Government axes climate change department

From BBC News:
The government has axed the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) in a major departmental shake-up.

The brief will be folded into an expanded Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy under Greg Clark.

Ed Miliband, the former energy and climate secretary under Labour, called the move “plain stupid”.

It comes at a time when campaigners are urging the government to ratify the Paris climate change deal.

In his statement, Mr Clark appeared keen to calm concerns about the priority given to tackling global warming.

He said: “I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading Government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.”

Meanwhile, Andrea Leadsom, who ran against Theresa May for the Conservative leadership, is the new Environment Secretary.

Ms Leadsom succeeds Liz Truss, who is taking over as Secretary of State for Justice after a two-year tenure at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
One of the most pressing items on the environment agenda is the ratification of the Paris climate deal, which was inked last year.

Labour’s former leader and one-time climate secretary Ed Miliband has been among those urging the government the agreement as soon as possible.

Although the UK has signed up, it needs to formally join the agreement with a communication to the UN.

Mr Miliband had been concerned that “climate sceptics” might try to derail the deal if they gain positions of power in the new administration.

On the changes at DECC, he tweeted: “Abolition just plain stupid. Climate not even mentioned in new dept. title. Matters because depts shape priorities shape outcomes.”

Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett described the news as “shocking”.
“Less than a day into the job and it appears that the new Prime Minister has already downgraded action to tackle climate change, one of the biggest threats we face,” he said.

“If Theresa May supports strong action on climate change, as she’s previously said, it’s essential that this is made a top priority for the new business and energy department and across government.”

Insiders fear that uncertainty over leaving the EU could undermine EDF’s commitment to Hinkley Point
However, David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, commented: “The new Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy can be a real powerhouse for change, joining up Whitehall teams to progress the resilient, sustainable, and low carbon infrastructure that we urgently need.”

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF), said: “Moving energy policy to the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should give ministers a fresh impetus to ensure that the costs for consumers and businesses are driven down, not pushed further up.”

One pressing item in Mr Clark’s in-tray is the possible effect leaving the EU could have on the £18bn Hinkley Point nuclear power station project.

French energy giant EDF is a key investor in the project and there are concerns that the uncertainty over Brexit could undermine its commitment.

Speaking earlier, Angus Brendan MacNeil, chair of the Commons energy and climate select committee, has pointed out that pre-referendum, “EDF was investing in another EU member state”. Now, he added, “that is no longer the case”. However, EDF officials have said they remain committed to the project.

There will also be big changes to the way farming operates – something for Ms Leadsom’s in-tray at Defra. The impact on food prices and the effects of losing direct subsidies are among the questions the department will need to address.

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Nottinghamshire police adopt new crime category to tackle street harassment

From The Guardian:

Uninvited sexual advances and unwanted verbal contact with a woman, including catcalling or wolf-whistling in the street, are to be recorded as a hate crimes in a new effort to tackle sexist abuse.

Nottinghamshire police has expanded its categories of hate crime to include misogynistic incidents, characterised as behaviour targeted towards a victim simply because they are a woman.

This means incidents ranging from street harassment to unwanted physical approaches can be reported to and investigated by the police, and support put in place for victims.

The force is the first in the country to adopt the separate misogyny hate crime category, and has provided specific training to selected officers in the past three months.

Commenting on the new procedures, introduced in partnership with Nottingham Women’s Centre, Ch Con Sue Fish said: “I’m delighted that we are leading the way towards tackling misogyny in all its forms.

“It’s a very important aspect of the overall hate crime work being conducted and one that will make Nottinghamshire a safer place for all women. What women face, often on a daily basis, is absolutely unacceptable and can be extremely distressing.”

Work on the change began in June 2014 after a research project, which led on to a conference at which women gave examples of harassment they had faced.

Fish encouraged anyone affected by misogynistic hate crime to contact police without hesitation. “The work we are doing with Nottingham Women’s Centre is so valuable and I am looking forward to continuing that work,” she added.

Melanie Jeffs, the manager at the centre, said: “We’re pleased to see Nottinghamshire police recognise the breadth of violence and intimidation that women experience on a daily basis in our communities.

