Which laws should we scrap?

Marcus's picture
Submitted by Marcus on Thu, 2010-07-01 08:03

In a historic move, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is asking people to submit ideas about which UK laws need to be scrapped.

He has already set up a website for contributions called "Your Freedom":


It remains to be seen whether the Government will actually act on the popular suggestions, or if it will just end up as a glorified talking shop.

After a quick look through I have seen some encouraging proposals such as the decriminalizing of drugs, allowing protests outside parliament, removing restrictions on fire-arm use, overturning anti-smoking ban and removing restrictions on Sunday trading.

So my question to SOLOists is what law or regulation would you repeal if you could choose just one?

I think I would overturn the ability of the Treasury to prosecute people for not paying taxes. (Assuming that is just one law.)

( categories: )

When did I say he was a spokesman for individual rights?

Marcus's picture

He made a good point about drugs and the right to existence.

Being a left-wing anarchist he has nothing else in common.

Oh, c'mon, Marcus...

Ross Elliot's picture

...Johnny as a spokesman for individual rights?

He's the poster boy for vicious effect of drugs upon the human mind.

I'll champion anyone who has three chords and the truth, but in his case (one chord at best) he's a disaster.

House of Lords reform halted after largest Tory rebellion

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House of Lords reform halted after largest Tory rebellion of the parliament

Clegg's hope of reforming upper chamber ran into trouble after revolt by 91 Conservatives led to bill being stopped in its tracks.

"Nick Clegg's hopes of reforming the House of Lords, completing a journey begun a century ago by his Liberal predecessors, ran into severe trouble on Tuesday when 91 Tory MPs defied a three line whip to vote against the measure in the largest rebellion of the parliament.

A furious David Cameron confronted the leader of the Tory rebellion just outside the House of Commons division lobbies late on Tuesday night as it became clear that normally loyal Tory MPs were determined to register their opposition to House of Lords reform.

One Tory described the behaviour of the prime minister, who raised his voice to the rebel leader Jesse Norman in front of colleagues, as "disgraceful" and a return to his "Flashman character". In a sign of the PM's anger with Norman, four whips sought Norman out in the Strangers' Bar minutes later and asked him to leave the parliamentary estate. One rebel said: "Jesse is a good man and so he did leave." The rebellion by the 91 Tory MPs failed to block the second reading of the bill which was passed after Ed Miliband instructed his MPs to give their backing. The bill was given a second reading by 462 votes to 124, a majority of 338, in one of the largest votes of the parliament.

But the bill – which would ensure that 80% of the members of a slimmed-down chamber are elected by 2025 – will face a bumpy ride after the Tory rebellion and after the government was earlier forced to withdraw a "programme motion" for the bill. An alliance of Labour MPs and Tory rebels prompted David Cameron to conclude he had no option other than to abandon a vote on a "programme motion" that would have set a timetable for the bill.

The move effectively stopped the bill in its tracks because the programme motion contained a provision to send it to its next stage – consideration on the floor of the Commons at committee stage.

A senior government source said: "This was a tactical withdrawal to avoid an operational defeat."

The strength of feeling was highlighted when the Tory MP Conor Burns resigned as a ministerial aide to allow him to vote against the bill at second reading. Angie Bray was later sacked as a ministerial aide to the cabinet office minister Francis Maude.

The coalition is now entering one of its most difficult phases as Tory MPs question the prime minister's authority. A central tactic by Downing Street – to delay a ministerial reshuffle to persuade aspiring MPs to support the government – backfired as loyalists joined the rebels who numbered close to 100. "There was strength in numbers," one senior MP said. "But they were brave."

Downing Street insisted that Cameron, who persuaded Clegg to allow him to withdraw the programme motion to give him more time to try to bring Tory MPs onside, believes the bill can be saved. But Clegg and Cameron, who held a series of tense meetings through the day, face a formidable challenge when they try to revive the bill in the autumn.

Government sources say ministers will seek to table an allocation of time motion, following the practice of the last Labour government to impose a time limit on debates.

But Miliband and the Tory rebels insisted they would stand by their respective positions. The Tory rebels are opposed to the bill and Miliband rejects out of hand any timetabling for it...

Miliband was criticised for double standards by Clegg aides. But Labour sources insisted that Miliband has adopted a consistent and credible position.

Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, told the BBC: "This is not a wrecking tactic – far from it. We've already given our assurances we'll do all we can to ensure the bill progresses. Instead, it's about making good an inadequate bill. And that means allowing parliament the time to revise, amend and improve the bill free from the threat of debate being stifled. The future of a reformed House of Lords should be all the better as a result."In his resignation statement Burns, aide to Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson, voiced unease at being forced to vote against Tory thinking. Burns told MPs: "I couldn't look myself in the eye if I voted for this bill at second reading and clearly that is incompatible with membership of Her Majesty's government ... what an Alice in Wonderland world we now live in that by voting for something that's been a mainstream view in this party for decades, indeed generations, now leads to incompatibility with serving in the government."

Johnny Rotten on Drugs

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Johnny Rotten appeared on question time last night, a topical current affairs problem with a live audience and a panel.

He is an anarchist, but of the left-leaning variety.

Although he didn't say anything controversial at first: he supports the NHS, the army, hates bankers etc... when it came to drugs and whether they should be legalized he got all fired up and hit the mark.

In the face of much finger-wagging he said something like, "we have the right to determine our own existence." Once he got going he kept returning to that line on other questions too. You have to remember that this BBC programme is usually overrun by politically correct liberals. Now that's great TV!

Here he is on drugs:

Anti-piracy agreement rejected by European Parliament

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Happy now Richard?

Acta down, but not out, as Europe votes against controversial treaty

Anti-piracy agreement rejected by European Parliament, but Acta could be revived by European Commission.

"The European Parliament has overwhelmingly defeated the international Acta anti-piracy agreement, delighting its opponents and plunging its supporters into gloom.

The vote is the first time that the parliament has used its powers under the Lisbon Treaty to reject an international trade agreement.

However, other countries such as the US and Japan are expected to continue with implementing it.

Acta could still be revived if the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, considers that it needs to be implemented and wins a court decision over it.

The parliamentary vote on approving the bill on Wednesday saw 478 against and 39 in favour, with 165 abstentions.

The defeat brings to an end years of secret international negotiations, during which opponents of the treaty had complained that it was not being given sufficient public examination to determine whether its proposals were excessive or reasonable.

When it finally surfaced and became the topic of European Parliament discussion, opponents complained that it could, if interpreted strictly, lead to censorship and loss of privacy online.

Fears that the treaty would limit internet freedom had mobilised broad opposition across Europe, leading to demonstrations in a number of cities in the spring.

Wednesday's decision means that as far as the EU is concerned, the treaty is dead – at least for the moment – though other countries may participate.

A spokesman for the European Commission said it might try again after it obtained a court ruling on whether the agreement violateed fundamental EU rights. If it did not, the EC might revive it – a move that the treaty's supporters called for after the vote."

Copy prohibition laws

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Copy prohibition laws.

Two-thirds of voters want to see Lords reformed

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Two-thirds of voters want to see Lords reformed

"The Coalition's plans for an elected House of Lords are backed by the public by a majority of more than two to one, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent.

The findings are a boost for Nick Clegg, the architect of Government plans for 80 per cent of peers to be elected, before he faces a knife-edge Commons vote next week that could scupper his hopes of forcing through the landmark reform.

Conservative MPs who oppose the shake-up claim that it should not be a priority at a time when voters want Parliament to focus on the economy. They argue that the public has little appetite for another layer of elected politicians.

But the survey suggests strong public backing for modernising the second chamber. Asked whether the current all-appointed House of Lords should be replaced by an 80 per cent elected chamber, 67 per cent agreed, 24 per cent disagreed and 9 per cent replied "don't know."

According to ComRes, there is widespread support for an elected second chamber among backers of all three main parties – 57 per cent of Conservative, 76 per cent of Labour and 64 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters. The proposal enjoys backing among voters in all social classes and regions, with young age groups more likely to support it than those aged 55 and over."

Labour will support Bill to reform Lords

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Labour will support Bill to reform Lords, says Ed Miliband

Opposition leader's pledge boosts Nick Clegg while dealing a blow to Conservative rebels.

"Ed Miliband threw a lifeline to Nick Clegg's sweeping plans for a mainly elected House of Lords yesterday by promising to force them through the Commons.

The Labour leader announced that the Opposition would support the Bill to reform the second chamber next month, on its second reading. Although Labour will vote against the Government's immediate attempt to cut short debate on the measure, it will back ministers when they call Commons votes to prevent rebel Conservative MPs "talking out" the Bill by making marathon speeches.

Mr Miliband's decision is a setback for Tory rebels, who had hoped to join forces with Labour to "kill the Bill" in the Commons. After an internal Labour debate, the Opposition leader, below, decided to put support for Lords reform ahead of the chance to scupper Mr Clegg's flagship proposal.

The Cabinet yesterday approved the plans, despite reservations among some Conservative ministers, including Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary. Between 50 and 100 Tory backbenchers oppose the shake-up and several parliamentary aides to ministers are threatening to resign.

Today, Mr Clegg will publish his Bill to replace the 800-strong, all-appointed Lords with a 450-member, 80 per cent elected House, with the first peers elected at the 2015 General Election and the final tranche in 2025. They would serve 15-year terms and,like MEPs, represent regions so they did not rival MPs in constituencies. The supremacy of the Commons would be enshrined in the Bill.

Mr Miliband's intervention improves Mr Clegg's chances of progress. But the Bill will still face a huge hurdle in the Lords, where many peers – including Labour representatives – will refuse to vote themselves out of a job."

Jersey threatens to break with UK over tax backlash

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Three cheers for Jersey!!!

Jersey threatens to break with UK over tax backlash

Island should be ready to become independent, says senior minister after political attacks on finance industry.

"A barrage of regulatory clampdowns and political attacks on the Channel Islands' controversial financial industry has prompted one of Jersey's most senior politicians to call for preparations to be made to break the "thrall of Whitehall" and declare independence from the UK.

Sir Philip Bailhache, the island's assistant chief minister, said: "I feel that we get a raw deal. I feel it's not fair … I think that the duty of Jersey politicians now is to try to explain what the island is doing and not to take things lying down.

"The island should be prepared to stand up for itself and should be ready to become independent if it were necessary in Jersey's interest to do so."

In a Guardian interview, he said strained relations with the UK over the past five years had made it "very plain" that Jersey's interests were not always aligned with those of Britain.

"I hope that the constitutional relationship with the UK will continue. But if it becomes plain that our interests in fact lie in being independent it doesn't seem to be that we should bury our head in the sand and say we're not going to do that."

For decades Jersey's tax, legal and regulatory framework has been structured to draw in the financial activities of multinational businesses and wealthy individuals. But a growing backlash has seen politicians in the UK and elsewhere lashing out at aggressive schemes leeching tax revenues from the increasingly stretched public wallets...

Not everyone shares the moral outrage at legally permitted tax schemes, particularly in the Channel Islands.

"Every state in the world has a different tax regime which every individual, wherever they sit, has a right to take advantage of," said Julian Winser, head of Schroders' Channel Islands private banking arm and president of Guernsey Chamber of Commerce.

"The principle of the free market is that it [legal tax avoidance] is available to all – even if some of them can't reach it. You could argue exactly the same thing from a job perspective by dint of the fact someone didn't have the right education. Ultimately the politics of envy creeps in to it." Bailhache is equally robust in defending tax structures. "I think this idea that there is some kind of grey area where things are within the law but you shouldn't do them is potentially quite difficult … People have to ask themselves: 'If you feel strongly [about] something people ought not to be doing, why don't you change the law to make it unlawful?'"

In an interview before Carr's tax arrangements were condemned last week by Cameron, Bailhache said Jersey's financial industry had to deal delicately with moral outrage in the UK at legal tax avoidance.

Another senior Channel Islands politician, who asked not to be named, said there was much private frustration at suggestions a Jersey trust company should be blamed for Carr avoiding UK tax.

He said: "The UK tax code is horrifically complicated. It has all sorts of exemptions and allowances and schemes – and that's fertile ground for tax avoiders."

In the face of ferocious political attack, Jersey is for the first time opening an office in London and frantically building lobbying contacts in Washington in an effort to repair relations. It has hired a top London public relations firm, Brunswick.

"We want to educate. We want to explain what the island is doing," said Bailhache, who is also the minister in charge of Jersey international relations. "We understand that the movement is towards collecting as much tax as the UK legitimately can do and it's not part of our function to help UK citizens to avoid paying their dues in the UK."

Previously relying on Britain to look after its international interests, Jersey last year began forging its own relations in Brussels.

Meanwhile, the island's powerful finance lobbying arm, Jersey Finance, is looking at ways to reduce the heavy dependence on UK and continental Europe, recruiting representatives in Abu Dhabi, China and are considering a new bureau in Brazil.

Lord McNally, the UK minister responsible for dealing with the Channel Islands, said he was well aware of disgruntlement. "The Crown Dependencies [the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man] are quick to point out their rights. A couple have independence movements and talk about going completely independent. I think it would be rather ill-advised of them to do so."

Back from a tour of the islands this month, McNally told the Guardian he had left them in no doubt the days of Britain turning a blind eye to aggressive loophole industries in the Channel Islands were over. "Treasuries all over are making tough decisions in these difficult times," is his message to the Channel Islands. Following a series of tough measures in the budget, he recalls being asked: "Is this the last time [the UK] Treasury is going to come stopping us doing things?"

His reply was firm: "No. The Treasury will continue to do its job."

Alan Duncan issues memo at DFID banning jargon words

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A man after Linz's own heart!

Alan Duncan issues memo at DFID banning jargon words such as 'going forward'

A Tory minister has issued a stern memorandum to his staff banning them from using jargon words such as “going forward”, “leverage” and “mainstream”.

"Describing himself as a “grammar fascist”, Alan Duncan MP has issued a memo accusing staff at the Department for International Development of damaging Britain’s worldwide reputation by using “language that the rest of the world doesn’t understand”.

The memo which was issued by his private office sets out the sort of language that the “MoS” – Minister of State – no longer wants to read from his civil servants either in internal briefings or in documents issued by the department.

It says: “The MoS would prefer that we did not ‘leverage’ or ‘mainstream’ anything, and whereas he is happy for economies to grow, he does not like it when we ‘grow economies’.

“Nor is he impressed with the loose and meaningless use of ‘going forward’, either at the beginning or the end of any sentence. Thus we do not ever ‘access’, ‘catalyse’, ‘showcase’ or ‘impact’ anything. Nearly as depressing for him is reading about DFID’s work in ‘the humanitarian space’.”

The memo which was published on the department’s internal website last week orders officials to think how a member of the public will interpret any written information before sending it out...

Mr Duncan, perhaps aware that his memo could damage morale in his department, concludes on a lighter note. The memo ends: “Disclaimer: MoS is always willing to be challenged about his judgement on grammatical standards and will not take offence at a properly reasoned opinion.”

Mr Duncan is not the first minister to complain about grammatical standards in his department. Last December it emerged that Department for Transport had had issued a 1,500-word report listing ministers’ pet grammatical hates."

G4S chief predicts mass police privatisation

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G4S chief predicts mass police privatisation

Private companies will be running large parts of the police service within five years, according to security firm head.

"Private companies will be running large parts of the UK's police service within five years, according to the world's biggest security firm.

David Taylor-Smith, the head of G4S for the UK and Africa, said he expected police forces across the country to sign up to similar deals to those on the table in the West Midlands and Surrey, which could result in private companies taking responsibility for duties ranging from investigating crimes to transporting suspects and managing intelligence.

The prediction comes as it emerged that 10 more police forces were considering outsourcing deals that would see services, such as running police cells and operating IT, run by private firms.

Taylor-Smith, whose company is in the running for the £1.5bn contract with West Midlands and Surrey police, said he expected forces across the country to have taken similar steps within five years . "For most members of the public what they will see is the same or better policing and they really don't care who is running the fleet, the payroll or the firearms licensing – they don't really care," he said...

Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire police announced this month that they were considering privatising some services in an attempt to tackle a £73m funding shortfall created by government cuts. Police authority members in the three counties will be asked to consider how services including HR, finance and IT could be outsourced in line with the G4S contract in Lincolnshire as part of a joint recommendation made by the three chief constables.

It has also emerged that Thames Valley, West Mercia, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Hampshire forces have begun a tendering process to outsource the running of 30 custody suites and 600 cells."

Respect the Falklanders, David Cameron tells Cristina Kirchner

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Three cheers for Cameron! Why do these limp-dick socialist countries short-of-cash keep going to the UN to try and get territory from the UK?

Respect the Falklanders, David Cameron tells Cristina Kirchner in row

David Cameron on Tuesday night had a furious face-to-face showdown with the Argentine president over the Falkland Islands.

"The Prime Minister “sought out” Cristina Kirchner on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, to warn her to respect the “self-determination of the Falklands”.

Argentina has become increasingly aggressive in its remarks about the islands following the 30th anniversary of the Falklands. Mrs Kirchner attempted to force a package marked UN-Malvinas, the Argentine name for the Falklands, into Mr Cameron’s hands.

He refused to accept it and walked off, with the encounter filmed on a handheld camera by one of Mrs Kirchner’s aides.

The incident took No10 aides by surprise and underlined the tense nature of relations between Argentina and Britain...

The row came after Mr Cameron attacked Argentina’s anti-business policies in a speech on Monday. In the speech to business leaders, the Prime Minister said that investment in Argentina had been “subject to restrictive measures” such as the recent forced nationalisation of a Spanish-controlled oil company.

Mrs Kirchner wants to open talks with the British over the sovereignty of the islands, ignoring the Falkland islanders who are not recognised by the Argentines. She has personally attacked Mr Cameron recently and pushed her case with the UN earlier this month."

"Opponents of assisted suicide stir up needless hysteria."

