31/10/2011 Daily Politics


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Afternoon, folks. Welcome to the Daily Politics. Are councils


failing to find children in care a proper home? The Government has


decided to name and shame the best and worst local authorites which


arrange adoption in England, and says will take tough action against


authorities that fail to deal swiftly with adoption cases. The


fair fuel lobby is still hot under the collar about the price of


petrol. Over 100,000 people say they want MPs to debate the issue,


but will they get the chance? We'll speak to Quentin Willson from the


campaign. And as Syria warns the West not to


intervene in the country's uprising, we'll be revisiting the Arab Spring.


All of that in the next half hour, and with us for the duration, Tony


Blair's former envoy to the Middle East, Lord Levy. He also raised a


lot of money for the Labour Party. Welcome. Thank you. First, let's


talk about growth, because the Government's keen to announce today


which businesses in England will benefit from nearly �1 billion of


Government support. The money is the second and final instalment


from the regional growth fund. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg,


says it will safeguard more than 200,000 jobs. Growth is obviously


the key word at the moment, Michael Levy. But do you think the


Government, having talked about cutting the deficit, dealing with


the debt crisis, that that is crucial, that politicians from


across the spectrum have talked down the economy too much and


stopped people spending? Obviously there has been a position where you


were negative, negative, negative, that message permeates to the fact


that people really believe it is so negative, where do we go from here,


what do I do? On the other hand, I do believe that there has to be a


realistic approach to where we are at. Many people are being squeezed,


particularly in the middle income. They really are being hit hard, and


therefore they know their own budgets and they know how difficult


it is for them. It is almost irrelevant what politicians are


saying. People need to assess their own situation and how they can cope


and how they can manage with their own budgets. Do you think then and


do you agree with Ed Miliband and Ed balls that the answer is to


increase spending mead throw boost the economy? I do -- immediately to


boost the economy? I do think there has to be a boost to the economy.


More than the coalition is doing? Probably yes. I believe that our


economy compared to a number of countries in the world isn't in


such poor shape, and die think it does need a boost. -- I do think it


guz need a boost, in a managed way and not something that's going to


be irresponsible, but the economy certainly does need a push at this


moment. Does Labour have a better plan, do you think, for doing that


and for forcing the banks to lend more to businesses, which is still


one of the biggest problems? know, it is always very difficult


when you are in opposition, Jo, because you are really talking, you


are coming up with plans, but they are not being act vaited. It's a


very frustrating position to be in opposition, because it is the


Government that's continually calling the shots. But if we look


over this last period of time, there has only been one message


from this Government - look at Labour did badly. There hasn't been


the message, look what we are going to do positively to change things.


It's been negative historically on Labour, not look at what we, the


Government, are doing to make things better. I think that's where


the problem arises. Briefly, Ed Miliband has hired this property


tycoon as Labour's fund-raising adviser, a job that you did. He is


going to devise new methods of drumming up support through local


groups across the country. Is that going to work? My even message is,


good luck. I thought it might be. Now it's time for our daily quiz.


Today, the United Nations is to announce that the world population


has reached 7 billion, so our At the end of the show Michael will


attempt to give us the right answer. I will trial.


Today is the start of National Adoption Week, where people are


urged to consider the possibility of adopting vulnerable children.


That all sounds well and good, but with over 65,000 children currently


in care in England, only 3,050 were adopted last year. This morning,


David Cameron said things had to change and he's promised tough


action against local authorities which fail to deal swiftly with


adoption cases. Powers already exist to strip local authorities of


their adoption responsibilities, but the Prime Minister has said


he's ready to enforce them, so better-performing councils can take


over, or the service will be contracted out. According to the


latest figures, children wait an average of two years and seven


months to be adopted. And only 60 babies were adopted last year. The


Government has today published league tables ranking local


authorities on how quickly they place children in care for adoption.


York came top, placing 100% of children with adoptive parents


within the 12-month time-frame. Hackney Council, who we'll be


speaking to in a moment, came bottom, placing only 43% of


children in the 12 months. Earlier this morning, I spoke to the


Children's Minister, Tim Loughton, and asked him if he should be


focusing on getting more people to come forward to adopt children,


rather than criticising councils. The real problem is the whole


system, it is not just local authorities who I think need to up


their game. It is also the courts, which are taking far too much time


going through the courts, but it is also a lot of parents are being


discouraged from coming forward. Lots of myths are going around.


