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The new Secretary of State for Wales

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Alun Cairns: New Secretary of State for Wales

Alun Cairns: New Secretary of State for Wales

JUNIOR Wales Office Minister Alun Cairns has been announced as the Secretary of State for Wales, following Stephen Crabb’s promotion to the Department for Work and Pensions on Saturday (Mar 19).

Mr Cairns was elected as MP for the Vale of Glamorgan in the 2010 general election. However, prior to this, he was an Assembly Member for 11 years. During this time, he developed a reputation as a combative debater, with an interest in Special Educational Needs. On one occasion he forced a change of Assembly Policy after championing a local Special Needs case by exposing that WG guidance was against the law.

However, before his election as an MP he was almost deselected, following a verbal gaffe made during a live radio broadcast, when he described Italians as ‘greasy wops’. He immediately apologised, and prominent members of the Welsh Italian community supported him.

Mr Cairns’ upbringing appears to have been influential on his political choices. The son of a British Steel welder and a shop-keeper, Mr Cairns, in the words of his online biography, ‘first became aware of politics whilst growing up in a deprived community near Swansea.

“He saw that a close family member, who ran her own small grocery shop worked all hours possible for almost 50 years ended up worse off than many of our neighbours who hadn’t bothered working, in spite of being able to do so.

“He felt that it was wrong that people who were able to work could live off the state, yet others worked every hour for little reward. Naturally, he wants to see support for those who genuinely can’t work.”

A relatively recent Wales Office appointment (he was given the role of Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales in July 2014) he will now assume responsibility for the Wales Bill, which has currently been put back until after the Assembly Elections.

Mr Cairns has specified that largescale infrastructure projects form a large part of his vision for Wales, and believes that he will be able to work as a ‘deal-maker’ in much the same way that Mr Crabb did before he soured the relationship with Welsh Labour whilst campaigning for the 2015 elections and by his unwillingness to listen to criticism of the Draft Wales Bill.

“This has been an extraordinary week for Wales with a city deal for Cardiff Capital Region, the doors being opened for a north Wales growth deal and negotiations for a Swansea Bay city deal,” Mr Cairns recently said

“The Severn Tolls announcement demonstrates that Wales is open for business and I am determined to keep this momentum going and deliver on these projects.”

The new Secretary of State has also said that he knows Carwyn Jones ‘particularly well’ and claimed that they were friends ‘on a personal level.’

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Cairns added that ‘of course politically we won’t always see eye to eye and challenges will remain.

“But it’s only by working through these issues for the benefit of Wales will we all benefit and that will be good for the Welsh Government as well as good for the UK Government – but more importantly it will be good and better for Welsh people,” he said.

However, Mr Cairns also referred to the defeat of the ‘e-cigarette ban’ as a sign that Plaid Cymru may not be as willing to work with Labour as has previously been thought, which could pave the way for a non Labour-led Welsh Government.

Mr Cairns has previously courted controversy for his views on smoking. Shortly after his election in 2010, he signed an early day motion calling for a review of the smoking ban. In 2012, he was one of 50 MPs who wrote to the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley expressing serious concerns over plain packaging proposals.

The letter described the proposal as ‘a smuggler’s charter. this policy threatens more than 5,500 jobs directly employed by the UK tobacco sector, and over 65,000 valued jobs in the associated supply chain. Given the continued difficult economic climate, businesses should not be subjected to further red tape and regulation’.

However, it was subsequently revealed that Mr Cairns had accepted two tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show from Japan Tobacco International in 2011 and 2012. The total value of these tickets was around £2,300.

He recently represented the Wales Office at the St David’s Day debate, when Mr Crabb had ‘parliamentary duties’ with the Bexley Conservative Club ladies’ lunch. Mr Cairns subsequently apologised for ‘inadvertently misleading’ Welsh MPs.

Outside of politics, the 45-yearold former banker is a keen runner, and recorded the quickest time by an MP in last year’s London Marathon. He is married, with one son.

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Politics

Government acts on porn access

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THE UK will become the first country in the world to bring in age-verification for online pornography when the measures come into force on July 15, 2019.

