Sunday, April 29, 2018

Alfie Evans.

Last week, those of us who try to follow the news agenda had a confusing few days. There were the usual mixture of misleading and simply untrue ‘news’ stories about Brexit. We’re used to that, and have learned to largely ignore it. But in Wales, we did have an astonishingly good news Brexit story. It was really big breakthrough news. After predictions of constitutional chaos and multiple headlines about a “Power Grab” by the UK Parliament, and a bizarre ‘Continuity Bill’ passed in the Welsh Parliament, which led to the UK Govt taking the Welsh Government to the Supreme Court, the Wales Office and the Welsh Gov’t agreed post-Brexit arrangements in relation to devolved powers. Just like that! Defied all the predictions. Until now the devolved Governments in Wales and Scotland had worked together. Wales has now left the Scottish National Party to carry on its anti-Brexit campaigning on its own. In Wales, we have agreed a pragmatic way forward, trying to deliver the best way future for Wales, rather than play politics games. And as is usual with very complex issues, the Welsh media largely ignored this most significant news story of the week.

We also had the hugely worrying story about how immigrants who moved to Britain in the 1960s on the Windrush and other ships have been shockingly let down by our immigration system. No-one emerges from this scandal, (because that’s what it is) with any credit. Although it’s impossible to know exactly where ‘blame’ lies, it is clear that managing the UKs immigration system has been a challenge too far for the Home Office. I write this as Amber Rudd resigns over the issue. Personally I am sorry about this. I thought she was the right person to sort out the problem. The position today is just not acceptable. Of course, the UK Government must control ‘illegal’ immigration, but must also do whatever it takes to ensure those immigrants who are today in Britain entirely legally are not in any way disadvantaged. 

But the news story last week which impacted on me most was the circumstances surrounding the death of Alfie Evans, a 23 month old little boy at Alder Hey Hospital who died from an untreatable neurological condition, after his life support was turned off.  Everyone sympathised with Alfie’s parents, who must have gone through the most traumatic of experiences. Its very difficult to disentangle the clinical and ethical issues. Increasingly, developing science means we are going to confront more decisions about when to end a life that is being maintained only by a machine, when there is no hope of recovery. While I do not approve of the behaviour of some of those who protested outside Alder Hey Hospital, I find myself, yet again, conflicted by the proper responsibilities of the family and the state in life and death issues.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

‘Limited, targeted and effective’.

Last week, three of the five permanent members of the Security Council joined forces to conduct coordinated targeted military strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability, and deter their use. The principle partner, delivering about 90% of the bombardment was the US. Britain and France played smaller roles, but their involvement was crucial to reinforce the message the use of chemical weapons is contrary to Chemical Weapons Convention and not acceptable in today’s world. The action was supported by a wide range of countries, including all NATO members plus Australia plus Turkey and others. The military strike was in response to a despicable and barbaric act by the Syrian Regime in Douma, killing innocent people who were seeking shelter from bombardment in underground basements.
There is little doubt that the Syrian Regime led by Bashar al-Ashad was responsible. It has an utterly abhorrent record of using poison gas against its own people. Over recent years there have been numerous examples of chemical weapon use by the forces of the Syrian Dictator, Bashar al-Assad. For a century, use of chemical weapons has been banned as a crime against humanity. Assad is in flagrant breach of international law. The use of Chemical Weapons must be stopped. Every reform in the Security Council has failed, thwarted by the Russian veto. The leaders of the US, France and the UK have done what they had to do.
Before acting, the UK Prime Minister and Cabinet considered advice from the Attorney General, the National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff and received a full intelligence briefing. Theresa May decided to act in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian Regime’s Chemical Weapons capability. There is no desire to intervene in a civil war. There is no desire or intention to deliver regime change. It was a ‘Limited, Targeted and Effective’ strike with clear boundaries designed to avoid escalation and civilian casualties. The aim is to prevent future use of chemical weapons.
In 2013, David Cameron sought support from MPs to launch a military strike against Damascus in response to Assad’s use of poison gas. MPs refused to agree. I thought that a mistake, which led to
President Obama cancelling any action at all.  Last year the US did respond to another poison gas attack with a limited military response. It did not stop Assad. We must hope that last weekend’s military strike will have more effect.
I hope there will also be a new diplomatic effort as well. We cannot allow chemical weapons to become ‘normalised’ as a method of war. Britain has always taken a stance to defend global rules and standards. That’s  what we did last weekend.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