“Understanding this as a hate crime will help people to see the seriousness of these incidents and hopefully encourage more women to come forward and report offences.”

The Nottinghamshire force defines a hate crime as “any incident which may or may not be deemed as a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hatred”.

Domestic abuse is not included within the scope of misogyny hate crime as it is dealt with under its own procedures.

Misogyny hate crime is classed under the new policy as “incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”.

Examples of such incidents may include unwanted or uninvited sexual advances, physical or verbal assault, unwanted or uninvited physical or verbal contact or engagement, and use of mobile phones to send unwanted or uninvited messages or take photographs without consent.

Last year, a building firm was investigated by police after a 23-year-old woman, Poppy Smart, reported men wolf-whistling at her in the street.

While the matter was dropped when dropped Smart was satisfied it had been handled internally by the firm, it was believed to be the first time police had investigated wolf-whistling as a potential crime.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “It is great that police in Nottingham will be capturing the way a lot of harassment in public spaces is targeted at women and girls. In a recent poll we found that 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching, which can amount to sexual assault.

“This level of harassment is having an enormous impact on women’s freedom to move about in the public space as it makes women feel a lot less safe. The women we spoke to do a lot of work to feel safer, including avoiding parts of the city they live in, taking taxis and leaving events in groups.”

Krys said recording such incidents would give police and policymakers a much clearer grasp on the levels of harassment women and girls are subjected to, and better understand measures which could reduce it.

“It should also challenge the idea that women and girls in public or online spaces are ‘fair game’,” she added. “We know that ignoring harassment and sexist bullying creates the impression that other types of violence against women will be tolerated so we welcome any action which counters this.”

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US refused to prosecute HSBC money laundering citing “market risk”

From BBC News:

US officials refused to prosecute HSBC for money laundering in 2012 because of concerns within the Department of Justice that it would cause a “global financial disaster”, a report says.
A US Congressional report revealed UK officials, including Chancellor George Osborne, added to pressure by warning the US it could lead to market turmoil.

The report alleges the UK “hampered” the probe and “influenced” the outcome.

HSBC was accused of letting drug cartels use US banks to launder funds.

The bank, which has its headquarters in London, paid a $1.92bn (£1.48bn) settlement but did not face criminal charges . No top officials at HSBC faced any charges.

‘Serious implications’
The report says: “George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, the UK’s chief financial minister, intervened in the HSBC matter by sending a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke… to express the UK’s concerns regarding US enforcement actions against British banks.”

The letter said that prosecuting HSBC could have “very serious implications for financial and economic stability, particularly in Europe and Asia”.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said a series of factors were considered when deciding how to resolve a case, including whether there may be “adverse consequences for innocent third parties, such as employees, customers, investors, pension holders and the public”.

The report also accuses former US Attorney General Eric Holder of misleading Congress about the decision.

The report says Mr Holder ignored the recommendations of more junior staff to prosecute HSBC because of the bank’s “systemic importance” to the financial markets.

‘Misleading comments’
“Rather than lacking adequate evidence to prove HSBC’s criminal conduct, internal Treasury documents show that DOJ [Department of Justice] leadership declined to pursue [the] recommendation to prosecute HSBC because senior DOJ leaders were concerned that prosecuting the bank ‘could result in a global financial disaster’,” the report said.

Instead, the Department of Justice and HSBC reached the settlement, which some politicians criticised for being too lenient.

Testifying before Congress in 2013 Mr Holder said the size of some financial institutions can make it difficult to bring criminal charges.

He later tried to clarify those remarks telling Congress: “If we find a bank or a financial institution that has done something wrong, if we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, those cases will be brought.”

Congress’s report deemed these comments to be misleading in light of emails from Treasury Department staff that recommended criminal charges.

Mexican cartel
The 2012 settlement with HSBC detailed how the bank violated US sanctions by conducting business for customers in Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba.

HSBC accounts were also used by the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico and Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia to launder $881m.

The settlement allowed the bank to avoid pleading guilty to any wrongdoing.
If HSBC had been proven guilty of criminal action, it could have lost its banking charter in the US.

HSBC and US regulators declined to comment on the report.
The UK Treasury has not commented either.

