Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Churches and the Welfare State

The BBC are really going big on a story about four churches attacking the Gov't over changes to the welfare state. The four are the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the United Reform Church and the Church of Scotland. The story is being sold as if its the four Church's Easter Message. I'm told the Guardian has also gone quite big on it. Surprisingly, I can find no mention of it in the Sunday Telegraph or the Mail on Sunday, which we take at home. Makes me suspect it was not an Easter message at all. In fact, the Guardian tells us that it was a report published by the Churches 'earlier this year'. It very much looks as if its been recycled by the BBC at Easter in an effort to give it greater impact. I suppose you could say it was re-making a story to pursue an agenda.

Whatever. Lets consider what the churches are supposed to have said. I cannot make much of it, except that they don't like references to benefit recipients in pejorative language. Well I'm with the churches on that. The single issue referred to is the limit on uprating benefits to 1% for the next three years. I accept this was a tough call by the Chancellor, but I cannot see that he has much choice. Since the Coalition Gov't came to power and set about reducing the deficit, public sector workers have received only 1% per year at best - and employees in the private sector have fared even worse. And last year, benefits were uprated by a whopping 5.2%. I cannot but feel some re-balancing was needed here - particularly since the squeeze on wages in both public and private sector is going to carry on for longer than we wanted or hoped. Others oppose this 1% limit as well, so I'm not criticising the Churches for their view - just disagreeing with it. But I bet the Churches are a bit miffed that this has been portrayed as the big Easter Message.

In general, the churches should think through their positions a bit more carefully. Their comments make no reference to the need to make savings. Do they not know about the appalling financial disaster the current Gov't inherited in 2010. Do they not think comments would be taken more seriously if they at least recognised that there is a deficit to be tackled. Do they not realise that the only countries where the welfare state has actually been cut back is where Gov'ts have lost control of the public finances. Nothing has caused more human tragedy than the way the welfare state was used by the last Labour Gov't to create a dependency culture - where young people are effectively written off while still at school. Reforming the welfare state into one that is a 'safety net' rather than a 'dependency trap' is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Coalition Gov't. None of us are sure this reform can be pulled off. The Labour opposition I can understand - but you really would have thought the churches would have wanted to help.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mathew Parris 10 Questions in Today's Times

Mathew Parris has written an interesting article in today's Times. Interesting to me anyway. Its based on telephone interviews he conducted last week with 30 Conservative MPs in marginal seats. He promised that none of what he'd write would be attributable. I wasn't bothered about that. I can't see the point of being an MP unless you can say what you think - within limits. After all, I did before being elected so why stop now. All the whips really care about is that you don't vote against the Gov't. So I thought I'd share with you what I said to Mathew about the 10 issues he raised when we had our little chat.

Q1 - Immigration. The Coalition Gov't has it about right. I dislike the anti-immigration rhetoric that is rife at the moment. But I do think we need more control. We promised to bring levels of immigration down and its reasonable to expect delivery on the promise. Immigrants in the UK illegally should be sent home. But we need to welcome able students and workers from developing nations - India/China in particular.

Q2 - Euro referendum. I support the 2017 date for an In/out referendum. Its what the Prime Minister has promised. He should stick to it.

Q3 - I am not willing to sign up to voting for withdrawal from the EU at present - though I do not rule it out come the referendum in 2017. I may well vote for 'Out' when the time comes. What on earth is the point of entering into any sort of negotiation if a decision has already been made.

Q4 - Human Rights. I am not yet signed up to withdrawal from the European Convention, and not yet in favour of scrapping the Human Rights Act either. But I am heartily sick of the way some judges are interpreting (and undermining) the human rights legislation. Before withdrawal from Human Rights act, we should try simply ignoring the most outrageous decisions. Wouldn't rule out withdrawing altogether though.

Q5 - Taxation. I do not support significant tax cuts before the next election. Would look and be irresponsible. However I do support tax cuts that do not cost the Treasury much - which is why I fully supported the top rate decrease. Personally would have favoured returning to 40p, the rate Labour held top rate at for the 13 yrs they were in power. If there is any scope for cuts, I'd like to see us take all on minimum wage earners out of tax altogether.

