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  1. British suicide bomber dies in attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul 21 February 2017 From the section UK Image caption A picture of Fiddler was released by the so-called Islamic State group A British IS fighter who died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, the BBC understands. The self-styled Islamic State group said two days ago that Abu-Zakariya al-Britani detonated a car bomb at an Iraqi army base in Tal Gaysum, south-west of Mosul. He is believed to have been originally known as Ronald Fiddler. Fiddler, 50 and from Manchester, was sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2002. Who are Britain’s jihadists? IS has now published a photograph of Fiddler, who was also known as Jamal al-Harith before taking the nom-du-guerre Abu-Zakariya al-Britani. He had been seized by US forces in Pakistan in 2001, before being sent to Guantanamo. US interrogators found he provided useful information to them about the Taliban's methods, and he was released after two years. UK fighters The BBC has seen IS registration papers signed by Fiddler in April 2014 when he crossed into Syria from Turkey. He volunteered to be a fighter, saying his knowledge of Islam was basic. His wife and five children went to Syria try to persuade him to come back, but failed and his wife said they ended up having to flee for their lives from IS territory. According to figures published by the UK government last year, about 850 people regarded as a national security concern have gone to become fighters in the Middle East. Of those, just under half have returned to the UK and approximately 15% are dead. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The UK has advised for some time against all travel to Syria, and against all travel to large parts of Iraq. "As all UK consular services are suspended in Syria and greatly limited in Iraq, it is extremely difficult to confirm the whereabouts and status of British nationals in these areas." View the full article
  2. Heterosexual couple lose civil partnership challenge 21 February 2017 From the section UK Media captionRebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan: "There's everything to fight for"A heterosexual couple have lost their Court of Appeal battle to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage. Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, from London, challenged a ruling that said they did not meet the legal requirement of being the same sex. The judges said there was a potential breach of their human rights, but the government should have more time to decide the future of civil partnership. The couple said there was still "everything to fight for". They intend to appeal to the Supreme Court. A government spokesman said it welcomed the ruling and would take the judgement into account during its evaluation of civil partnerships. Why choose civil partnership over marriage? The BBC's legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the couple had lost by the "narrowest of margins". Our correspondent said: "The government's 'wait and see' policy, which is based on looking at the take-up of same-sex civil partnerships, was found by Lady Justice Arden not to be not good enough to address the discrimination faced by heterosexual couples. "However, her fellow judges were prepared to let the government have a little more time and so the case was lost on that issue alone." 'Equality and choice' Image copyright Kate Stewart Kate Stewart and Matthew Cole, 46, decided to get a civil partnership in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, in June 2016, after deciding marriage was not for them. "Matthew and I didn't feel that marriage reflected our relationship," said Dr Stewart, from Derby. "The institution [of marriage] is very much unequal depending on your religion. "We therefore felt it wasn't a status we were comfortable with because it still had hangovers of inequality from the past." Dr Stewart, 48, said although they believed marriage was right for some couples, it was about having the choice. They wanted recognition of their relationship after 10 years together, although their civil partnership is still not legally recognised in the UK. "We paid for the ceremony in pounds, we have a certificate, it was all very British, but as soon as we were back home we didn't have legal recognition," Dr Stewart said. "The declaration that we were both each other's partner was quite moving... we were on an equal footing. It was surprisingly touching." Ms Steinfeld, 35, and Mr Keidan, 40, want to secure legal recognition of their seven-year relationship but do not consider marriage suitable for them. The couple, who have a 20-month-old daughter, have said they want to formalise their relationship within a social institution "which is modern, which is symmetrical and that focuses on equality, which is exactly what a civil partnership is". "We lost on a technicality," Ms Steinfeld said. "So there's everything to fight for, and much in the ruling that gives us reason to be positive and keep going." Dan Squires, QC for the secretary of state for education, who has responsibility for equalities within government, said it had been decided at this stage not to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, or to either abolish or phase them out. Instead, he said the government planned to see how extending marriage to same-sex couples impacted on civil partnerships before making a final decision. All three judges agreed that the status quo could not continue indefinitely. 'Close the loophole' Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who supported Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan in court, said the ruling was "a defeat for love and equality". "It cannot be right that lesbian and gay couples have two options, civil partnership and civil marriage; whereas opposite-sex partners have only one option, marriage," he said. Education campaigner and journalist Fiona Millar, who has been in a relationship with journalist Alastair Campbell for 35 years, told the court they had chosen not to get married "on principle". After the ruling, she said she was "one of thousands and thousands" of people in the UK who will be waiting for the government to "close the civil partnerships loophole by making them available to all". How do same-sex marriage and civil partnership compare? Image copyright Getty Images Equal legal treatment in matters including inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements Rules for the dissolution of a civil partnership are the same as those for marriage, except that adultery cannot be used as evidence In a civil ceremony there is no requirement to exchange vows and while you can include readings, songs or music, there must be no religious component Partnership can be conducted in private, whereas marriage ceremonies must be public and can be conducted by clergy Marriage certificates include the names of only the fathers of the parties. Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who recently introduced a Private Member's Bill to give mixed-sex couples the right to a civil partnership, said the government had "no excuse" for delaying a change in the law as the bill received cross-party backing. MPs are due to debate the bill on 24 March. Lorely Burt, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for equalities, said the verdict was a "slap in the face" to mixed sex couples who want a civil partnership. Since the start of the campaign by Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan, more than 72,000 people have signed an online petition calling for civil partnerships to be open to all. The Same Sex Couples Marriage Act extended the right to marry to gay couples in England and Wales in 2014, allowing same-sex couples to choose between civil partnership and marriage. In 2013, there were 5,646 civil partnerships in England and Wales, but this fell by 85% in the following two years and in 2015, there were 861 couples who opted for civil partnerships over marriage. In July 2016, the Isle of Man became the only part of the British Isles where both gay and straight couples can enter civil partnerships. London couple Claire Beale, 49, and Martin Loat, 55, became the first UK couple to take advantage of the legislation in the British Crown Dependency last year, but their partnership is not legally recognised in the UK. Are you a heterosexual couple who would like to undertake a civil partnership? What do you think about the ruling against civil partnerships for heterosexual couples? Tell us your experiences by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk You can also contact us in the following ways: Tweet: @BBC_HaveYourSay Send pictures/video to yourpics@bbc.co.uk Upload your pictures/video here Text an SMS or MMS to 61124 (UK) or +44 7624 800 100 (international) Downsizing - 38884601 Or use the form below Your contact details Name (optional) Your E-mail address (required) Town & Country (optional) Your telephone number (optional) Comments (required) If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions. Terms and conditions View the full article
  3. Hospital cuts planned in most of England By Nick Triggle and Rachel Schraer BBC News 21 February 2017 From the section Health Plans have been put forward to cut hospital services in two-thirds of England, a BBC analysis shows. The proposals have been put forward by local NHS bosses as part of a national programme to transform the health service and save money. They include everything from full closures of hospitals to cutting some specialist services such as accident and emergency and stroke care. Ministers argue patients will receive better care in the community. But a review of the plans by the King's Fund think tank warned they were not always credible because there were not enough services outside of hospitals. It warned GPs, district nursing and council care services were already "feeling the strain" and could not currently cope with an increase in workload. And the King's Fund said further reductions in the number of hospital beds could de-stabilise services that were already "stretched to their limits" following the difficult winter. Sorry, your browser cannot display this content. Find out the NHS plans in your area Search by English county or city Search Need help finding out which region you are in? See the map at the foot of the page. In total, 44 local plans have been drawn up across England. The BBC has analysed each one and has indentified 28 that mention some form of cut to local hospitals. These include: Plans to reduce the number of hospital sites in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland from three to two Maternity and children's services being "centralised" on to one site in Lincolnshire A warning in West Yorkshire and Harrogate that having five hyper-acute stroke service may "no longer be viable" The downgrading of two out of three A&Es in Mid and South Essex, with only one retaining specialist emergency care In South West London, proposals to reduce the number of major hospitals from five to four Plans in Nottinghamshire to significantly downsize City Hospital and reduce the number of beds across Nottingham by 200 In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, consideration being given to centralising specialised orthopaedic trauma services at two local hospitals The plans - known as sustainability and transformation plans - have been drawn up as part of NHS England's five-year strategy to release £22bn of efficiency savings by 2020. Reviews were set up in early 2016 and consultations on major changes will take place later this year with the hope implementation will follow soon after. But the King's Fund warned the changes could be subject to legal challenges. However, Prof Chris Ham, the think tank's chief executive, said they were still the "best hope of delivering essential reforms" in the NHS, as care needed to be moved out of hospital. This is seen as vital because the ageing population and growth in long-term conditions such as dementia and heart disease mean people are more likely to benefit from support in the community to stay well rather than inpatient hospital care when their health deteriorates. But Prof Ham said this could not be done without extra funding - and urged the government to find the money to invest in the services to enable transformation to happen. A £1.8bn pot set aside this year for funding transformation had already been swallowed up by deficits, figures released on Monday showed. "Local plans must be considered on their merits, but where a convincing case for change has been made, ministers and local politicians should back NHS leaders," Prof Ham said. A Department of Health spokesman said extra money was being invested in the NHS this Parliament. "These NHS plans - developed by local doctors, hospitals and councils working together with the communities they serve - will help patients get better care," he added. Read more from Nick Follow Nick on Twitter 1. Northumberland, Tyne and Wear 2. West, North and East Cumbria 3. Durham, Darlington, Tees, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby 4. Lancashire and South Cumbria 5. West Yorkshire 6. Coast, Humber and Vale 7. Greater Manchester 8. Cheshire and Merseyside 9. South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw 10. Staffordshire 11. Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin 12. Derbyshire 13. Lincolnshire 14. Nottinghamshire 15. Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland 16. The Black Country 17. Birmingham and Solihull 18. Coventry and Warwickshire 19. Herefordshire and Worcestershire 20. Northamptonshire 21. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 22. Norfolk and Waveney 23. Suffolk and North East Essex 24. Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire and Luton 25. Hertfordshire and West Essex 26. Mid and South Essex 27. North West London 28. North Central London 29. North East London 30. South East London 31. South West London 32. Kent and Medway 33. Sussex and East Surrey 34. Frimley Health 35. Surrey Heartlands 36. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 37. Devon 38. Somerset 39. Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire 40. Bath, Swindon and Wiltshire 41. Dorset 42. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight 43. Gloucestershire 44. Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West View the full article
