Monday, November 20, 2006


Loony Britain at work again

ANTI-BULLYING advisers should be employed by local councils to help to combat bullying in schools, according to recommendations from the Office of the Children's Commissioner. The advisers would mediate in cases where parents complained that bullies were not being disciplined. They would also dissuade bullies from abusing other pupils and provide advice for victims.

The new report, Bullying in Schools, commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and to be published this week, states that parents often find that head teachers dismiss allegations that a child is being bullied. The new anti-bullying advisers would be selected and employed by local authorities. The report recommends that the parents of a bullied child should have the right to a hearing before a committee of school governors. It also wants new powers for the local government ombudsmen to intervene in schools where discipline is a problem.

Professor Carolyn Hamilton, senior legal adviser to the Office of the Children's Commissioner, writes in the report: "Some heads still respond to parents by rejecting the suggestion that there is any bullying in the school. "It may be alleged that the parent is overprotective or even a troublemaker. There may be hurtful suggestions that the bullied child is oversensitive or antisocial."

A DfES spokesman said the proposals would be examined by Alan Johnson, the education secretary. The spokesman said: "While in the vast majority of cases of bullying, schools do an excellent job, we want to ensure that every case is investigated thoroughly and that parents have an effective route of complaint if they feel inadequate action has been taken."

Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the children's commissioner, said of the report: "There is evidence that the present system is not satisfactory. Our proposals would lead to a more formal appeals process involving the governors and above all an independent aspect which has been missing until now." Aynsley-Green was himself bullied as a 10-year-old when his family moved to London from Northumberland and he was victimised because of his accent. He said that bullying is an "enormous problem" and he is keen for it to be "on the front burner". He added that new technology meant bullies had new ways to make their victims' lives miserable: "Until recently, if children are being bullied at school, they could go home and be in a safe environment. Now they can't escape because they are bullied on their mobiles or by e-mail."

Up to 70% of children have experienced bullying, according to a survey of 8,574 children released earlier this month by the charity Bullying Online. Half of bullied pupils said they had been physically hurt. When bullying was reported to a teacher, children said that in 55% of cases it did not stop. A report from the Office of the Children's Commissioner, Bullying Today, said Muslim children had experienced greater victimisation after the September 11 attacks in America and the July 2005 London bombings. [Odd that!]



FAITH schools have this year increased their dominance at the top of The Sunday Times's state primary league table - taking 60% of places in the list of the 500 best schools. The dominance of faith schools is likely to reopen the debate over whether such schools should change their strict admission policies. Since 2002, there has been a 10% increase in the number of church and Jewish primary schools in the top 500.

Alan Johnson, the education secretary, was last month forced into a climbdown over his plans to introduce reforms to ensure up to 25% of pupils at new faith schools came from other backgrounds. Kenneth Baker, a former Conservative education secretary, described the climbdown as "the fastest U-turn in British political history".

In the league tables published today, the most successful schools are Catholic and Jewish. Out of 1,700 Catholic primary schools, 141 are in the top 500; and out of 28 Jewish primary schools, six are in the top 500. A significantly smaller proportion of Church of England schools enjoy such success. Of 4,400 Church of England schools, only 142 are in the top 500.

In the two highest performing schools - North Cheshire Jewish school in Cheadle and St Mary and St Thomas Aquinas RC primary in Blaydon-on-Tyne in Gateshead - all pupils have achieved the maximum score in English, maths and science tests for the past three years. Experts have suggested the success of faith schools may be a result of their popularity with middle-class parents. Tony and Cherie Blair have sent their four children to Catholic primary schools.

According to Chris Woodhead, a former chief inspector of schools, faith schools are often the only realistic option for some parents in inner city areas. "If you cannot afford independent school fees, the local faith school may be the only one offering a decent education," he said.

Head teachers of faith schools, however, argue that a school's values rather than a middle-class intake is the key to success. Wendy Duffy, acting head of St Mary and St Thomas Aquinas, said her pupils were drawn from both affluent and less well-off backgrounds. "I think the strength of the school lies in its ethos," she said. "Gospel values are very important. They are essential to our mission."

