Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Crisis at Oxfam

A lot of people seem to have been shocked by the unacceptable sexual misconduct of Oxfam officials in Haiti. This has been followed by reports of a cover up of what’s happened, and allegations of sexual misconduct involving other charities. Must admit I’m not so shocked myself. Wherever there are large numbers of desperate vulnerable homeless people, living in absolute poverty, there will inevitably be sexual predators attracted to take advantage. It may well involve a very small number of individuals, but the damage it can do to the reputation of charities like Oxfam is very serious indeed. And despite whatever rules are in place, and I’m sure there are many, it’s impossible to legislate against a charity worker and a desperate refugee falling in love. The whole system depends on senior personal taking a close regulatory, transparent, pastoral approach.
Whatever, we are where we are. The Government, in the form of International Debelopment Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, taking a tough line and cutting off Govt support until certain that Oxfam (and other charities) satisfy her that regulatory processes are in place. It’s the minimum response from Government that will protect the generous willingness of British people to donate.
I sense that the level of public support for my total commitment to the UK spending the UN target of 0.7% of GDP on International Aid will be even less popular. I also think it’s a betrayal of responsibility to the rest of our world that other rich countries do not. France is an example. Macron Stride’s the world wearing worthy humanitarian clothes and does not deliver on International Aid.
It’s not any generosity of spirit that drives my view. It’s self interest. Or at least the interest of our nation. Over recent years we have seen some refugees reaching our shores, many illegally. In my view “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. The levels of population growth in Africa and the Middle East is ‘off the scale’. The numbers are terrifying. We are already seeing anti migrant politics growing in Europe. Germany is the best example. Over recent years a million refugees were allowed in, destabilising the Merkel government. At a conservative estimate there will be another two thousand million people increase in the populations of these countries - on Europe’s borders! We (and every other European country) must invest in quality of life in Africa and the Middle East, and in family planning, disease control, sanitation and water. I’ve always thought this is a right policy, in the national interest. I also realise that unless International Aid is derived by systems and charities that are trusted to act to a high moral standard, the British people will lose confidence in our commitment to aid. That’s why the Govt has a responsibility to be tough on those involved in delivering international aid, including every charity, irrespective of good work being done or having been done in the past.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Cymraeg yn San Steffan.

Wednesday 7th February was a special and historic day in the House of Commons. It was the occasion on which MPs could make speeches in the Welsh Language for the first time. It was nothing to do with allowing a witness to speak Welsh where it was thought the witness would be more comfortable. I think that’s happened before. There was no reason beyond MPs being permitted to speak in the Language of Heaven if they so wanted. A recognition of the importance of the Language to Wales. It was a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, which meets infrequently and irregularly. The ‘Welsh Grand’ consists of all 40 Welsh MPs and a few others - sort of adopted as Welsh for the day! It’s a four and a half hour debate, and there’s a fair bit of freedom to speak about whatever, though the formal position is consideration of the impact on Wales of the Budget.
It was a big day for me personally. I emanate from Welsh speaking ancestors. In fact, I don’t have any ancestors who were other than first Language Welsh. I don’t have any who weren’t born in Montgomeryshire either. My parents were first Language Welsh. But when they married, they moved to Castle Caereinion, an English speaking part of Montgomeryshire. And importantly, at that time the Welsh Language was considered to be a language of failure (Iaith o Feddiant). I never heard my parents speak in Welsh. So my 5 sisters and I grew up without any knowledge of Welsh. For most of my life I cared not about this. Things are so different today.
In my late 50s, after being elected to the National Assembly for Wales, and being surrounded by Welsh being widely spoken, and having to use translation earphones, I felt quite ashamed. I decided to learn. Over the last 15 years, I have become what I think of as an adaquate Welsh speaker.
But yesterday’s debate was special, historic and I wanted to make it memorably challenging. So I decided to write notes for a speech in English only, but speak in Welsh only. It was quite challenging but I did feel rather pleased with myself. It’s not an occasion I’ll forget. Other MPs also spoke in Welsh, some highly proficient, some at varying levels of adaquacy, and some using just a few words. I thought it was a very good day for Wales in Westminster.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Trying to make sense of Brexit.