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G4S workers suspended amid allegations of bogus 999 calls

From The Independent:
Five police control room staff working for the private security company G4S have been suspended following allegations they called 999 at quiet times to massage performance figures.

The workers, who are employed by G4S Public Services and work for Lincolnshire Police, are alleged to have made the bogus calls to ensure faster call answering times were recorded.

Lincolnshire Police, who confirmed the five workers had been suspended in a statement released on Monday, added that they will be “seeking further information by interviewing these members of staff jointly with G4S”.

The statement added: “These matters will now be dealt with through staff disciplinary procedures and the investigation must take its course.”

“We have established that at no stage has there been any risk to the safety of members of the public… arrangements have been made for the smooth operation of the force control room to continue and the service to the public will not be adversely affected.”

Managing director for G4S Public Services, John Shaw, added: “We have suspended five employees today and have taken swift action to begin our investigation process.

“While I can reassure the public that at no stage did the actions of these people put the public or police colleagues at risk, I am nevertheless dismayed that this group of staff sought to influence important performance measurements. We continue to work closely with the force and share any data and other information required.

“There is no place for anyone in our organisation who behaves in this way and their actions undermine the commitment and the good work of their colleagues.”

The Crown Prosecution Service has said that there is no evidence of criminal activity at this stage, instead the inquiry is an internal disciplinary matter. The alleged illegitimate test calls were made in October, November and December 2015. In November and December the handlers failed to meet targets, dipping to 90.19% in November and 89.24% in December.

Watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission supervised the probe. The Lincolnshire Police 999 call centre is the only one managed by G4S.

“These are incredibly serious allegations,” said Labour’s Shadow police minister Jack Dromey. “Emergency response times can mean the difference between life and death, and yet call data appears to have been purposely manipulated.”

“Time and time again G4S have let down the public. This case raises serious questions about the ability of G4S to play a role in vital and sensitive public contracts.”

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17 Edinburgh schools built under private finance close over structural safety

From BBC News:

City of Edinburgh Council leader Andrew Burns has said his authority had ‘no option’ but to close schools over safety concerns.
Seventeen schools in the city are to be closed indefinitely from Monday.
The schools were all built as part of the city’s private finance programme.
Galliford Try, which in 2014 acquired the company which built the four schools closed last month, has now said it supports the closures while investigations take place.
Councillor Burns told BBC Radio Scotland the Edinburgh Schools Partnership, which operates the buildings, had told the council last week that the schools were safe.
Mr Burns said that advice changed late on Friday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for Galliford Try, which acquired Miller Construction in 2014, said: “We support the council’s precautionary closures of those buildings that were also part of the PPP programme while further investigations take place.
“We will continue to work with our design team and all the stakeholders involved to remedy any issue that may arise during this further investigation as soon as possible.”

Mr Burns said: “I’m extremely disappointed that the Edinburgh Schools Partnership have not been able to give us confirmation that the schools are structurally safe to open on Monday.
“We’ve been left with no option other than to close the schools on a precautionary basis.”

He added: “On Tuesday we were written to by the Edinburgh Schools Partnership and told that the buildings were safe for occupancy.
“Than on Friday late afternoon into early evening we received a subsequent letter saying that they were withdrawing that confirmation.”
Mr Burns said although the council would to find space in the rest of the schools to accommodate the 9000 pupils affected, it was likely that some would have to stay at home.
He said it appeared the fault uncovered at Oxgangs primary yesterday is not related to outside walls, which was the previous cause for concern.

The Scottish government is to hold a meeting of its resilience committee to look at what it can do to assist.
Education Secretary Angela Constance said: “The safety of children, young people and staff in our schools is paramount, and I recognise the concern of parents.
“I am reassured by the prompt action taken by Edinburgh City Council.”
She added: “It is too early to assess any wider implications for schools in other parts of Scotland.
“However, Scottish government officials have written to all local authorities this weekend to ask them to carry out any necessary checks on their own estate as soon as possible.
“We understand that all of the affected buildings in Edinburgh were completed over ten years ago. We will ensure that, as more information about the nature of the issue in Edinburgh is established, this is passed on to other local authorities to assist them in this process.”