Norma Massel, head teacher for the past seven years at North Cheshire Jewish school, said the moral and discipline code imposed by religious schools was a key to their performance. Her school in Cheadle, north Cheshire, draws pupils from as far as Northwich, which is 25 miles away from the school.

It can take dedication by parents to get places at church schools with some parents starting to go to church solely to get a place for their child. However, even this is no guarantee in some inner-city areas with schools reporting as many as three applications for every place. Others apply strict criteria: at the Our Lady of Victories primary, a small Catholic school in Putney, south London, children are only admitted if their parents have attended church diligently for at least three years. The head teacher, Margaret Ryall, said: "It is almost a register that is taken by the priest at the end of mass on Sunday. We impose a strict system so it is fair to all. I doubt whether non-Catholic parents could keep up that level of attendance."

Despite the prevalence of faith schools in the top 500, some community schools have enjoyed success. South Farnham community junior school in Surrey is one of three non-faith schools in the top 10. The school has more than 100 pupils sitting the tests and this year they all achieved the maximum score. Andrew Carter, head teacher for 18 years, said his results were the result of systematic teaching. "Smaller schools can rely on one excellent teacher, but this school has four classes sitting the test. "There is excellent teaching plus analysis of what extra effort is required to get all of them through the tests. There are a lot of small church schools that do well, but we take everybody."

There are no Muslim or Sikh primary schools in the top 500, but such faith schools are rare in the state sector. There are only five Muslim and two Sikh primary schools in the country.

Johnson last month announced plans to pass new laws to force faith schools to take more pupils from other faiths and non-religious backgrounds. He scrapped the proposals after lobbying from the Catholic church and complaints from backbench MPs.

The league tables of primary and secondary schools and the independent school tables are contained on the Parent Power CD-Rom and online.


An open and shut case?

After 50 years of conflicting evidence and advice, the fats in our food have been tried and sentenced. But have the real killers been identified — or are they still wrecking lives? Investigation by Britain's Richard Girling

Food scares. Don’t they bring you out in sores? Proselytising zealots on the one hand try to tell us that “natural” is best, and on the other hand that, well, it’s only best if you skim off the fatty bits that actually make it taste of something. The penalty for noncompliance with dietary high command used to be rickets. Now it’s bad skin, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, diabetes and cancer.

It’s a peculiarly human thing. Birds and animals know instinctively what is good and bad to eat, which is all to do with how food looks, smells and tastes. Humans, by contrast, have been taught to sublimate their instincts and eat what they’re told. The result is a confused populace that seldom understands the terms in which it is being addressed, but picks up the mantras of “good” and “bad” fat, high-fibre, five-portions-a-day and chuck-away-the-frying-pan. It swallows either the most recent prescriptions of the diet lobby or what is urged upon it by the wilier practitioners of the advertising industry. Sometimes – for nothing sells better than the promise of good health – the messages coincide. “Low-fat” foods are a good example. So are the plastic tubs of primrose-coloured grease that are slid across the table in some households when you ask for butter.

In the 1970s, specially selected stupid people were challenged in television commercials to “tell Stork from butter”, and we were asked to believe that 7 out of 10 couldn’t do it. Aside from arguments about how such a result could have been achieved (did they poll only smokers with a Capstan Full Strength on the go?), the hottest controversy then was whether the G in margarine should be hard or soft. Nobody doubted the twin prongs of the advertisers’ message – that the stuff spread straight from the fridge (demonstrably true) and that it was better for you than hard, saturated fats churned from cows’ milk (taken on trust). The eventual brand leader, Flora, built its whole image on the health benefits of eating hydrogenated vegetable oils in place of butter – a marketing slant that was bang in line with government health policy.

