Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Utter nonsense: After 130 years of fundraising, British Salvationists told to stop rattling collecting tins because it might 'offend other religions'

For 130 years they have been part of Christmas, filling the air in towns across the land with music and carols. But one thing is missing from the repertoire of Salvation Army bands this year - the percussion of rattling tins. Members have been forbidden to shake their charity tins - even if it's done in time to the music - in case it harasses or intimidates people. One said she had been told it might also offend other religions. Guidelines for branches organising public collections say tinholders should simply keep the tin still.

It means that when the brass bands start up they can rock and roll all they want - but if they shake and rattle, it could put them in conflict with the law. Councils and police can enforce the no-rattle rule and have powers to prosecute or ban offenders. The restriction was branded 'bonkers' yesterday both by donors and longserving Salvation Army volunteers. One collector told the Daily Mail: 'I've been doing this for more than 40 years and I fail to see how rattling a tin could cause offence. If I was shaking a tambourine I could do it all day - if I shake my tin, I could end up in court.'

The 'Silent Night' rattle ban manifested itself at the weekend in Uxbridge, West London, when musicians from two local branches performed outside a shopping mall. (They were outside because traders complained last year they were too loud to play inside). Tony Keywood, shopping with his wife Sheila, was among a crowd enjoying the carols and stepped forward to make a donation. 'I jokingly told them off for not shaking their tins,' said Mr Keywood, 78, a retired telecoms executive. 'They said they weren't allowed to do that in case it caused offence to other religions. They said they'd been told rattling a tin was considered to be intimidating. 'I don't know who makes up these rules but I suspect it will have something to do with human rights. I do feel Britain has lost its way on things like this.'

Laws on public collections are long-established, but until the recent proliferation of so-called 'charity muggers' were not widely utilised. Fundraisers have to be licensed, usually by the local authority, police or landowner. Councils and police can decide whom to license and how the rules are enforced. The Salvation Army relies heavily on public generosity and believes street collections help to foster good relations.

Guidance now, however, is that members should not shake their tins. A Salvation Army source said: 'We don't have a formal policy of "You Shall Not Rattle" but we always act within the law. 'Some authorities specifically ask us not to shake our tins. It is seen as harassment, or making people feel uncomfortable. I don't think it's to do with other religions. But it can make people feel we're putting them under pressure to give.' A spokesman added: 'We want people to donate from the best of motives, so we advise collectors to avoid rattling their tins or asking people directly for money when stood on the high street.'


`Forced marriage' doctor, Humayra Abedin, freed by Bangladesh court

Under the glare of international publicity

An NHS doctor who was held captive by her family in Bangladesh for four months while they plotted a forced marriage is expected to return to Britain in the next few days after a court ruling in Dhaka. Humayra Abedin, 33, who is training to become a GP at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London, was allegedly beaten, drugged and held against her will after being duped into flying to Bangladesh on August 3 when family members claimed that her mother was seriously ill.

Dr Abedin has a Hindu boyfriend in London, which angered her Muslim family, according to reports. They were preparing to marry her to a Muslim stranger, it is claimed. A friend of Dr Abedin, who had lived with her in East Ham, sounded the alarm after receiving a text on August 11. "Please help me. My life is in danger. They have locked me in house. My job is at stake. They are making my life hell," the message said.

Yesterday, Judge Syed Mahmod Hossain ordered Dr Abedin's parents to return her passport, driver's licence and credit card. "It perplexes me as to why the parents kept her confined and interfered with her personal life. I am shocked," he said. Dr Abedin told Sky News last night: "I'm relieved that I'm free, I'm happy. I just want to say thank you to all those who supported and helped me. I'm fine and I'm feeling happy. I don't have any bad feelings towards them. They are my parents so I don't have any bad feelings." Dr Abedin's father cried out on hearing the verdict and had to be assisted as he left the courtroom. He said that he and his wife had done nothing wrong. "She has not been held captive. These allegations are all false," he said.

Dr Abedin's lawyer, Sara Hossain, said: "Our courts have shown that we can guarantee the liberty of our citizens. This is quite a precedent."

The doctor's boyfriend, a 44-year-old Bangladeshi software engineer, had alleged that Dr Abedin's Muslim parents had bound and gagged her, held her captive in a house in Dhaka, and pleaded with her to marry a Muslim. He said that death threats had been issued against his family in Bangladesh. "They told her they'd prefer her to die than return to London," he said.

A Metropolitan Police investigation began in June after allegations that the doctor's mother and uncle tried to hold her captive in London. Last week, the High Court issued an injunction under the new Forced Marriage Act, demanding that Dr Abedin be allowed to return to Britain. Though the Act is not enforceable in Bangladesh it was hoped that it would place pressure on the Bangladeshi authorities.

Dr Abedin trained in Bangladesh before coming to Britain in 2002, when she studied for a master's degree in public health at Leeds University. She was to start in a GP surgery in August. In the first nine months of this year, the Government's Forced Marriage Unit was contacted by 1,308 callers sounding the alert over suspected cases.