Q6 - Welfare. I accept there must be a continued focus on controlling the welfare budget, but it is unrealistic to speak of significant cuts in welfare budget. Its just not going to happen, and we shouldn't pretend it is.

Q7 - NHS Reform. I sense that we have seen enough structural reform until next election - and maybe the one after that. I don't much care about whether providers are public sector or private sector, as long as focus in on care of the patient. No way can we cut the NHS budget but we do need to bring social care and healthcare closer together.

Q8 - I support the UK Gov't standing by our international obligations on foreign aid.

Q9 - Gay Marriage. I was and remain implacably opposed to changing the meaning of the word, 'Marriage'. I thought it was a seriously bad proposal. But it would not be sensible for the Prime Minister to change his position. It would just not be credible - much as I would like it. I would very much like to see the legislation  defeated in the House of Lords though.

Q10 - David Cameron. Mathew asked whether 'on balance' ...etc.  I was the MP who said "Not just 'On balance' but David Cameron is by far and away our strongest card". I know there are some who cannot take his privileged background, but this comprehensive school educated hill sheep farmer could not care less about background. I know a 'class act' when I see one.  And DC is a class act.

For the record, Mathew did not ask about onshore wind, which in my view is Ukip's strongest card by a mile,and will do the Conservative Party real damage in rural constituencies come the next election.

Friday, March 29, 2013

UK Energy policy killing huge numers of elderly people

That Fraser Nelson who edits the Spectator is a very sharp fellow. Talks a lot of common sense. And none more than his major article in today's Telegraph. "Its the cold, not global warming we should be worried about". Its always been my opinion. Yes, I do think its been sensible for British Gov'ts to adopt policy positions that take account of carbon impact, but it has always seemed 'barking'  to me to adopt policies which would have the effect of killing huge numbers of our fellow citizens, and export millions of jobs, and destroy our finest landscapes - just so that we can feel some sort of weird environmental 'holiness'. I know there's a strata of people who think themselves intellectually superior to Christopher Booker and his type. I see it all the time in the House of Commons when I start to rant about wind farms - being so outraged by what's happening that I find it very difficult to stay calm. I think of it as the 'DECC sneer'. Anyway its great to have more top class respected commentators coming onside as well.

The theme of Fraser's piece today is the number of elderly people who are killed by the crazy policy of driving up the cost of energy (just to make renewables competitive). Over recent weeks the entire nation has been rightly outraged by the failing of the NHS in Mid Staffs. Perhaps over 1000 died as a result of poor care. Shocking. Disgraceful. Must never happen again, etc.. But much worse than Mid Staffs happens every year as a consequence of DECC policies. Fraser tells us that last winter, over 24,000 vulnerable people died of 'cold-related illnesses' - and that was a mild winter. I dread to think how many old people will have died this last week. A and Es are full to bursting all over the country, as people succumb to cold related illnesses. And still politicians, National Grid and wind farm developers plan to desecrate mid Wales with more wind farms, trampling over local people, leading to more and more people dying a cold and lonely death as they face the choice between eating and heating. The 'environmental' taxes should be renamed the 'fuel poverty taxes'.

And on the international plane, the UK's carbon saving is virtually insignificant. Coal fired power stations are being built by their hundreds every day. When I think of what British Gov'ts could have achieved in terms of insulation of homes if the billions that have been raided from consumers by the energy companies in 'environmetal' taxes had been ploughed into home insulation instead, I wonder what sort of a mentality could have developed such lunatic policies. There's no doubt that the scales are falling from the eyes of more and more people about the appalling waste of money, and waste of lives that must be laid at the feet of DECC and the energy companies. One day soon, the utter disgrace about what is happening will become a dominating issue. It cannot come soon enough.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Today's Mini Reshuffle ? - OK Maybe

Now, what are we supposed to make of the changes David Cameron's has made to his Gov't today. Because I was otherwise engaged for most of today, didn't pick up on the story til well into the afternoon - and have  not had the chance to chew it over with colleagues at all. So this is me just think aloud. Will not be able to come to a firm opinion until we're back after Easter.

