Fake News ‘Crowding Out’ Real News

Fake News ‘Crowding Out’ Real News, MPs
The volume of disinformation on the internet is growing so big that it is starting to crowd out real news, the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman has said. Tory MP Damian Collins said people struggle to identify “fake news”.

MPs in their committee report said the issue threatens democracy and called for tougher social network regulation.

The government said it plans to introduce a requirement for electoral adverts to have a “digital imprint”. This would mean that all political communications carried online would need to clearly identify who they were published by.

Labour said the government “needs to wake up to the new challenges we face and finally update electoral laws”.

The report follows the Cambridge Analytica data scandal earlier this year.

The London-based data analytics firms and tech giant Facebook were at the centre of a dispute over the harvesting and use of personal data – and whether it was used to influence the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election or the UK Brexit referendum.

Both firms deny any wrongdoing.

Arron Banks, the businessman who was the chief backer of the unofficial Leave.EU campaign, donating millions of pounds, was criticised for misleading the committee about his business dealings with Russia and for failing to demonstrate the source of the money.

MPs also considered evidence from around the world of how elections could be manipulated and heard how Russian agencies worked to influence votes by running adverts on Facebook.

Mr Collins told the BBC this had happened without the knowledge of the social network.

“That’s why we feel that this is now a threat to our democracy,” he said.

“If these tools that are so powerful, that can reach millions and millions of people all around the world at the touch of a button, if they can be effectively used to spread disinformation without the source of that information ever being revealed, as appears to be the case here, then that is a threat we have to confront.”

He made clear the term “fake news” as used by figures like US President Donald Trump is different to the “concerted campaigns of disinformation” in which people or agencies deliberately spread false stories.

Brexit: EU to Prepare for Future UK Trade Talks

Brexit: EU to Prepare for Future UK Trade Talks
The EU is to begin preparing for its post-Brexit trade negotiations with the UK, while refusing to discuss the matter with the British government. An internal draft document seen by the BBC suggests the 27 European Union countries should discuss trade among themselves while officials in Brussels prepare the details. The draft text could yet be revised. It comes as the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said there was “deadlock” over the UK’s Brexit bill.

As the fifth round of talks ended in Brussels on Thursday, Mr Barnier said there had not been enough progress to move to the next stage of post-Brexit trade talks, but added that he hoped for “decisive progress” by the time of the December summit of the European Council.

The draft paper submitted to the 27 EU states by European Council president Donald Tusk, suggests free trade talks could open in December – should Prime Minister Theresa May improve her offer on what the UK pays when it leaves. The draft conclusions – to be put to EU leaders next Friday – also call for more concessions from the UK on its financial obligations and the rights of European nationals who wish to stay after Brexit.

The paper confirms Mr Barnier’s assessment, that there has not been “sufficient progress” on three key elements of a withdrawal treaty for leaders to agree to open the trade talks now. But it says the leaders would welcome developments on these key issues: the rights of three million EU citizens in the UK, protecting peace in Northern Ireland from the effect of a new border and Britain’s outstanding “financial obligations”.

The council would then pledge to “reassess the state of progress” at their December summit.

Bernd Kolmel, chairman of Germany’s Eurosceptic Liberal Conservative Reformers, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there appeared to have been little progress between the first and fifth round of talks – something he described as a “disaster”. He called on the EU to expand the talks to include its future relationships and trade with the UK.

Anders Vistisen, a Danish Eurosceptic MEP and vice-chair of the EU Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, agreed, adding: “The most integral thing is the future relationship. If we are making a bad trade deal for Britain we are also hurting ourselves.”

The document states that in order “to be fully ready”, EU leaders would ask Mr Barnier and his officials to start preparing now for a transition – albeit without actually starting to talk to the UK about it. “The European Council invites the Council (Article 50) together with the Union negotiator to start internal preparatory discussions,” the draft reads.

Cities in North Pressing for More Money

Cities in North Pressing for More Money
Mayors and council leaders from five cities in northern England will hold a summit with business leaders next month to press ministers for more investment. They are concerned that the government has become less committed to the idea of a Northern Powerhouse after David Cameron and George Osborne departed.

The cities are Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds.

The Department for Transport (DfT) rejected the suggestion that northern England was being short-changed. The mayors and council leaders said statements from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in particular had caused them “confusion and concern”.

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson says the flashpoint appears to have been the possibility that not all of the TransPennine rail route will now be electrified. This has been seen previously as a symbol of the government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.

The local government leaders are hoping their summit will put pressure on ministers to re-commit to the project before Parliament resumes in September.

A DfT spokesman said more than £1bn would be spent on improving the rail infrastructure over the next five years, and a decision would be taken next year on how to improve journey times and increase capacity on the TransPennine route.
He added that northern English cities would also benefit from the investment in the HS2 high-speed rail link.

The summit comes after ministers announced their backing for Crossrail 2 – a proposed north-south rail route across London – but said the Manchester to Newcastle rail link may not be fully electrified despite promises from the previous government.

Mr Grayling and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan are said to be in agreement that there is “no doubt London needs new infrastructure to support its growth and ensure it continues as the UK’s economic powerhouse”.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said there would be “widespread anger” at the decision to support Crossrail 2.

Shadow cabinet minister Angela Rayner said: “This is a real kick in the teeth again, showing that the Conservatives don’t care about us in the north. If we’re really going to be a powerhouse across the north then they’ve got to give us that infrastructure. If you look at how much money is spent in London on infrastructure compared to how much money is spent in the North West on infrastructure, there’s thousands of pounds per head difference.”

State Pension Age Rise Brought Forward

State Pension Age Rise Brought Forward
Six million men and women will have to wait a year longer than they expected to get their state pension, the government has announced. The rise in the pension age to 68 will now be phased in between 2037 and 2039, rather than from 2044 as was originally proposed. Those affected are currently between the ages of 39 and 47.

The announcement was made in the Commons by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke. “As life expectancy continues to rise and the number of people in receipt of state pension increases, we need to ensure that we have a fair and sustainable system that is reflective of modern life and protected for future generations,” he told MPs.

Anyone younger than 39 will have to wait for future announcements to learn what their precise pension age will be.

The change will affect those born between 6 April 1970 and 5 April 1978.

The government said the new rules would save the taxpayer £74bn by 2045/46. While it had been due to spend 6.5% of GDP on the state pension by 2039/40, this change will reduce that figure to 6.1% of GDP.

Labour said the move was “astonishing”, given recent reports suggesting increases in life expectancy were beginning to stall, and long-standing health inequalities between different income groups and regions in retirement.
He said the government had decided to accept the recommendations of the Cridland report, which proposed the change.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams told MPs that many men and women were beginning to suffer ill health in the early 60s, well before they were entitled to their state pension. “Most pensioners will now spend their retirement battling a toxic cocktail of ill-health,” she said. “The government talks about making Britain fairer but their pensions policy, whether it is the injustice that 1950s-born women are facing, or today’s proposals, is anything but fair.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the government risked creating “second-class citizens”. “In large parts of the country, the state pension age will be higher than healthy life expectancy,” she said.

“And low-paid workers at risk of insecurity in their working lives will now face greater insecurity in old age too. Rather than hiking the pension age, the government must do more for older workers who want to keep working and paying taxes.”

Age UK was also critical of the change.

“In bringing forward a rise in the state pension age by seven years, the government is picking the pockets of everyone in their late forties and younger, despite there being no objective case in Age UK’s view to support it at this point in time,” said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK. “Indeed, it is astonishing that this is being announced the day after new authoritative research suggested that the long term improvement in life expectancy is stalling.”

The government has also committed to regular reviews of the state pension age in the years ahead. Tom McPhail, head of policy at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the government would need to do more to encourage saving, particularly amongst younger people.

“For anyone yet to reach age 47, there is still time to adjust their retirement plans by looking to contribute more,” he said. “We feel it is important the government meets them halfway; we need a national savings strategy to help people save and invest for their future. A good starting point would be for the government to look at a savings commission.”

The SNP said it remained opposed to raising the pension age beyond 66 and reiterated its call for an independent pensions commission to be set up to look at “demographic differences across the UK”.

In response, Mr Gauke said the Scottish government would have the power to provide extra financial help for those approaching retirement if they so chose. That raises the prospect of further rises. Indeed a report by the government’s actuary department in March suggested that workers now under the age of 30 may have to wait until 70 before they qualify for a state pension.

Parliament Clears Way for Talks with EU over Brexit Deal

Parliament Clears Way for Talks with EU over Brexit Deal
Parliament has passed the Brexit bill, paving the way for the government to trigger Article 50 so the UK can leave the European Union. Peers backed down over the issues of EU residency rights and a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal after their objections were overturned by MPs. The bill is expected to receive Royal Assent and become law on Tuesday.

 

This means Theresa May is free to push the button on withdrawal talks, now expected in the last week of March. That Brexit process is set to take two years from when Mrs May invokes Article 50, which formally gives the EU notice of the UK’s intention to leave.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said. “We are now on the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation.”

