News In Brief
Jill Saward, the victim in what became known as the Ealing Vicarage Rape, has urged the Government to listen to MPs who want an overhaul of the rape laws. More than 64 MPs have now signed a Commons motion, tabled by Labour MP for Stourbridge Debra Shipley, calling for an end to the right of an accused rapist to cross-examine the victim, although his lawyer could still do so. The MPs also want a restriction on multiple cross-examination in cases where there is more than one defendant. In addition, they say, identity parades should be conducted behind mirror glass and British people raped by Britons abroad should be able to turn to the UK legal system for justice.
A ban of fox hunting is on the cards as Michael Foster, the first MP to present a private members bill before the House of Commons, looks likely to introduce a Bill to ban the sport. Mr Foster has yet to make a firm commitment to ban fox hunting and he denies reports that Labour Party managers have asked to drop his proposals. Other subjects for private members bills include ageism and the difficult subject of what exactly constitutes a pint of beer.
Mary Robinson, the Irish President, has been appointed The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. Ms Robinson, who is "very honoured" to have received the appointment, is expected to take up her new post in September. This however could clash with the final months of Ms Robinson's term as president, which closes at the end of the year. How this conflict will be resolved is yet to be made clear. Ms Robonson said, "I hope to avail of the opportunities which now exist, with the support of the international community, to make significant progress in the protection and promotion of human rights.
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has all but killed off electoral reformers' hopes that the next round of European elections in Britain will be conducted under a system of proportional representation. PR for European elections in 1999 was a Labour policy target before the General Election but Mr Cook claims lack of Parliamentary time will now squeeze out the planned change.
He said "intense competition for time on the Commons floor" looks set to make the 1999 target unrealistic. We made it plain before the election that we would want the next European elections to be fought under a PR method of voting. But we are desperately short of time to put it into place.
The Government has refused to rule out the possibility that some pensioners may have to pay perscription charges. When replying to a question from the Conservative MP, Alistair Goodlad if she could rule out pensioners paying prescription charges, Ann Taylor the Leader of the House said, "As was said in the House by the Health Secretary Frank Dobson yesterday, there are pension anomalies and I think he was talking about when a group of illnesses are covered by prescription exemptions. We are not making any commitment on that. That will be part of any review in that Department.
The House of Commons is on the verge of approving the banning of two of Northern Ireland's terror groups, the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Continuity Army council. The groups were banned by the Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam on June 4. The Commons is expected to ratify the banning order within 40 days.
Senior Liberal Democrat Sir David Steel has taken his seat in the House of Lords amid speculation that he may go onto the front bench as deputy leader of his party's peers. Lord Steel of Aikwood is one of 21 retiring MP's promoted to the Lords in April. His sponsor peers were Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and party colleague and frontbencher Lord Mackie of Benshie
Senior police officers, women's rights campaigners, and victims have welcomed a new law designed to combat stalkers. The Protection from Harrasment Act received the Royal Assent shortly before the general election, and the government has confirmed that it will come into force on Monday. Introduced by the previous Tory government last year, the act lays out a twin track strategy, creating new civil and criminal remedies, and introducing the deterrent of long prison sentences and big fines for offenders.
A Tory has admitted throwing a bucket of water over a former colleague in an election day bust up. Mike Keith-Smith, who campaigned for the UK Independence Party, brought the private prosecution after Conservative councillor Frank Worley threw a large bucket of water through his car window. At the time Mr Keith-Smith was shouting four-letter insults against Tory leader John Major through a hand-held megaphone, Portsmouth magistrates court heard. Mr Worley's defence lawyer said the councillor had faced "enormous provocation". This is the latest turn in a series of incidents involving the Conservative Association which saw Keith-Smith, a former member of the Association, campaign under the banner of 'Tory Sleazebusters' during the general election. The UKIP supporter's car had already driven once past Worley's home in Portsmouth, which was being used as a local committee room by the Conservatives, with Keith-Smith using four-letter words over the megaphone in references to Mr Major and Tory candidate David Martin. Worley, a councillor on Portsmouth City Council, pleaded guilty to the assault. The Chairman of the bench said it was a "foolish incident" and gave Worley a conditional discharge for six months.
The Prime Minister has unveiled plans for a powerful watchdog aimed at
putting green issues at the heart of Government.
Mr Blair's initiative was given a guarded welcome by environmental groups and
Opposition MPs, who warned that Ministers must not "backtrack" on election promises
to curb global warming at the forthcoming Earth Summit Two in New York.
The move came after Mr Blair earlier invited members of Britain's leading
environmental and countryside campaign groups to Downing Street for a 30-minute
discussion on the direction of Government policy.