The problems were first uncovered in January when a wall at Oxgangs Primary collapsed during high winds.
Three other schools were later closed after inspections revealed problems with the way walls had been built.
The schools were all expected to re-open after the Easter break.
But City of Edinburgh Council said a fresh concerns had been raised during remedial work at Oxgangs Primary on Friday.
It said Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which constructed the buildings and manages them on behalf of the council, was unable to give assurances that buildings built under the Public Private Partnership 1 (PPP1) were safe.
These include 17 schools – 10 primaries, five secondaries and two additional support needs schools – and the Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre.

School closures – timeline
29 January – high winds during Storm Gertrude lead to a wall collapsing at Oxgangs Primary
School re-opens a few days later
16 March – Oxgangs Primary closes again after safety inspection reveals problems with the way the wall was built
18 March – three more schools built under Public Private Partnership 1 closed following safety inspections
8 April – All 17 schools and a community centre built under same private finance initiative closed indefinitely

A Scottish government spokesman said: “Clearly the safety of children and young people in our schools is paramount.
“We are working closely with Edinburgh city council to understand the issue and to provide any support necessary to minimise the impact on pupils.”
The council said the latest problems identified were not “directly related” to the original issues that forced the closure of Oxgangs Primary.
The schools affected are Braidburn School, Broomhouse Primary, Castleview Primary, Craigour Park Primary, Craigmount High, Craigroyston Primary, Drummond Community High, Firrhill High, Forthview Primary, Gracemount High, Oxgangs Primary School, Pirniehill Primary, Rowanfield, Royal High, St David’s Primary, St Joseph’s Primary and St Peters RC Primary.
The council said it was too early to say when the schools would re-open but it would update parents next week.
In the meantime it recommended that they make childcare arrangements.
The authority said it would try to put in place alternative schooling provision with priority given to special needs pupils and those due to sit exams next month.
Updates will be posted on the council website.
Schools in Glasgow and Fife were inspected last week, and both local authorities said schools would be open as normal on Monday.
However Glasgow council has decided to undertake more surveys next week in light of the recent news.
Signed in 2001, Edinburgh’s Public Private Partnership deal for schools was worth £360m.
In return for 30 years of fixed payments from the council, a private consortium designed, built and managed the schools.
The four Edinburgh schools closed last month were all built by Miller Construction, which was acquired by Galliford Try in 2014.
Inspections have been taking place in Glasgow, Fife and Inverclyde of other schools built by Miller Construction.

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Protesters calling for Cameron resignation march on Downing Street and Conservative spring conference

From Huffington Post:

Before marching to the Tory Spring Conference in Holborn, protesters gather outside London’s Downing Street calling for Prime Minister, David Cameron to resign over his involvement in the ‘Panama Papers’ affair. Protest groups such as the People’s Assembly and Class War are demanding the government close tax loopholes that allow British companies to avoid UK taxes using offshore tax havens. Featuring: View Where: London, United Kingdom When: 09 Apr 2016 Credit: WENN.com

Hundreds of demonstrators besieged the hotel where David Cameron gave a speech to the Conservative Party’s Spring Conference on Saturday.

In a bid to pressure the Prime Minister to either resign or close tax loopholes, protestors marched from Downing Street to the entrance of The Grand Connaught Rooms in London.

Many of those attending the rally told The Huffington Post UK they believed the “tide had turned” on Cameron since the Panama Papers revealed his late father’s tax arrangements.

Jack, a second-year junior doctor wearing his bright blue scrubs to the demo, told HuffPost UK: “I’ve not found the [Panama] revelations at all that surprising.

“We’ve known for six years we have a Cabinet full of millionaires, and that’s what millionaires do: avoid tax.

“This is very damaging for Cameron and we should put the pressure on and show him it’s completely wrong to vilify people on benefits when he’s deny taxes that are due.”

Beata, a Polish citizen whose lived in the UK for 11 years, said: “We know it’s all fucked up but the hypocrisy that was highlighted by the Panama Papers which shows Cameron benefiting until he became Prime Minister… he’s daring to say we should pay the taxes?

