Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Crisis at Oxfam

A lot of people seem to have been shocked by the unacceptable sexual misconduct of Oxfam officials in Haiti. This has been followed by reports of a cover up of what’s happened, and allegations of sexual misconduct involving other charities. Must admit I’m not so shocked myself. Wherever there are large numbers of desperate vulnerable homeless people, living in absolute poverty, there will inevitably be sexual predators attracted to take advantage. It may well involve a very small number of individuals, but the damage it can do to the reputation of charities like Oxfam is very serious indeed. And despite whatever rules are in place, and I’m sure there are many, it’s impossible to legislate against a charity worker and a desperate refugee falling in love. The whole system depends on senior personal taking a close regulatory, transparent, pastoral approach.
Whatever, we are where we are. The Government, in the form of International Debelopment Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, taking a tough line and cutting off Govt support until certain that Oxfam (and other charities) satisfy her that regulatory processes are in place. It’s the minimum response from Government that will protect the generous willingness of British people to donate.
I sense that the level of public support for my total commitment to the UK spending the UN target of 0.7% of GDP on International Aid will be even less popular. I also think it’s a betrayal of responsibility to the rest of our world that other rich countries do not. France is an example. Macron Stride’s the world wearing worthy humanitarian clothes and does not deliver on International Aid.
It’s not any generosity of spirit that drives my view. It’s self interest. Or at least the interest of our nation. Over recent years we have seen some refugees reaching our shores, many illegally. In my view “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. The levels of population growth in Africa and the Middle East is ‘off the scale’. The numbers are terrifying. We are already seeing anti migrant politics growing in Europe. Germany is the best example. Over recent years a million refugees were allowed in, destabilising the Merkel government. At a conservative estimate there will be another two thousand million people increase in the populations of these countries - on Europe’s borders! We (and every other European country) must invest in quality of life in Africa and the Middle East, and in family planning, disease control, sanitation and water. I’ve always thought this is a right policy, in the national interest. I also realise that unless International Aid is derived by systems and charities that are trusted to act to a high moral standard, the British people will lose confidence in our commitment to aid. That’s why the Govt has a responsibility to be tough on those involved in delivering international aid, including every charity, irrespective of good work being done or having been done in the past.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Cymraeg yn San Steffan.

Wednesday 7th February was a special and historic day in the House of Commons. It was the occasion on which MPs could make speeches in the Welsh Language for the first time. It was nothing to do with allowing a witness to speak Welsh where it was thought the witness would be more comfortable. I think that’s happened before. There was no reason beyond MPs being permitted to speak in the Language of Heaven if they so wanted. A recognition of the importance of the Language to Wales. It was a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, which meets infrequently and irregularly. The ‘Welsh Grand’ consists of all 40 Welsh MPs and a few others - sort of adopted as Welsh for the day! It’s a four and a half hour debate, and there’s a fair bit of freedom to speak about whatever, though the formal position is consideration of the impact on Wales of the Budget.
It was a big day for me personally. I emanate from Welsh speaking ancestors. In fact, I don’t have any ancestors who were other than first Language Welsh. I don’t have any who weren’t born in Montgomeryshire either. My parents were first Language Welsh. But when they married, they moved to Castle Caereinion, an English speaking part of Montgomeryshire. And importantly, at that time the Welsh Language was considered to be a language of failure (Iaith o Feddiant). I never heard my parents speak in Welsh. So my 5 sisters and I grew up without any knowledge of Welsh. For most of my life I cared not about this. Things are so different today.
In my late 50s, after being elected to the National Assembly for Wales, and being surrounded by Welsh being widely spoken, and having to use translation earphones, I felt quite ashamed. I decided to learn. Over the last 15 years, I have become what I think of as an adaquate Welsh speaker.
But yesterday’s debate was special, historic and I wanted to make it memorably challenging. So I decided to write notes for a speech in English only, but speak in Welsh only. It was quite challenging but I did feel rather pleased with myself. It’s not an occasion I’ll forget. Other MPs also spoke in Welsh, some highly proficient, some at varying levels of adaquacy, and some using just a few words. I thought it was a very good day for Wales in Westminster.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Trying to make sense of Brexit.

Late Sunday, and writing 400words for Oswestry and Borders Chronicle. Am off to London early so hoping any Facebook friends will correct any grammatical howlers.!

