Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Special Relationship.

President Trump is not the easiest of men to deal with. Luckily for us in the UK we have a Prime Minister who seems to understand the President and get along with him. Hopefully this will enable her to influence him. This is important for several reasons, the most important of which is national security. It was very reassuring to hear the President giving enthusiastic backing to NATO, which has underpinned our security for decades. He has been making the entirely fair point that he wants NATO members to contribute the agreed 2% of GDP to defence, but it has created nervousness throughout the world that the US might not continue to support NATO. This would of course be the end of it as a truly effective deterrent. But it emerged in discussions between the Prime Minister and Mr Trump that the US remains firmly committed to NATO.

The second reason the British PM needs to develop a good relationship with the President is trade - not so much the development of a bilateral trade deal, but to challenge his enthusiasm for a 'protectionist' approach to world trade. The world, and the West in particular needs the US to be buying and selling around the world. Through promoting trade agreements with the US, we challenge the idea that 'protectionism' is a wealth creating approach for any country, including the US. I read so much 'guff' about how crucial a 'trade deal' with the US is, and where in the non-existent queue the UK stands. What the UK and the world needs is as close to tariff-free trade as possible. Prime Minister May did some excellent 'groundwork'. 

And then there is the hoohah that the new President creates through controversy. I'm never sure whether it's deliberate or accidental. But our media love it. NATO - boring. Protectionism and trade in a capitalist world - boring. Let's do some headlines about 'holding hands'. Even I thought the interpretations were quite funny, if ludicrous. The reality is it was a hugely successful visit.

But it is President Trump - who cares not a fig what the media thinks. No sooner had the UK Prime Minister left his country, he signed an executive order banning citizens from seven countries from entering the US. OK, following his election campaign, its no surprise that he wants to tighten up immigration control, but this ban won't work in the US interest, and in due course will probably be dropped. It's discriminatory and very UN-British.  Bit of fuss that the Prime Minister did not immediately condemn President Trump at a media event. She did what she usually does. Thought it through carefully, understanding what it means and then tells us it's not a policy she or Britain would ever follow, and that her Govt will act to support any UK citizens caught up in it. Careful, cautious and thought through. All in all, our Prime Minister has had a very good week. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

The human cost of inaction.

Bearing in mind the dispute there has been (and remains) between Shrewsbury and Telford about the location of  'emergency' services in Shropshire, you'll be surprised to read about my deep concerns about the future for the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. Of course my main interest is in services available to my constituents in Montgomeryshire, But I've had a close association with and interest in all of Shropshire for all of my adult life.

As we know, the Shropshire, and Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Groups met before Christmas to consider a new A&E/emergency structure for whole of Shropshire. It proposed an Emergency Centre at Shrewsbury and two Urgent Care Centres at Shrewsbury and Telford, which would deal with about 80% of those currently attending A&E. The plan had been developed by a group set up by both CCGs known as the Future Fit Programme Board. This Board had been working for almost 3 yrs and had cost at least £2million. But the proposals were rejected, casting many of us into a state of despair.

I immediately realised that this refusal to grasp the solution was very bad news for all of Shropshire and Mid Wales, but particularly bad news for The Princess Royal in Telford. Let me explain why to those who do not think so. We can all agree that the status quo is not sustainable  - unless some miracle tree that grows consultants who want to work in Shropshire is discovered. Unfortunately there is no such tree. Over the last 15 years there have been occasions when the A&E service has been barely clinically safe. It is currently 'on the edge'. I remember a previous Chief Executive telling me he should have closed the PRH overnight, because of insufficient consultant cover. Since then, we have had the Mid Staffs scandal. Today, he would have acted, not hoped for the best. With the increasing throughput we are seeing at A&E units, it cannot be long before a real 'clinically unsafe' crisis happens and the PRH is simply closed overnight. It's going to happen. No amount of political posturing will obscure the shock of this situation.

A lot of the debate is presented as a Shrewsbury and Mid Wales versus Telford and Wrekin. It is not. It's a debate about clinical outcomes, where the best outcome for patients across the region is not being taken forward, because of 'Political' considerations. And now I cannot see a way forward. The more I think about it, the more despairing I become. Many people are anticipating an early decision. We've been led to believe it could be a matter of weeks or months. I'm not so sure. The UK Govt is under huge pressure to agree capital investment across every part of England. In most places there is a case agreed locally. Are we really imagining that Govt will allocate capital spending to an area in local dispute, with no sign of resolution.  I feel we have run into a wall of stone cold realism. There will be a heavy price for inaction. And the main sufferers are going to be those who have stood in the way of progress with the Future Fit Programme Board recommendations.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (HC Bill 132)

A bill to enable Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to be invoked has been published today. Debate will take place over the next few days, and it's hoped that it will be approved by both Houses of Parliament in time for the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 by end of March as she has said she intends to.

                                                         A BILL to
Confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty
on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and
consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present
Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1 Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European
Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.
(2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European
5Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.

2 Short title

This Act may be cited as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Brexit White Paper

The Prime Minister has shot another fox in the great Brexit debate. The latest focus for those not entirely supportive of the UK leaving the EU was a demand for a White Paper setting out the Govt's plans. This particular fox was just generating a bit of pace, when Theresa May despatched it by announcing that she intends to publish the demanded White Paper.