What's really important ooct this whole campaign we are doing this


week is the fact we want to encourage people who think they can


offer a foster home or be adoptive parents, urging them to knock on


the Town Hall door and saying we are interested. Why are you saming


your fire at local councils when you've admitted it is not just


about them. The courts are the ones who hold up proceedings and make it


extremely difficult to get a completed adoption order in the


first year? The whole system is not working properly. You are saying to


councils they have to up their game, or else. And I'm also saying to


courts, and we are having the family law review published this


Thursday, where it will make it very clear that there is too much


delay in the courts, there is too much bureaucracy and there is too


much overlap in the courts. That needs to be got right as well. This


is a joint effort. The crazy thing here is we are all on the same side,


whether you are a judge, a social worker or running an adoption


sfrbgs or whether you are a Government Minister. The thing we


all want to see is a better deal for demids care and more kids for


whom it is appropriate to be able to to be adopted to give them a


safe, stable, loving family placement. Too many kids are


missing out on that at the moment. So how should councils up their


game? By looking at examples of best practice elsewhere. We are


publishing 15 different tables today with different performance


figures on how children in care are doing, how well authorities are


doing at getting kids adopted. Things like that. Parts of the


country are doing certain parts of the whole adoption process well.


The trouble is very few people are doing all of it well together.


much should the issue of race for example be taken into account? Is


it no longer important? I have made it clear time and again until I'm


blue in the face, we issued new guidance in March that ethnic


matching must not be a deal breaker An ideal world, if we could find


something approaching an ethnic match it would be nice, but it


shouldn't be a deal breaker. The most important consideration is,


can that perspective adoptive family offer a safe, stable, loving


environment for that child? If it can, then let's get on with it


rather than all this political correctness about getting some


idealistic ethnic match, which usually doesn't exist anyway.


much would you give before you give powers away? Hackney do well around


children in care and keeping families together. You've got to


look ti figures carefully to see where certain authorities are doing


well... So the figures are misleading. By saying councils have


to up their game, you said Hackney is doing well. I said Hackney is


doing parts of its care well but the number of kids they are getting


into adoption is poor. I want them to do all of that process well.


That's story around the country. That's why I'm not producing a raw


comparison. We are producing all the information so people can drill


down into what parts of the whole children in care adoption system


certain authorities are doing well and where they are not. Let's work


on the weak spots. They only need to knock on the door of other


authorities that are doing it much better toe get advice and help to


see how they can up their game. For many adoption isn't the priority.


It is a last resort. We are saying it should be a first resort for


many kids for whom there is no safe way back to their birth families.


Would you take power from councils who do not, as you say, up their


game? Local authorities, who do not do this seriously, if they are


still plateauing if they are poor performers or are trending


downwards, I'm going be serious questions about are they the right


people to continue running an adoption service for children in


their care. If there are not, -- if they are not, there are other


agencies who may be a better option. With us now is Alan Wood, Director


of Children's Services in Hackney, one of the councils at the bottom


of the Government's league table for the number of children adopted


within 12 months. The threat was pretty clear there. Your record is


poor, you are the bottom of this league table, powers could be taken


away. Well, our record is actually very good. How is it very good


compared to what Tim Loughton has been saying? The Minister referred


to a range of data available. The most important piece of data is


when Hackney makes an adoptive placement it sticks, it doesn't


break down. You have to consider all of these issues like timescale,


types of children. We have a deliberate policy of pouring


resources into support children in families. Because of that we have


significantly reduced the number of children loo are in care. Because


we've reduced the number of children in care the width of need


among those children tends to be much more acute and needy. We have


significant sibling groups for example. We have children with


foetal alcohol syndrome, children who are disruptive and missed


places in schools. We are dealing with a much more complex set of


young people. This data is also two years out of date. Authorities'


performance since that time shows a dramatic improvement on timescales.


Timescales a narrow slais of a very complex pie chart of information in


and data. We've got data but little intelligence and am sis. If you've


been so successful in terms of making the adoptions work for the


children you have placed, can't you just speed up that process and


place more of them? We areed about timeliness. We are all in this


together. Our social workers work very hard to get the best


placements for our children, but we are not going to make a prospect


where there's a prospect of breaking down. Let me give you an


example. We made a placement of a large family, including children


with a dibble ty. Trialling -- with a disability. We had to extend this


because the mother schooled a second place from us. Do you not


agree more families would come forward if they didn't think it was


such a cumbersome, long-winded and painful process? I think there is


some sense in that. We don't have a problem of having a number of


families forward. We have lots of people who want to adopt in Hackney,


lots of people from across the range ofeth in thisities. That's


why it is difficult to get the right placement. It is not that we


are losing or don't have adoptive parents but we have complex cases.


How much children do you have waiting?? Thisier we think there


are 25 children. Out of how many? We have 230 children in care. A


small percentage of those will go into it's adoption world. If you


look at last year, we had seven children who were placed for


adoption. We are talking of small numbers. One child who is adopted


after a year and a week makes a complete hash of the percentages.


Michael Levy, are Government tables helpful? I don't think so at all.