Initial feeling was one of disappointment. John Hayes has injected a healthy dose of common sense into the Dep't of Energy and Climate Change in the short time he's been there. So first reaction was one of despair - big setback in our hopes to save mid-Wales from the worst excesses of DECC. It has always seemed to me that any employee and Minister walking through the door of DECC, loses  capacity to listen to anyone but those sharing the Dep't's own religious fanaticism. All answers are designed to obfuscate rather than explain. Nothing must stand in the way of their desire to destroy the countryside with wind turbines and pylons. Nothing must ever be said that could cause the slightest offence to foreign energy companies, the leviathon subsidy junkies, who grow ever fatter and greedier at the expense of consumers. In mid Wales DECC is looking down on one of the greatest scandals of Gov't trampling over the people in modern times - and averting its eyes.

But wait a sec. John Hayes is now around the Cabinet table, working in No 10. And he is not the sort of man to just move on and forget the terrible things he was trying to stop while he was at DECC. And his default position is to 'listen'. And Michael Fallon is not the sort of man to fall easily for the DECC disease either. Michael has great knowledge of Treasury issues, and of business costs. He's not going to hoodwinked by the 'reverse Robin Hood' policies of DECC. He might not be as flamboyant and as blunt speaking as John Hayes, but I would expect him to be cut from the same cloth. I think we have seen two men in touch with the grass roots of the British people being promoted into positions of real influence. For those of us who are committed to resisting the desecration of Mid Wales, perhaps today's changes have not been such bad news at all.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The West Lothian Question

Ever since Ireland was granted a degree of self determination in Gladstone's time, constitutional academics have been considering how such arrangements should be legislated for.This consideration grew in public discourse when devolution was being considered in the late 1970s. The issue was best encapsulated in a question put in the House of Commons by Tam Dalyell, MP for West Lothian.  He wanted to know;

"How long will English constituencies and English hon. members tolerate hon. members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important decisive effect on English politics, while they have no say on the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?" One would have expected this to be known as 'The English Question'. But in his response to Tam Dalyell, the great Enoch Powell suggested it should be known as 'The West Lothian Question'. And that is indeed what it is known as.

It was rather a good question, which over the years I've though about quite a bit - and my view has always been that its one of those questions which should not be answered. There is no doubt that the current position is a constitutional anomaly. But my opinion is that all the possible answers to the West Lothian Question create new constitutional anomalies - like flattening a bump in a water bed. The recently published McKay Commission report has just offered another one - equally flawed. Though if I put my partisan hat on I can see some real attractions to this one.

Lets consider some of the various answers. First up an 'English Parliament'. Now do we really need to create another 'parliament'? Is this what the people of Britain want? I have heard it suggested that current MPs sitting for English seats could meet as an 'English Parliament' each Friday at the House of Commons. Well, I would not want these English MPs deciding on health and transport policies in Shropshire without my being there, or air transport policy just because the actual airports are in England. Increasingly specialist services are going to be in England.  Lots of mid Wales services are in Shropshire. Some form of an English Parliament is supported by those who want a 'federal' UK. Personally I do not thing a 'federal system is sustainable when one of the 'federal partners' is around 85% of the whole. Think Cyprus and the Eurozone!! Many sensible people like this idea. I don't.

So what about 'English votes for English laws'. Personally I think this is rather better, but would be horrendously complex and difficult to operate. Every bill would have aspects which affected England only. House of Commons would be like a non-stop Hokey Kokey. But this would be good for job creation - the million civil servants needed to make it work.  This is not for me either - unless we unwisely decide 'Something must be done'.

So what about cutting back on the number of MPs representing the devolved nations. A few like this idea. It was proposed by Michael Howard when he led the Conservatives. The idea was (at the time) that if law making powers were not granted to Cardiff Bay the reduction would be to 33 MPs rather than 40 (pro rata the comparative populations), and if law making powers were granted (as they were by the 2006 Act) the number would be 26 MPs. Not sure there would be many takers for this. Just imaging all those hour long Chris Bryant speeches. God save us.