Must admit I personally was not that keen for both security and political reasons. The Prime Minister will have to be careful not to include in a White Paper any information that could prove useful to those sitting opposite her at a future negotiating table. Whatever is included, there will be those who will not be satisfied - in fact would not be satisfied until the Govts opponents were in a position to create an impossible negotiating position. I also think the Prime Minister will be careful not to set unacheivable targets, creating opportunities to accuse a future Govt of 'failures'. A White Paper will set out what the Prime Minister will hope to acheive as entering a negotiation. Inevitably there will be some 'give and take'. I feel sure these dangers will be avoided.

Today's announcement does have real benefit apart from the tactical fox-shooting aspect. It creates goodwill and by agreeing to what those who have opposed Leave, and may be fearful of the outcome have wanted. So even though I was a bit doubtful, I can see a White Paper may have some benefit.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Supreme Court Decides.

Done a fair bit of work for Welsh media today following the judgement by the Supreme Court that the prerogative power on its own is insufficient to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and that legislation is required to give the necessary authority for this step to be taken. Must admit I am totally relaxed about this, personally. I did think there was a case for accepting the earlier High Court judgement, not bothering the Supreme Court. In the event, a 8-3 split in the judges opinion suggest it was reasonable of the Govt to proceed with its Supreme Court appeal. Obviously a finely judged opinion.

The Gov't will fully respect the Supreme Court judgement (if is Britain after all ) and a bill will be introduced (maybe this week) to legislate to allow the Gov't to invoke Article 50 before end of March. The judgement was 96 pages long and will need careful assessment before any bill can be introduced. Should make crystal clear that this bill will not be about the principle of the UK leaving the EU. That decision was taken by the British people on June 23rd.

From my Welsh perspective the Supreme Court's ruling that relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to the UK Gov't and Parliament, and not to devolved institutions is also very significant. The judgement was clear that the devolved parliaments do not have a veto on the UKs decision to withdraw from the EU. I agree absolutely with that and expected it.

I'm looking forward to seeing the bill. The aim will be to keep it simple to limit scope for mischievous amendments. Bt there will surely be amendments tabled by those who do not accept the 23rd June decision. The SNP are telling us they intend to table 50 amendments - to a bill they have not yet seen!!  Publicity gimmick that deserves nil publicity. My guess there will be less than a handful of amendments.

Back to my Welsh hat. I expect and very much hope that the UK Gov't will work closely and consrtuctively with the devolved Governments, but there can be no veto. The people decided that the UK should leave the EU, and that is what is going to happen. Today's Supreme Court judgement makes no difference to that at all.

Powys Council Cabinet puts fear of Welsh Govt before the people.

I am grateful to Jill Kibble, Chair of the Montgomeryshire Branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales for briefing me about the way in which Powys County Councillors 'rolled over' before the Welsh Government juggernaut last Tuesday. 60 members of the public heard the Council Cabinet decide to proceed with last minute changes to its controversial renewable energy policy section of the Local Development Plan. These last minute changes attracted unprecedented county-wide opposition, 593 of them. Objecting to raising the Powys renewable energy target from 50MW to 600MW and designating huge areas throughout Powys for wind development projects of up to 25MW, the equivalent of twelve giant turbines for each site, and solar development projects up to 50MW, the equivalent of 250acres of solar panels for each site. You do wonder just what Powys has done to be so brutally treated by the Welsh Govt - not vote Labour I suppose.

Council Planning officers reported that these were minor changes to the energy policy. I'm told they said this with a straight face. However in view of the public response, they did concede that revisions would be needed. The flawed report on which these proposals were based were adopted wholesale, without assessment, refinement or consideration of the Powys landscape, by the Powys CC LDP team.  Forthcoming revisions are planned during the Planning Inspector’s examination of the LDP but no-one knows when or how this will happen. No-one is sure it will happen.

Cabinet members complained that the Welsh Government had put them in an impossible position, forcing them to approve all the changes or face the prospect of more years with no Plan to guide future development. "Roll over Fido, or no biscuits". The Council had promised the public to oppose further spread of wind farms in Powys. Now the Cabinet had renegaded on this promise because of pressure from Welsh Government. Local democracy - Welsh Gov't style. 

The public looked on in despair as the Cabinet duly approved the changes without amendment.  They seemed to acquiesce that any Plan however deeply flawed and dangerous to Powys, was better than none. Local democracy - Powys style. It's enough to make anyone who loves the landscapes of rural Wales cry.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My take on President Trump.

Yesterday, the people of the US elected as their 45th President a most unusual man. It's not possible to make even a reasonable guess at what sort of a President, Donald John Trump will turn out to be. Up to now I've held a negative opinion of Mr Trump. I thought the way he approached his election campaign was utterly dreadful. I also thought his Inauguration Speech a worrying rant and a threat to the world economy in particular. But it's over. The Donald is now the President. He won. We had all best get used to it.

There have been protests in many coutries, sometimes degenerating into violence. All fair enough (without the violence) but it won't make much difference. He won. We should give him a chance. Let us see what he delivers, rather than focus on what he has said. And let us in the UK look to work with him in the interests of the world, the US and  our self interest. I can understand why some are disappointed. But the publicity challenging the decision of voters never works. It will just reinforces support for the President.