More on Poison Gas issues

Today’s news reports are still focussing on two events involving the use of poison gas, and how we should respond - take action or just wring our hands.
Firstly, there’s the attempted assassination of the Russians, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on the streets of Britain. Today the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which so many had called on to make a definitive judgement, backed the conclusions drawn by the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson. I am not sure what we should do about it, except hit the wealthy Russian friends of Putin who operate in the UK. And hit them so hard, they understand the damage that Putin is causing them. I sense that may well happen.
And then we have the use of poison gas against innocent citizens in Douma by Bashar al-Assad. It’s crucial that the response be carefully planned, targeted and effective. Personally, I cannot see any alternative but to strike militarily against Assad and his military capability. He is a monster.
I have been quite shocked by those who seem to take the side of the Russian backed Syrian Dictator. I suppose there always have been a few British citizens who seem to prefer to side with Britain’s enemies. For 100 years Chemical warfare has been unacceptable under international law. Yet there are some who accept that Assad should face no consequence for what he has done. This is normalising the use of chemical weapons in modern warfare. It would be disastrous for our world - a green light to the barbarians to do their worst, if it’s thought the world will just stand by and shake heads disapprovingly when weapons of mass destruction are deployed - and leave it at that.
Normally, we would be arguing for the Security Council to take action, but it cannot because the Russians veto any such action. They are Assad’s protective shield. So the United Nations is rendered impotent.
Many MPs are calling for Parliament to be asked to vote on any decision to join a US led military strike. I am not one of them. Any decision must be based on a careful assessment of intelligence. The Prime Minister cannot share such intelligence publically. She might as well just authorises MI6 to send our intelligence direct to Damascus, the Kremlin and Tehran.
I fully expect the US to launch a military strike against Bashar al-Assad’s forces. I also expect the UK  and France to participate. And even though I would wish it otherwise, I will support our Prime Minister in that action if she and her Cabinet decide it should be. Most other MPs will do the same, all of us with heavy hearts.
I realise there will be many who disagree. There are many who think we should “just let them get on with it”. We should not be dragged in no matter what. As if we can isolate ourselves from what happens overseas. There will be many with pacifist principles. I do not criticise their stance. The stance I do question is that of those who insist that chemical warfare must not become common in modern warfare while refusing to support action to support that position. This is a total cop-out. My job as an MP is to face up to choices. And sometimes those choices are bloody tough. They don’t come any tougher than this one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Syria. What now?

Am inspired to comment on what’s happening in Syria by William Hague’s column in today’s Telegraph. Takes me back to the events of 2013, which was the most shocking of my 8 yrs as an MP. It’s the context in which I have to contemplate the current position.
In 2013, Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people and Prime Minister, David Cameron was considering a military strike against Damascus. He was supported by William Hague. Before that summer recess, MPs had insisted that a vote would be needed to authorise such a strike. Parliament was indeed recalled during summer recess. I returned to London, anticipating voting against my Govt for the first time. I informed my whips that I could not vote for action without more clarity about how it would improve the position. I think other MPs must have taken a similar line because when the motion to be debated was tabled the night before the debate, I was satisfied. The motion supported military action against Assad, but crucially, required the Prime Minister to return to the Parliament with more clarity and to seek another vote before military action could be taken. I thought that was acceptable, and voted for it. But (shamefully in my view) MPs voted this motion down. I felt ashamed that some Conservatives had completely undermined the Prime Minisister. The Labour Leader at the time, Ed Miliband had decided to play politics with an issue that should have been above politics and put forward his alternative motion, which was not far from the Prime Minister’s motion. That was defeated as well. I felt deeply ashamed of Labour. I suspect a few Labour MPs did as well. Anyway, Obama and Putin were watching. The former reneged on his ‘red lines’ and decided to do nothing, while the latter realised that Assad backed by Russia could do whatever he wanted. That’s just what he did. The chemical attacks on innocents over the last few days is an inevitable consequence of 2013.
I know there will be many who think the UK (and everyone else except Russia and Iran) should stay out of it. Several of my constituents informedit was their opinion in 2013. Suspect some might feel the same today. I don’t. Non-action can have terrible consequences, as well as action. We cannot wait for the UN to back action because Russia will veto any military response. We cannot allow chemical warfare to become an accepted form of attack, which it will. Of course we cannot be 100% certain that military action will achieve its objective in the short term. If certainty of victory was a requirement of action, military powers who care not about deaths of casualties would always win.
We know that a President Obama would not act. There would just be empty threats. But I do think
Resident Trump may well act. He may well call the Assad-Putin bluff. This is a very hard sentence for me to write, because I know many of my friends and supporters will disagree. But I believe Britain and France should support action led by the US, and be active participants.