Nobody imagined that one day these very same oils would find themselves in the dock alongside the fat old lags they were designed to replace. But there they stand: accused, convicted and condemned. Hydrogenated vegetable oils contain trans fats, or “trans-fatty acids”, which it turns out are even worse for our hearts than the saturated fats we were taught to abhor. The current, highly publicised unrest in New York, where the health department wants to ban trans fats from restaurants and takeaways, is the latest flare-up in a war that has been rumbling for years. As in so many food scares, however, the truth struggles to live up to the headlines.

As in many food scares, too, mention of life-threatening disease has stimulated something very close to panic. In the UK this summer, a new rash of headlines was provoked, first, by some long-term American research showing that monkeys fed on polyunsaturates put on 30% more belly fat than those given monounsaturates; and then by the British Medical Journal, which argued in an editorial that – in the UK as in America – trans fats should be compulsorily labelled, just like the old-school killers saturated fats. It was all a bit late, though. Hydrogenated vegetable oils have been purged from spreads, and retailers and manufacturers (see panel on page 25) are racing each other to remove them from the plethora of other products – cakes and biscuits, pies and pastries, sweets, ready meals, chocolate, even Horlicks – in which they have been ubiquitous.

The old-school killers themselves, meanwhile, are rampaging around the supermarket as if they own the place. Buyers of processed meat products may not be the most discriminating consumers, but some will have wised up to the fact that the “meat” in their dinner, if laid out in its raw state, would not look appetising. The truth is, it would test the appetite of a hyena. To keep the lawyers happy, manufacturers have to satisfy the official “European definition of meat” introduced in 2003, which, you won’t be surprised to learn, differs in several respects from any definition your grandmother might have recognised. This has been tightened up somewhat (it now excludes, for example, brains, feet, intestines, lungs, oesophagus, rectum, spinal cord, spleen, stomach, testicles and udder), but there’s plenty of slithery stuff still going on, and half the “meat” could be fat, rind and gristle.

The trans-fat story began with that old-fashioned word “margarine”, and it’s a longer story than many people think. The word itself comes from the Greek margarites, meaning pearl – an oddly poetic image coined by its inventor, the 19th-century French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès. His recipe, processed suet mixed with buttermilk and water, patented in 1869, was inspired by the need for a cheaper rather than healthier alternative to butter. Moneyed folk continued to prefer milk fat, and the comparison with butter has obsessed margarine-makers ever since. Mège-Mouriès sold out to a Dutch company in 1871, and by 1889 factories were turning out margarine in Germany, Austria, America, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and England. By 1906 the supply of suet was being outstripped by the demand, and factories began to look instead to vegetable oils – a switch that was all but complete by 1920.

Margarine’s inferiority complex found some relief in the 1960s when it first realised the power of the health card. In that decade too, the original hard margarines, packeted like the butter they so desperately wanted to imitate, were replaced by soft varieties in tubs. The first margarine “high in polyunsaturates, low in saturated fats” hit the shelves in 1964. Twenty years later, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (Coma) published its report Diet and Cardiovascular Disease, which once and for all spelt out the heart-stopping dangers of saturated fats. City streets began to vibrate with wobble-bottomed joggers staggering home not to naughty butter but to smears of vegetable yuk. In a London restaurant, I watched a man hack the fat from his parma ham as if he was fighting for his life. Proper butchers went on selling proper meat, but supermarkets were packaging stuff that looked as if it had been cut from Victoria Beckham.

Yet even as one branch of the food industry was pulling the saturated fats out of our diet, another was shoving them in again. Sausages, burgers, pies and pasties were being bulked out with body fat and other bits and pieces discarded by the butchers. Remember mechanically recovered meat (MRM)? The official definition quoted in the report of the BSE inquiry was unflinching: “Residual material, off bones, obtained by machines operating on pressure principles in such manner that the cellular structure of the material is broken down sufficiently for it to flow as purée from the bone.” As far as the law went, it was perfectly okay for these intimate scrapings, with their cellular structure broken down into gloop, to be described on packaging as “meat”. It was this very stuff, gleaned from places other recipes could not reach, that built the bridge between BSE and its nightmare human twin, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Don’t imagine it has been banned, however. Manufacturers are simply not allowed to describe it in the labelling as “meat”. It will appear instead as “recovered pork”, or whatever.