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Sir Terry Pratchett: opponents of assisted suicide stir up needless hysteria

Sir Terry Pratchett has accused opponents of assisted suicide of resorting to hysteria by stirring up fears about Nazi death camps.

"The author, who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, accused opponents – especially Churches – of relying on arguments about “gas chambers” and “jackboots”.

He told a gathering of supporters of assisted dying in Zurich, Switzerland – home of the Dignitas clinic – that the steady stream of people from the UK travelling abroad to end their lives was the “shame of Britain”.

Sir Terry, the creator or the discworld fantasy books, attracted a furore in some quarters last year with a BBC documentary in which he followed Peter Smedley, a 71-year-old motor-neurone sufferer to the clinic to end his life.

He told the congress of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies that the “vast majority” of people in the UK supported assisted suicide but that politicians were cowed by a vocal minority of opponents.

“I have spoken about this many times and always there is vociferous opposition to the idea and ultimately the opposition is from a small number of people, usually associated with the churches,” said Sir Terry...

He said that the BBC had received 750 letters of complaints about the programme before it had even been shown.

“Remarkably the wording of the letters had a consistent familiarity, this is not dialogue,” he said.

“You cannot have dialogue with somebody who thinks that shouting the word “Jackboots” is an argument.”

Spain to go to UN over Gibraltar sovereignty

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[I see, they don't have the money to bail out their own banks, but somehow the Spanish government have the time and money to claim back the 2.6 square miles of formerly uninhabited land the UK turned into an autonomous wealthy territory. Cunts!]

Spain to go to UN over Gibraltar sovereignty

Spain will go to the United Nations on Friday to insist that talks are opened on the sovereignty of Gibraltar.

"Spain's Ambassador to the UN will present a report reiterating Spanish claims over the Rock and calling for Britain to open talks to negotiate on the future of the 2.6 square mile territory which lies at the foot of Spain's southern coast.

"Spain will reiterate its position and talk about the how the situation has been developing in recent months," confirmed a spokesman at Spain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Daily Telegraph. "We will ask the UK to engage in conversation over sovereignty."...

Last week Spain lodged a formal complaint to the European Union over Gibraltar's new tax laws. Spain has told the Competition Directorate that it believes Gibraltar's 10 per cent tax regime amounts to illegal state aid under EU laws.

Tuesday night's massive projection of an image of the Queen beside a Union flag on the north face of the emblematic Rock and clearly visible over the border in Spain was seen as an "act of provocation" by many Spanish.

So too was the inauguration of Gibraltar's new airport terminal, the final official act undertaken by Prince Edward during his trip to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, which ended Wednesday.

"We don't approve of what was obviously a symbolic show of sovereignty during a time when we should be working towards solving problems," admitted a source in Spain's foreign office.

Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in perpetuity under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. But Spain has not renounced its claims of sovereignty and believes that auto-determination by the people of Gibraltar contravenes the treaty."

More jobseekers told to do unpaid work

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More jobseekers told to do unpaid work or face possible loss of benefits

Mandatory work activity requires jobseekers to work unpaid for up to 30 hours a week or risk losing their benefits.

"The government will tell up to 70,000 jobseekers that they must work unpaid for four weeks or lose their benefits for three months under an expansion of the mandatory work activity programme.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would also tighten up rules to stop jobseekers from "gaming the system" – evading mandatory placements by temporarily signing off the dole – after it found up to half of those assigned mandatory work had done just that.

Introduced in May last year, mandatory work activity requires claimants to carry out up to 30 hours unpaid work a week for up to four weeks for community benefit in an attempt to get jobseekers back into the habit of work.

Before the scheme started, the DWP told parliament that 10,000 jobseekers a year were expected to be sent on such placements, but figures released on Tuesday show more than 49,000 jobseekers have been referred to the scheme in its first 10 months.

Month-on-month referrals to the scheme, which are decided by jobcentre staff, are understood to outstrip those to the government's own flagship, but voluntary, work experience scheme.

Figures also reveal only 16,790 have actually started mandatory placements; the DWP says 46% of jobseekers either signed off benefits or failed to turn up rather than start the placement. The figures show that 2.4 times more men than women were being sent on the placements.

Grayling said he would be spending £5m on expanding the scheme to increase placement numbers by 9,000 and he would tighten up rules later this year to stop jobseekers from signing off before placements and then returning to the claims office weeks later to avoid doing mandatory placements. "People need to be aware that, for those who are fit enough to work, it is simply not an option to sit on benefits and do nothing.

"We've found that a month's full-time activity can be a real deterrent for some people who are either not trying or who are gaming the system. But we're also fighting a battle to stop claimants slipping back into the benefits system by the back door."

"That's why for the extended roll out of mandatory work activity, we will toughen up the sanctions regime and make sure that anyone reclaiming jobseeker's allowance will have to complete a full placement or face a further sanction."

Unpaid jubilee jobseekers: Downing Street dismisses criticisms

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Unpaid jubilee jobseekers: Downing Street dismisses criticisms

Prime minister's spokeswoman says treatment of unemployed people who worked as stewards was a 'one-off'

"Downing Street has brushed off the controversy over the treatment of unpaid jobseekers who provided security during the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations.

In a rebuff to Lord Prescott, who has accused the government of "exploiting cheap labour", the prime minister's spokeswoman dismissed the treatment of the jobseekers as a "one-off" and an "isolated incident".

The spokeswoman said: "This is a one-off … This is an isolated incident. The company has apologised."

Downing Street responded to the criticism at its weekly lobby briefing shortly after Prescott accused the government of presiding over the development of labour camps following revelations that unpaid jobseekers on the government's work programme were asked by the Close Protection UK (CPUK) security firm to sleep under London bridge before stewarding the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations over the weekend.

The former deputy prime minister has written to the home secretary after becoming "deeply concerned" by revelations in the Guardian about the treatment of up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages who were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth on Saturday before the pageant on Sunday as part of the government's work programme.

Downing Street dismissed the criticisms as it made clear that the government would not be making any changes to its work programme, which arranges for companies and charities to provide unpaid work experience for those on jobseeker's allowance.

The prime minister's spokeswoman said: "We understand that the company involved has apologised. But more broadly the work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable … The work programme itself offers experience and the chance to develop those skills that people really need to get into sustainable jobs."

Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, told the Guardian that they had to camp under London bridge overnight, to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.

The TUC warned that the "appalling treatment of staff" that had been reported had shone a spotlight on "the damage that unpaid work experience risks causing people who are desperate to get back into proper employment, as well as the exploitative treatment that they can face".

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said the revelations suggested that government programmes involving unpaid jobseekers might be displacing proper jobs "that pay at least the minimum wage".

Barber also drew attention to government plans to water down workers' rights.

He said: "The main experience gained by staff appears to have been poor working conditions and exploitation. Worse still, the government is encouraging more employers to treat staff poorly at work by stepping up its attacks on basic employment rights.

"This case has attracted attention because of its link to the diamond jubilee. Sadly low-paid vulnerable employment such as this occurs on a daily basis throughout the country. The number of involuntary temporary workers is at a record high. These are not the jobs that will take Britain out of recession and improve people's living standards."

CPUK has issued "sincere apologies" for what it called the "London bridge incident", but insisted that the poor conditions reported had been exaggerated.

Molly Prince, the managing director of CPUK, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The whole situation has been exaggerated and we're talking about two or three people complaining out of 220 staff that were supplied to the event."

Scottish independence campaign has stalled

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Scottish independence campaign has stalled, says Alistair Darling

Poll commissioned by anti-independence campaign finds only a third of Scots want to leave UK.

"Alistair Darling has claimed that Alex Salmond's campaign for Scottish independence has stalled at the starting line after a poll found that only a third of Scots want to leave the UK.

The poll findings were released by the former chancellor a few hours before Salmond launched his party's long-awaited "Yes Scotland" campaign for the referendum on independence in 2014, centred on a new public declaration supporting separation under the slogan "Scotland's Future in Scotland's Hands".

The event at a multiscreen cinema in Edinburgh, billed as the largest community-based political movement in the country's history, will feature pro-independence celebrities and public figures including former Labour politicians such as the former Falkirk MP Dennis Canavan.

SNP activists around Scotland are being trained to act as campaigners for independence, and urged to attempt to convert and persuade as many work colleagues, friends and family members in their areas as possible, and to lobby opinion formers in their community.

In a deliberate attempt to undermine Friday's launch, Darling said that even though Salmond had held power for five years, the YouGov poll – paid for by the soon-to-be-launched anti-independence campaign – had confirmed that leaving the UK still appealed to a minority of voters.

The YouGov poll of 1,004 people found that only 33% of Scots would opt for independence, while 57% would reject it, findings which are close to several recent surveys but show lower support for independence than others.

In another damaging finding for the pro-independence movement, the poll also suggested that only 58% of people who voted for the SNP in last May's landslide victory for Salmond would back independence in a snap referendum, while 28% of SNP voters opposed it.

"Even after winning two Scottish general election victories, raising a war-chest of millions and deploying the full resources of the Scottish government, Alex Salmond has failed to convince Scots that they should leave the United Kingdom," Darling said.

"The nationalists will go to great lengths to try to prove there is a groundswell towards leaving the UK but the truth is that their campaign is stalled. Independence is as unpopular as it has ever been."...

Angus Robertson, the SNP's campaign director, did not directly challenge the YouGov poll's findings but said it was essentially irrelevant, since the referendum was not being staged until the autumn of 2014.

"The referendum isn't happening tomorrow, as the poll tries to pretend. Today is the start of the biggest community-based campaign in Scotland's history, offering a positive, inclusive vision of Scotland's future as an independent nation – and we are extremely confident of winning the trust of the people and achieving a yes vote in autumn 2014.

"And Alistair Darling isn't even confident enough to ask the clear, straightforward question in the referendum consultation document. An independent Scotland will have the political and fiscal independence that we need to build a fair society and successful economy, while sharing a close social union with our friends and neighbours in England, including the Queen as our joint head of state."

David Cameron: 'Ed Balls is a muttering idiot'

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Balls staggered at PM's idiot taunt

"Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has said he was "completely staggered" when David Cameron branded him a "muttering idiot" during an angry outburst in the Commons.

He claimed the Prime Minister's instinct was to "lash out" but suggested it would be better if he "calmed down" and examined where he was going wrong.

The insult came after Mr Balls repeatedly taunted the Conservative leader during prime minister's questions on Wednesday, reportedly telling him to "chillax, and have another glass of wine" - a reference to a recently published book which claims Mr Cameron unwinds from the stresses of his job by drinking three or four glasses of wine with Sunday lunch.

Mr Balls told Sky News: "To be fair to me, I have not been muttering for the last 18 months, I've been shouting from the rooftops the Cameron Osborne plan would fail."

He added: "If I'm honest with you I was completely staggered. It was 12.27pm and suddenly he lashes out like that. I was completely taken aback. But, you know, the guy is obviously worried about the economy and worried about his reputation and doesn't know what to do and his instinct is to lash out."

He added "Actually, it would be better if he calmed down and thought to himself 'what did I get wrong, what can I do about it?'

The Prime Minister was answering a question on the Government's economic record when he lashed out...

Speaker John Bercow told Mr Cameron to withdraw the word idiot as it was "unparliamentary". The Prime Minister replied that he would replace it with the words "the man who left us with this enormous deficit and this financial crisis".

His outburst prompted cries of "Flashman" - a reference to the bully in Tom Brown's Schooldays - from the Labour benches. The taunt is a favourite among Labour MPs, who think Mr Cameron is at his weakest during Prime Minister's Questions when he is visibly riled and angry."

'Socialist' Vince Cable not fit for office, says Adrian Beecroft

Marcus's picture

'Socialist' Vince Cable not fit for office, says Adrian Beecroft

Vince Cable is a “socialist” who should never have been put in charge of business policy, a Downing Street adviser claims today.

"Adrian Beecroft, who reviewed employment law for No 10, says that Liberal Democrat objections to plans for removing red tape are harming the economy and preventing companies from creating jobs.

In his first newspaper interview, the venture capitalist tells The Daily Telegraph that entrepreneurs are going abroad and that unemployment is rising because of the Coalition’s failure to help business. The impact on the public sector of outdated employment regulations is even more damaging, he says, with taxpayer-funded services “hugely less efficient than they could be” because of the legal difficulties associated with dismissing under-performing workers.

He concludes that the economy will grow by five per cent less than expected – the equivalent of more than £50 billion – because of the Government’s failure to push through radical reform of employment laws.

The Beecroft report was finally published earlier this week, following the leak of the recommendations to this newspaper. The central recommendations, which would make it easier for firms to sack poor performers, were dismissed as “bonkers” by the Liberal Democrats...

Mr Beecroft, a major Tory donor, says in today’s interview that he backs the delay of new family-friendly rules and questions why ministers want to “use businesses as a sort of agent of government”. Asked what the impact would be by 2020 if his recommendations were not introduced, Mr Beecroft said: “Some points of lost GDP. If all my recommendations were done in the private sector [there would be] up to five per cent [increase] of GDP.

“I’m convinced that the result [of not implementing the proposals] is less employment than there would be and that businesses are less efficient than they could be and that the public services are hugely less efficient than they could be.”

He adds: “There’d be more jobs and we’re in a sort of phase in this country and probably most of the western world where we’re so frightened of injuring people’s feelings, we ignore all the people, [because of] the unwillingness to injure some people’s feelings.”

He claims the Business Secretary’s objections to the proposals are “ideological not economic”. “I think he is a socialist who found a home in the Lib Dems, so he’s one of the Left,” Mr Beecroft says. “I think people find it very odd that he’s in charge of business and yet appears to do very little to support business.”

The venture capitalist also discloses that the Conservatives were very supportive of his proposals in private meetings, despite Mr Cameron now publicly distancing himself from the report.

He says: “I’m talking about Steve Hilton, that group and they assured me that David Cameron wanted to do the whole thing. Whether that’s right or not I’m not sure but that was the strong impression I got. I’ve been in meetings with Oliver Letwin and Ed Davey, where Oliver Letwin was all for and Ed Davey was totally against.”

He added: “And then there was a large argument which I’m told ended up in the 'quad’ [the core Coalition leaders of Mr Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander] when they’re sort of trading off one policy against the other.”

The International Monetary Fund backed the Government’s economic policies but said that more might need to be done to cut taxes or increase spending if the economy failed to recover.

The global financial watchdog concluded that measures to boost economic growth by raising spending on infrastructure had been “modest” so far. It also suggested that the Bank of England might have to embark on a new round of quantitative easing and cut interest rates."

David Cameron says he is driven like Margaret Thatcher

Marcus's picture

David Cameron says he is driven like Margaret Thatcher

David Cameron has shrugged off claims that he 'chillaxes' too much at weekends by playing games on his iPad.

"David Cameron has defended his style of government against claims he "chillaxes" too much at weekends by playing games on his iPad. He insisted he was driven like Lady Thatcher to achieve "massive radical and structural reforms".

The prime minister pointed to his examination of radical "no fault" options to make it easier to dismiss workers as a way of boosting employment in the UK...

Asked if he had lapsed into being an administrator in the manner of Harold Macmillan as opposed to a Thatcherite reformer, he insisted: "There are many things this government has done that previous reforming governments were not able to do."

He then cited a long list of policies including reforms to pensions, student finance, welfare, tax reform and a lower top rate of tax. He added: "We have created more academies in two years than Tony Blair managed in 10."

Cameron also signalled his intention to reform the civil service further to make it leaner and more effective, but pointed out it was already at its smallest since the second world war, saying this was a fundamental change that only a radical government could achieve.

He said he was in favour of publication of the Beecroft report into employment laws, which is due this week, adding that options such as "no fault dismissal" should be kept on the table. The report has taken on near mythical status on the Conservative right as a solution to achieving economic growth.

He said: "I am interested in anything that makes it easier for one person to say to another person 'come and work for me' because we need to make our economies flexible.

"I'm not particularly wedded to one set of proposals or another but as part of our growth and enterprise agenda we should be open to all thinking about what could make that process easier, of which this is clearly a contribution.

"I don't think there's a conflict between family friendly policies on the one hand and pro-business policies on the other. The economy will be stronger if we find ways of encouraging people back into work."

G8 summit: French €57bn financial tax plan rejected by UK

Marcus's picture

Hollande and Obama, a match made in heaven. Barf!

G8 summit: French €57bn financial tax plan rejected by UK

"Barack Obama was caught between two competing European visions of how to solve the financial crisis at the G8 summit when David Cameron rejected outright a French proposal to raise €57bn (£46bn) through a tax on financial transactions.

The eurozone crisis is set to dominate four days of intense diplomacy which began in Washington Friday morning and continued through a meeting of G8 leaders at the presidential retreat Camp David on Friday evening. Discussions will continue there on Saturday and on to a Nato meeting in Chicago.

In talks at the White House, only hours before the Camp David summit, Obama met the new French president, François Hollande, for a one-to-one conversation in which he explored the possibility of a new approach to the eurozone crisis based on a pro-growth, stimulus strategy. Obama has been pressing for such a strategy for the past three years and has a potential ally in Hollande.

The White House welcomed what it sees as a change in the debate since Hollande's election that tilts the balance slightly more in favour of a growth strategy.

The French president is proposing an EU-wide financial transaction tax (FTT) that could raise up to €57bn a year that could be used to stimulate the 27-nation bloc.

After meeting Obama, Hollande was scheduled to meet David Cameron in Washington before flying to Camp David.

However on arriving in the US, Cameron said: "On the financial transactions tax I'm very clear. We are not going to get growth in Europe or Britain by introducing a new tax that would actually hit people as well as financial institutions. I don't think it is a sensible measure. I will not support it."

Cameron pointedly backed Hollande's conservative rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the presidential election and refused to meet Hollande in London during the campaign. However, the prime minister has now been trying to forge an alliance with the new French government to press Germany to do more to solve the euro crisis. The FTT is proving a sticking point between them.

