Wednesday, March 21, 2007


For hip surgery only!

Tony Blair will say today that Labour must go on reforming public services to stay in office as he unveils the reports from his last policy review. These include plans to speed up proposals to allow people waiting for acute operations to go to the hospital of their choice.

He will also announce moves to allow GPs to link up with pharmacies by sharing electronic records.The report of the public services policy group, to be outlined by Mr Blair, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, will claim that the public services have now so changed that it is the patients and parents who are calling the shots. At present people can choose from four hospitals for operations and the Government had intended people to choose from any provider, public or private, by the end of 2008. That deadline is now to be brought forward and people will be able to go anywhere for hip surgery later this year, with changes for other operations also being made this year.

In a clear message to Mr Brown, his almost certain successor, Mr Blair says in the report foreword that the Government could turn back and eschew further reform or go forward with the mission to "personalise and empower". He says Labour must embrace the vision of a Britain "where people are more empowered than today, where they enjoy more opportunity than today, and where services of all kinds are focused ever more on the personal needs of those who use them".


Vote to stop homosexual-rights law, bishops told

Bishops of the Church of England are being urged by their flock to turn out en masse on Wednesday for the Lords debate on equal rights for gay couples wishing to adopt. In an open letter sent to all the diocesan bishops of the Church, more than one fifth of the lay members of the General Synod urge the 26 bishops in the Lords to help to overturn the Sexual Orientation Regulations at its final vote. Many peers and MPs from across all parties are unhappy with the way the changes to adoption law have been processed through Parliament. Hundreds of Christians are expected to turn up for a peaceful protest vigil outside Parliament on Wednesday during the debate.

The Roman Catholic Church has led the campaign against the regulations, which could put its adoption agencies out of business because it would flout Catholic teaching for them to accept public funding to facilitate gay adoption.

Protesters also fear the regulations will compromise the teaching programmes in faith schools, which will not be exempt. They are warning of "substantial danger" that it will be illegal under the regulations for faith schools to continue to teach that sex outside marriage is wrong.

If the bishops are successful in persuading the Lords to defeat the regulations, it is certain to fuel the Government's determination to press for a 100 per cent elected chamber. If bishops were included, it would be with a nominal role only, without voting rights. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, told The Times that if the Lords reforms went ahead on this basis, the Church of England should press for disestablishment.

In their letter, more than 40 members of the General Synod quote the present Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, as saying: "We in the UK do not have anything like this history of top-down rule by regulation. "We have in practice taken for granted that the State is not the source of morality and legitimacy but a system that brokers, mediates and attempts to coordinate the moral resources of those specific communities, the merely local and the credal or issue-focused, which actually make up the national unit. "This is a `secular' system in the sense that it does not impose legal and civil disabilities on any one religious body; but it is not secular in the sense of giving some kind of privilege to a nonreligious or antireligious set of commitments or policies. Moving towards the latter would change our political culture more radically than we imagine."

The lay members continue: "Given the great significance of this vote, many people would understand that the responsibility that Bishops undertake as members of the House of Lords requires them on such occasions to vary their crowded timetable in order to attend the debate. "Many Christians will be praying outside Parliament at the same time, giving up other activities that could rightly claim their attention. "We also note the spirited defence made last week of the role of the Bishops in the House of Lords by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Chelmsford. Important substance would be given to their words if all the Bishops in the Lords were to attend to vote."The regulations were dealt with last week by a House of Commons committee of 16 MPs, which met for 90 minutes. Christian protesters are complaining that even the MPs on the committee itself had been appointed just 15 hours before it met and the room arranged for the debate was so small that there was not enough room for all the MPs.

Observers present reported that the meeting started in confusion and that only four MPs were allowed to speak on the regulations before the vote was passed in favour. Eleanor Laing, the Tory MP, supported the Regulations and said that "her brand of Christianity" preached "live and let live". On Wednesday Baroness Andrews will move that the draft regulations be approved. The aim of the regulations is to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to providing goods, services, facilities, premises, education and public functions.



Locked in a struggle for control of the environmental agenda, Britain's political leaders have committed the nation, and its taxpayers, to stringent new carbon-cutting policies. But, reveals Richard Gray, they are facing tough questions over how much gain there will be for the pain

As David Cameron planted a tree in north London last weekend, it was his funky trainers as much as his handy spadework that caught the attention of onlookers. Cameron was officially marking the Conservative Party's "Green Action Day", but there was also a message in his green-laced, camouflage-soled footwear. Central Office was happy to let it be known that they were, in fact, recycled from old firemen's trousers and car seats, part of a limited edition of 400 pairs produced to mark last year's 15th anniversary of The Big Issue. As a symbol, it was true to form from a politician who, since taking over his party's leadership, has rarely missed an opportunity to advertise his green credentials, whether by cycling to work or putting a windmill on his house.

