Monday, 31 May 2010


Israel is doing its best to maintain a news blackout to reduce the impact of its attack on the Gaza relief convoy in international waters, but the truth is getting out. Israel has once again proven that it is a rogue state.

The EU is calling for an "inquiry," but this does not do justice to the situation. In any case we know from Goldstone how Israel reacts to "inquiries" that find against it.

It is time that our words were matched by deeds. Israel must be made to realise that unacceptable actions will have consequences.

Ten days ago President Medvedev of Russia met face to face with the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, in Damascus.

Russia is a member of the Quartet, yet its leader has now thrown aside Quartet policy with regard to having no communication with "terrorists" and entered into talks with Hamas. This was the right thing to do, and it swept aside years of prevarication by the EU and the USA.

You cannot make peace without talking to your enemies. Even Israel should know that.

The response of the EU to Israel's assault on the Gaza relief convoy should be that it will no longer play the game by Israel's rules. Its representatives should follow in the footsteps of President Medvedev.

The EU should talk to Hamas.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The MPs' expenses regime is stupid

If David Laws were to try and book a room for the next three nights at a Premier Inn close to Westminster the cheapest to be found would be at Kensington Olympia. It would cost him £336.

Multiply that by a House of Commons working year of, say 35 weeks, and the cost would be £11,760.

It is reported that David Laws claimed £40,000 over nine years for accommodation, paying the money to his landlord/friend rather than to a commercial concern. This seems to me like a good financial deal for the taxpayer; it's certainly a very great deal less than many MPs have claimed for mortgage interest payments.

How did the Commons ever get itself into the position when it has to examine the status of private relationships before determining whether accommodation expenses can be paidt? Why should David Laws have publicly to try and define his relationship with his 'partner'?

The European Parliament system is entirely different. MEPs are not paid expenses but a daily allowance intended to cover accommodation and subsistence costs. They can pass it all on to swell the profits of Mr Hilton or Messrs Holiday Inn, or they can sleep on the park bench and pocket the lot.

The amount (€298) can certainly be criticised as excessive, but at least the arrangement doesn't require moralistic scrutiny by officials paid more than the elected representatives.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws had the task of proposing cuts in public expenditure. His authority was bound to be undermined by claims that he had not followed the rules to the letter.

But the rules are stupid. The House of Commons should never have adopted them.

Each MP is the elected representative for a constituency of 80,000 people or more. Their current salary is £64,766,

Of course it can be argued that MPs should only be paid the average wage. Or that they should be paid less than this. Or that they should not be paid at all and should be self-funded millionaires. But I think most people will believe that the representative for their constituency should be paid at something close to the rate of the local GP or senior school headteacher - which is a lot more than they get at present - plus a set allowance for living away from home (if they do) for so many days each week..

There should be complete openness and transparency, both about the amount available and the amounts actually claimed, but we should stop micro-managing the way in which MPs use the money paid to them to fulfill the role for which they were elected.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


There is no agreement between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in the European Parliament. We fight on, at the same time delighting in the Tory europhobes’ anger and frustration at being denied the influence they had hoped to command.

There is no special relationship between the different political groups (ALDE and ECR) to which the MEPs belong, and we respect the EU separation of powers between the Council of Ministers and the Parliament whatever government is in office. We have different jobs to do.

All of which should help reassure those who fear that the coalition agreement risks diluting the Liberal Democrats’ separate identity.


Local councils have started sending out threatening notices to the 300,000 people in England who get their water from a spring or a well. The ‘Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009’ require them to enforce compliance with new quality requirements. They can charge households up to £500 for carrying out a ‘risk assessment’ and further sums for sampling, investigating, and 'granting an authorisation.'

I guess everyone who gets water from a private source knows that it has not been pumped full of bacteria-killing chemicals and, even when it tastes fantastic, may present a risk. If a collection tank is exposed perhaps a fly may have the chance to do something unmentionable. Before I installed a better filtration system I occasionally had to remove fresh water shrimps that were blocking the shower rose. But everyone on spring water accepts their individual responsibility and will resent Labour’s nanny-state interference.

What gets my goat is the claim that these regulations stem from EU requirements. The 1998 Drinking Water Directive states clearly: “Member States may exempt water from an individual supply serving fewer than 50 persons.” The law is intended to ensure good quality provision of mains water supply, not to interfere in the provision of spring water to hamlets across Europe that have used natural sources for centuries.

It is being applied in a sensible fashion in Scotland. The law as interpreted in that country gives local councils the right to carry out a risk assessment if there is reason for concern, but it's a very much more light touch approach than south of the border.

The English way of doing things is a text book example of ‘gold-plating’ an EU law. The previous government refused to take up the exemption on offer, preferring instead to apply the legislation to every hillside dwelling in the country. As it seeks to make a bonfire of unnecessary regulations, here is where the new government can start.