Of course we could just make the four nations 'independent' or scrap devolution altogether. While there would be a quite a few takers for both of these options, they are just not going to happen  - anytime soon anyway. So we must consider what the McKay Commission is suggesting. I have not read the report yet (depending on media coverage only) so cannot make too firm a conclusion. But I cannot see the idea of English MPs having a veto on UK legislation (which affects only England) if there is no majority of 'English' MPs in support.  I can see some attractions for the Tories here because of our relative strength in England. But we would still be the almost impossible position of identifying which bills (and clauses of bills) would qualify..... This game of possibilities could go on for ever!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Just One True Cost of Welsh Organ Donation Change

The Welsh Government continues to press on with its misguided proposal to change the organ donation system in Wales from one based on opting-in to one based on opting-out. This action is causing real distress in the Dep't of Health, and amongst all the people involved in the donation system that I have discussed it with. It will cause great damage to the integrity of the National Assembly for Wales itself. It leaves me and people who agree with me about this issue wanting to reverse devolution of health back to Westminster! This policy is going to go badly wrong and its very vulnerable people who will be paying the price.

Lets look at just one aspect of this in this post. Fundamental to the policy change is that everyone in Wales is required to know about it for it to be legal. So must everybody who moves into Wales. The requirement under the European Convention on Human Rights is that individuals are fully aware of the need to consent or object, and be fully aware of the consequences. The people of Britain know that we have an opt-in system. Over the decades, billions have gone into promoting it. The cost of instilling knowledge of the change into the population of Wales (as well as those moving into Wales) is in my view unachievable, and it is one I believe the Assembly Gov't has seriously underestimated.

In a recent Assembly Health Committee Meeting, Ministers were questioned about the mere £2.9 million pounds sidelined to implement this policy. This is peanuts - and very small peanuts at that. The previous Assembly Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths, the Minister has claimed that the figure is appropriate and that the she reached that conclusion based on the campaign to raise the awareness of the smoking ban. These are completely different issues. The smoking ban attracted national media attention, was discussed in every pub and club, on every shop floor and at every dinner table. The change to organ donation is a subtle and complex change to a law covering a highly emotive subject that will undoubtedly leave many in our communities with no idea what the law is. What really bothers me is that I really don't think the Assembly Gov't cares. It just wants to push the law through - to hell with the consequences. Never felt more disappointed that I lost my seat in the Assembly. Rosemary Butler would have her work cut out controlling me when ever this issue cropped up.

£2.9 million pounds will fail miserably to inform the population of Wales of this important change - won't even scratch the surface. Done a few sums of my own to demonstrate lack of realism. Recently ITV ran a brilliant week long campaign ‘Heart to heart’ to promote organ donation. It resulted in around 120,000 people signing up to the opt-in register - a fantastic achievement. I asked ITV how much it would’ve cost to produce and broadcast the campaign - what was the value of the promotion. Answer was, without exaggeration, ‘you simply cannot put a cost on it’. But I have tried - on the basis that a 30 second advert at prime-time costs £51,000. A two hour programme at this rate would cost almost £12.5 million - though I suppose there might be a quantity discount.. In addition to the two hour programme, there were dozens of national news bulletins, features on Daybreak, on This Morning, on Loose Women and a 30 minute programme focusing on organ donation for viewers in Wales. We're talking £100 million plus - which tells me the cost of an effective campaign is completely unachievable
One problem those of us who oppose this misguided change is that the Welsh Gov't has invested heavily in it politically. They cannot back down. They will be looking for ways to justify what they are doing. One hope is that a new Health Minister has been appointed, Mark Drakeford, who I'm told is a very sharp cookie. I know he's been receiving evidence about issues like the shocking disinformation that was included in the consultation document. I was copied in. If he's as good as I'm told he is, he might just find a way of stopping the madness before it goes further. I really do hope so.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spare Room Subsidy/Bedroom Tax

Perhaps the most contentious policy I've ever blogged on - but feel it should be done. Can't be ducked. Its taken me a while to feel completely comfortable backing this Government policy myself. The issue is changes to housing benefit, where there is some dispute about terminology. One man's ‘spare room subsidy’ is another man's ‘bedroom tax’. The gist of the change is that Housing Benefit will no longer be paid for bedrooms that are considered to be surplus to needs. But its not straightforward and I'll not pretend it is. I support the change - but I expect as many readers to disagree as agree.