The main reason we should be worried about Donald Trump is his rhetoric about protectionism and apparent antipathy to work trade. I've no problem with his challenge to world's liberal elite, or to orthodoxies that are ruled out of debate, or to his demand that other NATO members pay their way. But his championing of protectionism is a real worry. Putting up economic barriers will not bring prosperity or jobs back to the US. Just as impediments to trade in Europe as the UK leaves the EU will damage the economies of all. It may be a glorious opportunity for Theresa May to become the Western world's 'free trade' leader. But we need the US President on board as well.

The other big worry is his seemingly high regard for Mr Putin. Again it's not unreasonable to talk about wanting to make an accommodation with Russia, but it will need a very watchful eye. Putin is not Gorbechev. All European states are going to have to take security a bit more serously. First duty of any government is to protect its citizens. Mr Trump is likely to make clear that it will be no use looking to the US to carry more than it's share of the burden.

But back to the theme of thus blog post. What's gone is gone. Donald Trump won. Move on. Give him a chance to show us he can be a successful President.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Theresa May speech - the morning after.

I'm always suspicious of happenings that look brilliant at first reading. It's hill sheep farmer's caution. So often we find that which was good turns out to be 'too good to be true'. But not Theresa May's speech last Tuesday. Of course there are those who do not accept the EU referendum decision, and want to reverse the result (without explicitly saying so). "We respect the vote of the people" etc. is the standard line. Reason I'm writing a blog post is to clarify my own thoughts about what I think the speech meant for me.

I voted Leave mainly because I cannot accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We will no longer be ruled by this alien political court. If I wasn't on a diet, this commitment would have been worth an entire bottle of best bubbly. It was inevitable though.

The UK will leave the Single Market. Been lot of discussion about this, but it had become clear that our EU partners thought a desire to stay within it would mean, in effect, that the UK would not leave the EU. Best to respect our EU partners strong, implacable views on this, and concede to them what they want now. Improves chance of a deal.

There will be votes on the negotiated 'deal' in both Houses of Parliament. I like this, though am uncertain about how a No vote would be handled. Hope and expect we will not reach such a position. There will also be involvement by the devolved parliaments - involvement without a veto. Not sure where the Welsh First Minister is now. He seems to have based his approach on remaining a member of the Single Market - and that is not going to happen. There will be some form of access to the Single Market though.

Like membership of the Single Market, immigration will no longer be part of the negotiations. The UK will take back control - though I'm not at all sure it will be make much difference to numbers. This was not negotiable. It's why many voted Leave.

Disappointingly, there remains no public guarantee that EU Nationals properly living in the UK will be free to stay. The refusal of the EU to agree a reciprocal deal now, is just the sort of behaviour that persuaded so many to vote Leave. Sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of EU members.

The UK will look to the world to build trade links. Personally, I think the US, China and India should be top targets. We should also look to develop trade with EU countries. Tariffs walls will be damaging to both sides. This is the one area where the negotiations will focus.

There are several other areas for discussion and agreement (hopefully) as well. There must be a Common Travel Area in Ireland between the North and Eire. There must remain close co-operation on climate change policy, on science and research and on defence against international crime and terrorism.

And the final aspect of the Prime Minister's speech was its conciliatory approach towards the EU. The UK is not leaving Europe. The UK wants the EU to be a great economic success story. The UK wants to be a good neighbour. Mrs May, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Philip Hammond have made clear that we are not going to be 'rolled over' or 'pushed about', but the tone of the UKs approach is to be conciliatory and positive. I hope it's reciprocated and leads to a swift and amicable divorce. It's simply a recognition that it was not a wise marriage in the first place.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Is Theresa May Maggie Reborn ?

The Prime Minister made a very powerful speech today, outlining her strategy for the UK's exit from the EU. It was more powerful than I expected, and will have left no doubt in the minds of anyone listening that the UK will be leaving. It was good that she began by telling us that both the Commons and the Lords  will have the opportunity to vote on the final deal - assuming there is one!! Took away some of the anti. It was a strong confident performance based around clear principles. The UK is leaving the EU to embrace the world, and create a stronger, fairer, more united Britain, where our children and grandchildren will have a brighter future. I like this line - heard too many 'remainers' telling me they voted 'Remain'  for their children and grandchildren, as if I didn't care about ours.

The Prime Minister was at pains to be nice to the EU. The language was friendly. Hope they appreciate that. She made it clear that the UK is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe and wants as positive a deal for both sides in any negotiations. But she also made clear if there is no deal acceptable to the UK, she as our Prime Minister will favour the UK just walking away.

She made a point of informing us that she accepts the EU's commitment to the "Four Freedoms' and will not challenge them. This makes it inevitable that the UK will have to leave the Single Market. The EU should be very pleased about that. But it does take one of their strong bargaining chips away. Mrs May also committed to developing trade all over the world, which makes full membership of the Customs Union impossible as well. Perhaps she noted the intransigent way leaders of the Commission dealt with David Cameron when he sought a deal to support remaining, and realised it would be an intransigence too far!!

