Sunday, December 10, 2017

How many Assembly Members?

On Tuesday we are expecting a report to emerge from somewhere in the National Assembly for Wales - from the office of the Presiding Officer, Elin Jones I think. We expect this report to put forward proposals to increase the number of Assembly Members, plus options outlining how they are to be elected. I was in the Interview Chair with Arwyn on Wales Politics today (discussing Brexit) but since it followed an interview with Elin About this report, I was invited to comment. So I did. And I’m not expecting total support for my opinion. Though I think Elin herself might be pleased!!
Firstly, I need to tackle the desire by public opinion to reduce the ‘cost of democracy’. The public (or at least the most vociferous) neither care for or have any respect for politicians in general. The public wants to cut 5he cost - let’s do it. We are eliminating the 73 MEPs, which will be a huge reduction. I also believe there is an unanswerable case to reduce the size of the House of Lords. At present there are around 800 appointed to sit on the red benches. It’s too many. There are two reduction scenarios. Firstly to halve the number, or secondly reduce to the same size as the House of Commons (650). This would make things much more democratic, even with an increase in number of AMs from 60 to 80ish.
Not sure I should be taking a public view on this, except that I was asked. Its not going to be popular I sense. It’s up to the AMs themselves to justify. The case has to be made by Assembly Members, led by the Presiding Officer, and the political parties in the National Assembly.
When I was elected an Assembly Member in 1999, we were not overworked, in the sense that we had time to become involved in various related activity. I particularly enjoyed involvement in developing a political instruction that can be looked on a proper Welsh Parliament. So much so that I was mega-disappointed to lose my ‘seat’ in 2007. Later on, the National Assembly was given limited law-making powers, which were manageable in my view. But the recent Wales Act has invested the responsibility of raising half of our Income Tax in Wales. There will also be significantly more power vested in the Assembly as a result of Brexit. In my view, the National Assembly for Wales has grown into ‘The Welsh Parliament’.  I really don’t think 60 AMs are enough to do that job properly.
The case for more AMs is so strong that I consider it unanswerable. Of course, those who have never accepted the reality of devolution, will oppose this. Many would still like to put devolution into reverse. But in the end there will be agreement on around 80 AMs.
But there may not be Agreement on how they are to be elected. Labour will not want any possibility of losing its role as leading the Welsh Government. There could be a monster row over this. Best of luck Elin! Anyway, I just thought I’d outline how it seems to me.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Sufficient Progress to talk Future Trade Deal

In the early hours of this morning, the Prime Minister reached an agreement with the EU that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on the three policy areas deemed crucial by the EU to be settled before discussions on any future relationship can take place. It is now being recommended that the talks move on to Phase 2 of the preparation for the UK’s departure from the EU.
It’s not actually a cast iron ‘deal’. There is the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. But the general principles are accepted by both sides, even if the detail has to be filled in when the final Withdrawal Agreement comes to be drawn up.
Firstly, there is agreement that the rights of three million EU citizens living in the UK, and of the one million UK citizens living in the EU are secured. Secondly, the common travel area within Ireland will be maintained, averting a hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland. And thirdly, there is agreement on the principles on how a ‘fair settlement’ or ‘divorce payment’ will be calculated. There is much detail behind these three headline statements.
I do think the Prime Minister has played a ‘blinder’. For 18 months she has been attacked from all sides, particularly by those who have never accepted the referendum result. And attacked by media commentators who have seemed ready to swallow any daft comment from The Prime Minister’s opponents. I’ve wondered at Theresa May’s astonishing resilience, as so many brickbats have been thrown her way. This morning she demonstrated her toughness and determination. Those who have sought to be as hurtful and rude as possible are shown up as rather lesser persons than she is.
There will be more difficult moments as we proceed to Phase two of the negotiations. There will be more posturing, more Internet based garbage, more opposition opportunism and discussions as the wire is approached. But today, I think we are going to secure a deal by 2019. The UK and her Prime Minister won’t win every argument, and may well have to compromise, but we will have a deal. And it will be a balance between what is good for the UK and what is good for the EU. And this morning’s agreement will, in my view, be a turning point in Theresa May’s fortunes.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Panorama Allegations

Rarely do I respond to internet inspired stories, particularly if it’s some media/lobbyist campaign. There are simply not enough hours in a day. So it’s rare that I am stirred to respond. I am using today’s blog post to reflect on the  recent Panorama allegations concerning Adam Smith International and the Government’s Access to Justice and Community Security Programme in Syria. This sort of media coverage seriously undermines the Government’s commitment to International Aid - a budget investment to which I am totally committed. I would like to have had time to write it sooner.
I fully understand why constituents will be concerned about these allegations. The Gov’t is also concerned. And because the BBC decided to run this in the way it did, the Govt has decided to suspend the programme while a full investigation takes place. The outcome of these investigations will be known shortly.

The Foreign Office has already issued a formal response to the allegations, as follows; 

“We take any allegations of co-operation with terrorist groups and of human rights abuses extremely seriously and the Foreign Office has suspended this programme while we investigate these allegations. These programmes, also supported by international partners, are intended to make communities in Syria safer by providing basic civilian policing services. We believe that such work in Syria is important to protect our national security interest but of course we reach this judgment carefully given that in such a challenging environment no activity is without risk. That’s why all our programmes are designed carefully and subject to robust monitoring.”

It may be worth explaining what the AJACS programme actually does. AJACS is a long-term programme that supports the unarmed Free Syria Police (FSP) to deliver basic community policing services (patrols, checkpoints, traffic management etc) in non-regime held areas of Syria. Since 2014, AJACS has helped train 3,500 FSP officers, across 60 police stations, providing much-valued community policing services to around 1.6 million people in Syria. The FSP help to protect some of the most vulnerable in Syria. They offer a visible, unarmed policing presence and help to make communities safer and more resilient to terrorist threats. The project is jointly funded by the US, Danes, Dutch, Canadians and Germans.
This work in Syria is important to protect our national security interests. But operating in this challenging environment, particularly in close proximity to extremist elements and in such contested space, means no activity is without risk. That is why all our programmes are designed carefully and our contracts include a requirement for robust monitoring of supplier performance and regular reporting. In many cases (as with AJACS), implementation is also reviewed by an independent third party organisation.

Its not possible for me to attempt a detailed rebuttal of the main allegations, but I am confident that the Govts investigation will comprehensively address the allegations and the report will be made public. I hope the BBC will give the response to its allegations the same prominence. Personally, I am very proud that the United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Syrians’ efforts to build pluralistic and inclusive institutions through targeted interventions like the AJACS programme. We are joined in that effort by likeminded international partners who share our commitment to stand with the people of Syria and support their aspirations of living in dignity, free from all forms of tyranny. And we will continue to support independent Syrian entities which adhere to inclusive and pluralistic values, in order to provide crucial services and life-saving assistance to communities in Syria.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Organ Donation and Presumed Consent.

It’s now two years since the Welsh Government passed the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act. At the time, the Welsh Health Minister was informing us of the many lives that would saved by this ‘progressive’ legislation. The First Minster was telling the world that the new Act was Welsh law-making at its best. I was the only Wales based voice on the Welsh airwaves telling listeners and viewers of my opposition to this legislation - because it would not increase the number of organs available for donation, and could have the opposite effect. There were other prominent individuals opposed to the new legislation on ethical grounds, which was an entirely different argument.
Eventually I gave up ‘appearing’ on media programmes because of the invariable tone of the interviewing - usually beginning with a very ill patient in need of a new life saving organ, followed by me being asked why I wanted to prevent it. No matter how often or how patiently I pointed out that I wanted to do no such thing and on the contrary, that what I wanted was for there to be more donated organs. The next question (completely ignoring what I’d just said) was how could I put ‘faith’ or ‘ethics’ before saving lives. When I pointed out that reference to faith and ethics was the interviewer, and had no part of my thinking, I might as well have been speaking to a brick wall. I just tried to keep on repeating that ‘presumed consent’ would not increase the availability of organs for donation and could well reduce them. No-one so deaf as those who will not hear! No-one listened.

There are ways we can increase organ donation - increase number of Specialist Nurses (SNODS), increase number of Intensive Care Beds, and invest in “Tell Your Family Your Wishes” campaigns. But it was so much easier to look as if something is being done by passing a new law, when there was no evidence that it would work.

Today we’re told that the level of organ donation has not increased over the two years that the new law has been operating. I know it’s too soon to make definitive judgements. And the publicity generated by the Welsh Government may well have raised awareness, which is positive. And may have a longer term impact. It’s just that I don’t think so.
The most worrying aspect of this new law, is impact on the number of ‘live’ donors, which has fallen significantly over the last three years. Another argument I put forward at the time the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act was being discussed was that if organ donation, through legislation becomes a responsibility of the state, rather than a gift by donors based on love and generosity, it would become a matter for the state in the people’s mind. Well, maybe it has already done so. The fall in ‘live’ donors is an utter tragedy, and has led to less lives being saved. I don’t suppose I’ll be invited to do many interviews now!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Migration into the U.K.

UK politics continues to be dominated by Brexit. While the British people may be thoroughly bored with this situation, I’m afraid it’s going to carry on for several years yet. Certainly, there will be no escape for those of us involved in politics. Or for those who write occasional newspaper columns or blog posts! Today, my writing reflects on last week’s immigration figures.

