Green grilled over Heathrow delays

• Damian Green’s evidence on Heathrow – summary
• Lunchtime summary
• Afternoon summary

3.15pm: Here’s an afternoon summary.

• Lord Justice Leveson has suggested that he will drop plans to take evidence from Jeremy Hunt if MPs insist on interrogating him about his contacts with News Corporation. His statement will be seen as a rebuke to Harriet Harman and other Labour MPs, who said yesterday that Hunt should answer questions on the affair in the Commons, and to John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, who said he agreed. (See 2.24pm.)

• Chris Grayling, the employment minister, has announced that the Department for Work and Pensions has cancelled a contract with A4e. Here’s an extract from the news release, which describes the outcome of a DWP review of all its contracts with A4e. The review found no evidence of fraud.

However, while the team found no evidence of fraud, it identified significant weaknesses in A4e’s internal controls on the mandatory work activity contract in the south east. The documentation supporting payments was seriously inadequate, and in a small number the claim was erroneous. There was also a high incidence of non-compliance with other relevant guidance (including A4e’s own processes).

The process established prior to March fell significantly short of our expectations. As a result, the department has concluded that continuing with this contract presents too great a risk and we have terminated the mandatory work activity contract with A4e for the south east.

• David Cameron’s personal approval ratings have hit a record low, according to one new poll. An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard shows that the number of people dissatisfied with Cameron’s performance has reached 60%. The same poll shows the Conservatives ahead of Labour on handling of the economy by just 1 percentage point. A separate YouGov poll puts Labour ahead of the Conservatives on the economy for the first time since the general election. (See 9.24am.)

• Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, has accused the government of trying to tighten the way the Freedom of Information Act works. Graham made the comment in a statement to parliament about the government’s decision to veto publication of the Health Act risk register. In the past the government has only used its veto to block publication of cabinet minutes, Graham said. But this veto was different because it did not refer to cabinet papers. Graham said this was a matter of concern.

The arguments employed by the [health] department at the [information] tribunal and by the secretary of state in explanation of the subsequent veto, both in the statement of reasons and in exchanges in the House of Commons around the ministerial statement, certainly use the language of ‘exceptional circumstances’ and ‘matter of principle’. But the arguments are deployed in support of what is in fact the direct opposite of the exceptional – a generally less qualified, and therefore more predictable, ‘safe space’. As such, the government’s approach in this matter appears to have most to do with how the law might be changed to apply differently in future. This question falls naturally to consideration by the justice committee who have been undertaking post-legislative scrutiny of the Act.

• The Office for National Statistics has said that the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor is widening. As the Press Assocation reports, disproportionate improvements in health and longevity in less deprived neighbourhoods appear to be driving an increase in inequality in life expectancy and disability free life expectancy, particularly amongst women. Life expectancy for men in the least deprived areas rose from 80 to 81.4 between 2002 and 2005 and 2006 and 2009 compared to a rise during the same period from 72.2 to 73.3 for men in the poorest neighbourhoods, according to ONS figures.

• China has protested about David Cameron’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to London yesterday. As the Press Assocation reports, Britain’s ambassador in Beijing, Sebastian Wood, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to receive a rebuke from China’s Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao. Song said the meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader amounted to serious interference in China’s internal affairs. Cameron and Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama privately yesterday at St Paul’s Cathedral, where he was receiving the £1.1 million Templeton Prize for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has told the Police Federation conference that she is strongly opposed to police being given the right to strike. But there was “a flip side to that”, she said. “Government should respect and value the office of constable on which we depend.”

Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, has urged ministers to should treat cyber security in the same way as drink-driving and launch a hard-hitting advertising campaign to encourage people to take more care online.

• The Department of Education has started sending King James Bibles to schools in England to mark the 400th anniversary of its translation.
The DfE says charities and philanthropists will cover the £370,000 cost. Michael Gove, the education secretary, said the bible had had a huge impact on British culture.

The King James Bible has had a profound impact on our culture. Every school pupil should have the opportunity to learn about this book and the impact it has had on our history, language, literature and democracy. Thanks to the generosity of a number of charities, supported by philanthropists, we have been able to mark the 400th anniversary of its publication by making a copy available to every school in the country.

That’s it for today. Thanks for the comments.