On 23rd June, my 'red line' was taking the UK out of the European Court of Justice. This 'red line' has underpinned my antipathy for last 40 years. I felt quite emotional hearing the Prime Minister state so catagorically the we our leaving this court behind. The other biggie is absolute commitment to the UK taking control of immigration. Personally, I've not thought that leaving the EU will bring down immigration as much as many suppose. But we will 'take back control' and decide who comes moves into the UK.

And then there was the repetition of the Chancellor's warning to a German newspaper. If the EU decide to visit 'punishment' on the UK by damaging our economy, we will re-set our economic policy to ensure our economy thrives. I do think there is an element of warning in this. I just sense that making clear we are leaving the Single Market, and ready to 'walk away' from a bad deal has put the Prime Minister and her Government in a good place. But as always with big speeches, we will have to wait and see how it looks in a few days time. I think, like a good French, German, or Spanish wine, it will improve over time

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Brexit Train begins to move this week.

Important few days coming up for Brexit. We are expecting the Prime Minister to make a substantive speech on Tuesday outlining early thoughts on the challenge that lies ahead. Personally, I don't expect her to give too away much. I certainly hope not. I expect her to re-iterate her commitment to invoking Article 50 in March, and tell us that the Govt will bring forward a bill to take through the necessary statutory processes if the Supreme Court finds against the Government later this month. She may also give us some idea what her 'red lines ' are.

Don't know when the Supreme Court will inform us of its decision but I would expect it to be this week or next. There seems to be a general expectation that the Government will lose its case. However what may be more interesting will be whether it will be a unanimous vote, and if not what the balance of opinion will be. I sense that if three or four judges support the Govt position, it may be seen as a sort of success.  If a Bill is then brought before Parliament, there will be interesting debate. The people voted in favour of the UK leaving the European Union and I would expect only the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP to refuse to accept the people's vote. I notice Plaid Cymru spokesman still banging the 'Project Fear' drum today. Is anyone listening?

Perhaps it's too much at this stage for the Prime Minister to say emphatically that if the UK cannot secure acceptable terms to leave, we should simply fall back on WTO rules. I do think that at some stage, the UK will have to take that position. There can be no compromise on leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. There can be no going back on securing control of who is allowed into the UK. If it's possible to retain access to the Single Market or remain within the Customs Union at the same time, that would be excellent.  At present can't see how we can.

Been also good to note that New Zealand is keen to agree a trade deal with the UK. NZ always been a good friend to UK. And Canada and Australia. But the big fish is the US. It's a massive market. And the new President seems well disposed towards the UK. Wonder how many people feel as I do - keen to start working on these trade deals across the 50 countries that Liam Fox is targeting. Pessimism and navel gazing creates negativity.

Inevitably there is a degree of nervousness amongst the sheep farmers in my constituency. I share it. We do not want to see any significant tariff on lamb exports. I don't expect that to happen under any circumstances. And I hope not. I would immediately have to stop consuming any imports from the EU, whether it be cars, wine or anything else. I see some media coverage today to comments by the Chancellor who is reported as having said that the UK will reset its economic strategy if the EU imposed conditions which would hurt the UK economy - that we would not take it lying down. Well that's how I feel, and I expect it will be how many others feel as well. It's very early days yet, but there will be significant developments over next few days.

Friday, January 13, 2017

How best to deliver health and social care.

On Wed two things happened at the same time in my life. I read an email from a constituent pleading with me to pressurise the Chanceller to allocate more money to the NHS. At the same time, I was participating in a debate in the House of Commons about 'The Future of A&E services in Shropshire and Mid Wales'. The instigation for this debate was a decision by the two Clinical Commissioning Groups in Shropshire to ignore the recommendations of the Future Fit Programme Board which had been set up by the very same two CCGs to research and recommend a way forward to improve A&E provision. This research had taken three years, and had cost several million pounds. What sort of a waste of money was that - millions of pounds that could (should) have been invested in our NHS. These points may not be earth shattering in themselves, but are typical of what happens on a daily basis.

It's about money. Now I'm not an economist but I can spot a trend that's going off the graph. It's why I snort, almost derisively when opposition politicians shout about 'austerity'. We are already spending like there's no tomorrow. The UK deficit remains unsustainable over the long term. And it's not so much that our  National Debt is reaching heights that would daunt Sergio Bubka, but it's going up and up. And when I talk to those who understand local government pensions, I'm horrified by the level and growth of these extra liabilities. And it seems that consumer and personal debt is reaching record levels as well. It's against this background we need to consider NHS funding.

I do think NHS funding (incorporating social care) will have to receive more funding though. But it will have to be balanced by budget reductions elsewhere. We are living longer, many of us with multiple health problems. There are new expensive health treatments coming along which keep alive patients who would have died until recently. New pressures are piling on clinicians, many of whom are retiring early. No matter how hard they work, it becomes ever more difficult to keep up. There will be more money, but it won't ever be enough. This is why it makes my blood boil to see millions wasted by failure to face up to reality and tough decisions - as we've seen recently in Shropshire.