During the lead-up to the EU Referendum in June 2016, one of the biggest issues of debate was migration into the UK.  I have always thought it likely (though unprovable) that this was a major influence on how the UK voted in the referendum. At the time, net immigration was about 336,000 per annum. I was often asked about this. My response was that while over the short term, this would not be disadvantageous to the UK, it was not sustainable over the long term. This remains my view. I also thought that a vote to Leave would not have much impact on net immigration figures. I was wrong, though not for the reasons I thought.

Net annual immigration into the UK began rapid growth in 1993, and reached its peak of 336,00 in 2015. The first full year figures since the EU referendum shows net immigration falling by 32% to 230,000, the sharpest decrease on record. Less than a half of is from the EU. Well over half of it is non EU. At same time there has been a significant net outward migration of UK citizens.

Of course we don’t know why net immigration has fallen so significantly.  In part it may be because the economies of the countries from which has been the source of immigration has created and is providing more jobs at home. Undoubtedly, the fall in value of sterling will have made a big difference, as the spending power of what immigrants earn has fallen significantly. There may even be some truth in the suggestions that EU based immigration has felt less welcome since the referendum.

While net immigration figures were undoubtedly too high, putting strain on our public serices, too sudden a reduction will cause serious problems. Our social care and hospitality sectors have been very dependent on immigrant workers for many years. In the agriculture, horticulture and tourism related sectors, too sudden reduction in migrant labour will have serious consequences. As the UK takes back control of immigration, we must remember the benefits, both economic and cultural that immigration brings.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The ‘Not So daft’ President.

I’m inspired to write this post by the Fraser Nelson column in today’s Telegraph, in which he suggests (correctly in my view) that all this condemnation of President Trump is playing into his hands.
When Donald Trump first appeared on my radar, I thought him to be nothing more than a disagreeable loud mouth. The idea that he might be elected President of the US, and leader of the free world didn’t cross my mind. I’d met, and been seriously impressed by Jeb Bush, and thought him to be the ideal candidate. There were others as well. I continued to be astonished when Donald Trump was chosen by the Republican Party to be its candidate for President. “What possessed them” I thought. Must admit I assumed Hilary Clinton would be a shoe-in.
The first time I really thought the ‘impossible’ could happen was when I asked a few Americans working in the UK what they thought. They were all voting Trump. They were sensible business people. When I asked what could possible explain their totally irrational (to me) intentions they said something like “Trump will shake it up a bit. We have to kick out the self servers based in Washington.”. And when I tried to point out that a President Trump could cause mayhem across the world, they disagreed. “The US Constitution won’t let him’. He will not be able to deliver on his claims”. Must admit I wasn’t at all convinced at the time. I feel a bit more reassured now - except for the damage ‘protectionism’ may cause to the world economy.
But what to think about his tweets, often offensive and outrageous. Reality is that the President is using Twitter, and using all the ‘helpful’ journalists across the world doing just what he wants to set the agenda for debate. One man’s tweets are ensuring political debate is on the issues that help his cause. It was the same with UKIP before the 2015 General Election in the UK. Dominant coverage was of internal party strife, normally thought to be politically damaging. UKIP set the agenda through its outrageous behaviour. The BBC had Farage leading the news or as a Question Time guest every other week. The reality that most of it was ‘cobblers’ made no difference. Reasonable debate was relegated to the second division. Now what is definition of that much used term, ‘useful idiots’.
The reality is that the more outrage against the Trump tweets (understandable though it is), the more it suits President Trump’s agenda.  If we could all manage to just ignore him, he would be gone in a year. If we carry on ensuring political discourse is driven by Trump tweets, he will be re-elected for a second term. The reason Donald Trump is “not so daft”is that he can see that. Welcome to the hell that is Twitter World.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Not a good story from Stafford Crown Court this week. Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust fined £333,333.00 plus £130,000 costs following patients falling, leading to being fatally injured. At first reading, this sounds very troubling. And of course it’s serious. It’s the Hospital Trust which serves most of Montgomeryshire, so it’s a big issue for me. I’ve tried to find out a bit more about it. No getting away from it not being good, but it should be considered in perspective.
Patients do sometimes fall in every hospital, and sometimes these falls result in death. I’m told that there are around 200,000 falls in NHS hospitals every year, with around 250 deaths. And even with the very best ‘Gold Standard’ management, around two thirds of these deaths are unavoidable. Also told that the Shrewsbury and Telford Trust are no worse than other hospitals. Even so, the Health and Safety Executive decided to prosecute - maybe because of the shocking experiences of what happened in South Staffs a few years ago. So it’s a matter of real interest to me.
I’m told that in cases of this sort, the judge is obliged to follow sentencing guidelines, which indicates that the fine should have been between £1.5 million and £2.9 million. For several reasons, and taking account of what he considered the Trust’s sincere interest in safe care and transparency, and culture of openness and cooperation, and impact on services of a higher fine, he reduced the fine to £333,333.00. In general the judge found that the falls were a result of individual lapses rather than any systemic failure.
I’m sure we will learn more about this issue over the next few days/weeks. We need to know as much as possible about what has happened. Crucial if we are to have full confidence for the future. On a related issue, I do think the NHS is working under great pressures and is struggling to cope with an the increasing workload. Personally, I do think there will have to be more funding for healthcare and social care over the next few years.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Meeting our Obligations

Ever since we took the decision to leave the European Union on 23rd June 2016, there has been much discussion about what is being termed ‘the Divorce fee’. In my view, and despite a whole Malaysian forest being felled to provide the newspapers which have speculated on the issue, the position remains the same as on June 24th 2016. Britain will meet its obligations. Nothing else would be morally defensible.

I have no idea what “Britain will meet it’s obligations’ actually means in crude money terms. Which is why I’ve never referred to precise figures. I’m pleased the Gov’t is not talking precise figures either. But if it’s £40billion, so be it. Ironically, the higher the figure, the more support there will be for No Deal, when no payment would need to be made. All discussions between Barnier and David Davies have been about deciding on the appropriate formula for deciding what the payment will be. The rest is froth. This reality does not prevent media ‘experts’ deciding what is being “demanded” and what is being “offered”.  I suppose they have column inches to fill.

As far as I can see, negotiations are going much as expected. But wouldn’t bet on us moving to discussions on trade before Christmas. The Irish Question looks to be very difficult, not 100% answerable at present. And the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar has been speaking in a most unhelpful way. He seems to be demanding that Northern Ireland remains in Single Market and Customs Union - in other words be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is not going to happen. Good negotiators don’t make demands the other side cannot, under any circumstances, agree to. Personally disappointed with his approach, because I’ve always had an affection for the Irish people. He’s going to have to back off that one. Unless of course he actually wants No Deal.

There’s also an issue about continueing role of European Court of Justice. This issue matters to me. I could live with some role in the limited area involving migrants from other European states. But the point of leaving the EU for me was escaping the clutches of the ECJ. Without that, it would not be worth it.

Must admit I have no certainty at all what the position will be three weeks hence.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Leave Shropshire Hospitals Public Consultation til New Year

I’m accepting what has become inevitable. Despite being desperate to see the public consultation on the reform of Shropshire NHS services going ahead, I reluctantly accept that it would better that it should be rescheduled for early in the New Year. 
The Future Fit Programme Board, which was set up to reform NHS secondary care serving  Shropshire & Mid Wales, has been expected to announce the anticipated public consultation for months. For a variety of reasons it hasn’t happened. I now think we’ve reached a date so near to Christmas that the consultation should now be scheduled to begin early next year, and should be limited to the statutory required period of 12 weeks rather than the previously expected 14 weeks.
I should add that my suggestion is against a background of disappointment that the public consultation has not already been launched. However I do remain confident that work on the £200 million reform will begin in the summer of 2018.
Here are a few public comments I’ve been willing to make.

“I am hugely frustrated and disappointed that the public consultation on the reform of NHS Hospitals that serve Shropshire and Mid Wales has not already begun. But it’s time to face reality, and outline a clear achievable programme for public consultation on the way forward.

“It remains possible that public consultation could begin in December, but it would be against a background of Christmas when public attention would be on other things. It would also have to be a 14 week consultation to take Christmas into account. It would therefore be more sensible to begin public consultation in January, which would need to last the statutory period of 12 weeks.

“Crucially, this public consultation will be based on a ‘Preferred Option’ that A&E would be based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, including the most critical Women’s and Children’s Services. Non-emergency ‘Planned Care’ would be based at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital. This ‘Preferred Option’ has already been unanimously agreed by the Future Fit Programme Board. It’s been my personal preferred option for the last 20 years.

“The only hurdle left now is confirmation that the approximately £200 million needed to fund the reform is made available by NHS England. I can see no reason why it shouldn’t be. I remain confident that the public consultation will support the location of a new A&E Unit at the Royal Shrewsbury, and that building work on site will begin next summer.”

Friday, November 24, 2017

£350 million per week!

Firstly, I must establish that I personally did not support the decision by the Leave campaign in early 2016 to print in big bold lettering on a red bus that the UK would/could invest an extra £350 million per week in the NHS. In fact, even though I had decided to vote Leave, I was so unimpressed by the pre-Referendum debate that I wanted no part in it. Weak I know, but I was very disappointed that it clashed with and completely ruined the Welsh General Election which was held at roughly the same time. Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t notice the Welsh Election. You are probably in the majority.

