05 November 2015
Week in Brief: UK
POPULATION FIGURES: The Office for National Statistics predicts that over the next twenty-five years the population of the UK will increase from 64,600,000 to 74,300,000. By then it will have overtaken that of France and, if trends continue, it will overtake that of Germany in 2047. The projected rise of 9.7 million is made up as to 3.06 million by non-migrants’ births less deaths, 4.96 million by net migration and 1.67 million by indirect effects of migration. The latter figure reflects the fact that migrant women tend to be of child-bearing age. The figures are based on the assumption that migration runs at 198,000 a year. That is a fall from this year’s figure of 329,000 but above the government’s target of 100,000.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: According to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UK received just over 19,000 applications for asylum in the eight months to August 2015, about the same number as in the same period last year. That contrasts with Germany where the number has risen from about 100,000 to about 222,000. The total number of applications received by Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand has risen from 491,000 to 960,000.
SYRIA: The Government has abandoned plans to seek the authorisation of the House of Commons for the RAF to carry out airstrikes over Syria, in the absence of Labour support on the issue. Without that support, the expected level of rebellion among his own MPs would have made it impossible for Mr Cameron to secure a majority. Mr Cameron has previously said that he would only go back to the Commons on the issue if there was a clear consensus.
DIESEL CARS: Agreement has been reached between EU governments to introduce a much stricter test for emissions from diesel cars. However, to help manufacturers, there will be five years to comply and the new limit will initially be increased to 2.1 times that imposed at present.
A statement issued by Volkswagen indicates that manipulation of emissions testing may have taken place with petrol as well as diesel cars.
NHS: The dispute between the NHS and junior hospital doctors over new contracts continues with Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, saying that no junior doctor working within the legal limit for hours will suffer a pay cut as a result of the proposed change. Mr Hunt is also expected to offer an increase in basic pay of 11%. Concerns remain as to whether the new contract will result in doctors working for excessive hours. Ballot papers are being sent out shortly.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has found that the prescriptions of statins grew by only 2% in the first half of this year, despite its suggestion that they should be used more commonly as a preventative measure for healthy patients. It seems that doctors are reluctant to prescribe statins for patients who are not deemed to be at high risk of a stroke or heart attack (that being a 20% risk over the next ten years) and prefer to suggest a healthier lifestyle.
According to a report in “The Times”, non-UK residents will be required to pay for emergency medical treatment from the NHS. That will include accident and emergency, ambulances and visits to the GP. In the case of non-urgent treatment, payment will be required in advance. Under current rules, foreigners only paid for “elective care”, although there the fees charged are about 150% of cost.
ROTHERHAM: Another children’s home has been closed in Rotherham, following a report from Ofsted which indicated that the children there were at risk due to failure by staff to report when they went missing, to look for them when they were missing, to report their absences to police or to record injuries. Ofsted was heavily critical of the way the home was managed. Following last year’s report into abuse in Rotherham, promises were made that things would change.
FOG: Severe fog has led to travel chaos at London’s airports with 70 out of 747 flights to and from Gatwick being cancelled on Sunday. The figure for Heathrow was 100 out of a total of 1,300. Flights were also affected at other airports including City, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol and Southampton.
MURDER: A sixteen-year-old boy was stabbed to death at Cults Academy in Aberdeen after a lunchtime scuffle. Another boy has been held.
SAUDI RELEASE: Saudi Arabia has said that it will release Karl Andree, the British grandfather who had been sentenced to 360 lashes and twelve months imprisonment for the possession of alcohol.
TALK TALK: A fourth suspect has been arrested in relation to the hacking of Talk Talk. It is understood that altogether 1.2 million sets of details were stolen but that they are not sufficient to enable financial transactions to be entered into. Less than 28,000 sets of debit and credit card details have been exposed and in any event the middle six digits had been removed.
GUANTANAMO COMPENSATION: Shaker Aamer has arrived in England following his release from Guantánamo Bay and will spend two weeks in hospital recovering. Under a general settlement between detainees and the government he will be entitled to compensation of some £1 million for British involvement in his torture there. He was in custody for a total of fourteen years.
SURPLUS FOOD: Morrisons, the supermarket chain, has said that it will give edible surplus food to charity.
GARDEN BRIDGE: Construction of the new garden bridge over the Thames designed by Thomas Heatherwick is now on course to go ahead next year. Lambeth Council and Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayoral candidate, have dropped their opposition in response to a reduced dependence on public funds. £20 million which was to be met by Tfl will now be funded by the Garden Bridge Trust. Tfl’s contribution is now £10million.
LABOUR PARTY: The Scottish Labour Party has decided by a large majority that Britain’s nuclear deterrent should be scrapped. That puts it into conflict with the official party position and also with leading members of the shadow cabinet including Tom Watson, Hilary Benn, Maria Eagle and Lord Faulkner of Thoroton, all of whom have publicly backed the renewal of Trident. The decision also conflicts with the views of Kezia Dugdale, the new party chairman in Scotland. Mr Corbyn, who has always taken a unilateralist position himself, congratulated the Scottish party on opening up Labour’s democracy and said that their views would be taken into account in the forthcoming Labour defence policy review. The Scottish branch of the trade union Unite also supported the ban on nuclear weapons in defiance of the union’s overall position. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the union, supports the retention of the deterrent, partly in order to protect the jobs of those employed at Faslane and other defence bases.
This week the party will select its candidate for the safe seat of Oldham West and Royton, which was previously held by the late Michael Meacher.
AIRPORTS: Research by Open Sensors indicates that pollution levels around Heathrow are more than twice the legal limit. The airport insists that greener aircraft and improved transport links which should reduce the number of people driving to the airport (apparently the major factor) will enable targets to be achieved.
BOAT DISASTER: 5 Britons were among the dead following the capsizing of the whale-watching boat “Leviathan II” off Vancouver Island. The boat appears to have been swamped when the passengers all moved to one side of it.
SURVEILLANCE: The draft Investigatory Power Bill, setting out the circumstances in which the State will be able to spy on civilians, was published on Tuesday. In an attempt to meet concerns that the new surveillance powers might be abused, the Bill provides for oversight by a panel of specially trained judges who will review warrants and have the power to overrule them. At present warrants are signed by senior ministers. More than 2,700 were issued last year.
CHILCOT ENQUIRY: Sir John Chilcot has announced that his report on the Iraq war will not be published until next June or July. The report will have taken seven years to prepare, one cause of delay being that Whitehall is to be given three months to check that it contains no information which could compromise national security. There is widespread concern that the report will be neutered by this process.
POLICING: A pilot scheme introduced in Peterborough under which persons reporting a crime may do so by visiting the Police Station or making a Skype call has been criticised by local victims. The Cambridgeshire police force say that they will still make house visits where appropriate.
CHICKENS: The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations which have just come into force in England omit a requirement that poultry slaughtered in accordance with Halal rules be given a sufficient electric shock to ensure that they become immediately unconscious and remain so until death. Research by the European Food Safety Agency indicates that this may mean birds being immobilised rather than rendered unconscious.
CIRCLING THE WORLD: Sarah Outen has become the first woman to circle the earth under her own steam, travelling by bicycle, rowing boat and kayak, she completed the journey in 1677 days.
RUGBY: New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup, beating Australia by 34 points to 17. Third place was taken by South Africa.