“I think at the moment, he is at his weakest.”

Despite having been organised on Friday morning, around 1,000 demonstrators attended Saturday’s march.

Abi Wilkinson, one of the event’s organisers, said on Friday: “We’re hoping to have a fun, tropical party vibe and to get ordinary people out rather than committed activist types.”

The atmosphere was jovial, with tropical music blaring from portable speakers at both Downing Street and the Connaught conference venue.

The spectre of a pig piñata, waving high above the march, guided protestors towards the Tory Spring forum, being held a mile away from Number 10.

The piñata was ceremoniously whacked by demonstrators in front of the conference venue.

It’s creator told HuffPost UK he decided to get involved in Saturday’s action, and thought the image of a pig was the natural choice.

Artist Gavin Turk said: “The idea of hanging him up and everyone hitting him with the stick appealed to me.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so far it all seems very jolly and everyone is really together in saying we think it’s rubbish what the government are up to.

“It seems strange that if [David Cameron] knows and has knowledge of tax avoidance situations then he should get right on to it to benefit everybody and to benefit society.

“He’s turning the country into a ‘moneytocracy’ – if you have the money you can do what you like.

“Greed is guiding this, it’s limiting people’s choice and it’s making society unwell.”

Kathleen, who has been involved in protests against cuts in the past, told HuffPost UK: “I’d been quite clued into tax avoidance since the Private Eye investigation into Vodafone.

“But I’m so happy the Panama Papers have come out as it gives us a lot of evidence, very specific evidence.

“We can literally point at specific people – it couldn’t be better. It’s easier for people to unite around this when they have specific detail.

“I think this is going mainstream. There’s so much we don’t know about yet.”

Esme, wearing a bright red Momentum badge, said: “It’s important to do this today to keep the issue going.

“I don’t think Cameron will go today but the idea is to put as much pressure on and to let him know the mood has changed and he’s not welcome.

“Even if it’s within the Tory party itself, they’re weak enough as it is.”

The protest came as David Cameron used his speech at the Spring Conference to say there is only one person to “blame” for the furore over his taxes.

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Theresa May ‘wrongly deported 48,000 students’ after BBC Panorama exposes TOEIC scam

From Independent:

Home Secretary Theresa May allegedly wrongly deported up to 50,000 international students after an English test cheating scam at one school was used to incriminate all who had sat the test.

According to The Hindu news site, the Home Office was responsible for wrongly deporting 48,000 people after a BBC Panorama documentary in February 2014 claimed to have uncovered fraudulent activity at an East London school involving overseas students sitting the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

Shortly after, in June 2014, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire made a statement to Parliament in which he said an investigation post-Panorama found evidence of 46,000 “invalid and questionable” tests.

Following on from that investigation, Mrs May took the decision to revoke the sponsorship licences of around 60 educational institutions, and detain and remove tens of thousands of international students who had obtained the TOEIC certificate in the past.

Now, though, the news of the figure has come shortly after the Upper Tribunal (Asylum and Immigration) made a damning ruling on 23 March that the Home Secretary’s evidence suffered from “multiple frailties and shortcomings.”

At the tribunal’s judgement, President Honourable Mr Justice McCloskey, said: “The evidence adduced on behalf of the Secretary of State emerged paled and heavily weakened by the examination to which it was subjected.”

“In the sporting world, a verdict of ‘no contest’ would have been appropriate at this juncture.”

The tribunal also found there was no evidence from any English Testing Service (ETS) witness – the US firm behind the test which was contracted by the Home Office. The president said: “Almost remarkably, ETS provided no evidence, directly or indirectly, to this tribunal,” further labelling the firm’s actions as “mildly astonishing.”

He concluded: “The legal burden of proof falling on the Secretary of State has not been discharged. The Appellants are clear winners.”

The landmark verdict could now see thousands of deported students return to the UK and claim compensation after Mrs May’s actions.

A member of the Indian Workers’ Association told the Hindustan Times that 70 per cent of the 48,000 affected students were Indian, adding: “Due to their personal and national humiliation, many left of their own accord, the majority were deported.”

In an email to the Independent, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The Government continues to tackle abuse of our immigration system and protect the reputation of our world class education institutions.