  4. 'No reason to fear' Vauxhall job losses, Clark says 20 February 2017 From the section Business Image copyright PA Image caption Greg Clark answers MPs questions in Parliament The business secretary, Greg Clark, has told MPs that Vauxhall workers in Luton and Ellesmere Port have no reason to fear for their jobs. His assurance came as he answered questions about the possible takeover of General Motors' European operations, including Vauxhall, by the French PSA. PSA owns both Peugeot and Citroen and its interest in buying the GM businesses was announced last week. Mr Clark met the PSA board and French industry minister last Friday. Speaking in the Commons, the business secretary said his French counterpart, Christophe Sirugue, had told him it was important that all Opel's factories across Europe were treated fairly. "We have a very strong domestic market and Vauxhall has a large share of that - something PSA recognises," said Mr Clark. "One of the points the PSA executives made to me was that since the new management of PSA has been in place, they have taken some pride in having part of their strategy not to close plants," he added. Meanwhile, Germany's deputy economy minister, Matthias Machnig, said that GM and PSA were yet to give any binding guarantees on German jobs, but that there had been some encouraging signs. 'Beacon of success' Vauxhall employs abut 4,500 workers in the UK, making cars in Ellesmere Port and vans in Luton. Mr Clark sidestepped a question about whether any sweeteners were on offer to ensure that the PSA Group - if it takes over the loss-making GM businesses in Europe - will maintain manufacturing in the UK. Image copyright PA Image caption The Vauxhall Astra production line at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire However, he said the UK car industry was very competitive, had a flexible workforce, and was investing in technology. "The UK is a beacon of success in this, and other, industries," Mr Clark said. "From my initial conversations [with PSA and General Motors] I think it is understood that Vauxhall's plants are very efficient," he added. Asked by Labour MP Pat McFadden about the future of the UK's supply chain for the car industry, the minister hailed the UK's competitive car parts sector. "That makes it attractive to investors," he said. Mr Clark also told MPs that he had mentioned the importance of looking after current and former employees who are members of the Vauxhall pension scheme, which has a deficit of up to £1bn, according to the independent pension consultant John Ralfe. Prime Minister Theresa May plans to meet Carlos Tavares, the PSA chief executive, but a time and date has not yet been fixed. Two weeks ago GM reported a loss of $257m (£206m) during 2016 at its European operations. It was the 16th consecutive loss-making year for GM in Europe, and brought its accumulated losses on the continent since 2000 to more than $15bn. Last week GM revealed that a takeover of its European operations was among "numerous strategic initiatives" being considered. View the full article
  5. Council tax to rise while services cut, says LGA By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News website 20 February 2017 From the section UK Nearly every local authority in England is planning to raise council taxes this year but council leaders are warning services still face "deep cuts". The Local Government Association says funding care for increasing numbers of elderly people is forcing up bills. It says many councils are planning tax increases of up to 4.99% but that cuts to libraries, bin collections and other services will still be needed. The government insists it is giving more money to councils. Social care is a lifeline for people like Maureen Edwards, from Surrey, who said that after she had a fall everyday living was "difficult". She said: "They come in and they get me up in the mornings and they wash me and then they sort of bring me downstairs and I have my breakfast. "It's just like normal living now, I'm very grateful for all they've done for me." But such services are being put under strain by the ageing population and budget cuts. Councils are struggling to provide help, feed, wash or get people dressed in their own home or to pay for beds in a care home and the burden often falls on families. How can social care be funded? Who gets social care and who pays for it? Is social care getting more money? All councils in England can raise council tax by 1.99% in April without having a local referendum. The 151 social care authorities can increase bills by an extra 3% as long as that money goes on social care. The Local Government Association (LGA) says 147 of these have already agreed or are planning to raise the extra money. And three-quarters are set to introduce the maximum hike. However, the LGA says further cuts will still be needed as councils are being pushed "perilously close to the financial edge". Warwickshire County Council leader Izzi Seccombe told the BBC: "To continue it is really looking like we're cutting into the bones of services that matter to people. "It's not just social care. Things like roads, highways, bus services which are subsidised, libraries, access to leisure centres, waste services, children's services as well." Councils spent £16bn last year on services for elderly and disabled people after funding from central government was cut by a third, in real terms, during the last Parliament. Ms Seccombe said an extra £1.3bn was needed for social care in the next financial year alone. And while the council tax rises would raise about £600m, she said that would be swallowed up by paying current staff more when the National Living Wage comes into effect. Ms Seccombe added: "We need to put social care on a stable footing. "I'm worried about the impact on vulnerable people in our communities. "[And] I'm worried about what that means for carers who will be left picking up the pieces that local authorities will not be able to manage." Find out the cost of care in your area Enter a