Sunday, October 23, 2016

Climate Change - Following the evidence.

Two weeks ago, I attended the 2016 GWPF (Global Warming Policy Forum) lecture at The Royal Society by Matt Ridley. My attendance, in itself was enough to draw down upon my head bucketfuls of contemptuous ire. The problem is that both the GWPF and Matt Ridley are open minded about the scale of dangerous global warming, and the appropriate public policy response to it. To many of those involved in what I will refer to to as the 'green' lobby, (and this is not meant to be disparaging) no right thinking person should even listen to any view other than that the world is facing catastrophe unless we make massive cuts to carbon emissions. We are simply told that the science is settled. There must be no further debate. My attending the Ridley lecture was akin to attending a meeting of devil worshippers intent on sacrificing virgins. Well, I think it's wise to listen to 'alternative' thinkers. Turned out it was a very good lecture. And thought provoking.

Matt Ridley began his lecture by telling us he agreed that we are experiencing a degree of global warming, and that he accepts the scientific consensus - which is that global warming is real, but not necessarily dangerous. There are several scenarios, ranging from harmless to catastrophic, according to the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), with the extreme predictions of dangerous climate change being very unlikely. That's not too far from what I think. But being instinctively a cautious man, I tend to lean towards the opinion that we should decarbonise as quickly as we reasonably can.

First part of the lecture was about the extent of 'global greening' - the degree to which vegetation covers the face of the earth. I've not considered this as I should have done. We all know that more carbon dioxide makes plants grow more quickly. Indeed I'm told some glasshouse growers maintain high CO2 environments to encourage growth. Matt Ridley claims there has been a huge growth in global greening over recent decades, which he further claims is the result of higher levels of CO2. This seems highly credible to me. There was a whole lot more as well.

I'm not a scientist, and have no wish to enter into any sort of debate about the science. Neither do I feel competent to judge most of the speech, though I did find it informed and interesting. What I do find really interesting, and the inspiration for this post is that I do not think Government policy should be based on a partial view of science. I like to make judgements based on evidence. So often, I hear the greatest advocates of action to limit climate change as dismissive of any questioning. It's a mistake. In the end, governments the world over will be guided by evidence - or science delivered as evidence. I think Matt Ridley deserves to be listened to. At least his speech to the GWPF deserves to be read.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fight to save Montgomeryshire

Currently, a review of parliamentary constituencies across the UK is underway. In Wales, boundary commissioners have published their first draft of what they feel should be the parliamentary constituencies in the 2020 general election in Wales. A final decision is expected in time for Parliamentary approval in October 2018. In my experience, very few of my constituents are aware of the detail about what is happening, or the history which has led up to the current position, or what that current position actually is. The sad reality is that Parliamentary democracy as we know it is being emasculated in Mid Wales, with scarsely a murmur if dissent.

 So I invited Montgomeryshire's Town and Commiunity Councils (and County Councillors) to join me for a sort of 'seminar' last week. A few came along, and we had a good general discussion. I'd hoped more might come. The Montgomeryshire Conservative Association even provided refreshment, even though it was not a political meeting. I tried to be as non-opinionated as I could be, not a rule that applied to my guests of course. They could say what they wanted. They did. I've run through the history in a previous blog post, so here's just a brief summery of the background.

