UK unemployment remains at a ten-year low

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Figures released by the Office for National Statistics have shown that unemployment has fallen by 60,000 between October to December 2015. This fall means that unemployment remains at 5.1% with 1.69 million currently looking for work.

The ONS figures also showed that there are a record number of people in work, currently 31.42 million. Of these 22.98 million have full-time jobs with 8.43 million being in part-time employment. Pay also increased by 2.0% in the same period.

A full copy of the report (in PDF) is available here.

Labour say that Prime Minister’s EU negotiations are a wasted opportunity

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Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, has said that the Government’s EU renegotiations are “a wasted opportunity”. Corbyn confirmed that Labour would back the UK’s membership of the EU regardless of the result of the negotiations.

Speaking to a meeting of European Socialists in Brussels, Belgium, Corbyn said:

“David Cameron’s negotiations are a missed opportunity to make the case for the real reforms the EU needs: democratisation, stronger workers’ rights, an end to austerity, and a halt to the enforced privatisation of public services”.

He added:

“The Labour Party will campaign to keep Britain in Europe in the forthcoming referendum, regardless of the outcome of the talks being held in Brussels today. That is because it brings investment, jobs and protection for British workers and consumers”.

The Prime Minister’s negotiations are continuing this week with a referendum possible as early as June 2016.

Foreign Secretary Welcomes Syrian Aid

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Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, has welcomed the news that aid has successfully got through to several areas in Syria.

In a statement Hammond said:

“I am relieved that desperately-needed aid convoys have now arrived in five besieged areas of Syria. Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is unacceptable. The international community and particularly Russia, which has unique influence, must put pressure on the Asad regime to lift sieges and grant full humanitarian access.

Aid convoys are a step towards implementing the agreement reached at last week’s International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, but there is much more to be done. Members also committed to achieving a cessation of hostilities and to facilitating rapid progress in negotiations aimed at political transition. I call on all parties to do everything in their power to follow through on those agreements.

The report from Médecins Sans Frontières reiterates the high human cost of the conflict. Responsibility for this increase in civilian casualties lies at the door of the Asad regime and its Russian supporters”.

Lord Avebury, Eric Lubbock, has died at the age of 87

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Lord Avebury, the longest serving Liberal Democrat Peer, has died at the age of 87. Born Eric Lubbock he also served as the Liberal MP for Orpington from 1962 until 1970.

Lubbock was educated in Toronto before moving to Harrow School and then studying at Balliol College at Oxford University. He worked for Rolls Royce after leaving university and became a Liberal MP after winning a by-election in Orpington in 1962 with a majority of 7,855. He made his maiden speech on 27 March 1962.

He won the Orpington constituency again in 1964 with a majority of 3,072 over the Conservative candidate, Norris McWhirter. He won again against McWhirter in 1966 with a majority of 1,622 but lost to the Conservative Ivor Stanbrook in 1970 by a majority of 1,322. During this time he served as the Liberal Party’s Chief Whip from 1963 until 1970.

After Lubbock’s cousin, John Lubbock, died without an heir in 1971 he was elevated to the Peerage as an hereditary Peer. Following the removal of hereditary Peers from the House of Lords in 1999 Lubbock remained after a vote which allowed some to remain. During his time in the House of Lords he had one of the highest attendance records.

Lubbock died at the age of 87 on 14 February 2016.

 

Home Office Announces New Child Abuse Whistleblowing Helpline

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The Home Office has announced that a new phone line has been established to report any concerns about child abuse. The line will be operated by the NSPCC which will receive a £500,000 annual subsidy from the Government in its first year.

The helpline’s number is 0800 0280285 which is available from 08.00 to 20.00 on Mondays to Fridays.

Karen Bradley, the Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, said in a statement:

“The new NSPCC whistleblowing helpline will be a vital service in our fight to end child abuse, including sexual exploitation.

Every child deserves to be safe from abuse, and organisations that are trusted to protect our children must work as effectively as possible to achieve this.

Some employers are making great strides in strengthening whistleblowing processes. But more can be done to encourage employees to report malpractice without fear of victimisation – particularly in relation to children where the cost of failure is so high.

No one should be afraid to report concerns about failures in child protection”.

Peter Wanless, the Chief Executive of the NSPCC, said:

“If an employee thinks a child is in danger or has been failed by their organisation then nothing should stand in the way of them speaking out.

Too often people with concerns have kept silent because they have been fearful of the consequences for their jobs, and this can have devastating consequences for the children involved. A feature of the child abuse scandals of recent years has been people who said they thought something wasn’t right but were unsure whether they could discuss their concerns confidentially outside their organisation.

The new whistleblowing helpline is a vital new initiative and will provide a confidential, safe place for anyone who has concerns and wants support or advice”.