postcode, council name or N Ireland health board Submit search for results Home care What is home care? You stay in your own home while getting help with everyday tasks such as washing, dressing and eating. How your council helps with care EXPLAINER TITLE EXPLAINER P1 average amount of care provided per week, by your council average paid per hour by your council, 2014-15 average paid per hour in your region if you pay for your own care, 2016 Residential care What is residential care? You live in a care home that provides round-the-clock support with everyday tasks. How your council helps with care Average contribution per week Paying for yourself TBC pay for their own care Nursing home care What is nursing home care? You live in a care home which provides round-the-clock support for everyday tasks and nursing care. Depending on your medical needs, the NHS may contribute to your costs. How your council helps with care Average contribution per week Paying for yourself TBC pay for their own care Who gets help? How is your contribution decided? Your home Savings, investments and income are assessed, along with the value of your home - unless you or a close relative live there. Will I have anything left? Want to know more? Around the UK How the care system works across the UK The alternatives to care homes and home help Is it time for the NHS to do more? The future of care How England's cap on care costs will work Find out how the cap could affect you Useful links Age UK Independent Age NHS Choices care and support pages Care: The problem no-one can fix The alternative options How the care system works across the UK Last week charity Age UK warned that hundreds of thousands of vulnerable older people were left struggling to get by with little or no care because of cuts to care in England. Surrey County Council had toyed with raising council tax by 15% to help tackle the problem, but decided against asking local people to vote. Instead, as a social care authority, it is going for the maximum 4.99% increase. David McNulty, the council's chief executive, told the BBC: "We've saved over £450m from our annual running costs over the last six years. "We're on the way to try and save up to £700m, but we're struggling to balance next year's budget. "I think our services are at breaking point." Earlier this month, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the MP for South West Surrey, said tackling social care problems was on the government's agenda. He said: "The prime minister has been very clear. We recognise the pressure's there. We recognise there is a problem about the sustainability of the social care system. "That has to be addressed and we are going to do that." A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Whilst local authorities - like all public bodies - have had to find efficiency savings, our historic four-year funding settlement gives them the certainty they need to plan ahead with almost £200bn available to provide the services that local people want. "By the end of this parliament, councils will be able to keep 100% of local taxes. We've also announced an additional £900m for social care meaning councils will have £7.6bn of dedicated funding to spend over the four years." Follow James on Twitter. View the full article
  6. Kraft Heinz drops Unilever takeover bid 19 February 2017 From the section Business Kraft Heinz "amicably" agrees to withdraw plans to merge with Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly. Please refresh the page for the fullest version. If you want to receive Breaking News alerts via email, or on a smartphone or tablet via the BBC News App then details on how to do so are available on this help page. You can also follow @BBCBreaking on Twitter to get the latest alerts. View the full article
  7. Brexit: Mandelson urges Lords not to 'throw in towel' 19 February 2017 From the section UK Politics Image caption The peer said the public weren't aware of the terms of Brexit when they voted Former Labour minister Lord Mandelson has urged peers not to "throw in the towel" when they debate legislation paving the way for Brexit. He said the Lords should amend a bill to protect the rights of EU citizens to ensure a "meaningful" vote on the final deal before Britain leaves the EU. He urged fellow Labour peers to show "strength and clarity" over the issue. Conservative Justice Secretary Liz Truss said Brexit opponents were "fighting yesterday's battles". Blair: Public may rethink Brexit vote Voting data sheds light on referendum Mark D'Arcy: Lords and Brexit The House of Lords - in which the government does not have an in-built majority - will start considering proposed legislation to leave the EU on Monday. But the former Labour cabinet minister, EU Trade commissioner and Remain campaigner said the "verbal guarantees" the government were offering EU citizens in the UK were insufficient. Lord Mandelson told the Andrew Marr programme that the Lords should "reinstate" the protections into the bill in the coming weeks. "The government used its majority to bulldoze the legislation through the House of Commons," he said. "I hope it won't be so successful in the House of Lords," he said. "At the end of the day the House of Commons, as the elected chamber, will prevail but I hope the House of Lords will not throw in the towel early." 'Irrevocable process' But Ms Truss said leaving the EU was the "settled will" of the British people and the House of Lords needed to "get on" with the process. She told Andrew Marr that once the UK formally notified the EU of its intention to leave by triggering Article 50, she believed the process was "irrevocable". Image caption The justice secretary said the public and the Commons had spoken Earlier this month, MPs overwhelmingly backed a bill to empower Theresa May to begin the Brexit process. The PM wants to do this by the end of March but needs the approval of both Houses of Parliament first. MPs rejected calls for the status of EU citizens living in the UK and a parliamentary vote on the final terms of exit to be explicitly guaranteed in the bill - although ministers have conceded the Commons will have its say and it fully expects citizens of other EU countries to be able to stay in the UK after Brexit pending negotiations. Lord Mandelson also said some Leave voters who were having second thoughts at the government's "Brexit at all costs strategy" needed to have their voice heard. 'New reality' But Ms Truss said Lord Mandelson was speaking as if the referendum "never happened". She told Andrew Marr that the House of Commons had "conclusively" voted to trigger Article 50, with the majority of Labour MPs backing the government. "The fact is it is a simple bill on whether we trigger Article 50," she said. "The British people have voted for that and was clear in the referendum. "The House of Lords now needs to get on with it. I fully expect the House of Lords will recognise the will of the people and the House of Commons." Although she voted to remain in the EU last year, Ms Truss said there was now a "new reality" and if a similar vote was held in the future, she would vote to leave. Tory backbencher Dominic Raab warned the Lords would face a backlash if it tried to hold up the Brexit process. "Voters will not look kindly on unelected politicians seeking to obstruct both the result of the referendum, and the vote of their elected representatives in the House of Commons earlier this month," he said. View the full article