There has been a huge amount of criticism of this bus pledge. I’ve always thought it was not actually a lie, in that when the UK no longer has to pay into the EU budget, and if  all of the money were to be allocated to the NHS it would fund £350million per week. But I also thought it unlikely that all the money would actually go to the NHS. There would be so many other demands.

But it’s not a normal position. The nation is still very divided. Huge numbers still think the bus pledge delivered the Leave vote. Personally I completely disagree with that. If the bus had said £150 million per week, it would have had the same impact, and no-one could have argued. But the reality we face is that many people think the Leave vote was based on a lie. Keyboard warriors, who have little interest in truth, have had a field day.

For quite a while I’ve thought the Govt should bite the bullet and consider committing to investing an extra £350 million per week in the NHS. Because I’m a PPS I’ve been reluctant to say anything, because it’s not actually Govt policy. But a Treasury PPS has contemplated the very same in today’s Telegraph. So No reason why I can5 do the same. And it’s only conjecture anyway.

Of course there’s the big obvious downside. Any Brexit bonus should be allocated to several budgets, based on need. But the unremitting focus by those who supported Remain on what’s claimed to be the bus message lie is enough for me. It would totally undermine the most continueing bone of contention. Maybe we have reached the time for the dramatic strike.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Govt unwavering commitment to animal welfare.

Firstly, let’s set out the base position. The UK Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. We want to make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.

It has been suggested by some (and has led to an email campaign criticising Conservative MPs) that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. That is wholly wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. Ministers explained on the floor of the house that the Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings. We are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild. The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.

The Prime Minister has already made clear that we will strengthen our animal welfare rules. The government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The EU Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this. However we are considering the right legislative vehicle.

We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.

The current EU instrument, Article 13 has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law – in practice its effect is very unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are unacceptably cruel and painful to animals.

In contrast, here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule. We will consult on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation. We propose combatting elephant poaching with a ban on the ivory trade which is more comprehensive than anywhere else in Europe. Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as “the strongest in the world”, and is certainly the strongest in Europe.

Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices – but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. We hope to say more in these areas next year.

This government will continue to promote and enhance animal welfare, both now and after we have left the EU.

The Govt position on sentience of animals.

Had a lot of emails commenting about the status of animal welfare legislation following a vote in the House of Commons last week when considering the EU Withdrawal Bill. Not sure that every email sender has heard or read the Government contribution to the debate. For those who are interested, or concerned about welfare of animals, both domestic and wild, I’ve included the relevant extract from the Record of Proceedings which outlines why the amendment referred to was superfluous and potentially damaging to the clarity of the legal ‘status’ of sentient animals. I will also post, based on the Secretary of States response to MPs who have asked for an accurate summary of the Govt position. (To follow) 

“Article 13 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union places an obligation on the European Union when developing certain EU policies and on member states when developing and implementing those EU policies to have full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. The intention of the new clause is to replicate—I am not sure whether it is replicate or duplicate—that obligation in domestic law when we leave the EU.

The reference to animals as sentient beings is, effectively, a statement of fact in article 13, but even though it is, in effect, declaratory, I can reassure the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) that it is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If an animal is capable of experiencing pain and suffering, it is sentient and therefore afforded protection under that Act.

We have made it clear that we intend to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU and, indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ​made clear, to enhance them. The vehicle of this legislation will convert the existing body of EU animal welfare law into UK law. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

In this country—we should be proud to say this—we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and we intend to remain a world leader in the future. Leaving the EU will not prevent us from further maintaining such standards; in fact, it will free us in some regards to develop our own gold-standard protections on animal welfare. Animals will continue to be recognised as sentient beings under domestic law, in the way I have described. We will consider how we might       explicitly reflect that sentience principle in wider UK legislation.

To tack on to the Bill the hon. Lady’s new clause, which simply refers to article 13, would add nothing, however, and she was fairly honest in her speech about the limited practical impact it would have. Given that it is ultimately fairly superfluous, it risks creating legal confusion. Obviously, if she wants to propose improvements to wider UK legislation—I am sure she will, knowing her tenacity—she is free to do so, but this new clause is unnecessary, and it is liable only to generate legal uncertainty. Having addressed some of her concerns, I hope that she will withdraw the new clause, having powerfully and eloquently made her point.

Monday, November 20, 2017


I remember as a young man the domination of British politics and our media by the problems of Southern Rhodesia, and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith in 1965. It was probably the first ‘foreign affairs’ issue I took a real interest in. As did many British people, I initially was unsure of whether UDI was the right way forward. But again, like many British people, I grew quickly to oppose Ian Smith. He was soon condemned by almost the rest of the world - all except South Africa and Portugal.
It was 13 yrs later that a one man - one vote election (for ‘man’ read ‘woman’ as the lawyers used to say) was held. It delivered a black majority ZANU PF Government led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. There was never any doubt that it was Uncle Bob who called the shots.
Mugabe has been there ever since. But finally, it looks as if his time is up. He has been a very bad leader, in every conceivable way. He and his wife, Grace have stripped massive sums of money from the economy, and bankrupted Zimbabwe. I saw an old trillion dollar Zimbabwean note from 2009 today. It would only buy a loaf of bread!
Mugabe is a clever and devious operator, not to be under-estimated, even though he is of advanced years. But he brought it on himself by sacking his loyal sidekick Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had assumed he would Mugabe’s successor. So had the army. And that matters. The idea had been to clear the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace to take over the reins, and have the entire nation feed her greed and extravagance. The military were not willing to put up with it. ZANU PF have removed Mugabe from the leadership of the party. It was expected that he would resign as Prime Minister yesterday, but he surprised everyone by refusing. Looks as if he will now be impeached. Hard to be certain where this is going.
The decision to impeach is likely to happen tomorrow. It involves setting up an impeachment committee, which can be done by simple majority. But the vote in the Zimbabwean Parliament to actually impeach requires a two thirds majority - more uncertain. But the people of the wonderfully fertile country of Zimbabwe deserve to see the back of the Mugabes. But what sort of leadership takes over the is an entirely different story. Just hope it happens by means of a full and fair election.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Budget week coming up.

Been watching rugby on TV today, and now just settling down with a glass of wine to write my fortnightly article for the Oswestry and Borders Chronicle. Never totally straightforward deciding what to write about because the Chronicle is not published til Wednesday. Whatever, here goes.

“Over recent weeks, public conversation about British politics has been focussed on two dominating subjects, Brexit and sexual harassment. This week, the main focus must surely move on to matters concerning the economy. Because Wednesday is Budget Day. And this is not easy to comment on today, because I’m writing before I know what’s in it, and it’s probably being read after it has been delivered to MPs in the House of Commons and been published. I just hope I’m not left too red faced by any big differences in my expectation and the reality.

We do know that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond is in a very difficult place. He may well want to increase public spending, but he has no money! UK public borrowing is simply too high. Far too high to allow public spending to be substantially increased. I hear some MPs, especially those on the opposition benches calling for £billions to be ‘invested’ in almost every budget area. I hear calls for an “end to austerity”. These calls are totally irresponsible. I suspect most people know this.

Let us consider the actual numbers. Our National Debt is an eye-watering £1.7 trillion  (£1,720,000,000,000) - plus a variety of off balance sheet debts, that by any normal interpretation are also debts. The UK’s annual deficit is around £45billion (£45,000,000,000). This is how much more the Govt is spending this year that it has coming into the Treasury. It’s all being added to the National Debt. Describing this as “austerity” seems to me to be an abuse of the English language. The reality is that we are living way beyond our means, leaving our children and grandchildren to clear up the mess. It’s a rather selfish attitude.

But there will be increases in spending, as well as various tax changes. I expect some relaxation in the public sector pay cap. It was defendable when inflation was very low, but at present it’s around 3% which may well lead the Chancellor to act. I expect some more money to go to Universal Credit, bringing the time interval before actual payment to be reduced from six weeks. I expect more money to go to the NHS and Social Care. The warnings about winter pressures are too loud to ignore. And there will surely be public money to deliver more housing, especially for first time buyers. If all this is included there will not be muc( scope for anything else.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Went along to an hour long debate in the grand committee room off Westminster Hall today to join a debate on ‘loneliness’. I would like to have made a speech but had not given notice to the Speaker. So many MPs had given notice, so I and a few others in the same boat were limited to interventions. Rachel Reeves, who had secured the debate was generous and allowed me a couple of sentences.
I had but one suggestion to make.
My background before being diverted into public affairs was as a Welsh hill livestock farmer. As a breed, such farmers tend to spend a lot of time on their own. But they do have their livestock for company. Non farmers don’t realise that each sheep is an individual. I ran a flock of around 900, and knew them individually. When the terrible foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak meant that most sheep flocks in the Severn Valley were shot in a mass slaughter, and burnt in massive bonfires on the farm. It had a terrible effect. For weeks, I had fathers of farmers contacting me, asking me to telephone and chat to their sons. It was usually the fathers. I was sometimes chatting to farmers who were in despair until the middle of the night. I used to comment that loneliness can be a silent assassin.
This is all preamble to the point I’d have liked to make. Yes we can have loneliness commissions. Yes  we can have policy statements. I approve. But we can do quite a bit at a personal level, just by telephoning people you know are on their own and lonely. It’s something I do at Christmas. I’ve asked my office manager to put together a list of names, often people I don’t know, just to ring them for a brief chat. I think it makes a real difference to people who don’t have someone to talk to. Ok so it’s very limited in the number I can reach, but I try to persuade others to do the same. It’s a sort of ‘direct action’.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The case for paying up and moving on.