2.24pm: That was rather long-winded. But we can summarise it quite easily.

• Lord Justice Leveson (pictured) has urged MPs not to interrogate Jeremy Hunt and his special adviser, Adam Smith, about their links with News Corporation before they give evidence to the inquiry. He acknowledged that he could not stop parliament addressing these issues. But he said that it would be unfair for this evidence to be aired in parliament first.

• He revealed that he was planning to take evidence from Adam Smith, Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser, and Fred Michel, the News Corp lobbyist, before the end of May.
We already knew that Hunt wil be giving evidence too.

• But Leveson also signalled that he would drop Hunt and the others as a witness if MPs tried to hear evidence from them first.

Leveson was responding to comments made by John Bercow, Harriet Harman and others during points of order in the Commons yesterday. In a nutshell, he was telling MPs to back off.

2.20pm: Leveson is still speaking.

He says he has had regard for the interests of parliament. He hopes parliament will not do anything that would have a negative impact on his inquiry.

He says it would be unfair for witness statements to be made public before they are presented to the inquiry. If that were to happen, people would make up their minds before the witnesses gave evidence. In that case, Leveson says, he might conclude that there would be no point in hearing the evidence.

He makes it clear that he could decide not to call Adam Smith and Fred Michel if he thinks that people have already made up their minds about what they did.

That’s over.

2.07pm: Lord Justice Leveson is making a statement at the opening of this afternoon’s inquiry hearing.

He says that the emails produced by James Murdoch about News Corporation’s dealings with the Department for Culture produced much media comment.

Leveson said at the time he urged people not to take the emails at face value. He was not taking sides; just saying that he wanted to hear all the evidence (ie, Jeremy Hunt’s evidence) before taking sides.

He wants to allow his inquiry to proceed. Once it is over, consideration can be given to the need for any further inquiry.

In the Commons there have been questions about this, he says.

Leveson says he has already said that this stage of his inquiry will not go into party political matters. He said he would consider how politicians engaged with the press. But he would not be making a judgment about whether Hunt broke the ministerial code.

Leveson says he sees the way Hunt and Vince Cable handled the News Corp bid as evidence of how politicians related to the media.

Leveson says George Howarth, a Labour MP, asked Hunt to disclose information about his relationship with his special adviser, Adam Smith. Hunt said in his reply that he would deal with this in his evidence to the inquiry.

Yesterday Harriet Harman raised this on a point of order, he says. In his reply, John Bercow said ministers should respond to questions from MPs.

Leveson says he accepts Article 9 of the Bill of Rights. He is not trying to say anything about what should or should not be said in parliament. MPs should proceed to do what they think is appropriate, he says.

But he also says that things said in parliament could have an impact on the inquiry.

He says he will call Adam Smith, Hunt’s special adviser, and Fred Michel, the News Corp lobbyist who had regular contact with Smith, before the end of May.

2.05pm: I’m interviewing Robert Chote, the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, later this week. If there are any questions you think I should ask, please post them here, on this blog.

1.40pm: Here’s a lunchtime summary.

Rebekah Brooks, the former News International Executive, and her husband Charlie are among six people who have been told that they are being charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to the phone hacking investigation. The news is embarrassing to David Cameron, who was at Eton with Charlie Brooks and who has enjoyed a close friendship with the couple. (Whether he still counts them as close friends is not entirely clear.)

Ed Miliband has announced that Labour is setting up a website to encourage NHS staff and patients to log information about how coalition policies are affecting the health service. In a speech to the Royal College of Nursing, he said:

I can’t promise that we will always agree about everything. But what I will never do is what this government did: insult you by dismissing you as just a “vested interest”. You were not a vested interest. You were the defenders of the National Health Service …

Please go to and talk to us so we can all hold this Government to account. My party wants to work with NHS staff and patients everywhere to hold the Government to account for what’s going on.

• The Immigration Service Union has told MPs that staff cuts were to blame for the delays at passport control at Heathrow. The union made the claim in evidence to the committee after Damian Green, the immigration minister, told MPs that an extra 70 staff were being hired to help man border controls at the airport after the Olympics. Green also confirmed that “risk-based” passport controls could be introduced. (See 12.28pm.)

