Category Archives: Legal issues

Secret State 22: Mega farms – Owners? Directors? Donations?

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Drone footage and satellite images have recently revealed that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered. Disease spreads easily in such conditions and traces of the medication needed to prevent or treat the animals will be present in the meat offered for human consumption.

Who owns these companies? Who are the directors? Do they donate to party funds?

Why are there no official records held by DEFRA  on how many intensive beef units are in operation?
Government regulations  say that an environmental permit is needed if you operate any of the following:

-an industrial facility,
-manufacturing facility
-or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, eg:
-a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory

Why is government not requiring an environmental permit before their construction – and indeed consulting those in their neighbourhood?

A small section of a group of intensive units photographed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism/ Guardian

Though environment secretary Michael Gove said, in a parliamentary statement. “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country”, it’s here.

The Guardian and Bureau last year revealed that 800 poultry and pig “mega farms” have appeared in the British countryside in recent years, some housing more than a million chickens or about 20,000 pigs.

Following the revelations, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, pledged that Brexit would not be allowed to result in the spread of US-style agribusiness.

Readers who want to know the extent of this problem and the location of megafarms for dairy, pigs and poultry, may find this information by looking at the interactive maps produced by  Compassion in World Farming: The snapshots show information about intensive pig rearing in Gloucestershire, where the writer lives.

A Moseley reader draws attention to research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism establishing that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time. Sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were identified, the largest farms fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.

The practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and these findings raise questions over the future of British farming.

Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “Keeping large number of cattle together in intensive conditions removes all justification for rearing them and for consumers to eat red meat…

“More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.”

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 18: captured by corporate interests?

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George Monbiot recently pointed out that the Commons report on the Carillion fiasco is one of the most damning assessments of corporate behaviour parliament has ever published. It trounces the company’s executives and board and laments the weakness of the regulators.

But, as Prem Sikka said in his April article, it scarcely touches the structural causes that make gluttony a perennial feature of corporate life.

Both agree that the problem begins with an issue the report does not once mention: the extreme nature of limited liability. Sikka points out that this system, under which executives are only financially accountable for the value of their investment, has also benefited frauds and led to the self-enrichment of executives at the expense of workers, consumers, creditors, pensioners and citizens.

Monbiot adds that the current model of limited liability allowed the directors and executives of Carillion to rack up a pension deficit of £2.6 billion, leaving the 27,000 members of its schemes to be rescued by the state fund (which is financed by a levy on your pension – if you have one). The owners of the company were permitted to walk away from the £2 billion owed to its suppliers and subcontractors. (Left: the former Carillion chief executive Keith Cochrane in Westminster after appearing before the Commons work and pensions select committee)

Monbiot continues: “There is no way that fossil fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies”.

So what is to be done?

Prem Sikka (right) proposes that the bearers of unlimited risks and liabilities should be given rights to control the day-to-day governance and direction of companies.

He advocates including employees and citizen/consumers on company boards – because both ultimately have to bear the financial, health, social and psychological costs associated with environmental damage, pollution, poor products, industrial accidents, loss of jobs, pensions and savings. Through seats on company boards, they could secure a fairer distribution of income, challenge discrimination, curb asset-stripping and influence investment, training and innovation.

Across the 28 European Union countries (plus Norway), most have a statutory requirement for employee representation on company boards – unlike the UK, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Romania.

George Monbiot proposes a radical reassessment of limited liability.

He points out that a recent paper by the US law professor Michael Simkovic proposes that companies should pay a fee for this indemnity, calibrated to the level of risk they impose on society. He adds, significantly, that as numerous leaks show, companies tend to be far more aware of the risks they inflict than either governments or the rest of society. Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP

His own ‘tentative’ and ingenious proposal is that any manager earning more than a certain amount – say £200,000 – would have half their total remuneration placed in an escrow account, which is controlled not by the company but by an external agency. The deferred half of their income would not become payable until the agency judged that the company had met the targets it set on pension provision, workers’ pay, the treatment of suppliers and contractors and wider social and environmental performance. This judgement should draw on mandatory social and environmental reporting, assessed by independent auditors.

If they miss their targets, the executives would lose part or all of the deferred sum. In other words, they would pay for any disasters they impose on others. To ensure it isn’t captured by corporate interests, the agency would be funded by the income it confiscates.

Monbiot then says “I know that, at best, they address only part of the problem” and asks, “Are these the right solutions?