House of Commons is totally submerged in the EU Withdrawal Bill. We have just finished the first 8 hour debate at Committee stage. It’s the first day of eight, to be held over next month or so. The Government carried all six votes tonight comfortably, but there are more difficult challenges ahead. And the Welsh Select Committee, of which I’m a member, also spent this afternoon considering the impact on Wales of the UK leaving the European Union.
We are now reaching the stage when negotiations with the EU are reaching the critical stage. Reminds me of Man Utd ex-manager, Alex Ferguson in late March telling us that it was reaching “Squeaky B*m” time during the final games of the premiership. Even though at present much consideration is being turned to leaving the EU with ‘No Deal’ it’s not what most people want. While I don’t think it would be the catastrophe many predict, it does seem best to me that we should reach a mutually beneficial deal if at all possible. Been my view since Day One. I’ve thought we should have adopted a ‘generous’ approach to negotiations. Importantly I thought we could have taken ‘the high ground’ in granting rights to EU citizens legally resident in the UK without demanding concessions in return. And then there is the money. There’s always the money.
My standard line/soundbite has been that “We should pay what we owe” - without having much idea how much we do actually owe. There are some who think we should pay nothing. I don’t agree that’s feasible. It would guarantee ‘No Deal’. There is talk of paying a divorce bill of £20 billion. There is talk of paying a divorce bill of £50 billion. Must admit I’d be content to support the higher figure if there’s an arguable case to justify it - and if it enabled agreement on a nil or low tariff trade agreement. Accept this is an attitude not widely shared.
Anyway, at long last we are moving on the crucial EU Withdrawal Bill. 6 votes down and no defeats.   Maybe another 50 to go? The Govt has made a good start tonight. But there’s a seriously squeaky time ahead of us. And if the Prime Minister succeeds in delivering an acceptable deal enabling a continuation of trade between the UK and our friends in the EU, she will deserve her place in history.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Message on the Vote Leave Bus.

I try to avoid conversations or discussions about the result of the EU Referendum result on 23 June 2016. I just think that so many look for any media report, which can be interpreted as support for the wisdom of how they voted in the referendum. Almost every report we read concerning the economy is either ‘Bad News’ because of Brexit, or ‘Better News’ despite Brexit. So I generally steer clear in personal conversations. It costs friends! But not this morning. I was drawn in by a couple of friends who are convinced that a majority of the British electorate voted Leave because of a bus that toured the country during the referendum campaign declaring that when we left the EU, we would be able to spend an extra £350 million per week on the NHS. Usually I just mutter to myself along the lines of “that’s cobblers”. It was a campaign slogan, rubbished by the Government and almost everyone else. I’ve certainly made no reference to and not heard others do either - except to also rubbish it. Today, I took on this statement so casually and frequently delivered.
I entirely accept that this figure is not sustainable in a meaningful way. It may be arguable that the payment the UK makes to be a member of the EU totals £350 million per week, but if the rebate and return payments to the UK for specific EU programmes are taken into account, the figure is somewhere between £150 million and £200 million per week, depending how it’s calculated. The point I make is that the message that the bus would have conveyed was that a massive sum of money was being transferred to the EU. There have been little difference in impact if the message on the bus had read £160 million per week or £350 million per week. To almost everyone, it was just a massive sum of money.
But there was one big difference. Those in favour of the UK remaining in the EU were able to rage against what they regarded as a false figure. The Remain campaigners ensured the message on the bus became much the highest profile ‘slogan’ of the entire referendum campaign through endless repetition. It was the Remain campaigners who put the message that a massive sum of money is being sent to the EU every week at the top of the agenda. At the time I thought, and said, and have said ever since that I would not be surprised if the figure was designed to create a row in order to secure attention, through argument and controversy. If it was, it certainly worked.
Now to the final thought I want to ‘float’. Last week the head of NHS England, Simon Stephens said he wanted that £350 million per week for the NHS - a very high profile intervention a few days before the budget. I wonder what the impact would be if the Chancellor were to announce in his budget in a few days time that he intended to do just that. It would involve a commitment to increase the annual NHS budget by about £18 billion from that which existed before 23 June 2016. The Govt has increased the budget by a few billion already, and may well be planning another increase of a few billion in the budget. I also think it’s reasonable to think of Health and Social Care as one budget head. And we know that we should put a quite a few billions more into social care. Of course an extra £18 billion into Health and Social Care would mean reductions in spending elsewhere, but it would be a massive vote winner and shoot the Remain campaigners biggest fox.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Carl Sargeant 1968-2017

I try to write my blog posts about the big issue of the particular day, with an emphasis on Welsh issues. Tonight, I was expecting to write about recommendations to increase membership of the National Assembly to 80 plus, and the fairest way by which they should be elected. I had thought this would be the dominating issue in Wales over the next few days. But my thoughts have been overtaken and totally disrupted in a most brutal, shocking way. A leading member of the National Assembly, Carl Sargeant took his own life this morning. Deeply shocking for those of us who knew him.
I knew Carl quite well. We were Assembly Members together from 2003 til 2007. He was popular across party divides and a good companion in the tearoom. Though he was a big burly man, I found him quite gentle and amusing. I did meet him occasionally after I left the Assembly in 2007, and we would always find time to chat about old times. Even though we fundamentally disagreed about some issues, it never caused the slightest rancour between us. His good nature ensured that.
But we do need to consider the more sensitive aspects of this tragedy. Four days ago Carl had been unceremoniously sacked from his Government position by the Welsh Government First Minister, Carwyn Jones. No argument about this. It’s the sort of judgement political leaders are paid to make. I have no idea why he was sacked, and it seems that Carl had no idea why either. We are just told it was following complaints about his ‘personal behavior’ - thought to be in respect of attitude towards women. Personally, I have no interest in what these issues are, though I’m sure many will have. But there are two glaring questions which will need to be answered.
Firstly, why was Carl not told exactly what he was supposed to have done. How could he defend himself. After all, we have not (yet) reached the stage in British law where an individual is deemed to be guilty until proven to be innocent. It looks to thos e of us gripped by a bit what has happened today that Carl has just but cut off from all support, without even told why.
But it’s the second question that I care most about. When anyone is the subject of a high profile negative media frenzy, it’s tough. Believe me, it’s really tough. Life suddenly becomes desperate, dark and lonely. It’s easy to think everyone is against you. It’s hard to think of the darkness ever lifting. That’s why at Westminster, many of us make a point of chatting to those who are currently in the media spotlight in a negative way. What support did Carl have to help him cope. I hope when we put in place procedures to ensure those who have been abused (and rightly so), we also put in place procedures to provide some pastoral care for individuals, who crash suddenly into a dark place. It’s too late for Carl, but I feel there is a lesson to be learned, and acted on.

Monday, November 06, 2017

New approach to harassment.

Its good that all political parties are agreed about the need to put in place an independent structure to deal with harassment and bullying in the Westminster Parliament. I hope other parliaments in the UK will do the same. The Prime Minister has taken the initiative and other party leaders have responded. Theresa May, whom I think has been quite shocked by what she has been faced with over recent days has moved quickly, and other party leaders have also responded quickly. It’s crucial that everyone who feels they have been subject to harassment or bullying have access to face-to-face support services. Anyone who feels they have been abused needs to know they will be listened to.
When I was a young man, sexual harassment was much more prevelant than it is today. To some extent it was almost accepted as a part of growing up. But thankfully, times and attitudes have moved on. This is very welcome. Harassment is not acceptable today. Its not an issue of morality. It’s an issue about power and use of positions of influence. Today’s announcement from party leaders is to do with promoting a culture of respect.
There may be more revelations of unacceptable behaviour, and it’s important that each case is considered carefully - for the sake of everyone involved. I hope we can all welcome the determination of our political leaders to deliver the message that harassment in all its forms in our parliaments must end.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Let’s not forget the Budget

Sunday afternoon, cup of tea and settling down to write my 400 word column for the Oswestry and Borders Chronicle.

As I set about writing this fortnightly article, which I like to be about happenings at Westminster, the only issue on everyone’s lips is the seemingly non-stop cascade of sexual harassment stories about politicians - of all parties and in all British parliaments. While I disapprove of the usual course of British justice being reversed - with everyone being accused seeming to be deemed guilty until proven innocent! However I do approve of what is happening. It is totally unacceptable for anyone in a position carrying with it ‘power’ and ‘patronage’ to be using that position as a platform for sexual harassment - or any other sort of ‘bullying’ and harassment for that matter.
However, one aspect of the way this ‘harassment’ is being portrayed is mistaken. I don’t doubt that it happens, but in 7 yrs as an MP, I’ve not witnessed it. As a general rule, MPs are ferociously ambitious individuals, and are very focussed on their work. In years past, when votes took place in the middle of the night, and there were not long lens cameras scanning every nook and corner, improper behaviour may well have been more common. It’s a much more rare occurrence today. And so it should be. It shouldn’t happen at all. Everyone at Westminster wants proper reporting systems in place, where anyone guilty of a misdemeanour is held to account. We all want to feel proud to be a Member of Parliament. 
A consequence of the current focus on ‘sexual harassment’ is that it has driven out debate and discussion about the Budget, which takes place on the 22nd of this month. It’s a very important statement of Government intent. The first budget at the start of a 5yr Parliament is more than just about money. It’s about direction. And it’s the toughest challenge facing any Chancellor since the early 1990s. I’ve no doubt the Chancellor would like to take decisive action to boost the economy  has and help the vulnerable cope with the extra challenges they face. But he has to decide where the money is to come from! 
Let’s consider some of the issues that Philip Hammond will need to decide on. The UK Govt still spends around £1,000,000,000 per week more than it has coming into its coffers. This is not as bad as  it’s been over last decade but it still means National Debt is growing ever larger way too quickly. And he will want to promote more housing, help with roll-out of Universal Benefit, boost infrastructure spending, consider lifting public sector pay cap and give yet another funding boost to the NHS. It’s a very difficult circle to square. The future of our country, (as we leave the European Union) depends on the Chancellor getting it right. It’s what MPs should be focussed on.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Engaging with younger voters.

