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

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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition