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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gay Marriage Draft Legislation to Offer Concessions for Opposing Religious Groups

U.K. Culture Maria Miller began her campaign to introduce same-sex marriages in the country by telling Parliament that religious groups will not be obliged to conduct ceremonies against their wishes, a reassurance sought by her fellow Conservative MPs. She also said she would protect these groups with a “quadruple legal lock”. The first part will be a declaration on the cover of the legislation that no church will be forced to marry same-sex couples, the second will be an amendment to the Equality Act to stop discrimination lawsuits against churches, the third a guarantee that European law will not be allowed to interfere internally and finally a provision that will ban the Church of England and its counterpart in Wales from offering same-sex marriages altogether. Miller faced intense questioning from MPs after her statement, including one Tory MP who asked her if she also proposed to introduce other forms of marriage such as polygamy.

Nelson Mandela Suffering from Lung Infection

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who has been hospitalised since Saturday, is suffering from a recurrence of an unspecified lung infection. “Doctors have concluded the tests and these have revealed the infection, for which Madiba is receiving appropriate treatment”, said a statement by the office of South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday. This was the first clarification of the 94-year-old’s condition since he was flown on to Pretoria for what were initially described as “routine medical tests”. Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, had a more sombre reaction to his hospitalisation. “I mean, this spirit and this sparkle, you know that somehow it’s fading. To see him ageing, it’s something which also pains you. You understand and you know it has to happen”, she told South Africa’s eNews Channel. The former president was also admitted to hospital in early 2011 with an acute respiratory infection, although government sources first said Mandela had been taken in for “check-ups”.

Government Will Redraft Controversial Communications Bill

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has accepted criticism from MPs and peers of the draft Communications Data Bill and will rewrite it. The government sought to make internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile telephony operators log more data about customers, such as information about who they call, text, tweet and message, what games the play, what they post on social networks and who they send e-mails to. Every scrap of data would be kept for 12 months. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that he would block the draft bill unless there was a “rethink” of its contents. “But that must be done in a proportionate way that gets the balance between security and liberty right”, he said. Home Secretary Theresa May insisted such monitoring was essential to counter peadophile rings, extremists and scammers. A report from the joint committee on the bill accepted that a new law was needed to help combat crime online and tackle emerging threats, but that the draft would allow the government to ask for “potentially limitless categories of data” if it stood with its current wording.

HSBC Pays Record Fine to Settle Money-Laundering Allegations

HSBC will pay a record US$1.9 billion fine to settle allegations that it laundered money for Mexican drug traffickers, terrorists and governments under sanctions such as Iran, a move that will avoid a possible criminal prosecution that could have stopped the bank being allowed to operate in the U.S. “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again”, said Stuart Gulliver, the bank’s chief executive. The penalty includes a five-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice which entails an independent monitor that will evaluate if the bank has indeed reformed its transaction controls. HSBC says it has spent US$290 million improving its monitoring systems. The bank’s executives will forego their bonuses during this period and bonuses paid to former and current executives will be taken back from executives who were involved in the case.

Census Reveals a More Diverse United Kingdom

Results of the 2011 census, released today by the Office for National Statistics, revealed an increased ethnic diversity in England and Wales in comparison to the last census carried out in 2001. The proportion of respondents identifying themselves as “white British” dropped from 87.5 percent to 80.5 percent of the population, with the same category now a minority in London, with 44.9 percent. This is the first U.K. region where “white British” people have become a minority. The census data also revealed that there are four million fewer Christians in the country, with those who professed to have “no religion” now comprising the second most common category, with 25.1 percent. The number of foreign-born residents of England and Wales also increased to 13 percent of the population, up from 9 percent in 2001. Ireland supplied the most foreign-born residents in that year, but India now tops the table, with Poland following in second place.

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