Wales could lose eight MPs in Commons boundary shakeup

Wales could lose up to eight MPs after a law was passed to redraw constituency boundaries.

The number of MPs across the UK will remain at 650 but the number of Welsh seats in House of Commons could fall from 40 to 32.

The UK Government said equally sized constituencies is a “sensible policy that will make our elections fairer”.

But Plaid Cymru said Wales would lose out more than any other nation of the UK or region of England.

The Boundary Commission, which is responsible for drawing constituency boundaries, is generally required to propose constituencies whose electorates vary in size by no more than plus or minus 5% of the average.

But it was announced in June that the island constituency of Ynys Môn would gain “protected status”, meaning it could not be lost as a UK Parliamentary seat after the boundary review.

The boundary commission will start the constituency review in January to determine the average number of electors that will be in each constituency and the new boundaries.

The new electoral maps will undergo three separate consultations before the final proposals are presented to the Commons by 1 July 2023.

The UK government’s Constitution Minister, Chloe Smith MP, said: “Every voter deserves to have confidence that their vote counts the same, no matter where it is cast. This assurance is long overdue and today’s Act delivers exactly that.

“Up-to-date, more equally sized constituencies is a sensible policy that will make our elections fairer, ensuring that people from all four nations of the UK have equal representation in Parliament.”

Plaid Cymru’s Parliamentary Leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, said: “It’s hardly a coincidence that Wales’ voices in London are being reduced at the same time as the Tories are clawing back our powers.”

Welsh parliament committees had previously accused the UK government of threatening to “undermine devolution” and “profoundly” limit the Senedd’s powers after Brexit following proposals to replace EU rules for businesses.

The UK Internal Market Bill is supposed to ensure trade continues smoothly after 1 January

“Wales will lose out more than any other nation of the UK or region of England as a result of this legislation,” said Ms Saville Roberts.

“Our nation deserves proper democratic representation – that means urgently granting more powers to our Senedd.”

US regulators open privacy probes into tech giants

The US has ordered nine tech companies including Amazon, Facebook and TikTok to hand over information as part of a new review of consumer privacy.

The study is intended to help regulators understand what data the companies collect and how that information is used, especially to target children.

It is the latest effort by the US government to respond to concerns about tech giants’ influence.

The companies have 45 days to comply.

Officials on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a federal regulator focused on consumers, voted 4-1 to launch the inquiry.

“It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us,” the four commissioners supporting the move said in a statement.

“Given how much these companies rely on the organization and analysis of data as a core underpinning of their business models, we expect that compliance with this order will be expeditious and comprehensive.”

The nine social media and video streaming companies include Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp, YouTube, China’s ByteDance, owner of TikTok, Amazon’s Twitch, as well as Snap, Twitter, Reddit, and Discord.

“We’re working, as we always do, to ensure the FTC has the information it needs to understand how Twitter operates its services,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

The other companies did not immediately comment.

Google and Amazon last week were hit with fines by French consumer privacy watchdog.

But American regulators have long lagged their counterparts in Europe when it comes to confronting tech giants on questions of privacy.

In recent years, politicians and others have increasingly pressed the FTC and others to take a more active approach.

The order issued on Monday comes just days after the FTC announced it was taking Facebook to court for actions it has taken to stay ahead of its rivals. The agency accused the firm of violating competition laws, arguing the public had been harmed, including by the erosion of data privacy.

Last year Facebook paid $5bn to resolve an FTC privacy inquiry triggered by concerns about data collection by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Commissioner Noah Phillips, the lone voter against launching the inquiry, said the privacy review announced on Monday was too broad and unlikely to yield results.

“The actions undertaken today trade a real opportunity to use scarce government resources to advance public understanding of consumer data privacy practices—critical to informing ongoing policy discussions in the United States and internationally—for the appearance of action on a litany of gripes with technology companies,” he said.

Alex Rodda death: Murder accused confessed to ex-girlfriend

The ex-girlfriend of a teenager accused of murder has told a court he broke down in tears and admitted the killing.

Caitlyn Lancashire said Matthew Mason, 19, told her he killed 15-year-old Alex Rodda on 12 December 2019.

Mr Mason, of Ash Lane in Ollerton, denies murdering the teenager in remote woodland in Ashley, Cheshire.

The trial at Chester Crown Court has heard Alex, who was bludgeoned to death with a wrench, was blackmailing Mr Mason over a sexual relationship.

Miss Lancashire told the jury Mr Mason started to cry after telling her he had been giving money to Alex, when she visited him following his arrest.

Prosecutor Ian Unsworth QC asked her: “Did he say to you ‘I’ve killed him’?”

Miss Lancashire, 19, replied “yes” and said Mr Mason, who lived with his family on a farm near Knutsford, told her that he gave about £2,000 to Alex.