There is another irony too. Cookery writers like to applaud the peasant cuisines of continental Europe and marvel at their thrift. It has been repeated so often that it has become a cliché: they use every part of a pig except its squeak. But the same middle-class writers clutched their throats when the principle was seized upon by pie-makers. If Britain had any living equivalent of peasant cuisine, it was – still is – ingredients of rock-bottom cheapness chemically enhanced to give flavour, shelf life and “mouth-feel”, then fashioned into the resemblance of food that needs little chewing but can only be swallowed with ketchup.

While all this was going on, the health-obsessed middle classes were piling on the polyunsaturates, even if they didn’t quite understand what they were – food science is as opaque as lard, and twice as slippery. Most people know at least that, like butter, hard margarine and cheese, lard itself is a “saturated” fat, hard at room temperature. This is the stuff that raises cholesterol, blocks our arteries and – by some accounts – hastens the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Pretty much every health authority on the planet urges us to go easy on it.

Many people also understand “unsaturated” fats stay runny at room temperature and subdivide into polyunsaturates and monounsaturates. Polyunsaturates are said to protect against heart disease and arthritis, and are found in oily fish, soft margarines and some cooking oils (safflower, grapeseed, sunflower and corn oils, for example). Monounsaturates are said to be more or less health-neutral, though there is a suggestion they may reduce the risk of heart disease. They are found in olives, olive oil, nut oils and avocados. After that it all gets a bit hazy.

Even mainstream health advice wriggles with weasels such as “some experts now believe that”, which invites you to conclude that other experts think differently, and raises the question: how expert are the experts? Margarine, or “synthetic edible fat” as the Butter Board would prefer us to call it, remains the benchmark of dietary false idols. Unlike butter, it was not something you could make at home. Liquid vegetable oils were stiffened to a butter-like consistency (in other words, had their melting point raised) by a high-tech industrial process that involved extreme heat, metallic catalysts (nickel, for example) and hydrogen. A bit of fiddling with flavouring and colouring agents, stabilisers and salt turned these “hydrogenated vegetable oils”, now “high in polyunsaturates”, into margarine.

It was not long before scientists started adding some rationalist caveats to the good-health gospel. As early as 1974, Australian researchers found a link between polyunsaturates and skin cancer. In 1975 a group from the University of Glamorgan began to suspect that hydrogenated vegetable oils were implicated in coronary heart disease. Others around the world found links with cancers of the colon and breast. There was a particular kerfuffle in 1989 when the clinical pharmacology department at Cambridge University backed the earlier findings on heart disease. When The Sunday Times reported this, it drew an angry letter from the president of the Margarine and Shortening Manufacturers’ Association (who was also chairman of Van den Berghs, the manufacturers of Flora), complaining that the issues “had not been substantiated”. Van den Berghs itself followed up with full-page newspaper advertisements headed “Polyunsaturates Are Essential for Health”.

And so it went on. In 1991 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition announced that “polyunsaturated vegetable oils promote cancer more effectively than do saturated fats or polyunsaturated fish oils”. In 2001, researchers at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne reported that a heavy intake of polyunsaturates could more than double a child’s risk of asthma. In 2002 a link with depression was suggested, and Walter Willett, head of Harvard University’s department of nutrition, famously added his weight to the opinion that low-fat diets were making people obese. In 2004 a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina reported a possible link with Alzheimer’s disease.

But medical opinion is like a merry-go-round with the merriment removed. Assertion meets counter-assertion; rival camps ridicule each other’s methods and conclusions; each headline contradicts another. For consumers who can’t tell a linoleate from an eicosanoid from a bowl of custard, the result is like a babble of tongues in a science bazaar. We must assume, however, that the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the UK’s highest authority on such things, listens and understands. Its advice remains unaltered: polyunsaturates are good for us, and we should eat more of them. On the basis of reviews of evidence by the World Cancer Research Fund in 1997 and the British Nutrition Foundation in 1995, it rejects the idea that either polyunsaturates or trans fats are carcinogenic. Which, if we are looking for something to worry about, leaves just coronary heart disease.