  • support them,
  • oppose them
  • or suggest better ideas.

He ends: “Should corporations in their current form exist at all? Is capitalism compatible with life on earth?”

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 14: justice for people given NHS contaminated blood – too little, too late

Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have died and MP Diana Johnson (below, left) asked for an urgent Commons debate last year.

She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally succumbed to pressure and announced a public inquiry into this 1970s and 80s scandal.

Last year it was recalled here that British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. It is estimated that over 2.400 have died since then.

At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection… and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect… but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”

It was decided that victims should die to avoid going over budget

 

In March 2017 this year a scheme to give the victims of NHS blood contamination ex-gratia payments’ – not to be called compensation – was scaled back under government plans.

Ministers believe the reforms (cutbacks) are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.

In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

Meanwhile the contaminated die apace as this inquiry gets under way, 30 years too late.

 

 

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Assisted Dying 13: Prolonging life at all costs gives a bonanza for private health care, pharmaceutical companies and the financial services industry

“Is it a ‘success’ having thousands of elderly, immobile people in care or nursing homes, with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, post-stroke or myocardial infarction; blind from macular degeneration or deaf; incontinent and catheterised, unable to tend or feed themselves but living out some form of existence? I rather doubt it from a quality of life point of view, not to mention the strain it places on health and social care resources”.

So said David Peddy, challenging MP Dr Sarah Wollaston’s celebration of increasing life expectancy.

Bronwen Maddox, director of the Institute for Government and formerly an investment analyst in the City and on Wall Street, focusses on the argument that ‘we’ are about to see “the end of inheritance”, stating that the assets of the British middle-class will have to be spent on their own care in their later years.

Ms Maddox adds that some MPs are suggesting that government try to encourage people to see the equity in their homes as a resource while prompting the financial services industry to develop cheaper, more flexible products for extracting it.  

Some readers commented:

  • My life. My choice.
  • Right to die, please.
  • Those concerned about care costs eating away their inheritances – and who do not wish to be ‘cared’ for –  support assisted dying. It’s a win-win solution.
  • I would like the right to die when I become too incapacitated to lead the life that I want. Hopefully when I get to that stage it will be generally available as it is in some other continental countries.

Emma Duncan, editor of the 1843 magazine and former deputy editor of The Economist, wrote today in The Times:Seeing my mother spend her final years longing for death has convinced me the law on assisted suicide must change”

“My brave mother, who could meet pretty much any challenge with her head held high, was brought low in the end. As her spirit faded, the one thing that still got her going was the law on assisted suicide. It infuriated her. She could not see why she should be kept alive, unwillingly and at great expense. She asked me several times to put a pillow over her head or take her to Dignitas, but I pointed out that I could be charged with assisting her suicide, and it would be tiresome for my children if I were jailed, so she gave up. But she never stopped complaining about the law, or sending money to Dignity in Dying, in an attempt to get it changed.

“To honour her spirit, I shall be taking up the cause she espoused

“Her case, which she continued to put cogently to the end of her days, was twofold. The first argument was about freedom of choice. Our laws are, by and large, governed by the notion that people should do what they want so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. My mother wanted to die, but suicide is impossible for the old and frail, though for a while she tried starving herself to death. Why, so long as she was settled in her mind — something which an application to a judge, with a lapse of time between request and confirmation, could establish — would the state not make it easy for her to do what she wanted to do?

“The second point was about cost. She thought it a horrible waste that hundreds of thousands of pounds were being spent on keeping her alive when they might have funded better education for people starting out on their lives. And it was going to get worse as society aged. “Think of the waste!” she would say. “It’s simply ghastly!”

“When I would point out that changing the law might cause some suffering, of old people bullied into suicide by greedy relatives, for instance, she countered that Switzerland and the Netherlands, with liberal regimes, report no such problems”.

Emma’s mother believed that the balance would shift heavily in favour of a law liberal enough to let even those without terminal diseases end their lives.

Emma ended: “We will be cremating my mother’s body tomorrow, but to honour her spirit I shall take up the cause that she espoused. I believe, as she did, that change will come. And the sooner it comes, the better it will be for brave people who want to take control of their death rather than be vanquished by old age”.