“There is so much written and debated about the UK leaving the European Union that even I’ve had enough. I can well understand why so many of us are confused about what’s actually happening. So let’s recap. At the Referendum  on 23rd June 2016, the voters of the United Kingdom voted 52% to 48% to Leave the European Union. Over 17 million of us voted Leave, the biggest popular vote for anything in British history. We are leaving the EU. We are leaving the Single Market. We are leaving the Customs Union. We are taking back control of our borders. We are taking back the power to make our own laws. There will not be a second referendum. All this is settled. But there are many secondary issues that are not settled. And there is uncertainty about how much difference there will be!

Leading up to the Referendum, many voters told me they were unsure about which way to vote. I sympathised. Although I eventually decided to vote Leave, it was after much soul searching and with much uncertainty. On one hand I did not want the UK to be governed by an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, while on the other hand, I knew there would inevitably be uncertainty about the future. I found it a difficult call, not helped by the appalling standard of the both campaigns, but particularly that of the Remain side. Despite the remain case being put by the Government, backed up by the entire Civil Service, the Bank of England, the CBI, the EU, world leaders including the US President and the entire UK establishment, I found myself not believing a word that was being said. At the time, I found this quite shocking. I’d never felt like that before.
We were told a Leave vote would deliver “an immediate and profound economic shock” with a sudden GDP contraction. The GDP actually went up. The Treasury told us there would be “4 quarters of negative growth”. Growth has been positive ever since. We were told unemployment would rise 820,000 after a Leave vote. Last week unemployment reached a 42 yr low!
The reason this is interesting this week is that last week, a report was ‘leaked’, which we’re told had been written by Treasury and Cabinet Office officials again warning of massive negative economic consequences. I’m sure they have been written with their usual honourable dedication and integrity. As they were last time. We will all have to make up our own minds about whether we agree or not.



Friday, February 02, 2018

Checking out my local cremation site.

MPs get to all the best places! Spent this morning at the Emstree Crematorium in Shrewsbury, which is main crem serving Shropshire and most of Montgomeryshire. In reality, Emstree serves all of Shropshire since the Telford crem recently ceased to be operational.
In Shropshire cremation was ‘privatised’ about 7 yrs ago, when the local authorities transferred the services to the Coop. Then about 18 months ago, the Coop transferred a group of crematoriums, including those at Shrewsbury and Telford to an experienced private operator, Dignity. Dignity took over the crematoria with a major programme for re-investment. But unfortunately, the cremators at Shrewsbury and Telford ceased to be operational before the scheduled re-investment. I was told that it was possible to make one cremator out of the two at Emstree which have collapsed. But are having to wait an unacceptable long time. And while services continue at Emstree, the actual cremation often has to take place elsewhere, which again is distressing to families.
Next week Dignity will begin installing a new ‘temporary’ cremator. It’s planned to go to Basingstoke eventually but is being located at Shrewsbury on a temporary basis. It’s expected to become operational in two weeks time. I was told it’s the best designed cremator in the world.
Must admit I had no idea of the complexity of what is involved in delivering a cremation service. The work at Shrewsbury will cost £millions. I was amazed by the sheer scale and complexity of the Mercury Abatement equipment. I am invited to go back to the opening event of the new cremator in a few weeks time. I will if I can. This is a very important issue for my constituents.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Privatising the NHS - in Wales!

On Monday of this week, I wrote to the Chief Executive of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board about possible changes to its renal dialysis service. Not critical. Just seeking information. Seems it’s become a public issue (not as a result of anything I’ve said). In the interests of accuracy, this is what I wrote

29 January 2018

Gary Doherty
Chief Executive
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board

Dear Mr Doherty,

I have been approached by a number of constituents regarding possible changes to the Renal Unit at the Victoria Memorial Hospital, Welshpool. This is a matter in which I am also very much personally interested, in my capacity as Treasurer of the North Powys Kidney Patients Association (NPKPA).

I am aware that the Renal Unit in Wrexham requires upgrading and that, as part of the procurement process, other Units under the umbrella of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) are currently under review. This may result in privatisation of the haemodialysis service at Welshpool, and has understandably led to concerns amongst kidney patients, their family and friends, staff and supporters of the unit.

I would be grateful if you could therefore please address the following queries which have been raised with me, in order that I am able to respond to my constituents:

Will the service currently provided at the Renal Unit be the same or will it be enhanced in some way by a private company?

How will shared care be affected between local GPs, BCUHB’s unit in Wrexham and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (eg for other medical problems, scans, blood samples, transplant etc)?

How will the sharing of data between the NHS and the private sector work?

Will patients from Powys be given priority to dialyse in Welshpool above patients from outside the area?

How will patient transport be provided to and from the Unit and who would provide this service?

How will nursing staff be affected if and when the Unit is privatised?

Currently staff also provide support to Peritoneal patients and transplant patients but these services would remain under NHS control, and so the level of service to those patients will potentially be affected by privatisation.