It began in 2009, following the 'Expenses Scandal'. Political parties competed to be the most beastly to future MPs, including cutting their number. The voting public was rather pleased about this approach. The Conservatives (led by new boy, David Cameron) made a manifesto promise to reduce the 650 MPs to 585, while the Lib Dems (then a force in the land) made a manifesto promise to cut to just 500. In the event, neither party won a majority. So in May 2010, the two parties formed a Coalition Government - and announced in its 'Programme for Government' that there would be a reduction in the number of MPs of 8% - from 650 to 600.
In 2011 the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act was passed, taken through the Parliamentary process in a resolute determined way by the then Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. Not only did this Act reduce number of MPs to 600, it legislated to allow only a 5% difference in electorate of each of these 600 constituencies, eliminating the historic over-representation of Welsh MPs at the same time. The intention was that these new boundaries would be in place for the 2015 election, but in Sept 2013, this was scuppered when the House of Lords successfully inserted a 5 yr delay.
The proposals for Wales assume the number of Welsh MPs falling from 40 to 29, and each electorate being approximately 72,000-78,000. The poor old Welsh boundary commissioners had little choice but to carve up Mid Wales to make the numbers work elsewhere. And that's where we are today. Last Thursday we awere considering the first attempt to carve us up!  I just do not think many people know all this. Which is why I invited Council reps to come for a chat about it.
Interesting meeting. All agreed with the input I'd had into the Welsh Conservative official response - moving Llanidloes and Blaen Hafren back into the South Powys Seat, and moving Forden/Berriew into the North Montgomeryshire and Clwyd South seat. But I accept this is 'tinkering at the edges'. Some wanted to go further, and challenge the proposals wholesale, launching a fight to retain a Central Powys constituency (Montgomeryshire/Radnorshire). I said I thought this is tantamount to opposing the 2011 Act. At the personal level,I would love to see this approach succeed. 
Surpringly, some of the Councils most affected by the changes did not turn up, which was a bit disappointing. They probably have other forums to discuss these changes. But there were a few seasoned campaigners there, who do not intend to go quietly. So I expect we will hear more of this. Expect updates.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Motor Neurone Disease.

Was thinking what I should write about for my fortnightyly column in the Oswestry and Borders column earlier this week. Wanted to move away from Brexit or Wales Bill. So I went for Motor Nuerone Disease. I am president of the Montgomeryshire branch of MND. 

Politicians become involved in a broad range of issues, some specific to the constituency, some of national and international significance, but some based on personal experience and interest. Some interests are born of chance. Several of my broader interests revolve around ill health and social care. As examples, last week I sponsored a 2 hour meeting of RESEC (Research into Specialist Elderly Care) in Parliament. And this week, I joined a highly successful reception held near Westminster Abbey by the Motor Neurone Disease Society. 

Motor Neurone Disease is very cruel. It is fatal, attacking nerves in the brain and spinal cord. It leaves people living with MND locked in a failing body, progressively unable to talk, or move and finally unable to breathe. The disease effects up to 5000 people in the UK at any one time. About six per day die of MND. I have been president of the Montgomeryshire branch of MND for many years now. Our aim is to raise awareness of the disease and campaign to support those living with MND and fund research into finding a cure.

This week's reception was to highlight concerns, designed to influence Government. Government Minister, Penny Mourdant, joined us as a key speaker. There are two issues causing concern at present. Firstly there is the requirement for those with MND to undergo regular re-assessment for welfare support. Been a bone of contention for years with people living with degenerative conditions. They are not going to get better. Re-assessment is pointless. The Government has announced it intends to legislate to exempt progressive diseases from the need for re-assessment. This must apply to MND. It's a disease without a cure. It's a slope which leads only one way.

The second big concern is the Government’s intention to devolve social care payments to local authorities or in the case of Wales, to the Welsh Government. I must admit I support this, though it will inevitably lead to variable standards of service. To argue against this is to argue against devolving powers from central government. But it is an issue needing further discussion.

I particularly enjoyed meeting Prof Jane Hawking at the reception. She was married to the brilliant scientist, Stephen Hawkins for 26 years. I felt that I knew her already, having watched The Theory of Everything, the film based on her book outlining her experience, as a nurse, Carter and wife. She may not look like the actress who played her in the film, Felicity Jones. But she still exudes the intensity and strength, based on her faith, which enabled her to cope with the extraordinary pressures that MND meant for her as well as her husband. 

It was a good event, arranged by dedicated people. I hope Govt listens to what they say.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Making your mind up"

Bucks Fizz do it their way. I do it 'My way'- and so does Boris. The process of developing opinion is an individual thing. My way is never trust instant decisions. Think about the question, consider the options, discuss with others, then decide. First instinct is of course a part of this. Even after all that, I sometimes change my mind. I don't like to be rushed. That's what I think Boris Johnon did before coming out in favour of backing the UK leaving the EU. Actually, I thought we all knew that. Hasn't stopped the BBC running this total non-news story as their lead today. I suppose it feeds into the Beeb's refusal to accept the referendum result.