In his meeting with Obama, Hollande hinted at a compromise over his election pledge to pull French combat troops out of Afghanistan early. The US and Britain fear a premature exit by France could also send other countries rushing to the exit ahead of the 2014 deadline for withdrawal.

At the White House, Hollande insisted he was standing by his pledge but left the door open for a compromise. He said he was committed to providing assistance on Afghan security but in a different way and this would be discussed at the Nato summit held in Chicago on Sunday and Monday. It is thought Hollande and Obama discussed French troops switching to a training role.

Obama was looking for a good relationship with Hollande, hoping to enlist him as an ally in support of the US push for a pro-growth/stimulus approach to the eurozone crisis.

The two appeared to get along, with Obama teasing Hollande about having studied fast food. Hollande said he had nothing against "cheeseburgers", prompting Obama to add lamely that cheeseburgers "go very good with French fries".

All legislation

kinsella's picture

Should be abolished. All. Objectivists have become legal positivists.


David Cameron considers extra £25bn of welfare cuts

Marcus's picture

David Cameron considers extra £25bn of welfare cuts

David Cameron is considering ordering billions of pounds in extra welfare cuts proposed in a confidential Downing Street policy paper, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

"The plans include a new crackdown on housing benefit and a “mark two” system of universal credit to help push people off benefits back into full-time, rather than part-time, work. There are also understood to be a range of measures to encourage more women, particularly single mothers, to return to work.

The proposals have been drawn up in a policy paper for the Prime Minister presented by Steve Hilton, the outgoing Number Ten director of implementation, and Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary.

Mr Hilton, who left Downing Street yesterday for a post at a Californian university is understood to believe that another £25 billion can be cut from the welfare budget although this level of saving is regarded as “absolute nonsense” by Mr Duncan Smith.

The savings will be made from cutting back benefits for people of working age. However, the Work and Pensions Secretary has privately indicated that pensioner benefits should also be re-considered in future, but not for people who have already retired.

The new round of welfare reforms are designed to be introduced from 2014 as the measures are expected to be politically popular in the run-up to the next election. However, the plans are understood not yet to have been shared with the Liberal Democrats...

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has indicated that the welfare budget should be cut by another £10 billion between 2015 and 2017 but the latest proposals go far beyond this level.

The Department of Work and Pensions believe that some of the “savings” that Mr Hilton is proposing will occur naturally through “behavioural changes” as a result of the current welfare reforms.

However, these behavioural changes are not factored into the official savings to the benefit system by 2015, estimated at up to £20 billion by the Treasury.

“Some of the reforms being proposed as things which should be a natural consequence of what is already happening, but not factored into the official spending figures,” said one source.

Ministers have already made dramatic reforms to incapacity and unemployment benefits. From next year, a new universal credit will replace many other benefits and provide people with a single payment. This is designed to encourage people back to work.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph earlier this week, Mr Duncan Smith set out plans to cut disability benefits, the next stage of the welfare reform programme.

The reform of welfare is regarded as one of the Government’s most popular policies. Labour has sought to oppose many of the cutbacks, but several senior Labour figures are uneasy about the party’s stand which has alienated some working class voters.

Mr Hilton is regarded as a “blue sky thinker” whose radical and ambitious ideas have infuriated civil servants. Although some of his proposals have been dismissed as too radical and unrealistic, his plans for welfare reform are understood to be highly respected by the Prime Minister."

Why should an insult be against the law?

Marcus's picture

Why should an insult be against the law?

With the gay marriage debate heating up, freedom of speech is back on the agenda.

"What matters most: free speech or public order? And how much of the former must we sacrifice to ensure the latter? This question has vexed our legislators for many years. In 1936, with Mosley’s Blackshirts on the march in London’s East End, a new Public Order Act criminalised behaviour that was not of itself violent but was “threatening, abusive, insulting or disorderly” and that was intended or likely to cause a breach of the peace.

The aim was to stop fascists screaming abuse at Jews in the streets; and while most civilised people wanted to shut the thugs up, there was a good deal of agonising over whether the wording was an unwarranted restriction of free speech, the beacon of liberty that marked us out from what was happening in Continental Europe at the time. On the other hand, the fear perpetrated by the Blackshirts was itself a threat to essential British liberties. A balance had to be struck and Parliament endeavoured to do so.

This debate was revisited 50 years later, when the Thatcher government updated public order laws in 1986 to take account of the disturbances in Brixton and Toxteth and at a succession of industrial disputes, such as the miners’ strike and Wapping. Ministers also wanted to get a grip once and for all on the mayhem that had taken hold of our national sport. Every Saturday, the football terraces were a seething mass of contorted faces and vile chanting (so little change there, then). Crucially, section five of the Public Order Act 1986 removed the requirement for an intention to cause a breach of the peace. Instead, abusive or insulting behaviour was to be penalised if it was within the hearing or sight of a person “likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”...

Here we are, 25 years on, and once again this provision is proving controversial, not least because it is being used to criminalise what many people might consider simply to be a point of view that others do not like. Tomorrow, a parliamentary campaign is being launched in an effort to persuade the Government to remove the word “insulting” from the Act after a series of arrests and prosecutions of Christians for expressing their opinions.

They include a preacher who was convicted under section five for walking the streets of Bournemouth carrying a placard with the words “Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism”. Another case involved Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, Christian hoteliers in Liverpool charged with insulting a Muslim guest because they engaged in a conversation about religion. Mr Vogelenzang was alleged to have said that Mohammed was a warlord, while his wife stated that Muslim dress is a form of bondage for women. They were acquitted, but campaigners argue that they should never have been arrested in the first place and that people like them would be spared months of worry if the law was amended. Other notorious arrests under this measure include that of a teenager who described the Church of Scientology as a “cult” and the Oxford undergraduate who was arrested for asking a police officer if he realised his horse was gay.

Clearly, none of these “crimes” were envisaged as such in 1936, when a real menace stalked the land, or even in 1986, when the law was changed largely to stop abuse by football fans. The obvious problem is the subjective nature of an insult. While most of us can recognise abusive language when we hear it, in what way is it a crime to take issue with someone else’s opinion, or even their religion? This is likely to become more problematic as the gay marriage debate heats up. This measure was not in the Queen’s Speech, principally so that Her Majesty would not have to announce something opposed by the Church of which she is head. But when the consultation ends next month, the Government intends to legislate. As Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem equalities minister, said at the weekend, the consultation is not about whether to proceed, but how.

Christian groups are worried that antipathy to gay marriage will fall foul of the law. In this they are supported by Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner, who sees how such a law can easily be abused on grounds of political correctness. It is not so long ago that it would have been used to stop gay pride marches. Nor are these isolated matters. Figures unearthed by the Conservative MP Dominic Raab show that in 2009, section five of the Public Order Act was used more than 18,000 times, mainly for the non-specified crime of insult.

The Home Office has been consulting on this matter, but shows little inclination to do anything about it. If the debate around gay marriage is not to get ugly, the Government would be advised to change the law before people are hauled before the courts for defending their traditional understanding that matrimony, as the root of the word suggests, is the union of a man and a woman.

In a free and civilised country, people should not be abusive or gratuitously offensive to each other; but they should be entitled to voice an opinion that someone else might find insulting. It is a hallmark of liberty that it allows a person to say something that is provocative, otherwise it is no freedom at all. John Milton put it best: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

Disability benefits to be slashed

Marcus's picture

Disability benefits to be slashed

Work and pensions secretary unrepentant that half a million can expect to lose payments under new regime.

"Half a million people are set to lose their disability benefits under government plans, it has emerged.

The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said he was determined to introduce radical reforms to disability allowances that could slash the annual cost by £2.24bn.

Around 500,000 people in the UK who receive disability living allowance (DLA) could no longer be eligible for the replacement personal independence payment (PIP) under the plans, which are outlined in a report by the Department for Work and Pensions this month.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Duncan Smith said there had been a 30% rise in the the number of claimants in recent years, with the annual cost of the benefits soon to reach £13bn.

Under the reforms two million claimants would be reassessed in the next four years and only those considered to be in need of support able to qualify.

Duncan Smith told the Daily Telegraph: "We are creating a new benefit, because the last benefit grew by something like 30% in the past few years.

"It's been rising well ahead of any other gauge you might make about illness, sickness, disability or for that matter, general trends in society.

"A lot of that is down to the way the benefit was structured so that it was very loosely defined. Second thing was that in the assessment, lots of people weren't actually seen.

"Third problem was lifetime awards. Something like 70% had lifetime awards, (which) meant that once they got it you never looked at them again. They were just allowed to fester."


Ross Elliot's picture

...I don't know if any of this is a step forward or a step *sideways*.

I've long subscribed to the idea that what we're becoming is a society where everything is either defined as legal or illegal: the ultimate bureaucracy where some agent has the power of decision.

The idea, and I've no doubt you understand this, is that the state should not implement policies to effect our freedom, but that it should dispose of laws that have anything to say about those freedoms.

Queen's Speech: The good, the bad and the old

Marcus's picture

That's right Ross. Cameron gets that the recovery has to be in the private sector and the economy has transferred in that direction in the last two years. A hell of a lot more work needs to be done to undo the damage wrought by the 13 years of New Labour though.

Queen's speech 2012: main bills at a glance

Queen's Speech 2012 at-a-glance: Bill-by-bill

Is that it? All over in 15 minutes...

Here's my take on the new bills announced today in the Queen's speech before Parliament:

Mixed bag

**Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill**

"Workers must have been employed for at least two years before they can bring an unfair dismissal case.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is intended to boost economic growth against a backdrop of continuing turmoil in the Eurozone. It will overhaul employment tribunals, remove 'unnecessary' business legislation and limit inspection of firms.

The Bill also confirms the Government’s intention to set up an investment bank to speed up private sector investment in the green economy.

On Director's pay, shareholders will be allowed a binding vote on the remuneration of directors."

Eliminating the possibility of bringing cases of unfair dismissal in the first two years of employment is a good step towards deregulating the labour market! Lets hope to see more unecessary legislation removed.

The Good

**House of Lords Reform Bill**

"Bringing democracy to the House of Lords to ensure the majority of its members are elected. The size of the chamber will be substantially cut.

Elections would be staggered, with a third of the seats coming up for renewal at each election, with members serving for a single, 15-year term - a provision designed to enhance their independence from day-to-day party politics."

Democracy at last!

**The draft communications data bill**

"This will allow police and security agencies to access communication data "under strict safeguards" as part of investigations into terrorism and serious crime. The proposals have been dubbed a "snooper's charter" by civil rights campaigners.

The measures will not give the police the power to retain the contents of any emails or telephone conversations but will include the time and duration of the communication, the phone number or email address contacted and "sometimes" the location of the person making the contact.

There will be a 12-month limit on the time communication service providers have to retain the data – in line with an existing EU directive – and measures to protect it from unauthorised access or disclosure. The role of the interception of communications commissioner will also be extended to oversee the collection of the data."

With protection of privacy of innocent individuals from the state. Ministers are stressing that the police and other bodies will not be allowed to look at the content of e-mails or text messages without a warrant, as is the case now.

**The small donations bill**

"Designed to allow charities, notably small charities, to claim additional payments to help boost their income. Charities will no longer have to collect gift aid declarations on small donations, but will instead receive a top-up payment for donations of £20 or less.

This will allow them to claim 25p for every £1 collected in the UK, on up to £5,000. However, charities will need a three-year track record of successfully claiming gift aid to be eligible for the scheme to avoid fraud. There will be a limit on payments to charities that are linked to others. Those that benefit from the scheme will need to continue to make gift aid claims."

Any tax relief is welcome. Especially charities the government wants to take over the role of the state.

**The electoral registration and administration bill**

"This will place a new requirement on voters to register individually to reduce the potential for electoral fraud.

The move away from registering on the electoral roll by household will be phased in from 2014, and by 1 December 2015 everyone on the electoral register will be registered under the new system. The modernisation of the electoral registration system will open the way for people to sign up online for the right to vote and improve the way elections are run. The original proposals were set out in a white paper last year."

Clamping down on voting fraud is good. Especially because Labour are main culprits! It's true. There has been a famous prosecution of a Labour MP manufacturing postal votes in the basement!

**Crime and Courts Bill**

"Establishes a National Crime Agency to take the lead on organised crime, enhance border security and fight cyber crime. Allows TV cameras into courtrooms "in limited circumstances". Judicial appointments will be reformed to increase transparency and diversity."

Proper role of the state.

**Defamation Bill**

"Will introduce changes to defamation law which will rebalance freedom of expression with a person's ability to protect their reputation. Defamation will only have occurred if "serious harm" has been caused. This is meant to discourage trivial claims. Rules will also be tightened to avoid 'libel tourism'."

Freedom of speech promoted!

The bad

**The banking reform bill**

"This bill will implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking to help prevent further bank bailouts by establishing a "safer and more resilient" banking sector. One of the main reforms will be to force banks to ringfence their retail arms from riskier investment banking divisions.

A new rule, known as the depositor preference, will ensure ordinary savings and deposit accounts are repaid first when a bank goes under.

Other proposals include making it easier for customers to switch their account from one bank to another by September 2013 and requiring banks to increase capital reserves to make them more resilient to financial crises."

**Groceries Adjudicator Bill**

"Will establish a Groceries Code Adjudicator to enforce the Groceries Code. This makes sure the largest retailers, such as the big name supermarkets, treat their suppliers fairly."

**Energy Bill**

"Reforms the electricity market to encourage more investment in low carbon generation and clean energy. Puts more restrictions on the emissions of new coal plants and creates a new independent regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, funded by the industry."

Enough said. No business of the state.

**The draft care and support bill**

"Will give people more power to make decisions about the care and support they receive but makes no mention of the future funding of social care.

It will modernise the legal framework for care to "support the vision" of reforms eventually set out in a forthcoming white paper on care and support.

The bill will set out what support people can expect from the state and what action the government will take to help them prepare and make informed choices about their care.

It will require local authorities to fit their services around users' needs, rather than expecting them to fit in with what is available locally.

It will also "put people in control of their care and give them greater choice, building on progress with personal budgets".

The legislation will create a new London Health Improvement Board and establish Health Education England and the Health Research Authority as non-departmental public bodies."

More burgeoning bureaucracy.

The same old, same old

**The pensions bill**

"Will reform and simplify the state pension system, replacing the existing "complex" system with a new single-tier pension (currently estimated to be set at around £140 per week) and bring forward an increase in the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028. It also commits to ensuring that the state pension age is increased in the future "to take into account increases in longevity".

**Public Service Pensions Bill**

"Implements controversial reforms to public sector pensions. Moves public sector pensions over to a career average scheme and extends the age at which members can draw their pensions. The Government says this will make them sustainable, with costs shared between employers, workers and taxpayers 'more fairly'."

**European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill**

"Approves the creation of the European Stability Mechanism, a permanent means to support Eurozone countries in trouble. Exempts the UK from a new European bailout agreement between eurozone countries."

Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Well said by Cameron

Ross Elliot's picture

"It is tough, it is difficult, but these are the right steps to take so that we don't just pump the bubble back up and try and enjoy the sort of growth we had which was something of a mirage in recent years, but let's build something really worthwhile, and yes it will take time, but it will be built to last, rather than as the last recovery was, built on sand."

The recent elections in Europe have been instructive. The headlines often reported that this meant the end of austerity measures.

As if these countries had a choice. Apparently they do: all you have to do is elect the right people and that's the end of nasty cutbacks.

Reality awaits them.

Government will continue 'difficult' spending cuts says Cameron

Marcus's picture

Government will continue 'difficult' spending cuts, insists David Cameron

"Prime Minister David Cameron insisted today the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was “as important and necessary” now as it was when the two parties came together in Government two years ago.

In a joint appearance with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Mr Cameron insisted the Government could not "let up" on its deficit reduction strategy but said it was "not just about the dry numbers of the economy".

He promised to get behind "families that work hard and do the right thing".

Amid heightened tensions between the Tories and Lib Dems after the two parties' poor showing in last week's local elections, Mr Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to the coalition formed in May 2010.

"I believe the need for that coalition - two parties working together to solve the problems we have in our country - I think is as important and necessary today as it was two years ago," he said.

The Prime Minister said the coalition would keep to its "difficult" spending plans to tackle the country's debts.

"We can't let up on the difficult decisions we've made to cut public spending and to get the deficit and debt under control.

"I know it's hard, I know it's difficult, but when you've got a debt problem the one thing you mustn't do is keep adding endlessly to that debt."

He said the Government needed to keep interest rates low, which would help firms expand and families cope with their mortgages, and "redouble" its efforts to promote economic growth.

The Prime Minister added that he and Mr Clegg were driven by the desire to create something "more worthwhile" than Labour...

Mr Cameron said the level of debt in households, banks and in Government had made recovery "difficult".

He said there was "some rebalancing going ahead" in the economy, with rising exports, but added: "When you think of the enormous boom we had in terms of housing - and banking and finance and Government spending and also, I would argue, uncontrolled immigration as well - the drivers of growth were completely unsustainable.

"Now those drivers have gone, it's really tough, hard, pain-staking work getting our economy to grow, but it must be the right thing to try and deliver growth which is based on real hard work and effort: proper jobs, proper manufacturing, proper industry, based on the fact that Government can't go on spending and borrowing beyond its means."

Mr Cameron stressed the need to be "very frank with people", adding: "It is tough, it is difficult, but these are the right steps to take so that we don't just pump the bubble back up and try and enjoy the sort of growth we had which was something of a mirage in recent years, but let's build something really worthwhile, and yes it will take time, but it will be built to last, rather than as the last recovery was, built on sand."

Senior backbenchers demand tax cuts and Euro referendums

Marcus's picture

Senior backbenchers demand tax cuts and Euro referendums in their 'Alternative Queen's Speech'

"Senior Tory backbenchers will today demand tax cuts and two referendums on Europe in an ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ designed to urge David Cameron to give voters more traditional Conservative measures.