Whoever are the short-term winners and losers at Westminster, it is clear that an environmental "arms race" has begun. For the foreseeable future, our politics will no longer be simply blue, red and yellow, but made up of different shades of green. Voters be warned: Britain is going to save the planet. It is, to put it mildly, an ambitious goal. And this weekend, a number of searching questions are being asked. For example, can a country that contributes just 2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions really make much of a difference to the planet? And, if not, are politicians justified in asking the voters to dramatically change their lifestyles and, inevitably, pay more tax? Similarly prohibitive measures are not being undertaken by China, India and America, the world's largest polluters.

In fact, with the science around global warming still evolving, some ask whether now is the right time to fix on specific policy commitments at all. And then there is the basic question: has it been definitively proved that human behaviour is causing the planet to warm?.... The sceptics accept that the earth is heating up. But they think the warming is due to its natural cycles, and so doubt that humans are the cause. Therefore there is little humans can do to stop it.

Prof Bob Carter, a marine geophysicist at James Cook University, in Queensland, Australia, argues: "Public utterances by prominent persons are marked by an ignorance of the important facts and uncertainties of climate science. "The evidence for dangerous human-caused global-warming forced by human carbon-dioxide emissions is extremely weak. That the satellite temperature record shows no substantial warming since 1978, and that even the ground-based thermometer statistic records no warming since 1998, indicates that a key line of circumstantial evidence for human-caused change to 2026 is now negated."

The debate is far from over. The arguments of doubters suffered a significant blow when Channel 4's recent high-profile programme, The Great Climate Change Swindle, which presented the sceptical view, was accused of inaccuracy. One contributor claims he was misled over the programme's content. But there is also flak heading the way of Al Gore, the former US vice-president, who won an Academy Award for his film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. At the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Prof Don Easterbrook, a geologist from Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts of his concerns at "inaccuracies" in Mr Gore's arguments: "The real danger of the IPCC report and Al Gore's film is they suggest that, by diminishing carbon dioxide levels, it will solve the global-warming problem and we won't have to worry about the catastrophe they are predicting."

For the public, the science of global warming remains baffling. Advocates on both sides of the argument can produce reams of statistics to support their opposing views. A poll by ICM, published yesterday in the Guardian, revealed that voters are less engaged with green issues, and more doubtful of the ability of politicians to tackle climate change, than either Gordon Brown or David Cameron might have thought. More than a third said they did not believe MPs could tackle climate change at all. Between them, the Tories and Labour attracted only 30 per cent support for their green strategies.

This growing public disaffection may be behind a sudden move by some prominent climate-change scientists to warn against sensationalist predictions on the part of the environmental lobby. "It is dangerous for politicians to say the science of climate change is now complete," said Dr Piers Forster, an earth and environment researcher at the University of Leeds and a lead author on the UN's influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Dr Forster believes human activities are without doubt causing the climate to warm, but insists that it is impossible to make clear policy decisions at local or even on continental-wide levels at this stage. "We really don't know how it is going to effect our day-to-day lives over the next 100 years," he states. "People are making decisions about exactly what to do without making sure they are based on the best scientific evidence we have."

Fears about this "eco-hype" were echoed yesterday by two senior members of the Royal Meteorological Society at a conference in Oxford. Profs Paul Hardaker and Chris Collier hit out at researchers who, they say, are "overplaying" the global warming message. Some of their peers, they warn, are making claims about future impacts that cannot be justified by the science. Regardless of the ongoing debate, Britain's political parties have chosen to fight among themselves for the privilege of saving the planet....

Despite their embrace of radical environmental policies, neither party has a convincing answer as to why Britain should take the global lead on climate change, other than as a "moral obligation". In worldwide terms, Britain contributes just a fraction of total carbon emissions - about 544 million tons. By comparison, America pumps out more than 5,844 million tons. China and India, two of the fastest-growing economies, emit 3,263 million tons and 1,220 million tons respectively. China alone has more than 2,000 coal-fired power stations in operation and a new one opens every four days. If the UK stopped all of its emissions today, China would have replaced the lot within a year.

"The climate debate has been captured by people who have at heart an interest in exerting control over people's lives rather than letting them live better lives," said Julian Morris, from IPN. "It is extremely sad to see Britain's political parties trying to capitalise on this."

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