The EU Withdrawal Bill was passed unamended late on Monday after peers voted by 274 votes to 118 not to challenge the Commons again over the issue of whether Parliament should have a veto on the terms of exit. The House of Lords also agreed not to reinsert guarantees over the status of EU residents in the UK into the bill, with the government winning the vote by a margin of 274 votes to 135. Later analysis of the division list for the first Lords vote on EU citizens’ rights to remain in the UK showed that 25 Labour peers sided with the Lib Dems, including former cabinet minister Lord Mandelson.

Earlier, the government had comfortably won votes on the issues in the Commons, with only a handful of Tory MPs rebelling.

Flood Prevention Being Ignored say MPs

Flood Prevention Being Ignored say MPs
Simple actions to help protect homes in England from flooding are still being ignored by government, MPs say. The Commons environment committee said ministers were not addressing what it called the fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood management. Areas of concern include flood impact home insurance, building rules and local authority planning decisions.

The government rejected the criticism, saying it had accepted many previous suggestions on flooding from the MPs.

The committee’s comments are the latest in a running tussle between MPs and the environment department Defra.

The MPs admit that flooding has risen up the government’s priority list, and say “considerable work” on flooding is being done across Whitehall. But they complain that ministers are still ignoring reasonable demands.

Jim Fitzpatrick MP, acting chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra), said: “People living in areas of flood risk need to be reassured that the government is acting to improve our disjointed flood management system. “Defra has failed to give sufficient justification for its rejection of our recommendations for important new measures.”

Take the principle of slowing the flow of rivers across upland catchments to stop communities flooding, pioneered by Pickering in North Yorkshire. The government says it backs this idea, subject to further tests on a catchment scale, but the MPs say ministers should give more details on how much they are spending to prevent flooding this way.

The MPs also want changes to insurance rules so householders who have been flooded can get insurance help to make their homes flood-proof in future. They say developers who increase flood risk by breaching planning conditions should be obliged to compensate homeowners. In addition, the report says local councils should be forced to publish annual summaries of planning decisions they approve against Environment Agency flood advice.

Also, water and sewage companies should have a say on planning applications to prevent new developments adding to flood risk.

Several bodies, including the committee, believe the government needs to overhaul the way flooding is managed, with prime responsibility removed from the Environment Agency. But suggestions of a re-organisation were previously firmly rejected by ministers, and this has been re-confirmed.

A spokesman for Defra told BBC News: “We take a long-term, strategic approach to protecting the nation from floods.

“We are investing £2.5bn on building flood defence schemes across the country to better protect an additional 300,000 homes by 2021, bringing an end to year-on-year fluctuations in spend. We are already implementing many of the [committee’s] suggestions, such as managing watercourses across entire catchment areas, but there is no need for structural changes.”

The comments come as Defra is facing criticism over the publication, without a previous press notice, of its own national climate change risk assessment warning of risks from flooding.

The report appeared on Defra’s website last week on the same afternoon that a new global temperature record was announced.

Environmentalists were suspicious that Defra was trying to bury it, but a government spokesman said: “That’s ridiculous. The publication date was agreed ages ago.”

Will Brexit be delayed by Court ruling?

Will Brexit be delayed by Court ruling?
The BBC has published as summary to the process the UK Government ill now likely follow to trigger Article 50 and remove the UK form the European Union. The summary can be read on the BBC News Page.

How long will it take?
The government wanted to trigger Article 50 using the Royal Prerogative, which is a set of powers that used to be held by the monarch but now reside with government ministers. The decision that it must specifically pass a bill is significant. Some other procedures would have meant fewer stages in Parliament and no chance to make amendments.

A full bill means that both houses of Parliament must agree and amendments are possible. To become an act of Parliament a bill must pass several stages in both the Commons and the Lords. That often takes months of debate, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. Emergency legislation can be passed within a single day if everyone agrees it is urgent.

How much opposition?
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said that his MPs should not seek to block Article 50. Ken Clarke is expected to be the only Conservative who will vote against it. So the numbers look to be in place to ensure a smooth passage for the bill in the House of Commons. But more MPs may back attempts to amend the bill, for example, by adding conditions about the sort of Brexit the government should negotiate.

In principle, the House of Lords could be different. The government does not have a majority and many peers remain strongly opposed to Brexit. However, there is recognition that Parliament voted overwhelmingly to hold a referendum and that the referendum delivered a clear, albeit close, result. Members of the House of Lords, who are not elected, realise that any attempt to frustrate Brexit could be regarded as undemocratic.

