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Politics

Cameron ‘has failed to make case’ for air strikes

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Stephen Crabb: ‘ Clearly we have to take action ‘

Stephen Crabb: ‘ Clearly we have to take action ‘

PLAID CYMRU leader Leanne Wood has said that the Prime Minister has failed to make the case for UK air strikes in Syria and that many unanswered questions remain.
Ms Wood said: “Plaid Cymru has said that it would listen to the Prime Minister’s case for UK intervention against IS.
“From the outset, Plaid Cymru has insisted that UK military intervention could only be considered in the context of an internationally-agreed peace plan for Syria, one that includes winning the peace as much as the military defeat of IS.
“Plaid Cymru has also insisted that a framework backed fully by the UN is essential, including a Chapter VII resolution. The Prime Minister has failed to deliver this.
“We are also dubious of the Prime Minister’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian fighters on the ground ready to fight IS – a doubt shared by the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, amongst many others.
“Dropping bombs from the air will not lead to the defeat of IS. Neither will it the secure peace for the people of Syria or bring stability to the wider region. What is needed is a plan for a process of reconciliation and reconstruction.
“The Party of Wales urges all governments to redouble efforts to secure a comprehensive peace deal for Syria and the wider region. We urge world leaders not to repeat the mistakes of past Western military interventions in the Middle East.
“We call for renewed commitments to support and aid civilians who are suffering as a result of the war, call for pressure to bear on Saudi Arabia and others who are financing IS and we call for practical support for those currently d e f e n d i n g themselves on the ground from IS such as the Kurdish P e s h m e r g a fighters, which must also include a commitment from Turkey to cease attacks upon the Kurds.
“UK military action as currently proposed risks further escalation in Syria and making our own communities at home less secure.
“Unless the Prime Minister addresses all unanswered questions and brings forward a more comprehensive plan, Plaid Cymru cannot support military action.”
On Monday the leader of the opposition in Westminster said that he would allow Labour MPs a free vote on extending British air strikes into Syria. Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to the bombing, and in a letter to Labour MPs said that he felt that Mr Cameron had not explained how the bombings would help Britain’s security.
However, the Shadow front bench team is divided on the matter, with shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn and Tom Watson among those favouring military intervention. Llanelli MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Nia Griffith has said that she is opposed to UK involvement in air strikes, citing the lack of an effective strategy from Mr Cameron as a major factor in this. Ms Griffith said:
“Last week in Parliament I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister making the case for the UK’s involvement in air-strikes on Syria. He spoke eloquently, but it was clear that he did not have an effective strategy for following up the air strikes and bringing the stability that that country so desperately needs. That’s why I spoke up very clearly in Shadow Cabinet against UK involvement in air strikes.
“It is understandable that in the wake of appalling atrocities in Paris, that we should want to do something urgently to combat Daesh / Isis and show solidarity with our allies, but we should beware of simply bombing places like Raqqa in Syria as a knee-jerk reaction, which, as fleeing Syrians have pointed out, would inevitably lead to civilian casualties.
“We all abhor Daesh with their barbaric acts, and their murdering of innocent p e o p l e including m a n y Muslims, b u t military experts h a v e warned that air strikes alone are not sufficient to drive Daesh out of the territory it holds. Far more needs to be done to cut off their supplies of oil and weapons, and to prevent more young people being drawn into their hateful propaganda and radicalisation.
“But in terms of re-taking the parts of Syria they control, we need to have a strategy which includes how and by whom the peace can be secured. The Prime Minister talked vaguely about some 70,000 rebel forces, but they are scattered geographically, and composed of many disparate groups. The Prime Minister could not give us details about their commitment or capacity for taking and holding territory.
“However, we now have signs of a greater determination in the United Nations to tackle the region’s problems, and Russia has shown a willingness to be involved. So where the UK should take a lead would be in furthering the Vienna process, getting commitment from the regional powers and developing a political strategy for the area. That now needs to be the priority. I am not a pacifist, but I shall not be voting for air strikes on Syria.
Ms Griffith’s opposite number, Stephen Crabb, has announced that he is in favour of extending British operations. In an interview shortly after the tragic events in Paris, the Preseli Pembrokeshire MP said: “Clearly the events of recent days have focused people’s minds. I personally don’t know what it is going to take to persuade people further, whether it’s the images of carnage and death we saw on the streets of Paris on Friday night or whether it’s the images of mass graves that have been discovered in Syria or the evidence of rape being used as a weapon of war in Syria, but clearly we have to take action to eradicate the world of this horrific poisonous threat which threatens our lives within this country, this so-called Isil.”
When asked whether ground forces would be required, the Conservative MP reiterated what Mr Cameron said regarding the capabilities of existing forces: “We believe there are troops on the ground to do the job, the Kurdish forces and others who have shown in just recent days how capable they are at defeating Isil on the ground, but the diplomatic strategy is an important one as well.”
Jeremy Corbyn has written to Mr Cameron, urging the Prime Minister to hold a full two-day debate on the subject of military involvement before any vote. It is thought that the Government will not call for a vote unless they are confident of securing a clear majority.

