Thursday, April 03, 2008

British Prime Minister rejects cap on immigration

The comments by the PM below are something of a curate's egg: Both good and bad. To attribute all the economic growth of the last 10 years to immigration is such a towering absurdity that it is really beneath comment. Most of that growth is simply inflation, for a start. The PM must have been desperate to makes such an assertion. On the other hand, it would seem to be true that the new points system will probably achieve more than a numerical cap would. It could however probably be tightened to ensure that only highly qualified immigrants are accepted.

The real issue is the number of "parasite" immigrants being accepted, particularly refugees from Africa. African refugees are highly welfare-dependant and, such are the troubles of Africa, you could under present rules have half of Africa in Britain eventually. If anything is unsustainable that is. A very strict numerical cap there would make sense.

No-one is game to mention Africans, of course, but the Lords do at least mention the other largely parasitical category: Family reunions. These are often elderly or unskilled relatives from the Indian sub-continent and many do not contribute much to the economy but do draw on government services. Clearly, most people in this category should have to pass the points system on approximately the same basis as other immigrants. Immigrants who wish to support relatives should generally be able to do so by way of remittances to the home country, something that is already widespread. Brown completely fails to address that issue

Gordon Brown says immigration is good for the UK and has rejected suggestions that an annual limit is needed. The PM was responding to a report by a House of Lords committee saying record immigration had had "little or no" impact on people's economic well-being. Mr Brown said the concerns raised were being tackled by a new points-based system that will allow only highly skilled workers into the UK. He said migration had added 6 billion pounds to the economy and was a "substantial income". Most British businesses who have faced labour shortages had benefited from being able to recruit more widely for skilled labour, he said.

Speaking at his monthly news conference, he said the Australian-style points-based system would effectively "restrict the numbers of people who come into this country from outside Europe". It would bar unskilled immigrants from outside the European Union, he said. There would be a new citizenship fund, with people coming into the country being expected to contribute to the public services they use. And there was more financial help for local authorities to enable them to deal with the influx.

Mr Brown conceded that it was important to get the balance right given "pressures on the economy". But he said that gross domestic product per head had risen since 1997 from 13,900 to 22,840 pounds in the last year.

"Most people in the City of London know they have benefited very substantially," he told reporters. "Not just from the inward investment that's coming from international companies, but the number of key workers who are coming to join them and are making a huge contribution to the British economy. "But we want to get the balance right between that and of course being sensible about the pressures on our economy."

Mr Brown said a cap on immigrants coming to the UK could only be applied to those outside the EU. "Most people who are proposing a cap are proposing a cap of only 20% of possible migrants into this country," he said. "And of course many of these people are the highly skilled workers who are important to the economy."

Mr Brown's comments follow a report by the Lords Economic Affairs Committee which says competition from immigrants had had a negative impact on the low paid, on training for young UK workers, and had contributed to high house prices. The peers called for a cap on immigration levels, saying the government "should have an explicit target range" and set rules to keep within that limit. They raised the prospect of cutting the rights of people to follow relatives who have settled in the UK.

And they rejected claims by ministers that a high level of immigration was needed to prevent labour shortages as "fundamentally flawed". They also warned that the points-based system carried a "clear danger of inconsistencies and overlap".

The committee, whose members include two ex-chancellors and other Cabinet members, took eight months to consider government immigration policies. Inquiry chairman Lord Wakeham said: "Looking to the future, if you have got that increase in numbers and you haven't got any economic benefit from it, you have got to ask yourself, is that a wise thing to do? "That is why we want the government to look at it."

Committee chairman Lord Vallance of Tummel, a former CBI president, said the government's analysis of the economic impact from immigration was "very shaky". The report claims that if net immigration of 190,000 people per year continued over the next 20 years, it would contribute to a 10% increase in house prices.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said the peers had shown "unequivocally that the benefits of the current immigration policy to ordinary UK citizens are largely non-existent".

Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems home affairs spokesman, said the report made clear that "the government has completely lost track of the number of people who live in this country".

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said: "The fact still remains that all three parties voted for an enlarged EU and open borders with half a billion people living in the EU."

Sir Andrew Green of pressure group Migration Watch, said the report had "torn to shreds the government's economic case for the massive levels of immigration which they have actively encouraged


Arrant British nonsense

Why do you need to go to university before you are qualified to look after little kids? A kind heart is infinitely more important -- as a British mother observes

The education of young children is being compromised because so few nursery staff are educated beyond secondary school level, a report suggests. Only 7 per cent of nursery heads, nursery nurses and assistants have post-secondary school qualifications, the report found. The vast majority finished their training having passed GNVQ level 3, a vocational qualification that is equivalent to an A level. The poorly qualified early-years workforce is in sharp contrast to much of Europe, and elsewhere, where the majority of staff are qualified to degree level, or have three years of intensive training in child development before they start work. New Zealand is retraining its entire childcare workforce so that they are all of degree standard by 2012.