Now let's turn to the much lesser fish, the MP for Montgomeryshire. My instinct was Leave, having voted 'Out' in 1975. Accepted the vote then and worked in several positions to ensure the EU delivered benefit for Wales. Was fiercely opposed to us joining the Euro though - where we were saved by Gordon Brown. I was not enthusiastic about the EU Referendum. Perhaps naively, I believe the whole structure would one day collapse. Still do. I did not campaign, not being impressed by the campaigns. But on June 23rd I had to choose. Like many I approached the vote with much uncertainty. Never in doubt that I was always going to vote 'Leave' but I did think it was impossible to reach a fully considered position. Also thought this would apply to so many others. Never expected Leave to win, and felt quite stunned on 24th June. If we had decided to remain I would have accepted the result. But we voted 'Leave' and that is what I expected to happen.

Now let's move on 6 mths, to today. On June 24th, we were expecting Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to be invoked immediately. It's what the then Prime Minister had promised. Also, EU top team demanded an early invocation (if that's the word). Not willing to open discussions before they said. It's what they still say. Personally, I took totally different view. Luckily, our new Prime Minister agrees. Article 50 should be invoked at the at the most beneficial time -for the UK and the EU. I rather fancied it to be on Feb 16th, my birthday. The Prime Minister thinks before end of March. There seems to be a growing campaign for MPs to have a vote on this beforehand. Can't work out what this vote is supposed to be about. Clearly it cannot be about terms of leaving the EU because no negotiations will have taken place. And the Prime Minister will totally destroy her negotiating position if she told us what the UK view will be before negotiations start. Truth is that the 'Remain' side do not accept the referendum result, and want MPs to reverse it - while declaring the opposite of course. Don't know how this affects the typical British voter, but it's changing me from being relaxed about the issue, to being totally committed to 'Leave'. Personally, I think there would an explosion of voter outrage (fully justified) if MPs decided not to invoke Article 50, and if I were Prime Minister, (now there's a thought) I'd be tempted to bring the invocation date forward. 

However, I do expect votes on Brexit after the Queens Speech though, as MPs debate the Great Repeal Bill. It will be very interesting to see which MPs will vote against the Bill, which MPs refuse to accept the voice on the people. It may well be quite a dramatic vote. Whatever, I do expect a rare old rumpus over this. No idea how it's all going to end. Perhaps I should write another post tomorrow outlining an 'opposing' position to help me clarify my thoughts!! 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

More turmoil in Shropshire NHS.

I suspect this post will need updating on Monday. I've only just read about the latest change at the top, in the management of Shropshire NHS. Over the years my blog, A View from Rural Wales has often commented on what's happening over Offas Dyke, in Shropshire. That's where my constituents look for their NHS care. We don't have a major hospital in Montgomeryshire at all. My last post was about yet another delay to NHS reform in Shropshire.

Today's news is about Mr David Evans, who has been 'Accountable Officer' of the 3 important organisations deciding on the location of services following desperately needed reform, and also delivering those services as effectively as possible until reform takes place. I think the 'accountable officer' is another term meaning 'the boss'. 

It's a bit complicated for anyone not familiar with the NHS management structure. Top tier are the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). There are two - the Shropshire CCG and the Telford and Wrekin CCG. These two CCGs established a new organisation, the Future Fit Management Board, to make recommendations about the future. I think getting on for £3million has been spent on this.  Mr David Evans is 'Accounting Officer' of all three bodies. Today it was announced that he is being replaced, with almost immediate effect from the Shropshire CCG. Dr Simon Freeman will take over next week. The only information I've seen so far is that the debts facing the CCG are such that special measures are needed. The projected debt for the current year was £14.5 million, and has been brought down to a projected £11 million by year end.

Now I don't know enough to be critical of anyone. Don't even know what's 'planned' or 'unplanned'. But uncertainty is a real worry for patients. Last week we expected to be told what recommendation would be put out to public consultation on Dec 12th. But because of a threat of judicial review, the decision was put off - hopefully for a short period allowing the consultation to still begin on the 12th. Failure will mean significant delays, perhaps up to six months. This would be catastrophic for the people of Mid Wales and Shropshire who are (and will be) awaiting treatment. An update on Monday.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Press Comment about Shropshire NHS Reform.

Glyn Davies, Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, has reacted with both concern and disappointment at news that progress towards deciding on the future structure of Shropshire NHS services and location of new 'Emergency Centre' has been delayed yet again.

David Evans, the Senior Responsible Officer for the Health Board’s ‘Future Fit’ Programme, yesterday announced that due to recent specific concerns about the Programme’s decision making process, the Programme Board is delaying its decision on a preferred option for the future of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital’s for at least a month.