• Theresa May, the home secretary, has announced that various items of equalities legislation will be reformed or scrapped to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses. Here’s an extract from the Home Office news release.

Businesses and the wider public will be able to have their say on the reforms in a series of consultations. These will look at proposals to streamline the employment tribunal process and to scrap the Third Party Harassment law, which makes bosses liable if a member of staff is harassed by a customer.

The government will also clarify disability law for employers and remove the Socio-Economic Duty – which would have forced public bodies to consider class-based inequality when developing policy.

And they will review the Public Sector Equality Duty to establish whether this is the best way to ensure public bodies consider the impact of their decisions on different groups.

• Lord Wakeham, the former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, has told the Leveson inquiry that legislation introducing statutory regulation of newspapers would not get through parliament.
“If there’s any legislation that flows from the circumstances we are in, I have considerable reservations about how it would get on in parliament,” he said. He argued that self-regulation worked best.

Ed Balls has said that figures showing that the eurozone economy avoided recession in the first quarter of 2012, while the UK didn’t, has strengthened the need for the government to adopt a growth strategy.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the drive to promote greener, more efficient motoring will blow a £13bn hole in the public finances as revenue from fuel and road taxes dries up.

12.28pm: As far as I could tell, Damian Green seemed to do quite well. He sounded well-briefed and reasonable. But what do I know? The Press Association have decided to write it up as a “minister says something daft” story because they’ve put this headline on their first take from Green’s evidence session.


And here’s the start of their story.

Long waits for passengers at the UK’s airports will depend on the wind, the Immigration Minister said today.
Damian Green said bringing in risk-based security checks would not be a panacea to reducing queues.
Passengers travelling to London’s Heathrow Airport from New York may well have longer waits to clear security if their flight arrives 10 minutes after one from Lagos, Nigeria, than if it arrives 10 minutes earlier.
“That will depend on the wind, over which, with the best will in the world, airlines and the Border Force don’t have the control,” he said.

Here are some of the other key points from the hearing.

• Green confirmed that the government could bring back “risk-based” passport controls. This system, which involves using intelligence to focus passport checks on passengers most likely to be trying to enter the UK illegally, was piloted when Brodie Clark was in charge of the Border Force. But Green said that the data showing that it worked was tainted because checks were also relaxed to cut queuing. In other words, there were “queue-based controls” he said. He also said “risk-based” checks were not a panacea.

The other point I would make is that they [risk-based checks would not be a panacea for queues. It’s not at all obvious that just having risk-based controls reduces queues. They may well involve doing more thorough checks on some of those non-EU passengers.

• He said he did not accept the findings of a report from the Heathrow independent monitoring board saying the UK Border Agency was detaining children at Heathrow in “degrading” conditions.

I’ve visited some of these holding facilities at Heathrow, and they’re not ideal. I thought the report used language that I would not have used. It talked about “degrading”. I think that’s too strong, frankly. But they are not ideal.

• He urged airlines to provide better information about passenger arrivals. As the Press Association reports, he said that on Friday the Border Force was told to expect some 2,500 passengers between 6am and 9am yesterday at Heathrow. This rose to 5,000 at six hours’ notice, but in reality some 7,500 passengers turned up, Green said.

The general point is that the earlier and the better the information the Border Force can have from the airlines, the more likely it is the right numbers of people will be at the right desks at the right time.

But Green rejected the idea of fining airlines for supplying information late. He said he wanted airlines to work in partnership with immigration officials.

• He said a new central control room opening at Heathrow later this month would help deal with delays because it would make it easier for officials to identify where queues were buiding up. He said that 16 mobile teams, with 10 people in each team, would be on hand to deal with the queues.

• He said that 70 new staff were being hired to work at Heathrow after the Olympics. Extra staff are already being recruited to work at the airport during the Olympics, and the 70 new people will ensure that problems don’t arise when those extra staff leave after August.

• He said MPs would get the chance to vote on the government’s new guidelines telling the courts how to interpret the right to family life when judging whether to deport people. Theresa May, the home secretary, is going to publish the guidance because she thinks it is too easy for illegal immigrants are using their right to a family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights to avoid deportation. Green said details of this guidance would be published soon. He would not discuss exactly how it would be given legal force, but he said there would be a “parliamentary vehicle” so that the courts would know it reflected the will of parliament.

