Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shale Gas. What's the potential?

I am a DECC sceptic. Since I've been an MP, my confidence in the Dep't of Energy and Climate Change has collapsed. I no longer believe a word that emanates from anyone with any connection with DECC. And I do not think this will change until the whole wretched department is abolished. Until today, I thought I was a lone outrider in this opinion. But Peter Lilley almost matches my disillusionment in today's Telegraph - and he's a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee!

Peter has based his article around the attitude of DECC to shale gas. The shale gas debate took off after what happened in the US following development of huge supplies, and then the discovery of massive reserves of the stuff in N E England. Inevitably, anyone interested in the 'energy' question began asking questions about whether the same sort of price fall could happen in the UK - or at least a significant reduction in dependency on gas imports. All I've heard from DECC is discouraging noises, playing down any possibility of significant benefit. Leaves people like me, who have no confidence in anything DECC says without much idea of what the true position is. At least Peter Lilley is challenging the cosy consensus. I'll add a few quotes from his article;

" Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary was so upset by the British Geological Survey's new estimates, which show there may be 250 times as much shale gas as previously thought, that he told them to go and redo their figures. That means a delay of several months - on top of the 18 month moratorium previously imposed on drilling."  Mr Lilley describes this as reprehensible.  He suggests that anyone involved with DECC is desperate for shale gas to be a failure.  Certainly looks that way.

Speaking of all witnesses called by the Energy and Climate Change Committee he said "They assured us that previous reserve estimates were too high, that little of it would be recoverable, that the cost of extraction would be far higher than in the US and that planning problems would prevent its development" If any of this is true, why should they be bothered. It just would not happen. But of course the reality is that probably none of its true.

"Fracking is a tried and tested technology which has been used since the late Forties. Hydraulic fracturing simply involves pumping water under great pressure into shale beds several kilometres underground until tiny fissures open up...so that the gas can flow out. Over 100,000 wells have been fracked in recent years. Not a single person has been poisoned by contaminated water, not a single building damaged by the almost undetectable seismic tremors sometimes released. The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering concluded unequivocally that any health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing can be managed effectively in the UK..."  And there's a whole lot more besides.

Now I've not yet been myself convinced that 'fracking' is going to deliver the bonanza we would all like (except DECC of course) but every time I hear the case against being made by exaggeration and embellished by plain untruths, the more I feel inclined to support it. Peter Lilley, is undergoing a resurgence in his political influence - and interestingly has just been appointed a member of  Jo Johnson MP's policy committee reporting to the Prime Minister. He will not remain quiet. Hydraulic fracturing has a clear-thinking and redoubtable champion.

The 2013 Lions

Its Warren Gatland's team.  Not much doubt about that. He knows what he wants and he's picked men who he thinks will deliver it. Choosing Sam Warburton as captain was the biggest call of all. No question that he's a wonderful player and the most balanced 24 yr old I've ever seen grace the captain's armband. Personally, I'd have gone for O'Connell, but its not a point to argue over.  Sam is an easy man to develop a loyalty to.

Surprises are in the front row. While the test team will probably be all Welsh (for first 60 minutes of each test at least), the supporting cast were unexpected. I thought Rory Best would have been selected, but I suppose I was still mesmerised by the first 40 he played against Wales. Where did the Matt Stephens pick come from.  No-one saw that. Paul James can feel a bit miffed.

Second row and back row as expected - once assessment that Dan Lydiate was fit factored in. Ryan Jones unlucky and Robshaw might have made it but for the 30-3 capitulation.  There will be a big question about who plays 7 in the test team. I suppose it has to be Warburton now, but would not be surprised to see Tipuric in for 3rd test.

No surprises at half back, though media is wetting itself over Wilkinson - and making itself look thoroughly silly. Nothing wrong with taking two No 10s, but I would have expected a Hook or Twelvetrees just in case a third is needed. I think Priestland would have been Gatland's man if he'd stayed fit through the season.