“The investigation into the abuse of English language testing in 2014 revealed extremely serious, large scale, organised fraud.

“We are very disappointed by the decision and are awaiting a copy of the full determination to consider next steps including an appeal. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

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MPs could face ban on hiring family and spouses under expenses review

From Independent:

MPs who employ relatives and claim money to rent accomodation could soon be blocked under a new review of politicians’ expenses.

Thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money could be taken from MPs who have claimed it in order to pay for second homes for their children and put family members on payrolls.

Officials at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority said they were “taken aback” by the number of MPs – 18 in total – who employed a spouse or family member last year.

A source in Ipsa told the Sunday Times: “Quite a few people have done this.

“Everybody has been […] taken aback and is aware of what the committee [on standards] said, so we are having another look at this.”

Proposals to ban family members from working for MPs following Parliament’s expenses scandal were dropped by Ipsa after a backlash from politicians – with the caveat that they were restricted to putting just one family member on the pay roll.

MPs who currently do so include Labour MP Jess Phillips, whose husband Tom works as her constituency support officer, and Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who employs his wife Felicity in the same role.

Problems with the MP expenses’ system have been highlighted again through the recent scandal surrounding Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who claimed money for his children to live in a second flat in London.

MPs are allowed to claim up to £2,425 a year towards renting a second home if they have children or other dependants “routinely residing” there.

But Mr Danczuk claimed expenses when his children were not staying at his flat in London routinely enough over three years to warrant the help, Ipsa found in March 2016. The Rochdale MP admitted the fault and was told to pay back £11,583.20 over an unspecified period.

Ninety-three MPs claimed £145,422 of taxpayer’s money for the same “uplift” allowance during 2015, The Sunday Times revealed.

Ipsa’s board minutes say the specific areas to be reviewed are MP’s accomodation, their staffing regulations, and family issues “including the employment of connected parties.”

A spokesperson told The Independent: “We will be running a comprehensive review of the scheme of expenses and costs, a review of all areas in terms of accomodation, staffing expenditure, travel and so on.

“It’s because we feel it’s the right time because we haven’t looked at it for the last few years.”

Ipsa has also reportedly increased funds to its compliance unit from £10,000 to £90,000 to deal with such issues.

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Government planning to repeal animal welfare codes

From The Guardian:
Conservative ministers are planning to repeal an array of official guidance on animal welfare standards, starting with a move to put the code on chicken-farming into the hands of the poultry industry.

Liz Truss, the environment secretary, is overseeing moves to scrap the statutory codes on farm animal welfare and move to an “industry-led” guidance as part of her department’s deregulatory agenda.

In a change that has caused concern with the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, and opposition parties, the government has already quietly tabled a draft order to scrap the official code on farming chickens for meat and breeding.

It is planning to revoke the code on 27 April – the day that new guidelines will be made public by the British Poultry Council, which will in future be in charge of writing and keeping the new regulatory code.

The industry body counts chicken hatchers and breeders as well as meat-processing giants such as Faccenda and 2Sisters among its member companies.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it will now begin working with other livestock sectors in a staged timetable of reform. Other sectors that could get control of their own guidance include the cattle, sheep and pig farming industries.

A Defra spokeswoman said that overarching animal welfare legislation that sets out criminal offences will remain in place alongside the new industry code. “No changes are being made to farm animal welfare legislation or the strict enforcement and penalties that apply,” she said.

“Instead, the British Poultry Council has produced new non-statutory guidance on how to comply with the legislation. The industry-led guidance can also be used as evidence in court to prove criminal liability and will ensure farmers have the most up-to-date and practical information.”

However, charities are worried that the move regarding poultry could weaken animal welfare standards in farms and lead to fewer prosecutions for animal cruelty.

Legislation that makes it a criminal offence to mistreat animals is not being changed but the statutory codes have until now been used to give magistrates guidance on where those being prosecuted have fallen short compared with good practice.

Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser at Compassion in World Farming, said the charity was deeply concerned about the scope for animal welfare standards to be weakened.

