Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Times and devolution to Wales - Sept 1969.

Clearing out an old cellar space today and came upon a yellowed copy of The Times from September 16th 1969. A most interesting read. Two front page stories. First there's reports of an EEC summit conference to be held shortly in The Hague to consider terms of UK membership. Bill Cash MP is not quoted. Second story is about Whitehall greeting figures which demonstate that export-led expansion of the economy is finally underway. Amazingly, no politician of any sort is quoted. In Sept 1969, they would all have been enjoying their 4 month recess around the Med or in the West Indies. And then there's a photograph of Liberal Leader, the beautifully besuited Jeremy Thorpe with two handsome young men in swimming trucks on Brighton beach, chatting before a two day Liberal conference on constitutional reform. I promise you I have not made up a single word of this. So over to page 2, and what do we have here. A report about the interests of Wales not being properly represented at Westminster. Sir Goronwy Daniel, a man of fame when I first entered public life, insists that the interests of Wales are not being neglected. Sir Goronwy is of the view that at present the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State are well able to exercise considerable influence on the 'Whitehall and Westminster Gov't'. (No need for too much of this devolution nonsense perhaps). Sir Goronwy accepts the possibility of change and that the Welsh Office could be ready in a year or two to take over functions such as education, Home Office matters and agriculture. Wonder what Home Office matters he had in mind. But he is concerned that too much work would mean that the Secretary of State would not be able to cope, which in turn will mean a danger of Wales being increasingly governed by civil servants. He goes on to say that a reform of local governmnet is needed to reduce numbers of councils and councillors. Rest of report is about Lord Ogmore, a Labour MP who became a Liberal peer advocating a Welsh Assembly with extensive powers. Plaid Cymru are to outline its view tomorrow. What strikes me as interesting is how little has changed in 44 years!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Last Word on EU Referendum til 2017

Shared an interview with Peter Hain on Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement this morning. Not sure what reach the programme has, but its my favorite to appear on. Vaughan Roderick, a sort of Radio Wales Paxman without the sneer is most knowledgeable journalist I know in Wales. Always asks the one question you dont want him to - and very politely which makes it worse. Anyway, this morning's discussion was most odd. I couldn't for the life of me understand what Peter Hain was on about. Now Peter is a serious politician to tangle with. Crafty as they come, and been around a long time. So I was waiting for the 'killer line' - which never came. Seems he was demanding that David Cameron does pretty well what David Cameron has said he's going to do. The subject under discussion was an EU Referendum (again) - a subject designed to drive readers away from any blog that opens discussion about it. But its taking up so much Parliamentary time, and exercising some of my colleagues to such an extent, that I should set out what I think about where we have come from, where we are and where we are going - at least as far as I'm able to. It will be this blog's last word until 2017. I have always tended towards the Eurosceptic - driven by libertarian and anti-statist instincts. In 1975, after developing in YFC confidence to speak in public, I campaigned a bit for the 'Out' side. When the debate at that referendum started out, my side thought we could win, but as the campaign wore on, we were soundly trounced - an experience that some current politicians would do well to note! Today, I sense that the people feel that the EU interferes more than it should in matters that are properly affairs of the nation state. I also feel that the people of the UK want another referendum to establish whether they wish to remain members of the EU. It also seems to me that politicians across the EU are realising that Europe is losing competetiveness with other parts of the world. You might even say losing ground in the 'Global Race'. David Cameron seems to take the same view, and has developed a pragmatic policy to address all of these issues. In his Bloomberg speech last January, the Prime Minister announced that if he were to be elected as leader of a Conservative Gov't in 2015, he would immediately open discussion with our EU partners about what changes could be made. I suspect some EU leaders, notably Angela Merkel share some of the Cameron concerns. And then when we know what the result of all this discussion is, the British people will have their referendum in late 2017. Personally, the Bloomberg speech was good enough for me. I was happy to leave it at that. But not for all my colleagues. Some of them want to legislate in an effort to bind any future Gov't to holding a referendum in 2017. Its this which is swallowing up MPs time, and making meaningful engagement with constituents almost impossible. 3 Fridays at Westminster in November. Sometimes I do reflect how much easier it would be to be a Lib Dem MP. Sometimes, I'm aked which way I will vote in 2017. How on earth do I know. It depends what the negotiations produce. If there were to be no change at all, I could well vote to leave the EU. If there were to be substantive change I could well vote to stay in. There is absolutely no point whatsoever in being committed to a renogatiation with a closed mind. It would be good if this were to be my last word on this subject. It is my intention. But EU discussion is a bit like Bruce Forsyth - keeps coming back week after week.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Silk Part One and All That

