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MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on the UK’s need to play a bigger part in cleaning up the world’s oceans

Today in the House of Lords, the government will take a small step in tackling ocean plastic pollution by banning microbeads in personal care products. An overdue but welcome move on which Labour has campaigned for several years.

A significant move too, as plastic microbeads are an unnecessary but extensive part of the cosmetics industry with an estimated 100,000 microbeads washed down the sink with each application. From there they can easily pass through water filtration systems into rivers and oceans where they are consumed by birds and marine creatures who mistake them for fish eggs. Then it is just one small step to the food chain, through the larger fish consumed by humans.

While the full human health impacts are still being assessed, the damaging effect on marine life is well known. Urgent action was therefore imperative. Labour has worked with Greenpeace and other NGO’s to raise awareness of the damage being caused. Meanwhile, the wonderful work of David Attenborough and the Blue Planet series has hardened public attitudes, with 85% of people now wanting action to stop plastic waste entering our oceans.

In this wider challenge, a ban on microbeads may only play a small part. But it is still important, as once the microbeads enter the oceans they cannot be cleaned up and take up to 700 years to disintegrate. There is no justification therefore, for adding to the pollution.

A number of cosmetic companies have already recognised the need to act, voluntarily removing microbeads from their products. The ban being announced today however, will make it illegal to produce or sell microbeads in all rinse off products in the UK – creating a level playing field for business. At the same time, research is developing new natural alternatives, including ground almonds and apricot kernels.

Despite these developments, challenges remain.

First, the legislation being debated in the Lords today does not cover off products that remain in the skin. It has also been suggested that microbeads in industrial cleaning products far outnumber those used in personal care. So there is an urgent need to extend the use of natural alternatives and deliver a complete ban.

Second, the legislation assumes that local authorities, and specifically Trading Standard Officers, will enforce the ban. Difficult, when such council services are starved of cash and the staff tasked with doing so will need training and guidance on implementing the new rules – support that may not be forthcoming. And their task will be made harder by the fact that cosmetic product labelling fails to specify whether or not a product contains microbeads. That will necessitate separate research and analysis being carried out on suspect items. So a further cost.

Third, and finally, plastics in our oceans obviously don’t respect national borders. A ban on microbeads in the UK may be ground breaking but it will have a marginal effect unless other countries follow suit. So there is a need to work both within the EU and on a transnational basis to deliver a global shift in policy. We all have a role to play in making this happen and Labour will remain at the forefront of the campaign.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 18th December 2017

 

Deep and meaningful

Maggie Jones on the UK’s need to play a bigger part in cleaning up the world’s oceans

LesleyTurnberg4x3.jpgLeslie Turnberg on the centenary anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, negative consequences and hopes for the future

Arthur Balfour would have been aghast to know that a century after his declaration the Israeli/Palestinian conflict lingers on. But why in the middle of a war with Germany that was going badly wrong did Balfour and the British government come out in favour of a home for the Jews in Palestine? And having been so supportive in 1917, why in 1939 did the government publish the notorious White Paper that put a block on immigration at a time when Europe was becoming a death camp for many Jews? And why now is our government saying it will mark the Balfour centenary with pride rather than accede to Palestinian requests to apologize for it?

Many people consider the declaration as the massive error of judgement on the government’s part while others see it as the most magnanimous gesture towards a persecuted people that an Imperial nation could make.

Many reasons have been suggested why the British went ahead with plan. Was it to press American Jews to persuade the President Wilson to enter the war on the Allies side? But when they did, it had nothing to do with the Jews and everything to do with German pressure to persuade Mexico to invade the US and the torpedoing of ships by U-boats.

A more cogent explanation was Britain’s need to have a reliable ally in the Middle East to combat the Ottoman Empire. They could rely on the Jews but not on Arab tribes – some of whom had sided with the Turks. Like the Prime Minister at the time of the declaration Lloyd George, Balfour had been favourably disposed towards the Zionist cause well before the First World War. And on his deathbed, Balfour told his niece that what he had done for the Jews had been most worth his doing.

It is often thought that the declaration was a purely British proposal – something that flies in the face of the evidence that Britain could not have gone ahead without backing from its allies. The French had already given their written support, followed by the Italians and Russians; then finally the Americans. It clearly had international backing and surprisingly the Grand Shariff Hussein and his son Prince Faisal in Mecca did not object. Indeed, they welcomed immigration of Jews into what they regarded as a neglected corner of Arabian lands.

Once however, Hussein realized he had been duped by the British when it was revealed that Britain and France would take control of the Middle East under their mandates, all of that sweetness and light was lost. It was this manifestation of western imperialism that turned the Arabic leadership against the Jews, who became regarded as a local symbol of colonialism.