What I really don't understand, if you have got an area where an


analysis and a table shows how well they are doing, it is not about


praising and shaming, it is about how did you get them to help an


area where on the surface it would appear they are not doing well.


Because different circumstances, different children, different


families, different ethnicity groups. There are so many


differences. Why don't we use an area why York, you are doing well,


Hackney, perhaps you are not doing so well, getting them together, how


can they learn from each other's experiences? This is too sensitive


for naming and shaming. This is much more about how do we help each


other to deal with what is a problem that desperately needs


dealing with? What would your message be to the Government?


are all in this together. If we have all of the data available it


is a pity there wasn't much more discussion between local


authorities and Government about this information. I think we could


have put the panoply of information before people. As Michael says,


encouraging local authorities to work together is important. We for


example support other authorities around adoption placements. So it


is not as simple as one slice of a Following the demise of Colonel


Gaddafi, many are asking what prospect is there of direct


military intervention in Syria? 3000 have been killed in eight


months of violence there. This weekend, President Assad warned


against such action, saying that foreign intervention would burn the


whole of the Middle East. Where does the Arab Spring go from here?


If the world watched as a badly injured older man was dragged from


a drainage pipe, brutalised and shot dead, you can be sure in


Damascus the President of Syria also watched the unseemly demise of


Muammar Gaddafi after 42 years of dictatorship. Perhaps as he warned


the West not to intervene, in his country, racked with months of


unrest and oppression, he is thinking what many are asking,


where next? Try to judge what is going to come next is particularly


difficult. We do a lot of work on the Yemen and the Yemeni President


has defied all predictions on his demise. He was nearly assassinated.


People said goodbye to him, and now he is back in Yemen, still rolling.


That suggests that President Al Rashad could cling on for much


longer than Europeans are expecting. -- President Mashhad. -- President


Assad. The third candidate is Bahrain. A country with a deep-


seated religious division that goes back further than any spring of


this year. Perhaps the West was a little optimistic. We saw the


world's media ascend on Bahrain thinking that perhaps this would be


the next place for a revolution. Probably, that encouraged the


protests, with the protesters thinking they would get Western


backing, but the Western governments were not prepared to


back them, particularly once Saudi Arabia firmly sided with the ruling


family there. The story in Bahrain is not over. And there is no doubt


that in a decade, the region has changed out of all recognition. Our


response to it has, too. 41 MP collecting the trappings --


trappings of dictators from their palaces, the mistakes in Iraq,


Afghanistan and the response to 9/11 which he felt have encouraged


extremism, this is fascinating. What I found interesting was that I


found and his smallest -- Islamist commander who have fought in Iraq


and Afghanistan. He said to me that this was the first time the West


has to do with the ordinary people. "We will not forget it." I thought


that was a remarkable comment. It suggests that the actions of


Cameron and Sarkozy and President Obama, that they have started to


roll back the damage done since 9/11. If so, not only do we need to


focus on what to do with Syria, Yemen and Bahrain's regimes fall,


but where else the Arab Spring a touch. We have seen reforms


promised in Morocco and all man. There are questions hanging over


Saudi Arabia and Algeria, which have all the ingredients for bigger


protests to come. Lord Levy is still with us. Should do now be


foreign intervention in Libya -- Syria? Absolutely not. -- should


they are now be foreign intervention. Syria is very complex.


There is a situation. I do not know if people lead -- people read the


interview that President Assad did in the Telegraph yesterday. So many


different factions within Syria, the issue with Turkey and how


Turkey is reacting to Syria. You have the Arab League, in terms of


how that is reacting, you have the UN, where China and Russia would


against sanctions. You are saying it is diplomatically too difficult


queue that it is a very difficult situation. Is it good what is going


on in Syria? Of course not. Is the tragic loss of life in disaster?


Yes, of course it is. I feel that we have to see what will go on,


particularly with Turkey. You have the Syrian National Council


operating from within Turkey, you have the Arab League, where they


are themselves trying to take measures in Syria to solve some of


the issues. You have President Assad saying that he is going to


make changes. Do you believe that? I think it is going to be a very,


very slow process. And in between, the violence continues?


violence is continuing but what would happen if there were Western


intervention? I think that would be a greater disaster. A greater


disaster than what is going on right now. This is not a simple


situation. There is not an end game scenario. This is not one of those


situations. You can see why people would argue that British foreign


policy smacks of hypocrisy. What is new about hypocrisy within most


countries' fallen -- foreign-policy. There is not much new about that.


Libya and Syria are very, very different situations. To have


imposed a no-fly zone in Libya with a UN resolution, with difficulty,


and Arab League agreement, that is a very different situation to the


situation in Syria. You knew his father, President Assad's father.