Let me begin by setting out the context. Firstly, The incoming Gov't in 2010 faced a position where the outgoing Gov't had spent £150billion (that's £150,000,000,000) more in the previous year than it had coming in. There is not the slightest chance that Labour would not have been forced into making the same level of reductions in spending as the Coalition. And there are but two areas of major spending where these reductions could reasonably have been made - public sector pay and welfare (in a broad sense). Its highly questionable that enough reduction has yet been made. At current spending levels, the implications for future generations is horrific.

 Secondly private sector tenants are already subject to similar legislation. The previous Gov't introduced a 'local housing allowance scheme' which meant no Housing Benefit would be available for private sector tenants. At the time there was a huge hoohah about evictions etc - which simply did not happen. There are over one million private sector tenants on housing benefit. Why is it 'fair' for tenants in the private sector, but not in the public sector?

And thirdly, what about the 250,000 households living in seriously overcrowded conditions - and the hundreds of thousands who are waiting for a home, and do not have a bedroom at all!  Can this be fair when one third of working-age social housing tenants on Housing Benefit are in accommodation that is bigger than that which they actually need. There are nearly a million spare bedrooms, supported by the tax payer to the tune of £500 million per year. The main purpose of the change is to make more efficient use of our social housing stock.

The principles on which this change is based is entirely logical. Polling also shows that in general the public support the change - which is probably the reason behind some Labour spokespersons letting it be known that they are no longer opposed to the principle - and now fully support efficient use of social housing. Despite this, they still shout about the 'Bedroom Tax' at every opportunity, knowing that the reality is too complex for the media to report.

 But as so often with a change of policy, there are difficulties at the 'individual' level. There are 'hard cases'. Always are. Which is why the legislation allows for 'exceptions'. It must, and always has excluded tenants who would find the change unacceptably difficult. The tactics of the 'Opposition' has spread great fear amongst tenants. Money is being given to local authorities so that they can help people on a case-by-case basis. I was particularly disgusted by the fears caused to foster families, which became so bad that the Gov't decided to make specific reference to them in the Bill.  Some other 'exceptions' to the policy include disabled people requiring a non-resident overnight carer, as will pensioners and those in supported ‘exempt’ accommodation. Other exemptions allow a spare room where a child’s disability means they cannot share a bedroom. and will allow armed forces personnel to keep their bedrooms within their parent’s home when they are deployed on operations.

The new policy works so that each person (or couple) is allocated a bedroom. Only children under 16 of the same gender will have to share or children younger than 10 regardless of their gender. The reduction for having one spare bedroom will be 14% of the Housing Benefit, or 25% for two or more spare bedrooms. The coalition has calculated that the average reduction will be £14 per week - £2 per day.

This change is based on the principle of fairness. Fairness to those in overcrowded homes, fairness to those in the private rented sector who cannot have a spare bedroom under the current rules, and fairness to the taxpayer. As usual there are plenty of myths circulating these changes, many of which are completely unfounded. Of course, when policy makers initiate reform, they accept there will be tweaks to make before the reforms are introduced. Coalition Government is listening to the genuine concerns that have been expressed by we, MPs as well as the public. We are doing all we can seeking to make this reform one that is fair and workable. Its not a reform that MPs want to do, but Coalition MPs believe we have no choice.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Take on Six Nations.

Well that's it for another winter. The Six Nations over. What did we make of it. Lets run through the teams in the order they finished in the championship.

Wales. Terrible start. At half-time in the first game against Ireland, no-one sane would have bet on Wlaes winning. But they improved each game and played some smart rugby to beat France, Italy and Scotland. And today, under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium produced the best team performance by a Welsh team I have ever seen. I cannot name a single player who started who should not be on the Lions tour. And Wales had the player of the tournament in Leigh Halfpenny. To beat England 30-3 was beyond every Welshman's dreams. Cannot name any others because they were all brilliant today.

