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.

Covid-19: Greenwich Council ordered to keep schools open

The government has told a London council it must keep schools open or face legal action.

Greenwich Council, in south-east London, had written to head teachers asking all schools to move classes online amid rising Covid-19 cases.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson ordered the council to keep schools in the area open on Monday evening.

He said: “Using legal powers is a last resort but continuity of education is a national priority.”

He added: “It is simply not in children’s best interests for schools in Greenwich, Islington or elsewhere to close their doors.

“That’s why I won’t hesitate to do what is right for young people and have issued a direction to Greenwich Council setting out that they must withdraw the letter issued to head teachers on Sunday.”

In the letter sent out on Sunday, Greenwich Council Leader Danny Thorpe asked all schools to move the majority of pupils to remote learning.

The council told schools to keep buildings open for vulnerable children and those of key workers.

The regional schools commissioner, who acts on behalf of the education secretary, had already written to Greenwich Council highlighting that new powers, introduced through the Coronavirus Act, allow the Secretary of State to issue “directions” to require schools to enable all pupils to attend school full-time.

In Islington, north London, and Waltham Forest, east London, schools were also asked to move lessons online from the end of Tuesday.

The Department of Education said no decisions had been taken yet about what action to take against these councils.

Greenwich Council said changing plans that had already been put in place before Tuesday would be “impossible”.

The council said it was seeking legal advice and would respond to the government on Tuesday morning.

Mr Thorpe said the move to online learning was based on information from Public Health England and supported by the council’s Public Health team.

“We currently have the highest rates of Covid-19 since March, with numbers doubling every four days,” he said.

It comes as London is due to move into tier three restrictions from Wednesday.

Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn had earlier called on secondary schools and colleges in the capital to shut early ahead of Christmas.

Mr Khan said: “If the government isn’t careful these children will pass on the virus to really vulnerable people because the rules are relaxed over Christmas.”

Covid: Man jailed for Scotland-Isle of Man water scooter crossing

A man who crossed the Irish Sea from Scotland to the Isle of Man “on a Jet Ski” to visit his girlfriend has been jailed for breaching Covid-19 laws.

Douglas Courthouse heard 28-year-old Dale McLaughlan took four-and-a-half hours to travel from the Isle of Whithorn to Ramsey on Friday.

McLaughlan, from North Ayrshire, made the crossing despite having never driven a water scooter before.

He admitted arriving unlawfully on the island and was jailed for four weeks.

Under the island’s current laws, only non-residents given special permission are allowed to enter the Isle of Man.

McLaughlan, of Warrix Avenue in Irvine, was previously given permission to work as a roofer on the island for four weeks in September and, after isolating for 14 days, met his girlfriend on a night out.

The court heard his subsequent applications to return had been rejected.

Prosecutors said the 28-year-old bought the vehicle and set off on the journey of about 25 miles (40km), which he had expected to take 40 minutes.

After he arrived in Ramsey at about 13:00 GMT, he walked another 15 miles (25km) to his girlfriend’s home in Douglas, who believed he had been on the island working for several weeks, the court was told.

The following afternoon, he gave a police officer her address as his own and that evening, the couple went to two busy nightclubs.

Following identification checks, police arrested him on Sunday evening.

In mitigation, the 28-year-old’s defence advocate said he suffered from depression and was not coping with being unable to see his partner.

Sentencing him, Deputy High Bailiff Christopher Arrowsmith said McLaughlan had made a “deliberate and intentional attempt to circumnavigate” the border restrictions, potentially putting the community at risk.

He said the “carefully planned” journey had also put the 28-year-old “at very real risk” of harm.

Speaking after the hearing, a government spokesman said following an investigation, public health officials were “satisfied” there was “no wider risk to the public”.

Covid: GPs complain of delays in receiving virus vaccine

Some doctors in England have complained of delays in receiving doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.

One Kent GP has been forced to cancel 80 vaccination appointments set for tomorrow after a vaccine delivery was postponed.

A GP in Southport, Merseyside cancelled 128 appointments for the same reason.

NHS England says delays are caused when vaccination hubs haven’t demonstrated the necessary safety checks, but doctors dispute this.

One GP told the BBC he was told by his Clinical Commissioning Group there was a software glitch with Pinnacle, the IT system used for recording vaccinations. NHS England says there are no reports of technical issues.

Dr Yvette Rean’s vaccination site was due to receive 975 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine today, but was told yesterday the doses won’t be arriving until Tuesday.

“We’ve had to cancel 80 patients who had all arranged transport. It’s chaos and it’s not fair on the patients or the GP practices and staff,” she said.

Adding to the pressure on GPs is the vaccine’s short life span once it’s been removed from frozen storage. GPs have been told they have just five days from when a batch of vaccines has thawed from -70C, to when the doses must be discarded.

Dr Rean says the delay in getting the batch to the vaccination site in Kent means she’ll be left with 3.5 days to carry out nearly 1000 vaccinations.

“We are having to rebook for a full day of vaccinating,” she said. “There isn’t a central booking system in place, so this is having to be done manually, so it is a logistical nightmare. All this and we are running our GP service at the same time.”

A spokesperson for the NHS, said: “Practices will start vaccinating once all the necessary safety checks have been completed, and when surgeries can demonstrate they meet updated guidance.”

But Dr Rean said her vaccination team received an email on Saturday from the regional NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, saying the site had been cleared for vaccines to go ahead.

It’s been a similarly frustrating experience for Dr Simon Tobin, a GP in Southport, Merseyside. He and his staff spent Sunday lining up vaccination appointments for 128 of the surgery’s most vulnerable patients, only to be told the doses would be delivered 24 hours late.