She told the court she was in a relationship with the defendant for about two years but they split up in November last year when Alex messaged her and told her Mr Mason had been speaking to him and sent him an explicit picture.

The jury heard that at about 22:20 GMT on 12 December, the night of Alex’s death, Mr Mason sent her a picture of himself smiling in bed with no top on.

The following morning he sent pictures of his feet in the floor of his car and when she asked if he was OK he replied “I’m fine”, the court heard.

Miss Lancashire said she phoned Mr Mason after a friend of Alex asked her if she knew where they both were.

She told the court: “I was shouting ‘where are you, where’s Alex’?”

He told her Alex was “mithering” him for a lift so he had taken him to a pub in Holmes Chapel, the jury heard.

She said Mr Mason seemed “like he already knew” when she told him police were trying to find Alex.

The trial continues.

Gerard Houllier: Liverpool fans remember ex-manager who died, aged 73

Liverpool fans have paid tribute to the team’s former manager Gerard Houllier remembering the Frenchman as “a gentleman” who “returned pride” to the club.

Houllier, who led Liverpool to five major trophies, died earlier on Monday, aged 73.

He “brought the good times back”, said Reds supporter John Gibbons.

One fans’ group is already looking to arrange a memorial tribute to Houllier at Anfield.

Andy Knott, who twice previously arranged crowd mosaics in Houllier’s honour, said he “most definitely” would look to remember him in a special way once supporters are allowed to return in numbers.

Liverpool fans first showed their appreciation for their then manager in November 2001, spelling out his initials ‘GH’ after he underwent open heart surgery at Broadgreen Hospital, having been taken ill a month earlier.

On the Frenchman’s return to management duties in March 2002, supporters once again united to spell out the words “Allez, allez” to mark his recovery.

Mr Knott, who is a contributor to Liverpool fanzine, Red All Over The Land, met Houllier at the club’s Melwood training base soon after, and remembers him as “a likeable gentleman”.

“He was busy, but came down and had a good chat with us and said how he was so grateful,” he said.

Houllier is a figure that will forever remain “very much loved” in Liverpool for the FA Cup, League Cup and Uefa Cup treble-winning season of 2000-2001.

Lifelong Reds fan Damian Kavanagh was there for all three finals.

“What a time of our lives that was,” he said.

“That is how he should be remembered. no-one is perfect, he didn’t get every single decision right, but he really did bring Liverpool up to date when we needed it because we were struggling before he took charge.

Kavanagh said Houllier’s history in the city, having worked as a teacher in the Liverpool in the 1960s when he also watched the team as a fan at Anfield, ensured a “strong connection”.

“The fact he had been on the Kop and lived amongst us all here showed that he understood how much the team means to us,” Kavanagh continued.

“In our short lives all you can ever leave behind is smiles and Houllier can certainly rest peacefully that there are a hell of a lot of people that support Liverpool that he made smile.”

For John Gibbons, a podcaster for the Anfield Wrap, Houllier is manager that delivered glory to a new generation.

“We loved it (treble season) because for us winning trophies is what Liverpool did on video, on VHS tapes,” he said. “We were wondering when it would be our turn and when Houllier came, it was our turn.

“He gave us a lot of our pride back and brought good times back to the club. We will always be grateful for that.”

Jesy Nelson leaves Little Mix: The constant pressure is very hard

Little Mix’s Jesy Nelson has left the group, saying being part of it had “taken a toll on my mental health”.

She explained: “I find the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard.”

Writing on Instagram, the 29-year-old said being in the band had been “the most incredible time” but it was now time to “embark on a new chapter”.

Her former bandmates said it was “an incredibly sad time for all of us but we are fully supportive of Jesy”.

The news comes a month after Nelson said she was taking an “extended” break from the pop group for “private medical reasons”.

Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall performed as a trio on Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend.

In her statement, Nelson said she had made her decision “after much consideration and with a heavy heart”.

“I need to spend some time with the people I love, doing things that make me happy,” the singer continued.

The remaining members added: “We know that Jesy leaving the group is going to be really upsetting news for our fans.

“We love her very much and agree that it is so important that she does what is right for her mental health and well-being.”

Esther Dingley: Missing Briton was experienced hiker and loved life

A British hiker missing in the Pyrenees was an experienced walker who was happy with life, her family have said.

The search for Esther Dingley, 37, began after she failed to return from a solo trek as planned on 25 November.

She last communicated with her partner of 19 years Dan Colegate via Whatsapp on 22 November when she was atop Pic de Sauvegarde on the Spain-France border.

Mr Colegate has dismissed media reports that she was unhappy, which seemingly stem from a French police source.

Ms Dingley had been travelling alone in the couple’s campervan for a month while he stayed at a French vineyard, the pair having given up their home in Durham to tour Europe in 2014.