England. Good tournament, but as always became caught up in the overblown hype whenever its England. They looked a good solid but inexperienced team which will get better. Today they were up against a class team right on their game - and the English boys were just not good enough. Even today they played well enough in the first half, showing some great defence - but were tsunamied in the second half. The ridiculous over expectation piled on Tuilagi's shoulders was exposed. But he may well make a great player - as may Barritt and the two second rows. Also think Farrell will turn out OK. I think these five should go on the Lions tour. Plus Dan Cole and Robshaw.

Scotland. Not great, but we weren't expecting much. Stole victory against Ireland. Did well against Italy and did really well to come third. Cannot see many Scots going on tour. Had really fancied Hogg until today, and would take still take him. But Gatland will have several options at full back. No stand out players but a few who would not let Lions down.

Italy. Great tournament. They have the second best player in the tournament (and he would probably be best player if with another team. Parisse is a wonderful player, whom I never tire of watching. But Italy now are more than a one man team. Masi, Canale and others are good solid players. A trip to Rome has become a very tough fixture.

Ireland. Deeply disappointing tournament. Very unlucky with injuries but will have to recruit a new coach to regroup and rebuild. Felt really sad to see Brian O'Driscoll failing to make an impact, and being reduced to a sly stamp today which earned a yellow card - especially after his great play in the first 50 minutes against Wales. I would still take him on tour though, and Kearney. Sexton, Heaslip, and Tommy Bowe if fit. Expect Ireland to be back as a threat next year, but its been a tournament to forget. Still produced the best moment of the Six Nations when Zebo flicked the ball up with his foot into his hands to score against Wales.

France. What an incredible disaster of a season for a team bursting with natural talent. Less said the better - with just a mention for Picamoles, Huget and Fofana. And perhaps Bastereaud who was my man of the match against the Scots today.

Anyway, that's my take. Any other views welcome.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Statutory State Regulation of the Press - Strike against Democracy

Have to admit David Cameron's decision to bring cross party talks on Lord Leveson's proposals to statutorily regulate the press to an end took me by surprise. I had expected an agreement based on Royal Charter. I am hugely disappointed no agreement has proved to be possible, but I am pleased that we are going to put this taxic issue to bed on Monday. Personally, I do not support statutory regulation - no matter how its dressed up. It crosses a Rubicon for me. No matter how appallingly the press has behaved, (and some of it has) the answer is to come down ruthlessly when the law is broken, not to pass new laws designed to regulate it. So while Monday's debate and vote may be difficult for some, it will not be so for me. I know exactly which way I will vote.

Now I know lots of people will disagree with me over this - which discomforts me. They genuinely believe the press should be brought to heel by state regulation. I understand how angry those whose mobiles were hacked feel. They were treated appallingly - and the guilty should feel the full force of the law. I've had my fair share of what I thought to be very unfair coverage in the press over the years. Damn near broke me once. But in the end I just took it and said nothing. Life moves on. And its not that I have any sympathy at all for the press (in general anyway). It's unacceptable behaviour has brought this situation about. But responding by using the law to regulate the press is undermining what makes the UK a free and open society. I cannot vote for it.

Its clear that the Labour Party and our Coalition colleagues, the Liberal Democrats want new legislation as recommended by Lord Leveson. I did not, do not and it seems that David Cameron doesn't either. He knows its wrong and he knows he will take some stick - but he also knows he's doing what he believes to be right. This is how a Prime Minister should behave. So lets be done with this poisonous issue. Its been hanging over our democracy like a black rancid cloud for too long. If a majority of MPs want to back state regulation of the press, they must vote for it - and if they are in a majority, so be it. Let the evil deed be done, and we can move on to other things. I'm pleased that David Cameron has said (I think) that should he ever control a majority in Parliament he would reverse it - but once we are on the road to state regulation it will be damningly difficult to get off. It does strike me as rather sad that great political parties which have played a proud role in how our democracy has developed, underpinned by a free and sometimes unruly press, are contemplating bringing an end to press freedom as we know it. Thank God for the Internet.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let 6th formers learn about Organ Donation

Have attached my name to a Motion to bring in a Bill called 'Blood, Organ and Bone Marrow Donation (Education)'.  The motion is Seema Malhotra's, a new and talented Labour MP.  I was pleased that Seema asked me to become involved. Its always better if Private Member's Bills have cross-party support.  The reality is that this bill is unlikely to become law, but it enables Seema (and me) to raise awareness of a an issue that is important to both of us.