Monday, April 02, 2018

How do we power the UK?

Written quite a lot about NHS reform of secondary care for Shropshire and mid-Wales recently. So a change of subject - temporarily at least. Feel a need to return to a subject I used to write about quite a lot. Energy, and where we source it. And ask whether the ‘Russia’ issue make any difference.
When I was young, energy used to be a major part of the UK’s GDP (maybe 10%) - principally coal, oil, gas and nuclear. Today it’s fallen to relative insignificance (maybe 2%). This is largely down to much reduced use of coal and near disappearance of North Sea oil. And our commitment to Paris Agreement on climate change means we’re not going back there. This post is about where (and whether) we should look to re-establish energy as a significant UK industry. I’m thinking next 15/20 years. Even that’s too long a time scale to predict with any certainty. It’s probable that this post would have to be completely rewritten in 10yrs, or even sooner.
In my view, we cannot but go for Shale Gas as a big player. I accept there is uncertainty about this industry, and much opposition, but nevertheless it looks more than promising. I’ve never quite understood the antipathy to shale gas extraction. We know that the initial process of hydraulic fracturing is undoubtedly noisy for a period of around 3 weeks, and generates a fair bit of traffic. No major job creating industry is without some disturbance. The potential is massive - game changing. At worst, there’s enough Shale Gas in the Bowland Basin alone to provide for decades of UK needs. And there are private operators who will put their money in. Are doing so already. We know (even the Climate Change Committee agrees) that there’s a need for gas as a transition fuel from coal to renewables (where we want to end up) and Shale Gas has far less impact on carbon emissions than LNG, which is the main alternative. And anyway, all the LNG we were banking on is being bought up by the Chinese. But since the demise of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee I have no involvement in this debate. Just a residual interest.
I also think offshore wind looks to have a more than promising future. Always used to be too costly, but scale and technology are changing the balance. Almost reached the stage when no subsidy is needed, which is a dramatic turnaround in a year. There is some antipathy to offshore wind but nothing like the  intense opposition to onshore wind, which is even cheaper. I’ve always thought (without actual evidence) that if and when floating turbines become realalistic and economic, the potential of offshore wind is limitless. Another advantage of offshore wind (and shale gas) is that the economic benefit will accrue to the North of England, contributing to reducing the North-South divide.
And the there is Russia. While we might not import much directly from Russia now, we are part of a European energy network which is more linked to Russia. We should not be giving the Russians any leverage over us. It’s not just energy, but security.
There are of course many other possibilities as well. Nuclear may well be a big player, especially if Small Modular Reacters prove viable. Trawsfynnydd could be a real possibility here. Solar will always be a small scale player, made slightly more viable as storage technology develops. Then there’s hydrogen, which could develop as a fuel for cars and trains. That’s enough for this quick blog post, but open to suggestions to amend it.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Shropshire and Mid Wales A&E Reform. ‘Hot’ new Hospital at Shrewsbury

Was expecting news of an announcement tomorrow. But it’s in the Times today. So updated my post

