Posts Tagged ‘government’
The government’s current system of e-petitions has been the subject of a number of high profile campaigns since its introduction in 2010.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, it is quite straightforward.
A member of the public can create a topic on which they wish to petition the government. It can relate to almost any matter, and is directed to the relevant government office. Once a petition is set up, other members of the public can add their support.
On reaching 100,000 signatures, a petition is passed to the government’s Backbench Business Committee, who will then determine whether the issue should be referred to Parliament for debate.
It is the last part of that process which many people fail to understand, and instead believe that reaching the threshold for consideration is itself a guarantee that a debate will take place.
Writing in the Guardian this morning, Dr Kailash Chand, chairman of Tameside and Glossop NHS and the man who created an e-petition calling on the government to drop its Health and Social Care bill, criticised the government for not debating the petition in the Commons having seen it attract over 165,000 signatures.
The problem is that Chand, like others before him, has failed to understand that there is no absolute guarantee that a petition will be debated – and nor should there be. Any such move would undoubtedly open the floodgates to an avalanche of petitions on subjects that should never reach Parliament in the first place, and would give the nation’s public the kind of power which it is simply not intended to hold.
Chand is entirely right to continue fighting for the government to scrap its reform of the NHS. An overwhelming majority of professional bodies have positioned themselves in complete opposition to the plans, also calling for them to be dropped. Even within the coalition government itself there are MPs who are opposed to the Bill, or at the very least are campaigning for significant amendments to be made.
It’s hardly surprising then to see a large number of the public joining critics elsewhere in petitioning the government to abort the controversial Bill, though in light of an arrogant stance taken by David Cameron and Andrew Lansley to ignore the advice of medical professionals who overwhelmingly oppose the Bill, it’s unlikely that the government would be any more willing to back down based on a public petition – particularly when the 165,000 names represent only 0.4% of the electorate.
There have been benefits of the e-petition system, most notably in the case of a request for the government to issue a full disclosure of documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster.
But the sooner that the system is properly understood, and that people realise it isn’t a tool guaranteeing that they can spark a Parliamentary debate, the better.
Preliminary findings of a government report into the freedoms of Christians in the UK were released this morning.
The inquiry, overseen by Christians in Parliament was undertaken in response to the difficulties Christians in the UK face in being able to live out their faith, and also because of a series of high-profile cases which have seen Christians subjected to police action due to objections from those who simply don’t share the same beliefs.
The government and the police both come under attack in the findings due to their lack of understanding in dealing with issues of a religious nature, particularly where complaints of being insulted are used against Christians simply due to a disagreement in beliefs.
Whilst Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act still gives police powers to act if someone feels insulted, the report suggests that the bar has been set too low over when this clause is used. As mentioned in a blog post on religious tolerance earlier this month, a government review is currently in progress over the wording of Section 5, due to a series of cases where it has been wrongly used to prosecute.
Labour’s 2010 Equalities Act also comes under fire in the report for failing “to deal with the tensions between different strands of equality policy”, while the courts have been accused of creating a “hierarchy of rights” in their decisions of some cases.
Amongst a number of recommendations was the restructuring of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in order to better represent religious beliefs.
Opponents of Christianity may not agree with aspects of the report, entitled ‘Clearing the Ground’, though if it is a step towards ensuring that Christians are as free to voice their beliefs as other groups, then it is to be welcomed.
As headlines again focus on the Government’s proposals for high-speed rail link connecting London with major cities across England, and the push towards a greater use of public transport continues, I have experienced a weekend of rail disruption which illustrates exactly why many people simply don’t have enough confidence in trains to get them to places they need to be.
Thanks to Virgin’s Pendolino trains, the journey time when travelling from Liverpool Lime Street to London has been reduced to slightly over two hours. That’s short enough to be able to have yourself a weekend lie in, yet still be in the capital in time for lunch.
Any such timescale started to look under threat however, when the 10.48 service grounded to a halt at Nuneaton – a station not amongst those which we were scheduled to stop at.
