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Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Friday, 23 December 2011
Today: Friday 23rd December

Businesses are to be banned from imposing excessive surcharges on customers who use credit or debit cards. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating allegations of misconduct against a chief constable and three other senior officers. And also on the programme, the comedian Stewart Lee wonders what Oliver Cromwell would have made of Christmas now.

Business news with Simon Jack on good news in the United States as figures reveal a fall in unemployment figures and politicians agreed to extend tax-cuts to millions of workers for a further two months.

Scientists have discovered that elephants have a sixth "toe" which evolved to help elephants carry their colossal weight. Professor John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College explains what anatomists had thought the extra toe was for hundreds of years.

The government says it will ban extra debit and credit card charges where the fee is higher than the true cost of processing the payment. Air passenger Sunil Pandit describes how he got caught by these charges.

There is a row building between EU member states over VAT after Luxembourg, the European home of Amazon, announced that it was cutting VAT for ebooks from 15% to 3%. Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has the details and James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, outlines why he thinks ebooks should attract the same VAT rate as regular books.

Political tension is growing in Pakistan after the prime minister claimed there is a conspiracy to oust the government in a military coup. Talat Hussain of Dawn News in Islamabad has the details.

Business news with Simon Jack.

Sport news with Chris Dennis.

In Syria, an advance group of Arab League observers has arrived in Damascus to begin the task of monitoring compliance with a peace plan under which all violence is supposed to end, armed forces are to be withdrawn from the streets, and all detainees freed. The Today Programme's Zubeida Malik spoke to Homs resident Maria about daily life there and the BBC's Jim Muir, who is monitoring the situation from Beirut, reports on how the bloodshed has continued, with activists reporting around 30 people killed.

A look at today's papers.

In the mid 17th century, Christmas was cancelled and celebrating it was a punishable offence under the auspices of Oliver Cromwell. Nicola Stanbridge spoke to comedian Stewart Lee, who will be guest editing our New Year's Eve programme, who is keen to find out what Cromwell would make of Christmas now.

Thought for The Day with Giles Fraser.

Today is expected to be the busiest day of the year for last minute Christmas shopping, but why? Oliver James, author of Affluenza and the Selfish Capitalist and Maureen Hinton senior retail analyst at Verdict Research debate if we are masters or victims of the Christmas rush and companies who want our cash.

The government says it is to ban companies from imposing excessive charges for paying by a credit or debit card following complaints by consumer groups over the high fees being demanded by some businesses. The Treasury minister Mark Hoban and Richard Lloyd, the editor of consumer magazine Which? discuss how current charges are leaving some consumers paying over and above what they should.

In the days following the theft of Barbara Hepworth's sculpture from Dulwich Park, much has been said about the importance of public art. Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics, Richard Sennett and sculptor Antony Gormley discuss what tangible benefits can be gained from it.

Sport news with Chris Dennis.

The government is backing plans to give patients full access to their medical reports online as recommended by the NHS Future Forum. Professor Steve Field, chair of the forum, outlines their proposals.

The United States has expressed deep regret and condolences for a Nato airstrike in November which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers after Pakistan reacted furiously to the attack, closing its border to Nato supply trucks in retaliation. Professor Marvin Weinbaum, former Pakistan analyst at the State Department in Washington and now with the Middle East Institute analyses the prospects for relations between the countries.

Business news with Simon Jack. The Broadgate Centre in the City of London is a building that was recommended for listing by English Heritage and seen by many as one of its iconic sights. The City, and its architecture, has been evolving for centuries and faced many perils along the way and the Today programme's Simon Jack went to get a better look at its history and future.

Amid the chaos of EU Treaty negotiations and saving the eurozone, Croatia became the latest country to sign the treaty to join the union. Stefano Sannino, the European Commission's director general for enlargement, responds to concerns that the EU Commission is repeating the same mistakes about new members' credentials.

The Scottish parliament could be handed the power to run a legally-binding referendum on Scottish independence by Westminster. Scotland editor Brian Taylor has the details.

In an upcoming book called Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics, the idea is put forward that economic thought falls into two clear camps. It maintains that you are either a follower of Keynes or of Hayek and therefore believe in government or the individual; stimulus or austerity. Author of the book, Nicholas Wapshott and Paul Ormerod, economist and one of the founders of Volterra Consulting, discuss if the lessons from economists are really that simple.


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