By the early 1990s it was clear that the apparent risk in polyunsaturates came from the trans fats that were produced as a by-product of the hydrogenation process. In 1994, Flora quietly reduced the level of trans fats in its formulation from around 7% to 1.5%, and “margarine” slid towards obsolescence. Surprising to some, the word has a legal definition – it may be applied only to products with a fat content of between 80-90%. Any lower and it’s not margarine at all, but reduced-fat or low-fat spread bulked out with water (which is why it’s not good to cook with). According to the UK Margarine and Spreads Association (MSA), all non-dairy spreads are now less than 80% fat, so “margarine” is technically obsolete. By further chemical jiggery-pokery, says the MSA, the spreads mostly have a trans-acid content of less than 1%.

As things stand, however, unless you home-make everything and never eat out, you’ll have about as much chance of avoiding trans fats as you do of avoiding Christmas.

The first problem is knowing where they are – trans fats do not have to be listed on food labels. But, says the FSA, hydrogenated vegetable oils do have to be declared, which means that “if the ingredients list includes hydrogenated vegetable oil, there may also be trans fats in the product”.

Or there may not. Who knows? The difficulty arises because, truly speaking, it is only partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – the semi-soft ones – that contain trans fats. Fully hydrogenated ones do not. Yet the labelling regulations make no distinction. Partially or fully hydrogenated, it’s all the same: the label will list only “hydrogenated vegetable oil”. And the muddle continues. As the FSA puts it, “Trans fats count as part of the total fat in the nutritional information on the label. They are not classed as saturates, monounsaturates or polyunsaturates, so they won’t be included in the figures for these.”

So, the only certain way to be sure your food contains no added trans fats is to buy organic. The FSA says it will seek an “appropriate amendment” when the EU nutrition-labelling directive is revised next year, but in the meantime it is being left to food companies to clean up their recipes.

This is actually less of an evasion than it sounds. Though the headlines have elevated trans fats into the most determined killers of humankind since the plague rat, the fact is that most of us eat very little of them. In common with the World Health Organization, the FSA warns that no more than 2% of our daily energy intake should come from trans fats. The most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) of adults, in 2000-1, showed a national average of just 1.2%. And neither did this look like a statistical artefact with a low average disguising high peaks. The same survey showed that 97% of adults were consuming within the safety zone. An earlier NDNS of young people aged 4-18, carried out in 1997, showed that 96% of even this temptation-prone group were staying within limits. Since then the herd impulse of the packaged-food industry has seen them stamp on trans fats with the exterminating zeal of cockroach-hunters, so that popular brands now commonly contain no more than the trace amounts found in raw ingredients. The latest estimate for trans fats is down to 1.1% of total daily energy intake. Hence the FSA’s apparent insouciance.


The organic delusion

The [British] Food Standards Agency, having examined the evidence, does not yet accept that organic food is any healthier than its non-organic equivalent. Meanwhile, its nationwide inquiry into food fraud, we learnt last week, has uncovered an industry riddled with sharp practice and Jesuitical labelling. Not only have we been taking it on trust that organic food is better for us; it turns out we've been taking it on trust that it's organic food at all. It can cost as much as five times the price of ordinary food and yet sales are rising by 12% every year. Why - do we all have money to burn?

I don't believe there is any rationale to it really. I think that when people buy organic it's a purely emotional thing: an all-purpose placebo to keep any number of middle-class anxieties at bay. Pay a little extra for those chemical-free vegetables and hey, maybe the children do watch too much television, maybe I needn't have used the car this morning . . . but dammit, these vegetables are so expensive they must be doing us good. At least I'm doing something right.

Look around. We have a population with a life expectancy verging towards treble figures. More or less. People - and not just the organic-eating classes - are growing faster, taller and stronger every year; our babies are born healthier; our children by and large are thriving. If we are what we eat then clearly we've been doing something right for some time - since long before this new organic explosion.