NPKPA purchased and paid for the installation of all the televisions for the Welshpool Renal Unit but the annual licenses are covered by BCUHB. I am told that patients in some private clinics are charged to use televisions on a per session basis but we are hoping that this will not be the case in Welshpool.

I look forward to hearing your comments on the above at your earliest convenience.

Yours,


Glyn Davies

Monday, January 29, 2018

Letter to National Grid Chairman - and reply.

Recently, I wrote to Sir Peter Gershon, Chair of National Grid about the Mid Wales Connection Project. Reprinted it below. Together with a reply from a Hedd Roberts. Sir Peter could not be bothered to reply himself. Must admit I didn’t expect him to. Far to grand for that. Thought I should share this. Tells you all you need to know about National Grid.


11 January 2018

Sir Peter Gershon
Chair
National Grid plc

Dear Sir Peter,

I have written to you previously, (the 23rd June 2015) about National Grid's proposal to build a new 40 kilometre 400kv power line from North Shropshire, along the lovely Vyrnwy Valley, to Cefn Coch in the heart of my constituency of Montgomeryshire. I had communicated with you about this proposed development before that date, and also afterwards in 2016 about the lack of transparency in National Grid’s dealings with me and my constituents. It is a proposal which has caused great distress to me and to many of my constituents. It continues to cause distress. In every instance, you have refused to engage with my concerns.

It was already clear when I wrote two and a half years ago, that there was very little likelihood of significant onshore wind development going ahead in Mid Wales in the foreseeable future, following the policy position adopted by the then newly elected Conservative Government. Nothing has changed, though I accept wind farm developers, driven by the profit motive and caring not about landscape or people, are determined to steamroller the people I represent.

In 2015, I wrote that during my forty years in public life, as a Council leader, Member of the National Assembly for Wales and as a Member of Parliament representing Montgomeryshire, National Grid’s proposals to build the Mid Wales Connection Project are much the  most distressing and divisive issue I have faced. It has divided the communities, land owners and families. At a personal level nothing has caused me such worry or so many sleepless nights. I always believed that such a socially and environmentally destructive proposal was a dreadful mistake. As well as the great uncertainty and impact on property values caused by this proposal, it has turned the people of Mid Wales against renewable energy, and caused great damage to the reputation of National Grid. As MP for Montgomeryshire, I have supported local groups opposing the scheme. Powys County Council listened to us. The UK Government listened to us. But not National Grid. I have found the response of your company to be quite shocking. I also believe that the Mid Wales Connection Project cannot possibly go ahead now. 

By means of this letter, I plead with you to lift the threat in which Mid Wales is gripped by the Mid Wales Connection Project. Please lift the Sword of Damocles which National Grid has held aloft, over the heads of the people of Mid Wales for so long. I ask you as Chair of National Grid, beg you, plead with you to abandon this project at the earliest possible date, ending the threat of desecration to a lovely part of Wales, which has been hanging over the heads of the people of Montgomeryshire. 

Yours sincerely,

Glyn Davies




18 January 2018

Dear Mr Davies,

Thank you for your letter to Sir Peter Gershon of 11 January regarding work to connect the proposed wind farms in Mid Wales. As Head of Customer & Commercial for our Electricity Transmission Owner business, Sir Peter, has asked me to reply on his behalf.

We do fully appreciate the strength of feeling that you and your constituents have about the proposed wind farms and the new electricity transmission lines that would be needed to connect them. We also recognise the unfortunate uncertainty that is driven by the planning consent status of the wind farms.

As you know, where new generation wants to access the transmission system, we have an obligation to offer a connection. In 2015, the majority of the wind farm projects driving this specific project were refused planning consent. This led to one of the projects terminating their agreement with our customer, Scottish Power Energy Networks, whilst the other wind farm referred the planning consent decision to Judicial Review. At this point the UK Government decided to re-consider whether or not to grant consent on the remaining projects and has not yet announced its decision. This means that there is still significant uncertainty regarding the number of wind farms that will require a transmission connection.

We are unable to indicate a specific volume of generation that would trigger a 400kv solution, as the proposed windfarms cover such a large geographic area, the requirement is dependent not just on the total volume of generation seeking a connection, but also the location of the specific wind farm projects. We continue to work closely with Scottish Power Energy Networks in monitoring the situation.

We currently still have a contract with Scottish Power Energy Networks for a connection to our high voltage transmission network to accommodate the wind farms. As soon as we have clarity regarding how many and which wind farms have been approved for connection then we will be able to complete the necessary and confirm the preferred solution. As I am sure you will appreciate, if the need for the proposed connection is no longer there then National Grid will not be progressing with the planned connection.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Yours sincerely,

Hedd Roberts
Head of Customer & Commercial


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Overseas Electors Bill.