Government Loses Brexit Vote Appeal

Government Loses Brexit Vote Appeal
Parliament must vote on whether the government can start the Brexit process, the Supreme Court has ruled. The judgement means Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing – although this is expected to happen in time for the government’s 31 March deadline. But the court ruled the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies did not need a say.

The government will make a statement to MPs later on Tuesday.

During the Supreme Court hearing, campaigners argued that denying the UK Parliament a vote was undemocratic. The government said it already had the powers to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – getting talks under way – without the need for consulting MPs and peers.

The judges rejected the case put by ministers by a majority of eight to three.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the government was “disappointed” but would “comply” and do “all that is necessary” to implement the court’s judgement.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50.”

Article 50 will begin exit talks with the EU, which are expected to last up to two years. The case against the government was brought by investment manager Gina Miller and hairdresser Deir Tozetti Dos Santos.

The Supreme Court’s judgement backs that given by the High Court last year, against which the government appealed.

New Heathrow Runway May be Built Above M25

New Heathrow Runway May be Built Above M25
The BBC website is reporting that the third runway at Heathrow Airport could involve planes taking off from a “ramp” over the M25 motorway, the transport secretary says. Chris Grayling said this would be “cheaper and quicker” than building a tunnel for the M25 under the new runway and would cause less disruption for drivers during construction. He said many other airports around the world had built runways over motorways. There would be “a very gentle hill up which the planes would take off”.

heathrow2

The government’s long-awaited backing for a third runway at London Heathrow has been attacked by cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Justine Greening and sparked the resignation of Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith.

The decision is also set to face a challenge in the courts, with the Richmond council leader Lord True telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was “taking legal advice”. The Conservative peer said Heathrow was “busting air quality legal limits” and was responsible for “40% of all noise pollution in Europe associated with airports”.

He added: “The fact that the government has already delayed action for a year results from our reminding them that they hadn’t yet fulfilled things which they’re required to do under the existing law.”

Lord True said he would be campaigning for Mr Goldsmith, who will contest the Richmond Park by-election as an independent with the Conservatives not putting forward a candidate against him.

Heathrow Expansion Decision Likely Today

Heathrow Expansion Decision Likely Today
The government’s long-awaited decision on airport expansion is set to be announced, with Heathrow the favourite. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will make a statement to Parliament around lunchtime on Tuesday, but the decision faces a long consultation before it becomes final.

heathrow

A study last year, led by Sir Howard Davies, recommended a third runway at Heathrow but other options include a new runway at Gatwick or extending one of Heathrow’s existing runways. Writing in the Telegraph on Monday Sir Howard said the case for expanding Heathrow had “strengthened in recent months” and that the case was now “overwhelming”.

The issue of where to expand airport capacity in the UK has vexed politicians for years and there are strong divisions within the government. Prime Minister Theresa May told the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions last week the subject had been “debated, discussed and speculated on for 40 years”.

Heathrow is already operating at 98% capacity and Gatwick is expected to run out of space in the next few years. Airlines and business groups favour expansion of Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, which offers more direct connections than Gatwick and handles more freight.

But local residents and politicians are concerned about noise, traffic and pollution. A Heathrow expansion is also strongly opposed by Education Secretary Justine Greening and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has pledged to “lie down” in front of bulldozers to stop the building. However, neither he nor Ms Greening are members of the airports sub-committee charged with making the final decision.

As many as 60 Tory backbenchers could also vote against expansion at Heathrow, and Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, has vowed to resign if it goes ahead.

Mrs May has given ministers “exceptional and limited” freedom to criticise the government’s final decision – although they will not be allowed to campaign against it – a move being seen as evidence a third runway at Heathrow will be backed.

The decision will also be subject to around a year of consultation before Parliament votes and, if approved, will only then enter the planning process. Construction is not likely to begin until 2020 or 2021, the Airports Commission has said.

A final decision on which London airport to expand has been years in the making. In 2009, former prime minister David Cameron pledged that there would be no new runway at Heathrow. In July 2015, the Airports Commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies backed a new third runway at Heathrow, but did not rule out the option of expanding Gatwick. Mr Cameron had promised a decision by the end of last year on whether to build a new runway at Heathrow.

Last week Mrs May told ministers at a cabinet meeting that a decision on increasing airport capacity in the south east of England had been “delayed for too long”. Her spokeswoman said the prime minister believed it was important to now take a decision “in the national interest”.