 

 

 

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Lord Steyn: a legal luminary who upheld the rights of the powerless

 

Lord Steyn in 2005: a man of forthright opinion apparently untroubled by self doubt

The following 2004 broadside was fired by Lord Steyn, described in his Times obituary as an “Outspoken law lord whose liberal views became a thorn in the side of the Blair government, especially over Iraq and Guantanamo Bay”, following Lord Hoffmann’s suggestion that the courts should not interfere with certain Government decisions.

“Courts must never abdicate their duty to protect citizens from the abuse of power by governments . . .The United States government has already created a hellhole of utter lawlessness at Guantanamo Bay by committing such abuse.”

Lord Steyn was born and bred in Cape Town and was one of the few native Afrikaaners who fiercely opposed apartheid. He won a Rhodes scholarship to read English at University College, Oxford and after being called to the bar and sitting as senior counsel in South Africa’s supreme court emigrated to Britain in 1973 to start on the bottom rung of the legal ladder.

Though English was not his native language, his Afrikaans accent remained thick and his ‘delivery’ in court was hesitant, he was admired for his clear arguments and his skill in cross-examination. Having served as the presiding judge on the Northern Circuit, Steyn moved to the Court of Appeal in 1992. He was made a life peer in 1995.

A detainee from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher before being interrogated by military officials at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Telegraph 2016)

In 2003 he accused the home secretary, David Blunkett, of using “weasel words” to justify his policy on asylum seekers. Five months later, Steyn branded the US regime at Guantanamo Bay “a monstrous failure of justice” and declared that the system of trial by military tribunal was no more than a “kangaroo court” that “makes a mockery of justice”.

The unkett then blocked his appointment to a House of Lords judicial committee

The senior law lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, was asked not to include Steyn on the nine-judge panel to decide on the legality of detaining foreign terror suspects without trial – the first time a government had ever sought and obtained an alteration in the composition of the House of Lords’ judicial committee.

His other achievements include:

  • being one of the judges who ruled by a 3-2 majority that the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was not entitled to claim sovereign immunity from prosecution;
  • reproving Lord Irvine of Lairg, the lord chancellor who sought ‘an unfettered right to impose rule changes on the legal profession; “He is a member of the executive carrying out the party political agenda of the Labour administration. He is a politician. To entrust to a cabinet minister the power to control the legal profession would be an exorbitant inroad on the constitutional principle of the separation of powers”;
  • claiming, when Britain introduced executive detention without trial in 2001, that the UK opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights was not justified “in the present circumstances”.
  • arguing, as chairman of Justice, the human rights group, that the Iraq War was unlawful and said that, “in its search for a justification in law for war, the government was driven to scrape the bottom of the legal barrel”;
  • dismissing Tony Blair’s suggestion, just months after the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, that the war had not made London a more dangerous place as a “fairytale”.

A champion of the Human Rights Act 1998, he retired satisfied that it had already “transformed our country into a rights-based democracy”. Hmm . . .

Anthony Lester, QC, wrote: “He has woven the Human Rights Act into the fabric of our legal system. He has a terrier-like tenacity and the courage of a lion. He’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to replace.” Agreed.

 

 

 

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Birmingham Council adopts the government’s austerity agenda: asking the low paid to accept even lower wages

In July, Birmingham City Council reneged on an ACAS-mediated, cabinet-approved agreement between the Unite union and Birmingham’s talented Council Leader, John Clancy, which was to end the seven-week refuse collection dispute.

The well-paid BCC chief executive (right) was seeking to downgrade 106 Grade 3 jobs to a Grade 2, which meant that workers would lose £3,500-5,000 from their already low salaries of around £20,000.

And when BCC reneged on the Unite/Clancy deal, they also issued redundancy notices to the Grade 3 workers. These were later banned in the High Court when Mr Justice Fraser spoke at length about the “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council with “chaos” between senior personnel. Read more about his reflections here.

Council leader Ian Ward (left) told a BBC reporter: “The cost of the (three month) dispute, yes that’s cost in excess of £6m”.

This ‘new’ version of the original deal (details here), described by union insiders as a ‘total climbdown’, was agreed at a special meeting of the BCC cabinet on Friday.

 ITV reports that yesterday Birmingham bin workers voted to accept the council deal.

So a seven week dispute was allowed to go on for three months, regardless of health and safety implications, losing £6m of ratepayers’ money – and the wrong head rolled.

From ‘Our Birmingham‘,  under another title.