Behind the scrum picked themselves except for Maitland who was a bit of a surprise - though a few sharp rugby men had been giving him the nod.  Really pleased to Tommy Bowe deemed fit enough. All in all, not a bad squad, and very much Gatland's men. I think they'll do well.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Communications Data Bill.

I've known Lord Carlile of Berriew for a long time. He was MP for Montgomeryshire from 1983-1997,when he stood down, thus allowing Lembit Opik to take his place in Parliament. Alex was also my next door neighbour. I was elected the MP for Montgomeryshire in 2010, and have worked with Lord Carlile on several issues, particularly our mutual opposition to legalisation of assisted suicide. Because I have a great respect for his opinion, I like to discuss complex legal/political issues with him over a coffee in the Lords tearoom as going through the process of making up my own mind.

Alex and I had one such discussion about the new Communications Data Bill. I had found myself in two minds on the Home Secretary's proposals. Thought Alex could help me work through the issues. On the one hand I tend to be suspicious of prying authority - but not to the extent of leaving us exposed to a greater terrorism threat. I was surprised by the vehemence of his support for the Bill, particularly since he has always been, and remains a committed Liberal Democrat. He has also been the Gov'ts reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation for 10 yrs. Anyway, his article in today's Telegraph will have come as no surprise to me.  I will leave you with a few of Alex's quotes.

"put simply, the details of who communicated with whom, when and for how long are a proportionate response to a fundamental problem"

"responsible commentators should be seriously troubled by the inaccurate and misleading coverage of the Gov't's plans to update the legislative framework."

"communications data are vital to successful prosecutions. They are used every day in courts up and down the land - in murder cases, fraud trials and drugs prosecutions."

"In relation to terrorism, the availability and use of such data......saves lives."

"Like Mr Clegg, I am strongly opposed to the routine accessing of the content of communications...... but powerful controls exist to prevent that. The Gov't's proposals are about something quite different. They are about the data surrounding a communication; the fact of something being said, not what precisely was said. And the draft legislation provides for an equally stringent access regime to the current system, subject to regular independent oversight."

"Between July 2012 and Feb 2013, communications data were used in 95% of all serious organised crime cases handled by the CPS. They were also a vital part of every major counter-terrorism operation by the security forces over the last decade. Without updating the law, the simple reality is that these figures will fall over time."

"Parliament should be brave enough to press ahead with the plans, in the protection of the public interest."

Now this man knows what he's talking about when it comes to anti-terrorism law - so where does that leave Mr Clegg?

Taffe (not a Welshman) fined for 'sheep' insult

You might expect someone named Anthony Taffe to have a sympathetic approach to we Welsh. But it seems not. He has just been fined by Llandudno magistrates for referring to us as "sheep sh*****s". This seems rather impolite, as well as (in my experience) totally inaccurate. He claimed innocence on the charge of racially aggravated disorderly behaviour on the grounds that he was referring to all country people at the time. This seems a weak defence since he admitted that he called a policeman (whom I imagine to be Welsh) at the station where he was taken as a "Welsh Sheep Sh******r". And this was not even the policeman who sat on him when he was first seen shouting drunken obscenities at a holiday park. I'm a proud Welshman but feel untroubled by Mr Taffe's observation. Those of us who have lived in the mountains with our sheep are used to such offensive accusations. Actually, I've been called much worse than this since being elected an MP. And I have referred to Mr Taffe as something worse - though not where in could be heard by others. Anyway, the magistrates didn't accept his story and fined him £150 - which is more than the value of a Welsh ewe of good quality.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is a wealthy pensioner to do?

I should begin by declaring my high admiration for Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith. He is taking on just about the most controversial, thankless job in UK politics - reform of a welfare system that has become financially unsustainable, and which has 'trapped' millions of people in a life on welfare. The fundamental principles on which reforms are moving forward are that "work should always pay", and that "no-one's benefits should be more than the average workers's pay". But I didn't agree with his idea that wealthy pensioners should give back benefits to the state if they felt they did not need them. I'm not sure that there is a mechanism for doing this anyway, and most people will object bitterly to some of the ways Gov't would spend the money returned. I certainly would.