An announcement informed passengers that problems with overhead power lines in the Wembley area was causing severe delays into London, and we would be stopped until it was possible to proceed onwards to Rugby, which was also not originally a planned stop.
A slow journey to Rugby went on to become a non-journey to anywhere. The service to London was suddenly terminated, and the train was heading back to Liverpool.
The Virgin train manager made no attempt to disguise the fact that she had no idea how long we’d have to wait at Rugby, or indeed if there would even be a service able to take passengers any further. Luckily there was already a train a few platforms away which was due to continue towards London, but the only guarantee available was that it would make it as far as Milton Keynes. Beyond that, there were no promises.
Overcrowded and full of frustrated passengers originating from a host of destinations, the train did make it to Milton Keynes, where after once again coming to halt, our new train manager provided passengers with three choices, none of which were particularly inviting for those of us keen to actually see London.
1. Get off the train and wait for a train travelling to London, which may or may not end up getting there
2. Go back home
3. Wait on the current train and hope that at some stage it would start moving again – though it was stressed how unlikely that would be, in the short-term at least.
As at Rugby, luck had it that on Platform 4, there was another train waiting to depart for Watford Junction. From there, we were told, overground services would finally get us all to London.
The first part of that came true, though just as one overground train was set to leave (with all other southbound trains already having been cancelled), a station announcement informed the hordes that due to an emergency evacuation of a Virgin train further down the line, there would be nothing leaving for London any time soon.
The only remaining option was to get across Watford to the Metropolitan line underground station, a trek best done by foot after witnessing the length of the taxi queue. Half an hour’s walk later and onto the fifth and penultimate train to our docklands destination.
Once on the underground, the problems ended but not before a 2.5 hour journey had become a 7 hour journey involving five changes of trains and lengthy waits on four chaotic platforms crammed full of unhappy passengers.
At least things would be sorted in time for the return journey, or so I thought.
Back at Euston on Monday evening, the sight of a crowded concourse greeted us, everyone staring up at the departures board. No matter where each person was due to travel to, everyone had something in common: their train was not going anywhere.
The status of each and every train listed on the board was either “Departure delayed” or “Cancelled”. An issue with overhead wires was again cited as the cause, though this time occurred the Northampton, Milton Keynes and Rugby regions.
For a period, most services were delayed by up to an hour, if not cancelled altogether. Passengers to certain destinations were urged to get alternative trains heading in the same general direction – such as “north” – and change to a more relevant service further along their journey.
The disruption caused on both days was simply put down to damaged overhead cables though the cause of the damage remains a mystery, to the travelling public at least.
With massively increased congestion expected on London’s roads during next year’s Olympics, we can surely expect that ministers will continue to promote the use of public transport as a better alternative to driving.
But until stories such as those above become a thing of the past, all appeals to rely on public transport will fall on many a deaf ear.
Because when you most need to be somewhere, putting your faith in public transport is still a very risky business indeed.
Britain’s safety is to be commended. The Health & Safety legislation which has been in place in the UK for almost four decades has contributed to this nation having the second lowest rate of workplace fatalities in Europe.
And away from the office, it has helped save lives with safer Christmas trees, and has been used to keep pencil sharpeners away from our children whilst at school.
But there remains a health and safety issue which hasn’t yet been addressed by those tasked with keeping us all safe, but which puts the wellbeing of millions at risk every time it rains.
I am of course referring to the umbrella. A device consisting of up to eight metal spikes brandished at head height and waved around in a fashion which simply invites innocent passers-by to have one or both of their eyes removed.
Sure, there are the smaller dome-shaped versions which serve no danger to fellow pedestrians. But these are not used widely and most umbrellas on show are cheaper looking models, on which the fabric is partly peeling from its supportive spokes.
In their most common form, it’s difficult to understand how umbrellas haven’t been banned already. If someone was to walk around a crowded city with kebab skewers poking out from their shoulders, it would be expected that an officer on the street might find something to say about it. Yet there remains no problem with protecting yourself from a bit of rain by pointing metal spikes at the heads of pedestrians in eight different directions.
