Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Greater powers for official British `snoopers'

More than a dozen Bills going through Parliament extend the powers of state inspectors to enter people's homes, the Government has admitted. Despite a pledge by Gordon Brown last October that he would limit powers and introduce a liberty test, he has extended the right to enter property in planning, crime, environmental, education and health legislation.

A parliamentary answer obtained by the Conservatives shows that nine Bills and one draft Bill contain new powers of entry, with three others entrenching existing powers. "The fact that Gordon Brown is entrenching and extending powers of state bureaucrats to enter people's homes makes a mockery of his so-called review into powers of entry," Eric Pickles, the Shadow Communities Secretary, said.

The Counter-terrorism Bill and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, for example, allow entrance to properties to enforce social disorder and antiterrorist laws. The Education and Skills Bill allows the State to inspect private schools and the Climate Change Bill allows officials to enter homes to enforce black bin charges and to monitor carbon-trading schemes.

Mr Pickles, who said that there was a need for measures to tackle crime and terrorism, added: "Yet this uncontrolled extension contradicts Gordon Brown's empty promises on liberty and is another worrying sign of the surveillance state." A survey of state powers to enter people's homes by the Centre for Policy Studies last April highlighted a significant expansion of entry powers under Labour. The spokesman from the Home Office said that all the Bills would be included in the review of powers of entry. The spokesman added that it was inevitable that some new powers had to be included in the Bills to ensure the laws were enforceable.


More wasted education spending

Shocking to say so but there are some things that governments can't fix.

Labour's attempts to cut the numbers of students dropping out of university have cost nearly 1 billion and had virtually no effect, a committee of MPs is expected to warn this week. More than a fifth of students drop out before graduating, a figure that has improved by less than one percentage point since 2000. The drop-out rate is worse in former polytechnics. Even more students are giving up on part-time degree courses, which are to be expanded sharply by Gordon Brown and John Denham, the universities secretary. More than 44% of students fail to complete such courses. MPs on the public accounts committee would not comment on their report in advance of publication, but one Westminster source said: "It is depressing. This shows universities are simply flatlining. Too many students are not getting the higher education they were promised."

The MPs will blame the increasingly impersonal nature of universities that has accompanied Labour's mass expansion of higher education for failing to keep students committed. Many senior academics now take little interest in teaching undergraduates, as most of their department's government grant is based on their output of research papers. Some students complain of going through their entire degree with no academic knowing who they are. A large proportion of students who give up on their studies calculate that the value they gain from their degree does not justify the debts they incur.

Spending on "retention" schemes, such as mentors to support students who are considering leaving, may even make the situation worse - the 800 million pounds spent over the past five years has mainly been taken from teaching budgets. The worst performers include Bedfordshire University and Anglia Ruskin University, based in Cambridge.


British army 'faces disaster': "A senior British defence official has warned the armed forces are headed for a "train crash" because the Government is starving them of funds as two separate coronial inquests found shortages of equipment were to blame for the deaths of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a confidential presentation to colleagues at a meeting in the Ministry of Defence to discuss budget cuts, a senior defence equipment capability manager said spending had been so severely pruned that vitally needed equipment was simply unaffordable. He also warned that the Government risked "mortgaging the future" of national defence. The meeting, one of a series to try to work out how to pay for all the equipment the forces need to meet their commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, was also told that the Treasury has exaggerated the increase in the military budget. Officially, it will rise by a modest 1.5 per cent this year. In fact, it will increase by only 0.6per cent in cash terms, leaving a black hole of hundreds of millions of pounds, the meeting was told."

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