The real issue here is whether benefits such as winter fuel payments should remain 'universal'. There is a manifesto committment that they must remain so until the next general election, but what's going to be in the political party's manifestos for 2015. For what its worth, I am not in favour of 'means testing' if at all possible. Its a 'cheat's charter', it disincentivises, it creates 'stigma', and its complex to operate fairly. And there are no current proposals to move away from universality. That's dealt with that.

But what about those pensioners who feel they are too well-off to justify receiving benefits. IDS thinks they should pay them back. I prefer the idea of encouraging giving any money not wanted to 'local charities', or those special charities that the relevant individuals support. In Wales this could include Wales Air Ambulance and the hospice movement. And I mean 'local'. I've lost my appetite for some national charities which seem to me to have become professional fund-raisers, taking all the cake and leaving the cupboards of local charities bare.

Anyway, I got to say something along the lines of this post on the Sunday Politics Show today. Thought I was saying nothing noteworthy or controversial. Bit taken aback when I flicked onto BBC Online tonight to find out what great speeches had been made at the Welsh Tory Conference in Swansea to find me near top of the billing. Appearing on Sunday Supplement and on Sunday Politics is such a risky business.

Friday, April 26, 2013

One-Party-State - Look at Wales

Have you ever wondered how a one-party-state would work in a British context. Well, since devolution, we have a Government in Wales which is giving us a bit of an idea. Really good example this week about a committee system would work. None of this messing about with elections as we do at Westminster. None of this freedom for elected politicians deciding to influence policy through a democratic process - (like the recent election of clear-thinking Peter Lilley onto the Environment and Climate Change Committee in the House of Commons). No - if a committee member shows any capacity to think for themselves, or stand by a principle, just throw them off - immediately. And because this way of operating within Welsh Labour is no surprise, its not even much of a media story.

Better explain (though Betsan Powys does it better). The Children and Young People's Committee of the National Assembly for Wales are considering the complex Social Services Bill. Three Labour AMs are publicly in support of a legal ban on smacking children. The Minister is not. (I should add that I agree with the Minister, Gwenda Thomas). Anyway, just before the Committee was due to meet, to take evidence, and consider an amendment to introduce the smacking ban into the Bill, Labour's Chief Whip just sacked the three principled members, Christine Chapman (Chair), Julie Morgan and Jenny Rathbone - and replaced them with three others. When the meeting started, the microphones were turned off so that new chair, Ann Jones could explain that she had only just found out she was even on the Committee. Sir George Young must be salivating at the thought of such untrammelled power. Its what happens when one party is always in power. Independent, principled thought is banned,even if the smacking of children is not.

And this comes after news this week that First Minister, Carwyn Jones simply refused to answer a FOI inquiry about discussions between himself and Sir Terry Mathews. Now behind the request is the suspicion (I think) that Sir Terry has influenced, or sought to influence who is in the First Minister's Cabinet. Now again I have some sympathy with Carwyn Jones here. I've never been a fan of the FOI system - but can you imagine the UK Gov't getting away with this sort of high-handed behaviour. My oft-expressed view when I was an Assembly Member myself was that devolved Welsh democracy will not have 'grown up' until Labour in Wales is occupying the opposition benches.  No reason to change that opinion.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Making a Differnce as an MP ?

Parliament was prorogued at 3.15 this afternoon, bringing to an end the year long second legislative session of the 2010-2015 Parliament. We will return to Westminster on 8th May for the State Opening of Parliament and the third legislative session. I've reached my home in Montgomeryshire, booted up my computer, have taken a glass of Sanserre and am reflecting on the last twelve months. Was it worthwhile - from where I stand. Did I make any difference. James and Julie do all the valuable work with most constituency issues, simply using me as a sounding board as and when needed. Because of their commitment, my office is now working as I want it to. I just wonder where I made a difference - me ' personally. In some policy areas I made a lot of noise but no real difference. Good example has been my opposition to the appalling Mid Wales Connection Project (turbines and pylons) - but DECC is so totally impervious to local opinion, common sense, or the concept of democracy -  and so acts like a weird religious sect that it's hard to claim any actual progress - yet anyway. But not giving up on this one.