There is little doubt that the biggest electoral challenge facing my Conservative Party at present is the need to strengthen engagement with young voters. We are told that young voters flocked to Labour at the last General Election. We need to understand why. We are told Labour promises to scrap tuition fees and wipe out student debt arising from tuition fees were a key factor - even though primary school children could work the promises were not findable! Personally I don’t think we can or should match these promises, though of course we could cut back on the total number of young people who go to university. Personally, I don’t support reducing fees across the board, wiping out student debt or cutting back on number of students going to university. Though I would support reducing the interest rates charged on student loans. Be pleased if such a reduction featured in the budget later this month. In fact, we have effectively ensured the impact on students will be much diminished by raising the pay threshold at which they will be required to repay loans. This highly significant and costly change was hardly noticed. There will be little electoral benefit from that!
A more important issue is housing. We need to ensure young people have a stake in capitalism. Without such a stake, if capitalism is not relevant to them, why would young people vote for a party which believes in and supports capitalism. Young people can not afford housing today (unless bank of mum and dad can help out). We need a million new houses built or being built by 2022. Council housing (with option to buy would make a difference). New villages with mix of public and private will also make a difference. But the big difference would come from streamlining planning processses, ending land banking (permissions should be used or lost) and making every last inch of public sector owned land available to private sector to build. The price of housing is too high, driven up by scarcity, and must be brought down. There will always be arguments against building on a large scale, but because our population is growing so rapidly, and is going to continue to grow, we have no option but to deliver a revolution in house building.
And I also support giving 16 year olds the right to vote. It’s never made any sense to me that a 16 year old is deemed old enough to have sex and start a family, why on earth can they not be free to vote. This is generally thought not to benefit the Conservative Party. I’m not so sure. And anyway it’s what is right. Usually if a Govt does what is right, it wins.
I quite like writing stuff I really believe to be right, when I suspect many (perhaps most) will disagree.

It’s all happening in Wales.

Funny old day in British politics. At Westminster it’s all very depressing. Luckily, my main interest is  the politics of Wales, where there are two big stories in the news. The big one is a major Welsh Government reshuffle. The second is the first salvo, from a host of ‘names’ and organisations, arguing for a major increase in the number of members of National Assembly.
Let’s consider the reshuffle first. Biggest story involved an old friend of mine, Carl Sargeant. Not only has Carl been sacked from the Government, he’s been suspended from the Labour Party. He’s been a stalwart of Carwyn Jones cabinets since the beginning. No idea what he’s supposed to have done, but it’s a big story. Next biggest story is the inclusion of ex Plaid MP/AM/Peer, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas in Carwyn Jones’ team. I also think the inclusion in the Government of three potential replacements when the current First Minister finally hangs up his boots is interesting. In the silly debates politicians have about the future, I’ve  tipped Eluned Morgan and Huw Irranca-Davies as  my favourites to take over. Two talented politicians who know how to ‘reach out’.  Others speak very highly of Jeremy Miles too, but a man I don’t know personally.
Here’s the new team.... Carwyn Jones-First Minister; Mark Drakeford-Finance; Ken Skates-Economy and Transport; Lesley Griffiths-Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs; Kirsty Williams-Education; Vaughan Gething-Health and Social Services; Alun Davies-Local Government; Julie James-Leader of the House and Chief Whip; Jeremy Miles-Counsel General, and Ministers, Dafydd Elis Thomas-Culture, Tourism and Sport; Rebecca Evans-Housing and Regeneration; Hannah Blyddyn-Environment; Eluned Morgan-Welsh Language; Huw Irranca-Davies-Children and Social Services. Best wishes to all of them. And special mention to Jane Hutt, who is no longer in the Government after nearly 20yrs involvement. The last ever-present since devolution gone.
The other big story, though hardly covered, is the campaign launched by a veritable host of ‘names’ and organisations calling for a big increase in number of Assembly Members. I think we’re expecting this to be the big story next week, so today is just a tiddly warm-up. But it’s going to be a controversial story. There will be debate about numbers and about how they are to be elected. More on this when the report we are expecting is published.
And finally there is the Welsh Liberal Democrat Leadership. It’s not had much publicity, but since the winner and new leader is Jane Dodds, who has fought two General Elections against me, I felt I should give it a mention. She defeated Elizabeth Evans by 587 votes to 519, and steps into the very substantial shoes once worn by Clement Davies, Emlyn Hooson and Alex Carlile.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Letters Campaign for Proportional Representation.

Receiving a few emails at present asking me to support proportional representation. On balance, I don’t agree with this - for House of Commons elections anyway. But since I was elected as a member of the National Assembly for 8 yrs via an ‘Additional Member’ system of proportional representation, you’ll not be surprised that I’m not a ‘frothing at the mouth’ opponent. It’s just that I’m reluctant to make changes to our constitution Without an overwhelming reason.
I think the main reason to oppose Proportional representation (in my opinion) is that the elected government will never have to stand by the manifesto it was elected on. Rather than strengthen democracy, it may well weaken it. In a UK Parliamentary election, no political parties secure 50% of the vote. The largest party (though not always) would have to come to an agreement with another political party (or parties) to agree a ‘programme for government’. The alternative is another election. This disconnection, (inherent in inter-party dealings) between what a government promises and what a government does would happen after every general election. Political parties would feel able put forward manifesto commitments they could not deliver on.
Of course our current ‘first past the post’ system of government sometimes delivers the same situation. It did so in 2010, when the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat’s agreed a programme which differed from manifestos. The example most quoted (thoug( there were others) was the Lib Dem’s decision to support a significant increase in tuition fees, after promising to scrap them during the election campaign.
And it’s not unusual to see an impasse lasting a very long time after an election in a pr system, as we are currently witnessing in Germany. Mostly, the ‘first past the post’ system of election delivers a government with a manifesto to which it can be held to account. It’s the greatest strength of our system. There are also issues around the status of individual candidates. In our current system of election to the House of Commons, citizens vote for individuals, not parties. Though of course the party label is hugely important. I am an MP because the people of Montgomeryshire voted for me. I was an AM, because the people of Mid and West Wales voted Welsh Conservative.
Maybe the next step on the road to proportional representation should be in local government, (though I should add that I dont favour it).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Don’t let the B*****s get you down.

Met a ferociously angry constituent yesterday, outraged about BBC bias in opposition to Brexit. Even though I have sympathy for his opinion, I sought to calm him down. Tried to persuade him it does not matter if the BBC is biased against Brexit. I could understand his anger, even if not sharing it. After all, we are all forced to pay for the BBC through the licence fee. It’s role should be to inform and entertain (which it does very well indeed) not lobby for its favoured causes. But I am totally relaxed because it makes no difference. The bias is so obvious that viewers factor it in. I go further. It usually helps the other side! I argued on 24th June 2016 that it was the ‘BBC wot done it’ for the Leave side. No-one I met believed any of the fear tactics used by the Remain side either. No-one believed the promises of disaster. They were ridiculous. In my view it was BBC bias and Remain side fear tactics that led to the Leave majority. My constituent was a firm Leave supporter. I promised to pass his concerns on to Secretary of State Karen Bradley, but I told him he should be grateful to the BBC.
Same goes for all the gnashing of teeth over anti Brexit bias at our universities. Most people know most lecturers see themselves as ‘left’ and what they think of as ‘progressive’. Our students are not daft. They know this and factor it in. Students are also a bit rebellious. Instead of rebelling against their parent’s opinions, religion, the Government etc, a fair few will rebel against the new orthodoxy that has taken over our universities - probably threatening ‘free speech’. Will add in passing that we have not been very smart in engaging with students over recent years. Just that I don’t think lecturer’s bias makes a blind bit of difference.
And I’m not at all sure Conservative MPs should become too excited about the internet campaigns being run against us. Over last year or two I’ve had lots of it. In my experience, it doesn’t make any difference. Before last election there was much defacing of our field posters and lots of other posters were stuck everywhere, all done under cover of darkness. I told my Office to leave them up, including those defaced with the C*** word. Constituents were outraged. Prob put 1000 on my vote! And one of my public meetings was so nasty, I felt it necessary to check under my car before driving home. The story of this circulated, and that area cast more votes for us than ever before!
The point I make is that none of the negativity makes any difference. Except in one important way. Lots of talented people, who would make very good public representatives walk away - not prepared to be abused, undermined, lied about and shouted at. My message is always “Public service is a privilege, an honour and a pleasure. Go for it. Don’t let the b*****s get you down”.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Constitutional Rumpus in Spain.