Late Sunday, and writing 400words for Oswestry and Borders Chronicle. Am off to London early so hoping any Facebook friends will correct any grammatical howlers.!

“There is so much written and debated about the UK leaving the European Union that even I’ve had enough. I can well understand why so many of us are confused about what’s actually happening. So let’s recap. At the Referendum  on 23rd June 2016, the voters of the United Kingdom voted 52% to 48% to Leave the European Union. Over 17 million of us voted Leave, the biggest popular vote for anything in British history. We are leaving the EU. We are leaving the Single Market. We are leaving the Customs Union. We are taking back control of our borders. We are taking back the power to make our own laws. There will not be a second referendum. All this is settled. But there are many secondary issues that are not settled. And there is uncertainty about how much difference there will be!

Leading up to the Referendum, many voters told me they were unsure about which way to vote. I sympathised. Although I eventually decided to vote Leave, it was after much soul searching and with much uncertainty. On one hand I did not want the UK to be governed by an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, while on the other hand, I knew there would inevitably be uncertainty about the future. I found it a difficult call, not helped by the appalling standard of the both campaigns, but particularly that of the Remain side. Despite the remain case being put by the Government, backed up by the entire Civil Service, the Bank of England, the CBI, the EU, world leaders including the US President and the entire UK establishment, I found myself not believing a word that was being said. At the time, I found this quite shocking. I’d never felt like that before.
We were told a Leave vote would deliver “an immediate and profound economic shock” with a sudden GDP contraction. The GDP actually went up. The Treasury told us there would be “4 quarters of negative growth”. Growth has been positive ever since. We were told unemployment would rise 820,000 after a Leave vote. Last week unemployment reached a 42 yr low!
The reason this is interesting this week is that last week, a report was ‘leaked’, which we’re told had been written by Treasury and Cabinet Office officials again warning of massive negative economic consequences. I’m sure they have been written with their usual honourable dedication and integrity. As they were last time. We will all have to make up our own minds about whether we agree or not.



Friday, February 02, 2018

Checking out my local cremation site.

MPs get to all the best places! Spent this morning at the Emstree Crematorium in Shrewsbury, which is main crem serving Shropshire and most of Montgomeryshire. In reality, Emstree serves all of Shropshire since the Telford crem recently ceased to be operational.
In Shropshire cremation was ‘privatised’ about 7 yrs ago, when the local authorities transferred the services to the Coop. Then about 18 months ago, the Coop transferred a group of crematoriums, including those at Shrewsbury and Telford to an experienced private operator, Dignity. Dignity took over the crematoria with a major programme for re-investment. But unfortunately, the cremators at Shrewsbury and Telford ceased to be operational before the scheduled re-investment. I was told that it was possible to make one cremator out of the two at Emstree which have collapsed. But are having to wait an unacceptable long time. And while services continue at Emstree, the actual cremation often has to take place elsewhere, which again is distressing to families.
Next week Dignity will begin installing a new ‘temporary’ cremator. It’s planned to go to Basingstoke eventually but is being located at Shrewsbury on a temporary basis. It’s expected to become operational in two weeks time. I was told it’s the best designed cremator in the world.
Must admit I had no idea of the complexity of what is involved in delivering a cremation service. The work at Shrewsbury will cost £millions. I was amazed by the sheer scale and complexity of the Mercury Abatement equipment. I am invited to go back to the opening event of the new cremator in a few weeks time. I will if I can. This is a very important issue for my constituents.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Privatising the NHS - in Wales!

On Monday of this week, I wrote to the Chief Executive of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board about possible changes to its renal dialysis service. Not critical. Just seeking information. Seems it’s become a public issue (not as a result of anything I’ve said). In the interests of accuracy, this is what I wrote

29 January 2018

Gary Doherty
Chief Executive
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board

Dear Mr Doherty,

I have been approached by a number of constituents regarding possible changes to the Renal Unit at the Victoria Memorial Hospital, Welshpool. This is a matter in which I am also very much personally interested, in my capacity as Treasurer of the North Powys Kidney Patients Association (NPKPA).