  8. Prison officers in 31 jails set for pay rises of up to £5,000 19 February 2017 From the section UK Image copyright PA Prison officers at 31 jails in London and south-east England are in line for pay rises of up to £5,000, under a £12m package announced by the government. The increase means new starters could receive up to £29,500 a year. Ministers said they wanted to attract the "best talent". Prisons with recruitment issues are being targeted. Jails have been hit by staff strikes and rising violence in recent months. A union welcomed the rise but said ministers were "papering over cracks". The Prison Officers Association (POA) added that the government was dealing with "crisis management on a daily basis". The pay increase applies to "band 3" staff, who make up the majority of front-line officers. Falling numbers Prisons in London and the south-east, including Wormwood Scrubs, Pentonville, Belmarsh and Whitemoor, were chosen as they find it harder to recruit. Click to see content: prison_staff_fall The Ministry of Justice said "thousands" of employees would benefit. The £12m package is an attempt to boost falling prison officer numbers. On Thursday, it was revealed that, in 2016, the number of front-line staff in England and Wales fell by 347 (1.9%) to 17,888. The leaving rate was almost 9% - almost double the level of four years earlier. 'Deathly silence' Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the POA, said it had been told about the increase on Tuesday, and that "not a lot of thought" had gone into the rise. "We welcome any new money," he said, "but we're a national service and this only applies to 31 prisons [out of more than 100 in England and Wales]. "It doesn't apply to the operational support grades, so the lowest-paid people in the service are getting nothing. "We pointed that out and there was a deathly silence." Mr Gillan also said that pay was not the only concern of his members. "The violence in prisons is out of control," he said. "The prisoners are in control, not the staff." Click to see content: assaults_vs_officers In November a government White Paper announced an extra 2,500 prison officers would be in place by the end of 2018. That was on top of an extra 400 officers, to be in place by March this year. 'Challenging job' The Ministry of Justice said it was "on track" to meet that target, with 389 job offers made to new recruits. Justice Secretary Liz Truss said: "Prison officers do a challenging and demanding job day in and day out. "I want front-line staff to know that their work, experience and loyal service is valued. "We also want to attract the best new talent into the service, ensuring we recruit and retain the leaders of the future." The 31 prisons affected are: Aylesbury, Bedford, Bullingdon, Coldingley, Cookham Wood, Downview, Elmley, Feltham, Grendon, High Down, Highpoint, Huntercombe, Medway, Send, Stanford Hill, Swaleside, The Mount, Woodhill, Brixton, Belmarsh, Isis, Pentonville, Rochester, Wandsworth, Wormwood Scrubs, Erlestoke, Lewes, Whitemoor, Chelmsford, Guys Marsh and Littlehey. View the full article
  9. Vauxhall deal: PM set to meet Peugeot boss 18 February 2017 From the section UK Image copyright Vauxhall Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed to meet the head of France's Peugeot Group to discuss the planned takeover of Vauxhall in the UK. Peugeot wants to buy General Motors' loss-making European arm, which includes Vauxhall plants at Luton and Ellesmere Port. There are fears that the deal could lead to job losses. Peugeot boss Carlos Tavares is also set to hold talks with Unite union leader, Len McCluskey, to discuss the matter. Vauxhall employs 4,500 workers at the two plants, with thousands more involved in its retail and components chain. A Downing Street spokesman said a request for a meeting with Mr Tavares had been received, adding: "The meeting will take place, in principle, subject to diary availability." Unite general secretary Mr McCluskey said he was pleased Mr Tavares had "responded speedily and positively" to his request for a meeting to discuss Peugeot's intentions. He said he would use the meeting to press the case for the UK's "world class facilities and workforce", and ensure Mr Tavares understood that Luton, Toddington and Ellesmere Port, and thousands of dedicated UK workers, deserved "a strong backer and a positive future". On Friday, Business Secretary Greg Clark said he had held "constructive" talks in France with the PSA Group board and French industry minister Christophe Sirugue. On Tuesday PSA, which already works with General Motors in Europe on several projects, announced a takeover was among "numerous strategic initiatives being considered". View the full article
  10. Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn tells Tony Blair to respect the result 18 February 2017 From the section UK Politics Image copyright PA Image caption Jeremy Corbyn urged Mr Blair to "get on board" with his strategy Tony Blair's call for a cross-party movement to try to force a change of course on Brexit is "unhelpful", Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said. Mr Corbyn urged the former Labour prime minister to "respect" the referendum result and work on helping to define the UK's future EU relationship. In a speech on Friday, Mr Blair said that a weakened Labour Party was acting as "the facilitator of Brexit". But Mr Corbyn said: "We are going to be outside the European Union." Speaking in the City of London, Mr Blair said that the British people had made the referendum decision without knowing on what terms Britain would leave the European Union. He said pro-Europeans needed to build a movement across party lines to challenge Brexit, in the absence of effective opposition in Westminster. "The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true," he said. 