66. As the Independent reported separately recently the rise of women making claims for such benefits – soared from 7,578 to 36,527 between 2013 and 2019 – and was almost three times more than men who are aged 60 and over.

Fear factor

What is alarming about the findings – which are an analysis by the NAO of the Department for Work and Pensions own figures – is that many of the people were too frightened to claim and delayed claiming for up to three months after they lost their job.

This damning point is raised in the report. It says:

“Our consultation with claimants and support organisations indicated
that a “fear factor” about Universal Credit is also likely to play a part in some people delaying a claim, or not claiming at all. This may result from people hearing about bad experiences from friends, family or the media, for example.
Some respondents told us they were worried about whether they would be able to cope during the wait.”

As a result the report says the DWP’s analysis of earning data ” found that almost half(49%) of households who claimed Universal Credit in the four years to mid-2018 had no earnings in the three months before they claimed the benefit.

Taking this into account and the additional five week wait to get the benefit this meant that many had to apply for advance payments to tide them over or go to food banks simply to get food to live which then had to be paid back by deducting it from the meagre universal credit they have to live on.

DWP headquarters in Westminster,London.

A particularly revealing table in the report puts together this bleak picture. It shows that an astonishing 80 per cent of all low income people starting to claim the benefit were in serious debt. Some 77 per cent had to rely on advance repayable payments. Another 34 per cent owed money to other government departments – often historic debts. And six per cent had third party debts,like unpaid council tax, child maintenance, rent and water arrears.

Nearly as badly off were claimants with a disabled child, disabled people and carers. Some 65 and 70 per cent had serious debts.

Now as the report shows this is against a dramatic improvement of paying the benefit on time from 55% in January 2017 to 90% in February 2020.

However, as the number of people claiming Universal Credit has grown, the number of people paid late has also increased from 113,000 in 2017 to 312,000 in 2019. In 2019 those new claimants who were paid late faced average delays of three weeks in addition to the five-week wait. Some 6% of households (105,000 new claims) waited around 11 weeks or more for full payment.

Universal Credit expansion delayed

The government has also limited the expansion of universal credit – delaying the final date of switching from other benefits from March 2023 to September 2024 at an extra cost of £1.4 billion to £4.6 billion.

Yet despite spending £39m to try and explain the new benefit to wary claimants the National Audit Office concludes the ministry has a communications problem.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: ” too often the most vulnerable claimants still aren’t receiving the money they are entitled to when they need it most.”  

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee. Pic credit: Twitter

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee said:

“This hard-hitting report on Universal Credit from the National Audit Office confirms the Select Committee’s concern that that the five week wait for the first payment causes ‘financial hardship and debt’.

” It provides further evidence that the initial planning assumptions for Universal Credit were naive. We now know UC will cost an extra £1.4bn to the public purse.  It will take more than twice as long to roll out as originally planned.  Far from reducing fraud and error, Universal Credit is driving historic record high levels – more than £1 in every £10 paid through UC is incorrect”

Neil Couling director general Universal Credit

There is one man who has done rather well out of all this. He is “Mr Universal Credit” Neil Couling, who is in charge of the benefit at the DWP. According to the latest DWP accounts for 2019 he received a bonus of £15,000 on top of a salary of between £150,000 and £155,000 a year. He has got pension benefits worth a cool £80,000.

He will be appearing before the Commons work and pensions committee next Wednesday to explain how well he has handled the benefit for the 2.9 million claimants.

Welcome to your new rulers: UK Commissioners Gove, Johnson and Cummings

Commissioner Johnson ?
Henry VIII: Pic credit BBC

The most famous rallying cry by the Brexit campaigners was ” Take Back Control”. The people who supported this saw it as simply meaning taking away powers from the unelected European Commissioners in Brussels and giving it back to the British people. It meant the sovereignty of the British Parliament to make laws solely for the British people.

Well a completely ignored report from the House of Lords suggests we are about to discover something altogether different. I wrote about this in Byline Times last week.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee – not a well known body – has done a forensic job examining every bit of legislation passed and going through Parliament to change the law after Brexit becomes a reality on January 1 next year.

These are not just the better known laws like the  European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 but new Acts of Parliament covering covering agriculture, money laundering, immigration, trade, taxation,reciprocal health agreements and even the granting of road haulage licences.

What this comprehensive analysis reveals is that far from Parliament getting new freedoms to introduce new laws for the British people the powers are being transferred from the European Commission to government ministers and indirectly to government advisers like Dominic Cummings.

What is happening is that the perceived rule from Brussels by Brexiteers is being replaced by a real rule by decree by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Henry VIII powers

How you might ask? The answer is the widespread use of what are known as ” Henry VIII ” powers – or more arcanely known as statutory instruments. These are orders allowing ministers to change the law by decree – either putting down an order which Parliament has 90 minutes to debate or a negative order that if MPs don’t spot it is already law unless Parliament can overturn it.

Now what the peers have discovered is that all these bills are littered with these powers – 40 in the agriculture bill alone – giving huge discretion to introduce not only rule by decree but powers to introduce new criminal offences with unlimited fines.

One extraordinary power governing export and import duties give ministers huge powers – including one to change the law by “ public notice” avoiding informing Parliament at all. This brings us back to Tudor times when all Henry VIII had to do was to pin up a notice ordering the dissolution of the monasteries..

Now why does this matter? Take the agriculture bill which will govern the rules if, as the US wants in trade negotiations, for us to import chlorinated chicken and according to recent reports to change food labeling laws in the UK. Now this bill in its initial form gave ministers a Henry VIII power to change the law for the marketing of food including what is on the label.

So if Waitrose followed what it said it will do and clearly label chlorinated chicken a government minister could just change the law by decree making it illegal to do so. And if Waitrose disobeyed they could face unlimited fines.

Now the bill has been modified a bit but MPs and peers ought to be careful that powers don’t sneak in by the back door.

150 new ministerial powers running to 174 pages

Another more obscure Act according to peers also gives huge powers to ministers.

The report said: “The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill involves a massive transfer of power from the House of Commons to Ministers of the Crown. Ministers are given well over 150 separate powers to make tax law for individuals and businesses. These laws made by Ministers will run to thousands of pages. The Treasury’s delegated powers memorandum, which sets out in detail all these law-making powers, alone runs to 174 pages.”

And ministers are also taking powers in some circumstances to override laws passed by the Scottish Parliament by government decree and to interfere in which already adopted EU case law can be decided by tribunals and lower courts.

Courts facing ministerial directions

The peers were incandescent about the latter.Their report said:

“The granting of broad ministerial powers in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to determine which courts may depart from CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) case law and to give interpretive direction in relation to the meaning of retained EU law was – and remains – inappropriate. 

“Each of these powers should remain the preserve of primary legislation. There is a significant risk that the use of this ministerial power could undermine legal certainty and exacerbate the existing difficulties for the courts when dealing with retained EU law.”

Now in my opinion because of the Covid-19 crisis the government is using this to introduce major changes to our unwritten constitution to bypass Parliament. I don’t blame my lobby colleagues for missing this – the 24/7 news agenda hardly gives them time to study a detailed House of Lords report.

It could be that a post Brexit Parliament may not need to sit as often as now – but just meet occasionally to scrutinise the latest ministerial decree.

I don’t think this is what the average Brexiteer will have envisaged. I don’t think the majority of people in this country want to live in a society where ministers and Downing Street have overweening powers to create new criminal offences by decree without being properly scrutinised by Parliament. We are losing our safeguards by stealth.