Any allergens in there? Photo: Flickr/Alpha
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Five new laws that may have escaped your notice in 2014

Which pieces of new legislation did you miss last year?

Every year thousands of new laws are introduced. Some of these are well publicised and debated, such as the recent changes to the rules on pornography, but others slip under the radar. Many are quite important though, and affect all kinds of people.

Here are just five of the laws introduced in 2014 that you may have missed. You might find they affect you after all.

Tighter leash

On May 13, changes to the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act came into force, in response to a number of high profile cases of dogs attacking children.

It’s now a criminal offence for the person in charge of a dog or its owner to allow it to be dangerously out of control in a public place. Section three has also been amended to make incidents that occur on private property a criminal offence too. That includes both the dog owner’s home and garden and someone else’s home.

Still to come are bigger fines for owners who fail to prevent dog attacks and compulsory micro-chipping from 2016.

Rip your CDs

It is now finally legal to rip CDs and to transfer music from your CDs to your iPod. What you’ve been doing for the past decade illegally, you can now do legally (if you still have any CDs, that is).

The changes made to the 1988 Copyright, Design and Patents Act, which came into force on June 1, are a classic case of the law being rather slow to catch up with reality.

Section 28B has been added to the act, which allows individuals to make personal copies of work onto CDs or digital files if they were lawfully acquired for their private use in the first place. These amendments to the law do not apply to computer programs and they do not make it lawful to copy CDs and give them to friends or family.

What’s in that bap?

New allergen information rules were introduced in December as a result of EU regulations. Anywhere that sells unpackaged food, such as sandwich bars, bakeries and takeaways, must disclose information on whether that food contains any of 14 listed allergens. This includes gluten, eggs, fish, nuts and milk.

The information can be provided to customers by staff orally or in writing.

This has clear implications for businesses. They now need to train all staff to ensure that they can provide the required information to customers. The rules are also an important step forward in allowing those who suffer from food allergies to buy unpackaged food without fear of suffering a potentially fatal reaction.

Off the record

Reforms to the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act came into force in March. These loosened requirements on people having to disclose minor offences to potential employers.

Under the new system, an offender sentenced to between 30 months and four years in prison would see their conviction spent after the length of their sentence plus seven years. So after those seven years they would not have to reveal their conviction when applying for a job. Before the reforms, the same offender’s convictions would never have been spent so this is a positive move for people who don’t offend again and try to contribute to society by finding work.

Talk it out

Since May, anyone wishing to make a claim in an employment tribunal has to first make an early conciliation notification the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

The aim of early conciliation is to settle employment disputes quickly and cost-effectively without parties needing to attend employment tribunal hearings. If conciliation fails then claimants may proceed to lodge a tribunal claim.

Between April and September, more than 37,000 cases went through the process. While the system is evidently being used, there is some concern that the service has not been given enough money to handle the ever-increasing workload.

So 2014 may have seen many people get hot and bothered about the law, from pornography to government snooping, some people have come out better. Coelliacs can order a sandwich in safety and reformed offenders won’t be dogged by their past for the rest of their lives.

And you can finally get rid of that stack of CDs collecting dust on your shelf.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

By Siobhan Weare, Lecturer in Law, Lancaster University

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.