The skills crisis has come to light only months before the introduction of a new curriculum for all under5s in September, part of a government plan to raise standards in nurseries. Education experts fear the curriculum will become a box-ticking exercise if staff do not have the skill or confidence to interpret the new rules. The report, which will be published this week by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), also identified a gulf between private and voluntary nurseries, which make up about 70 per cent of the sector, and govern-ment-funded nurseries attached to schools.

More than 80 per cent of staff at school-based nurseries are educated beyond secondary school level. "There has been nothing like the scale of action needed to transform the low-skilled and low-paid childcare workforce," said Graeme Cooke, co-author of the report. "This is despite all the evidence which shows that a highly skilled workforce is essential in early-years education." Research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that highly qualified childcare workers are the decisive ingredient in getting children to behave well, socialise and start to learn before reaching school. [Another example of "research" with foreordained conclusions, no doubt]

The Government aims to increase the number of graduates in nurseries and has stipulated that by 2015 each will have a graduate in charge. The IPPR said that this was a partial reading of the OECD research. "There is a limit to what a graduate leader can do with a low-skilled workforce, many of whom are qualified to GNVQ level 2 only, equivalent to a GCSE," Mr Cooke said. Purnima Tanuku, the chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said: "Professional development has large costs attached for nurseries in terms of increased salaries, training costs and time away from the nursery, especially at higher levels. "As salaries already account for 80 per cent of parental fees, investing in this area means that the costs will have to be passed on to parents."


British police worker who fought forced marriages is facing dismissal for speaking publicly about their plight

A police worker praised by MPs for protecting thousands of girls from forced marriages is facing dismissal for speaking publicly about their plight. Philip Balmforth has been removed from his duties and faces a disciplinary hearing next week after giving an interview to The Times about Asian children who go missing from schools in Bradford. The former police inspector, regarded as a national authority on "honour-based" violence, stands accused of "damaging the reputation" of West Yorkshire Police by speaking to a newspaper without consent.

It is understood that the force, which has investigated 176 cases of forced marriage in the past year alone, took action against Mr Balmforth after receiving a complaint from Bradford council. Senior figures on the local authority are said to have claimed that his high-profile work was damaging the city's image and was "bad for regeneration".

Last week 56 MPs signed a Commons early day motion praising Mr Balmforth. It was tabled by Ann Cryer, the MP for Keighley and a campaigner for the welfare of ethnic minority women. The motion applauds his work "in protecting thousands of vulnerable girls in the Bradford district" and commends the police "for having the foresight to engage Philip 12 years ago, thus enabling him to give so many young women the right to choose whom and when to marry". Ninety per cent of the victims who have been dealt with by the Government's Forced Marriage Unit are from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background and the majority are taken to their families' countries of origin to be married, often to a first cousin.

Mr Balmforth, a full-time police support worker whose post as vulnerable persons officer (Asian women) is partly funded by Bradford social services, has been contacted for help by more than 2,000 local women in recent years. He was interviewed by The Times this month after the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into domestic violence established that 33 pupils had vanished from schools in Bradford. Mr Balmforth suggested that every education authority in the country should be asked: "How many children did you lose last year? And where are they?"

The comments are telling, especially from local people:

"Bradford council refused to comment most probably because there are so few councillors that can speak English. I would be very surprised if Mr Balmforth ever returns to his role as he has committed the most heinous of hate crimes in this country today. He has turned over a rock and told us what **** under it, which this government absolutely hates".


British child psychologist warns that digital-age children should be left to take risks

Asked by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to investigate the new dangers to children being brought up in the digital age, Tanya Byron last week produced a 224-page report. The child psychologist's recommendations included a cinema-style system of classification for video games and a thorough public education campaign. However, she warns that protecting children against all risks stunts their development and an important part of growing up is learning to assess and deal with danger

Shortly before she published a report last week on keeping children safe in the online age, Dr Tanya Byron was invited to lunch with Gordon Brown at Chequers. It was a family affair: Byron, her husband Bruce, who plays DC Terry Perkins in The Bill, and their two children, Lily, 12, and Jack, 10, all went along. Lunch at the prime minister's country estate is the sort of occasion when any parent would want their little ones to be bright, presentable and on their best behaviour. But not even Byron, a child psychologist who has advised millions on parenting through her television series, is immune from modest rebellion.