Last week, the Prime Minister came to Wales with a veritable bag of Halloween 'goodies'. Firstly, and I put this first because its received nothing like the coverage it merits, is the next Nato Summit coming to Newport in Sept 2014. This is huge for Wales. President Obama walking in the steps of Tiger Woods at Celtic Manor will be beamed across the world. Biggest opportunity for Welsh tourism and recognition since...Ryder Cup. Now I don't expect an invite to the Summit, and no doubt the Welsh Gov't will put on some associated hospitality, but I do hope Welsh MPs, Welsh tourism and Welsh business are in on the act as well. Now the other package of announcements (which pushed the Nato Summit off the Welsh front pages) was what we can describe as an initial response to the Silk Report Part 1. This may well mean nothing whatsoever to you! In essence its about how Wales should be governed in the future - how devolution develops. Paul Silk was asked to produce the Report by the Secretary of State for Wales. It was published a year ago and the response had been long anticipated. Generally to be welcomed (by me anyway) but there remain uncertainties. A full response to the Report will follow in due course. But PM told us that Stamp Duty Land Tax and Landfill Tax are to be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales (as recommended). The Aggregates Levy and Air Passenger Duty are not. Upshot of this is that the Welsh Gov't will now have capacity to raise taxes for the first time. The Welsh Govt will also be able to borrow money, but I am a bit uncertain about what's involved here. My understanding is that some old existing WDA powers are being used to facilitate this. My understanding is also that its only proposed that the borrowing powers can be used for M4 and A55 inprovements. Also I'm not sure whether the tax raising capacity is actually needed to cover the borrowing if existing powers are being used, or if they are whether they are sufficient to finance what will be in excess of a £billion of investment. If its using powers already in existance, and limiting it to what UK Govt approves, not sure how much of a constitutional change this actually is. All will be revealed in due course. The biggie is devolution of income tax - as already happens in Scotland. The position is that legislation will be introduced at Westminster, giving the National Assembly for Wales the power to call a referendum on devolving to the Welsh Government the responsibility for levying half of our income tax bills, together with the power to vary the rate. There seems a view by many that the Silk Commission recommendation that this power to vary should apply to each tax band separately is what's envisaged. I do not believe this is what the Prime Minister said. As in Scotland, its only the power to vary the tax rate across the board. So bang goes the campaigning opportunity for Welsh Conservatives to promise a cut in 40p rate at Assembly Election, a real opportunity to sell Wales as an attractive place to move to. Such a promise in Wales would be wholly financially positive. Again all will be revealed in due course. Anyway, the Labour Party hate the idea of the Welsh Gov't becoming financially accountable. So easy just to blame Westminster Gov't for everything. The co-ordinated message coming out of the First Minister's office and the Shadow Sec of State for Wales is 'no income tax powers til the Barnett Formula is reformed' - in other words 'No Thanks'. Next step is the official response to the Silk Report Part 1 - which seems likely to be tied up with the 'Wales Bill' promised in the Queen's Speech. There is no doubt that the Coalition Gov't moved the devolution process on last week, especially with the granting of borrowing powers. But there's still a bit of water to flow under the bridge until we can be sure where it will lead. All will be revealed in due course.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Leonardo Glyn Martinez Davies

This day a fourth grandchild was delivered unto Glyn and Bobbie Davies, named Leo. His mother Zulma is an proud as punch and Leo looks at home in his big new world after a tough journey into it. Like all families there are problems to be faced, but today belongs to Zulma, Pat and Leo.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Engaging with Constituents and Rationalising EU Referendum Policy

Haven't visited my blog for weeks. Not been enough time. But have called in tonight to report on my emerging campaign for re-election as MP for Montgomeryshire in 2015. Not going to change practice much, but we do have to develop a different mindset. No point in standing without having a fair crack at winning. But in general, I'm going to stick by the rules that got me this far! Now it seems that I'm bookies favorite to win. In 2010, Mrs D risked a small wager on me and got odds of 8/1. I was told that at one stage a bookie offered 15/1. If I'd seen that I'd have bet on myself. I think its allowed. Anyway, I'm told it would be about 1/3 now. That's some turnaround. I should add that I dont think bookies have a clue about what Montgomeryshire thinks. What I do know is that its been Lib Dem (in its various forms) since 1880 - except for one blip in 1979, when the Conservatives won it, only to lose it to an unknown outsider in the Thatcher landslide of 1983! A cursory glance at history squeezes all complacency out of our thinking. Anyway, my strategy is to leave the actual campaigning to my team, which luckily, the super-efficient Simon Baynes has agreed to help me with. I'm just going to carry on engaging with my constituents, doing my job, setting aside all negative comment about my opponents. In fact, I don't really intend to discuss them at all. And at the heart of my strategy is 'the community meeting'. Old fashioned I know - but trust me. Arranged the first at Berriew on Friday. Between 50-60 came along and raised enough issues to keep my office going for days. Had to call a halt after near 90 minutes. Plenty more issues after the bell. One of my constituents wanted to know my opinion on UK membership of the EU. Didn't have a definitive answer. This is what I said - which is really the point of this post! I have always been Eurosceptic, and as a young man campaigned for 'out' in 1995. But its not rational to say 'In' or 'Out' at this stage. What I can say is that my approach is driven by two factors. Firstly, the EU interferes too much in what should be the role of the individual state - which is why the Prime Minister will try to reform the relationship. And secondly, the people of the UK want a referendum on whether to remain part of the EU or not. This is what I reckon the people want, and this is what a future Conservative Gov't would give them. About a year ago, the Prime Minister announced that were he to be elected as leader of a Conservative Gov't, he would begin reform process in 2015, and hold a referendum in 2017. I'm happy with that. I was happy with that even without the Private Members Bill currently being debated in the House of Commons. Its just not rational to say I want 'Out' without knowing what 'In' would be. I know this cuts no ice with some of my colleagues, who have tabled an amendment to the Wharton Private Mmembers Bill demanding that an In/Out referendum be held before any attempt to reform and while we are still governed by a Coalition Gov't, one part of which will have none of it. This seems most unwise to me. And Nigel Farage has stirred things up a bit by promising not to put up a UKIP candidate against anyone who supports the Adam Alfriye amendment. Tempting! By this stage I think my constituent was uterly mesmerised. Thank the Lord she didn't raise the issue during the meeting, which reinforced the old dictum 'All politics is local'. Anyway I thought it was a great success, and will be planning my second 'community meeting' tomorrow.