Let this be a brief introduction to my Private Members Bill which is to be debated in the House of Commons on 23rd February. This is going to be a very big deal for me. If it progresses by winning the support of a majority of MPs
 Present on the 23rd, it will go into Committee to be debated in detail. Then it will, together with any amendments approved in Committee be debated again on the floor of the House of Commons at Third Reading, before being sent over to the House of Lords.
Of course, it may not make it past Feb 23rd. If a fellow MP so decides, it can be ‘talked out’. PMBs often are. If the appointed hour is reached before speeches have finished (say 2.30ish) my Bill would fall and bite the dust. What sometimes happens, to prevent a PMB being ‘talked out’ in this way, is that a ‘closure motion’ is proposed, which stops the debate. It is then voted on. To progress, at least 100 MPs must be present to vote for the ‘closure motion’. That’s a tall order for a Friday. 
My Bill has not been published yet. That will happen during the next few days. It will probably be called ‘The Overseas Electors Bill’. It’s purpose is to remove the existing 15 year time limit on British citizens who live abroad registering as overseas electors. To qualify, they would have to have been previously resident or registered to vote in the UK - and vote in the constituency where they had been previously registered. 
My Bill will give effect to a manifesto commitment made by the Conservative Party in the 2015 and 2017 general elections, though I do not see it as being a political issue. I will be very keen to present the Bill in as non partisan way as possible. It is intended to be fair, and to increase the numbers of people eligible to vote. It is not intended to deliver any sort of ,party advantage.
I have already received much communication from British citizens overseas thanking me for bringing this Bill forward, and wishing me well. One British citizen, Harry Shindler came over to see me from Italy and discuss what he could do to help. Harry is 97 years old, and in the longest serving member of the British Labour Party. He is an amazing inspirational man whose lifetime ambition is to vote again in a British General Election. For many years he was an election agent. There are many reasons why I want my Bill to succeed, including granting Harry Shindler his greatest wish. I will write more when my Bill is published.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The NHS Budget

The National Health Service is struggling to cope with this winter’s pressures. The stark reality is that it will never be possible for the NHS to meet the demands of a growing population, an aging population, and the irresistible costly advance of clinical science. The position is even more challenging when the cost of healthcare is combined with the cost of social care, increasing for much the same reasons - together with today’s growing expectation that ‘the State’ should take ever more responsibility for the frail elderly rather than it be a family responsibility. We must be realistic about that which is possible. 
Let’s try to understand why funding the NHS has become such a challenge in recent years. The NHS was established 70 years ago. From 1948 to 2010, the annual NHS budget increased by an average of 4% per year - in real terms. From 2010, the annual NHS budget has continued to increase in real terms, but only marginally. Because of the reasons noted in the first paragraph, this real terms increase actually puts financial pressures on the NHS which has never happened over an extended period before. The consequence is an inevitability that difficulties meeting the exponentially growing demand would emerge. That’s where we are now, and where we will be next year as well, despite evermore Government injection of more money.
What deeply frustrates all of us is wasted spending. And there has been so much wasted spending. Over recent days, we have seen much written about partnerships between the Public and Private sector to deliver new capital projects. There is nothing inherently wrong about a joint arrangement involving public and private investment, but there were many very bad deals done in the late 1990s and in the early 2000s. We were signed up to spending many £billions on these deals - contracts signed by previous governments that the current Govt cannot escape from. And we see shocking waste closer to home in Shropshire. For example there was the dreadful decision to build the new Women and Children’s Hospital in Telford, which cost £26 million, and will now probably be moved to Shrewsbury. And we have seen over £4 million spent on what’s called a ‘Future Fit’ process, planning for reform - reform that is desperately needed. 4 years later, the ‘preferred option’ has not even gone out to public consultation.
My personal view is that more money (even more money) will have to go into health and social care. It’s what the public say they want. But the Government will have to be open about the consequences of such a decision. It will mean significantly less spending on other budget heads. There are calls for an hypothecated NHS tax. Personally, I see this as just a gimmick to disguise the raising of taxation. If we are going to invest more billions into our NHS, the Government should transfer money from other budgets, and be clear about what is happening.
Any injection of money, no matter how much, will make little significant difference beyond “kicking the can down the road”. Another £10billion and we would in the same position in a couple of years time.
To finish this blog post, I will return to a thought I floated a few months back, when contemplating how we could reduce the ongoing bitterness hanging over from the EU Referendum. The most contentious aspect hanging over from the referendum campaigns is the supposed ‘promises’ on the side of a bus used by the Leave campaign. Forget what it said precisely. Let’s consider acting on what many people believe. Let’s agree to invest £350 million per week more into health and social care that the budget that applied on 23rd June 2016. I accept it might not fully reflect Govt budget priorities. But it would shoot a very big fox that has been causing much damage across our nation since Brexit Day. And anyway, I do think we will not be far short of a cash injection on that scale by actual Brexit Day - whatever date that Brexit Day is.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Rail Electrification in Wales.