The MPs want action to prove the Tories are the party of small business and ordinary consumers, rather than the rich and big business.

Their proposals include bills to take more workers out of the 40p tax bracket and slash Capital Gains Tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent.

A Fairness to UK Taxpayers Bill would introduce road charging for foreign truckers who use British roads and foreign visitors to British museums.

It would also require NHS trusts by law to make foreign patients pay up – putting an end to health tourism into the NHS.

The plans have been drawn up by a group of Tory backbenchers led by grandees David Davis and John Redwood.

Mr Davis said yesterday: ‘We are five sixths of the Government and there should be a reflection of that.

'What a number of backbenchers have heard on the doorstep is, “Where’s the beef? What is it that’s telling us this is a Conservative government?”.’

The MPs will call for a referendum on which powers Britain should seek to repatriate from Brussels.

The Government would then negotiate the changes with the EU and voters would have another referendum on whether to accept the final deal.

In a further nod to classic Tory values, the MPs are demanding an expansion of grammar schools and the right for companies to make profits running new schools so long as they plough some of the money back into education...

The MPs also want the Prime Minister to push ahead immediately with a British Bill of Rights to supplant the Human Rights Act.

On constitutional issues, the Scottish government would be given powers over all tax apart from VAT and National Insurance to encourage greater accountability north of the border.

In return, Scottish MPs would be banned from voting on English-only issues at Westminster.

Another crowd-pleasing suggestion among Right-wingers would be a Bill to clip the wings of the University Access Tsar.

An Anti-Congestion Bill would force local government chiefs to make reducing traffic problems a requirement of their highways strategy.

A Competition Bill would introduce competitive challenge to all water companies, by making the pipe network a common carrier system.

The proposals also contain an affordable energy bill to slash subsidies to expensive energy sources and promote shale gas and competition between suppliers.

Instead of throwing billions at High Speed Rail, the MPs want long-term investment in existing railways to improve journey times, reduce overcrowding and minimise fare rises.

The full text of the bills will be published today on the ConservativeHome website."

Boris vows to 'work socks off' and cut taxes

Marcus's picture

Boris vows to 'work socks off' and cut taxes

Boris Johnson has pledged to work his "socks off" to help Londoners through tough times.

"He said his victory in the Mayoral elections had given him a mandate to keep police numbers high and to introduce automated drivers for the tube.

During a brief address at City Hall on Saturday he focused on programmes to improve literacy, apprenticeship schemes to get more Londoners into work, and the 83 days left to prepare the capital to host the Olympics.

In a signal of "business as usual," he cut his speech short, saying: "I therefore think we should knock this on the head and go back to work."

Earlier, the re-elected Mayor had emphasised his tax-cutting agenda, describing his programme as "avowedly Conservative with a big 'c' or a small 'c' while describing himself as "distinct" from the rest of his party.

Mr Johnson said the battle in London had been between two candidates "who are distinct from their parties to some extent." He added: "You saw that with both [Ken] Livingstone and to a certain extent with me."

He said in an interview: "My programme is absolutely, avowedly Conservative – with a big 'c' or a small 'c'.

"It's about cutting taxes, getting rid of useless government expenditure and focusing on the things that matter."

He has vowed to cut council tax in the capital by 10 per cent over the next four years.

By contrast, Mr Livingstone put forward a "champagne-socialist, Cuban cigar-rolling" agenda, Mr Johnson said.

David Cameron saluted Mr Johnson's efforts, and said on Saturday that the whole Conservative party had got behind him.

The Prime Minister said "I think it was a very strong campaign by Boris. It was based on his record, on the excellent things he has done out there and I am delighted to congratulate him.

"I enjoyed campaigning for Boris but now what matters is working together for the good of London, as PM, as Mayor, and that is exactly what we are going to do."

Mr Johnson's narrow victory over Labour's Ken Livingstone, declared just before midnight on Friday, was the only ray of sunshine in a dismal set of local election results for David Cameron's party.

The Tories lost more than 400 council seats and polled 31 per cent of the national vote, leading to fresh criticism of the Prime Minister from the Tory right.

The Mayor defeated Mr Livingstone by 3 per cent, or 62,538 votes, once second preference ballots had been taken into account.

He declared he would "absolutely" not stand for parliament in the general election of 2015, pledging to serve a full four-year term as mayor. His victory has made him a stronger favourite to take over from Mr Cameron as Conservative leader...

Aides hailed the result as a turning point in his leadership, while there were calls in the Tory party for its leaders to adopt more Right-wing policies to appeal to the party’s grassroots.

Gerald Howarth, a defence minister who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said policies such as gay marriage should be rethought. “A lot of Conservatives have written to me saying, 'I am a lifelong Conservative, there is no mandate for this, why is this being proceeded with?’ ”

Mark Pritchard, a senior member of the backbench 1922 Committee, said it would be “misguided” to blame the losses purely on “midterm blues”. “No. 10 need to listen to their Conservative backbenchers and the Conservative Party grass roots more often, and to their minority and junior Coalition partners less often.”

Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron will attempt to shore up support for the Coalition with a rare joint appearance on Tuesday to stress the importance of a united policy to cut Britain’s deficit.

On Wednesday, the Queen’s Speech will disclose details of the Government’s policy agenda for the next year. There will be new plans for a higher, simpler flat-rate state pension and tougher sanctions for criminals."

MPs "no idea what they are voting for” because of heavy drinking

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Hypocritical finger-wagging bastards!

MPs to get free iPads at taxpayer's expense

"The House of Commons has decided that all 650 MPs are eligible for brand new devices which sell for at least £400 each.

The cost will be offset by around £50,000 as MPs will be required to hand back an old laptop or computer in return for an iPad...

Mr Bercow’s popularity over the decision is likely to be shortlived, as his Commission also ordered new restrictions to stop MPs getting too drunk.

It has issued a decree to House of Commons staff to top up MPs’ champagne and wine glasses less frequently at official events.

Bar staff will also be trained in how to refuse to serve drunk MPs and be more frugal when pouring alcohol.

The bars in the House of Commons will also now serve weaker beers and a wider range of non-alcoholic drinks.

The Commission also raised the possibility that opening hours on the parliament estate could be restricted at its four bars: the Strangers’ Bar, the Members’ Smoking Room, the Pugin Room and Moncrieff’s.

The new guidelines come after Eric Joyce, a Labour MP, was arrested and charged with three counts of assault after allegedly brawling with colleagues in the Strangers’ Bar.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, an Conservative MP, has also accused some MPs of having "no idea what they are voting for” because of the heavy drinking culture of Westminster.

Concerns over MPs drinking too much sparked a decision by the Commission to “consider issues around alcohol consumption”.

MPs enjoy subsidised bars and restaurants to the tune of around £5 million per year from the taxpayer.

However, Mr Bercow stopped short of recommending higher drink prices, as the Commission said the cost of alcohol is comparable to nearby pubs in Westminster.

It also reported that the £44,000 cost per year of maintaining 12 fig trees in the atrium of the MPs’ canteen has been reduce to £18,000 per year, after public outcry about the bill.

The company responsible for the fig trees has also donated them to the House of Commons."

Teachers face payment by results

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Teachers face payment by results

Poor teachers could be paid less than competent colleagues under government plans to improve standards of state education.

"Ministers want to link pay to performance in the classroom as part of a new drive to improve results and attract the best graduates into the profession.

A cross-party group of MPs today says that a new payment by results system is needed to stop the worst teachers hiding behind a “rigid and unfair” national salary structure.

"Results" would include not just exam grades but measures such as how much progress pupils make, class discipline and Ofsted ratings.

Last night, Nick Gibb, the schools minister, disclosed that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, had already asked the School Teachers’ Review Body, which analyses national pay rates, to “make recommendations on introducing greater freedoms and flexibilities in teachers’ pay, including how to link it better to performance”...

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Payment by results is total nonsense. Children are not tins of beans and schools are not factory production lines.

“Successful schools rely on a collegiate approach and team working. Performance-related pay is not only inappropriate but also divisive.

“Children and young people differ and class intakes differ from year to year, making it impossible to measure progress in simplistic terms.”

There are currently more than 460,000 teachers in English state schools. Although an element of performance-related pay already exists, ministers are now looking at enhancing rewards for the best.

Currently, teachers outside London can earn up to £31,500. but see their pay rise to £34,200 if they pass a threshold into an upper pay scale to mark performance. Earlier this year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, said too many teachers – more than 90 per cent – were allowed to pass the test. “The thing that irritates good teachers, people who work hard and go the extra mile, is seeing the people that don’t do that being rewarded,” he said.

In December, it was reported that just one in five teachers judged to be incompetent over an 18-month period had been sacked.

In further recommendations, the report says a “sabbatical scholarship” programme should allow outstanding teachers to take time out to work in a different school, undertake research or refresh their subject knowledge. It is also suggested sixth formers and university undergraduates be allowed to lead school lessons as part of a system of “teaching taster classes” to show them the benefit of a career in the profession."

Government mutual partnerships begin

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Lord Hutton to chair mutual partnership in charge of civil service pensions

Labour lord named chair of MyCSP as new private sector partner revealed.

"The Cabinet Office has announced the private sector partner that will form part of the mutual enterprise responsible for the administration of civil service pensions.

MyCSP - spun out last year from the Department of Work and Pensions - will be joined by Xafinity Paymaster who will provide 'investment and commercial and technical expertise' to the partnership and take the largest share of ownership.

As well as looking after 1.5 million members of Whitehallpensions and benefit schemes the mutual enterprise will also be looking to provide services in other areas across the public and private sectors declaring itself "open for commercial business". The business claims it will halve the cost of administrating a civil service pension.

Within the "John Lewis-style" organisation, Xafinity Paymaster will hold a 40% stake; the government retains 35%; and the 500 or so employees will get 25%. According to a member of the Cabinet Office legal team all three stakeholdings will have equal say on the company board...

The man in charge of the government's efficiency drive, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, said public services were no longer "a binary choice" between state monopoly and straight privatisation.

"As a mutual, MyCSP will deliver better services for its pension scheme members, millions of pounds of savings for the taxpayer and a real sense of ownership for employees over what they do," he said.

Maude said MyCSP was contracted to cut costs and deliver service improvements under its agreement with the government.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has described the move as a 'risky privatisation experiment' and says its research shows 94% of MyCSP staff did not agree with Maude when he said the move would "empower staff and drive up performance". Even more (95%) said they wanted to retain their civil service status. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said ministers were using mutuals to shield their true aims: "This is privatisation by another name," he said.

Green councillor calls for cannabis cafes in Brighton

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Green councillor calls for cannabis cafes in Brighton

A Green Party councillor has called for Brighton to become the new Amsterdam of Europe by decriminialising cannabis.

"The party’s Home Affairs speaker Ben Duncan has called for cannabis cafes to be licensed in the resort in a bid to boost tourism.

The idea comes after a judge ruled a proposed ban on foreign tourists smoking cannabis in the Dutch capital’s coffee shops is not discriminatory against foreigners.

A ban will come into effect across Holland by the end of the year with some coffee shop owners warning the ban will cost them up to 90 per cent of their takings and could force them to close their doors for good.

Researchers say a third of visitors coming to Amsterdam to smoke cannabis legally will stay away and tourist numbers will fall.

“Think of all the millions our shops and hotels would make if all those tourists being turned away from Amsterdam by the Dutch Tories came here to spend their holiday cash instead!" Coun Duncan said...

Over eight million people a year visit the south coast resort putting it in the top ten UK destinations for foreign tourists. Tourism employs around 7,500 people in the area.

Duncan writing on his blog claims it's not just the Dutch tourist industry that will be affected, the move will also mean locals wishing to buy cannabis will be forced to buy their 'weed' from less regulated suppliers, leading to a likely upsurge in hard drug use."

Boris Johnson: We need more tax cuts

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Boris Johnson: We need more tax cuts

Boris Johnson has piled more pressure on David Cameron’s government by launching a fresh offensive over cutting taxes.

"Mr Johnson uses an interview in The Sunday Telegraph to make a direct appeal to his party’s core values, presenting himself as a “tax-cutting Conservative” and promising to cut council tax if re-elected as London mayor.

His intervention will be seen as a gesture to his party’s leadership, which is facing growing claims that it is losing touch with grassroots supporters.

As well as his insistence on a low-tax agenda, Mr Johnson cites freedom, democracy and low government spending as his key beliefs, and vows to crack down further on crime.

Mr Johnson, who takes on Labour’s Ken Livingstone in this week’s mayoral election in London, does not mention issues such as gay marriage and the environment – policies that Mr Cameron has promoted recently, earning him criticism from his party...

The Sunday Telegraph has learnt the Treasury is “looking seriously” at a plan to retreat over plans to tax charitable donations by the wealthy – another policy attacked by traditional Tory supporters and backbench MPs.

The plan would see rich donors surrender some of their tax relief to charities. It would protect charities’ incomes but would still be unlikely to win the backing of philanthropists. The low-tax call from Mr Johnson follows last week’s intervention by Liam Fox.

The former defence secretary urged further cuts in state spending to make room for tax cuts aimed at business – a demand being made ever more volubly by the Tory Right.

The mayor sends a clear signal that he believes in a low-tax economy for all groups of voters, with the emphasis on lower council tax and pro-growth policies to help business.

“I certainly think London needs to be tax competitive,” Mr Johnson says. “I’ve got to look what I can do to bear down on people’s expenses … We have frozen council tax over four years, we’ll have cut it by 10 per cent in the next four years.”

He describes in vivid terms his “fight” to obtain the best deal for London."

Argentina gives Falklands oil explorers May 2 ultimatum

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Argentina gives Falklands oil explorers May 2 ultimatum

Argentina vowed to press criminal and civil charges on British oil companies exploring off the Falkland Islands if they do not "justify their actions" by a May 2 deadline.

"In its latest escalation of rhetoric over the disputed islands, Argentina said it had written to Falkland Oil & Gas (FOGL), Borders & Southern, Rockhopper, Desire Petroleum and Argos Resources on April 17, to "notify them of their illicit actions and their consequences".

"In case of failure to offer a response and once the deadline expires, administrative sanctions will be imposed to each company within the framework of an Energy Secretariat resolution which deems these activities illegal," it said. "The Argentine government will also press criminal and civil charges."

It gave no details of the form in which it intended to pursue such action, however. None of the explorers has any assets in Argentina and the British Foreign Office has said it is "deeply sceptical" that Argentina could pursue penalties against such companies in foreign courts.

Argentina said in March it planned to sue the explorers, but this is thought to be the first time this year it has written to them and the first time it has set a deadline. Legal letters have been sent to the companies in previous years, and in March were sent to banks who advised them, but no legal action has resulted.

Earlier this month, FOGL chief executive Tim Bushell shrugged off the "political noise" from Argentina: "Our legal advice is there are no grounds under any international law for pursuing their claims," he said. The companies either declined to comment or could not be reached for response on Thursday night but it is not thought any of them intends to reply to the letters.

Meanwhile, the head of Repsol in Argentina sold more than half his shares in the Spanish oil group ahead of Buenos Aires' decision to expropriate its stake in YPF, which sent Repsol's share price tumbling...

Argentina's Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino said on Thursday night that his country must seize control of YPF to boost production of the oil and natural gas needed to fuel economic growth.

"This decision is about energy self-sufficiency, which is very important for our country," said Mr Lorenzino, a former finance secretary who took office in December.

Mr Lorenzino, 40, said the expropriation push also responded to Repsol's "failure to fulfill its obligation to increase... reserves and production in a way that keeps up with growth and sustains Argentina's economic activity."

Russell Brand calls for more compassion for drug users

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Russell Brand calls for more compassion for drug users

"Comedian Russell Brand has told MPs that taking drugs should not be seen as a "criminal or judicial matter" and users should be shown more compassion.

Appearing in Parliament, Mr Brand said drug addiction was primarily a "health matter" and decriminalising drugs could be "useful" in some areas.

But he said he opposed a "wacky free for all", saying his life had not been improved by extensive use.

The Home Affairs Committee is looking at government policy and sanctions.

Mr Brand told MPs about his fight against addiction, for which he has received successful treatment...

Tuesday's session is the fourth the committee has conducted as part of what it intends to be a "comprehensive" study of the UK's drugs policy.

It is also hearing from witnesses opposed to any relaxation of the laws on drug use - journalist Peter Hitchens, Kathy Gyngell from the Centre for Policy Studies and Mary Brett from 'Cannabis Skunk Sense', which seeks to draw attention to the risks posed by cannabis.

Hitchens said the government had "abandoned many years ago" attempts to prohibit the use and possession of cannabis and some Class A drugs - claiming there was a "de facto decriminalisation".

He said that drug use was "wrong" and the law should clearly state this.

Ms Gyngell said cocaine use was only "common in certain circles" and that if decriminalised, the rate of usage would rise sharply.

The committee has previously taken evidence from medical professionals involved in drug treatment and drug education."

'Social cleansing' housing benefit cap row

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'Social cleansing' housing benefit cap row: Grant Shapps hits back

"The government has defended its housing benefit cap after it emerged London's Newham council was trying to find homes for some families 160 miles away.

The council has been accused of "social cleansing", but its mayor said the benefit cap had pushed people out of expensive parts of London to Newham which did not have enough homes.

But housing minister Grant Shapps said there were nearly 1,000 rental homes in Newham which fell within the cap and suggested Newham council were "playing politics" ahead of the elections.

As part of its welfare reforms, the government has introduced weekly caps on housing benefit of between £250 for a one-bedroom flat and £400 for a four-bedroom property...

He said the way housing benefit was calculated meant 30% of homes in an area would be within the cap and a quick look on a estate agents' website had shown there were "nearly 1,000 homes" within a five-mile radius of Newham which were affordable for benefit claimants.

"It can't be right to have people able on housing benefit to live in streets and homes that hard-working people are unable to live in themselves. The system is still very generous and I think Newham are perhaps playing politics given that we are in election season."