'Democracy happened' Mr Corbyn told reporters at the party's conference on local government at Warwick University on Saturday: "Well, it's not helpful. "The referendum gave a result, gave a very clear decision on this, and we have to respect that decision, that's why we didn't block Article 50. "But we are going to be part of all this campaigning, all these negotiations about the kind of relationship we have in Europe in the future." He added: "The referendum happened, let's respect the result. Democracy happened, respect the result." Media captionTony Blair wants the UK to find "a way out from the present rush over the cliff's edge"Mr Corbyn rejected Mr Blair's suggestion that the party was weak, pointing to its surge in membership to more than 500,000. "I don't quite know what Tony means there. Our party membership has more than doubled, we had a big campaign to remain and reform the European Union," he said. "We are now pursuing a policy which will try and protect jobs and conditions across this country but also maintain a good relationship with colleagues across Europe." 'Bargain basement' Mr Corbyn urged Mr Blair to get behind the party's vision of a future outside the European Union with high investment and reduced inequality, rather than a low-tax economy aligned with the US under President Donald Trump. He said: "We are going to be outside the European Union. We are not leaving the continent of Europe, we are still going to work with them. "I think it would be helpful if people put their energies in the direction of building those good relations and ensuring we have a viable economy, not some offshore tax haven bargain basement, doing deals with Trump's America. "My job is to take our party forward into an investment-led economy that reduces inequality in this country, that builds houses when people need them, that gets the good jobs people need in the hi-tech industries the National Investment Bank will fund. "Get on board with that strategy." View the full article
  11. Domestic violence: Theresa May to oversee new law 18 February 2017 From the section UK Image copyright PA Image caption As home secretary, Mrs May introduced several new measures on domestic violence Theresa May says she will directly oversee work on a new law to tackle domestic violence amid concerns victims are being let down by the legal system. Downing Street said it was "unacceptable" some areas of England and Wales were putting more effort into tackling the problem than others. The Domestic Violence and Abuse Act aims to address an inconsistency in the use of existing offences and measures. Mrs May said tackling such abuse was a "key priority" for the government. As home secretary, Mrs May introduced a new offence against controlling and coercive behaviour and domestic violence protection orders. Domestic violence prosecutions and convictions have started to improve in recent years, and the prime minister said "no stone will be left unturned in delivering a system that increases convictions, and works better for victims". Mrs May added: "Domestic violence and abuse is a life shattering and absolutely abhorrent crime. "There are thousands of people who are suffering at the hands of abusers - often isolated, and unaware of the options and support available to them to end it. "Given the central importance of victim evidence to support prosecutions in this area, raising public awareness - as well as consolidating the law - will prove crucial." Domestic abuse in figures Year ending March 2016 1.8m People aged 16-59 who told Crime Survey for England and Wales they were a victim 1.2m Female victims 651,000 Male victims 79% Did not contact police 100,930 Cases resulted in prosecution Source: Office for National Statistics Downing Street said work on the legislation would be co-ordinated by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, although other departments would be involved. 'Sea change' Experts working with victims will also be invited to contribute ideas and proposals. Charities and groups supporting victims welcomed the plans. Women's Aid chief executive Polly Neate said there was "scope to make the legal framework surrounding domestic abuse clearer and more comprehensive", while the NSPCC called for the needs of affected children to be prioritised. Refuge chief executive Sandra Horley said she hoped the new law "will bring the sea-change that is needed to give victims the protection they need and deserve". Mark Brooks, chairman of the ManKind Initiative charity, called for a "real step change" in supporting and recognising male victims of domestic violence, saying they made up a third of all victims. Victims' Commissioner Baroness Newlove said: "These long awaited changes will ensure those vulnerable victims and survivors are listened to and that they feel able to come forward and speak out against their abusers." Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: "A domestic abuse case is more likely to be prosecuted and convicted today than ever before. "However, we know this crime is often under-reported and therefore any new initiative which encourages victims to come forward is to be applauded." View the full article
  12. Tony Blair calls for people to 'rise up' against Brexit 17 February 2017 From the section UK Politics Image copyright EPA Tony Blair is to announce his "mission" to persuade Britons' to "rise up" and change their minds on Brexit. The former prime minister will say in a speech later that people voted in the referendum "without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit". He will say he wants to "build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff's edge". But former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said Mr Blair's comments were arrogant and utterly undemocratic. Downing Street has said it is "absolutely committed" to seeing Brexit through. Prime Minister Theresa May wants to trigger formal Brexit talks by the end of March - a move which was backed in the House of Commons by MPs last week. Immigration issues Mr Blair, who was UK prime minister between 1997 and 2007, will say in his speech to the pro-European campaign group Open Britain that those driving a withdrawal from the European Union "always wanted a hard Brexit". "Indeed even the term 'Hard Brexit' requires amendment. The policy is now 'Brexit at any cost'," he will say. "Our challenge is to expose relentlessly the actual cost, to show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in 'easy to understand' ways how proceeding will cause real damage to the country and its citizens and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff's edge." Mr Blair, who campaigned to Remain in the EU, will say he accepts the verdict of June's referendum, but would recommend looking again at Brexit when "we have a clear sense of where we're going". Image caption 51.9% of UK voters backed leaving the EU in June He will also say the debate is being driven by immigration "which I fully accept is a substantial issue". "Nonetheless, we have moved in a few months from a debate about what sort of Brexit involving a balanced consideration of all the different possibilities; to the primacy of one consideration - namely controlling immigration from the EU - without any real