I reckon there are three areas where I might have made a real difference. Firstly, I did lead off a terrific debate last summer about the way milk processing companies and supermarkets were ripping off milk producers. It became the 'Parliamentary wing' of a national protest about ruthless and unfair dominance of small individual producers. The 'big boys' did not like being named and shamed in the House of Commons. I think that debate did made a bit of difference.

The second speech I made that had impact was about the Liverpool Care Pathway. It was and remains a sensitive and difficult issue. I thought it was important to transfer discussion from the sensationalist front pages of national newspapers to the floor of the House of Commons. With my usual modesty I thought I made a bloody good speech, which set the tone for an excellent 90 minute debate. I was really pleased about the way it went, and I think it has impacted on the general attitude to the Pathway.

And the third was this last week, when I spoke about the impact of the recent snowfalls and drifting on the upland sheep industry. Not so much the speech itself, but the build up to it and my determination to put what had happened on the agenda. Luckily, circumstances conspired to allow me a 60 minute adjournment debate rather than the expected 30 minutes. Lots of opposition MPs turned up to take part, and I think we made a difference to how the issue is perceived in parts of the UK not directly effected. My aim was to create an understanding of the scale of disaster that has befallen hill sheep farmers over the last month.  And I think it worked.

Now what is odd about an MP's life is that there has been almost nil local media coverage of these three issues. In Westminster they worked really well but in Montgomeryshire it's almost as if none of them happened. Its not that I don't have plenty of local media coverage (I do) - but its not about what I see as the big issues. Next week, I will be a male model, showing off stylish clothes on the catwalk at the Old Station in Welshpool (not joking). Money raised is for a cause very important to me - and I will try to strut like the real deal. Probably be coverage of that. Politics is a funny old world.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Income Tax Powers for Welsh Gov't

I suspect lots of Conservatives (and a fair few Labourites) will fiercely disagree with my opinions as outlined in this post. But here goes. I am in favour of devolving income tax to the Welsh Gov't - sharing the role with the UK Gov't 50-50. And I would go even further in that I would like to see this as a Conservative commitment in our 2015 manifesto - negating the need for a referendum if we form the next Gov't. I suppose readers (most of whom will disagree with me) are not going to become too exercised by this opinion though. Like me, they do not see much chance of it actually happening!

The reason I begin my post with such a provocative and controversial statement is that Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been in Wales today, talking about it. In his view there is a consensus in favour of transferring responsibility for 50% of income tax raising to Wales (Oh Yeah) - and he will not allow a Treasury response to the Silk Commission Part One Report which does not include these powers. Now this is very big talk indeed. I should remind those who do not share my interest (that's almost everyone else) in Welsh constitutional issues what 'Silk' is. The UK Gov't established a commission, chaired by Paul Silk to recommend how devolution funding arrangements should be changed to make the Welsh Gov't more fiscally accountable. Silk 'Part One' was delivered last year, and we are expecting to learn of the Treasury/Wales Office response 'soon'.  The Report made several recommendations, but the only one that would make a real difference would be to devolve income tax raising powers.

While I was not in favour of creating a National Assembly for Wales in the 1997 referendum, I accepted the Yes vote immediately, and ever since have believed it should have tax raising/varying powers. Made no sense otherwise. We had those powers when I chaired Berriew Community Council in the 1970s. At present all the Welsh Gov't does in allocate spending. Its not actually a Gov't at all in any real sense. Its a spending agency. Everything popular they say "We are great" and everything unpopular they say "the UK Gov't won't give us the money". No accountability. Needs to change. Welsh politics could really grow up then.