He said the cap and changes would simply "shaving £2bn off a £25bn per annum budget" but Sir Robin said just because there were 1,000 properties available, did not mean landlords would take housing benefit claimants.

Newham Council is offering to pay Brighter Futures 90% of the local housing allowance plus £60 per week.

Brighter Futures estimates the scheme could save Newham Council £5,250 a year for a family housed in a three-bedroom home.

Labour MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck said: "If a very poor borough in east London feels itself so desperate that it has to try and find accommodation as far away as Stoke, what is that telling us about demand?"

She added: "We know from London councils that 88,000 households have private rents above the new limits for housing benefit and in theory these families were meant to find new homes in places like Newham.

When the housing benefit cap was announced in 2010, London's Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson said: "The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs."

He said he would "not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London".

George Osborne tells IMF public still backs austerity measures

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George Osborne tells IMF public still backs austerity measures

Chancellor says abandoning hardline economic strategy would leave UK vulnerable to the financial markets.

"George Osborne on Friday warned that abandoning austerity would leave Britain vulnerable to the financial markets as he insisted that the public still backed the government's hard-line economic strategy.

While admitting that last month's budget had not been well received, the chancellor said that at this weekend's spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund the UK was seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

"If I came to Washington and said I was going to take a different path and abandon our policies the story would not be Spain or IMF resources, it would be the UK," Osborne said.

The chancellor refused to be drawn on whether next week's figures for growth in the first quarter of 2012 would show that Britain had avoided slipping into a double-dip recession, defined as two successive quarters of declining activity, but said there were signs that the structural reforms to the tax, welfare and pension systems were bearing fruit.

In the five quarters since the autumn of 2010, the UK economy has flatlined, leading to accusations from the opposition that Osborne's plan to reduce the UK's record peacetime deficit has been too aggressive.

The chancellor defended his approach and said the painful policies now being implemented in Italy and Spain were the necessary price for the two eurozone countries of restoring market confidence.

"We had to take difficult decisions. We got ahead of the curve and took the right decisions before the markets came looking for us."

Although growth has consistently been weaker than expected, Osborne said the UK was creeping up the international league tables of competitiveness and said there had recently been some more upbeat economic data, including news of a big jump in high street spending in March.

The IMF said this week that it expected the UK to grow by 0.8% this year and by 2% in 2013, adding that the persistent weakness of the economy was slowing the pace at which the budget deficit came down."

This is for Gregster...

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I dislike the NHS and wish it was scrapped, but with his "scum treating scum" comment he asked for it...

NHS team to test English of foreign doctors

Five hundred senior doctors are to be given the job of preventing foreign-born staff with poor English from working in the NHS, the Health Secretary will announce.

"The 500 “responsible officers” will have to ensure that doctors working in the health service have the necessary language skills and understand British processes and medicines.

If an unsuitable foreign-born doctor is approved and a patient’s treatment suffers, the senior doctor responsible could be held liable for the mistake. Responsible officers could be banned from practising for a serious breach.

A consultation on the plan, which follows several cases of doctors with poor English making serious mistakes, will be announced today by Andrew Lansley.

Last night he said: “Sadly, we are all too familiar with what can happen when qualified doctors don’t have a good command of English. This puts patients at risk and I am determined to stop this.

“By giving new powers to responsible officers we can make sure that doctors not only speak English before they treat patients in this country but are also competent to work within the NHS, making sure that they understand NHS processes and medicines which is as important as language to the quality of care patients receive.”

The 500 responsible officers, who will be in senior posts such as medical directors of trusts, could be recruited as soon as the summer. About a third of doctors in England are foreign-born and only those from outside the EU are routinely subject to language tests. The new rules would cover all doctors, including GPs.

The danger of doctors speaking sub-standard English came to national attention when Dr Daniel Ubani, a German-trained GP on his first out-of-hours shift in Britain, killed David Gray, 70, by giving him 10 times the normal dose of diamorphine.

In the autumn, Mr Lansley is expected to go further and change the law to ensure that those barred from working in the NHS because of their language skills are struck off the approved register of doctors...

It had been thought that European Union laws ensuring the freedom of movement of labour prevented language testing. However, the European Commission recently ruled that language testing was legal. Compulsory language tests will raise concerns that the NHS could be left short-staffed."

The health and safety 'myth squad’

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The health and safety 'myth squad’

A new panel of experts will help the public fight “absurd” health and safety rulings, ministers have announced.

"Bans on bunting, candy floss and traditional playground games like conkers will be highlighted in an attempt to eradicate “health and safety myths”, the Government said.

The panel, to be led by Judith Hackitt, the head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), will attempt to provide quick advice to members of the public who are concerned about “ridiculous” decisions.

To mark the announcement of the group, called the Myth Busters Challenge Panel, the HSE published a list of the worst examples of health and safety being used as a reason to stop popular activities.

These included office workers being ordered not to wear flip-flops or put up Christmas decorations, trapeze artists told to wear hard hats while they performed, and graduates banned from throwing their mortar boards in the air to celebrate passing their exams.

The HSE said that genuine efforts to protect employees and the public from dangerous situations were being undermined by “some pretty absurd decisions”...

Chris Grayling, the employment minister, said that “daft” decisions were often the result of “jobsworth” staff, rather than any legal requirements.

“We want people who are told they cannot put up bunting or they cannot play conkers to know that there is no basis in law for such rulings,” he said.

“Common sense is the key to successful health and safety.

“The Myth Busters Challenge Panel will advise people where they think local authorities, insurance companies or schools have got it wrong.”

S&P confirms UK's AAA rating

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S&P confirms UK's AAA rating but warns on growth

Britain's treasured AAA credit rating has been confirmed by Standard & Poor's but the ratings agency warned that the Government's austerity drive would drag on growth in the coming years.

"S&P gave its backing to the Chancellor's deficit reduction plans and said Britain's "wealthy and open economy" improved its "capacity to absorb shocks".

The ratings agency said the outlook for the UK's AAA rating was "stable", putting it at odds with fellow agencies Moody's and Fitch, which have both placed the country's top tier rating on a "negative outlook", and at heightened risk of an outright downgrade.

George Osborne said S&P's decision was a reminder that without austerity Britain would be led into "an economic catastrophe".

"Britain is weathering the international debt storms because of the policies we have adopted and stuck to in tough times," he said.

S&P warned, however, that such policies would limit growth "over the next few years", while household spending would also be hit by weak wage growth, rising unemployment and a weak housing market."

Extradition of Abu Hamza and four others for terrorism offences

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Hip, hip hooray! Wait a minute? Isn't Obama still in charge over there?

Extradition of Abu Hamza and four others for terrorism offences can go ahead, European court rules

"The judges gave a final ruling on six extradition cases in a verdict which effectively passed judgment on whether America's treatment of terrorist suspects amounts to "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in breach of the European human rights code.

They decided it would be lawful for five of the six to be jailed for the rest of their lives in a so-called 'super-max' prison.

The ruling stated that the five, including radical preacher Abu Hamza, would not be subject to "ill-treatment" at ADX Florence, a so-called 'super-max' prison. The court adjourned its decision on Haroon Rashid Aswat pending consideration of further complaints lodged by him.

The ruling granted the men the right to appeal to the court's Grand Chamber, meaning any extradition could be some time away.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "very pleased" by the ruling."

David Cameron seeks slice of Japanese defence contracts

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David Cameron seeks slice of Japanese defence contracts on Tokyo trip

Prime minister says decision to travel with executives from six defence contractors 'perfectly responsible and respectable'.

"David Cameron has mounted a strong defence of his decision to travel to Japan with some of Britain's leading weapons manufacturers as Downing Street seeks to exploit a multibillion-pound market after a liberalising of Tokyo's procurement rules.

As he flew to Japan overnight, the prime minister said he was "up front" about the "perfectly responsible and respectable" decision to travel with executives from six defence contractors, including BAE Systems and AgustaWestland.

Britain is preparing to embark on developing weapons jointly with Japan after Tokyo named the UK as its first overseas defence trading partner after the US.

Speaking on board his chartered plane, the prime minister said: "There are a number of defence manufacturers with us. I'm completely up front about that because we do have a very strong defence sector. It accounts for a lot of jobs, we have some of the toughest rules on defence exports anywhere in the world.

"But as these countries, particularly Japan, that have tended in the past to buy only American equipment are opening up, there are opportunities for people like AgustaWestland, who make helicopters, who are on this plane. I think that's perfectly responsible and respectable."

Downing Street – acutely sensitive to charges that the prime minister drums up business for defence manufacturers on his overseas tours – will hope that the focus of Tuesday's visit will be on Nissan's Yokohama headquarters. After landing at Tokyo's Haneda airport at lunchtime Japanese time, the prime minister headed to the plant where the carmaker will announce a £127m investment in its Sunderland plant to produce its new hatchback, expected to create 225 jobs."

Out with the old laws, in with a thousand new ones

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Out with the old laws, in with a thousand new ones

Outdated laws sitting on the statute book are worse than quaint, but a bigger problem is the deluge of rubber-stamped regulation.

"Last week the Law Commission published new proposals for the repeal of a few hundred old laws, leading to a few hundred newspaper articles poking gentle fun at ancient road tolls and bizarre gemstone lotteries.

Some writers complained about the cull, arguing that to get rid of this legal archaeology makes life bland – quirky old laws simply "decorate life and enliven pub quizzes", a Times leader column said.

I have to say, I don't agree.

The problem with old laws is that they have exactly the same force as new ones, and can end up being used in ways that their makers never imagined...

By the mid 20th century, a statute book came in volumes, and by the end of the Blair years, it took up a whole shelf and it was the flourishing reveal of the bulk of recent laws that got the gasp.

You might think the real legal story is the astonishing rise in the volume of laws that are produced, and the wholesale shift in power from the population to the parliament that it represents.

But looking beneath the surface, the rate at which new statutes are being created is actually fairly constant. What has caused the explosion of paper is the incredible rise in the rate at which new regulations are being passed.

A modern statute often contains far less actual law than you might think. Where the law used to be, you will often now find a long list of topics about which the relevant secretary of state can make regulations.

In theory these regulations are passed by parliament, but are actually done so on the nod with no scrutiny, and no debate. They are real laws, enforced by the courts, but unlike statutes they can be changed on a whim by a minister, and usually at the suggestion of a civil servant.

The rise of the regulation has been meteoric. In 1948, the first year for which I can find statistics, parliament passed 24 statutes, while the government introduced 44 sets of regulations.

Last year, parliament passed 25 statutes, but the number of regulations had risen to 3,133, ranging from the sublime (the Wine Regulations 2011) to the ridiculous (the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Primary Dental Services, Private Ambulance Services and Primary Medical Services) (Regulated Activities) (Transitory and Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2011.

The overwhelming majority of British law is now made by regulations, dreamed up by whoever happens to be sitting in the ministerial chair at the time, and then simply imposed on the nation with only the clump of a rubber stamp to mark the occasion.

I think that's the really interesting legal story – a coup d'état by government, wrestling control of the country from parliament. But it's a very British coup, and has taken centuries. In fact so slowly, you could kid yourself it hasn't really happened at all.

Now there's a reason for a demonstration. Just remember not to wear a hat."

A call to scrap bank holidays

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Bank holidays 'cost economy £19bn

"Each bank holiday costs the UK economy £2.3bn and scrapping them would boost annual output by £19bn, economists say.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) think tank wants them to be more spread out over the year to stop businesses "losing momentum".

This year's extra bank holiday for the Diamond Jubilee means there are five in April, May and June outside Scotland, where Easter Monday is not a holiday.

Wales and England usually have eight, Scotland nine and Northern Ireland 10.

The think thank says that if bank holidays were scrapped, Britain's gross domestic product (GDP) - a measure of the value of goods and services produced by all sectors of the economy - would be £19bn higher every year.

It says the UK depends far more on services than other countries and that sector - with the exception of the hospitality industry - tends to work far less on public holidays.

CEBR founder Douglas McWilliams told BBC Breakfast: "About 45% of the economy suffers; the offices, the factories, the building sites where people tend not to go to work on bank holiday."

He said 15% of the economy, such as shops, pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions do well.

However, Mr McWilliams said that by spreading out public holidays, rather than scrapping them, people would enjoy them more.

Business can "lose momentum" when there are too many close together, he added.

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Easter holidays were good for shops, representing the start of the season for DIY and garden centres...

Unions have previously pressed for extra public holidays, pointing out that other European countries have more than the UK's minimum of eight.

Research published last year by Mercer HR suggested there was a statutory minimum of 14 in Spain, 13 in Portugal, 12 in Greece, 11 in France, and nine in Germany and Ireland.

It found US and Australian workers get 10 public holidays, Canadians nine, Chinese 11 and Japanese 15. However, there are regional variations in many of these countries and employment laws differ as to whether workers should be paid for these holidays.

A fortnight ago the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, warned that GDP in the second quarter of this year might shrink owing to the number of bank holidays."

Japan, South Korea

Spain, Malta

Portugal, Austria

Greece, South Africa

France, Italy, Brazil, New Zealand

Australia, Finland, Norway, Belgium, US

Canada, Ireland, Germany

UK, Netherlands

'Big Brother' law stirs Lib Dems to revolt

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'Big Brother' law stirs Lib Dems to revolt

Party prepares to stop government plan to give security services new access to internet data.

"Liberal Democrats should be prepared to pull the plug on controversial government plans to give the security services new access to internet data, the party president Tim Farron has said.

In a sign of the deep Lib Dem unease at the plans, Farron said he would be raising the widespread concern within the party with Nick Clegg.

"As a Liberal, I was extremely concerned by the press reports of new surveillance powers potentially to be included in the Queen's speech," Farron wrote in a letter to the Liberal Democrat Voice website.

The party president wrote to the website after it raised concerns about plans to give GCHQ real-time access to Skype, instant message and email data. Lib Dem Voice published an article by Julian Huppert, the MP for Cambridge, who persuaded 15 of his parliamentary colleagues to sign a letter to the Guardian last week raising concerns about the plans.

Farron wrote: "I … agreed very much with Julian Huppert's article on Lib Dem Voice – there must be no question of the authorities having universal internet surveillance powers. We are reasonable people and we should be prepared to look at what will now be draft legislation with an open mind, but we should be prepared to put our foot down and pull the plug if we consider the proposals to be illiberal. We must not as Liberal Democrats fall into a position of trying to amend, unpick or apologise for a piece of authoritarian Tory policy.

"Over the last couple of years we have made some mistakes, which is OK so long as we learn from them. This is our opportunity to put those lessons into practice. Britain must be more liberal and free as a result of Liberal Democrats in power, not less. The proposals as they were first set out undoubtedly cross a red line. We've crossed enough of those already – no more."

Another Tory hero: Francis Maude

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No wonder the media full of socialists are trying to crucify him.

It's a compliment to be a tax haven, says Francis Maude

Francis Maude has boasted about trying to turn Britain into a “tax haven” sparking claims the Conservative minister’s gaffes are “going from bad to worse”.

"The Cabinet Office minister suggested it was a “compliment” for a country to be described as a tax haven at a conference.

He faced calls to resign last week after advising people to store fuel in jerry cans in case of a strike by tanker drivers.

The remarks created a petrol-buying panic and one women was badly burned after trying to decant fuel in her kitchen.

In his latest controversial comments, Mr Maude implied Britain should aspire to become a tax haven – a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability.

“I recollect twenty years ago as a financial secretary I was taking a finance bill through parliament, a Labour MP said indignantly to me: ‘You are just trying to turn Britain into a tax haven’. To which my response was: ‘Thank you very much, I appreciate the compliment.’

"And that is exactly what we’re trying to do. We want Britain to be a place where people don’t mind being taxed. A good place to be taxed. Where you can put your ideas to work, your money to work. Build businesses. Create wealth, create jobs. That is unequivocally a good thing.”

Yes.. Davis is very good there

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I wouldn't be surprised if John Key went snooping like that proposed in the UK. Key is a major disappointment. Under this Key government state control has grown. He will end up the most hated since Muldoon, and may deserve what Obama has coming - a Mussolini style finish.

Liberal Democrat MPs stand up for data privacy

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What a shame that for the LibDems standing up for human rights does not apply to the right to one's own property or wealth.

Liberal Democrat MPs stand up for data privacy

"Liberal Democrats have a proud history of defending civil liberties, both in opposition and more recently in a coalition government. We successfully opposed the Labour government's undermining of data privacy in 2009, and since taking office in 2010 we have turned back the tide of Labour's erosion of these liberties. So far we have destroyed the ID cards database, halted the indefinite retention of innocent people's DNA, turned off the ContactPoint database, stopped the mass fingerprinting of children without permission from their parents, and ended child detention for immigration purposes.

Just a few months ago at our spring conference in Gateshead, we reaffirmed our commitment to "undo the damage done [by] Labour's assault on basic freedoms". We called for stronger safeguards on existing surveillance measures to guarantee that the balance of power is firmly in favour of ordinary citizens. We asserted the Liberal Democrats' long-standing tradition of protecting human rights, and agreed that it is our "duty … to safeguard basic freedoms against the encroachment of state power". Liberal Democrats all over the country have sought to reverse the substantial erosion of individual freedoms, as the government committed to do in the coalition agreement in 2010.

Following worrying reports of possible government proposals to collect real-time information on people's activity online, including from social media sites, we were pleased to hear the deputy prime minister making clear his commitment to civil liberties and protecting privacy, and confirming that the government will publish draft legislation with sufficient time for consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. It is absolutely vital that the public get a chance to see and debate the details of any proposals to extend state surveillance, not just being presented with a Home Office fait accompli. It is also essential that the initial plans include adequate safeguards – which should be stronger than the current weak controls. Liberal Democrats in government will not follow the last Labour government by sounding the retreat on the protection of civil liberties in the United Kingdom. It continues to be essential that our civil liberties are safeguarded, and that the state is not given the powers to snoop on its citizens at will."