I know this blog post could run to a hundred pages, so I'll just add one point I'm interested in floating with the Chancellor. We need to help/encourage family care of those who need it, rather than expect the state always to take the full burden. Many families do of course. But too many don't. We need to use the taxation system in an imaginative way. Tax allowances for approved capital spending to help families adapt homes. Better targeted care allowances for domicillary care. The extra money we must invest in our health and social care system should be directed towards ensuring more care is delivered at home and not in hospitals, the purpose of which should be to treat people not who need clinical care rather than social care. And we need to move fast.

Green light for Green 'Lagoon' Power?

The Energy and Climate Change Committee is gone, deceased, defunct, but I'm still interested in energy generation projects. For many years, I've thought it must be possible to source energy from the power of the tides that surround the British coastline. Had high hopes for the Severn Barrage, but it wasn't to be. And then a few years ago, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon floated into view. I would love to see it fly, but never been totally convinced it will, despite really wanting it to. Well maybe today is the start of the reassurance I've been looking for and an early sign of a brand new Tidal Lagoon technology.

Media running very positive headlines on the likelihood of £1.3 billion Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon winning the go-ahead from Govt on the back of the Hendry Report. My instinctive response is to be really pleased. I reckon most people will feel the same. I feel sure that one day we'll find a way of harnessing the power of the tide and maybe this is it. But I'm not sure that there has been any great move forward today that warrants all the positive headlines. I just cannot see what is that new today.

When Charles Hendry was asked to prepare a report, I expected it to be positive. Charles, who was a very good energy minister, has long been hugely enthusiastic about renewables. And nothing wrong with that. But what we have had today is a report which talks about spreading the capital costs of the project over the 120 yrs that a Lagoon in Swansea Bay is predicted to deliver power. That's what makes the power competitive. I reckon that will make the Chancellor choke over his corn flakes. But perhaps not. I was a bit disappointed that Charles considers contemplating further tidal lagoons around the coast of Britain as too ambitious a goal before even one is built. It's always been the case that Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon on its own has never seemed to me viable. It's a 'pathfinder' but I'd like him to have been a bit more positive about the bigger cheaper lagoons that seem more likely to be viable.

I've not had chance to read the report yet, only media reports of it. Next week perhaps. And surely the 'Marine Licence' will be a challenge too. My experience of Natural Resources Wales is that there will have to be cast iron protections for marine life before it's granted. But thats me - always cautious. I need to be sure it's a financially viable project, and environmentally acceptable. I suppose my informal position is similar to what I'd expect Govts formal position to be. Well done And thanks to Charles Hendry for a report which deserves to be read carefully.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A&E Services in Shropshire and Mid Wales.

MP for Shrewsbury, Daniel Kawczynski has secured tomorrow's adjournment debate. It's decided by ballot and will take place after the 7.00pm votes. It's on the subject of 'A&E services in Shropshire and Mid Wales'. Normally adjournment debates are confined to the MP whose debate it is and the responding Minister. Because Health Minister, Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow has a constituency interest, it will probably be Health Minister, David Mowatt who responds. However, I have asked Daniel and the Speaker's office if I can also speak. 2/3 minutes will do. I very much hope so, and this blog post is roughly what I will say if I 'catch the Speaker's Eye', as we say in Westminster-speak.

I have three points to make. Point 1 - to emphasise that the major Shropshire hospitals serve Mid Wales as well as Shropshire. The Welsh Parliament (as I like to call it)  is a devolved parliament. It is not the  parliament of an Independent state/country. I usually refer to Wales as a nation. There is no hard border twixt England and Wales. There are financing arrangements which allow for NHS services to be accessed where best for the patients. Those calling for anything else have no proper understanding of what devolution means. Emergency care, secondary care, elective care, specialist care (whatever you call it) for most of Montgomeryshire  is accessed in Shropshire. This is not even debatable.

Point 2 - the current Emergency care model is not sustainable. The A&E services at the Royal Shrewsbury and the Princess Royal, Telford are not 'emergency services'. Only about 20%of those who present there are real emergencies. The only viable sustainable option is to build a new 'Emergency Unit' for the 20% and two 'Urgent Care Centres' for the 80%, one in Telford and one in Shrewsbury. We've known this for years. But over the last 3years, at a cost of £2million, a body charged to research and recommend, the Future Fit Programme Board,  confirmed what we already knew and made its recommendation to the joint Clinical Commissioning Boards which had set it up. Just before Christmas, the CCGs refused to accept the recommendation - a total shambles which cannot be allowed to stand. It would simply mean that A&E consultants would not be attracted to Shropshire, and services would migrate to other hospitals further away.

Point 3 - Where should the Emergency Unit be located. The clear view of the Future Fit Board was Shrewsbury. Unsurprisingly, the view of everyone I've talked to in Mid Wales is Shrewsbury. My guess is that rural parts of Shropshire (around Oswestry, Ludlow etc) would share that view. But Telford says No. Lots of Mid Wales patients have to travel anything up to an hour to reach Shrewsbury now. Telford would be another 15 minutes on top, even travelling under blue light. While Telford itself is only around 20 minutes from Wolverhampton. I must concede I do not know how this is going to end up. But I do want my parliamentary colleagues in England to know anything less than a reformed Shropshire NHS, with an Emergency Centre based at Shrewsbury would make no logical sense.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Colostomy Irrigation.

I ocassionally speak and write (sometimes irreverently) about my experiences of bowel cancer - particularly colostomy irrigation of which I am an enthusiastic champion. Because it has changed my life, I try to persuade fellow-ostomates to give it a go as well. It's always surprised me that so few British ostomates do 'give it a go' as opposed to the US, where I'm told most do. Perhaps it because all the equipment in the UK is free, while in the US, it has to be paid for. Colostomy irrigation has very little cost. I'll write a paragraph on how I acquired my colostomy, and another paragraph on what irrigation involves. It seems strange to me that so few people know what's involved - probably lot of people think bowels cant be mentioned in polite society. That's an attitude that leads to a lot of people dying before they should.

In 2002, in consultation with my surgeon, Mr Hunt, we decided on an Abdomininal Perineal Resection to remove a cancerous tumour. It was a big op, around 5/6 hours. Only a 5% chance of dying though. It involved removal of the lower part of the bowel, the rectum, and anus, bringing the cut end of the remaining bowel out though a small incision in the abdomen to form a colostomy. Looks like a cute little opening rosebud, about an inch across. It's quite radical surgery, so unsurprisingly it takes a while to settle down. That part of our bodies we sit is not 'flat' so just pulling the skin across and stitching it up needs time to recover. And I found infections developing in the space where bits of me had been removed. Had no bother with either of these issues for years now. Most people attach a colostomy bag to collect the excreted waste. I did not like that, and when my colostomy nurse suggested trying irrigation, I decided to give it a go. Soon became used to it. Changed my life and I'd never go back.

So what's involved. It's so simple and straightforward. A flexible polythene bag, which will hold near 2 litres is hung on a peg in the bathroom. I use the end of the curtain rail. In hotel rooms, it's usually the top of the nearest door!! I pour about 1600 ml of warm water into the polythene bag, allowing it to run down a tube and into the bowel through the colostomy. For me gravity is sufficient, though pumps are available for those who prefer it. And then you just let it all run out into the loo. I usually sit on an adjacent comfortable chair, with my mobile and IPad to work on - or read the paper. Have to remember not to use face-time. Takes around 40-60 minutes. To start with I was disciplined and did it every day at exactly the same time. But now I irrigate when it's convenient. Lots of grandchildren etc. making demands on the bathrooms in our house. Usually it's every two days but if I've not been eating much, it can be three days. So I live with more control that most people have, and never have an active stoma when I'm working, or speaking in public. For me, it's as easy as it reads.

I know it doesn't work out so well for all ostomates, but I cannot understand why those it would work for don't give it a go. Changed my life, and I'd never go back to using colostomy bags. To those who have read this far, I hope you've not found my post too gruesome, and you now understand what colostomy irrigation is about.  It's so much less complex and intrusive than Brexit or the Wales Bill!!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

UK will re-engage with the World.

Back to Westminster tomorrow. Next three months is a key period in British history, equivalent to the early stages of British withdrawal from 'Empire' in middle of last century. Leaving the EU is that big. Daresay the politicians and public didn't realise they were part of such immense historic change then either. Not that there will be anything dramatic. That's not our Prime Minister's style. She is not going to be rushed by the desperate demands to satisfy the insatiable hunger of the 24 hr news cycle. How often does she have to say "No running commentary". One way or another, Article 50 will be invoked by end of March. But won't be much negotiating til after French and German elections. Hopefully the EU will quickly agree to quarentee future residence for those EU migrants legally in the UK, and UK migrants legally in the EU. The EU is not prepared to discuss this issue until Article 50 is invoked. Andrea Leadsom, Sec of State at Defra tried to reassure the farming industry on this point last week. We're told the Prime Minister is due to give us some idea of her thinking next week. Personally I hope she won't be tempted to give much meat to the news hounds. Only make them bark louder.

But Brexit is not the substance on this blog. It's more how we as MPs react to Brexit. Will we be able to do much else over next three years! And what else will we do! Reason I'm thinking about this tonight is that I'm appearing on Radio Wales excellent programme 'Sunday Supplement' around 8.30 tomorrow morning. Expecting to be alongside Kevin Brennan  - a good 'common sense' Labour MP. Not certain what we're discussing but I think it's what we're expecting in the House of Commons in the year ahead. For me, and most Welsh MPs, the next few weeks will be focussed on the Wales Bill. Hoping that will be done and dusted before end of February. If not, it might not make the Statute Book at all!! But what about after that.

We will inevitably be driven by the implications of leaving the EU. We must turn up the volume on strengthening the Welsh economy. A key part of any strategy must be to re-engage with the non-EU world. The Wales Office and Welsh Government must work closely together as 'Team Wales' to promote our nation across the world, and to attract more investment into Wales. We need a focus on business development and job creation. The US must be a key target if the new President cuts red tape and taxation as he has said he will. The US economy will be on fire. And we'll need to target the other big growing economies - China, India, and using the Wylfa link to engage with Japan. And there's Australia, Canada. South Korea, Taiwan etc.. In the early 90s, around 20% of foreign investment into the UK came to Wales. Won't reach those heady targets again, but we do need ambition and investment in selling Wales to the non-EU world, which has not been what it should have been for a very long time. Wonder if Kevin will agree with that.