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Politics

Senedd committee votes against calls to keep newspaper council tax notice rule

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A SENEDD committee voted against calls to maintain a legal requirement for council tax notices to be published in local newspapers.

Peter Fox tabled an amendment to the local government finance bill to ensure the public notices continue to be printed in newspapers.

But a vote in the local government committee was tied 3-3, with John Griffiths, the chair, required by Senedd rules to use his casting vote against the amendment.

Mr Fox, the Conservative MS for Monmouth, said online-only notices are not always accessible to everyone and some people rely on newspapers.

He argued keeping the requirement would help increase accountability and transparency.

Mr Fox, who led Monmouthshire council for a decade, said: “We shouldn’t be stopping people having the right to access information in the way they need it.”

He told the committee: “It’s almost abdicating responsibility as a government to make sure the people of Wales, all people of Wales, get access to information….

“I think it’s a retrograde step that wasn’t needed. I think the government should have more responsibility to the wider population of Wales.”

James Evans, a fellow Tory MS, who represents Brecon and Radnorshire, warned notices going online-only risks undermining the viability of some local newspapers.

“Not everybody gets their news online – I think we should respect that,” he said, adding that some people put their trust in the written press due to misinformation spread online.

Plaid Cymru’s Luke Fletcher sympathised with the Welsh Government’s intention but backed the Tory amendment due to the potential impact on the newspaper industry.

Mr Fletcher said: “A number of news outlets have contacted us as members to say that quite simply they wouldn’t have been profitable if it wasn’t for these advertising notices.

“As the news landscape in Wales is already pretty thin on the ground, I think that could pose a problem in the future if we see some of these news outlets closed as a result of this.”

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, raised concerns about the accessibility of printed public notices. “Even with my glasses on, I couldn’t read them,” she said.

She supported the Welsh Government’s position that councils should have the choice, with her Labour colleague Joyce Watson also voting against the amendment on June 13.

Rebecca Evans, who is in charge of the bill, said the requirement was put in place in 1992 when communicating with citizens was commonly carried out through newspaper notices.

“But now, 30 years on, this is widely considered to be an inflexible approach to providing council tax information,” she said. “It’s been left behind by technological advances.”

Wales’ finance secretary emphasised that all taxpayers receive information about council tax as part of their annual bill, whether they choose to receive that electronically or in hard copy.

Stressing the importance of value for money, Ms Evans added: “Should local authorities wish to continue to use local papers, the bill does not prevent them from doing so at all.”

She sought to assure members that the change has not been designed with any broader intention to pave the way for removing other types of public notices.

The bill now moves to stage three of the legislative process, with the Conservatives expected to re-introduce the amendment for a vote of the whole Senedd.

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Health

Disabled people facing ‘David and Goliath’ battle for support

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DISABLED people too often face a David and Goliath-style battle for support under Wales’ health and social care system, a committee heard.

The Senedd health committee took evidence about the Welsh Government’s plans to reform direct payments which allow disabled people to arrange their own care and support.

Nathan Lee Davies, an author, artist, and activist from Wrexham, told the committee he has had a largely negative experience of direct payments with his local council.

“The local authority has recently clawed back £33,000 of my direct payments,” he said, adding that he finds it difficult to spend his money in the way he would like.

Mr Davies, who has Friedrich’s ataxia, which affects his co-ordination, balance and speech, was saving up for a rainy day as well as a holiday to Florida – his first break in 14 years.

But Wrexham Council demanded the return of “surplus” funds, leading him to launch a successful gofundme campaign to raise money for his dream trip.

Chris Hall, a volunteer who supports Nathan, said the campaigner gets no opportunity to co-produce his “defective, appallingly written” care and support plan.

He said Nathan faces a continual David-and-Goliath battle with a “dysfunctional” direct payments department, warning: “They’re not interested in what Nathan wants.”

He drew a parallel with the victims of scandals around the post office, infected blood, and the Hillsborough disaster – who found themselves isolated and up against big organisations.