• He said Home Office figures being published soon would show that drug seizures were still strong.

12.11pm: The hearing is over. Keith Vaz thanks Damian Green for attending.

I’ll post a summary in a moment.

12.03pm: Labour’s David Winnick goes next.

Green says he is not trying to stop people coming to the UK to visit relatives.

Mark Reckless, a Conservative, goes next.

Q: Some 82% of people who apply for these visas are accepted. But some people must be getting in wrongly, he says.

Greens says that happens with any visa system.

Other countries run their visitor visa systems without a right of appeal. And other parts of the UK visitor visa system do not allow an appeal, he says.

Vaz goes next.

Q: Are you happy about the payment of bonuses worth £3.5m to Border Force staff?

Green says this money is not just going to those at the top. It is going to middle-ranking officials, who are typically getting a few hundred pounds. No one is getting more than £10,000.

Q: But why are any bonuses being paid to an organisation that has had such a poor record?

Green says within the organisation some people have been doing a good job. They deserve a bonus.

Q: And are you happy about people in the public sector being paid a bonus just to do their job?

Green says that, as for whether bonuses in the public sector are ever justified, “that’s above my pay grade”.

11.58am: Keith Vaz takes over.

Q: The government is taking away the right of appeal for people refused a family vistor. But the government loses many of these, and so it looks as if you are just taking away the right of appeal just to stop the government loses. Why are you abolishing a system that works?

Green says that when the right to appeal was introduced in 2000, 20,000 appeals a year were expected. There are now 50,000 appeals a year. In many cases, people introduce new information at the appeal stage. It would be better for people just to apply again.

He says the present system is a “goldmine for immigration lawyers”. This is not something that was in the Magna Carta. It is a comparatively new right.

Vaz declares an interest. His wife is an immigration lawyer, he says.

Q: Are you happy to meet people to discuss this?

Green says he would be happy to have a meeting about this.

11.54am: Labour’s Steve McCabe goes next.

Q: There have been reports about children being detained in degrading conditons at Heathrow. Are they true?

Green says he has read the Heathrow independent monitoring board report that generated the news story. He would accept that the facilities for children are not ideal. But he would challenge the use of the word “degrading”.

Children are sometimes kept in unsuitable rooms for a number of hours. But if they arrive in the middle of the night, you cannot expect social services to pick them up.

11.49am: Michael Ellis, a Conservative, goes next.

Q: You are spending money on new uniforms for Border Force officials. Is this a good idea?

Green says uniforms wear out. They need to be replaced. Only £1.1m is being spent on new uniforms this year. That is not a huge sum, he suggests.

Labour’s Alun Michael goes next.

Green says the government wil soon publish its paper about the interpretation of article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The government wants to give better balance to the courts about how they should interpret the article 8 right to a family life.

Q: Will there be primary legislation?

There will be a parliamentary vehicle, Green says. That is all he can say about that now.

Parliament will get a say, so it will be parliament speaking, not just government speaking.

11.44am: Keith Vaz is asking questions again.

Q: Oyster cards can be swiped very quickly. Why can’t passports be swiped that quickly?

Green says there is more information on a passport than on an Oyster card. But the system could be quicker. Even saving a few seconds per passenger at an e-gate would help.

Q: Are you conscious of the reputational damage Britain has suffered because of the delays at Heathrow? There are no British airports with a five-star or a four-star rating on the five-star airports website.

Green says that of course this is a worry for the government. A white paper on airport capacity in the south east of England will be published soon.

As far as the Border Force can contribute to this, by getting “the right people in the right place at the right time”, it is addressing the problem.

11.42am: Labour’s Bridget Phillipson goes next.

Q: Are drug seizure figures being affected by the need to deploy more staff at Heathrow?

Green says he will be publishing drug seizure figures soon. He has got into trouble before with the national statistician for releasing them in advance, so he won’t reveal them now. But he is confident that the level of seizures is high.

11.39am: Labour’s Steve McCabe is asking the questions now.

Q: Will there be a reduction in staff at other places, like Eurostar, because of the need to have people manning Heathrow during the Olympics?

Green says the extra staff being taken on to work at Heathrow during the Olympics are not just coming from the Border Force. They are coming from other places too.

Q: So there won’t be problems at Eurostar or anywhere else?

Green says other places of entry will still be properly manned during the Olympics.

11.32am: Labour’s David Winnick goes next.

Q: What do you say to those calling for a return to risk-based border controls?

Green says that, in principle, he is not against risk-based controls. Ministers thought they were trialling this last summer. But they were also doing “queue-based controls”. That means the data about the success of the pilot is “tainted”.

Risk-based checks might involve doing more thorough checks on non-EU passengers.

If a plane from the US arrives after a plane from Nigeria, it may take longer for the Americans to get through passport control, he says.

Q: Brodie Clark says every non-European arriving at Heathrow will have already been checked against a watch list.

Green says that depends whether they are arriving from the EU or from elsewhere.

Q: Given what happened to Brodie Clark, do you think immigration officers are now asking passengers more questions than necessary to avoid the fate that happened to him?

No, says Green. He does not think this has made any difference. Immigration officers have always been very keen to protect the borders.

Q: Have you had meetings with the unions?

Green says he recently had a “useful” meeting with union officials at Heathrow.

Q: Will you meet with the unions to discuss their grievances?

Green says he will meet with anyone. But the recent strike was about pensions. Pension policy is not a matter for him, he says.

Q: But what about a meeting about Heathrow?

Green says he speaks to staff a lot.

11.29am: Michael Ellis, a Conservative, goes next.

Q: Can you get airlines to space their flights out?

That’s tricky, says Green, because the airlines all want to arrive at the same time – or just five minutes before their competitors. This is a commercial matter for them.

Q: Could you apply sanctions to airlines that provide information about passenger numbers too late?

Green says there is more that can be done. But he is reluctant to use sanctions because this is “a team game”. It is important for all partners to work together.

11.25am: James Clappison, a Conservative, is asking questions now.

Q: Will the border staff get information in a timely way in time for the Olympics?

Green says the Home Office is in intensive talks about this with the airlines. “The short answer is yes,” he says. The new hub at Heathrow should be operating soon.

Julian Huppert, a Lib Dem, goes next.

Q: I’m worried about Stansted having a structural problem because it does not use its full capacity.

Green says Stansted does use its full capacity, but only at certain times, like on a Friday night.

Q: If border officials are doing unnecessary checks, they are wasting time, aren’t they?

Yes, says Green.

Q: John Vince, the independent inspector, has found that two thirds of checks are unnecessary. What are you doing about this?

Green says that was under the old regime. The Border Force is now under new managment.

11.20am: Vaz is still asking the questions.

Q: At Stansted the Border Force did know 6,000 people were coming. But the e-gates still were not working. Are you saying more predictability woud help?

Green says more predictability would help.

But Stansted clearly has “structural problems”, he says.

At Heathrow a central control room is being built, where all the information will come in. Officials will be able to see where queues are building up.

Green says he has 16 teams of 10 people each at Heathrow to help deal with the queues.

After the Olympics 70 extra people will be taken on, he says. There have been worries that there will be problems post-Olympics when the staff recruited for the Olympics take leave. These 70 extra staff will help to address that problem. They were going to be recruited to work at Terminal 2 when it re-opens in 2014. But they are being hired early to deal with the post-Olympics problem, he says.

11.13am: Keith Vaz, the chairman, starts the questioning.

Q: In an interview in the Times on Saturday you said British firms were addicted to immigration. Do you think the British are addicted to queues?

No, says Damian Green. The delays at Heathrow and Stansted have not been acceptable.

Q: So why has it taken so long to address the problem?

Green says that over recent years border officials got used to dealing with queues by relaxing checks. That was not acceptable. The Home Office has now moved into “a new era”. The first priority has to be border security.

Q: You have talked about average waiting times. But the key point is peak waiting times. At Stansted on Sunday people were queuing all the way back to the aircraft. The e-gates were not working.

Green says Stansted is different to Heathrow. It’s a holiday airport. Planes arrive in a bunch from 10pm on a Sunday night until midnight, or 1am.

Green says he was at Heathrow on Monday morning. That is a peak time too. On Friday the Border Force was told that 2,500 people would be arriving at peak time on Monday. But on the Monday 7,500 people actually arrived. Some tickets are sold at the last minute. The Border Force was given just six hours’ notice of this.