As regular visitors to this blog will know, promoting organ donation is one of my many obsessions. I want Gov'ts to encourage more people to donate their organs. The key to increasing organ donation is to encourage everyone to tell their next of kin of their support - which is a far more effective way of improving organ donation than the misguided plans of the Welsh Gov't to change the donation system in Wales to one based on opting out rather than opting in - a dreadful mistake in my opinion. There is no evidence whatsoever that this change will improve the position - and there's fear at the Dep't of Health that it will do real harm. What would make a difference is educating people during school years ensuring that organ donation is a part of life that we all understand and appreciate - and that its important their next of kin knows their wishes. 

But back to the Seema's motion.  Its purpose is to establish a duty on schools and colleges to educate pupils aged 16 and over about organ donation. Great example of how we should be integrating health and education.  Meeting the demand for donations can be tackled by educating young people about how they can save a life.  Most of us are potential donors but most of us just don't turn our attention to organ donation while we are fit and well. In circumstances where donation is an option, next of kin will be better prepared to deal with what will be a traumatic situation - and thus more willing to agree to donation.
An opt-in system allows next of kin to refuse to allow organs to be donated.  But there is overwhelming evidence that education and forethought provide the crucial difference between the next of kin of a potential donor agreeing.  ITV's hugely successful 'From the Heart Campaign' that ran for a week over Valentine's resulted in a surge of 120,000 people joining the organ donor register, primary evidence of the value of raising awareness.

As a society we are poor about discussing difficult issues. There is nothing more difficult than our own death!  I am planning to write to local schools and sixth forms in Montgomeryshire and raise the possibility of holding debates/discussions on this issue. Let us build on the magnificent initiative of ITV.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tories should look more kindly on Lib Dems.

Its probably because my experience of Lib Dems at a personal level is positive that I was comfortable with the idea of a Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition being formed in 2010. I had great respect for two of my predecessors as Montgomeryshire MPs, who were also good friends - the late Lord (Emlyn) Hooson and Lord (Alex) Carlile. I always took notice of what Emlyn said, and I still talk through some issues with Alex before settling on an opinion. More controversially, it seems I'm one of the few who have some admiration for Nick Clegg. Like David Cameron, he has a very difficult hand to play. They've both shown the skill and tenacity needed to herd cats and nail jelly to the wall at the same time. So it will come as no surprise that I'm not overly aghast at the thought of another coalition post 2015.

Of course I would prefer that my Conservative Party come cruising home as runaway winners in the next election. Even though there are over two years to go until the election, the polls are not offering much encouragement that this happy conclusion will come to pass. It inevitably leads to tentative consideration about whom we might climb into bed with come May 2015. There seem to be two possible candidates, Ukip and the Lib Dems - though we do not know whether Ukip's popularity will carry through to 2015 in sufficient strength to win seats. My instinct tells me that Ukip's surge will last until mid 2014, but fall back after that. We will have to wait and see about that. Anyway, this same instinct is telling me that the Lib Dems will remain a force in the House of Commons, and if my party fails to win an overall majority, will be the only potential partner. The choice again will be do we soldier on as a minority Gov't or enter coalition. In those circumstances I'd support giving it another go.

Of course the next two years are not going to be easy. Nick Clegg will have to show a lot of yellow stocking to his fractious party, some of whom have not come to terms with the responsibility that comes with governing. And David Cameron will have to show some blue stocking to his troops, some of whom do not know what playing for the team means. And on both sides there are 'players' positioning themselves in preparation for the event of defeat. And there's the tearoom tittle-tattle that keeps the keyboards of James Forsyth and Tim Montgomerie in business. But so far the Coalition has delivered more than could have been expected. The Lib Dems signed up to big cheques in the Coalition Agreement. And they are still signing cheques. Last week it was 'secret courts'. Danny Alexander, David Laws, Steve Webb (in particular) - and Vince Cable is much more sound than he would have us think. My message to my colleagues is to look at the price the Lib Dems have paid and think about the alternatives - pre 2015 and after 2015.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Early Call for the Lions Team

Still a bit early to settle on the Lions team, but here's my assessment of what Warren Gatland will be thinking about as we approach the run-in to final selection. Inevitably there's a bit of Welsh bias in my selection, even if I've tried to avoid it. But I have picked seven Welshmen. The next two games could change that.

