Major move on Europe reform

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SIR JOHN Major’s candid speech last night, and his personal plea to the EU to respect Britain’s concerns about freedom of movement laws, is all the more pertinent because of his bitter struggles 20 years ago when his government became paralysed by relentless infighting over closer European integration.

Like David Cameron, Sir John knows what it is like to preside over a party that is split on this totemic issue. Throughout his premiership, he had tried to balance the need for Britain “to be in Europe but not run by Europe” with the views of his fractious backbenchers who resented any threat to this country’s autonomy.

Yet he is also experienced enough to read the political runes of today and appears to accepts that the UK is close to reaching a tipping point – and could vote to leave the EU – unless significant concessions are made on policies relating to migration and welfare entitlement.

Even more significantly, Sir John chose to make these comments to members of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in Berlin in the hope that he receives a more favourable hearing than Mr Cameron, who appears to have become marginalised in recent weeks.

This remains to be seen – Mrs Merkel and Mr Cameron’s relationship is now strained and it is noteworthy that Sir John has advised the current incumbent of 10 Downing Street to “tone down the oratory and turn up the diplomacy”.

It is advice that needs to be heeded. For, like it or not, Sir John was a pragmatist and his request for controls to be placed on EU migrants entering Britain deserves to be treated with respect by both sides.

For, if its merit is acknowledged by Mrs Merkel and others, it will pave the way for a more measured debate on Britain’s future membership of the European Union rather than the current hysteria.

NHS conundrum: Can IT help deliver better care?

JEREMY HUNT is right – the National Health Service does need to use new technology more effectively as it looks to balance the demands of an ageing society with the need to make yearly savings.

However, the Health Secretary’s remedy is not a cure-all in spite of the advent of innovative schemes such as the elderly being able to obtain medical advice for common ailments via their television remote control. This is credited with reducing emergency admissions at one local hospital by 14 per cent.

Despite Mr Hunt claiming that up to £10bn a year can be saved each year from IT efficiencies as Labour leader Ed Miliband promises an unspecified number of new doctors and nurses in a bid to shore up his faltering leadership, it needs to be remembered that the Department of Health has a dismal record when it comes to the procurement of new technology. This is not a new phenomenon – the last Labour government was just as culpable when it came to squandering taxpayers’ money on a grand scale – but proper cost controls do need to be put in place by Mr Hunt.

The Minister also needs to accept that one of the biggest financial drains on the NHS is a dysfunctional out-of-hours service – a perennial failing that was again highlighted by a Parliamentary committee earlier this week. If more patients had the confidence that they could obtain an appointment with their GP, and that the family doctor could use the new technology at their disposal to prescribe better treatment from the outset, pressure on A&E units – both in terms of staffing levels and the finances of hospitals – could be eased. Over to you, Mr Hunt.

Education is key: How to beat the cyber-bullies

THE SHOCKING SCALE of the threat posed by cyber-bullies, and the challenge this poses to society, needs to be seen in this context: even though three-quarters of parents say that they now take an active interest in the online safety of their children, incidents of internet bullying are still said to have doubled in the past year.

Yes, it is encouraging that more families are engaged on this issue, but do sufficient mothers and fathers realise that it is also their duty to ensure that their children use computers and mobile devices for their intended purpose? It also goes further than this. Given that cases of bullying invariably involve children tormenting their peers, what do these figures say about today’s society and the values of those who post abusive messages or use other means to abuse the vulnerable? As such, education – both of parents and their children – is still the best deterrent, provided that it keeps pace with the technology.