11.13am: Damian Green is starting his evidence now.

11.00am: Damian Green, the immigration minister, is about to give evidence to the Commons home affairs committee about the delays at Heathrow.

You can watch the hearing here.

10.53am: You can read all today’s Guardian politics stories here. And all the politics stories filed yesterday, including some in today’s paper, are here.

As for the rest of the papers, here are some stories and articles that are particularly interesting.

• Jim Pickard and George Parker in the Financial Times (subscription) says Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, is expected to be demoted in Ed Miliband’s forthcoming reshuffle.

More importantly, Mr Miliband is expected to demote Liam Byrne, currently work and pensions spokesman and head of Labour’s policy review. “As good as Liam is, those are two big jobs for one person,” said one senior party figure.

The Blairite Mr Byrne fell out with Mr Miliband over the issue of benefits reform, in particular when he made a major speech without alerting the leader’s office earlier in the spring. Afterwards he announced he wanted to stand for Birmingham mayor, a plan that imploded when the city voted against having one a fortnight ago.

Allies of Mr Miliband say that he no longer feels the need to mollify figures in the party when he disagrees with them. They use the analogy of how in the early days his attempts to pacify MPs were like carrying a “Ming vase” on the lurching deck of a boat – but now he feels emboldened.

Labour MPs have criticised the policy review under Mr Byrne for its bureaucratic process and lack of eye-catching ideas. The party is holding a “national policy forum” next month and is hoping to be able to publicise some new policies by the autumn conference.

• Christopher Hope in the Daily Telegraph says the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales has said the government’s plan to remove child benefit from high earners could be a disaster.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales has told the Treasury that the controversial plan to deny the benefit to families with a high earner “is seriously flawed in principle and in practice”.

In a confidential report seen by The Daily Telegraph, it urged ministers to rethink the plans when the Finance Bill is voted on by MPs later this month. The institute, which represents 116,000 chartered accountants, claimed that unless the Government found a more workable alternative, the tax plan could be an “operational and reputational disaster”.

The popular benefit is worth £20.30 a week for the first child and £13.40 a week for every sibling. It is taken up by 97 per cent of eligible parents. But from January, any family with a parent earning more than £50,000 a year will lose a proportion of their entitlement. Any family with a single earner on more than £60,000 a year will not receive it at all.

The institute claimed that the plans were doomed because it involved combining the benefits system, which is based on households, and the tax system, which is based on individuals. This meant “using the tax system to claw back from one individual a benefit paid to another”, it said. An additional 500,000 people would have to fill out self-assessment tax returns, the institute warned. HM Revenue & Customs would have to claw back wrongly paid child benefit through tax codes, but this could take up to three years, it added. If a couple separated in the interim it could be “impossible” to get the money back.

• Rowena Mason in the Daily Telegraph says the public accounts committee has found that up to £1bn is being spent finding jobs for unemployed people who may have found work without state help.

In a report, the Public Accounts Committee will raise concerns about the Coalition’s Work Programme, which pays private companies to find jobs for unemployed people.

One of the major worries is that companies are getting paid at least £400 just to assess each candidate, when many would be in the same situation “without the programme”.

Some of those unemployed people would already have found jobs of their own accord, while others will remain on benefits that continue to be funded by the taxpayer.

The report will say payments for people who did not need the programme amount to nearly £1bn and could “potentially” be even higher – the equivalent of £40 for every household in Britain.

The full report is now on the public accounts committee website.

• Robert Winnett in the Daily Telegraph says a big City firm is claiming that the austerity programme is a “myth”.

Tullett Prebon, a bond trader, said that “public expenditures have hardly been reduced at all” and that claims of a “big cut in public spending is bare-faced deception”.

Figures highlighted by the firm show that public spending actually rose during 2010-11 and fell by just 1.5 percent last year.

Government spending is more than £22 billion higher than it was in 2008 when the financial crisis erupted.

• Rachel Sylvester in the Times (paywall) says the government contains too many ministers who are clever but not sensible.