Julian Huppert MP, Annette Brooke MP, Malcolm Bruce MP, Mike Crockart MP, Andrew George MP, Mike Hancock MP, John Leech MP, Greg Mulholland MP, John Pugh MP, Alan Reid MP, Adrian Sanders MP, Ian Swales MP, David Ward MP, Mark Williams MP, Roger Williams MP

Michael Gove calls on watchdog to let universities set A-levels

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Michael Gove calls on watchdog to let universities set A-level examinations

Education minister asks qualifications watchdog, Ofqual, to let universities 'drive the system'.

"Education secretary Michael Gove has asked the top universities to set A-level exams, amid fears that tens of thousands of teenagers are woefully under-prepared when they start their degrees.

Gove has instructed the exam boards and ministers to "take a step back" from dictating the content of A-levels and hand over the power to academics. At present, the Department for Education sets out the structure and core knowledge A-level students need to know, and exam boards devise the questions and coursework. Gove has written to the qualifications watchdog, Ofqual, asking for universities to be allowed to "drive the system".

The 24 most academically competitive universities in the UK, known as the Russell Group, will be allowed to set questions and the content of the syllabus. Schools will be advised to put their pupils in for only those A-levels that have been approved by the universities.

When A-levels were introduced in the early 1950s, they were set by universities and seen as rigorous preparation for degree courses...

Meanwhile, a poll of lecturers has found that many think A-level exams no longer prepare students for university. Just over half of the 633 academics polled by Cambridge University's exam board, Cambridge Assessment, said students did not possess the writing or critical thinking skills needed for their degree courses. Three-fifths said their universities offered catchup classes for first-year undergraduates.

The poll, part of an 18-month study into how A-levels can better prepare students for university, found that academics wanted to limit the number of times students can retake their exams. In one case, a mature student was allowed to retake an A-level maths module 29 times.

The lecturers, who taught English, history, geography, psychology and business studies degrees, called for A-level exams to include more open-ended questions and encourage more independent study.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance exam board, has said A-levels need to be reliable "but the pendulum has swung too far that way, so there's a danger that they are too predictable".

Three cheers for David Cameron!

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Argentina's invasion 'a profound wrong'

David Cameron has called Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands three decades ago a "profound wrong" aimed at depriving the islanders of their freedom, on the 30 year anniversary of the invasion.

"Mr Cameron also reaffirmed Britain's commitment to defending the islanders' right to choose their fate in a statement issued to mark the anniversary.

"Thirty years ago today the people of the Falkland Islands suffered an act of aggression that sought to rob them of their freedom and their way of life," Mr Cameron said.

He said the anniversary should be used to commemorate and reflect on those killed in the resulting 74-day conflict, which claimed the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British troops and also killed three Falkland locals.

Argentine dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the dawn invasion on April 2, 1982. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher responded by sending a task force to reclaim the islands.

Britons were "rightly proud of the role Britain played in righting a profound wrong", Mr Cameron said, paying tribute to the "prosperous and secure" society built there since the war...

Britain remains "staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future," Mr Cameron insisted on Monday.

"That was the fundamental principle that was at stake thirty years ago: and that is the principle which we solemnly re-affirm today," he added.

Buenos Aires is also taking its renewed battle over the islands to international bodies, touting its claims at the United Nations.

London however has shot back that the residents on the overseas territory, population about 3,000, want to remain part of Britain, and accuses Argentina of being "colonialist" by refusing them self-determination."

Three Cheers for David Davis!

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Campaigners criticise email and web monitoring plan

"Civil liberties groups have criticised plans for the government to be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK.

Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications in real time under new legislation set to be announced soon.

Tory MP David Davis called it "an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people".

The Home Office said the move was key to tackling crime and terrorism.

Attempts by the last Labour government to take similar steps failed after huge opposition, including from the Conservatives.

A new law - which may be announced in the Queen's Speech in May - would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.

But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited...

The Internet Service Providers Association said any change in the law must be "proportionate, respect freedom of expression and the privacy of users".

Even if the move is announced in the Queen's Speech, any new law would still have to make it through Parliament potentially in the face of opposition in both the Commons and the Lords.

The previous Labour government attempted to introduce a central, government-run database of everyone's phone calls and emails but eventually dropped the bid after widespread anger."

Argentina threatens to sue banks helping Falklands oil explorers

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Argentina threatens to sue banks helping Falklands oil explorers as trade war with Britain escalates

"A group of British and American banks have been threatened with legal action by the Argentine government for advising and writing research reports about companies involved in the Falkland Islands’ £1.6bn oil industry.

In what amounts to the start of a new trade war between the UK and Argentina, the banks - understood to include the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays Capital and Goldman Sachs - have been warned they face criminal and civil action in the Argentine courts.

The threats were made in a series of letters sent to as many as 15 banks by the Argentine embassy in London over the last ten days.

The letter, a copy of which has been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, warns the institutions that even merely writing research notes on exploration companies involved in the Falklands constitutes “a violation of the applicable domestic and international rules”.

The news - coming a day ahead of the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands which sparked the 1982 conflict - is likely to worsen tensions between the two countries. The Argentine government is continuing to push for sovereignty."

Yes, Prime Minister to return to British screens

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Yes, Prime Minister to return to British screens

Famed for its masterful lampooning of the inner workings of British government, Yes, Prime Minister captured the obfuscation of Whitehall mandarins to a tee.

"Now, nearly a quarter of a century on, the much-lauded satirical sitcom is set to return to our screens for a new series seemingly based on the current Coalition government.

This time around the Rt. Hon Jim Hacker, previously played by the late Paul Eddington, will be confronting “the greatest economic crisis in a generation”.

And to give the new series a further contemporary twist, Number 10 will also face issues over a Scottish referendum on independence and the possible collapse of the European Union.

Yesterday UKTV, who commissioned the revised show for TV channel Gold, described the current political landscape in Britain as the “perfect setting” for a return of the series...

Today, writers Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay, who co-wrote the original series and were involved in its later stage production, were confirmed as being the authors of the new programmes.

The six-part series is expected to be screened either at the end of this year or at the beginning of next, and will be filmed in front of a live audience in London.

Ms Rogerson added: “Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are crown jewels of British comedy we all grew up with and I think the time is right for a modern take on government.

“I’m thrilled that Gold has enticed Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay to pen a brand new series, and can’t wait to see this constitutional treasure back on screens across the country.

“The quality of their writing is wonderful. You can only get that tight use of English and humour from the calibre of Antony and Jonathan. Their scripts are more prediction than fiction.”

Education system could be completely privatised by 2015

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Education system could be completely privatised by 2015, union predicts

NUT general secretary Christine Blower says significant campaign is needed to put a halt to government's plans.

"England's education system risks being completely privatised within three years, the leader of one of the country's largest teaching unions has predicted.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), whose union will strike in the capital over teachers' pensions on Wednesday, said the trade union movement could be haunted by "the spectre of a completely privatised education service by the end of the coalition's first term in government" unless it took significant action.

Blower said she was alarmed by the pace at which ministers wanted schools to cut links with their local authorities and become academies and free schools.

Academies and free schools are accountable to the education secretary, rather than their local authority and have greater freedom to change the timings of the school day, teachers' pay and the subjects they teach.

Some 40% of secondary schools in England are now academies, and Michael Gove, the education secretary, has recently come under renewed attack for forcing Downhills, a primary school in north London, to turn into an academy.

Blower said: "Unless we, as the trade union movement, in conjunction with community campaigning, are able to mount a significant campaign … to put the brake on this and unless the Liberal Democrats start behaving consistently with their own policy, which is to oppose academies and free schools, there is the spectre of a completely fragmented and privatised [education] service that is not in anybody's interest," she said.

Blower said her union was examining whether it was possible to use the tribunal system to challenge the government's moves to force schools to become academies.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Torquay next week will call for industrial action against academies in some parts of the country. Others will argue that academies represent "the biggest attack yet on comprehensive education by any national government".

The NUT and the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, are staging a London-wide strike on Wednesday against government plans they claim make their members "pay more, work longer and get less in retirement".

Teachers will have to contribute 50% more to their pensions over the next three years at a time when top earners can look forward to a cut in the 50p top rate of tax, said Blower.

She will tell strikers the pension changes are "nothing short of a tax on public sector workers, given that teachers' pensions are sustainable".

The NUT leader warned that government proposals to award teachers a different salary according to where they live would become a "very big issue". This would lead to pay cuts at a time when teachers were already in the throes of a two-year pay freeze on top of the controversial pension changes, she said."

Planning changes could lead to development not seen since 1930s

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Planning changes could lead to development not seen since 1930s

When the Government first launched its bid to reform the planning system last July, business leaders were quick to support the move to slim down the rules.

"But within 24 hours, conservation groups were warning that the proposed changes, which reduce more than 1,000 pages of planning policy to just 50, could lead to damaging development in the countryside not seen since the 1930s.

The plans fulfilled the Treasury's promise for a default yes to development, setting out a ''presumption in favour of sustainable development'' which the Government says will allow growth without damage of the environment or communities.

However, the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) launched campaigns against the proposed reforms - and found themselves embroiled in an increasingly antagonistic row with ministers.

During the consultation period, those who spoke out against the plans found themselves attacked by leading Tories as ''semi-hysterical'', ''left-wingers'' and of ''nihilistic selfishness'' for opposing new housing development.

The Government insisted that the green belt, national parks and other protected areas of the countryside would be safe under the changes, but the countryside campaigners said it was the ''everyday places'' people loved that they feared for.

Such unprotected countryside makes up more than half of England's green space and the new rules put too much emphasis on short-term economic considerations, rather than environmental or social protection, they warned...

Ahead of the framework's publication, Chancellor George Osborne reiterated the Treasury's pro-growth stance over planning as he insisted during last week's Budget speech that the presumption in favour of sustainable development would stay.

He claimed there were specific cases where companies took business elsewhere in the world because they could not get planning permission and said the move to simplify planning rules was the biggest cut to business red-tape ever undertaken.

Mr Cameron said he would risk short-term unpopularity to drive growth, which might be just as well - as with the scale of opposition to the planning reforms, it is unlikely this battle will end today."

Muslim juror ordered to stand down by judge

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Muslim juror who refused to take veil off is ordered to stand down by judge because he wouldn't be able to see her facial expressions

"A Muslim woman was barred from serving on a jury yesterday because she refused to remove her veil.

In an extraordinary ruling, a judge said she could not sit on an attempted murder trial because her full face covering, known as the niqab, concealed her expressions.

The woman was about to take the oath in the case at Blackfriars Crown Court in London when the judge interrupted to ask if she was prepared to remove the garment which covered her whole face, apart from a narrow slit through which her eyes could be seen.

Judge Aidan Marron QC, said it was ‘desirable’ that her face was ‘exposed’ during the trial and asked her to remove the veil.

When she refused she was told to stand down and a white male member of the jury pool was sworn in in her place...

The ruling, which is thought to be one of the first of its kind in Britain, has sparked outrage.

Yesterday Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: ‘This is totally unacceptable. I really can’t understand why facial expressions could have any impact on the judge, the judgment or anyone else in a trial. It has no relevance.

‘I’m speechless that you can exclude someone on the basis of the way that they dress.

‘It’s very worrying that a judge is being prejudiced against women wearing a veil.’

Official guidelines state that veils can be worn in court although senior judges should decide on a case-by-case basis."

The world is turning conservative, so liberals eat own words

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The world is turning conservative, so liberals are eating their words

"Liberals of various descriptions make so much noise in British public life that it’s easy to overlook the fact that liberalism has run into deep trouble on the world stage. For an illustration, consider a joint interview given this week by Tony Blair and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Mrs Sirleaf is asked about the fact that homosexuality is illegal in her country. She replies: “We like ourselves just the way we are.” Pressed on the point, she confirms that she will not sign any legislation decriminalising “sodomy”.

Mr Blair is a champion of gay rights, so you’d expect him to take issue with this statement. Not a bit of it. “The President’s given her position, and this is not one for me,” he says.

Budget 2012: GlaxoSmithKline to invest £500m in UK

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Budget 2012: GlaxoSmithKline to invest £500m in UK and create 1,000 jobs after cut in patent profits tax

GlaxoSmithKline, Britain's biggest drugmaker, has confirmed plans to invest more than £500m in manufacturing in Britain, creating up to 1,000 new jobs as a result of tax incentives introduced in the Budget.

"The company said in a statement that it would build its first new manufacturing plant in almost 40 years at Ulverston in Cumbria and invest more in its two sites at Montrose and Irvine in Scotland.

GSK's decision followed confirmation by the Government in the Budget on Wednesday that it will reduce the level of corporation tax applied to income from patents - a move known as a patent box.

Sir Andrew Witty, the GSK chief executive, said: “The introduction of the patent box has transformed the way in which we view the UK as a location for new investments, ensuring that the medicines of the future will not only be discovered, but can also continue to be made here in Britain."

He said investment represented one of the largest commitments to the UK life-sciences sector in recent years and will create up to 1,000 new jobs over the lifetime of the projects.

GSK is also actively considering other investments in manufacturing in the country...

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “This is excellent news, a major investment that will create many highly skilled jobs and provide a great boost to the economy ... We have a world class life sciences industry, and I am determined not just to keep it here in the UK but significantly increase it too."

Budget 2012: George Osborne cuts 50p top tax rate

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Budget 2012: George Osborne cuts 50p top tax rate

"Chancellor George Osborne has announced that the 50p top rate of income tax will be cut to 45p from April 2013.

He said the rate, paid on earnings over £150,000, damaged competitiveness and raised a third of the £3bn expected.

Other changes will see the amount people earn before having to pay tax will rise by £1,100 to £9,205.

Mr Osborne defended the politically risky decision to cut the top rate of tax by saying five times as much would be raised from the wealthiest by other tax and anti-avoidance measures being brought in...

He said a new "anti avoidance" tax rule would be introduced - to deal with the "morally repugnant" practice of people not paying the tax that they should.

People who bought expensive homes using offshore companies would also face a new 15% stamp duty charge and a new 7% rate will be imposed on homes over £2m.

Mr Osborne also announced caps on currently uncapped tax reliefs.

In his last big financial update - the Autumn Statement in November - the chancellor lowered growth forecasts for the UK economy and extended the period of spending cuts by a year to 2016-17.

But he was able to nudge up the growth forecast for 2012 - which had been revised down from 2.5% to 0.7% - to 0.8%.

He said he was "on course" to eliminate the structural deficit by 2016/7.

He risks a political backlash over the 50p rate, introduced by Labour in 2010, which businesses have complained is anti-entrepreneurial and damaging the UK economy and is opposed by some Conservatives.

Labour has said that to prioritise tax cuts for the wealthiest at a time of austerity shows the government is "out of touch".

It is thought the Liberal Democrats, who had warned against cutting the top 50p rate of tax too soon, have demanded other measures to tax the rich."

Doctors bid to unseat 50 MPs in revenge over NHS bill

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Doctors bid to unseat 50 MPs in revenge over NHS bill

GPs to stand against top Lib Dems and Tories in 2015 general election as more than 240 medics launch national campaign in letter to The Independent on Sunday.

"On the eve of the embattled legislation's final hurdle in Parliament, scores of GPs, consultants and other NHS doctors have signed a letter to The Independent on Sunday condemning the Bill as an "embarrassment to democracy" and pledging to stand as candidates against MPs who backed it.

Nick Clegg and other senior Lib Dems will be specifically targeted on polling day in 2015, as well as those in marginal seats, for betraying the wishes of activists at last week's spring conference who called for a last-minute rethink of the reforms.

But the doctors' coalition will also target vulnerable Tories in marginal seats who voted for the Bill. The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, who is blamed inside the Government for overseeing the reforms which have been heavily amended, is almost certain to face an electoral battle.

Yet it is the Lib Dems, who the latest poll for the IoS shows are on just 10 per cent, who face an existential threat if dozens of doctors fight in many of their 57 seats. One of the Deputy Prime Minister's Sheffield Hallam constituents, Jenny Bywaters, a retired consultant in public health, put her name forward yesterday as a possible candidate, describing the Bill as an "affront to democracy".

The 240 signatures – including 30 professors – underline the depth of anger felt by NHS frontline staff at the legislation which they claim "fundamentally undermines the founding principles" of the health service...

Tomorrow in the House of Lords, the former SDP leader Lord Owen, now a crossbencher, will lead an amendment calling for the Bill's final stage, the third reading, to be delayed until the Government publishes the risk register – an assessment by civil servants of the consequences of introducing the legislation. Labour peers will back Lord Owen's amendment, but it is expected it will not gain enough support to block the Government forcing through the final stages of the Bill, and the legislation is expected to be granted Royal Assent on Tuesday.

Dr Peedell said: "Despite all the promises, the Liberal Democrats have failed to make a bad Bill a better Bill. Despite over 1,000 amendments, all the key policy and legal mechanisms remain in place to turn the NHS into a competitive external market, which will see increasing privatisation of provision and commissioning of care.

"This fundamentally undermines the founding principles of the NHS and will undermine professionalism and the doctor-patient relationship. We think this is scandal that is much worse than the MPs' expenses scandal because the dismantling of such a crucial and important institution will cost lives and damage the social fabric of this country."

Richard Taylor, the retired consultant who was elected as an independent MP for Wyre Forest in 2001 in protest at the downgrading of his local hospital, said he was advising the doctors. "I had no more thought of becoming an MP when I retired than I had of going to the moon, and I'm sure these doctors were the same," he said. "The doctors selected as candidates need to be popular in their own areas and they have to portray what they stand for as a vital national issue. They will need an unpopular sitting MP or one who has voted the wrong way, so they must choose their targets wisely."

Privatised roads to get country moving again

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Privatised roads to get country moving again

Britain's major roads could be privatised and a new generation of motorways funded by tolls under plans to be announced by David Cameron.