discussion as to why and when Brexit doesn't affect the immigration people most care about." A government spokesman said the British people had expressed their view very clearly on 23 June, adding: "There will be no second referendum." Iain Duncan Smith, who was a prominent Leave campaigner, said Mr Blair's comments were arrogant, utterly undemocratic and showed that the political elite was completely out of touch with the British people. Supporters of leaving the EU argue it will free up the UK to trade better globally and give the government better control of immigration. What's next for Blair? Previously, Mr Blair has called for the views of the "16 million" people who had backed remaining in the EU not to be ignored. He has argued that there has to be a way, either "through Parliament, or an election, or possibly through another referendum, in which people express their view". Earlier this month, MPs overwhelmingly agreed to let the government begin the UK's departure from the EU by voting for the Brexit bill. The draft legislation was approved by 494 votes to 122, and now moves to the House of Lords. The government has promised to invoke Article 50 - setting formal talks with the EU in motion - by the end of next month, but it requires Parliament's permission before doing so. View the full article
  13. Aslef members reject Southern deal 16 February 2017 From the section England Image copyright PA Image caption Members of the drivers' union Aslef rejected the deal by 54.1% Aslef members have rejected a deal with Southern rail that would have ended a long-running industrial dispute. It had been arguing with parent firm, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), over driver-only operated (DOO) trains. Members of the drivers' union rejected the deal by 54.1% to 45.9%. The turnout was 72.7%. Under the proposed agreement, Southern would have been able to run trains without a guard or onboard supervisor under certain circumstances. Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: "We understand and support the decision arrived at democratically by our members and will now work to deliver a resolution in line with their expectations." Live updates: Southern strike and Sussex news Nick Brown, GTR's chief operating officer, said: "Naturally we're saddened and hugely disappointed, as will be our passengers, with today's decision by drivers, particularly as the agreement carried the full support and recommendation of the Aslef leadership. "We now need to understand the issues which led to this outcome and we'll be seeking to meet with the union as soon as possible to see how we can agree a way forward." Why is there a Southern rail strike? Image copyright PA Image caption Southern rail passengers have faced months of delays and disruption The dispute centres on Southern's decision to turn guards into on-board supervisors. In this role they would no longer be responsible for opening and closing carriage doors - this duty would become the responsibility of the driver. The dispute began in April when conductors - who are members of the RMT union - first took industrial action. Aslef members first walked out over the plans in December, leading to the cancellation of all Southern services. Aslef leaders announced they had reached a deal with GTR on 2 February following 11 days of talks. The RMT said at the time it was "a shocking betrayal", and it has it now been rejected by Aslef members. 'Safety critical' A DfT spokesman said: "It is disappointing that Aslef members have rejected the offer negotiated by their leaders at the TUC. "The union leadership must now return to talks and work with their members on a deal they can back." RMT leader Mick Cash said his union remained "focused" on the campaign to "protect the safety of the travelling public and put access and safe operation before profits". He added: "[We] will now look to take that campaign into its next phase [by] working with our sister rail unions, the wider trade union movement and the passengers who use the railway. "RMT repeats the call to Southern to give the guarantee of a second, safety critical member of staff on their trains and to sit down with the unions in new talks around the issue of safe train despatch." Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The dispute is over who is responsible for opening and closing the train doors The RMT held separate talks with Southern managers earlier this week, which broke down without an agreement after three hours. On Wednesday, it announced further industrial action, saying conductors would walk out for 24 hours on 22 February. Analysis: Ben Weisz - political reporter for BBC Sussex There we have it. Aslef drivers voted by a small majority to reject the deal their leaders had struck with Southern. That's not entirely surprising. Many saw the announcement of the deal as the end of the dispute, but that was wishful thinking. Once we saw the details it was clear some drivers wouldn't be happy. That deal gave a list of "exceptional circumstances" under which a train might run without its scheduled Onboard Supervisor, or OBS. Even assurances that those 'exceptional circumstances' didn't include RMT strike action proved insufficient. This wasn't just about solidarity with striking guards. Many drivers remain unconvinced that trains can be run safely without an OBS on board. What happens next depends on the reaction of key players. Southern moved quickly to offer fresh talks, and Aslef's Mick Whelan promised to "work to deliver a resolution" - with a relatively small 54.1% majority of drivers rejecting the deal, they'll hope it won't take too many tweaks to produce an acceptable deal. But commuters will be painfully aware of the disruption further strikes would cause. This dispute has run for months and there's no longer much cause to feel like it's coming to an end. View the full article
  14. UK spending less on alcohol and tobacco, more on eating out 16 February 2017 From the section Business Image copyright Thinkstock Families in the UK are becoming more clean-living, with less money being spent on cigarettes and alcohol, but more being spent on going out to restaurants. But the Family Spending Survey from the Office for National Statistics shows little change in spending overall. In the year to the end of March 2016, families spent an average of £528.90 a week, the same as the previous year. The ONS said growth in consumer confidence had levelled off in 2015-16. The figures show that spending on alcohol and cigarettes continued to fall over the period, to £11.40 a week. At the start of the 2000s, families were typically spending nearly £20 a week on such items. Meanwhile, households spent £45 a week on going out to restaurants and hotels - the first time that figure has has been reached in five years. However, this includes alcoholic drinks being consumed away from home. The figures show a big regional variation in spending on alcohol. Households in Scotland spent an average of £8.90 a week, compared to £7.80 in the UK as a whole. View the full article