John Kerry Says that the United States wants the UK to remain in the European Union

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John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has said that US would like to see the UK remain in the European Union.

Kerry said in a speech he made in Munich that:

“The truth is that in every decade since its founding, the EU has been tested by forces –internal and external – that benefited from a house divided. We know many Europeans right now feel overwhelmed by the latest round of challenges, including concerns about the UK’s potential exit from the EU. Here again, however, I want to express the confidence of President Obama and all of us in America that, just as it has so many times before, Europe is going to emerge stronger than ever, provided it stays united and builds common responses to these challenges. Obviously, the United States has a profound interest in your success, as we do in a very strong United Kingdom staying in a strong EU”.

A spokesman for Leave.EU was critical of Kerry’s intervention and said of his statement:

“It might be convenient for John Kerry, who has repeatedly declined to support the UK in the Falklands, for us to be in the EU, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us”.

Government Confirms Cut to 600 MPs

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The Government has confirmed today in a report that it is to cut the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600. It will also press ahead with changes already announced to equalise the number of votes in each constituency.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee had said:

“The proposals for new parliamentary constituencies made during the 2013 Review were, as a whole, not satisfactory. This was an almost inevitable result of the new rules for the distribution of parliamentary constituencies brought in by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011. The largest contributor to the unsatisfactory nature of the proposals was the imposition of the new statutory requirement for all but four parliamentary constituencies to have an electorate within 5% of the UK electoral quota. This new rule fundamentally changed the way in which proposals for new parliamentary constituency boundaries were devised, and severely limited the extent to which the Boundary Commissions were able to consider other factors such as continuity with previous constituencies and the reflection of local communities”.

They recommended more flexibility on constituency size saying:

“We recommend that the allowable variance for the electorate of each constituency from the UK electoral quota be increased to +/- 10%. This would better enable the Commissions to come forward with more satisfactory proposals for new parliamentary constituencies, whilst still ensuring a greater degree of equality than exists at present in terms of the number of electors in each constituency. This change would require primary legislation”.

A Government report said to the proposed flexibility in constituency size:

“These factors are subject to the overriding principle of equality in constituency size, because the government remains of the view that equality and fairness must be paramount”.

The report added:

“The Government considers it is essential that the Boundary Commissions have certainty as to the rules that will apply for the redistribution of UK Parliamentary constituencies for the next boundary review. The Government has no plans at this time to introduce legislation to make major changes to the boundary review framework. This has necessarily informed the Government’s consideration of, and response to, the Committee’s recommendations”.

Home Secretary Extends Contract of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe

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Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has extended the contract of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, by one year.

In a statement May said:

“Sir Bernard has been at the forefront of the vital and important challenge of policing London at a time of heightened security. His determination and commitment to cutting crime has helped keep London safe.

Extending Sir Bernard’s appointment for one year means that the new Mayor of London will be able to take an informed view about any representations they may wish to make about the longer term leadership of the force.

I look forward to continue working with Sir Bernard to reform the Metropolitan Police, cut crime and keep London safe”.

Government Welcomes Agreement on Syrian Peace Talks

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Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, has welcomed the agreement reached by the International Syria Support Group. The agreement will mean that  there will be cease-fire, with the exception of against ISIS, to allow peace negotiations to continue.

Philip Hammond said in a statement:

“The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich committed members to achieving a cessation of hostilities within a week, to delivering humanitarian assistance to named besieged communities by this weekend and to facilitating rapid progress in negotiations aimed at political transition.

If implemented fully and properly by every ISSG member, this will be an important step towards relieving the killing and suffering in Syria. But it will only succeed if there is a major change of behaviour by the Syrian regime and its supporters.

Russia, in particular, claims to be attacking terrorist groups and yet consistently bombs non-extremist groups including civilians. If this agreement is to work, this bombing will have to stop: no cessation of hostilities will last if moderate opposition groups continue to be targeted”.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said:

“A ceasefire has a great many legal prerogatives and requirements. A cessation of hostilities does not – is not anticipated to, but in many ways, they have a similar effect. A ceasefire in the minds of many of the participants in this particular moment connotes something far more permanent and far more reflective of sort of an end of conflict, if you will. And it is distinctly not that. This is a pause that is dependent on the process going forward, and therefore cessation of hostilities is a much more appropriate, apt term. But the effect of ending hostile actions, the effect of ending offensive actions and permitting only defensive actions that are a matter of self-defense is the same in that regard.

I might comment also – and I think this is very important for everybody to understand – during this week, the Assad regime and the opposition need to make their decision. And both are engaged – going to be engaged in consultations. The International Syria Support Group took a different step this time from what has happened previously. In Vienna on two occasions and in New York we called for a ceasefire, we encouraged people. Today we specifically decided on a process, on a timeframe, and we all agreed to do everything that we can to meet that”.