"The Prime Minister will warn that Britain’s road network is “falling behind” the rest of the world as he suggests that private companies should run motorways and A-roads.

Under the plans, the companies will receive a portion of the annual vehicle licence fee to maintain and upgrade the network. Firms would also be encouraged to build new motorways and roads that would be funded by tolls.

The Prime Minister will urge Britain to follow the example set by the Victorians by embarking on a new era of infrastructure building.

He will announce a new feasibility study to develop ways to bring private investment into Britain’s major roads, which independent experts calculate could be worth up to £100billion...

In today’s speech, the Prime Minister will speak of his frustration at Britain’s increasingly poor and ageing infrastructure. “The truth is, we are falling behind,” he will say. “Falling behind our competitors. And falling behind the great, world-beating, pioneering tradition set by those who came before us.

“There is now an urgent need to repair the decades-long degradation of our national infrastructure … and to build for the future with as much confidence and ambition as the Victorians once did.

“Infrastructure matters because it is the magic ingredient in so much of modern life … It affects the competitiveness of every business in the country; it is the thread that ties our prosperity together.”

A summer of all-day Sunday shopping

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A summer of all-day Sunday shopping

"Chancellor George Osborne will risk a row with Church leaders in this week’s Budget by announcing plans to scrap Sunday trading laws for the summer.

The move – timed to coincide with the Olympics and Paralympics – means that large shops in England and Wales will be allowed to open around the clock for an eight-week period starting on July 22.

Currently, any shop with a floor space larger than 306 sq yds, which includes most supermarkets, can trade for only up to six hours on Sundays between 10am and 6pm.

The temporary relaxation, which Mr Osborne is expected to set out in Wednesday’s Budget statement, would be contained in emergency legislation to be introduced before Easter.

Last night, the Church of England made clear its strong opposition to the plans as traditionalists fear they could lead to a permanent relaxation of trading laws.

Opponents argue that allowing shops to open all day will damage family life and hit already-dwindling church attendances.

But Government sources say they have secured cross-party support for the measures, which could give a much-needed boost to the economy. Treasury estimates suggest that allowing shops in London’s West End to open for just four more hours would lead to an extra 100,000 people shopping in the area at a time when the city will be flooded with foreign visitors.

Large retailers, including the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Selfridges in London, have been privately lobbying for the change.

Until 1994, only specialist outlets such as garden centres, corner shops or chemists were allowed to trade on a Sunday. An attempt by Margaret Thatcher’s Government to allow shopping on the Sabbath in 1986 was defeated by Conservative MPs – who saw it as a threat to family life and church attendance – and Labour MPs concerned about workers’ rights.

The move comes at a time of growing tension between the Government and the Church over plans to legalise same-sex marriage by 2015."

Unions condemn regional changes to public sector pay

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Unions condemn regional changes to public sector pay

Chancellor's plans to pay lower salaries to those in some parts of the country are being described as cruel and grotesque.

"Plans by chancellor George Osborne to pay lower salaries to public sector workers in poorer parts of the country have been condemned as "cruel" and "grotesque" by union leaders.

Civil servants could be moved to regional pay deals from as early as next month under budget proposals to be announced next week.

The chancellor will argue that public sector pay should mimic the private sector and be more reflective of local economies. He intends to start the process in three Whitehall departments in the coming financial year, as part of a phased introduction.

Critics say the move will entrench economic divisions between north and south and depress regions of the country already struggling in the economic downturn.

It has not yet been decided if localised pay will apply only to new staff or to existing staff as well, but it was being stressed that no current employee would suffer a pay cut. Instead pay levels will gradually be adjusted to take account of costs, leading to larger pay rises in the south-east where some labour shortages exist.

The plans emerged as the four top figures in the budget discussions spoke on the phone in an attempt to finalise the complex Treasury package to be published on Wednesday. Much of the discussion focused on the concessions being sought by the Liberal Democrats in return for agreeing to a cut in the 50p top rate of income tax, as well as the timetable by which this could be achieved.

Union leaders lined up to condemn regional pay deals for public sector workers.

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Driving down pay even further at the same time as cutting public sector salaries and pensions, and planning to cut the 50p tax rate, would not only be cruel it would be economically incompetent and counterproductive.

"Local economies – already suffering from Tory-led, politically motivated butchery – are crying out for investment, not more cuts. It appears that next week's budget is shaping up to include the exact opposite of what our communities need to help them get back on their feet."

Vince Cable seeks 'no-fault dismissal' rule

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Vince Cable seeks 'no-fault dismissal' rule

"The Government today sparked a fierce debate over employment rights after calling for evidence on whether rules covering the dismissal of workers were too “complex” and should be changed.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said he wanted views on the idea of "no-fault dismissal" for small firms with fewer than 10 employees - so-called micro companies - under which someone could be sacked with payment of a set amount of compensation.

Mr Cable admitted he was "sceptical" about the idea and needed to be persuaded, but he said there was an argument that firms would recruit more staff if it was easier to fire workers.

"Not all jobs work out for both parties - the staff member doesn't quite fit or simply the relationship has irretrievably broken down, and for micros in particular, who often don't have legal or HR teams, the process to let a staff member go can be a daunting and complicated process.

"We want to give businesses the confidence to hire new staff and make sure when a dismissal needs to be made, they aren't tied up in red tape. This is an effort to see how extensive the problem is and shed some light on the desire for a change to the rules."

He told the British Chambers of Commerce national conference that he wanted views on whether dismissal could be made "simpler, quicker and clearer" without weakening workers' confidence and job security.

The Government said the idea was that small firms would be able to dismiss a worker where no fault had been identified on the part of the employee.

Business groups welcomed the announcement, but unions warned that workers would be "horrified".

Gay marriage: government to begin public consultation

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Gay marriage: government to begin public consultation

Home Office consultation paper to say government believes civil marriage should be made available to same-sex couples.

"The government is to press ahead with its plans to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry despite criticism from leading figures in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church.

The home secretary, Theresa May, is to confirm in a Home Office consultation paper that the government believes civil marriage should be made available to same-sex couples. The consultation paper will, however, also ask if the status quo should be maintained. The proposed reform of the marriage laws would only cover civil marriages for gay and lesbian couples and not affect religious marriages or offer heterosexual couples the option of civil partnerships.

The reform would have the force of law in England and Wales, but not Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Lesbian and gay couples who are already in civil partnerships will be offered the option of an "upgrade" to civil marriage status under the plans.

The Liberal Democrat equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, has made it clear that public consultation, starting this month, will allow any necessary changes in legislation to be made before the 2015 general election.

Ministers have ruled out making it compulsory for churches or other faith groups to host gay or lesbian marriages.

The first British government formal consultation over full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples was originally due to be launched last May, but was delayed amid strong criticism from church figures.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "If a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, whatever their gender.

"Religion has a vital role to play in our society and we understand the strength of feeling on the issue of equal civil marriage. This is why we are listening to all religious organisations and want to work with them during the consultation.

"We are absolutely clear that we are not changing religious marriage. The consultation will only look at civil marriage ceremonies."

David Cameron has given his strong personal support to the reform of marriage laws.

Featherstone directly challenged the churches last month, arguing that the government had the right to change the definition of marriage and pointing out that churches did not "own" the concept of marriage.

"I want to urge people not to polarise this debate," she said. "This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs. This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms.

"[Marriage] is owned by neither the state nor the church, as the former archbishop Lord Carey rightly said. So it is owned by the people," she told the Daily Telegraph...

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland, has complained that the "grotesque" plan would "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world if it were implemented".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has cautioned that the law should not be used as a tool to bring about social changes, such as gay marriage, and warned that law may turn out to be ahead of majority opinion in this case.

Other religious groups, including the Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians, have welcomed the government's plans."

Osborne's austerity drive cut 270,000 public sector jobs

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Osborne's austerity drive cut 270,000 public sector jobs last year

ONS says 71,000 jobs were cut from education and 31,000 from the NHS as public sector workforce shrank to 5.94 million.

Protesters at a rally against the government's controversial health reforms.

"George Osborne's deficit-cutting austerity measures led to 270,000 job cuts in the public sector in 2011, official figures reveal.

The Office for National Statistics published its official assessment of employment in the public sector alongside Wednesday's unemployment figures, which showed that Britain's youth unemployment crisis has worsened.

In total, 270,000 public sector jobs were lost in 2011, reducing the total workforce to 5.94 million.

The civil service payroll shrank by almost 7% over the year, while 71,000 roles disappeared in education, and 31,000 in the National Health Service, the ONS said.

However, there is some evidence that the chancellor's hope that private sector employment will soak up some of the jobs lost in government is starting to be fulfilled. In the three months to December, the public sector payroll declined by 37,000. In the same period, 45,000 jobs were created in the private sector.

Across the economy as a whole, the ONS said unemployment continued rising in the three months to January to hit its highest rate since 1995, but the pace of growth in joblessness has slowed."

Lib Dem peers back legal aid cuts

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Lib Dem peers back legal aid cuts

Government wins votes over cuts to legal aid for immigration cases and debt advice, after six Lords defeats on bill last week.

"The government avoided further defeats over its legal aid bill on Monday as Liberal Democrat peers turned out in force to support the coalition's cost-cutting agenda.

The debate on the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which stretched late into the night, saw the Ministry of Justice proposals voted on only twice – with government victories on scrapping support for most immigration cases and debt advice.

Last week, peers inflicted six defeats over amendments to the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke's bill, which is aimed at saving £350m from his department's civil legal aid budget. At the weekend, the Liberal Democrat conference in Gateshead also voted to oppose the coalition's plans to reduce legal aid on the grounds that it would restrict access to justice.

At report stage in the House of Lords on Monday, an opposition bid to prevent the scrapping of legal aid in most immigration cases was rejected by 198 votes to 179.

Lord Bach, Labour's justice spokesman in the Lords, said that immigration law was a highly complex area and without legal aid, applicants would be forced to revert to "second-rate, greedy and corrupt" advisers.

He said the issue was not about helping "fat cat lawyers" but ensuring that the complex immigration system functioned properly. "A radically deprofessionalised immigration system would collapse quickly under its own weight within a short period of time," he warned.

The former lord chief justice and independent crossbencher Lord Woolf said that if the opposition's amendment was not accepted: "We are going to create another victim and that is the justice system."

The advocate general for Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, replying for the government, said the bill did not set out a "blanket exclusion of immigration cases". Asylum cases and those involving detention, domestic violence or judicial review would continue to be funded, he said.

But, he added: "Many, many immigration cases are relatively straightforward and individuals should be capable of dealing with the issues without the need for a lawyer."

'Locked-in syndrome' man to have right-to-die case heard

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'Locked-in syndrome' man to have right-to-die case heard

"Tony Nicklinson, who is paralysed and wants a doctor to be able to lawfully end his life, should be allowed to proceed with his "right-to-die case", a High Court judge has ruled.

The 58-year-old from Melksham, Wiltshire, has "locked-in syndrome" following a stroke in 2005 and is unable to carry out his own suicide.

His is seeking legal protection for any doctor who helps him end his life.

The Ministry of Justice argues making such a ruling would change murder laws.

"Locked-in syndrome" leaves people with paralysed bodies but fully-functioning minds.

Mr Nicklinson, who communicates through the use of an electronic board or special computer, says his life is "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable".

His wife Jane has said that "he just wants to know that, when the time comes, he has a way out".

"If you knew the kind of person that he was before, life like this is unbearable for him," she added."

Downing Street defends Nigeria hostage raid

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Downing Street defends Nigeria hostage raid after criticism from Italy

Number 10 says it raised possibility of special forces raid to free Italian and British man as Italy expresses fury over mission

"Downing Street has insisted it did previously raise a possible hostage rescue attempt with the Italian government amid growing criticism in Italy of a special-forces raid in Nigeria that left one Italian and one British hostage dead.

Number 10's disclosure came as Italian politicians and newspapers accused Britain of giving Italy "a slap in the face" by not informing it of the mission until it was already under way.

Chris McManus, 28, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, and Franco Lamolinara died in the rescue attempt by UK special forces and the Nigerian military on Thursday. They had been held hostage by Islamists for nine months.

The Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, said it was "inexplicable" that the UK did not inform his government before launching the rescue attempt.

In London, the prime minister's spokesman confirmed that the Italian government had been told of the rescue attempt after it had been launched, but added that the possibility of a raid had been raised in previous discussions and that no objection had been voiced...

The leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera was highly critical of the operation, stating in a front page editorial on Friday that it was "an unacceptable slap and excuses are not good enough" and that the affair was a "humiliation" for Italy.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed source in Nigeria claiming it was likely the two hostages had been mistakenly shot by the Nigerian rescuers who took part in the operation. "Often during these types of operation, the soldiers have shown they are trained to put down heavy fire, kill a few people and if all goes well just apologise. This news does not arrive in Europe because it does not involve the kidnapping of foreigners."

Corriere della Sera contrasted Italy's habit of negotiating for the return of hostages – citing Italy's release of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan in 2007 in return for the freeing of an Italian journalist – with the British and American policy of refusing talks.

When British and Italian special forces teamed up to free two Italian secret service agents taken prisoner in Afghanistan in 2007, one died during the operation.

Thursday's raid, the paper said, proved that Britain was motivated by "nostalgia for its imperial glory" that prompted it to act unilaterally. Its treatment of Italy showed it treated the country as "hardly reliable".

Monti's government has come under fire at home for failing to free two Italian marines held in custody in India on suspicion of mistakenly shooting and killing Indian fisherman from a ship they were guarding against pirates.

Italian politicians said the Nigerian raid proved Monti's cabinet of technical experts, summoned to the government after the collapse of Berlusconi's administration, was failing to establish influence in international diplomacy.

"Technical experts can be technical experts but cannot do politics," said Daniela Santanche, a former minister in Berlusconi's last government. "One thing is international relations, another thing is balancing budgets."

Speed up adoption process, David Cameron urges councils

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Speed up adoption process, David Cameron urges councils

David Cameron will today demand that councils speed up their adoption services amid concern that vulnerable children are being condemned to years in care by red tape and political correctness.

"In future, the Government is hoping that foster couples with a history of successfully caring for vulnerable children will be fast-tracked through to adoption.

A time limit will also be placed on how long it takes to process applications for adoption, under the plans.

Councils that fail to place all children identified for adoption with a stable home within 12 months will be barred from getting the top rating by Ofsted. Only a handful of councils would currently qualify for the “outstanding” rating under the new criteria, which will take effect from April.

The Government is determined to stop social workers refusing to place children with couples who are not a “perfect match”, including those who smoke or are overweight.

Social workers are angry that the Government has blamed them for a slow system, when court hearings often take up much of the time.

Hilton Dawson, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “The country needs more money for public services and more social workers, not knee-jerk target setting.”

The association also warned that an estimated 20 per cent of adoptions break down and accused ministers of sweeping the problems under the carpet.

David Simmonds, from the Local Government Association, warned that councils would oppose “more target setting in any new action plan”, adding: “It will not help solve the problem that this country faces at the moment.”

Holy crap.

Cornell's picture

Because it was worth saying twice.

Holy crap.

Cornell's picture

Holy crap.

Revealed: government plans for police privatisation

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Revealed: government plans for police privatisation

West Midlands and Surrey police offer £1.5bn contract under which private firms may investigate crime and detain suspects

"Private companies could take responsibility for investigating crimes, patrolling neighbourhoods and even detaining suspects under a radical privatisation plan being put forward by two of the largest police forces in the country.

West Midlands and Surrey have invited bids from G4S and other major security companies on behalf of all forces across England and Wales to take over the delivery of a wide range of services previously carried out by the police.

The contract is the largest on police privatisation so far, with a potential value of £1.5bn over seven years, rising to a possible £3.5bn depending on how many other forces get involved.

This scale dwarfs the recent £200m contract between Lincolnshire police and G4S, under which half the force's civilian staff are to join the private security company, which will also build and run a police station for the first time.

The home secretary, Theresa May, who has imposed a 20% cut in Whitehall grants on forces, has said frontline policing can be protected by using the private sector to transform services provided to the public, but this is the first clear indication of what that will mean in practice. May said on Thursday that she hoped the "business partnership" programme would be in place next spring.

A 26-page "commercial in confidence" contract note seen by the Guardian has been sent to potential bidders to run all services that "can be legally delegated to the private sector". They do not include those that involve the power of arrest and the other duties of a sworn constable.

Companies who have applied through the Bluelight emergency services e-tendering website have been invited to a "bidders' conference" on 14 March, with an anticipated contract start date of next February."

Welfare reforms clear Parliament

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Welfare reforms clear Parliament

"Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed "an historic step in the biggest welfare revolution in over 60 years" after the Government's controversial reforms cleared Parliament.

Peers last night ended their stand-off with the House of Commons, paving the way for the Welfare Reform Bill to reach the statute book.

The legislation brings in a £26,000-a-year household benefits cap and sets up the universal credit.

Mr Cameron said: "These reforms will change lives for the better, giving people the help they need, while backing individual responsibility so that they can escape poverty, not be trapped in it.

"Past governments have talked about reform, while watching the benefits bill sky-rocket and generations languish on the dole and dependency. This Government is delivering it.

"Our new law will mark the end of the culture that said a life on benefits was an acceptable alternative to work."

He added: "Today marks an historic step in the biggest welfare revolution in over 60 years. My Government has taken bold action to make work pay, while protecting the vulnerable."

The Bill had a stormy passage through the Lords, with peers inflicting seven defeats on the Government when the legislation was first considered and a further one after MPs had overturned all the setbacks.

But last night independent crossbencher Lord Best withdrew without a vote an amendment on the final point of dispute between the Houses - the so-called bedroom tax which penalises council tenants for under-occupancy - and the Bill will now be sent for Royal Assent.

Mr Cameron said: "While we've been putting in place a sensible, modern welfare system that protects the vulnerable, our opponents have shown they are on the side of Britain's something-for-nothing culture."