"My son piped up just before we were going and he said, `Mummy, I could take my PlayStation and I could really make you scared in front of the prime minister'. He could. The prospect of son Jack smuggling in some dodgy game and whipping out his portable PlayStation to blast away in front of the prime minister had Byron "feeling slightly twitchy". That's not surprising given that she was about to advise Brown on how to protect young children from unsuitable computer material. But in typical calm style she simply said: "No, darling. You don't play those games, so let's not go there."

A tall, curvaceous woman with wide eyes and a warm smile, Byron must be as annoying as hell to all those postfeministas who say you can't have it all. She is clever, articulate, attractive and a natural performer, as well as being a mother and government adviser. Although most people know her from television programmes such as Little Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways, she is no pop-psycho with more beauty than brains. She did her first degree at York, a masters at University College London and a doctorate at University College hospital and Surrey University. For 18 years she worked in the National Health Service, rising to be a consultant for children with severe mental disorders. She still works one day a week as a consultant in child mental health, although most of her time is taken up filming with the BBC.

Glamour, fame, acclaim - yet Byron, 41, also retains the common sense of an ordinary mum: making her the perfect candidate for a report into children growing up in a world where the risks, as well as benefits, of the internet and computer games are all-pervasive. "When I came to doing the report . . . concerns were very much fuelled by a lack of understanding of the technology. People were asking, is it all big, bad and scary out there? I know a lot more than I did six months ago. It's made me feel more positive and confident and less anxious."

Of course she recognises the dangers - from paedophiles to porn, violence and cyberbullying. In her report, which arrived with much ministerial fanfare last week, she carefully examines the scientific evidence about how children are affected by nasty computer games or hardcore porn. Research, she concludes, shows mixed results.

Although, for example, there is a correlation between aggression and playing violent computer games, it's not clear that there is a causal relationship - that violent games make children more violent. Convenient, since any kind of ban would be a political minefield. In person, though, she is more forthright. "I'm really clear that adult content is harmful and inappropriate for young children particularly," she says. "They do not have the neural networks in place to be able to critically evaluate the content, to differentiate fantasy from reality." Byron would like the law on such matters to be clearer and to be applied with more vigour: "I am saying clarify the law . . . be clear about when there is content on websites that is breaking the law."

She also encourages parents to challenge the classification of computer games if they think they are inappropriate: "It's important to have a system where there can be a challenge, where people can complain."

A less astute person might have let such conclusions suck them into recommending censorship of violent games or websites. Byron knows that won't work: "If you go down the censorship route, the content would still be there somewhere. Children would go online to websites outside the UK, to unmoderated sites." And parents, already struggling to keep up, might have even less idea what their youngsters are doing. "The rapid pace at which new media are evolving has left adults and children stranded either side of a generational digital divide," she says. Older people may still regard the internet as a parallel universe that somehow arrives through a machine at the office or home, but for youngsters it's a seamless part of their lives. They are the cyborg generation.

The answer, Byron believes, is to trust in the better side of human nature. Families can navigate the risks provided they are informed and sensible. "I'm more of a `half-full' girl than a `half-empty' girl. That's how I like to live life," she explains. Her report, which runs to more than 200 pages, is packed with recommendations some of which the government has promised to adopt. Key measures include a UK council on child internet safety to develop voluntary codes of practice for the industry and better information for the public; teaching adults about "parental control" systems on computers; a new classification of computer games like those used for films; and courses in schools to teach children "e-safety".

It's hard to argue against any of it (although whether the portly public sector needs yet another quango is debatable). Byron, using common sense, already regulates her children's use of computers: "They don't have a computer in their own rooms. We have got some in the office and one downstairs in the kitchen. Gaming and going online is good . . . but in a way that is right for their age and stage of development. It's something you do after your homework. It never takes place instead of a family meal. When my son is gaming and I'm cooking, he's there and I know what he's doing."

Her daughter, two years older, is given more leeway and Byron admits that she does not know exactly what her daughter does online: "We have a good relationship and I respect her privacy. In the same way I don't know entirely what's in her diary. But I know my child; I know when something has upset them or when they are distressed." They talk, they work it out, just as they would some other problem. That, in a nutshell, is how Byron believes parents should approach bringing up children in the digital age. You can buy software to block websites, you can spy on children's internet history, you can restrict access when they are young - but in the end children are going to go out into the big wide world and need to be able to look after themselves.

"We live in a risk-averse culture, but risk is a developmental imperative of childhood and I think we need to recognise that. It's about fostering the independent child. What I want to get across is that [dealing with the online world] is similar to how we would parent children in the offline world."