A woman I know recently invited her son's six-year-old friend over for supper. After accepting the invitation, the friend's mother proceeded to give a long list of the things the boy wouldn't eat - including pizzas, burgers and chips, so she was obviously lying. Then she said, with a slightly mad, hysterical giggle, "And of course, I mean, we all eat organic, don't we?" My friend's response was a lot more polite than mine would have been.

There is something vaguely disgusting about the modern obsession with healthy eating when so much of the world is starving. Whether or not organic food proves to be better in long run, I think - for the sake of good taste if for nothing else - that it's time we all learnt to be be a bit cooler. After all, we face a neverending stream of health warnings and health scares and we should have learnt by now that they never come to much. We have not been wiped out by BSE. We were not wiped out by Edwina Currie's salmonella and we won't be wiped out by this week's salmonella scare either. Avian flu scared the living daylights out of us but it never came to much. In any case the sad fact is, somehow or other, death will come even to the children of the middle classes. Even if they are fed organic.


UK: Muslim cop banned from guarding Blair

The super-correct Mr Blair does not mess around with his own safety

Britain's Metropolitan Police is being sued by a Muslim officer upset he was removed from the force protecting dignitaries like Prime Minister Tony Blair. Constable Amjad Farooq, 39, had his special security revoked and was removed from the Diplomatic Protection Group after just six weeks, The Independent reported Tuesday. Farooq said he was told he had failed a security background check because two of his sons had attended a mosque associated with a Muslim cleric linked to a suspected terrorist group.

He claims in his legal challenge he was informed his presence on the unit might upset the U.S. Secret Service, which works with the department's close-protection unit, The Telegraph reported. Farooq is claiming racial and religious discrimination against the department for the December 2003 incident, and a tribunal will hear the case next year, the reports said. Last month, at the height of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict, another Muslim constable was excused from guarding the Israeli Embassy in London because of concern about his family's Lebanese links.


For someone who is "denied" free speech, this guy sure gets a big hearing

A leading British historian has sparked a row about free speech in America after an article criticising Israel prompted a backlash from Jewish groups and the cancellation of meetings where he was due to speak. Tony Judt, a liberal Jew and former kibbutznik, was accused of calling for the destruction of Israel after he wrote an article in The New York Review of Books in 2003, and in The Sunday Times, arguing for the creation of a secular bi-national state of Jews and Palestinians.

More than 100 leading academics signed a letter in last week's New York Review of Books protesting at the suppression of Judt's talks.

The former Oxford history don, who has been professor of European studies at New York University for 20 years, again became a magnet for criticism this year when he defended an essay written by Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago which criticised the "Israel lobby" in America.

Judt was due to give a talk on the subject of the lobby at the Polish consulate in New York last month, but it was cancelled at an hour's notice after two Jewish organisations, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, signalled their displeasure. "The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," said Krzysztof Kasprzyk, the Polish consul-general.

Judt said: "It is a very sensitive issue for Poles. They are uniquely vulnerable because the country has a long history of moral ambivalence towards Jews." The historian also withdrew from a lecture on the Holocaust at a Catholic college in New York after learning that it was to be picketed by Holocaust survivors dressed in pyjamas.

The academics' letter supporting Judt - whose latest book, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, was well received and was Cherie Blair's holiday reading this summer - said: "The Polish consulate is not obliged to promote free speech. But the rules of the game in America oblige citizens to encourage rather than stifle public debate."

Judt intends to hit back with a lecture on December 4 in New York on self-censorship and free speech in open societies. "I've been accused of being a self- hating Jew, a conspiracy theorist and an anti-semite," he said. "It's absurd but it is an echo of what is said to non-Jews when they criticise Israel."

He contrasted the lively debate about his views in Israel to the reaction in America, where he has been accused of advocating a "genocidal liberalism" that would lead to the slaughter of Jews. Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, admitted that a member of his staff had rung the Polish consulate, but denied that he had sought to cancel Judt's talk. "We are perturbed by his views but not enough to prevent him from speaking," Foxman said.



