British Queen celebrates

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"Heads must come out of the sand" about the scale of immigration to Britain, a Conservative MP has said.

Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid Sussex, warned MPs the "stakes are indeed very high" with very difficult decisions to take against "unforgiving" timescales.

The issue of immigration was, he said, of "fundamental importance to the future of the country".

He added that a Commons debate had been chosen by the Backbench Business Committee in response to a petition launched by MigrationWatch on the Government's website last autumn, which received more than 100,000 signatures within a week.

He said: "This is a clear indicator of the very great public concern about the scale of immigration to this country."


The bill for MPs' expenses went up by a quarter to nearly £90 million last year, it has been disclosed.

Politicians spent the money on second homes, staff, travel and office costs - including dozens of iPads.

The figure is now only slightly lower than in the run-up to the scandal that rocked Westminster in 2009.

But the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) insisted that the rate of claims had remained "stable".

Although the total outlay for 2010-11 had been £71 million, that was misleading because of the impact of the general election.

Chairman Sir Ian Kennedy said "like for like" the rate of claims had been about the same last year, and 99% were within the rules.

Retailers failed to bask in the glow of Team GB's Olympic success last month as the sector suffered its worst sales this year, figures have shown.

Retail sales values were down by 0.4% on a like-for-like basis last month, said the British Retail Consortium (BRC). This was the lowest since November last year (excluding April, which was heavily distorted by Easter timings).

The sporting event gave a mild boost to food sales in the form of party food and drink but the net effect of the Games was minimal as lower footfall in London hit sales, it said.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, which represents some 60% of retailers, said: "It's clear people were absorbed by the magnificent Olympics and had little interest in shopping, especially for major items."

The research will fuel fears over Britain's economic recovery as the country struggles to emerge from the longest double-dip recession since the 1950s. The most notable impact from the Olympics was felt online, which saw growth of 4.8% in August, the lowest since the BRC started collecting data on internet sales in October 2008.

Warmer weather in the middle of August helped boost sales of food, especially party snacks such as crisps, nuts and barbecue foods. Clothing had an "unusual and rather disappointing" month, the BRC said, as womenswear retailers failed to attract customers to autumn/winter ranges.


The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have arrived for their annual Highland Games outing.

The Braemar Gathering is held each year just a short distance from Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, where the royals spend their holidays.

Prince Philip has been at the Balmoral estate since being discharged from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on August 20 where he spent five nights receiving treatment for a recurrence of a bladder infection.

He accompanied the Queen, who is patron of the Games, to watch a series of traditional events, including the tossing of the caber and the tug of war.

The Games, held at the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, take place on the first Saturday of every September and regularly attracts visitors from around the world to the village.

Last weekend, the Duke made his first public appearance since leaving hospital when he attended a church service at Crathie Kirk.


The Government has been rebuked by the chairman of the influential Commons Treasury Select Committee over the leaking of information ahead of the Budget.

The Treasury insisted none of its ministers or officials were responsible for the publication of policy details ahead of George Osborne's speech in March, which included the controversial decision to cut the top rate of income tax to 45p.

The nature of coalition government and the involvement of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) meant more people knew the details of the Budget in advance, the Treasury said. But Andrew Tyrie, Tory chairman of the cross-party committee, said the coalition was "no excuse" for selective leaking of policies.

In its report on the Budget, published in April, the committee recommended that the Government should review its practices for "preserving Budget confidentiality".

The Government's response to the report, which has just been released, said: "No Treasury officials, Treasury Ministers or Treasury special advisers briefed the media before Budget day about any of the most important policy announcements: which in this case means policy information regarding tax rates or tax allowances.

"The considerable media speculation in the week before the Budget can be explained by two factors. First, the need to agree major Budget measures over a week in advance in order to allow the OBR to certify policy costings. Second, the fact that the Budget policy package needs to be agreed by ministers from both political parties forming the coalition.

"These factors mean that, compared to previous governments, there are many more people who know the content of the Budget some time in advance. Additionally, the publication of the coalition's Programme for Government also means that priorities are spelt out more clearly and therefore media speculation can always be better informed.

"It is difficult to change Budget confidentiality practices without altering these two fundamental features of the coalition Government's policy framework."


This summer has been the wettest in England and Wales for 100 years, according to new figures.

Data released by MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, showed that 14.25in (362mm) of rain has fallen in June, July and August so far, making it the wettest summer since 1912.

MeteoGroup forecaster Nick Prebble said this summer is set to be the fourth wettest since records began in 1727.

June 2012 was the wettest since 1860, had the least sunshine since 1909 and was the coldest since 1991.

Mr Prebble said: "June was wet, dull and cold. It was pretty relentless low pressure, very unsettled weather and a thoroughly miserable month.


Prince Harry is to make his first public appearance since being photographed naked in a hotel suite and cheer on Paralympic athletes next week.

The prince will watch swimmers in the aquatic centre on Monday and later that day chat to sportsmen and women in the official meeting place for the country's competitors - ParalympicsGB House.

Headlines were generated around the world when pictures of Harry frolicking in the nude with an unnamed naked woman during a Las Vegas holiday emerged on a celebrity gossip website last Wednesday.

Only the Sun defied a request to UK newspapers, made by St James's Palace via the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), to respect the prince's privacy and not publish the pictures.

The tabloid's front-page image of Harry holding his genitals, and another inside of him with his bottom exposed, generated 3,600 complaints from the public to the press watchdog.

David Dinsmore, the Sun's managing editor, said the paper had "thought long and hard" about whether to use the pictures on Friday and that it was an issue of freedom of the press rather than it moralising about Harry's actions.

He told the BBC's Radio 5 Live the Sun did generally "fear" the PCC, but a decision had been made to publish the photos because of the public interest.

Harry, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is an official ambassador of ParlympicsGB.

The firm behind the Olympics security fiasco has admitted that its loss on the bungled contract will be in the region of £50 million.

G4S is conducting an internal review after its failure to provide all of the 10,400 contracted guards for London 2012 forced the Government to step in with military personnel.

The group said it had delivered 83% of contracted shifts and that it was confident the Paralympic Games - starting on Wednesday - would be fully staffed with a security workforce.

Its half-year results revealed a significant drop in pre-tax profits to £61 million from £151 million a year earlier, although profits were held flat on an underlying basis after sales increased 5.8% to £3.9 billion.

There had been fears that the Olympics contract issues would hurt the group's prospects for future Government work.

Chief executive Nick Buckles confirmed that the resources G4S had put into sorting out the debacle meant it withdrew from bidding for a Department for Work and Pensions contract worth £20 million a year.

But he said no contracts had been lost as a result of the Olympics deal woes and insisted the group would continue to play a "major role" in the public sector, with an overall £3.8 billion-a-year contract pipeline.

He said: "We were deeply disappointed that we had significant issues with the London 2012 Olympics contract and are very grateful to the military and the police for their support in helping us to deliver a safe and secure Games. Clearly it is a big setback and we need to rebuild the brand over the coming months and years."

Prime Minister David Cameron must intervene in the row over the new West Coast Mainline contract to "get some sense" into the Department for Transport over the controversial deal, Sir Richard Branson has urged.

The Virgin boss has offered to effectively run the route for free to allow the decision awarding the 13-year franchise to FirstGroup to be re-examined.

It comes as Labour urged Transport Secretary Justine Greening not to sign off the contract until MPs have been able to scrutinise it in detail.

More than 100,000 members of the public have also signed an online petition against the decision, in a campaign supported by double Olympic champion Mo Farah, Apprentice star Lord Sugar and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Sir Richard, who has claimed that FirstGroup's bid will lead to "almost certain bankruptcy", said Virgin Trains and Stagecoach would operate the joint venture on a not-for-profit basis or donate profits to charity if the franchise needed to be extended beyond December for a few months to allow Parliament to investigate the decision.

"I think that the person that can really intervene to try to get some sense into the Department for Transport is the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister is currently on holiday, the Chancellor is on holiday and we would like things delayed by a month or so," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme."If, as a result of that, it means that the handover is delayed we would obviously be very happy to run it on a not-for-profit basis."

Labour said MPs had been denied the chance to raise concerns about the deal because it was announced during the Commons summer recess.

One in 10 health appointments were missed last year, costing the NHS millions of pounds and delaying treatment for other patients, figures have suggested.

Patients missed 5.5 million hospital appointments last year, said the Department of Health.

Although the figure is 250,000 less than the previous year, ministers are calling for hospitals to use more innovative solutions to tackle the number of people who miss appointments.

Newham University Hospital has started a pilot where diabetes patients who do not need a physical examination are seen via Skype.

A number of hospitals including King's College, London, and Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust already use a text message system to remind patients of their appointments.

Health Minister Simon Burns said: "It is important that people realise that not turning up for their agreed appointments, means other patients' care might be delayed and doctors' and nurses' time could be wasted, costing taxpayers money.

"Today we are highlighting the number of missed appointments so people can see the impact this is having on their NHS.