Where I am almost alone is believing there's no need for a referendum. I don't like referendums in principle. The proper way to govern is to inform voters of plans in a manifesto, and if elected act on them. If there's a coalition, both parties involved would have to have committed to devolving income tax raising powers. Problem is that if there is a referendum, voters will automatically assume that a Welsh Gov't will put up income tax, and they will vote no. Well, a future Welsh Gov't might vote to cut income tax. Huge amount of time and money wasted - and no financial accountability either. Anyway, it seems that Danny Alexander has decided it will go ahead! He will not allow anything less. Hmmm. Don't think he's been talking to the same people as me. Don't even think he'll have the Welsh Gov't onside, though could be wrong about this. Looking forward to seeing this response to 'Silk'. Its going to lead to some interesting debate at Westminster.

Inappropriate Use of the 'Thatcher' Name

The endorsement of Lady Thatcher, even in death (probably more so) is being claimed without always giving due regard to what the great lady actually believed. Perhaps the most glaring example I've noted so far have been claims in Parliament last Thurs. that Lady Thatcher would have been fully signed up to DECC's climate change policies. I'd thought she had reassessed her early opinions on this issue. It seems I was not the only only one taken aback by what seemed to be a misrepresentation of her views. Christopher Booker in today's Telegraph, has referred to Thurs's debate in Westminster Hall. He must have been listening in. Let me run through what happened - at least from my perspective.

Because of my opposition to the Mid Wales Connection Project (500-600 turbines, 100 mls of new power lines, 20 acre sub-station, several years of traffic constipation, etc.), I take an interest in climate change politics. So on Thursday afternoon I trundled along to Westminster Hall to listen the three hours of debate on future climate change policy, particularly in relation to how we can influence the politics of China. It was not wholly what I expected. Peter Lillie, MP really livened things up by rubbishing the whole thrust of DECC policy. Startling stuff. Peter is a 'forensic' and fearless speaker. Anyway, I had just gone along to listen. But Energy Minister, Greg Barker must have said something that grated a bit and I intervened to ask him (quite innocently) about the importance of taking account of the voice of the people. Must admit to be totally taken aback by his response.

Firstly it was all about leadership and not being concerned about being popular - in the way that Lady Thatcher would have acted. As if she saw and the Minister sees virtue in promoting unpopular policies. And this was the day after her funeral. In any case, my memory of Lady Thatcher was that she did listen to the people, and would have been more than happy to ignore the 'metroploliton elites' which care nothing and understand less about landscape and rural life. But he went on (and on) reciting what Lady Thatcher had said in the 1980's about climate change. Now I would have been saying much the same thing in the 1980s - but time does create opportunity for scales to fall from the eyes. Now Greg Barker must have known that Lady Thatcher had changed her views, and publicly recanted on what she thought in the 1980s. Its just not feasible that I knew, but that the Energy Minister didn't. But I thought it better to simmer quietly to myself rather than extend embarrassingly inappropriate debate. The comments are made all the worse by being used by several other like-minded politicians over recent days - suggesting the use of  Lady Thatcher's name to 'legitimise' DECC's policy stances is a deliberate calculated ploy.  Its probably best if I don't write down what I think of this behaviour. Anyway, I do hope that colleagues read Christopher Booker's piece today, and read the Hansard report of proceedings, before judging for themselves.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Blogs freedom saved & why Rolf Harris not named?

Don't think many visitors to this blog are much interested in post-Leveson 'free speech' discussion. But I am. Its seemed to me that there was no clarity about whether blogs should be subject to full impact of the new press regulation regime - which we can agree would be utterly ridiculous. So I asked a Parliamentary Written Question to find out. Took a few days, but when I received my Written Answer from Minister Ed Vaisey, it left us with more questions than answers. Its pointed reference to 'single bloggers' and 'sole bloggers' suggested that by allowing any 'guest' blogger this blog would indeed become subject to new press regulator.

So I asked a follow up Written Question last week seeking clarity on this point. What would be the position if I invited a 'guest' blogger to contribute. I guessed this question would cause a bit of trouble. I hope so - because it had just not been thought through. Anyway today, we learn that the Gov't is putting an amendment to the Bill before MPs on Monday that exempt blogs with less than a £2 million turnover and less than 10 employees from the regulations. This is a very big change. It means that a blog with a £1,999,999 turnover and employing 9 full-time employees will be exempt. So no problem for me. It probably does not even include Guido, which will really 'hack off' Hacked Off.

