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Concerns raised about Human Rights Act reform

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The Welsh Government has raised its “significant concerns” with UK Government plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.

Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, and Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, have published a joint statement setting out the Welsh Government’s conviction that people’s rights should not be weakened.

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The Human Rights Act sets out minimum standards of how people should be treated by public bodies. The UK Government has published a consultation seeking views on replacing the Act.

Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, said: “The Human Rights Act sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to. Under the latest proposals a new Bill of Rights would not reflect some of the key principles and protections in the Human Rights Act.

“We have been clear and consistent that we will not tolerate any dilution of rights and consider it essential that the United Kingdom remains a world leader. Safeguarding and advancing human rights remains our priority and we would strongly object to any proposals that threaten that.”

Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, added: “We have significant concerns about the UK Government’s proposals that weaken rights, for example preventing a court from quashing certain secondary legislation found to be incompatible with a person’s human rights. The consultation appears to raise significant issues with regard to accessibility to the courts, the rule of law and the role of the Courts in the application of the law relating to human rights.

“There is also an important constitutional issue at stake. The Human Rights Act is fundamental to Welsh democracy; legislation passed in the Senedd must be compatible with the Act, so any action or change must have the agreement of all of the UK’s national legislatures.”

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The UK Government say that the proposed new legislation aims to strike a proper balance between individuals’ rights, personal responsibility and the wider public interest. This would be achieved while retaining the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

They add that the proposed measures will restore Parliament’s role as the ultimate decision-maker on laws impacting the UK population, allowing more scope to decide how we interpret rulings from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This will put an end to us gold plating any decisions made by Strasbourg when we incorporate them into UK law.

The Conservative Government argue that this will restore a ‘common-sense’ approach in vital areas such the UK’s ability to deport foreign criminals, like drug dealers and terrorists, who too often exploit human rights laws to avoid deportation.

They say the proposals achieve this by restricting the rights available to those subject to deportation orders, strengthening the existing legal framework, or limiting the grounds on which a deportation decision can be overturned. This they argue – alongside wider Home Office in its New Plan for Immigration – will reduce pull factors to the UK being exploited by people smugglers facilitating dangerous small boat crossings.

The UK Government estimate that as many as 70 percent of successful human rights challenges are brought by foreign national offenders who cite a right to family life in the first instance when appealing deportation orders. This approach even proved successful in the case of a man who had assaulted his partner and paid no child maintenance to support his family.

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The Government say that the plans will give the Supreme Court more ability to interpret human rights law in a UK context, meaning the Government can enforce rules designed to tackle forced marriages without fear of intervention from Strasbourg.

Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said: “Our plans for a Bill of Rights will strengthen typically British rights like freedom of speech and trial by jury, while preventing abuses of the system and adding a healthy dose of common sense.”

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Welsh Government

£1m for new projects to promote the use of Welsh

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced over £1 million for projects to encourage more widespread use of Welsh.

As part of the funding, £600,000 will be provided to the National Eisteddfod towards hosting the 2022 event in Tregaron. The funding will support the organisation’s preparations for this year’s event, due to take place between 30th July and 6th August, and help achieve its aims of opening the Eisteddfod to a wider audience.

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Funding will also be provided to the National Centre for Learning Welsh, for projects which include creating on-line taster courses for refugees and asylum seekers to learn Welsh, without needing to be fluent in English.  The Centre, in partnership with Say Something in Welsh, will also create courses provided in the most commonly-spoken languages among refugees and asylum seekers in Wales.

The funding will also be used to provide tutor support for a self-study entry-level course for teachers. There have been 2,700 enrolments on the taster course for teachers since its launch in February 2020. The new course, suitable for both primary and secondary teachers, aims to provide a pathway for teaching professionals into more advanced and intensive courses. 

Funding will also be provided to Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg to develop information about Welsh-medium education in minority languages.  The aim is to support families whose children attend Welsh-medium education, but neither Welsh nor English are the main languages spoken at home, as well as promoting Welsh medium education among minority ethnic communities.

