Universal broadband speed plan 'unambitious', say Lords

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The government has been told to "up its game" over plans to guarantee a minimum internet speed for all broadband users.

Peers said the current Universal Service Obligation (USO), which will entitle consumers to a minimum internet speed of 10Mbps, was "unambitious".

But the government said the USO was a "safety net" and it had "much greater ambitions".

"The USO has an important part to play in ensuring that no-one is left behind," it added.

Labour spokesman Lord Stevenson of Balmacara opened the debate by sying the House had previously asked for the USO to specify a download speed of 30Mbps, but the general election halted work on the issue.

He said the current USO plans contradict other government initiatives.

"Surely the architecture of the USO has to be consistent with the government's productivity plan, the industrial strategy and the national infrastructure plan.

"The argument is that without some ambition the USO itself may become a constraint on all these important challenges," he said.

Liberal Democrat Lord Foster of Bath said the current plans would see a continuation of the "digital divide".

A 'smokescreen'

Conservative backbenchers also expressed frustration, with Earl Cathcart complaining about the "appalling" speeds he receives at his home in Norfolk.

He told of being unable to download a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report.

He added:"So I have to ring up my agent in Norwich, get him to print it out and send it to me in the post.

"That's hardly 21st Century communications, but at least the post is reliable."

In the same debate, crossbencher the Earl of Lytton called for a ban on using the term "up to" in advertised internet speeds, labelling them "a smokescreen of the first order" that allowed providers "to conceal poor performance".

Digital minister Lord Ashton of Hyde said:"The USO has an important part to play in ensuring that no-one is left behind," and the present minimum specification was being kept under review....

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Tories have not tackled Islamophobia, Conservative Muslim Forum says

Conservatives rosetteImage copyright Getty Images

The chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum has accused his party of a failure to take action on Islamophobia and joined calls for an independent inquiry.

Mohammed Amin said the party was perceived as being "anti-Muslim" and had prioritised electoral concerns rather than taking "decisive action".

"There have been a number of incidents," he told the BBC.

A Tory spokesman said the party took all allegations seriously.

"The party has acted quickly when presented with evidence of inappropriate behaviour, suspending those involved and launching immediate investigations."

Last week the Muslim Council of Britain urged the party to launch an independent inquiry into alleged Islamophobia, saying there were now "more than weekly incidents" involving Tory candidates and representatives.

Mr Amin, who revealed his criticism in an Independent interview[2], said the forum's intervention was independent of the Muslim Council of Britain's demand.

He gave the example of Harrow East MP Bob Blackman, who hosted events in Parliament which a controversial Hindu nationalist attended.

At the time of the events, Labour and the MCB said Tapan Ghosh held "abhorrent" views about Muslims.

Mr Blackman said he did not regret sharing a platform with him, but did not agree with Tweets sent by Mr Ghosh about Muslims.Mr Ghosh has also insisted he is not Islamophobic.

Mr Amin also criticised the unsuccessful London mayoral campaign of Zac Goldsmith, who attempted to link his Labour rival Sadiq Khan to Islamist extremists.

He said he had been a Conservative member for 35 years and did not want to "rock the boat" but:"The Conservative Muslim Forum decided unanimously that the matter was so serious that we should actually make our position known publicly."

The Conservative hierarchy had "wished the issue would go away" rather than deal with it, he said, adding that while the party was not anti-Muslim it had "given excessive priority to electoral consideration rather than taking decisive action".

He also drew parallels with complaints about anti-Semitism in Labour ranks, warning of parties becoming "identified by racial or religious lines".

"There are bad eggs in all parties but you don't get the same bad eggs in every party," he added....

References

  1. ^ Warsi:Tories must act on Islamophobia (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ Independent interview (www.independent.co.uk)

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Swansea tidal lagoon: £200m offer from Welsh Government to get it built

Artist's impression of the lagoon across Swansea BayImage copyright TLP Image caption An artist's impression of the lagoon across Swansea Bay

Wales' first minister has offered £200m to get the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon built, amid reports the UK government is on the point of throwing it out.

The £1.3bn energy project was backed by an independent review, but UK ministers have insisted on value for money.

Carwyn Jones has written to offer a "substantial" stake or loan from the Welsh Government.

But a Whitehall source suggested that the money offered by the Welsh Government was not enough.

"There are offers, and there are serious offers.£200m doesn't really touch the sides," he said.

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns has said he supports the lagoon but in an email warned that the "numbers are awful".

The project was backed in January 2017 by a UK government-commissioned report published by former energy minister Charles Hendry[1], which recommended that tidal lagoons could play "a cost-effective role in the UK's energy mix".

But ministers in the UK government have refused to commit to the project put forward by Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP) saying it "must be affordable".

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Media captionCarwyn Jones:"If it's right for Hinkley, it's right for Swansea"

On Monday, it emerged that Mr Cairns had queried the cost of the energy produced[2] in an email, saying it looked "twice the price of nuclear" and offered a fraction of the jobs.

Mr Jones wrote to Business Secretary Greg Clarke on Tuesday, saying the Welsh Government was prepared to put in cash to "enable the project to move forward".

"When we spoke yesterday, I raised the possibility of the Welsh and UK Governments making a joint offer to Tidal Lagoon Power in relation to the Swansea Bay project," the first minister said in his letter.

"Such an offer would, I believe, strike an appropriate balance between supporting a pathfinder, low carbon energy generation project, in line with the findings of your own Hendry Review, while providing value for money."

Mr Jones told Mr Clarke he would "welcome a discussion about this proposal as soon as possible so that we can put an end to the ongoing uncertainty".

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Media captionKeith Clarke, Tidal Lagoon Power chairman, welcomes Carwyn Jones's involvement

Telling the Senedd about his letter, the first minister called for the lagoon to be offered the same strike price - the agreed purchase price for energy - as the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset.

"If it's right for Hinckley, it's right for Swansea," he said.

A previous offer of "substantial" Welsh Government support[3] had been made in January, although no figure was publicly given at that time.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales earlier on Tuesday, Mr Cairns stressed that the UK government had taken no decision yet on whether to back the lagoon.

Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart called the Welsh Government's offer "a game-changer".

"I hope the UK government recognises it because we cannot let this opportunity slip through our hands," he added....

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Brexit: Labour amendment seeks 'full access' to EU market

Jeremy CorbynImage copyright Reuters

Labour says it will try to force the government to stay in the EU's internal market by tabling amendments to Brexit legislation.

The amendments would force the government to negotiate "full access to the internal market of the European Union" with no new barriers to trade.

It is being seen as a move by Jeremy Corbyn's party towards a "softer" Brexit.

The government says the UK must leave the EU's single market.

Its flagship Brexit bill faces a series of key votes next week....

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