It was only later that the declaration was converted from a simple expression of support into a legally binding document – first at San Remo in 1920, and then in Geneva at the League of Nations in 1922. Britain was now mandated to provide a home for the Jews in Palestine with all 51 nations voting in favour. And this was the legal statement taken up by the United Nations in 1947 that finally led to the state of Israel.

Of course, it could have got lost in the meantime. During the 1920s and 1930s, Arab riots made Britain think of rescinding the declaration. It was too late but that did not stop our government curtailing immigration and land purchase by the Jews. And in the 1939 notorious White Paper, it put a complete block on immigration just as the Jews were being herded towards Hitler’s gas chambers.

It was almost miraculous that the Zionists’ dream survived. But aggressive acts of terror led by Menachem Begin and others helped persuade the British, by now eager to be rid of the poisoned chalice, to hand the mandate over to the UN. Then in 1947, the UN partition plan introduced – something the Jews accepted but the Arabs immediately rejected. It turned out to be a great mistake since it would have given the Palestinians a much greater slice of the land they are fighting for now and would have avoided much bloodshed.

Today, 100 years after Balfour promised a home for the Jews in Palestine, the more pragmatic Arab nations, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, have accepted the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East. If Israelis and Palestinians can reach an agreement, the advantages to both sides would be enormous.

Will it happen sometime soon? Hardly likely. Will it require new and braver leaders on both sides? Almost certainly. Is it worth all the effort? Absolutely.

Lord Leslie Turnberg is a Labour Peer. His book Beyond the Balfour Declaration: The Hundred Year Quest for Israeli-Palestinian Peace was published earlier this year by Biteback https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/the-balfour-declaration 

Published 18th December 2017

A fateful declaration

Leslie Turnberg on the centenary anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, negative consequences and hopes for the future

LordBach4x3.jpgWilly Bach on tackling the dire consequences of the Coalition’s LASPO Act

Many people, across and beyond both politics and the legal professions, will remember the fight during 2011/12 that Labour and Crossbench peers put up against the Coalition governments notorious Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill. That legislation took away access to justice from many people, by taking vital areas of social welfare law – including housing, debt, employment, benefits and Immigration – out of the scope of legal aid. 

As a result, there has been a massive drop in the legal advice citizens can now get at a difficult moments in their lives. The Bill also took private family law out of the scope of legal aid.  Justice Minister and Liberal Democrat Peer Lord McNally took the Bill through the House and the Coalition suffered a record number of defeats for its time in office. But the Bill eventually became law.

The consequences of this rotten piece of legislation are the background to the ‘Right to Justice’ report, published by the Fabian Society and to be debated in the Lords today.  I chaired the related Commission of experts over a 20 month period, with the members chosen for their professional expertise rather than ideological leanings.

We heard from many witnesses and all of us on the Commission were left in no doubt that a crisis was developing in our much admired justice system, with many people no longer able to get the legal help they need. The foreword to our report read: “We live at a time when the rule of law is under attack. Too many powerful institutions pay lip service to the concept of access to justice without having sufficient regard for what it actually means. It is, after all, fairly simple: unless everybody can get some access to the legal system at the time in their lives when they need it, trust in our institutions and in the rule of law breaks down. When that happens, society breaks down.”

Our main conclusion, which owed much to my Labour Lords colleague Charlie Falconer, was that any government found it too easy to escape its responsibility towards ensuring access to justice. 

Over recent years, judges have with courage and perseverance (most recently in the Unison case regarding tribunal fees) stated the constitutional position. We felt however, that there needed to be a statutory basis for a right to justice – something that would hopefully force government to take it every bit as seriously as the rights to a good health service and a decent education. A proposed ‘Right to Justice’ Act would establish an independent body, The Justice Commission, to be led by a senior judge who would enforce, advise and monitor implementation. 

Part two of our report argues for urgent action to put right some of the injustices caused by LASPO, with 25 recommendations – including a widening of the scope of legal aid, and the need for early legal advice in matters of family laws. While these reforms would cost around £400m each year, the sad truth is that the government has saved £900m with its cuts – almost double what it intended. 

Finally, our report welcomes the idea of consensus towards our proposals. Access to justice should be above party politics. Whatever our affiliations, we all surely want to live in a civilised country under the rule of law?

Lord Willy Bach was Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister in the House of Lords during the passage of the LASPO Act, and now serves at now serves as Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire. He tweets @FightBach

Published 14th December 2017

Judgement call

Willy Bach on tackling the dire consequences of the Coalition’s LASPO Act

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