I note that on BBC Wales, I have recently evolved into a “Senior Conservative” when my comments have been included in an article about cancellation of Govt plans to electrify the rail line from Cardiff to Swansea. One up from backbencher I think. Usually, I’m a bit uneasy about this sort of coverage, it being a controversial issue. But I’m content that it conveys my opinions. The article followed the latest meeting of Welsh Affairs Committee on the issue last week.
Over last few months, I’ve been considering in detail the Government decision to cancel the electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea rail line, (as a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee). Lots of witnesses. This week it was Roads Minister, Jo Johnson. The decision to cancel was controversial and much criticised. But was it the right decision? At the outset of our inquiry I was expecting the Committee Report to be critical of the cancellation, and personally, I felt disappointed by it. However, on more detailed consideration its not turning out quite like that. Not only do I conclude personally that cancellation of the Cardiff to Swansea electrification was correct, but ended up asking myself whether electrification of the Great Western from Paddington to Cardiff was a wise decision. On balance, I still think it was. Just!
The first surprise learned from our evidence sessions came from the National Audit Office. It’s clear that the original decision to electrify the Great Western Line (any of it) was based on highly misleading cost estimates. The decision, in effect, was made not knowing the cost. Must admit I listened to the NAO with wide-eyed astonishment. We are assured by Network Rail that this would not happen now. We must hope not. This week the Minister told the Committee that the cost benefit analysis of the scheme does remain positive, though marginally so. So I can still support the London to Cardiff electrification, though there has been a passing uncertainty about it’s value for money as we have discussed it in Committee.  The estimated costs of the Cardiff to Swansea Line was also hugely underestimated. For me, it did not represent value for money. It’s totally right, in my opinion, that it should have been cancelled.
Let’s consider what we have instead. We will have new bi-mode trains, which run on both electric and diesel. They will be faster, with more seats, and way less disruption to the operation of the line. I’ve not ridden in one yet, but told they are very good news.
And the last point to make on this issue. The advance of technology. The Committee are hoping to learn more about hydrogen powered trains. And eventually battery technology will drive further innovation. If I’m revisiting this issue in 10 years time, you can bet the discussion will be vastly different.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Making International Aid popular.

I am a contrarian. The more that public opinion has lambasted the Government commitment to ‘invest’ 0.7% of GDP in International Aid, the more determined I’ve been to stand behind the policy. I believe it is right and in the UK’s long term interests. I feel incredibly proud that the Parliament I’ve been a member of for the last 8 yrs has met our obligations to the world by meeting the United Nations International Aid targets.
But there are many British people who do not agree. New Minister for International Development, Penny Mordaunt is going to have to make the case. She writes in today’s Telegraph. Rightly, she outlines the threats to the UK from disease, mass migration and wars, which do not respect international boundaries, and the shortsightedness of just waiting til these threats arrive on our doorsteps. Like sitting ducks. Neither does the Secretary of State intend to just sit back and not meet the challenging arguments of those who would dismiss the importance of International Aid. She sets out her argument as backing to 5 pledges to the people of Britain.
She pledges to use International Aid alongside the Dept of International Trade to grow business and investment in developing countries. She pledges not to invest if others, with equal or greater responsibility will not invest. The aim will be to develop skills that enable developing companies to stand on their own. She pledges to reduce funding to those who fail to deliver on targets set. She pledges to invest in programmes like plastic pollution and illegal wildlife trading which matter to the British people. And she pledges to work with other Govt departments to maximise effectiveness of any investment. It seems that Secretary of State Mordaunt intends to be hard-headed as well as generous. We need all the British people to be proud of out investment in International Aid.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trumpian Hypocrisy