It means that commercial providers of online pornography will be required by law to carry out robust age-verification checks on users, to ensure that they are 18 or over. The move is backed by 88% of UK parents with children aged 7-17, who agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online.

Websites that fail to implement age-verification technology face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the new laws. They have confirmed that they will begin enforcement on 15 July, following an implementation period to allow websites time to comply with the new standards.

UK Minister for Digital Margot James said: “Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online. The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first, and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content. We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this.”

Government has listened carefully to privacy concerns and is clear that age-verification arrangements should only be concerned with verifying age, not identity. In addition to the requirement for all age-verification providers to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards, the BBFC have created a voluntary certification scheme, the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), which will assess the data security standards of AV providers. The AVC has been developed in cooperation with industry, with input from the government.

Certified age-verification solutions which offer these robust data protection conditions will be certified following an independent assessment and will carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol. Details will also be published on the BBFC’s age-verification website, ageverificationregulator.comso consumers can make an informed choice between age-verification providers.

BBFC Chief Executive David Austin said: “The introduction of age-verification to restrict access to commercial pornographic websites to adults is a groundbreaking child protection measure. Age-verification will help prevent children from accessing pornographic content online and means the UK is leading the way in internet safety.

“On entry into force, consumers will be able to identify that an age-verification provider has met rigorous security and data checks if they carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol.”

The change in the law is part of the Government’s commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, especially for children. It follows last week’s publication of the Online Harms White Paper which set out clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe online, how these responsibilities should be met and what would happen if they are not.

CEO of Internet Matters Carolyn Bunting said: “We are delighted to see the government tackling the issue of online pornography. Children seeing online content for which they’re not emotionally ready can be very damaging, especially if they don’t speak out about it.

“While our research shows that parents overwhelmingly support age-verification and are confident it will make a difference, we must recognise that digital solutions aren’t the only answer and parents can’t become complacent about their child’s digital world.

“There is no substitute to having regular and honest conversations with your child about what they’re getting up to online, establishing an open dialogue about their digital life from a young age.”

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet said: “We hope that the introduction of this age-verification will help in protecting children, making it harder for young people to accidentally come across online pornography, as well as bringing in the same protections that we use offline to protect children from age-restricted goods or services.

“Talking to children is vital and education has a major part to play here, and we need to ensure all young people are given a platform to discuss the pressures they face online and have the skills to spot and understand the gap between perception and reality. We are releasing a new extended PSHE toolkit later this month to address the issue of online pornography along with related topics of body image and healthy relationships.

“We know that conversations with young people, parents and carers and teachers are paramount to giving children the information, support and skills that they need.”

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Politics

Commons outcry over Saudi executions

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FOREIGN OFFICE Minister Sir Alan Duncan joined the chorus of disapproval following the execution of 37 prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, April 24, Sir Vince Cable asked the Government to make a statement on the executions which took place the previous day.

Amnesty International has condemned the executions, which included the killing of a man who was under 18 at the time of his arrest, in contravention of international law.

The Middle East research Director of Amnesty International, Lynn Maalouf called it “another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shi’a minority”.

The humanitarian organisation, which opposes capital punishment, say that the executions followed torture, unjust trials and forced confessions.

The Saudi authorities are thought to have executed 104 people so far in 2019.

Those executed yesterday were charged with terrorism offences. One man was crucified. Another had his headless body displayed in public.

Responding to the urgent question, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan said: “We are very concerned by the executions of 37 men in Saudi Arabia and the Foreign Office is working to establish the full facts.

“The UK Government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country, including Saudi Arabia. We regularly raise human rights concerns, including the use of the death penalty, at the highest levels with the Saudi Arabian authorities.”

In response, Sir Vince Cable said: “We are in urgent need of a reappraisal of our relationship with Saudi Arabia given the fact that the continued mediaeval barbarism of the regime does not constitute the basis for a friendly alliance and indeed makes it an enemy of our values and our human rights.”