With so much wet weather around it is something which needs to be addressed, and what better time to act than with Christmas around the corner? After all, following so much expense which some councils have gone to in order to ensure that branches of our city’s Christmas trees aren’t going to fall off and cause injury and/or embarrassment to an innocent spectator, why not take a further step of making sure we can all leave safely with both eyes intact, too?
The recent news that the government has scrapped a news NHS IT system has unsurprisingly caused a lot of anger.
Not anger caused as a result of abandoning a project which has been doomed to fail for some time, but anger at the amount of money thrown away on the scheme already.
Of the £12bn total cost of the system, at least £2.7bn of public money had been spent as of last month.
It’s a huge amount of money under any circumstances, but particularly so when the economy is struggling and when a process of cutting NHS staff is already underway.
To illustrate the scale of the waste, it would be enough to pay a £25,000-a-year salary to 21,000 NHS workers. For five years.
In most sectors of employment, the people most responsible for making such catastrophic decisions would find themselves looking for work, probably nursing a severely damaged reputation. Something which seems not to apply to those running the country.
Sure, we’re all capable of making mistakes, and we can’t expect our MPs to be perfect. They have difficult jobs, despite half of the country believing they could do better.
But when mistakes are made by a government on such a scale, is it not right that those at fault are held to account rather than carrying on regardless, taking no responsibility?
It was a similar story with the failed FireControl project which intended to replace local rescue control rooms with nine regional control centres across the country.
Only one has been used, with the rest lying empty but still costing £4m a month to maintain. Almost £500m will have been wasted on the project in total.
Again there is no-one being held accountable for the disastrous outcome, and highlights how utterly untouchable those in government currently are.
Parliament endorsed prison sentences for looters involved in the rioting, though when many MPs themselves were guilty of theft – though obviously not officially described as such – they offered a quiet apology, gave back some of what they had taken, and then hoped for the fuss to die down. Which it duly did. Only two MPs found themselves jailed.
It’s time that our MPs were treated the same way as any regular person on the street when they get things so badly wrong.
And not many of us would stand a chance of getting away with explaining to the boss that we’d just wasted £3bn of company money.
In an age when the justice system often seems to let down victims by handing out lenient sentences for serious crimes, it has been encouraging to see the hard-line approach in many of the punishments given to those involved in last week’s rioting.
David Cameron promised that tough measures would be available to the courts and, despite some early criticism of leniency, there has clearly been a message sent out with the amount of custodial sentences issued.
So strong has that message been, in fact, that the most recent criticism relates to whether punishments are too severe. But while the individual offences may seem relatively minor, they have been looked at and judged within an overall context of what was happening on the streets generally.
Each individual may argue that their part was minor, but collectively it added up to scenes of violence and disorder on a scale not seen in England since the 1980′s. Whatever the level of one person’s involvement may have been, the fact remains that they contributed to a serious level of disorder. That is the context in which their crimes must be looked at, and judged.
A strong response from the police and the courts was required. Fortunately, for the sake of deterring others from engaging in mindless acts of vandalism or theft in the future, a strong response is what has been delivered.
The events of the last week have led to police forces all over the country being stretched to their limit. And despite some of the criticism received, it has to be said that they’ve done an excellent job under the circumstances.
Few would have predicted the scale of the rioting and violence witnessed on the streets of cities up and down the country.
Those involved in criminal acts did so in a way which not only showed a complete disregard for property but, in many cases, a total disregard for life as well.
As the situtation escalated, more power was given to the police in terms of how they were permitted to respond, and more officers were put on the streets.
The questions asked of why they weren’t able to do more at an earlier stage of the disorder, particularly in London, are questions not for the officers on duty, but for those in more senior positions of authority.
Such questions go beyond the events of this week and include questioning what could and should be done with young offenders who continue to engage in criminal acts without consequence.
As one Metropolitan Police officer said on Radio 5: “The people who were out on the streets looting are the people we’ve been arresting time and time again and have been in front of the courts and walked.”
It’s no doubt a frustrating cycle for the police. But until it changes, and until there are consquences which act as a deterrent to youngsters wishing to roam the streets terrorising local communities, the cycle will continue.