Don’t normally read the Daily Mail, though do take the Mail on Sunday, along with the Telegraph. But did buy today’s copy - to take advantage of a very generous free gift offer of an Airfix kit. Anyway, it was first time for months that I’ve read anything written by Peter Oborne, who used to write for Spectator and Telegraph. Top class columnist. Always worth a read. Headline today read - “The stench of Labour’s hysteria and hypocrisy over Trump”. Like anyone writing anything which can be read as being on Trump’s side, he has to begin by setting out his opinion of the US President, which I repeat here. “Trump is a narcissistic and absurd figure. He is a racist who retweeted videos posted by Britain First, a fascist organisation that all decent people condemn.”
But he does not, and nor do I agree with the campaign to prevent President Trump visiting the UK. The public attitude of the Mayor of London is particularly short-sighted. Anyone would think he was mid election campaign, when irresponsible attitudes are sometimes struck.  Absolutely not protecting the interests of London. And same goes for a whole lot of others who are keen to be seen as ‘virtuous’ by parading their distaste of Trump. Actually, I have little criticism of those who are not in positions of influence wanting no contact with Trump. Every right to express their opinions. Makes little difference on the international politics plain. It’s the rank hypocrisy of opposition leaders that I find so utterly nauseating.
First time I was faced with this sort of choice personally was when Xi Jinping was accorded the honour of speaking in Westminster Hall, as great a privilege as Parliament can offer. Despite Xi making Trump look like and “hand-wringing Liberal” - in Oborne’s words. But of course Xi is totally inscrutable, impressively polite, charm personified and very skilled at manipulating public opinion. I went because a good relationship with China is hugely important to the UK, to our economy and our security. The Leader of the opposition even wore his white tie and tails to attend a state banquet for President Xi at Buckingham Palace. He was right to do so.
Same attitude will be important when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon visits us this summer. Another who makes Trump look like a “hand-wriggling Liberal”. I will treat him as an honoured guest as well, despite the terrible happenings in Yemen. There have been many other high profile visits from leaders who have committed deeply unsavoury acts. It’s always been thus. Across the Channel, President Macron welcomed President Trump with great pomp, while the French people  accepted the importance to French jobs and French security. Generally, the whole of French politics accepted this.
I cannot defend the drivel that the President of the United States, the country which is our most important friend and allay in this unstable world tweets on his Twitter account. But I know it’s crucial for the UK to work for a good relationship with the individual the American people voted to be their President. It matters for the British economy and British security. In fact, the Opposition leaders like Khan and Corbyn know it too. Which makes their public utterances all the more unworthy of their office.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Prime Minister’s New Confidence.

Bearing in mind how difficult 2017 was for our Prime Minister, it’s amazing how confident and focussed she is. It was a genuinely Prime Ministerial performance on today’s media. Mrs Thatcher was known as the ‘Iron Lady’. Well, Theresa May has shown herself to be a ‘Lady made of Iron’. It’s not how you cope when the tide is flowing your way; it’s how you cope when it’s flowing against you. And I sense that she begins 2018 in a far better place than most would have imagined 7 months ago. To me, all those (including the journalists and commentators) who have been part of the the baying mob look rather ‘smaller’ people than they did.
We all know that Brexit will remain a defining issue. There remain many retainers. And much of our media will give massive coverage to them, or anyone, and any report supporting their desire to reverse the referendum vote to Leave, casually damaging the British interest at the same time. For example, very few had heard of Lord Adonis until he resigned from the Gov’t, citing Brexit. Suddenly he was being portrayed as some great guru, though in reality, he jumped before he was pushed, and has never had anyone actually vote for him - ever. But our Prime Minister is not for turning. She has “played a blinder”, and developed a working relationship with the EU negotiators, where the aim is to deliver the best deal for the UK and the EU - ignoring the columns of ill-informed froth. Just getting on with the job. In all of our interests.
Personally, I’m impressed by the commitment to a Northern Forest the PM spoke of today. Combined with the commitments Michael Gove has been making to environmental policy over recent days, the Conservative Party is the genuine party of the environment. Again, it’s important to ignore the gesture politics and virtue signalling of those who would undermine the Government for partisan advantage. Just getting on with the job.
Also, good to see our Prime Minister looking beyond Brexit. There are problems facing Government. The NHS and Social Care, educational attainment, facilitating more private and public housing, and a hundred other issues. It was ever thus. But today we have keyboard warriors populating the Internet, and a main opposition party willing to do and say almost anything for partisan advantage - irrespective of the national interest. It can easily seem that these problem issues are unmanageable. Anyone serving in Govt has to look beyond the Twitter inspired froth, and just get on with the job. Seems to me that’s what the Prime Minister intends to do.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Conservatives must be ‘Green’ and ‘Welsh’.