Falklands anniversary: Argentina plan to ban British goods

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Falklands anniversary: Argentina plan to ban British goods

Argentina's industry minister has called for all British imports to be banned as tensions escalate between the two countries ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict.

Demonstrators shout slogans as a British flag lays on a street outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires

"Industry Ministry Debora Giorgi met at least 20 business leaders who import British goods, suggesting they replace British suppliers with those that respect Argentina's "sovereignty claims and resources," according to the ministry.

"The government is sending a message to those who still use colonialism as a way to gain access to others' natural resources," the source said.

The proposal comes a day after Argentina prevented two cruise ships from docking at one of its ports following a visit to the Falkland Islands.

It is believed to be the first time that passenger ships have been refused entry to the country and the move immediately prompted criticism from the Foreign Office.

The P&O ship Adonia and the Princess Cruises' Star Princess had arrived off Tierra del Fuego, on the country's southern tip, but were told by the local port authorities that they were not permitted to berth at Ushuaia.

Both had docked at Port Stanley, in the Falklands, on Saturday.

Ministry figures show that British imports jumped 40 per cent to £386 million from January to November 2011, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Argentina's trade surplus has been shrinking overall as consumer demand and high local inflation make foreign-made goods more appealing. Also, as the economy booms, local factories have imported more parts to expand production.

Intermediate and capital goods accounted for more than 60 per cent of what Argentina imported from Britain in 2010, according to the national statistics institute.

The centre-left government of President Cristina Kirchner has imposed tighter controls on imports to stem losses to the trade surplus. The surplus boosts foreign currency reserves, which the government has used to pay debts since 2010.

Argentina has received the backing of Latin American countries for its claim of sovereignty over the remote, wind-lashed islands, which were occupied by Britain in 1833."

Sex-selection abortions are 'widespread’

Marcus's picture

Unethical and immoral, yes. Should sex-selected abortions be illegal though?

Sex-selection abortions are 'widespread’

A former medical director of the country’s largest abortion provider said it was “well known” that women were terminating pregnancies because of the gender of the child and that he had been asked by women to arrange the procedure for this reason.

"Dr Vincent Argent, who previously worked for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and is now a GP and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said he had “no doubt” that women were terminating pregnancies because of the sex of the baby and that he believed the practice was “fairly widespread”. This week The Daily Telegraph disclosed that women were being offered illegal abortions by doctors on the basis of the gender of the foetus.

Dr Argent said there were “an awful lot of covert abortions for sex selection going on” where women would have a scan or blood test to find out the sex, then ask for a termination without telling the doctor the real reason.

However, he said there were also “ones where the patient actually says that it is the reason she wants the termination of the pregnancy”. He confirmed that he had been asked to arrange abortions for this reason but had told the patients it was unethical and he could not help them. There is nothing to suggest that the terminations Dr Argent described were arranged at BPAS clinics.

Dr Argent also disclosed that he believed that some colleagues had arranged terminations relating to the sex of the foetus and they felt it was reasonable to do so.

“I’ve had a consultant colleague in the North who expressed a view — that consultant was from an ethnic minority … He didn’t think it was ethically wrong because he thought that the cultural reason why some communities may prefer to have four male babies is as good a reason as the, if you like, the Anglo-Saxon cultural view, 'Well I’m pregnant, I just don’t want it anyway.’ "

David Cameron 'sick of anti-business snobbery'

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David Cameron 'sick of anti-business snobbery'

"David Cameron made a passionate defence of capitalism's ability to change society for the good today as he declared it a "powerful force for social progress".

The Prime Minister also spoke out against the growing "anti-business snobbery" towards large firms that claimed money-makers had "no inherent moral worth like the state does".

Speaking at the conference organised by Prince Charles' Business in the Community organisation, the politician said: "In recent months we've heard some dangerous rhetoric creep into our national debate that wealth creation is somehow anti-social, that people in business are somehow out for themselves.

"I think we have to fight this mood with everything that we've got.

"Not just because it is wrong for our economy, because we need the jobs and investment that business brings, but because it is also wrong for our society.

"Business is not just about making money, vital as it is, it is also the most powerful force for social progress that the world has ever known."

Michael Gove: Get set for new age of exam failures

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Michael Gove: Get set for new age of exam failures

Education Secretary says GCSEs and A-levels to be made harder

"More teenagers will fail their GCSEs and A-levels after a radical toughening of the examinations system, the Education Secretary declared yesterday.

Michael Gove intends to make exam questions harder in a drive to restore confidence in the system and improve standards, which will see pass rates fall for the first time in years. He also wants university academics more involved in setting A-level questions to give pupils greater scope to show their talents.

At GCSE level, coursework will be phased out and more emphasis placed on written, end-of-year tests. Mr Gove is also removing scores of vocational qualifications from exam league tables because he believes schools have been using them to improve their rankings. "There is a tendency to be complacent about our performance and believe our schools are improving year on year," the minister said. "They are, but they are not improving anything like as fast as schools in other countries.

"Education is like trying to run up a down escalator. There are some uncomfortable decisions that will have to be taken. There will be years when, because we are going to make exams tougher, the number of people passing will fall. There are headteachers who have been peddling the wrong sort of approach to teaching for too long, who are going to lose their jobs."

A-level results have improved every year for the past 27 years, and more than a quarter of all passes are now at grade A. Overall GCSE pass rates have hovered around 98 per cent for years, but the number of passes at grades A* to C has risen steadily. However, Britain is sliding down international league tables which measure English, maths and science performance."

Outcry as Michael Gove issues education reform warning

"Education Secretary Michael Gove provoked an outcry from teachers today after warning his reforms would lead to fewer pupils passing exams and more headteachers being sacked.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned the country’s most talented heads would quit the profession as a consequence of “such intimidation”.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the traditionally moderate association of Teachers and Lecturers, accused Mr Gove of seeking an “utterly disastrous” return to the 1950’s exam system.

In his speech yesterday, Gove warned the number of pupils passing exams would fall as a result of government reforms making exams tougher.

“Education should be about developing students’ skills and not about ensuring some students fail exams,” Dr Bousted added.

“Michael Gove will not achieve his education ambitions by looking forward to a rose-tinted past.”

In a speech last night, she argued that top priority should be given tackling poverty, social exclusion and social inequality as a means of improving the performance of disadvantaged pupils."

Somalia: UK weighs up air strikes against rebels

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Somalia: UK weighs up air strikes against rebels

Fears over piracy and al-Shabaab insurgents lead Britain and other EU countries to consider air strikes on logistical hubs

"Mounting concern about the twin threats posed by pirates and Islamic insurgents operating in Somalia has led Britain and other EU nations to consider the feasibility of air strikes against their logistical hubs and training camps, the Guardian has been told.

The issue has been rising up the agenda of David Cameron's National Security Council in recent months, reflecting anxiety in the west about piracy, but also the ambitions of some leaders within al-Shabaab, the clan-based movement that is fighting against Somalia's western-backed transitional government.

Though the "war games" remain on the drawing board for now, the disclosure that they have been under serious scrutiny shows the depth of unease about the situation within the British government, which is hosting an international conference on Somalia in London starting on Thursday.

According to sources, the international coalition that has been spearheading the fight against the pirates drew up contingency plans in the summer of 2010, and again last year, for what was termed "over the beach" air strikes against Somali camps.

The UK has also considered plans for attacking targets in places where al-Shabaab and the pirates appear to co-exist, particularly in southern Somalia."

UK public finances show biggest surplus in four years

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UK public finances show biggest surplus in four years

"Britain's leading experts on tax and spending gave George Osborne the all-clear for modest budget giveaways after the latest figures for the public finances showed the biggest monthly surplus in four years.

Despite the caution expressed by the Treasury, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the chancellor could provide the economy with a stimulus without impairing the government's credibility in the financial markets.

The Office for National Statistics said that the public sector made a net repayment excluding financial interventions of £7.75bn in January, up from £5.2bn a year ago. It was the highest surplus since January 2008 and above the average forecast in a poll conducted by Reuters, which predicted a net repayment of £6.3bn. January is usually a strong month for income and corporation tax receipts.

Borrowing in the fiscal year to date to came in at £93.45bn, down from £109.14bn in 2010/11. Britain's total public sector net debt, excluding financial sector interventions, fell back to £988.7bn having passed £1 trillion for the first time in December.

The figures come just a month before the budget and suggest that government borrowing is on track to meet or beat its target of £127bn in 2011-12, down from £136bn the previous year."

Jeremy Clarkson cleared over The One Show rant

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Jeremy Clarkson cleared over The One Show rant

Despite more than 30,000 complaints, Ofcom says viewers would have expected 'provocative and outspoken' comments

"Jeremy Clarkson prompted more than 30,000 complaints when he said on BBC1's The One Show that striking public sector workers should be shot. But media regulator Ofcom has cleared the programme of breaching broadcasting regulations, saying viewers should be familiar with the Top Gear presenter's "provocative and outspoken nature".

Clarkson provoked widespread outrage with his appearance on the teatime show on 30 November last year.

It led to nearly 32,000 complaints to the BBC and almost 800 to Ofcom which announced in December it would investigate the programme to see whether it broke rules on taste and decency.

Ofcom outlined the reasoning behind its decision in a letter to trade union Unison, which had lodged a complaint with the regulator.

Ofcom director Christopher Woolard said Clarkson's "provocative and outspoken nature" had been referred to in his introduction on the show "with light-hearted irony".

"Consequently, the editorial nature of the programme as a whole would have prepared viewers for the type of comments Jeremy Clarkson would be likely to make," said Woolard in a four-page letter to Unison.

Woolard said Clarkson's comments were not overly offensive in light of a general expectation of Clarkson's behaviour by viewers given his "well-established public persona".

"The audience for this edition of The One Show would have expected Jeremy Clarkson to make potentially controversial or offensive statements," said Woolard.

He added that it was "clear to most viewers that his comments were not an expression of seriously held beliefs or views that should be literally interpreted".

David Cameron in France to sign nuclear power deal

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David Cameron in France to sign nuclear power deal

Prime minister meeting Nicolas Sarkozy to cement £500m agreement that will create more than 1,500 jobs.

"Britain and France are to sign a landmark agreement to co-operate on civil nuclear energy, paving the way for the construction of a new generation of power plants in the UK.

Deals between British and French companies – worth more than £500m – will allow work to start on new facilities, creating more than 1,500 jobs.

The prime minister, David Cameron, who is in Paris to meet the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to seal the deal, said the agreements were "just the beginning" of investment the government says could be worth £60bn and create 30,000 jobs.

A joint declaration to be signed by the two leaders at a UK-France summit will signal a shared commitment to civil nuclear power, establishing a framework for co-operation on security, research and development, education and training.

The unrest in Syria, defence and concerns over Iran's possible ambitions for nuclear weapons will also be high on the agenda.

Sarkozy announced this week that he will stand for re-election in presidential elections to be held on 22 April and 6 May, with polls suggesting he is trailing his Socialist rival, François Hollande.

Downing Street said that by joining forces in the nuclear sector, Britain and France should develop a competitive supply chain capable of seizing opportunities around the world.

Rolls-Royce will sign a £400m deal with the French energy company Areva to supply services to the first EPR reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset, with a commitment for future EPR sites in the UK.

Rolls-Royce will build a dedicated factory in Rotherham, and the deal will underpin more than 1,200 jobs in the company and its supply chain.

The French company EDF will conclude a £100m agreement with Keir/BAM Nuttall for preliminary works at Hinkley Point – the first major construction project to be awarded in the £10bn project. EDF will invest in a £15m training campus in nearby Bridgwater...

The summit comes on the first anniversary of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, which saw the UK and France work closely together in the UN-backed military operation to protect civilians.

Cameron said: "One year on from the Libya uprising, we are working together to stand up to the murderous Syrian regime and to stop a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran."

Sean Penn accuses Britain of 'colonialism' over Falklands

Marcus's picture

Coming from commie ass-kisser Sean Penn, that's a badge of honour!

Sean Penn accuses Britain of 'colonialism' over Falklands

"At a meeting with Argentine president Cristina Kirchner, the Left-wing Hollywood actor referred to the islands "the Malvinas Islands of Argentina" and said Britain should enter into a UN-sponsored dialogue over their sovereignty.

"The world today is not going to tolerate any ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology," he said during the meeting in Buenos Aires.

“I know I came in a very sensitive moment in terms of diplomacy between Argentina and the UK over the Malvinas islands.

And I hope that diplomats can establish true dialogue in order to solve the conflict as the world today cannot tolerate ridiculous demonstrations of colonialism.

"The way of dialogue is the only way to achieve a better solution for both nations,” he said, according to the Buenos Aires Herald.

The Oscar-nominated Penn has long been a friend of South American nationalism, visiting both Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Fidel Castro."

Scrap tiered tax law

Jules Troy's picture

If a flat  income tax of 10-15% were implemented it would be a measure that would really spur economic growth.

When an individual has  40% of his money confiscated it removes any incentive one might have to work harder. Why work more than 12 hours in  a day if the government takes most of it?

Public Sector Bonus crackdown

Marcus's picture

Bonus crackdown: failure must not be rewarded says Nick Clegg

Bonuses for senior executives at public sector organisations such as the Royal Mail and the Met Office must not be awarded for 'run-of-the-mill' performance, Danny Alexander has warned, while Nick Clegg said payments must be "justifiable".

"Ministers are anxious to rein in the use of bonuses in the wider public sector following anger over pay levels at taxpayer-subsidised organisations ranging from the BBC to Royal Bank of Scotland.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, and Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, have written to all government departments asking them to review their schemes.

In future, bonuses should only be paid for “genuine excellence” and not “run-of-the-mill performance” after it emerged that up to a quarter of officials automatically qualified for rewards.

The Prime Minister's spokesman today said ministers could look at re-negotiating contracts for senior staff or overhauling the whole pay structure of arms-length bodies.

"Essentially what they've been asked to do is determine whether arrangements for senior staff in particular are fit for purpose and whether they're appropriate to secure value for money for the taxpayer," he said.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said that the public would not be shocked at bonuses being paid for excellent performance, but would not approve of people "being rewarded for failure" or for getting extra pay "for simply doing their job".

Speaking in north London at the launch of the Government's Youth Contract, to encourage firms to take on apprentices, Mr Clegg said: "What we've said is there's a number of organisations and quangos which aren't actually part of the Government but they do nonetheless rely on money from the public purse.

"I think it's quite right for us as a Government to say this is public money, this is taxpayers' money, and we want to make sure the way people are paid in those quangos, in those organisations, in those arm's length bodies, is done to the highest possible standards and in entirely justifiable given they're drawing money from the public in the first place."

He added: "I don't think anyone would be shocked with the idea that if you do a good job you get a bonus.

"A lot of people in many jobs up and down the country who have done an exceptionally good job get a bonus for it. I don't think anything is wrong with that.

"I think what people really find unacceptable and I do too, is the idea of huge rewards for failure or for just basically doing a normal job."

Mr Alexander told The Daily Telegraph that the review would ensure that there was no suggestion of “rewards for failure” in publicly-funded bodies."

Conservatives are now more radical than Margaret Thatcher

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Conservatives are now more radical than Margaret Thatcher in full flight

“There’s a little Gladstone bust over there too … just to remind me who we are in coalition with,” says the Local Government Secretary, pointing to a bust of William Gladstone, the Liberal leader who sparred with Disraeli. Many Conservative supporters would say they do not need to be reminded of the Liberal Democrat element in this government.

David Cameron’s party may be riding high in the polls, but many grassroot supporters are increasingly concerned that the Prime Minister is leading a government more Lib Dem yellow that true blue Tory.

Last week Conservative association chairmen, party grandees, donors and young activists told The Sunday Telegraph they did not like the Coalition’s anti-business rhetoric. Subsidies for wind farms, planning reforms that threaten the green belt and the failure to cut red tape or taxes have also caused concern in Tory heartlands.

But Mr Pickles, a former party chairman, insists the coalition is driving through a radical Conservative agenda and that Mr Cameron is a true “heir of Thatcher”...


While some critics have started to doubt the Prime Minister’s Conservative credentials, Mr Pickles insists his leader is a passionate Tory, albeit one who wants to modernise his party.

The pair go back decades, first working together when Mr Cameron was in his twenties.

“I’ve known him since he was in the research department [at Conservative party headquarters] and he was a right little leader. I like to call him the Prime Minister, if I’m honest … I still haven’t lost the thrill of it.”

But is he definitely an heir of Baroness Thatcher? “Absolutely, I have no hesitation about that at all. His great gift has been understanding the importance of the health service in the nation’s psyche. I had the privilege of working close to him when I was chairman of the party.

“Never for one moment did I think he was anything other than a Conservative, and pretty much a centre-Right Conservative.”

High Court council prayers ruling 'an attack on tradition'

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High Court council prayers ruling 'an attack on centuries-old Christian traditions'

"A High Court Judge ruled that there was no “lawful” place for prayer during formal proceedings after an atheist parish councillor objected that the tradition excluded non-believers.

Secular campaigners insisted the case had only “modest” implications and would not interfere with anyone’s freedom of religion.

But church leaders said it amounted to a victory for an “aggressive secularist agenda” intent on banishing religion from public life.

There were also fears that the ruling could throw local preparations to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee into doubt by opening the door to legal challenges from opponents of the monarchy.

Practices such as singing the national anthem could also come under threat, it was claimed.

It followed a legal challenge by Clive Bone, a former member of Bideford Town Council in Devon, who objected to the tradition on grounds of conscience, supported by the National Secular Society.

Yesterday, at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Ouseley, ruled that it did not breach Mr Bone’s human rights or amount to discrimination.

But he nevertheless concluded that it was “not lawful” to say prayers as part of formal meetings under a clause of the Local Government Act 1972.

He issued a formal legal declaration stating that councils had “no power” to include prayers in meetings – although they could be held in council chambers before the formal proceedings get under way."

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