Changes to "incorrect" lyrics of Christmas carols

We read:
"Enduring favourites such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen are being altered by British clergy to make them more "modern and inclusive". But churchgoers say there is no need to change the popular carols and complain that the result is a "festive car crash" if not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet....

Among the "theologically modified, politically corrected" carols encountered by visitors to the website are Hark the Herald Angels Sing in which the line "Glory to the newborn King" has been replaced by "Glory to the Christ child, bring".

The well-known refrain of O Come All Ye Faithful - "O come let us adore Him" - has also been changed in one church to "O come in adoration", both changes apparently made for fear that the original was sexist. "(One reader) wrote in asking if the original line was considered too gender-specific," Mr Goddard said. "But as he rightly pointed out, Jesus wasn't hermaphrodite, neither was he a girl."

Churchgoers at one carol service will not be allowed to sing the words "all in white" during Once in Royal David's City in case they appear racist, while another cleric has removed the word "virgin" from God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.


10,000 Polish women get NHS abortions

Ten thousand Polish women had abortions in Britain last year, it has been reported, in procedures which are thought to have cost the NHS between 5million and 10m pounds. Thousands of the women are thought to have come to Britain specifically for the procedure, which is illegal in Poland. People coming to Britain as temporary workers are given a National Insurance number, which allows them to register with a doctor and have NHS treatment.

Britain is thought to be a particularly popular destination as terminations can be carried out as late as 24 weeks into a pregnancy. In several other EU countries, abortions can not be carried out after 12 weeks. A pill given to women under nine weeks pregnant costs the NHS about 500 pounds while an operation necessary for those further into pregnancy costs about 1,600 including after-care.

The figures were reportedly disclosed by the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning. Aleksandra Jozefowska, a spokesman for the Federation, told The Sun: "On Polish internet sites you can find lots of information on how to obtain an abortion in Britain. And every week I have two or three phone calls from women who want to know about abortion in England."

One unnamed London doctor was reported to have told the newspaper: "As long as they get an NHS number, they haven't got a problem. They can say: 'I didn't know I was pregnant until I got here, I'm in an impossible situation and need help'."


British Headteachers told to 'high-five' pupils to improve exam results

This is just more of the feelgood approach that has already failed

Trainee head teachers are being told to give pupils in tough areas high-fives in an effort to improve exam results. A Government-backed training scheme is urging would-be heads to give pupils the U.S-style welcome to help forge 'positive relationships'.

Sir Iain Hall, training director for the scheme called Future Leaders, is passing on the advice at intensive residential courses after visiting schools in the U.S. He is also recommending a technique which involves pupils gathering in a circle and applauding one of their number, with the head saying the pupils name and 'we appreciate you' and the children cheering that child.

But his suggestions brought claims that heads were being asked to 'ingratiate' themselves with pupils, undermining their authority. Under Sir Iain's approach, heads would greet children at classroom doors by giving them high-fives - slapping their palms with arms extended - or shaking their hands. 'When your children come into the classroom, how do you greet them?' he asked a meeting of prospective heads, the Times Educational Supplement reported.

'Whether it is a high-five, it is touching a child's hand, it is shaking their hands, we teach our Future Leaders to stand at the classroom door and greet every kid who comes through it. It's about establishing positive relationships all the time, shaking the hands of kids that go past, giving those high-fives.'

Sir Iain, a 'superhead' who was knighted in 2002 for services to education, revealed he had been inspired by visits to schools in tough parts of America. He was recommending the circle and applauding technique after seeing it at a New York school. 'It is getting that positive relationship where children can relax and think "somebody believes in me",' he said. Asked whether English pupils would respond to high-fives, he said: 'If I believe it will work with every student, then it will.'

But Anastasia de Waal, of the social policy think-tank Civitas, warned that high-fiving by senior staff could hamper attempts to impose discipline. 'We are struggling to assert authority in schools. 'I fear this is just going to look ridiculous and actually some pupils are going to be moderately insulted by it. 'I don't think they will see it as cool and in fact will see it as deeply uncool so it will backfire.'

She added: 'This is characteristic of much about secondary schools these days, that everything should be relevant to pupils and fun,' she added. 'But what makes things relevant is when children understand their work and can apply it to the real world.' She said some primary schools in Finland invited pupils to shake hands with teachers at the end of lessons. 'This is more about showing teachers respect,' she said.

'We are approaching this completely the wrong way round. We should be trying to generate respect for teachers rather than encouraging them to ingratiate themselves with pupils.'

The Future Leaders scheme aims to tackle a growing shortage of heads in inner-city areas. It is part-funded by the Government, through the National College of School Leadership and Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, and the charity ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), which was set up by millionaire financier Arpad Busson, fiance of actress Uma Thurman.