Friday, January 06, 2017

New Parliamentary Boundaries.

Held a meeting in Welshpool Town Hall last night to which I invited Montgomeryshire's Town and Community Councils plus organisations which had raised with me concerns about the new Parliamentary constituency boundaries that are proposed to be in place by the 2020 General Election. It was a good engaged meeting but only about 20 people came. I held a similar meeting before Christmas, with a similar response. My aim was to explain what the position on this issue is. It's clear to me from the letters I've received about it that very few of my constituents are aware of the background.  So here goes with roughly what I said.

It all began with the 'Expenses Scandal' in 2008/09. I'm glad I wasn't an MP at the time, because their reputations and respect amongst the public fell to an all-time low level. Political leaders at the time entered into what can only be described as an MP bashing competition. David Cameron, then Conservative opposition leader made a manifesto promise to cut number of MPs by 10% - from 650 to 585. Lib Dem Leader, Nick Clegg made a manifesto promise to cut from 650 to 500. Then the  2010 General Election produced a Conservative/Lib Dem Govt on the back of these promises. The quickly agreed 'Programme for Govt' of the new Coalition included a promise to cut number of MPs from 650 to 600. And they got on with it.

After much debate, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act received Royal Assent on my birthday, Feb 16th 2011, perhaps the least welcome 'present' I've ever received. This Act cut number of MPs to 600, and legislated that the population of every constituency must be within 5% of the average. Because of historic 'over representation' Wales was affected much more than anywhere else, the number of MPs falling from the current 40 to just 29. The only further step needed to bring the Act into force was a review by the four national boundary commissions to establish the precise boundaries. The reality is that the Boundary Commission for Wales has very little discretion to make allowance for history, culture or common sense. The inevitable consequence were draft proposals that consigned the historic constituency of Montgomeryshire to the dustbin of history, and will end Parliamentary democracy in Mid Wales as we've known it. For me, and most citizens of  Montgomeryshire, this is sacrilege and a catastrophe. If these proposals are approved, a dark cloud will descend over mid Wales. Owain Glyndwr's home is in Montgomeryshire. Where is he when we need him! 

But it's not over. She hasn't sung yet. The Act was supposed to be in place for the  2015 General Election. But in 2013 the House of Lords stepped in and behaved in a constitutionally questionable way. The ermine clad legislators are a law unto themselves - literally. In 2013, their beloved Lordships added an amendment to an unrelated act, the Registration and Administration Act to delay the boundary changes for 5 yrs, commuting the 'death sentence' on Montgomeryshire until after Oct 2018. That's where we are now. On death row. But who knows. If their beloved Lordships can behave outrageously once, they may find a way of doing it again. Or the Govt might change its mind about bringing forward a vote in Oct 2018 because of other issues on its mind. When I was asked last night what I thought would happen, I said my guess was 51%-49% that the 2020 election will be fought on existing boundaries. Don't ask me to say why, because I don't know. Just instinct. We will see.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Welcome Sir Tim Barrow.

The UK Govt has moved with surprisingly commendable speed today to appoint Sir Tim Barrow KCMC, LVO, MBE as the new UK Ambassador to the EU. Hard to believe it was only yesterday that Sir Ivan Rogers announced that he was standing down 10 months early. My guess is that the pro-remain press and the BBC were hoping to run "UK Govt in disarray" for a few more days. Their fox has been well and truly shot, and much quicker than anyone anticipated.

Sit Tim Barrow seems the ideal appointment. He's been UK Ambassador to Russian Federation for last few years, and had experience in the EU before that. All these quotes we've been reading about from some back bench Conservative MPs about needing a committed pro-Brexit Ambassador are shot down as well. Even saw suggestions that Nigel Farage would be chosen. That was so outrageous as to be 'lol'. The best the BBC seem to be able to do is James Langdale informing us that "it would be hard to say that Sir Tim Barrow is an out and out pro-European". What is that supposed to mean?  I wonder if they'll ask Clegg, Mandelson, to comment, or whether Sir Ivan will send an internal memo to his fellow civil servants (which will be unfortunately leaked!) telling us what he thinks.

What we need is a calm capable Ambassador committed to helping the UK achieve a positive Brexit in the interests of the UK and the EU - with complete discretion. My guess is Sir Tim Barrow will not say anything or want to become the story. I think it's been a rather good news day for the Prime Minister.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

An Ambassador Resigns

I was going to write a blog about colonic irrigation tonight, and then the UKs Ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers resigns. Can't decide how significant a development this is. But i accept it probably gets the nod over colon management.

I don't know much about Sir Ivan Rogers, but have no reason to think of him as anything but a very good civil servant. I suspect much of the comment about him today, both positive and negative tell us more about the commenter's attitude to Brexit than any genuine view of the wisdom of Sir Ivan's resignation. I do think some of the reporting lacks perspective. Let's just stand back and consider what has actually happened.

The UK's Ambassador to the EU has stepped down in November, 10 months early? From my perch, it looks quite a wise decision. At present we are intending to invoke Article 50 to start negotiations to leave EU by end of March. We are not expecting much progress for a few months because of elections in France and Germany. I never expected much real negotiation to take place til these elections are over. Seems to me it's far better to have someone in place who will see the negotiation through as soon as possible, rather that a new Ambassador taking over just as serious negotiation begins.