“It was absolutely gutting for myself and the staff,” he said.

He tweeted: “I’m just so frustrated after all our hard work today. We’ll have to ring them [the patients] ALL again tomorrow.”

Dr Richard Van Mellaerts who is clinical director of the Kingston Primary Care Network in London said he had staff working over the weekend in case his batch of vaccines arrived. Late on Sunday he was told the delivery might not arrive until Tuesday.

When the delivery did arrive on Monday morning he tweeted: “I am so relieved I could cry.”

Pfizer, which is working with the German firm BioNTech to manufacture the vaccine, confirmed there are no delays at its factory in Belgium, nor in delivering the vaccine doses to UK distribution centres.

A Pfizer spokeswoman told the BBC: “We are working closely with the NHS across all four nations to support the efficient roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID 19 vaccine.

“Pfizer is supporting with the delivery of the vaccine to the Government’s requested locations which is progressing according to plan. The Government and NHS are then handling the onward distribution to vaccination sites.”

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.”

Covid: Wales already breaching part of lockdown criteria

Wales is already in breach of some of the key indicators used to determine future lockdowns.

The first minister said a lockdown could be introduced after Christmas if rates do not begin to fall.

But Wales’ current case rates and rate of positive tests currently exceed indicators that would be considered.

The Welsh Government has said it is unlikely to introduce further restrictions before the five-day Christmas period.

The indicators are part of the Welsh Government’s new four-level system of Covid-19 restrictions, laid out in a new ‘Coronavirus Control Plan’ published on Monday.

Wales is currently in level three and restrictions equivalent to a lockdown would be brought in if the alert level was raised to four.

Schools and places of worship will remain open and non-essential retail closed, although click-and-collect would be allowed.

The plan said the vaccine programme offers a “glimmer of hope” but that safety measures and rules will have to be in place well into 2021.

Indicators to determine which level of restrictions are required “are not mechanical thresholds – they are broad principles, which will be used to inform balanced judgments”.

Some of the key indicators to judge whether Wales needs to move to level four restrictions, include a confirmed seven-day case rate of more than 300 cases per 100,000 people and test positivity above 10% over seven days.

In the seven days until 9 December, Wales had a case rate of 450.4 and a test positivity rate of 19.5%, according to Public Health Wales’ figures.

Concerns over hospital capacity is also a key indicators for alert level four.

Two of Wales’ seven local health boards – Swansea Bay University and Aneurin Bevan Health Board – have suspended some non-urgent care in response to increased coronavirus cases.

The Welsh Intensive Care Society has said critical care would be unable to cope in the coming weeks without “intervention at the highest level”.

But the Welsh Government has said it is unlikely to introduce any further restrictions before the five-day Christmas period, from 23 to 27 December, when up to three households will be able to stay together.

Its new paper outlines that the “severity” of level four restrictions “make it suitable for shorter periods to provide a short, sharp shock before the situation necessitates a longer period of time” in lockdown.

The plan adds that “intervening early is more effective and that time-limited interventions are likely to be more effective than open-ended restrictions with no end date.”

Wales could move up more than one level, for example, from level one to level three, but would only move down one level at a time and would take a number of weeks.

The four levels of restrictions will initially be implemented across the whole of Wales but there could be regional or localised differences if the evidence points to sustained differences between areas.

The Welsh Government paper outlines the kind of restrictions that could be implemented in each level.

Up to six adults could meet in a private house or garden, or in a café or restaurant. The restrictions don’t apply to those under 11.

No more than 30 people could meet outdoors in a public space. but if the alert level to four Up to 50 people could attend organised indoor events and 100 people to an outdoor event, while stadia could also open for sporting events.

There is still a 10pm curfew on hospitality but there is no restriction on when food can be served.

All indoor and outdoor entertainment and leisure venues can open too, with the exception of nightclubs.

Weddings, civil partnerships and funerals can take place with restrictions on numbers, depending on the venue, but the indoor and outdoor limit on numbers.

Only four from up to four different households can meet in pub, cafe or restaurant, or in a private garden. Only extended households can meet indoors. In outdoor public places the rule of four stands except for when an extended household meets up.

Hospitality businesses can open until 10pm and serve alcohol with a substantial meal.

Cinemas and indoor visitor attractions such as museums can open and venues can open to begin piloting events.

Travel to areas of high prevalence would not be allowed but there are no restrictions on international travel beyond having to quarantine upon return from certain destinations.

Ice-skating rinks would remain closed.

Restrictions would be similar to what we have now.

You can only mix in private houses with your extended household or support bubble. You can, however, meet with four people from different households in a café or restaurant.

Hospitality businesses cannot serve alcohol and must close at 6pm but non-essential shops, hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms and holiday accommodation remain open.

Travelling is not allowed to areas of high prevalence and international travel is not advised.

Up to 30 people can meet for organised exercise outside, like a fitness class, but only 15 can do so inside. The restrictions do not apply to restrictions for children.

Wedding ceremonies and funerals can take place with limited numbers set by the venue but at this level, receptions can also take place with 15 people indoors and 30 outdoors.

The public would be required to stay at home and only mix with their household or support bubble.

Travelling would only by allowed for essential purposes, such as for work and for caring responsibilities. International travel would not be allowed.

All indoor and outdoor events and visitor attractions would be cancelled or closed. Non-essential shops would close as would gyms, hairdressers, hospitality businesses and holiday accommodation.

Wedding ceremonies and funerals can take place with limited numbers, but no receptions or wakes can occur.

Schools however would remain open.

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.”

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