There is no doubt that Catalunya could be a successful state if independent from Spain. 16% of Spanish people live in Catalunya. It represents 19% of GDP, 25.6% of exports and 20.7% of foreign investment. It’s the wealthiest part of Spain. And the best football team in the world. But none of this means that it should become independent. On balance, I don’t think so.
The Catalunya regional government has declared that Catalunya is now an independent country, following an illegal referendum, which turned violent and was widely ignored by those who disapproved of it. Huge crowds are out on the streets as I type, hailing the birth of their sparkling new state. It would be easy to be influenced by the joyous celebrations and think independence is a de facto reality and inevitable. But of course it is no such thing.
The Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy has instigated a constitutional Exocet today, and declared direct rule, abolishing the Catalonian regional Govt, sacking Catalonian Prime Minister Charles Puigdemont and calling new elections for Dec 21st. The head of Catalonian Police Chief has also been sacked.  This is new territory, not only for modern Spain but for the European Union. The EU and EU countries are backing the Spanish Government, as they were bound to. The Spanish Senate is backing Prime Minister Rajoy, as it has to.
We can have no idea where all this is going. Spain in not like Britain. It doesn’t have our stable history. It’s less than 70 years since Franco took power by brute force, and held it for many decades. Millions died. I cannot see any option for the UK Govt other than to back Spain. Same applies to other EU countries and the EU itself. Looks an unbeatable coalition. But who can be certain. Just hope it doesn’t turn violent. All we can do is hope. But my confidence is nothing like as buoyant as my hopes. Next few days are going to be very interesting.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Afternoon in front of a screen.

Watched an interesting film this afternoon. It was of a journey, armed with a camera into very dark recesses of a rarely seen underworld. Felt bit like those crazy people who wander off into an underground labyrinth of tunnels deep in the earth. Potholers they call these odd people. Except today it was ‘live’ reporting - from inside my own body. What you might call an ‘Inside Broadcast’.
My trusted oncologist, Mr Hunt inserted his ‘scope’ into the part of my colon he left me with 15 years ago. It’s a long flexible dynarod thing with a hollow down the middle and a bright searchlight on the end. It usually goes up the ‘bottom’ but the very same Mr Hunt took away this particular orifice 15yrs ago - along with other bits and pieces. And off he went, on the lookout for anything unusual or nasty. Most people prefer sedation while this procedure takes place, and miss out on all the ‘entertainment’. But I wanted to drive myself home, so skipped the sedation which would have ruled out driving. Don’t like to make a fuss. Not too much of one at least.
Anyway, Mr Hunt went into intense focus, occasionally chuntering to himself as he studied intently what looked to me like an orgy of uncooked chlorinated chicken legs and breast in a jumbled order.
After ten minutes he spotted one. Just like David Attenborough espying some rare creature in the ocean depths. He demanded a ‘snare’ which was ‘fed’ down the tube and used to trap the offending polyp and he then cut it off. Just like that. Never felt a thing. Incredible. Then he spotted another and out came the ‘snare’ again. Mr Hunt was in a trance. He was on a Polyp hunt. Trust is a wonderful thing. What will I do if he’s retired when the next colonoscopy is due.
For the pros. In the distal descending colon there was a 1x3mm sessile adenomatous Polyp which was  removed by cold snare and ‘retrieved’ into a glass container. And in the distal ascending colon there was another 1x3mm sessile adenomatous Polyp again removed by cold snare and ‘retrieved’. All sounds a bit worrying to the layman, but seems it’s next thing to a ‘clean bill of health’. Had to pay a fair bit to watch this particular movie though.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Let’s accept the people’s vote and get Brexit done

Really sorry to blog about Brexit again. But have just had a conversation with someone who thinks the Prime Minister should simply say “Brexit is too difficult, and I’m going to inform Juncker and Barnier that it’s off, and want to end our negotiations to leave”. Ok, the wording wasn’t exactly this and of course, it’s not going to happen, but I was well taken aback because it was a normally sensible person who suggested it. I think in all seriousness.
I just asked if this proposal had been thought through. Well over 500 MPs had voted to hold a referendum. 17.4 million voters had backed Leave, the biggest vote for anything in British history. Another massive majority had voted in favour of invoking Article 50. What would public reaction be if this was all ignored by our Government. I’m not sure I’m capable of imagining just how awful it would be.
I told my friend that he would be of more value to society if he rambled naked around Britain whistling in the wind. Its not going to happen. The UK will be leaving the European Union. But how we Leave is another matter. There could be anything up to 17.4 million variations on this. It could be amicable, working out what is best for both sides. Or it could be No Deal, when both sides would have to pursue their own material interests. I prefer the first option. I also told my friend that his approach was the only reason we might end up with the second. As usual with this issue, he resorted to high dudgeon and flounced off!
I read so much utter tosh on this subject. The 24 hours news agenda has a lot to answer for. So much space to fill. I don’t really take that much notice though. We pay whatever we owe as a divorce settlement. We inform EU migrants, legally present in the UK, that they are valued permanent members of our society. We strive for a trade deal that suits both sides. We commit to security, climate change and other agreements that matter to both sides. As long as we are not subject to rulings of the ECJ, I’m fairly relaxed. I know there will be many who won’t be, but my guess is they will be a minority. And I’m not sure they have anywhere to go, without losing Brexit completely. And no doubt it will all look different tomorrow!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Death of Democracy in Venezuela

One benefit of being a backbench MP is that it allows opportunity to take an interest in a wide range of issues across the world. For me, the politics of South America is just such an issue. Knew almost nothing at all about it until a lovely Colombian girl caught the eye of our No 2 son. Two Welsh x Colombian grandchildren called Leo and Lulu later, I’m much involved in promoting in the UK knowledge of and interest in all things Colombian.
Venezuela is next door to Colombia, and here politics has reduced what was a successful, wealthy country to a basket case in a truly shocking way. And amazingly, there are British politicians who are apologists for the Maduro regime that is systematically destroying democracy in what I’m told is a very beautiful country. Today, a delegation of three elected members of the Venezuelan National Assembly were in Westminster so I went along to spend an hour with them. They spoke despairingly of how democracy is being undermined. All I need to do is share some of the economic data.
Best guess of inflation is 800% - next year predicted to be 1200%%. GDP last year fell 12.5% 70% of business infrastructure has closed down. Hunger, malnutrition and poverty are increasing alarmingly. The President is refusing to release any official figures and allowing no money for the National Assembly to operate. The constitution and human rights have been violated. And a whole lot else. Over 2 million people have left Venezuela. It’s a tragic story, with no end in sight yet.
And yet, astonishingly, there are still apologists for the Maduro regime in leading positions in British politics - even now - apologists for where Marxist economics always ends up. They were lauding Hugo Chavez as a great Venezuelan leader when he was destroying the successful economy, successful country and genuine democracy he inherited. It’s always the people, especially the poorest people who pay the price of this tragic story of foolishness.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Let’s talk Brexit with Labour

No matter how hard I scratch my head, I can’t work out what our Official Opposition want when it comes to implementing the UK’s departure from the European Union. I don’t like to be in this position. It’s such a major issue, that the Govt should reach out to the Official Opposition to explore where we can agree. After all, it can be argued that it was Labour voters who delivered the Leave decision on June 23rd 2016.
Anyway, I’ve been reading what Labour Brexit Spokesman, Kier Starmer has been saying. He usually talks sense. Seems there are 6 ‘red lines’ that need to be addressed before Labour can support the EU Withdrawal Bill. Let me consider them briefly to see where agreement could be possible - at least in part. 
1) Probably the key demand is that Parliament should be given a vote (a final say) on the negotiated ‘deal’. I’m personally not  opposed to this in principle, but it’s a problem in practice. Those negotiating on behalf of the EU do not want the UK to leave, so they will have a direct interest in a ‘bad deal’. But my view is that we are reaching the stage when Brexit is unstoppable, which makes possibility of some agreement about a vote on the final deal possible.
2) Labour (well, Starmer at least) want a transition period to be included in any EU Withdrawal Act. I’m not sure how this works. Looking forward to hearing how it works in practice. There is a wide acceptance that a transition/implementation period will be needed to manage the change. Since almost everyone agrees on the need for the transition period, there must be a possibility of some agreement on this ‘red line’.
3) Restrictions on Henry VII powers to ensure they are only included where absolutely necessary, and only for as long as necessary. I rather agree with that, and see scope for an agreement on this issue if approached with positive goodwill by both sides.
4) Guarentee that various rights, such as workers rights, human rights and environmental responsibilities are not watered down. Not easy to know what this ‘red line’ means in practice, but I really don’t think this should be an insurmountable problem. Most of us see freedom for the UK Parliament to have control over such rights as being to strengthen them! 
5) Again it’s conflict between the pragmatic and principle when it comes to managing the return of powers reserved to the EU in devolved responsibilities. At issue is protecting the UK Single Market, even more important than the EU Single Market. The challenge for the UK Govt is to offer sufficient reassurance to devolved parliaments that the purpose is to manage the change rather than a ‘Power grab’. I’m very much in support of being as reassuring as possible. Securing support for a Legislative Consent Order is a more significant issue than anything the Official Opposition will say or do. They would look utterly daft to oppose the Bill if an LCO had been passed. 
6) The final ‘red line’ might be a real problem though. Need to think about this more, because I’m not sure of status of EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. I support acceptance of rulings of the European Convention on Human Rights, but not the European Court of Justice. Taking back control of our own laws is a fundamental principle of Brexit. This may be a ‘red line’ too far.
I will add that it’s possible that debate will lead to me amending some of this. I look on this blog post as a first draft - definitely a work in progress.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brexit moving forward largely as expected.