Andrew Day, deputy head of Greenford High in Ealing, West London, has taken part in the Future Leaders training scheme and is an advocate for the high-fives approach, claiming that pupils can relate to it. 'It is what they do. It is all about how they perceive you. The moment you start working with them, they know you care,' he said.

High-fiving is thought to have originated in the U.S. in 1970s, probably during basketball or baseball games.


Extra judges drafted in to hear British immigration appeals

Extra judges are being drafted in to deal with more than 8,000 asylum and immigration appeals a year that threaten to overload the courts. The move is one of a series of steps to tackle the rise in appeals that have delayed other cases for a year or more. Lord Justice May, the President of the Queen's Bench Division, told The Times that as well as drafting in extra High Court judges, senior barristers and circuit judges had been appointed to sit as deputy High Court judges, doubling the normal number of judges on this work to 15.

The extra judicial manpower, which has already reduced delays, is an interim measure pending more drastic action by the Government. Ministers are expected to announce plans to move the bulk of immigration work out of the High Court altogether and into the new Tribunals Service, probably by next June. That will lead to High Court judges being relieved of thousands of cases a year, which will instead be heard by senior immigration judges and only occasionally, where absolutely necessary, by a High Court judge.

The rise in immigration work is partly because of the increased volume of immigration decisions made by the UK Border Agency, which is dealing with record numbers of applications. In 2006 it removed 16,330 failed asylum seekers, excluding dependants, and in 2007 deported more than 4,000 foreign prisoners. Another factor is the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004, which replaced a two-tier system of appeals with a single-tier system. The High Court therefore became the only place of appeal from a tribunal. The volume of cases reflects that people do not accept the decision of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and seek to have the decision reconsidered or apply for judicial review.

A previous attempt by the Government to end the right of judicial review in immigration cases prompted widespread criticism and was thrown out of Parliament. But this move to devolve the work to the Tribunals Service could achieve the same result, although in a way that Lord Justice May, who took up his post in October, hopes will not be "controversial". He said: "This was a problem in terms of work overload because important cases were not being heard promptly and we had delays of up to a year."

The emergency measures have been in place for a few months, with judges being found from other areas to tackle the backlog, he said. "It was a matter of concern but it has improved." Between December 2007 and last month, the tally of cases waiting to be dealt with was cut by about 1,100 to 3,500, although that figure does not include hundreds not yet on the list as they are awaiting final decisions.

Philip Havers, QC, a leading specialist in judicial review challenges, said: "I had one case that was waiting nearly two years, involving a challenge by a doctor to the Health Service Commission. The Administrative Court was completely snowed under by immigration and asylum cases." But the delays have improved, he said. Now he was being offered a date next month or in February for a one-day case; or from February on for a two-day case. "That's as it should be - it has completely transformed." Steps would need to be taken to ensure that the problem did not arise again, he said.

Four regional administrative courts will be set up next year in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Although driven by a wish to move work outside London, it will also relieve immigration cases. Senior judges have described the pressure on the High Court's Administrative Court, which hears the asylum and immigration cases, as "intense" and given warning that it is causing "unacceptable delays to the court's work".

The appeals backlog is adding to pressure on the Court of Appeal. Sir Anthony Clarke, Master of the Rolls, has said that since 2005 the Court of Appeal has had a 77 per cent rise in applications to appeal in asylum and immigration cases. The increase has put "significant pressure" on the resources of the Court of Appeal both in terms of numbers of staff and lawyers who prepare the cases and in terms of judicial time, he said. It was "wholly disproportionate" for "such cases to be considered by the most senior judges who sit in the Court of Appeal," Sir Anthony said.

The Lord Chief Justice, then Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, first flagged up the "unacceptable delays" because of the pressure of asylum and immigration work in April. In 2007, the Administrative Court received 6,694 claims for judicial review - challenges to decisions by government or other public bodies. Asylum and immigration cases made up two thirds.

In addition, the court has to deal with another nearly 4,000 "reconsideration" cases, where asylum seekers are appealing against a refusal first by the UK Borders Agency and then by a senior immigration judge to have their case reconsidered. In all, that makes more than 8,000 cases, or two thirds of the workload of the Administrative Court. The vast majority, Lord Phillips said, "were found to have no merit in law" and failed.

The crisis prompted a threat last year by the Public Law Project, a group that brings judicial review cases, to ponder legal action against Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, stating that the delays amounted to a breach of article six of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees an effective court system. `What message does it send?'


Another big British bureaucratic bungle: "A group of MPs has called on the Government to apologise to Equitable Life policyholders and to pay them compensation, thus turning up the heat on Gordon Brown before a formal decision early next year. The Public Administration Select Committee said that it "strongly supports" the findings of a report into the near-collapse of Europe's oldest mutual published by Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, in July. Ms Abraham found three government departments guilty of ten counts of maladministration over Equitable, berating their failure to spot signs that it was in trouble. She said that the Government should say sorry and set up a compensation fund within six months."

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