A global post-Kyoto agreement is still out of reach as the UN summit on climate change concludes its final day of talks in Nairobi, David Miliband admitted today. Speaking exclusive to Guardian Unlimited on the closing day of a fortnight of talks, the environment secretary said the summit had failed to gain sufficient momentum to agree a deal on greenhouse gas emissions because of a glaring "gap" between science and politics.

Mr Miliband lauded the significant progress made over adaptation funding for developing countries, and what he called a vigorous commitment to a works programme. But he said some "very difficult discussions" were still under way over the strength of international commitment to a deal. "Where the final drive of negotiations needs to take place over the next few hours concerns the ability to inject a new momentum in the long-term discussions of a global emissions deal," he said.

Mr Miliband held out little hope that a firm international commitment would be ratified on the final day of talks. "That is where we have a real crunch point on some of the issues we have been discussing," he said. Mr Miliband refused to name recalcitrant countries, but he hinted that industrialised and developing countries alike were hesitant. The latter group feared they would be expected to make the same level of contributions as their wealthier neighbours, he said. "There are some richer countries who are concerned that that no country can have a free pass on this, and although not all countries will take on hard targets, every country needs to play some role. "That is the essential balance. The need [is] for a global deal in which every country plays a part, but the fact is that richer countries are going to be able to contribute more. "I am confident we can offer two cheers for this process. But the third cheer is going to rely on a real drive over the next year because 2007 is going to be a critical year for putting urgency and momentum into the drive for a global emissions deal."

The environment secretary added: "One of the reflections we will have is about the size of the gap between science and politics." It was a "real issue" that only the UK and Germany had set binding, long-term targets for reducing carbon emissions. Mr Miliband said the forthcoming G8 talks in Germany would provide an opportunity to revisit the need for "urgency and drive" in moving towards a new climate change agreement to operate after the current Kyoto commitments end in 2012.

The environment secretary declined to say whether a specific adaptation funding deal had been struck to help African countries cope with climate change, but he said general overseas aid should also be "carbon-proofed". "We have to make sure there is an adaptation fund, but we also have to make sure that aid policies are generally sustainable", he said.

Mr Miliband, who is due to close the Commons debate on the Queen's speech this Monday, said he would tell government colleagues they all had a "part to play" in delivering the climate change agenda. "From the prime minister to the chancellor and the foreign secretary, and me as environment secretary, every member of the cabinet has a role to play." Earlier this week, Mr Miliband scotched rumours of a rift with the chancellor, Gordon Brown, over planned environmental policies targeted at business.


Must not Quote the Koran

Last year, two Christian pastors in Australia were prosecuted for quoting some of the more discreditable passages in the Koran and it seems that Britain also has such a taboo:

"Something similar happened at this year's Hay-on-Wye festival, sponsored by the Guardian, where a five-person panel discussed "Are there are any limits to free speech?" One of the Muslim panelists said if anyone offended his religion, he would strike him. A lawyer, Anthony Julius, responded that Jews had lived as minorities under two powerful hegemonies, Christian and Muslim, and had been obliged to learn how to deal nonviolently with offense caused to them by the sacred scriptures of both. He started by referring to an anti-Semitic passage in the New Testament — which passed without comment. But when he began to list the passages in the Koran that denigrate Jews, describing them as monkeys and pigs, the panelists went ballistic. One of them, Madeline Bunting of the Guardian, put her hand over the microphone and said words to the effect, "I am not going to sit here and listen to any criticisms of Muslims." She was cheered, and not one of the journalists in the audience from right or left uttered a word about free speech — not hate speech, mind you, but free speech of a moderate nature.


New Trident to go ahead: "The [British] government will signal within the next two to three weeks that it wants to continue with the submarine-based Trident missile system as the UK's nuclear deterrent, according to Whitehall sources, writes Michael Smith. Tony Blair has promised MPs a full debate on the issue and reportedly told a cabinet meeting last week that he wants the debate to begin quickly "because a decision needs to be made". The government has promised to launch the debate with a white paper outlining options, but defence sources said the key decisions have in effect "been made".

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