Mr Hall told the committee disabled people are too often walking a financial tightrope unable to save money for a potentially catastrophic rainy day.

He stressed that disabled people deserve the opportunity to live a fulfilled life, not just get by.

If passed, the health and social care bill will introduce a right to direct payments via the Continuing NHS Healthcare support service.

Mr Hall warned that disabled people who opt for direct payments for Continuing NHS Healthcare may not be able to go back to receiving support from the council.

“I think Nathan and many people who are disabled say ‘it’s better the devil I know’,” he said.

“Rather than jumping into a swimming pool and saying ‘I’ll see if I can swim’ they’re saying ‘I’ll stay on the edge of the pool – at least I’m not drowning’.”

Shahd Zorob, a fellow campaigner, from Carmarthenshire, warned about more pressure being piled on an already under-strain health service.

Ms Zorob, who has cerebral palsy, also raised concerns about a shortage of personal assistants, saying the pay is simply not good enough.

Mr Hall agreed that there is too often a “revolving door” in terms of support workers, with Mr Davies finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff.

“He’s effectively self-employed and managing ten staff,” he told the meeting on June 12.

Cecilia Kenny, a disability rights campaigner, who is also from Wrexham, called for clearer information and communication around the plans for direct payments via the NHS.

Samantha Williams, policy manager at Learning Disability Wales, supported the reform’s aims but raised concerns about implementation and the administrative burden on families.

Jake Smith, policy officer at Carers Wales, said the bill would potentially increase choice and control for unpaid carers and their loved ones.

Kat Watkins, project development officer at Disability Wales, who recently moved to Continuing NHS Healthcare herself, also welcomed the proposed changes.

She said: “We’ve got a two-tier war between disabled people and people with long-term health conditions who either can have the control over their care or can’t.

“And that is not something that we want in Wales at all.”

Ms Watkins added: “It’s so important for human rights …they may have complex health needs but they still have rights as human beings to have an independent life.”

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Education

Alun Davies says additional learning needs reforms not delivering

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THE ARCHITECT of Wales’ additional learning needs system warned the reforms are not delivering on the aim of transforming support for children and young people.

Alun Davies, who steered the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Act through the Senedd, said the reforms had to deliver a sea change in learners’ experiences.

But the Labour MS for Blaenau Gwent, who has been on the backbenches since 2017, said implementation of the legislation has not delivered some of the initial ambitions.

“It breaks my heart sometimes to listen to the stories of parents, who are fighting hard for their children and who deserve the support to flourish.”

The former minister for lifelong learning called for confirmation that children and young people do not need a diagnosis to receive support in schools and colleges.

Lynne Neagle, who previously chaired the committee that scrutinised the 2018 legislation, confirmed support should be based on need rather than a diagnosis.

Stressing ALN is very much a priority, Wales’ education secretary told her Labour colleague: “I don’t agree with your rather bleak assessment of how the reforms are going.”

Ms Neagle acknowledged challenges with consistent implementation of the reforms, which are being phased in to replace the special educational needs system.

She said the Welsh Government has invested more than £60m to support implementation, with £54m budgeted for ALN in this year.

Also during education questions on June 12, the Conservatives’ Tom Giffard raised concerns about Labour’s pledge to apply VAT to private schools.

Mr Giffard, who represents South Wales West, told the chamber the Welsh Government has not carried out an impact assessment of such a policy.

The shadow education secretary estimated the cost to Welsh schools at £18m, asking how Welsh ministers would fill the “black hole”.

Accusing her opposite number of coming up with a “back-of-a-fag-packet” calculation, Ms Neagle said the policy will actually release funding for schools.

She replied: “You should know all about black holes, given that we have a black hole in our budget of £700m as a result of being short-changed by the UK Conservative Government.”

Meanwhile, Cefin Campbell criticised Keir Starmer’s pledge to recruit more teachers given education is devolved and Labour has run Wales for 25 years.

Mr Campbell, who took over the education brief in a Plaid Cymru reshuffle last week, said a survey shows three-quarters of teachers in Wales had considered leaving the profession.

The former lecturer raised concerns about the initial teacher education incentive scheme, saying the Welsh Government has “no idea” if it is working due to a lack of evidence.

Ms Neagle said Sir Keir is well aware education is devolved, suggesting consequential funding will be used to address Wales-specific needs such as shortages in certain subjects.

She agreed about the importance of data on incentive schemes: “I’ve been very, very clear about that with officials. You can’t change policy without having effective data.”

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