And there is another related point which someone will perhaps be able to help me on. The questioning of Rolf Harris in connection with Operation Yewtree. As soon as the police interviewed Max Clifford, Freddie Starr, Dave Lee Travis, Jim Davidson etc., the names were all over the mainstream media. When Rolf Harris was similarly interviewed, he was coyly referred to as an 82 year old man from Berkshire (Yewtree 5). Am interested in why the difference. No odds to most visitors to this blog because I expect they also visit the Guido blog, where Rolf Harris has been openly named for months. Does it have any connection with new press regulation. It this a sign of a "chilling" impact on press freedom we can expect in future?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pain and tragedy for our hill sheep farmers.

I left school to join my father on the family farm in 1960. Though I was academic by nature and enjoyed writing in particular, father was seriously ill, and it was what only sons did in those days. My main responsibility was caring for the dairy herd, while he recovered enough to manage the sheep flock. Unfortunately my father became ill again and after a few years he died in 1976, when I was 32 yrs old. By then I was a partner in the business, which is still called TE Davies and Son, and we had given up selling milk. Our herd of 60 cows was too small, and we decided to switch to a beef and sheep enterprise (plus chickens). Around the same time, I began involvement in public affairs. But I always gave priority to the farm business from late Feb-early May to take personal charge of the lambing/calving season. Very hard work but I loved it. If it wasn't for my colostomy, I would quite like to go back to it.  We had about 900 ewes and up to 125 suckler cows. And for all but about 5 yrs we lambed outside - and I always worked the night shift.

The above is all by way of context. I know what its like to look after sheep in rough weather. And it doesn't come much rougher than we've seen over the last few weeks. Except in the incredible winter of 1963, when it was much worse and much longer - but crucially the big slow and drifting was earlier in the winter. I've spent days digging sheep out of ten ft snow drifts - and having to give up on lots, just collecting the carcases after the thaw. Its whats been happening this year.

Over the last two weeks we have watched some heartbreaking scenes on our television screens. And I've talked to hill sheep farmers who are going through desperate times. Wondered what I should do - being an MP representing many farmers who have suffered great financial loss. Agriculture is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, and theoretically nothing to do with me. And I would have rather left it at that - except that some hill farmers from Montgomeryshire feel very let down by what they describe as the attitude of the Welsh Gov't Minister, whom they tell me has seemed very dismissive of the problems they face. Not making a political point, but its what I'm being told.

I just think I want to raise the issue at Westminster, even if it is devolved. I've asked Phill on our first day back after Easter (Monday) to put a bid to the Back Bench Business Committee for a debate on the impact of recent weather conditions on upland sheep farmers. It might not make much practical difference but I sense its important to show that MPs understand the scale of the disaster in the hills. Unfortunately there is no PMQs this week. I'm sure Mr Speaker would have allowed me to raise the issue. It will have to be week after next. And I will ask the Leader of the House on Thurs morn to programme an urgent debate. All I will want to do is make sure MPs understand what's happened. I could be the only MP who has experience of digging sheep out of ten foot snow drifts. I have also arranged an opportunity for any sheep farmers who want to let me know the scale of the disaster at Welshpool Livestock Market week Monday. I think their words will carry more resonance than my 50 yr old memories. Its been a hell of a tragedy, and its important that the nation knows of its scale and the pain its caused to our farmers.

Gov't Censorship of Blogs?

I have written before about uncertainty about how the new press regulator will affect blogs - such as my 'A View from Rural Wales'. So I tabled a Parliamentary Written Question to clarify matters. The Written Answer, with its specific reference to 'lone bloggers' and 'single person blogs' leaves me just as uncertain about what I can do. Seems to be the case that the might of British Government is passing legislation, in effect, banning me from allowing Huw Cookson and Daragh Quinn from writing a guest post which they have done in the past.  That's the trouble with censorship. Its like volcanic larva - destroys all in its path.

Written Question from Glyn Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire.

....under what circumstances the blog of an hon. Member would be subject to the provisions of the new press regulation system ?