Mr Colegate said: “We spoke every day, the time apart worked as we expected, and we were very joyful when we spoke.

“The hike she went missing on was to be her last before driving back. Our last conversation was totally loving and all smiles. She was so happy, and we were excited to see each other.

“Why the police [officer] who spoke to a journalist implied ‘things weren’t as happy as they looked’ baffles me.

“I have never spoken to the person quoted.”

Mr Colegate also said claims he had been “quizzed” multiple times by police were a misrepresentation of the numerous meetings he has had with both French and Spanish police to provide information.

Ms Dingley’s mother Ria described her daughter as an “open book” and said while the couple may have faced some “difficult decisions” about continuing their touring after Brexit, “that didn’t dampen her joy for the life they both were living”.

She said: “We are utterly distraught not knowing where Esther is or what has happened to her and would implore anyone who may know anything, however seemingly insignificant, to come forward.”

Mr Colegate said it was normal for the couple to spend time apart but that they also enjoyed their trips together, which included a 1,000 mile hike in the summer.

He described Ms Dingley as a “very experienced” mountain hiker who always kept him updated with her planned routes.

Mr Colegate said: “The terrain she was on is not difficult. The weather was excellent. It does not mean she hasn’t had an accident; I just consider it unlikely.

“There seems to be a perception that because it’s the mountains, because it’s nearly winter and because Esther was alone, that what she was doing was reckless.”

Police have previously said they are looking at all options including “non-accidental” ones.

Ms Dingley’s family is now being supported by LBT Global, formerly the Lucie Blackman Trust, which assists relatives of missing people abroad.

Chief executive Matthew Searle MBE called for a “swift end” to speculation about what has happened to Ms Dingley.

He said: “Our priority is supporting Esther’s loved ones through this traumatic time and it is clear they are deeply upset at some of the speculation.

“Spreading unconfirmed assumptions is unhelpful and unfair, as well as deeply upsetting for those closest to Esther.”

Searches for Ms Dingley have been suspended due to bad weather and both French and Spanish police say they are investigating her disappearance.

Oil tanker attacked by bomb-laden boat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia says

Saudi Arabia says an oil tanker was attacked by an explosive-laden boat while it was anchored at Jeddah’s port.

The overnight attack at the facility’s fuel terminal resulted in a small fire on board that was extinguished, the energy ministry told state media.

The owner of a Singapore-flagged tanker, BW Rhine, earlier said that it had been “hit from an external source”, causing a blast that damaged its hull.

The energy ministry did not say who it suspected was responsible.

But the incident comes weeks after what Saudi authorities previously alleged were attacks by Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement on a Maltese-flagged tanker and two Saudi oil facilities.

On Monday, tanker company Hafnia reported that the BW Rhine had been “hit from an external source whilst discharging at Jeddah” at about 00:40 local time (21:40 GMT on Sunday), “causing an explosion and subsequent fire”.

The 22-strong crew extinguished the fire with assistance from the shore fire brigade and tug boats, a statement said. No-one was injured, but a water ballast tank and a cargo tank on the port side were damaged.

“It is possible that some oil has escaped from the vessel, but this has not been confirmed and instrumentation currently indicates that oil levels on board are at the same level as before the incident,” the statement added.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) naval authority said an unnamed tanker had experienced an explosion in Jeddah, and that there were also unconfirmed reports that a second vessel was involved.

Saudi authorities did not confirm the incident until Monday afternoon when an energy ministry spokesman spoke to state media.

There was no damage caused to the unloading facilities, nor any effect on supplies, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ministry spokesman “condemned the terrorist attack, which came shortly after other attacks on another ship in al-Shuqaiq, on the petroleum products distribution station in north Jeddah, and on the floating unloading platform of the petroleum products distribution station in Jizan”, the agency added.

The spokesman also warned that “these acts of terrorism and vandalism, directed against vital installations, go beyond the kingdom and its vital facilities, to the security and stability of energy supplies to the world and the global economy”.

There was no immediate comment from the Houthis. A Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war has blamed them for the three attacks listed by the energy ministry.

A fire broke out at the Jizan fuel terminal on 12 November after the coalition reportedly intercepted and destroyed two explosives-laden boats launched from Yemen’s Hudaydah province.

On 25 November, an explosion damaged the Maltese-flagged oil tanker Agrari near Shuqaiq. A British security firm attributed the blast to a mine, but the Saudi-led coalition said a bomb-laden boat was launched towards the tanker.

The Houthis did not comment on either incident but did say they had fired a cruise missile at a Saudi Aramco oil facility in Jeddah on 23 November. The Saudi energy ministry said a projectile struck a fuel tank at a petroleum distribution station and ignited a fire.

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