I have long held two opinions on policy that I believe should form part of the basis of Conservative thinking in Wales. Neither have been ‘mainstream’ opinion in my party. But that’s not stopped me in the past. Theses two opinions underpin my ambition that my Conservative Party should reach out to Plaid Cymru with a view to working more closely together in Wales. Politics is about power, and the only way the Welsh Conservatives will secure power in Wales in the foreseeable future is in partnership with Plaid Cymru. I fully recognise a lot has to change before that can actually happen, but I’m the perennial optimist. I believe it will happen, and sooner that many might think. Lots of Plaid supporters I talk to are instinctively ‘Tory’.
Anyway, the two opinions I advocate are that there should be Conservative commitments to being both ‘Green’ and ‘Welsh’. Because it’s right, and it’s Conservative, as well as being the pathway to power (in Wales). Let’s consider ‘green’ to begin with, mainly because Michael Gove’s speeches this last week so inspire me. I’ve spoken with Michael in the lobby more than once already.  It’s clear that as Secretary of State at Defra, he intends to use the post-Brexit freedom from EU control to redirect policy towards the environment, diversity and animal welfare. There in nothing more Conservative than this approach, than to take care of our world, our environment, and our landscapes. Nothing more Conservative to leave an environment to our children as secure and cared for as our own generation inherited. So often, the Conservative Party has stood back and allowed non Conservative voices, to dominate the ‘green’ agenda with unrealistic woolly thinking that’s high on rhetoric and low on practicality - bunny-hugging and anti business. But this is going to change because of Michael Gove. Last week he spoke at the Oxford Farming Conference and told the farming industry that he was giving notice that (from 2024) financial Support would not be given for acres owned, but to support investment that the public approves of - like new woodland creating public access to leisure and reducing carbon emissions. Look enough to give farmers time to adapt and radical enough to appeal to genuine environmentalists. It’s all rather promising.
 At last years’s Welsh Conservative Conference in Sophia Gardens, I worked with the Tory Reform Group to share my ideas at a fringe meeting. I was joined by Assembly Member, David Melding CBE and political commentator, Daran Hill. It was an early morning meeting and a tidy audience turned up. At the time I felt I was ‘out on a limb’ with my enthusiasms for ‘greenness’ and ‘Welshness’. Since then, the UK Govt has delivered the Wales Act (through Parliament without a single Parliamentary defeat) and changed Parliamentary procedures to allow Welsh to be spoken in the House of Commons (first time will be Welsh Grand in early February). I know there continues to be anti-devolution views in my party, but it’s no longer in the majority. There is no doubt that the Conservative Party in Wales, while being committed to the ‘Union’ is now unmistakenly ‘Welsh’. And we have Michael Gove, who totally ‘gets’ the importance of establishing the Conservative Govt as the party of the Environment. My main Westminster interest is Wales ,things Welsh and the countryside. And I sense it’s all going rather well.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Pumlumon Project.

Between losing my ‘seat’ in the National Assembly for Wales in 2007, and being elected to the House of Commons in 2010, I was a trustee of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. Always had a great interest in the Welsh countryside, it’s natural appearance and it’s wildlife. Still have. Not in a sentimental bunny-hugging way. The rythym of the natural world is often brutal and cruel. What matters to me is diversity, and how people can best connect with it.
Much the most ambitious project that MWT embarked on was/is The Pumlumon Project. It relates to 100,000 acres within the triangle stretching between Llanidloes, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth, where the Rivers Severn, Wye and Rheidol begin their journeys to the sea. The project involves re-wetting the peat bogs, and connecting existing habitats to create natural pathways. This would, if done at scale, hold back enormous amounts of rain water and melting snow, preventing flooding further down the Severn Valley. At the same time give more support to viable communities, create more natural landscapes, a more diverse wildlife, cleaner water and store carbon.
The area has enormous potential for tourism based on a diverse environment. It’s immediately adjacent to the Osprey observation site on the Dyfi Estuary which attracts tens of thousands every year. The potential is massive for hen harriers, short eared owls and black grouse -and much much more.
Now to the downside. Money. To deliver the project at the scale proposed will cost a lot of money - in my view, probably more than its reasonable to expect the Welsh Govt to provide. It is reasonable to expect part of the reformed post Brexit farm funding to support new practice and support diversification investment, but it’s unreasonable to expect the ‘Welsh’ budget to fund the flood prevention work. All the benefit would accrue to towns in the Severn Valley in England - Shrewsbury, Tewksbury etc. This is why I’m trying to secure a debate at Westminster, hoping to win over the support of England based MPs. Hoping I come up in the ballot for debates soon. And if I do, I’ll be on the phone to Clive Faulkner at the MWT to help me write my speech. I also think I might be interviewed by the BBC on this issue tomorrow. Will keep you informed.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Let’s pull together for a great post Brexit UK.