A second reason why Sir Ivan may have decided to resign was the huge publicity given by the media to a comment he is supposed to have made that it may take 10 years to agree a UK/EU deal. He was supposedly reporting what the other 27 EU member states had been telling him. It's his job to report that sort of information. That's not the problem. The problem is that such an able, experience enced civil servant should not be leading the news - alongside an impression that he was very negative about the renegotiation. I can well understand why Sir Ivan thought it the right time to go.

What really matters now is that a successor is appointed quickly. We must hope that the Prime Minister can find an accomplished civil servant of relevant experience who was not dragged into the threats and scare stories that so damaged the EU referendum campaign. No-one is indespensible, not even the most talented able civil servant. Perhaps it not quite as big a story as is being made out.
My blog post on colonic irrigation will have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday, January 02, 2017

New Garden Villages.

Today, the Govt has announced that the Govt is injecting £6million of public money into the construction of 48,000 new homes in 14 locations across England. They are the latest batch of proposed new 'Garden Villages and Cities'. Must admit I'm quite amused that these huge new housing developments are so described. Makes them sound like attractive places filled with flowers, parks and  butterflies, and little children skipping, laughing and playing. Who could possibly not want to live in a 'Garden Village'. Me for one. I prefer to live in the country. Living in London for three days a week is done because it has to be done.

But I think I'm rather in favour of this plan - even if it's not that straightforward. Like a lot of people, especially those living near the selected sites, villages and towns (not yet gardenised) I dislike the thought of all these thousands of green and wooded acres disappearing under tarmac and concrete. But there is no real choice. Every year, between 300,000/400,000 additional immigrants move into the UK, mostly England. I don't see that slowing down much any time soon. And we are all living longer - not dying as we used to do, conveniently making our houses and bungalows available to future generations. And our offspring want their own pads, to do their own thing at a much earlier age. massive demand for new homes has been growing and is still growing. Govt has to respond, and the only response is more and more homes. And it's no good demanding all building should be on brown field sites. As many as possible should be, but it's not going to remotely meet the demand. If the idea is to make the estates, and open spaces and parks look more like gardens, then that is a very good intention. 60 years ago they were built to resemble prison blocks. We have made progress.

These garden villages and cities are not going to impact on me at all. I live in Montgomeryshire, Mid Wales, a most lovely area. No large scale housing developments are mooted here. From one aspect I rather like this. Not surprising since, for a few years, I was president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I don't want to see the lovely landscapes of Montgomeryshire spoilt, (something the Welsh Government seems strangely determined to do). But I do think Montgomeryshire should play its part in housing the growing population.

And it's not easy winning permission to build new homes in Montgomeryshire. Sometimes I think the planning authority, Powys Council try to make it as hard as possible for people to build houses. It's so bad that one local architect I know charges much higher fees in Montgomeryshire than anywhere else, simply because of extra costs involved in dealing with the local Council. It's really odd. I do home May's Council Election creates a more permissive approach. No problem getting permission to erect landscape-trashing wind turbines, or build big white factories immediately adjacent to main roads, all at whatever cost to the landscape. But it's a mighty costly obstacle course to secure permission to build a new home. I still would not live anywhere else though. Not even in a new a 'Garden Village'

Sunday, January 01, 2017

How Wales voted in 2016

I've wanted to comment on the way the people of Wales voted in the 2016 EU Referendum for a while. Today Wales top Pollster, Roger Scully very helpfully posted a comprehensive blog covering this issue. So I'll just raid what I thought especially noteworthy. Let's run through how the different council areas voted, starting with the highest percentage who wanted to remain.

Cardiff - 60% remain
Gwynedd - 58.1% remain
Ceredigion - 54.6% remain
Vale of Glamorgan - 50.7% remain
Monmouth - 50.4% remain
-------------------------------------------every other council area voted Leave. I was truly astonished.
Ynys Mon - 49.1% remain.
Swansea - 48.4% remain
Carmarthen - 46.3% remain
Powys - 46.3% remain
Rhondda Cynon Taff - 46.3% remain
Conwy - 46% remain.
Denbigh - 46% remain
Bridgend - 45.4% remain
Newport - 44% remain
Flintshire - 43.6% remain
Merthyr Tydfil - 43.6% remain
Neath Port Talbot - 43.2% remain
Pembrokeshire - 42.9% remain
Caerphilly - 42.4% remain
Wrexham - 41% remain
Torfaen - 40.2% remain
Blaenau Gwent - 38% remain.

The highest turnout was in Powys at 77%, while there were 7 under 70% - Cardiff, Swansea, RCT, Denbighshire, Merthyr, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent.

None of this is new of course, but already there are a few claiming it was "English Tories" who delivered the Leave vote. I usually elicit a 'refusal to accept' when I say the Conservative Govt fought a determined battle to remain. I think a stronger argument can be made that it was Welsh Labour which delivered the Leave vote. Reason I've posted this is to challenge the re-writing of history.

And final point I want to make. Over last month the Shropshire Star (my only local daily) ran its own referendum on how would its readership vote now. 64% responded to say they would vote Leave. About what I would have expected.