Newspaper headlines: Parking fines, TV debates row, Jane Bond call

A government announcement that the law is to be changed in the next few weeks so that motorists using council parking spaces in England are given a 10 minute "grace period" when their ticket expires attracts front page headlines.

Drivers for decades have complained of returning to their cars moments after a ticket expires to find a prowling warden has already hit them with a penalty, says the Daily Mail.

The paper suggests the timing of the announcement by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will be viewed by many as a sweetener for drivers ahead of May's general election.

The Daily Telegraph says the change is among a raft of new measures aimed at "deterring draconian local authorities from using parking fines as a cash cow".

It also carries Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin's statement that the move will boost the High Street.

"Time's up for over-zealous parking wardens," is the headline in the Times.

The paper reports the reform comes as figures show motorists paid a record £350m in tickets in 2013-14 - an 11% increase in two years.

In its leader column, the Daily Express hails the change as "an end to war on drivers". The proposals restore a "measure of decency and common sense" to parking rules, it adds.


Debates 'bear pit'

There's much speculation following the prime minister's rejection of plans for three live televised events ahead of the general election.

In the Guardian's view, David Cameron's preference for one event with seven leaders before the campaign begins proper is "really a last effort to close the show down".

But while the Daily Telegraph says that the broadcasters are preparing to "give in" to Mr Cameron, the Independent is of the view the debates "will almost certainly not proceed".

In its front page report, the Independent says the proposals have descended into "chaos, recrimination and legal threats".

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The Financial Times sees Mr Cameron's refusal to hold a head-to-head debate with Mr Miliband as "timid and cowardly".

It says the Tories may be making a misjudgement and voters may take the view that the party wants to demolish Mr Miliband's personality without debating the substance of policy.

Writing in the Guardian, John Harris says he agrees with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's assertion that Mr Cameron's action displayed a Downton Abbey-style of contempt for voters. But he says the public's "crushingly low expectations of politicians" may mean his tactics are met with large-scale indifference.

The Daily Mirror mocks-up a picture of Mr Cameron in a chicken costume on its front page. And it pursues the theme further in its leader column, suggesting the PM has "good reason to be terrified that Ed Miliband would strip his shortcomings bare in front of voters".

According to a leader in the Times, Mr Cameron's ducking of the debates is a "straightforward electoral own goal". But it says he has a much better record in government than Mr Miliband did and wonders why he is not eager to defend it.

The Daily Mail agrees there may be a case for Mr Cameron not entering the "bear pit of a TV debate". However, it feels it is "deeply disappointing" that he and his ministers are "failing to trumpet the Tories' success story loudly enough".


Eye-catching headlines


'Jihadist pensioners'

Stories about the past exploits of the Briton identified as the Islamic State extremist "Jihadi John" continue to be uncovered - with the Daily Star and Daily Mail among the papers to highlight claims he was involved in a London kidnapping incident in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Independent and Times turn their sights on what can be done about those fighting with IS.

The Independent carries comments from the British director of the pan-European Union policing agency Europol that some young Muslims lured to Syria by extremist groups should not automatically be labelled terrorists but dealt with like victims of trafficking.

The paper says Rob Wainwright acknowledges that many people in IS could return to the UK with the intention of carrying out attacks, but deradicalisation programmes needed to be part of the government's strategy.

In a leader, the Times says the West should be prepared to pursue jihadists much as Nazi war criminals have been hunted down over 70 years.

"This manifestation of radical evil must be confronted with a strong an enduring commitment to justice," it says. "There should be no such thing as a comfortable jihadist pensioner."


Jane Bond

The suggestion that the intelligence agencies need to recruit more middle-aged women and mothers to be spies captures the imagination of the papers.

The Daily Mirror notes that the report from Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee unveiled by Labour MP Hazel Blears blamed "traditional male mentality" for the shortage of operatives.

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The Financial Times reports the issue had attracted relatively little public attention until now.

Perceptions may have been skewed by the fact that there have been two female director-generals of MI5 since 1992, and the head of MI6 in the most recent James Bond films was played by Dame Judi Dench, suggests the FT's defence and security editor Sam Jones.

In the Daily Telegraph, author Sarah Helm says the "'permafrost' men of intelligence middle management are being instructed to thaw out". But she says the report is certainly not the first to understand the value of women as intelligence officers - they played a vital part in the Special Operation Executive during World War Two.

Times defence editor Deborah Haynes says the suggestion the spy agencies MI5 and MI6 should advertise on websites like Mumsnet generated an enthusiastic response form scores of women who use the online forum.

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail says it is hard to resist the conclusion that many of the things desired by the report are already happening - but he sums it all up by saying the "name's Bond, Jane Bond. Or at least it could - and probably should - be if Hazel Blears succeeds in getting more women into MI5 and MI6".


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