Must admit I was never that keen on an EU In-Out Referendum. I thought it too complex a decision for a winner-takes-all question. But once David Cameron announced it, I went along with it. Saw no real choice. And though I thought a vote to Leave was unlikely and would create great uncertainty, I always knew I personally would vote Leave. And I did, on June 23rd 2016, with far less certainty than I would were there to be another referendum in the near future. I am much more certain Leave was the right decision today.
I simply cannot contemplate the damage it would do to UK society, national unity and morale, and the international reputation of the UK if in some way we did not Leave. Which is why I am so certain we will leave. And I also feel sure that the appallingly biased presentation of debate by some of the media, intended to undermine the UK in negotiations to the extent that we might reject the final negotiated deal is making the British people more in favour of leaving. The massive publicity given to Lord Heseltine, who was fired from his Government role months ago, and Lord Adonis, who jumped a few days ago before he was pushed. Anyone would think they were key players. They are not. They are given a supposed level of importance to give credence to a Preferred Option. Most people have never heard of Lord Adonis. Actually, they still haven’t.
I have no problem with them holding the opinion they do. Just as I continue to admire Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry. They are perfectly entitled to follow their beliefs, and vote accordingly. Those I find far less worthy of admiration are those who announce they “respect” the vote cast by over 17 million people in the referendum, and then do all they can to undermine it. Labour MP, Kate Hoey has written a great article in today’s Telegraph making that very point - about the Labour Party. She really is a genuine star. It really is depressing that a political party, which aspires to Government, treats the most important issue of our time as a matter of political opportunism rather than a matter of great principle. They will pay a price for this later on.
In my New Years message to constituents, I said I was feeling first shoots of optimism for a good while. Almost none of the threats that were supposed to land upon us the day after we voted to Leave have not come to pass. And I really don’t think they are going to. Quite a bit of commentary is about opportunity that Brexit presents. The reality is that the UK is leaving the EU. And it really would be best for our nation if we all focussed our efforts on securing the best possible arrangement for the UK and for the EU.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Future Fit in the News Again.

I was much taken by the irony of the front page of today’s Shropshire Star. Headline is “NHS boss in pledge to end farce”. Chief Officer of Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is quoted “Time for talking is over”. Oh what irony! My sense is that there has been no-one who has contributed more to the ‘farce’ that the man quoted. Let’s recap, for those who have not been following the farce - and try to stick with the facts.
We have known for decades that the Shropshire NHS is not sustainable in the long run without reform. The catchment population (Shropshire and part of Mid Wales, including most of Montgomeryshire) will not sustain two District General Hospitals. The position had been complicated by a Chief Executive of the Trust which runs both hospitals, who decided to spend roughly £30 million on a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Telford, when anyone with an iota of strategic thinking capability would have known it should have been built at Shrewsbury. Unfortunately, Mr Adam Cairns did not have a listening gene. This development simply did not deal with the basic problem, and thankfully, Mr Cairns moved on.
It was 2013 when it was decided to face up to the long term  unsustainability issue. The two CCGs representing Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin agreed to establish a Future Fit Programme Board, and said it was setting aside £1.145 million to redesign the service. At the time when the decision about the Women’s and Children’s Hospital decision was taken, the leadership of the Powys Local Health Board just ‘sat on their hands’. Deeply disappointing to me. In 2013, Powys Health Board were enthusiastically ‘onside’ though. Made a difference.
Initially, I favoured a new Emergency Centre on a green field site between the two existing hospitals to replace the two A&E Depts, but that was fairly quickly ruled out for cost reasons. Around £600 million was the rumoured figure. The delays and refusal to face reality continued and the cost of the Future Fit process increased hugely. It was end of 2016 when the Future Fit Programme Board finally put forward its recommendation that Emergency Care should be based at Shrewsbury, and Planned Care should be at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital. This recommendation had to be approved by the two CCGs covering Shropshire. Shockingly, on Dec 12th 2016, after the expenditure of around £4 million over 3 years, the 2 CCGs failed to reach a decision.
In July 2017, the Future Fit Programme Board (made up of both CCGs plus independent members appointed by the Secretary of State plus reps of Powys Health Board reaffirmed (unanimously) that the Emergency Centre should be at Royal Shrewsbury and Planned Care Centre at Telford’s Princess Royal - long long overdue. This time the Powys Health Board representatives behaved in a responsible way.
Now we are told that the roughly £200 million needed to fund the reform must be agreed before the statutory 12 weeks public consultation  can begin. It’s certainly the case that the “Time for talking is over”. Hope that’s all clear.