What you would -- what would you advise David Cameron to do now in


dealing with his son? I have also met the sun on a number of


occasions. My advice would be worked through the UN, work closely


with the Arab League, work closely with Turkey and evaluate the


position on a very regular basis. The informant continually. -- be


informed continually. The UN, the Arab League and Turkey, working


with them and watching those spaces continually, that would be my


advice. Will he go voluntarily? No. Do you regret how close the Blair


Government got to Colonel Gaddafi? There are two issues here. Do I


regret the fact that one was able to wean Gaddafi and the regime off


WMD or the potential of WMD? No. I do not have crept that at all. -- I


do not regret that. Two why feel that the subsequent closeness that


manifested as a result of that was wrong? Yes. I think there was an


issue, winning him off of WMD. There was an issue, can Britain do


business? You have a big difference between Syria and Libya going back


to the government issue. One has oil and one has vast reserves. The


other does not. You may remember that last week we


were talking about Europe. After a backbench MPs called for a


discussion in the Commons. A petition attributed to debate on


documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster. Although


getting 100,000 names on a petition is not a guarantee for a debate, it


does help. Why is a cut in fuel duty not on the agenda, which has


also gain signatures? The rising cost of fuel has been a long-


standing problem. In 2000, fuel protests paralysed parts of Britain


for seven days causing a crisis in the NHS, emptying supermarket


shelves and even closing schools. The protesters have won concessions


from the Government. But then Gordon Brown announced that duty


rates would be frozen, up till April 2002. But it was not enough.


In the 11 years since we have seen the motorways go-slow,


demonstrations at oil depot has had been seen. I am joined by Quentin


Willson, the motoring journalist. I'm also joined by Natascha Engel,


chair of the Backbench Business Committee, responsible for


scheduling the debate. Affair fuelled UK campaign has 100,000


signatures, the amount needed to look at the debate. When will it


happen? -- the FairFuelUK campaign. I'm glad to be given the


opportunity to come and explain this. We meet as a committee once a


week and once a week only, on a Tuesday. We are allocated time to


schedule debates by the Government. The FairFuelUK campaign came to us


in the form of Robert Huth and Fenby, to ask for time to debate


the petition. To have a vote, we have to have a debate in the


chamber, not Westminster Hall. If we were not allocated time in the


chamber which was why we could not have the debate. That is the


technical explanation but I suppose, in a way, the Government has raised


expectations. The public now expects, as you understand, that if


they get 100,000 signatures on an electronic petition, they will have


a debate. That's right. You have made the distinction between what


is the Government and what is the backbenchers. We do not have time


or power, we cannot say that we want to have a debating chamber. We


have to wait for the Government to allocate time. -- have a debate in


the chamber. The Government have brought in this system, of which is


welcome, but we do not have the time for the debate. Quentin will


not have this debate? We have not said that. The next time we are


allocated a day in the chamber, we will look at it to get -- look at


it again. Are you satisfied with that? I understand that Natascha


Engel is between a rock and a hard place. We have the expectation of


consumers thinking that they will get the debate if they get 100,000


signatures. This is sending out the wrong message about government


accountability. I know you cannot say this on air, but I need to know


that we will get a debate, because there is hardship out there.


you do everything you can and assure him that he will get the


debate? Actually, tomorrow we meet at 1pm and there is the electronic


petition on fair fuel but there are also other debates that have been


brought to us. It all depends on what it is that comes before us. I


would hate to say that, as the chair, I will decide what gets


debated but having said that, this is such an important issue. I


represent a rural constituency and this is one of my number one Paul


Spike issues. It has a high chance of being debated. You surely have


the power to say look, let's do it? We are all very supportive of the


process, but it is a committee of seven people. There is a high


likelihood we will do this. I want the Government to say Rosslea that


we are going to talk about this because it is affecting growth and


prosperity. The price of petrol has come down just recently. Only


slightly. We have two more duty rises next year, 8p. You have


Morrisons, as a, NCP car-parks, Tesco's, all saying that footfall


has been affected by higher fuel duty. -- ASDA. You say you are


supporting the electronic petition but a picture in a difficult


position. Is this the right way to go? I think it is the wrong way to


go because this has the potential to destroy what we do on the


business committee. Increasingly, we are only looking at debate


brought to us that have 100,000 signatures attached. I think we


need to separate out what his backbench business and what are


electronic petitions. If you have electronic petitions, you do not


have direct action. That is the spectre that is facing us. If the


committee says no for whatever reason, what is your next step?


will go into hiding! Prepare for the worst! A mildly phrased letter


was delivered to Downing Street this morning. We will get more


rockets. I am not saying direct action. God forbid. Let us do this


through the political process and get a statement from the Government


that they will look at this. We just want a debate. You could be


here again on future issues. But I will have to wind it up. Well, just


time before we go to find out the answer to a quiz and the question


was, what was the population of the world when Lord Levy was born? What


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