 

 

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EU citizens continue to be harassed despite Theresa May’s reassuring words

A few days ago, Theresa May appealed – in an open letter – to three million EU nationals, asking them to stay in the UK after Brexit. This follows the EU’s refusal to begin trade talks until progress is made on the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

A month earlier this site reported that the Home Office had sent up to 100 letters to EU citizens telling them to leave UK or face removal.

One of these was Eva Johanna Holmberg who has lived in the UK with her British husband for most of the last decade and was threatened with detention under the Immigration Act. Her story was picked up on social media and the Home Office then said the letter had been sent by mistake. When the department called to apologise it did not offer to cover her legal costs of about £3,800.

Further encouragement to stay was given to another widely valued EU citizen, who has lived and worked in this country for years; her (fortunately secondary!) bank account had been blocked.  She couldn’t access online banking nor use the ATM.

When she went in to the local branch they said it was because a bank statement had been returned.

  • She said this was impossible as she only gets online statements.
  • Response to that: “Well it must have been something you’ve done”.
  • To unblock the account she had to provide proof of ID, proof of address, confirm she had paid UK taxes etc …

This is expected to happen more often from next January, as the accounts of ‘identified’ foreign nationals will be closed down or frozen. Even if the people concerned provide a passport or biometric residence permit showing they are lawfully present in Britain, banks have been instructed that such customers should be told to take up the matter with the Home Office – clearly an intent to harass.

Will there be more ‘rebuttals and clarifications’ on the Home Office media blog, as its recent record shows clearly that it cannot be trusted to implement such systems without errors.

Imposition of the forthcoming checks will simply add another category to the stress-inducing procedures incorrectly inflicted on ‘foreign nationals’ who have every right to be in Britain.

 

 

 

 

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Assisted Dying 12 : Change the laws in England and Wales

There have been years of positive evidence in seven countries and six American states which legalised assisted dying or euthanasia. Despite this and the support of over 80% of people polled in Britain, the BBC reports that Lord Justice Sales, Mrs Justice Whipple and Mr Justice Garnham rejected the claim of Noel Conway (left) who has motor neurone disease and wants a doctor to be allowed to prescribe a lethal dose when his health deteriorates.

 He argued that when he had less than six months to live and retained the mental capacity to make the decision, he wished to be able to enlist assistance from the medical profession to bring about a “peaceful and dignified” death, saying goodbye to family and friends at the right time and in the right condition.

As Saimo Chahal QC, partner and joint head of the International law and public law & Human Rights departments of Bindmans LLP, recently wrote, the debate on legalising assisted dying has been going on for decades in the UK, though polls dating back to the 1970s show that a majority of Britons wish to decide on the time and manner of their own death.

Noel and several others have gone to court hoping to bring about a change in the law. Diane Pretty, a woman suffering from motor neurone disease, sought immunity from prosecution for her husband so he could assist her to die.

The European Court of Human Rights in 2002 found: “In an era of growing medical sophistication combined with longer life expectancies, many people are concerned that they should not be forced to linger on in old age or in states of advanced physical or mental decrepitude which conflict with strongly held ideas of self and personal identity.”

Debbie Purdy, Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb also took legal action. The Supreme Court in June 2014 found that their European Convention on Human Rights article 8 rights were engaged, that the court did have jurisdiction to decide Paul’s case but that parliament should have the opportunity to review the law first. Ms Chahal (right) continues:

“Now, a new case is before the High Court, that of Omid, a 54-year-old man, who was diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy in 2014, a condition that cannot be cured and affects the nervous system. He attempted suicide in 2015, failed like so many others, and was then moved to a nursing home. Even with 24-hour care and support, Omid wants to die as he feels that he has no quality of life. Omid wants to change the assisted dying law in England and Wales – a courageous and selfless act considering his condition. He wants to help others and to leave a legacy. . .

“Omid is not terminally ill but has several years to live in this deplorable condition. Previous failed attempts to change the assisted dying laws through parliament restricted access to assisted dying to terminally ill people with six months or less to live. There is no moral or legal basis for such a restriction and it would not assist Omid and many others like him who have incurable conditions.

Since 2002, 377 Britons have travelled to DIGNITAS in Switzerland to have an accompanied suicide. Many people in England and Wales consider that the law is unfair and unjust in failing to provide accompanied suicide at home.

Read the article by Saimo Chahal here.