Answer from Edward Vaisey, relevant Minister.

As Leveson recommended and in line with cross party agreement on on 18th March, the Gov't will be establishing a system of exemplary costs and damages to create an incentive for the press to take part in the new self regulatory system. The clauses being introduced in the Crime and Courts Bill are to give effect to this new system and include a definition of 'relevant publisher'; groups such as lone bloggers and tweeters would not be expected to join the self regulator. This means that single person blogs, such as the hon. Member's 'A View from Rural Wales' would not be effected.

The obvious follow up question (and one which I will ask is what the position is if I invite friends to contribute 'guest blogposts' as I have done in the past. The words, 'Dog and Breakfast' emerge quietly from my lips.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Great success for organ donation.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my total rejection of the idea that our organ donation system should be changed from one based on opting-in on the basis of 'informed consent' to one based on 'opting-out on the basis of 'presumed consent'. This implacable opposition is driven by study of evidence, and extensive discussion with experts, which informs us that such a change will produce no more donated organs. There are strong ethical grounds for opposition as well. I steer clear of this because in our increasingly secular society, ethical argument is a negative. Depressing I know - but the reality. What the Welsh Gov't intends to enact, shockingly supported by the BMA, is tragic, and will do nothing but harm. That a Welsh Gov't can behave in this way has damaged my faith in devolution.

But the point of this post is 'celebration' about the great increase in organ donation in the UK over the last five years that has been in the news today. The number of organs donated has increased by 50% - with particularly large increases in Scotland and N Ireland. There's been only a very disappointing increase in Wales. Perhaps the focus has been elsewhere. Whatever, we need to look back on what has happened.

Around 2005/6, then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, decided that his Gov't should develop a strategy to increase organ donation. He believed 'presumed consent' was the way forward, and established an Organ Donation Taskforce to prepare a major report (reports actually) - fully expecting a supportive recommendation. But the Taskforce, chaired by the outstanding Elizabeth Buggins, after careful detailed consideration. recommended against 'presumed consent'. It made lots of other recommendations as well, based on better identification of donors, improving co-ordination at hospitals, training of specialist donation nurses, improving care of donors, and increasing number of organs per donor. The target set was to increase number of donors by 50% over 5 years. To Gordon Brown's great credit, these recommendations were accepted. And its been a great success.

There remains a lot more to do. The demand is increasing - partly because improving surgical skills are making more organ transplantation possible. We need a massive 'education' drive, based on 'Tell your next of kin your wishes'. Just talk about it with the family one morning over the breakfast table. We have to bring the refusal rate by next of kin down, particularly amongst BME communities. My opinion is that we need to reach a position where every potential donor's next of kin in approached by a specialist nurse. Butfor today, lets just celebrate what's been achieved. A great British success story for organ donation.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Lady Thatcher RIP

I'll now be able to watch the film - having steadfastly refused to watch 'The Iron Lady' while Lady Thatcher lived. My tweet on hearing the news was "Like Denis Thatcher, I married an attractive Miss Roberts. My wife changed me. His wife transformed the world. Irresistable woman power". Because Lady Thatcher had reached the good age of 87yrs, and had been reported to be in poor health for a long time, I don't feel an emotional sense of sadness. Its more a question of acknowledging and celebrating the life of one of the world's greatest politicians of the 20th century.

She changed the Conservative Party. No longer to be the unconfident compromiser it had become. When Edward Heath's time as leader was up, it was only Margaret Thatcher who had the gonads to take him on. That was probably because she was an 'outsider' - not part of any political elite. At the time I expected Willie Whitelaw to become leader, and he probably would have done if he'd been equipped with Mrs T's ruthless streak. Instead he became her greatest support - and much admired for it. It was also quite a thing for the Conservative Party to elect a woman as its leader. Always been a party of surprises.

