Whitehall faces flood of new laws on April Fool's Day

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TOMORROW'S date may mean slipping on metaphorical banana skins for most of the British public, but in Whitehall 1 April signals a flood of new laws. Fresh legislation will bring the Jobseeker's Allowance into being, introduce gas safety regulations aimed at curbingcarbon monoxide poisoning in rented accommodation, and create an independent Office for National Statistics.

The Carers Act also comes into force, recognising full-time carers for the first time in law. Meanwhile, corporation tax is to be cut from 25 to 24 per cent.

The Prescription Fraud Squad will exist from tomorrow. This is an innovation with more than a hint of April Fool's to it, conjuring images of detectives leaping out from behind the counter at Boots to confront fraudsters. The Department of Health, however, points out that prescription fraud is estimated to cost the taxpayer pounds 330m a year. The new squad is to investigate fraud committed by patients, and any malpractice involving professional staff.

The move is timely, because from tomorrow being poorly will cost 25p extra, with the cost of prescriptions rising from pounds 5.25 to pounds 5.50. The Labour Party has attacked the increase as a tax on the sick, but the Health Minister Gerald Malone defended it, saying the new charges would bring pounds 310m into the NHS in the coming year.

Other new legislation means that entitlement to unemployment benefit (costing nearly pounds 2bn annually) will be reduced from 12 months to six, while unemployed under-25s will have their benefit cut by 20 per cent. The Act also means that the cash formerly known as Unemployment Benefit will become the distinctly optimistic-sounding Jobseeker's Allowance.

From tomorrow, the new breed of jobseekers will also have the advantage of knowing the exact length of the dole queue, as the Government intends to record the number of unemployed more accurately by introducing an independent Office for National Statistics from the merger of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the Central Statistical Office.

n Learner drivers in Wales will be allowed to display D-plates from tomorrow. The "D" is for dysgwr - the Welsh for learner, writes Tony Heath. The announcement that the "D" is lawful is a triumph for language activists who for more than a decade campaigned for learner drivers to be given the choice of using the initial. Many had put up D-plates in protest.

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