Vince Cable put himself on a collision course with his new ministerial colleague yesterday as he firmly ruled out Tory calls to make it easier for employers to sack staff and defended Liberal Democrat plans for a “wealth tax”.
He sought to assert his authority as Business Secretary over his Tory ministers after David Cameron appointed his close ally Michael Fallon to the department in last week’s reshuffle – with an instruction to act as a champion for industry.
Mr Cable set himself in opposition to Mr Fallon over the Tories’ support for “no-fault dismissal”, under which small companies would be allowed to sack staff without explanation. He made clear he was in charge of employment policy and added: “There is job insecurity: we don’t want to add to it.”
In a newspaper interview yesterday, Mr Fallon criticised the Liberal Democrats’ proposal for extra tax on the wealthy. But the Business Secretary told The Andrew Marr Show there was still massive inequality in Britain and said: “Wealthy people could contribute more.”
Nerve-agent pesticides should not be banned in Britain despite four separate scientific studies strongly linking them to sharp declines in bees around the world, Government scientists have advised.
An internal review of recent research on neonicotinoids – pesticides that act on insects’ central nervous systems and are increasingly blamed for problems with bee colonies – has concluded that no change is needed in British regulation.
The British position contrasts sharply with that of France, which in June banned one of the pesticides, thiamethoxam, made by the Swiss chemicals giant Syngenta. French scientists said it was impairing the abilities of honey-bees to find their way back to their nests. The Green MP Caroline Lucas described the British attitude as one of “astonishing complacency”.
Concern is growing around the world that the chemicals may affect the ability of bees to pollinate crops, something that would have catastrophic consequences for agriculture. Bee pollination has been valued at £200m per year in Britain and £128bn worldwide.
The French research was published in March in the journal Science at the same time as another study by British researchers from the University of Stirling, implicating neonicotinoids in the decline of bumblebees. The British team showed that production of queens, essential for bumblebee colonies to continue, declined by 85 per cent after they were exposed to “field-realistic levels” of another neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, made by the German company Bayer.
In January, the US government’s chief bee researcher published a study showing that imidacloprid makes honeybees far more susceptible to disease, even at doses so low as to be barely detectable. And in April, a team from Harvard claimed to show that imidacloprid was the culprit in colony collapse disorder, in which bees abandon their hives en masse.
All four of these studies have been the subject of a British Government review ordered by Sir Robert Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – which has concluded that no action needs to be taken against the chemicals concerned.
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