I am aware that the Renal Unit in Wrexham requires upgrading and that, as part of the procurement process, other Units under the umbrella of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) are currently under review. This may result in privatisation of the haemodialysis service at Welshpool, and has understandably led to concerns amongst kidney patients, their family and friends, staff and supporters of the unit.

I would be grateful if you could therefore please address the following queries which have been raised with me, in order that I am able to respond to my constituents:

Will the service currently provided at the Renal Unit be the same or will it be enhanced in some way by a private company?

How will shared care be affected between local GPs, BCUHB’s unit in Wrexham and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (eg for other medical problems, scans, blood samples, transplant etc)?

How will the sharing of data between the NHS and the private sector work?

Will patients from Powys be given priority to dialyse in Welshpool above patients from outside the area?

How will patient transport be provided to and from the Unit and who would provide this service?

How will nursing staff be affected if and when the Unit is privatised?

Currently staff also provide support to Peritoneal patients and transplant patients but these services would remain under NHS control, and so the level of service to those patients will potentially be affected by privatisation.

NPKPA purchased and paid for the installation of all the televisions for the Welshpool Renal Unit but the annual licenses are covered by BCUHB. I am told that patients in some private clinics are charged to use televisions on a per session basis but we are hoping that this will not be the case in Welshpool.

I look forward to hearing your comments on the above at your earliest convenience.

Yours,


Glyn Davies

Monday, January 29, 2018

Letter to National Grid Chairman - and reply.

Recently, I wrote to Sir Peter Gershon, Chair of National Grid about the Mid Wales Connection Project. Reprinted it below. Together with a reply from a Hedd Roberts. Sir Peter could not be bothered to reply himself. Must admit I didn’t expect him to. Far to grand for that. Thought I should share this. Tells you all you need to know about National Grid.


11 January 2018

Sir Peter Gershon
Chair
National Grid plc

Dear Sir Peter,

I have written to you previously, (the 23rd June 2015) about National Grid's proposal to build a new 40 kilometre 400kv power line from North Shropshire, along the lovely Vyrnwy Valley, to Cefn Coch in the heart of my constituency of Montgomeryshire. I had communicated with you about this proposed development before that date, and also afterwards in 2016 about the lack of transparency in National Grid’s dealings with me and my constituents. It is a proposal which has caused great distress to me and to many of my constituents. It continues to cause distress. In every instance, you have refused to engage with my concerns.

It was already clear when I wrote two and a half years ago, that there was very little likelihood of significant onshore wind development going ahead in Mid Wales in the foreseeable future, following the policy position adopted by the then newly elected Conservative Government. Nothing has changed, though I accept wind farm developers, driven by the profit motive and caring not about landscape or people, are determined to steamroller the people I represent.

In 2015, I wrote that during my forty years in public life, as a Council leader, Member of the National Assembly for Wales and as a Member of Parliament representing Montgomeryshire, National Grid’s proposals to build the Mid Wales Connection Project are much the  most distressing and divisive issue I have faced. It has divided the communities, land owners and families. At a personal level nothing has caused me such worry or so many sleepless nights. I always believed that such a socially and environmentally destructive proposal was a dreadful mistake. As well as the great uncertainty and impact on property values caused by this proposal, it has turned the people of Mid Wales against renewable energy, and caused great damage to the reputation of National Grid. As MP for Montgomeryshire, I have supported local groups opposing the scheme. Powys County Council listened to us. The UK Government listened to us. But not National Grid. I have found the response of your company to be quite shocking. I also believe that the Mid Wales Connection Project cannot possibly go ahead now. 