Commenting on latest position, Glyn Davies MP said;

"Montgomeryshire depends on the NHS A&E services based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. And over recent years it has become increasingly clear that trying to sustain A&E services at both Shrewsbury and  the Princess Royal in Telford means, in practice, that the capacity to deliver effective emergency care in Shropshre as a whole is under threat. The population base will support just one."

"Millions of pounds have been invested in meticulous research, consultation and calculation to establish a way forward that is best for the people of Shropshire and Mid Wales. It’s gone time for decisions and actions. We were expecting a clear recommendation about future direction yesterday. It is both disappointing and frustrating that a decision has been delayed yet again."

"Let it be clearly understood. Any further delay is a threat to future NHS care for Shropshire and Mid Wales patients. Consultants will leave Shropshire NHS, unless we have early reform to provide a safe and effective service. I have always believed the only logical location for an 'Emergency Centre' is on the site of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital."

"I accept that a decision to locate the new 'Emergency Centre' at Shrewsbury will be seen as negative for Telford, though I do not believe this should be the case. It is so desperately disappointing that crucial reform is now being held up by threats of a judicial review, which could delay progress. If there is delay, it will put patients at risk into the future."

“We are being told that there will be a recommendation on the way forward made in time for public consultation in early December. For the sake of future generations resident in Montgomeryshire and Shropshire, I hope this turns out to be the case"

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Brexit means what?

IUsed my fortnightyly column for the Oswestry and Border Chronicle today to consider where we are in relation to Brexit - where we are in the process of delivering on the EU referendum vote that the UK should leave the EU. I like to write about issues I'm uncertain about. Useful way of arranging my thoughts into an opinion! Those who have read me on this issue will know I didn't want the referendum. I thought it was too complex an issue for a Yes/No response. But since there was a vote I voted Leave. I voted Leave in 1975, and would always have voted Leave. I did not expect Leave to win, but win if did. And that is it. No going back. So this is what I wrote.

"The dominating political issue of the moment is Brexit, the process by which the UK will leave the EU. A few people are still refusing to accept the clear judgement of the British people in the Referendum on June 23rd. Some are still calling for a second referendum. It's not going to happen. There are some advocating a long delay in the hope that the Exit process will simply run out of steam. That's not going to happen either. The reality is that most people, including many who campaigned to 'Remain' are now accepting the reality of Brexit. The argument is over.

Since June 23rd, we have been reading lots of comment about what Brexit means. The Prime Minister has told us that "Brexit means Brexit" which tells us 'everything' and 'nothing'. Theresa May is absolutely clear that Britain will be leaving the EU, and she is refusing to be rushed into hasty judgement. She is decisive about the principle, but cautious about how it's delivered. She wants to get it right. I fully support this common sense approach. 

This week we have learned something about two crucial steps needed to set the process underway - to press the official start button. Firstly, the two year period of formal negotiation on terms of withdrawal will begin before end of March 2017. For several weeks we have heard demands that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty be invoked immediately - probably by people wanting the process to fail. Today we are hearing accusations that the process is being rushed!! My view is that Mrs May has got it bang on in terms of timing. We also know that Parliament will be asked in the spring to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. It will be interesting to see how many MPs and Peers will oppose this, openly refusing to accept the voice of the people. 

Currently, we are being subjected to millions of confused and confusing words about a 'Hard Brexit' or a 'Soft Brexit'. What is this all about? Its the commentariat making up a story, because Mrs May is governing for the country and not for the media. She is not governing by press release. So the media are having to resort to invention. My advice is ignore it.

Some things that are obvious. The UK simply cannot stay in the 'Single Market', as many are demanding. We cannot accept the free movement of people from the EU (or anywhere else) into the UK, which is a fundamental principle of the Single Market. But we will want access to the Single Market, as the EU will want to the British market. The British economy needs immigrant workers to support our hotels, restaurants, care homes, NHS, agriculture, financial services etc. Trans-Europe trade does not need tariffs or anti-competitive rules. We need good trading arrangements with EU countries, and they will with us. Both negotiating teams will have an interest in an amicable divorce, leaving both parties content. The Prime Minster knows that the road ahead will be a bit bumpy. Brexit is a mighty change. But I expect Mrs May to deliver it.