She changed Great Britain. Many of us think she saved it from a spiral of decline. I remember the 1970s, when most of us assumed we could not go on without compromising with the unions. Britain was an economic 'basket case'. Of all the transformative changes Mrs Thatcher drove through, her confrontation with and comprehensive defeat of trade union power was the most important. She was fortunate to have the strategically inept Arthur Scargill as her opponent - but it still needed steel and vision to succeed. She created a new generation of property owners by selling tenants their council houses. And she showed the world that Britain was not going to be walked on by retaking the Falkland Islands after the outrageous invasion by Argentina. Like many at the time I thought that was a very risky venture, and would have chickened out. No-one but 'The Iron Lady'. I recall having the radio with me in the garden every evening, listening for latest developments. Its easy to forget now, but when the Sheffield and Glamorgan were hit by Exocets, things were not looking good. Again she showed that she was the only one with the necessary gonads.  She showed us her "lion-hearted love for her country".

She also played a big part in changing the world. Through the personal relationships she developed with the hugely under-rated (in the UK at least)  Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, she helped defeat the dangerous Soviet communist threat to world peace and prosperity.  And that, above all else is why history will be very kind to Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

Mrs Thatcher was brought down by her own party - which used the EU as its weapon. But even here Mrs Thatcher was right. She was always supportive of an extended EU, bringing in a wide range of countries into a trading relationship - and more. But she suspected that France and Germany were intent on creating a federal Europe, diminishing the role of nation states. She was not supportive of that. She would have been a passionate opponent of the madness of the Euro, which will some day create serious conflict in Europe. Today, the people of Britain, in my opinion, share the view she had of the EU at the time that she was ousted. The truth is she never lost a General Election, and the brutality of her ousting continues to discomfort the Conservative Party today - though diminished by time.

There will be many who take a very different view from mine. It's simply is not possible to tear apart old orthodoxies and vested interests as she did, and not create enemies. And there were failures, notably the Community Charge. But the reality is that almost all of the changes she presided over have not been reversed by successive Gov'ts including 13 yrs of Labour dominance. She was one the four greatest Prime Ministers of the 20th Century - a truly great politician. Lady Thatcher RIP.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Mick Philpott. What's a Proper Reaction.

The case of Mick Philpott forces us to confront two very difficult issues- connected but also in my opinion quite separate. Firstly how on earth can a human being be quite as evil as Philpott. We read of such behaviour in different cultures, but not in Britain. The way in which he treated women was beyond imagination in the UK. He incarceration will be reviewed after a bit over 16 years. I tend to be on what Mrs D thinks of as the 'wimpy', second chance side of the rehabilitation debate, but Philpott is in a different league. Just hope he's never released and the key is lost. This is fairly straight forward.

The second issue is the system whereby the state pays for however many children irresponsible people bring into this world. Philpott and his women had 17 children between them. His 'lifestyle' was entirely paid for by the taxpayer. The way in which the two issues are connected is that it was greed for the benefit payments linked to the children that let Philpott to concoct his terrible plans - which led to the death of 6 of his children. The evil of the man is otherwise disconnected from the welfare issue, but the question of the degree to which the state pays for this sort of lifestyle and an unlimited number of children has been put on the agenda by this tragedy whether we think it should have been or not.

My wife and I have four children. It was a conscious decision to have four.  Then we decided it was enough and I had 'the chop'. Our four children were careful not to consider having children until they felt they were in a position to afford them. We have only two (and a half) grandchildren. We would have loved to have had more. At the same time we also see children being born to people who seem not to have taken the matter seriously, and depend completely on the state to pay for bringing them up. The question being asked by many is whether its right that the state should pay for the lifestyle of people like Philpott or for an unlimited number of children they have - expecting responsible people to pay for it all. So happens the only objections I've received to the £500 per week limit on benefits have been from very large families.

Several of my parliamentary colleagues have called for a limit on child benefits for just two children. I don't support this. Its not the children's fault. And with so many men and women having children in multiple relationships it would not be possible to operate such a limit easily or fairly. But there is going to be a debate. Personally I think there may be diminishing levels of support as the number of dependent children increase. Whatever, its to be very controversial.  But I'm not at all sure the British political system is capable of holding it. It might all be just too 'difficult'. The country may have to actually go bust first.