By means of this letter, I plead with you to lift the threat in which Mid Wales is gripped by the Mid Wales Connection Project. Please lift the Sword of Damocles which National Grid has held aloft, over the heads of the people of Mid Wales for so long. I ask you as Chair of National Grid, beg you, plead with you to abandon this project at the earliest possible date, ending the threat of desecration to a lovely part of Wales, which has been hanging over the heads of the people of Montgomeryshire. 

Yours sincerely,

Glyn Davies




18 January 2018

Dear Mr Davies,

Thank you for your letter to Sir Peter Gershon of 11 January regarding work to connect the proposed wind farms in Mid Wales. As Head of Customer & Commercial for our Electricity Transmission Owner business, Sir Peter, has asked me to reply on his behalf.

We do fully appreciate the strength of feeling that you and your constituents have about the proposed wind farms and the new electricity transmission lines that would be needed to connect them. We also recognise the unfortunate uncertainty that is driven by the planning consent status of the wind farms.

As you know, where new generation wants to access the transmission system, we have an obligation to offer a connection. In 2015, the majority of the wind farm projects driving this specific project were refused planning consent. This led to one of the projects terminating their agreement with our customer, Scottish Power Energy Networks, whilst the other wind farm referred the planning consent decision to Judicial Review. At this point the UK Government decided to re-consider whether or not to grant consent on the remaining projects and has not yet announced its decision. This means that there is still significant uncertainty regarding the number of wind farms that will require a transmission connection.

We are unable to indicate a specific volume of generation that would trigger a 400kv solution, as the proposed windfarms cover such a large geographic area, the requirement is dependent not just on the total volume of generation seeking a connection, but also the location of the specific wind farm projects. We continue to work closely with Scottish Power Energy Networks in monitoring the situation.

We currently still have a contract with Scottish Power Energy Networks for a connection to our high voltage transmission network to accommodate the wind farms. As soon as we have clarity regarding how many and which wind farms have been approved for connection then we will be able to complete the necessary and confirm the preferred solution. As I am sure you will appreciate, if the need for the proposed connection is no longer there then National Grid will not be progressing with the planned connection.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Yours sincerely,

Hedd Roberts
Head of Customer & Commercial


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Overseas Electors Bill.

Let this be a brief introduction to my Private Members Bill which is to be debated in the House of Commons on 23rd February. This is going to be a very big deal for me. If it progresses by winning the support of a majority of MPs
 Present on the 23rd, it will go into Committee to be debated in detail. Then it will, together with any amendments approved in Committee be debated again on the floor of the House of Commons at Third Reading, before being sent over to the House of Lords.
Of course, it may not make it past Feb 23rd. If a fellow MP so decides, it can be ‘talked out’. PMBs often are. If the appointed hour is reached before speeches have finished (say 2.30ish) my Bill would fall and bite the dust. What sometimes happens, to prevent a PMB being ‘talked out’ in this way, is that a ‘closure motion’ is proposed, which stops the debate. It is then voted on. To progress, at least 100 MPs must be present to vote for the ‘closure motion’. That’s a tall order for a Friday. 
My Bill has not been published yet. That will happen during the next few days. It will probably be called ‘The Overseas Electors Bill’. It’s purpose is to remove the existing 15 year time limit on British citizens who live abroad registering as overseas electors. To qualify, they would have to have been previously resident or registered to vote in the UK - and vote in the constituency where they had been previously registered. 
My Bill will give effect to a manifesto commitment made by the Conservative Party in the 2015 and 2017 general elections, though I do not see it as being a political issue. I will be very keen to present the Bill in as non partisan way as possible. It is intended to be fair, and to increase the numbers of people eligible to vote. It is not intended to deliver any sort of ,party advantage.
I have already received much communication from British citizens overseas thanking me for bringing this Bill forward, and wishing me well. One British citizen, Harry Shindler came over to see me from Italy and discuss what he could do to help. Harry is 97 years old, and in the longest serving member of the British Labour Party. He is an amazing inspirational man whose lifetime ambition is to vote again in a British General Election. For many years he was an election agent. There are many reasons why I want my Bill to succeed, including granting Harry Shindler his greatest wish. I will write more when my Bill is published.