There will be changes to our Helo Blod service, which supports businesses to use more Welsh. Helo Blod will continue to operate its ‘one stop shop’ in Business Wales, while Helo Blod Lleol will come to an end.

Jeremy Miles said: “Today’s announcement is about making our language and culture easier to access than ever. We’re investing in opportunities for more people to learn, use and teach Welsh, wherever they are in Wales and whatever their background.

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“Welsh belongs to us all, whether we speak it or not. We’re delighted to work with our partners on such wide-ranging projects, which all support our aim of reaching a million Welsh speakers and doubling the daily use of our language by 2050.”

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Welsh Government

£1 million made available to support Wales’ fishing industry

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Wales’ fishing community is being invited to submit applications to a £1m fund to primarily help mitigate the ongoing impact Covid is having on the industry and adapt to the rapidly changing market conditions for seafood products.

The European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) is co-financed by the Welsh Government and the European Commission and has supported many projects in Wales since being introduced in 2014.

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The funding will support investments in the small scale coastal fleet and aquaculture, together with improvements to the marketing and processing of fishery and aquaculture products. However, any project selected and supported under the programme will have to be completed within a 12 month period starting from July this year.

The EMFF application window opens today. Guidance is available for those interesting in applying and a Project Outline Form should be submitted to Rural Payments Wales as soon as possible. A full application will then be issued and will need to be completed and returned by the closing date of 25 March.

All project proposals received will be assessed on the information provided in the application and will only be considered once the application window has closed.

Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths said: “I’m pleased to be able to make £1 million available to support the fishing industry in what remains an incredibly challenging time.

“More than £15 million in approved grant awards has already been made for projects across Wales through the European Maritime Fisheries Fund, and a further £1 million of projects are under consideration.

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“As the European Commission funding is only available until 2023, this £1m will primarily focus on providing support to help the industry mitigate the ongoing impact of Covid and adapt to the changes in the market for seafood products.

“I encourage all with an interest to submit a Project Outline Form to Rural Payments Wales as soon as possible, before completing a full application by 25 March.”

Details of the EMFF programme and scheme guidance can be found on the Welsh Government website: European Maritime and Fisheries Fund | Sub-topic | GOV.WALES

For any additional help and support, applicants should contact the RPW Customer Contact Centre on 0300 062 5004.

The long term EMFF replacement scheme is currently being developed and is expected to be available later this year.

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Coronavirus

First Minister announces plan to ease alert level two protections

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A plan to return Wales to alert level zero measures will today be set out by First Minister Mark Drakeford.

The move comes as the latest public health data suggests cases of coronavirus have started to fall back from their very high levels. More than two-thirds of people aged 12 and over have received a booster or third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

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The full move to alert level zero will be dependent on the public health situation continuing to improve.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “I want to thank everyone for following the rules we have had in place since Boxing Day to help keep Wales safe while the fast-moving omicron variant has surged through our communities.

“I also want to thank everyone involved in our vaccination programme for the enormous efforts to give almost a third of the population a booster since the start of December – this has been vital in increasing our protection against omicron.

“The actions we have taken together have helped us to weather the omicron storm. The latest data suggests some positive signs that the peak may have passed.

“We can now look more confidently to the future and plan to start gradually removing the alert level two restrictions, starting with the outdoors measures.

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“But the pandemic is not over. We will closely monitor the public health situation – this is a fast-moving and volatile variant, which could change suddenly. I urge everyone to continue to follow the rules and have your vaccines to keep Wales safe.”

If conditions allow, the alert level two restrictions will be removed in a phased approach.

From tomorrow, the number of people who can be present at outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.

From Friday 21 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities. This means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities.

  • Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events
  • Outdoor hospitality would be able to operate without additional reasonable measures.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to larger outdoor events.

If the downward trend continues, from Friday 28 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all indoor activities.

  • Nightclubs will be able to re-open.
  • Working from home would remain important but it would no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres.
  • The rule of 6, table service and 2m physical distancing no longer required in hospitality.

The self-isolation rules for all those who test positive for Covid and the face covering rules for most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January.

The three-weekly cycle would be re-introduced from 10 February, when the Welsh Government will review all remaining measures at alert level zero.

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