  15. Attacks on judges undermine law - Supreme Court president 16 February 2017 From the section UK Image copyright PA Image caption Lord Neuberger will retire from his role as president of the Supreme Court in September The president of the UK's Supreme Court has criticised politicians for not doing enough to defend judges following a row over the Brexit legal challenge. Lord Neuberger said politicians did not speak out quickly or clearly enough and some media attacks had been unfair. He said unjustified attacks on the judiciary undermined the rule of law. After the government lost the Article 50 case at the High Court, a Daily Mail headline called the three judges in the case "enemies of the people". Lord Neuberger, who retires in September, was speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme a month after the Supreme Court ruled that only Parliament, not ministers, had the power to trigger the UK's exit from the EU because that was where laws were made. UK Supreme Court faces Brexit limelight "Enemies of the People" becomes a hashtag Truss backs judiciary amid Brexit row The Daily Mail's front page story was published when the government lost the first stage of the legal battle at the High Court last November. That story sparked a furious row with critics, including MPs from all parties, accusing Liz Truss, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, of not standing up for an independent judiciary. In his interview, Lord Neuberger does not single out any newspaper or politician, but he said: "We [judges in general] were certainly not well treated. One has to be careful about being critical of the press particularly as a lawyer or judge because our view of life is very different from that of the media. "I think some of what was said was undermining the rule of law." What is the Supreme Court? Image copyright EPA The Supreme Court is based in Parliament Square, next to both Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. It is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole population. Its justices also sit as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and as such will occasionally hear appeals against the death penalty from Commonwealth countries. In an average year, the Supreme Court hears around 90 appeals and makes around 80 judgements on important issues of law that shape the way everybody lives. Asked whether politicians had responded quickly enough to defend the judiciary and rule of law, Lord Neuberger said: "They were certainly vocal enough quickly enough after our hearing [in the Supreme Court]. "After the [High] Court hearing. I think they could have been quicker and clearer. But we all learn by experience, whether politicians or judges. It's easy to be critical after the event. They were faced with an unexpected situation from which like all sensible people they learned." Lord Neuberger said that undermining the judiciary also undermined the rule of law as judges were "the ultimate guardians" of it. "The rule of law together with democracy is one of the two pillars on which our society is based," he added. "And therefore if, without good reason, the media or anyone else undermines the judiciary that risks undermining our society. "The press and the media generally have a positive duty to keep an eye on things. But I think with that with that power comes the degree of responsibility." 'The reins are off' Image copyright Getty Images By Clive Coleman, BBC Legal correspondent The country's judges were stung and hurt by the description of three of the most senior members of their ranks as 'enemies of the people'. As a body they feel they cannot respond to such criticism publicly - judges must after all speak through their judgments alone, and the occasional public lecture. Being dragged into the forum of public debate is seen as something that diminishes public confidence in their independence. Whilst some senior retired judges such as the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge did speak out after the press coverage of the High Court Article 50 ruling, Lord Newberger is the most senior serving judge to do so publicly. He retires in September so perhaps he feels that the reins are off, or at least loosened. His fellow judges will be quietly delighted that he has expressed his views on what they saw as an unfair attack on their independence and the rule of law… but they won't say that publicly. The interview with Lord Neuberger comes on the same day the Supreme Court begins taking applications for new justices. As well as a new president to replace him, there is the need for two further justices after the retirement of Lord Toulson in 2016, and the upcoming retirement of Lord Clarke. The current bench is made up of one woman and 10 men, all white and from affluent backgrounds. On announcing his retirement last year, Lord Neuberger called for a diverse list of candidates to take the jobs. Image copyright AP Image caption The 11 current Supreme Court justices, pictured with Lord Toulson (top row, far left who is now retired) "The higher echelons of the judiciary in the United Kingdom suffer from a marked lack of diversity and here I must admit the Supreme Court does not score at all well," he said. "We have one white woman and 10 white men, and, although two of the 11 were not privately educated, none of us come from disadvantaged backgrounds." Applications will close on 10 March. There will then be shortlisting, interviews and consultation exercises, with the names of the new appointments expected to be announced in July. They will take up office at the beginning of the new legal year in October. Three more justices - Lord Mance, Lord Hughes and Lord Sumption - will retire before the end of 2018, as the statutory retirement age for judges is 70. Who can apply to become a justice of the Supreme Court? Applicants must have held high judicial office for at least two years - either in the High Court of England and Wales, or of Northern Ireland; in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, or of Northern Ireland; or in the Court of Session People who have been a solicitor in the senior courts of England and Wales, or barrister in England and Wales, for at least 15 years, and have gained experience in law during after that, can also apply So can someone who is a "qualifying practitioner" - meaning they are an advocate in Scotland or a solicitor who can appear in the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary; or they are member of the Bar of Northern Ireland or a solicitor of the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland. SOURCE: SupremeCourt.uk View the full article