The UK Government encourages arms sales to the Saudi kingdom and trains members of the country’s security services in this country. Saudi Arabia is engaged in a war of attrition with neighbouring Yemen, for which it has attracted widespread condemnation for targeting Yemeni civilians.

The MP for Leeds North East, Fabian Hamilton said: “Publicly pinning one of the headless bodies to a pole as a warning is not only disturbingly barbaric and medieval in nature, but an abhorrent violation of human rights.

“According to the families of those executed, there was no prior notice that the executions would be carried out. That is a blatant flouting of international standards set out by even the most brutal of regimes that still use the death penalty.

“We know that some, if not all, of those executed, were convicted in Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court, which has been widely condemned by human rights groups as secretive, and which has in the past been used to try human rights activists, whom the state often wrongly regards as terrorists.

“We also know that at least three of those executed were juveniles—a clear violation of international law, which the Saudi regime appears to care very little about.

“Abdulkarim al-Hawaj was charged with participating in demonstrations, incitement via social media and preparing banners with anti-state slogans. Reports from human rights watchdogs in the country claim that he was beaten and the so-called confessions extracted from him through various means of torture.

“Mujtaba al-Sweikat was a student about to begin his studies at Western Michigan University when he was arrested at King Fahd airport, beaten and so-called confessions extracted through torture.

“Salman Qureish was just 18 when he was executed, but he was convicted of crimes that allegedly took place when he was still a child. The UN has condemned his sentencing and the use of the death penalty against him after he was denied basic legal rights, such as access to a lawyer.”

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards said: “The vast majority of those executed yesterday were Shi’a Muslims. To what degree do the British Government consider that the Saudi regime is using the death penalty as a means of quashing dissent among a persecuted religious minority within its borders?”

Sir Alan Duncan replied: “I do not think that this is the moment for me to give an extended thesis on such matters, but I understand the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. In many parts of the Middle East, the Sunni-Shi’a conflict is very intensive and creates enormous tension, difficulty and strife.”

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Politics

Ultrafast broadband voucher for communities

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COMMUNITIES in Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and across Wales can come together to make a bid for the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme which can provide ultrafast broadband for homes and businesses.

The scheme, which is managed by the UK Government, has been given the boost of a top-up in Wales with the Welsh Government providing more funding to take into account the particular challenges caused by the country’s topography.

Ministers from both governments are now urging Welsh businesses and communities to apply as a group for the funding to get gigabit capable broadband.

The group must include at least one business along with surrounding premises. Two or more businesses can get together, or businesses with residents, to combine their vouchers towards the cost of building the infrastructure. Up to ten residents can get together with one business to create a group or community project.

Under the arrangements for Wales, the Welsh Government will provide an additional £3,000 for businesses up to a certain size and an additional £300 per residential property. This means that for group projects in Wales up to £5,500 is available per business, compared with £2,500 elsewhere in the UK. Up to £800 will now be available per residential property in Wales, compared with £500 elsewhere.

Deputy Minister for Economy Lee Waters said: “While the vast majority of premises in Wales can access superfast broadband, we know we must reach the final five per cent. There is no one size fits all solution to do this, and the Gigabit Voucher Scheme is an important part of our efforts to do this.

“I would urge communities without access to look at this option and see if it’s suitable for them. The vouchers would potentially give them access to some of the fastest broadband speeds in the UK.”

UK Government Minister for Wales Kevin Foster said: “Improved digital connections for homes and businesses is a central part of our modern Industrial Strategy which invests in skills, industries and infrastructure to build a Britain that’s fit for the future.

“Together with the Welsh Government, we are working to ensure more people in Wales have access to reliable broadband speeds, supporting communities, enhancing access to online services and strengthening our rapidly expanding digital sector.”

The Welsh and UK Government funded £200m Superfast Cymru programme has already taken superfast broadband speeds to more than 733,000 Welsh homes and businesses commercial companies had no plans to cover.

Residents and businesses can check whether they’re eligible for the voucher and look up their postcode to find a registered supplier in their area.

Further information on how to apply for the Gigabit Voucher scheme is available on: www.gov.wales/broadband

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