I’m writing this blog post as my fortnightly article for next week’s Oswestry and Borders Chronicle. Has to be done for first thing, Monday morning. So it’s style is rather more ‘article’ than ‘blog post’. Here goes.

So much is being written about the process by which the UK is leaving the European Union, that it’s difficult to know what’s actually happening. Or to “see the wood for the trees”. Or to “separate the wheat from the chaff”. Choose your own phrase. But for me, the process of withdrawal is proceeding much as I would have expected it to - in a most unsatisfactory way.
Let us look back. The decision of the British people to leave the EU on 23rd June 2016 came as a surprise to most, including me. In particular, it came as a huge shock to the Prime Minister of the time, David Cameron who resigned the following morning.
After much heart searching, I had voted Leave in the referendum, but I always realised that leaving would lead to years of disruption and uncertainty. I’ve not changed my assessment of what we face. We don’t know, but suspect that little or no preparation work had been done in preparation for a Leave vote. Quite rightly, new Prime Minister, Theresa May has taken the process forward with caution and care - refusing to be rushed. Fortunately a cautious approach is her personal style of government. Mine too.
The main reason why the process of leaving is so difficult for the Prime Minister and David Davis, her Brexit Secretary of State is that the EU is making it as difficult as possible for the UK to carry our it’s instruction from the 17.4 million voters of the UK to leave. Those involved in negotiating on behalf of the EU are behaving like haughty bullies. We saw the same attitude towards Greece over recent years, and we see it towards Catalonia at present. The British people will not be so easily bullied. The response of many of my constituents when we discuss this issue is to be more determined to Leave. The sheer arrogance, haughtiness and intrangigence has given much more impetus to a ‘No Deal’ option.
The UK wants a sensible ‘deal’ which benefits the EU and the UK. I suspect the EU puppet masters are becoming aware that the UK people's attitude is hardening. The UK Govt wants a mutually beneficial deal, but more work is now being done on ‘No Deal’. It should be. We should not continue with the childish game of posturing that is a feature of negotiations so far for much longer. The world outside of  the EU is a big place, where there is a lot of potential for trade deals. It’s reaching time for constructive negotiation or leaving the table. I’ve always been one to turn my back on bullies.

Friday, October 20, 2017

All I can say on Powys Children’s Services Report.

Not often I refuse to do Media interviews, but I did so today when invited to comment on the report from the Children’s and Social Care Inspectorate in Wales about Children’s Services at Powys County Council. When the Report was published recently, I did agree to interviews. On balance I think it was an unwise decision. I said that I was not surprised by the critical content of the Report. I also said that I had known there was a problem for at least two years, but was not in a position to comment on any of the issues raised with me by constituents. Had a team meeting in my office this morning, and decided ‘No Interviews’. Also decided to write this blog making public all that I consider appropriate. Crucial that constituents have confidence that what they say to me remains confidential.
Here’s all I’m prepared to say. I was first approached by a constituent over three years ago (not two). Other contacts followed. Despite Children’s Services being a devolved issue, with responsibility vested in the County Council, I decided my case worker should follow up in response. At that stage I had no idea that it would snowball. Over the next 18 months, I wrote 15 letters to a variety of Council officers and councillors. During late 2016, I became increasingly concerned and escalated my concern by arranging a more formal meeting in my office with the Cabinet Member responsible for Children’s Services, outlining some details on a confidential basis. I and my case worker were becoming seriously concerned. The police had been involved, as had an English authority, which we contacted. My impression was that my intervention and the Cabinet Member’s Positive response had “shaken things up”. But after some time, it became clear that the issues had not been resolved. My office remains in contact and more letters have followed, and I continue to have serious concerns about delays. Bearing all this in mind, I don’t think it unreasonable to say that I am not surprised by the content of the CSSIW Report.
While I am not prepared to say any more about the cases I’m involved with, my team have agreed that we would be prepared to allow the head of any inquiry to have sight of my case worker’s file, which has a comprehensive record of every meeting and written contact with the Council. I would also be prepared to share sight of the case notes with the new Chair of Powys County Council, who has handled the response to the Report very well. For the first time in years, I have confidence that the Council’s Leader and Cabinet are taking the concerns that I (and perhaps others) have had for a long time.
And that’s about it. That’s all I’m making public. I don’t know what instigated the CSSIW investigation. It may that my agitation may have had some influence. I would be pleased if it had. I just hope, for the sake of children at risk, that steps are put in place to carry out Children’s Services properly.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Failure in Powys Children’s Services.

About two years ago a constituent called my office, concerned about the safety of a child, and dissatisfaction with the response of Powys Council’s Children’s Servics Department. I cannot communicate any information about the case. It’s a fundamental principle that any constituent (or non constituent) can be assured of total confidentiality when they speak to me. That’s one reason why I often ignore questions of Facebook. At the time, I asked one of my caseworkers to take a close look at the case. I was disturbed by what I was told, and raised the issue with Powys County Council, at both an officer and political level.
The Council response was very disappointing. Actually it was worse than that. I thought there was an almost total lack of recognition of the seriousness of the case. I try never to let my work get to me. I see so much awfulness in the world. Every MP does. I’d never sleep. But that single case caused me real worry and sleeplessness. I felt the safety of a very young child was at serious risk. I made contact with another English Council which had an involvement. And escalated my contact with the Council to the highest level I reasonably could. I was not prepared to make anything public, and I’m still not naming names - in public anyway. The confidentiality factor is too important to my work. But I needed to be certain I had done what I could, explaining to the Council that I could not let this matter be brushed under the carpet. I knew about it, was not prepared to be complicit, and was not prepared to let it go.
I do not know whether my involvement has had an impact on the report into the failings of Powys Council’s Children’s Services Department. I would be very pleased if it had. I had hoped for a briefing on the report last Friday, before it was published. But it was cancelled. Bearing in mind all the above, I was not one bit surprised by the Report’s findings. As always, I suspect my experience is only the merest tip of what has been happening. The truth will out.
We have seen only the first chapter of this scandal. And scandal it is. We’re told the police are now involved due to falsification of documents. I would be surprised if a whole lot more does not emerge. I will have to share my experiences with anyone appointed to look in detail at what has happened. But there is one spark of optimism within this dark place. I have been encouraged by the response of the new Council Leader, Rosemarie Harris. For the first time in two years I have some confidence that the Council acknowledges the horrific scale of what has happened. That is an important first step on the road to putting things right. I’m not interested in a witch hunt, even though there may be some holding to account. I just want a proper service put in place. It’s going to take a long time, and need a lot of work before we can feel confident that Powys County Council is able to deliver acceptable Children’s Services for the county of Powys.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Constituency Boundaries and Rural Democracy.

Don’t suppose I’m in Govt’s ‘good books’ today, after my response to the latest proposals to review constituency boundaries. My view is only on what is proposed for Wales. BBC Wales are reporting my view that I consider the proposals for Wales to be “crackers”and damaging to democracy in Rural Wales in particular. While today’s revised proposals are the handiwork of the Boundary Commission, I do not criticise the commissioners. They have no choice but recommend within the constraints of Govt legislation and the Welsh National boundary.  which afford little room for rational consideration or freedom to take history, culture and geography into account.
Now I do accept that there is a case for some equalisation of constituency sizes. In fact, a review is long overdue. I just don’t think it’s sensible or rational to review on the basis of 600 constituencies rather that the current 650.  Especially at a time when numbers in the House of Lords continue to rise into the 800s! Also, I concede that I cannot reasonably argue that the number of Welsh MPs should remain at 40 when the same constituency size as currently exists in England would result in 33 Welsh MPs. There should be two changes to the legislation. Firstly, the reduction should be from 40 to 33 (not 29) to reflect average size of constituencies across the UK. And the ‘tolerance’ between number of electors per constituency should be more than 5%. (8% perhaps). If we’re asking Boundary Commissioners to agree new boundaries, let’s give them the power to make recommendations as sensible and sensitive as possible.
Dare say some might suggest I’m being difficult or unreasonable. Well, let’s look at things from where I’m standing - which is in the ancient constituency of Montgomeryshire. Montgomeryshire has existed as a constitutional entity for around 500 yrs. I’ve been involved in public life for over 40 yrs, and have always represented Montgomeryshire (Council, Welsh Assembly and Parliament). Have fought elections as “The Montgomeryshire Man”. I still use Montgomeryshire as my address, despite it officially being Powys. The current proposals consign historic Montgomeryshire to the dustbin of history, carving it up into three to make up the numbers in surrounding constituencies. What am I supposed to think.
Of course Bethan asked me if I intended to vote against the proposals when they come forward at the end of 2018. I declined to answer. I want to argue my corner over this with Government. If I say now that I’m voting against, I lose all influence on the debate. It’s what happens. Ok, it would win some favourable publicity, ensuring I make headlines rather than maybe make a difference. But what I have said is that if these proposals are adopted, I will not stand for Parliament again. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Follow up on Brexit radio chat this morning.