George Osborne is certainly clever — there are few more intelligent or engaging people with whom to discuss politics — but is he sensible? A former special adviser, he likes to joke that the “guild” of professional politicians must be protected and he prides himself on being a master craftsman of the trade. Ever since he scored a political victory by unveiling a plan to cut inheritance tax in his 2007 party conference speech, he has become obsessed by wrong-footing his opponents with tactical announcements. Like Roald Dahl’s Enormous Crocodile he is sometimes so proud of his “secret plans and clever tricks” that he fails to spot the elephant traps.

His latest wheeze was the cut in the 50p top rate of tax. It may have been economically justifiable and cheering to the Tory Right, but it failed to understand the public mood in these difficult times. Not very astute. This week the Chancellor is blaming business for not doing enough to get the country out of recession, sending out ministers, in a bizarre buck- passing exercise, to tell companies to stop whingeing . That’s just too clever by half. One Tory minister says: “There’s a danger George becomes Gordon. He likes playing the chess game several moves ahead and that can turn into tactical manoeuvring.”

10.21am: The Department for Education has said that schools will be banned from using biometric information about their pupils without their parents’ consent. The full details are in this DfE news release. And here’s a statement from Nick Gibb (pictured), the schools minister.

Biometrics in schools is a sensitive issue. We want schools to be in no doubt of their responsibilities when it comes to young people’s personal data.

I have heard from many angry parents after they have learned that their children’s personal data was being used by schools without their knowledge. The new legislation gives the power back to parents, as it requires parental consent before the information can be collected.

In the age of the internet, identity and the integrity of biometric data are of increasing importance. Young people need to understand from an early age the sensitivity of such personal data. The provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the accompanying advice to schools will help to reinforce that message.

10.10am: The CPS are charging Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charlie and four others with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The full CPS news release is about the prosecution is here.

There are more details about the story on our Leveson inquiry live blog.

9.24am: Today’s YouGov polling is interesting. Here are the headline figures.

Labour: 45% (up 2 points since YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 31% (no change)
Ukip: 8% (no change)
Lib Dems: 7% (down 3)

Labour lead: 14 points

Government approval: -42

This 14-point lead is the largest Labour have had in a YouGov poll since the general election. But the most important figure is probably one in the table showing what the voters think of the parties on particular issues (pdf). Labour are ahead of the Conservatives (by 27 points to 26 points) on the question of which party would be best at handling the economy in general. This is often considered the most important indicator and, as the YouGov tracker (pdf) shows, this is the first time Labour have had a lead on this since the 2010 election. Looking at the other economic indicators, Labour are also ahead on taxation by 5 points and on unemployment by 15 points.

9.00am: It’s nice to be able to start the morning with something that might cheer my readers. Regular readers will know that parrotkeeper and PorFavor have been very keen to find out what has happened to Michael Gove’s promise to deliver a King James Bible to every school. Well, at last I’m able to bring them some news. Or at least my colleague Patrick Wintour can. He’s posted this on Twitter.

If I get any more on this exciting development, I will, of course, let you know.

As for the Westminster agenda, here’s what’s on the list.

9.30am: The Office for National Statistics publishes life expectancy figures.

9.45am: Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, delivers a speech on the child exploitation action plan.

10am: The Crown Prosecution Services announces whether Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive, and six others will be charged with perverting the course of justice.

10am: Sky presenter Adam Boulton and Lord Wakeham, the former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, give evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

11am: Damian Green, the immigration minister, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee about immigration controls at Heathrow. Other witnesses include Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, BAA, the Immigration Services Union and the Public and Commercial Services Union. I’ll be covering Green’s evidence in detail.

11am: Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, announces plans to reduce equalities-related regulations in response to the government’s Red Tape Challenge.

11.15am: Charles Hendry, the energy minister, gives evidence to the Commons energy committee about nuclear power.

11.45am: Ed Miliband speaks at the Royal College of Nursing annual conference.

2.30pm: Peter Luff, the defence minister, gives evidence to the Commons defence committee about defence procurement.

Of course the real story is on the continent, where the Eurozone crisis continues and George Osborne, the chancellor, is attending a meeting of EU finance minister. My colleague Graeme Wearden has all the latest on his Eurozone debt crisis live blog.

As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary at around 1pm and another in the afternoon.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

And if you’re a hardcore fan, you can follow @gdnpoliticslive. It’s an automated feed that tweets the start of every new post that I put on the blog. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Enjoyed this post? Share it!