Prop - Gethin Jenkins. Back to form now he's back to playing. Needs to be back in the UK.
Prop - Adam Jones. Still the best in my book.
Hooker - Rory Best. Obvious choice.
Second Row - Geoff Parling.
Second Row - Alun Wyn Jones, though he needs two good games to tell us he's really back to form.
Blind side - Tom Croft, just ahead of Sean O'Brien. Both will step aside if a fully fit Dan Lydiate returns.
No 8 - Toby Faletau.
Scrum Half - Mike Phillips.
Stand Off - Johnny Sexton - after Farrell's petulant display against France.
Inside Centre - Brad Barritt. I really like him. Not flash. Just very good.
Outside Centre - Brian O'Driscoll. Controversial call this. No complaint if Tuilagi's picked.
Wing - Tommy Bowe. Brilliant and just hope he's back in time.
Wing- George North. Very Special player.
Full Back - Leigh Halfpenny. Obvious choice and goalkicker.

There are a few others who could be selected without dispute from me - and I have assumed some anticipated form improvement over the last two rounds. Here's my respected alternatives who will make the tour - Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Richie Gray, Joe Launchbury, Johnnie Beattie, Jamie Heaslip, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton, Ryan Jones (Captain of mid week side), Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell. Manu Tuilagi, Jamie Roberts, Jonathon Davies, Stuart Hogg.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Reflecting on Eastleigh

Been too busy to think much about the Eastleigh by-election result until now - even though I've done a few interviews on the subject, and am on Radio Wales soon after 8.00 in the morning. I do not believe it is a game changing result - even if it's quite interesting. Ironically, I reckon a Conservative victory would have been much more destabilising for the Coalition. But I did not like being 3rd. In a few days time, the by-election will be forgotten. But I do not want to forget about it. I hope we learn from it.

It was a bad night for all the three mainstream parties - even if less obviously so for the Lib Dems. It is frankly ridiculous of Nick Clegg to describe the Lib Dem success as a "stunning" victory. The Lib Dems lost half their vote! But at least they did had a victory to console them. The Conservatives didn't. We lost a big chunk of our vote as well. The result was big-time disappointing. It was also pretty disastrous for Labour, which made no progress at all despite unpopular decisions having to be taken by the Coalition and favourable mid-Parliament polls.

The big winners were Ukip, and the "stuff the lot of you party". My view is that if the campaign had lasted another week, Ukip may well have won. If Nigel Farage had had the gonads to stand, Ukip might have won. Whatever it was a very good night for Ukip. We do not know how long this success is going to last, but I simply do not think it is much to do with Ukip policies. Have no doubt that its in part a 'protest vote - despite what Ukip says. Ukip is not seen as a serious governing party and offers a convenient way for voters to express unhappiness and displeasure. This is not to suggest I don't take the Ukip threat seriously. Where mainstream parties lose the confidence of the voters, non serious parties take over the space. The recent Italian elections inform us of what can happen - and it could happen in Britain.

Personally, I think a big part of the problem is that voters do not think they are being listened to. Its not just that the Government does things the voters disagree with. That's always been the case. Its just that it sometimes seems to me that voter's opinions are dismissed out of hand. In Montgomeryshire, we see this with the wind farm debate. The majority of voters are utterly incensed by the Gov'ts intentions (both at Westminster and Cardiff Bay) to destroy our landscape with many hundreds of pylons and turbines. We have tried everything to try to get a hearing. But every word coming out of the Welsh Gov't and DECC equates to "Dear Voters - Get Stuffed." Its like shouting in the middle of the Sahara. The voter's message from Eastliegh is "Please listen to us. Give us  hearing. Don't talk down to us. Use language we can understand." Oh how I'd like to think the Eastliegh election result could be a turning point - inspiring us to grab a victory out of the jaws of defeat.