It’s difficult to know what to expect when entering into the Lion’s Den that is the Sunday Supplement studio with Vaughan Roderick. Especially when the subject under debate is Brexit. I realised The inevitability of being asked which way I’d vote if the EU Referendum was held again. But there are so many other strands blowing in the winds of uncertainty.

The two strands that Nia Griffiths, Labour Shadow Defence Minister and I talked with Vaughan about   this morning were the transition/implementation period after March 2019 and our approach during it to the leaving of the Single Market and the Customs Union. We will be formally leaving all of them in March 19. There are some who refer to this as “The hardest of Brexits”, which I do think is utter nonsense. My hope is that the UK will agree that our relationship with the EU during the transition/implementation period will match as closely as possible current arrangements - where this benefits both sides. Must admit I’m not personally that bothered about the two year limit, as long as it’s not just a tactical delaying tactic.

Vaughan quite rightly brought up impact on Welsh sheep farming. We knew before Referendum day that the tariff on lamb could theoretically be a massive 40% if we have no agreed deal and have to fall back on WTO rules. That is a ‘worst case scenario’ and of course it inevitably means some uncertainty. It would also require some highly stupid and perverse decision (or non decision) making. I’m a lot more optimistic. But I do accept the possibility of perverse stupidity, so am keen to promote diversification. A good long term strategy whatever happens. It’s already happening.

Which brings us to what is a sensible approach to the ‘No Deal’ question. And here I do think the opposition position is bizarre. I watched Labour’s main spokesman on this issue, Kier Starmer on the Sunday Politics today. Sounded like a man who has never done any sort of deal in his life. Only a fool enters a negotiation, informing everyone that whatever deal is reached, it will be/must be accepted. Like me in a former life, walking into the John Deere sale room, waving my chequebook around and informing the salesman I’m buying no matter what the price. It’s an attitude quarenteed to deliver a very bad deal. We all want a good deal for the UK and a good deal for the EU. Thank goodness Mr Starmer isn’t sitting at the negotiating table.

Anyway, that was about it. I was expecting this morning to be about how we manage powers reserved to the EU in devolved subject areas, and the wide use of Henry VIII powers. Now that would have been much more difficult for me to cope with!!

Friday, October 13, 2017

More chat about Brexit.

It may not be a wise decision but I’ve agreed to appear on Sunday Supplement this week to discuss Brexit. In current climate, my ambition will be not to commit a ‘gaffe’. And that will not be easy because even the slightest grammatical error is treated as a ‘gaffe’ when the subject of Brexit is under discussion. And Vaughan Roderick is a crafty interviewer.
First question is bound to be ‘Which way would you vote if the referendum were to be re-run today.? The obvious answer should be the one the Prime Minister gave. It’s not going to be re-run and we are leaving the EU in March 2019, so don’t ask such a pointless hypothetical question. But when I’ve been asked over recent days, I’ve replied “I’d vote same as June 2016”. I’d vote Leave, with the same degree of uncertainty as I did last time. I find the question no easier to answer today, even though the blood curdling nonsense churned out by the Treasury before the EU referendum has been shown up as the ludicrous scare stories without foundation that we thought it was. But reality is we still face uncertainty, and will continue to do so for a good while yet.
I might be asked if I support a ‘Hard Brexit’ or a ‘Soft Brexit’. I really do not know what these terms mean. They are bandied about by people as if they are clearly defined terms. They are not. They are just some sort of code, which I don’t fully grasp.  I am in favour of the UK leaving the EU, including the Single Market and the Customs Union. Anything else is not Brexit. Call that response what you will. I see leaving the EU simply as ‘Brexit’.
And then we have the issue of whether the UK Government should prepare for ‘no deal’. Of course we should. I’ve never gone into any negotiation without retaining the option of ‘no deal’. And I fully expect the EU to be preparing for ‘no deal’ as well.  Not having that option on or near the negotiating table almost guarantees a bad deal. Most people want a good deal for the UK, and a good deal for the EU. But it’s seemed to me all along that the conditions imposed on the negotiations by the EU at the start almost guarantee ‘no deal’. That is a dreadful pity - both damaging and unwise. But if that’s the way it is, so be it. And I’m not sure we should waste much more time dancing to an unacceptable Juncker/Barnier tune on this. The one individual whose behaviour promotes ‘no deal’ above all others is Juncker. I hope there are no gaffes in that!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Paying for Domiciliary Care

On Monday morning this week, I ‘launched’ a social care conference, arranged by TLC, a local service delivery company, at Llanidloes.  I think it was rather grandly described as a ‘Keynote Speech’. I refer to this only because my main message was much the same as that heading up today’s front page in the Telegraph. My contention was that Domiciliary Care ‘service users’, (those who can afford to that is) must pay more for their care. It’s what the Social Care Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price is reported to have said at a fringe meeting at the recent Conservative Party Conference. Hope I’m supporting the Minister’s and the Government’s emerging policy on this issue. I’ll summarise the thrust of my speech.

I began by acknowledging that paying for social care is both a complex and controversial issue. It’s arguable that a Conservative attempt to tackle the issue in June’s manifesto contributed to a more disappointing election result than I hoped for. The description of the policy as a ‘Dementia Tax’ was an utter disgrace - repeated in today’s Telegraph. The Telegraph, and every other media outlet that does the same should be ashamed of themselves. It’s a policy area that is in desperate need of reform. It is deeply unfair is several ways. The people who pay for this failure to tackle a very thorny issue are the frail elderly, whose voice is not heard as much as it should be in today’s society.

Firstly, let’s consider the difference between how residential care and domicilliary care are treated. Those who need care pay for residential care, until the value of their assets fall to a certain level. Those who are deemed to qualify for domiciliary care don’t. Not only is this unfair, but it distorts decision making amongst families. And we know that assets are sometimes transferred in cases where the need for care can by anticipated.

Secondly, in the absence of magic money trees, domiciliary care is paid for by taxpayers, often much less wealthy. It simply seems wrong to me that young families, struggling financially to bring up children have to support people far wealthier receive care.
I agreed with the Conservative manifesto proposal (after it was amended to include a ‘cap’ on the total paid. It was payable by ‘service users’ who were worth more than £100,000. In my view the ‘cap’ on total payments should be less than £100,000. And payment should be deferred until after the used dies.
I know this is not likely to be a popular viewpoint. But as I’ve grown older, I think it’s more important to be right, responsible and fair that it is to be ‘popular’. The second key message of my speech on Monday was that as new policy is developed (which it will have to be) it should developed in partnership with representatives of those who use the services and those who deliver the care. This is not an issue that can be left, simply because it’s difficult. And there are commentators who will do their utmost to make it an impossible to tackle it.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Public Consultation on Shropshire NHS Reform.

I’ve known for about 40 years that the populations of Shropshire and Mid Wales cannot sustain two large District General Hospitals in the long term. 40 yrs ago, an old ld squash friend of mine, Dr Paul Brown (who was also a top consultant in Shropshire) explained why very clearly. He was far seeing and absolutely right. Tragically Paul died young. Today there is a Paul Brown Department at the Princess Royal in Telford.
I’ve been closely involved in the discussion about structural reform of the major hospitals serving Shropshire and Mid Wales for about 20 years. While it would have been best to build a new hospital on a green field site to replace the two hospitals currently located at Telford and Shrewsbury, it has proved to be too costly - about £600 million. So the only way practical forward is to merge the Royal Shrewsbury and the Princess Royal, running them as one hospital, but on two sites. The two Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) serving Shropshire, who decide on future structure agreed this a few years ago and set up a body known as the ‘Future Fit Programme Board’ to consider the matter in detail and make a recommendation on the way forward. After investing more than 3yrs and £2million it finally agreed (after much angst) to recommend that ‘emergency care services’ should be located at Shrewsbury and ‘Planned Care’ should be located at Telford. In the end, following much argument, it was a unanimous recommendation by both CCGs. The public meeting where it was decided was noisy and angry. This ‘preferred option’ includes the transfer of the most serious cases of maternity trauma from Telford to Shrewsbury as well.
In order for this ‘preferred option’ to proceed, the UK Government (NHS England) has to agree the budget needed for the capital works - about £200 million. I expect this to be agreed. There also has to be a public consultation, the details of which we do not yet know. What I expect is that it will be of 14 weeks duration, beginning sometime in November. The statutory requirement is that it be of 12 weeks. Also, we don’t know how many options will be put before the public. It will probably be 2, but could be 3. But the key factor is that there will be a ‘preferred option’ - which is that Emergency Care should be located at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. This is very important to Mid Wales. It’s been a long and tough battle.
It would be easy to think that since there is now a ‘preferred option’ that the debate is all over. Such an attitude would be a serious mistake. It’s vital that the people of Mid Wales respond to the public consultation by making their opinions known. When we know the precise date when the consultation period begins, and the precise options before us also I hope thousands of Montgomeryshire residents will respond. It will be vital that we all write individual letters.
Reform of the secondary care system which serves Shropshire and much of Mid Wales, including most of Montgomeryshire, is perhaps the most dominating issue throughout my years as an Assembly Member and Member of Parliament. It has certainly been the most important issue for my constituents. Over the 12 or 14 weeks of the public consultation, I will be holding one or two meetings every week throughout the constituency, where there will 2/3 of us present to help with letter writing etc. The County Times has assured me that it will help publicise this campaign. We need to make sure that there is no complacency or distraction from our objective, which is to have our new ‘Emergency Care Centre’ built at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.