“I find it very hard to believe when one goes from a government code to an industry code it is going to be as tough. For example, the government code on pigs is quite tough. It says tail docking should only be used as a last resort. Would the pig industry would keep such tough wording? I think inevitably one will see a dilution of the codes.

“I don’t think this is isolated but part and parcel of a wider approach. The job of a government department is to hold the balance between competing interests. It is not to come down on one side and say animal welfare, dietary health and the environment have to be subservient to the needs of industry. It is both damaging in itself, and illustrative and symptomatic of this wider problem that we are getting.”

In responses to the government’s consultation, released under Freedom of Information laws, concerns were also raised that in the future the code on chickens could move to recommend the common industry practice of catching birds with just one leg, rather than the government code’s current advice on catching with two legs.

The RSPCA said it has been voicing concerns for the past three years about the “downgrading” of the guidelines from statutory codes to industry-led guidance and criticised the lack of transparency around the process.

“We are concerned that this change to guidance could impact on the legal weighting these documents have in providing magistrates with legal guidance when considering negligence during animal welfare prosecutions,” a spokeswoman said.

“We also have concerns that the new guidance documents may not contain the same level of welfare information as the existing codes and may only serve to help ensure animal keepers are compliant with minimum legal requirements.”

The British Poultry Council said that the body had worked very closely with the government to ensure there was no weakening of standards. It said many of the codes are outdated and Defra did not have the resources to view all of them, but the new chicken guidance has been reviewed “using a significant amount of resource from the industry” and based on scientific evidence.

John Reed, chairman of the British Poultry Council, said: “We were determined to ensure that we protected the integrity of the code. It was critical for the BPC to achieve the endorsement from Defra to ensure its credibility and acceptance by charities, retailers and the industry itself. A robust review procedure will be put in place to ensure that the requirements in the code are kept up to date with any new legislation and research.”

Labour said the plans were “endangering Britain’s proud tradition as a country that stands up for animal welfare”.

Kerry McCarthy, the shadow environment secretary, said: “Abandoning codes of practice for farm animal welfare is not in the best interests of the animals and will not produce higher quality food.”

The move to deregulate animal welfare comes after the Guardian exposed poor hygiene standards in some of the poultry industry last year.

McCarthy added: “In the wake of food scandals from horsemeat to campylobacter, scrapping government standards risks undermining public confidence in the food we buy.”

Kate Parminter, a Lib Dem peer, will now table a regret motion in the House of Lords next month, saying she was “very, very concerned” that the process for scrapping the animal welfare codes was “not clear, not transparent and not all parties have been included”.

Government sources said that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and in Europe has pushed for higher standards, including ban on sow stalls, battery cages for laying hens and veal crates.

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“March Against Fear” in Brussels cancelled at request of government, citing “security concerns”

From thejournal.ie 
Organisers of a “March Against Fear” planned for tomorrow to mark the Brussels terror attacks said they had cancelled the event after the authorities asked them to do so because of security fears.
“We understand this request. The security of our citizens is an absolute priority. We join the authorities in proposing a delay and ask people not to come this Sunday,” the organisers said in a statement.
The authorities earlier asked for the march to be put off, perhaps for several weeks, to allow the police to concentrate their resources on the investigation into the attacks which left 31 dead and 300 wounded.
“We invite the citizens tomorrow to not have this manifestation,” Interior Minister Jan Jambon said, speaking in English.
In an earlier statement, the organisers said the march planned for tomorrow was meant to show that Brussels and the country at large refused to be intimidated by terrorism and that everyone stood together.
“This week, we, Belgian citizens have been attacked, in how we live, our customs, our rights, our liberty,” they said.
The first reaction in such events is to withdraw but on reflection, fear must give way to hope and the defence of our values.
Belgium earlier charged a suspect thought to be the fugitive third Brussels airport bomber with terrorist murder.
The airport suspect officially identified as Faycal C and named by local media as freelance journalist Faycal Cheffou who was arrested on Thursday night and investigators believe he could be the man pictured in airport surveillance footage alongside two other suicide bombers.
The third bomber, wearing a distinctive dark hat and white jacket, has been the subject of a massive manhunt after his device failed to go off in the attack at Zaventem airport.

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