The Week in Review: Home news

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The Independent Online
TINA - There Is No Alternative - was resurrected by Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, at the beginning of the week when he rejected calls to change course on the economy, in spite of depressed high street spending and figures showing that one million home-owners are trapped in houses worth less than their mortgage.

But he was forced into a U- turn by the end of the week when Treasury sources were quoted as saying that they were trying to work out ways of helping struggling home-owners. The options Mr Lamont was said to be considering included raising mortgage tax relief from pounds 30,000 for first-time buyers. Sceptics argue this would do little in the short term for those facing having their homes repossessed but it might help estate agents and solicitors to sell and convey a few more houses.

The Government's tactic of delaying the announcement of council tax levels until next year, apparently to avoid opposition campaigns, has been foiled by research published by geographers at Bristol, Southampton and Cardiff universities, which indicated that the rich will gain most.

The first street-by-street comparison of the old rates system, the poll tax and the new tax shows that people living in large, expensive homes will benefit because the highest valuation band is pounds 240,000. The old rates system, based on notional rent values, had no upper limit. Inequities between rich and poor under the poll tax were eventually evened out after the Government introduced a pounds 1.7bn relief scheme. The Government has until next April to devise a similar redistribution scheme.

The Cabinet approved the deployment of 1,800 British troops and declared a no-fly zone in southern Iraq, to protect persecuted Shia Muslims from Saddam Hussein. As the gung-ho tabloids shouted 'We're Going In', Downing Street sources emphasised the humanitarian nature of their role, pointing out that the soldiers will wear blue United Nations helmets. There was some confusion when the UN made it known that no resolution authorised action in the name of the besieged Marsh Arabs.

Government sources explained that the allies would be acting under a little-known principle of international law permitting military intervention in cases of grave humanitarian abuse. Humanitarian abuses were not enough to provoke the United States and its allies to create a similar zone in Bosnia, in spite of appeals from the Sarajevo government. Perhaps Amnesty International will supply the MoD with its long list of countries practising grave humanitarian abuses.

If any editor remained in doubt about what sells newspapers the Daily Mirror showed them when it hit the jackpot with photographs of a topless Royal in a love tryst, selling out the 3.5 million print run by 9am. The Queen was reported to be not amused. Some MPs called for press curbs; others for a code of conduct for royals.