That old world has its own temptations, for adults as well as children. It's clear that Byron enjoys the cameras and corridors of power: "I really like advising politicians. I really liked saying to the PM this morning, `The UK child internet safety council, you set it up, we could take a global lead, what do you reckon?' And he says, `Okay'."

Is she going to be on the internet safety council? "Oh no," she laughs. "I'm outta here. It's all about kids for me. I'd much rather work on behalf of children." So she doesn't want to be a politician? She gives that big disarming smile again: "Do you know, I really like advising them . . ." She has already become too much of a politician to say no.


British policy advisor says Gore is in 'panic' mode

British environmental analyst Christopher Monckton says Al Gore's latest attack on global warming skeptics shows the former vice president and other climate alarmists are "panicking." On Sunday, CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl asked Al Gore on the television show 60 Minutes what he thinks of people like Vice President Dick Cheney who doubt that global warming is caused by human activity. "I think that those people are in such a tiny, tiny minority now with their point of view, they're almost like the ones who still believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona, and those who believe the earth is flat," replied Gore. "That demeans them a little bit, but it's not that far off."

However, Lord Christopher Monckton, a policy advisor for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s, says the former vice president can enjoy his "flat earth fantasies" for a few months, but in the end, the world will be laughing at him. "The alarmists are alarmed, the panic mongers are panicking, the scare mongers are scared; the Gores are gored. Why? Because global warming stopped ten years ago; it hasn't got warmer since 1998," he points out. "And in fact in the last seven years, there has been a downturn in global temperatures equivalent on average to about [or] very close to one degree Fahrenheit per decade. We're actually in a period ... of global cooling."

Monckton contends Gore is now "panicking" because he has staked his reputation as a former American VP on "telling the world that we're all doomed unless we shut down 90 percent of the Western economies." He also contends that Gore is the largest "global-warming profiteer."

Gore's group The Alliance for Climate Protection is currently launching a new $300 million ad campaign that demands reforms in environmental law to help reduce the supposed "climate crisis." But Monckton points out that in the U.K., Gore is not allowed to speak in public about his "green investment company" because to do so would violate racketeering laws by "peddling a false prospectus." He says that fact came about after a British high court found Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, riddled with errors. Monckton challenged Gore to an internationally televised debate on climate change last year.



Middle-class neurosis is being exploited to protect an archaic form of agriculture

By Dominic Lawson

Was Prince Charles' chum Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, expecting the Kenyan High Commissioner to fall to his knees in gratitude? It rather sounded like it yesterday morning, when the two of them met in a BBC radio studio.

They were there to discuss the Soil Association's proposals to discriminate against the "organic food" which is air freighted into this country, mostly from East Africa. "One option was to ban it altogether," declared Mr Holden, but instead he and his colleagues had decided that such food would only be banned if it was "not produced ethically" - whatever that means.

Of course, this is folie de grandeur on the part of the Soil Association. It cannot, fortunately, "ban" us from buying whatever food we wish to eat. All that Mr Holden really meant was that his organisation would withdraw its certification from foreign farmers whom it deemed to be "unethical". Needless to say, British organic farmers (like Mr Holden CBE) will be subject to no such extra conditions, over and above the standard requirement of not using pesticides or other man-made aids to enhance production.

In so far as this is not just old-style agricultural protectionism, it is all about the fashionable obsession with "food miles". The Soil Association, which evidently sees itself as some sort of global environmental organisation, has been agonising over the fact that the farmers of Africa are using aeroplanes - spawn of the devil! - to freight bona fide "organic" food into this country. Somehow it has convinced itself that this means that the food is not "organic", in the spiritual sense, and so must be "banned".

As the Kenyan High Commissioner, Joseph Muchemi, patiently tried to explain, the carbon emissions from his country's food producers are much less per vegetable than those of British "organic" farmers, even if you factor in the CO2 generated by flying the stuff halfway across the world. "Our farmers use manual labour, not tractors; we use compost rather than organic fertilisers," he said.

For some reason, Mr Holden did not want to address this powerful point; instead he asserted that there was really no case at all for "global trade in food", although he allowed that an exception could be made for "things like tea, coffee and bananas - things we can't produce ourselves".

This is the classic argument put by British landowners for the extortion of a monopoly rent from captive local consumers. The great Scottish economist Adam Smith delivered a withering retort to such selfish domestic agricultural interests over two centuries ago: "By means of glasses, hotbeds and hotwalls very good grapes can be raised in Scotland ... would it be a reasonable law to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of Claret and Burgundy in Scotland?"

This sort of thinking lay behind the recent creation of the Icelandic banana industry: the Icelandic government banned banana imports, as a result of which local landowners began to produce them in gigantic greenhouses. They were fabulously expensive, of course, which was not such good news for families who wished to feed their children healthily at a reasonable cost.

Similarly, there are tiny hobby producers of tea and coffee in Great Britain. In Patrick Holden's perfect deglobalised world, we could do with these products what the Icelanders did with bananas. Obviously this would mean that tea and coffee could be enjoyed only by the rich in this country, and Third World producers would suffer a dramatic loss of revenue and employment. This might seem a preposterous example of "self-sufficiency". Yet if we were to allow a fetish with the carbon emissions from airfreight to dominate agricultural policy, then this is the sort of mutual impoverishment that could result.

Let us, for the sake of argument, accept that the Soil Association's members are not merely acting as a trade union for Prince Charles' Duchy Originals and assorted other quaintly expensive British food producers. Let us accept, therefore, that in implementing some sort of discriminatory policy against long-distance air-freighted food, they really do believe that they are trying to "limit the damage of climate change".

Surely it ought to have occurred to them that they will only be hurting the very people whom they affect to be concerned about? After all, it is Africa, not Great Britain, which would suffer from a significant increase in average temperatures - whether caused by man or nature.

As Clare Malamed of the charity Action Aid has pointed out, the "banning of organic green beans from Kenya or mange tout from Zambia" will make no measurable difference to the UK's carbon emissions: "however, there are many poor people in Africa who depend on that trade so, for them, banning organic air freight means less development of the economy and more poverty". Mr Holden complained yesterday that many of the African food exporters are "multinationals"; but even multinationals employ locals.

There is something else quite odd about the Soil Association's position. Its members assert that "organic food" is healthier for the consumer than food which is produced with the aid of pesticides. If they are right, then if low-cost African producers can land such "good" food in this country at a price which is competitive with non-organic local producers, this ought to encourage more people to buy organic, to the great benefit of the public's health.

In fact there has never been any reliable scientific evidence that so-called "organic" food is actually better for you than food produced with the aid of pesticides. At the weekend, the former head of the Food Standards Agency, Lord Krebs, wearily reiterated that there was no such evidence. Thus last year David Miliband spoke nothing less than the truth when, as Environment Secretary, he described "organic" food as a "lifestyle choice".

On the whole it is a "lifestyle choice" limited to middle-class mothers in the South-east of England who are neurotic enough to believe the insinuations of the Soil Association that little Henry and Caroline are more likely to get cancer if mummy doesn't buy organic (at twice the price).

Now another largely middle-class neurosis - we are all doomed unless everybody stops flying! - is being exploited to protect an archaic form of agriculture which could never feed this country, still less the world. It is, at best, an exercise in self-delusion. At worst, it is a way of using food as the instrument of a deliberate policy of racial discrimination.


Another useless (Sorry: "underqualified") Muslim doctor in Britain

And the hospital he worked in was a mess too

A consultant radiologist who wrongly gave the all-clear to 20 breast cancer patients was yesterday suspended from practising for 12 months. One woman died after the misdiagnosis by Amjad Husien was not spotted for three months. A General Medical Council panel ruled he "repeatedly failed to provide an acceptable level of care to patients" in his breast imaging work at Trafford general hospital.

Husien's breast scan mistakes led to a review of almost 2,500 mammograms at Trafford and North Manchester general hospital, where he also worked. A total of 176 women had to be recalled and retested after the mistakes were identified in April 2005. Husien, who worked at Trafford general for two years, was subsequently suspended on full pay.

A month after his suspension, a report revealed his probable error rate in taking breast scans at Trafford General was 11.3%.The panel said this was "inadequate, inappropriate, not in the patients' best interest and not of a standard expected of a reasonably competent consultant radiologist". Husien told the hearing he would never work in breast radiology again and would give written undertakings that would safeguard patients.

Dr Richard Campbell, the retired medical director at Trafford general, gave evidence about the "dysfunctional" radiology department. He said it had serious clinical failings and that Husien was working under difficult conditions as he was the sole breast radiologist. A report by Professor Mark Baker on behalf of NHS North West into the misreadings ruled that Husien's failure was "compounded by systematic weaknesses in Trafford NHS trust".

In a statement, the trust said: "We can confirm that ... breast diagnosis is no longer carried out at Trafford Healthcare NHS Trust. We are pleased to report that shortly after Dr Husien's suspension we recruited two experienced consultant radiologists who are still with us."


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