 

 

 

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Mumbai and Sheffield: human health, well-being and climate suffer as trees are felled

The Financial Times reports that Sheffield residents – like many in Mumbai – are protesting against the felling of urban trees. The scene below is similar to the Khar I remembered in 2003, though pavements were constructed and traffic much more dense. The protests were and are against the commercially motivated felling of trees – – some healthy and some neglected by the authorities scheduled to maintain them.

As one Khar resident told me recently, “The rain tree canopy on Khar Danda road used to be so thick that you could walk down the road in the pouring rain and not get wet.” Activist Zoru Bhathena sent ‘before and after’ aerial photos of the now devastated area no longer protected from the summer heat. He took the matter before the Bombay High Court & comments “… magically the problem got solved & no new trees have died! But, the damage is done, and BMC is not enthusiastic to replace the dead trees!”

Earlier this year, the Free Press Journal reported that residents across the city protested about trees being felled on the route of the Metro 7 line being constructed on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway and those who saw six trees were axed last week at the WEH at Malad claimed that the authorities have violated the Bombay High Court’s order which directed the local authority not to cut or destroy any trees on the highway.

Large public protests prevented the contractor from chopping down trees in Sheffield but by then more than 5,000 trees had been felled, to be replaced with saplings. In all, 6,000 trees are to be cut down as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme.

Some residents blocked contractors by standing inside safety zones put in place around the trees or parking their cars under the branches. On Tuesday, Sheffield council won a High Court injunction to run until July 2018, preventing opponents from taking “unlawful direct action” from breaching barriers around the condemned trees. The latest report from Sheffield may be read here.

Sheffield Tree Action Groups, an umbrella group for protesters, said there were “dangerous flaws” in the contract, and that its members would do “everything we can” to save healthy trees. Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree felling programme, said that the council needed to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences” paying huge sums to Amey (owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial), if the private finance contract is breached.

‘Urban street trees are loved by the vast majority of people who live alongside them,’ says Oliver Newham of the Woodland Trust, which is about to unveil a scheme supporting those trying to protect local trees:

‘These figures and our email inboxes show an alarming increase in losses. Trees have many benefits in urban areas, such as absorbing pollutants, providing shade and preventing flash flooding. They are essential to a happy and healthy population. Councils need to think twice before taking the axe to them.’ 

 

Read more on the valuable role played by trees in a report from the arborist Ian Dalton above left.

 

 

 

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A Bedford voter advises MPs to engage with the betting industry over a cup of coffee

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a review into the bookmaking industry, scrutinising gambling machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

The machines, which campaigners describe as highly addictive, allow gamblers to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds. They made £1.82bn in the year to September 2016 and account for 56% of revenues at betting shops, according to figures released by the industry regulator the Gambling Commission,

Online Casino notes that in a research note in April, analysts at Barclays Capital forecast that if MPs restrict the size of the stake to £2, Ladbrokes Coral would lose £449m in revenues in 2018, and William Hill £284m. Betfair, another gambling company, would lose £55m.

The Financial Times reports that William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral, two of the UK’s biggest bookmakers, spent just £2,004 in 2015, £2,800 in 2014 and £3,300 in 2013. According to the parliamentary register they significantly increased the amount they spent on entertaining MPs – £18,018 on hospitality for 12 MPs – since the start of 2016.

Two Conservative MPs, Philip Davies (no stranger to controversy) and Laurence Robertson (right,  likewise) were the biggest beneficiaries.

A staunch defender of the gambling industry, Mr Davies chairs the Betting and Gaming All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), and vice-chair of both the Bingo APPG and the Racing and Bloodstock APPG.

Labour wants to see the maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2 because the addictive high-stakes machines have become a huge problem for communities that are often struggling to cope with underinvestment and high unemployment. 

Neil Austin comments that MP Philip Davies (left), chairman of the betting and gaming all party parliamentary group, is quite right to say it would be extraordinary of he did not engage with the betting industry. He adds:

“It is also extraordinary that he considers it perfectly acceptable to accept lavish hospitality from that same industry.

“The reputation of parliament and of MPs is languishing far below where it needs to be for a strong democracy. Mr Davies and the other MPs mentioned in your report seem to have learnt nothing from the expenses scandal.

“Many organisations have strict rules prohibiting employees from accepting almost any hospitality where a conflict of interest could be perceived. If we are to try to return parliament to a more trusted position in the country, one small step would be for MPs to abide by the same rules”.

 

 

 

 

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