Over the last ten years ( at least) I have been involved in active discussion about what has to be done to deliver a sustainable hospital structure to serve Shropshire and Mid Wales. In fact, I have known roughly what was needed to be done for over 40 yrs ago. A squash playing team colleague, who was also a brilliant Shropshire consultant used to berate me between games about the strategic madness of building a new hospital in Telford to serve Shropshire and Mid Wales in the first place. The area simply did not have the population to sustain two comprehensive District General Hospitals in the long term. He knew I was involved in local public affairs and wanted me to become involved. Paul died young. I hope he’d be pleased with the effort I’ve put in. It is an irony that there’s a Paul Brown Ward at the Princess Royal in memory of the great man.
The population of Shropshire and Mid Wales is about 500,000 and will sustain only one major secondary care hospital. Because of the historic and unwise decision to build the Princess Royal, the only feasible way forward today is to accept the current position and run the two hospitals as one unit operating on two sites, with ‘emergency care’ at one and ‘planned care’ at the other. A new hospital to replace both (which most of us would really prefer) is off the wall expensive. We have known all this for years. Our hospital services have suffered  because we have not faced up to the difficult ‘political’ decisions needed. Millions of precious NHS resources have been squandered as a consequence of ‘political posturing’, sometimes blindly refusing to accept reality. But at long long last, the end is in sight. It’s taken a lot of lobbying and argument to reach today’s position. It’s  also been frustrating enough to test the patience of a saint.
The UK Government has now decided that NHS England will allocate the around £300 million needed to transform one hospital (recommended to be the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital) into a centre for Emergency Care (a’hot’ emergency care hospital) and Theo
 Other (recommended to be Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital) into a centre for planned care. This will  be the biggest investment by NHS England this year. It will be a massive Gov’t commitment to Shropshire and Mid Wales. Everyone who has been involved and stuck with it will be hugely satisfied. After the announcement of the funding, , there will be an implementation process. The first step will be for the local Clinical Commissioning Groups to go out to a 12 week public consultation from about early May - with the above arrangement as their ‘preferred option’. If the public support the ‘preferred option’ (and it would be unthinkable not to) the project design and tendering processes will begin. I can see no reason why we cannot anticipate “diggers in the ground” early next year.
This is what should happen, and what I expect to happen.. Over the 12 week consultation period I will be arranging public meetings around Montgomeryshire to explain what has been a quite incredible journey, over many years, to reach the current position. And how important it is that all of us who want to see a sustainable NHS in Shropshire and Mid Wales actually turn out to vote.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The real story of our economy.


So many try to talk down the UK economy, that I’m using my column to redress the balance. Personally, I believe the UK is in a far better place than the Jeremiah’s so often portray. Wrote this for Oswestry and Borders Chronicle this week.

“The UK economy has grown every year since 2010. It now has a manufacturing sector enjoying its longest unbroken run of growth for 50 years. It has added 3 million jobs since 2010 and seen every single region of the UK with higher employment and lower unemployment than in 2010. It has seen the wages of the lowest-paid rise by almost 7% above inflation since April 2015. It has seen income inequality lower than at any time under the last Labour Government.

Britain faces the future with unique strengths. The English language is the global language of business. The British legal system is the jurisdiction of choice for commerce. London is the world’s most global city and capital of international finance and professional services. British companies are in the vanguard of the technological revolution, while our world-class universities are delivering the breakthrough discoveries and inventions that are powering it. British culture and talent reaches huge audiences across the globe; and our tech sector is attracting skills and capital from the four corners of world. 

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts more jobs, rising real wages, declining inflation, a falling deficit and a shrinking debt. The economy grew by 1.7% in 2017, compared with the 1.5% forecast at the Budget, and the OBR has revised up its forecast for 2018 from 1.4% to 1.5%. Forecast growth is then unchanged at 1.3% in 2019 and 2020, before picking up to 1.4% in 2021 and 1.5% in 2022.

Our remarkable jobs story is set to continue, with the OBR forecasting more jobs in every year of this Parliament and over 500,000 more people enjoying the security of a regular pay packet. The OBR expects inflation to fall back to the 2% target over the next 12 months, meaning real wage growth is expected to be positive from first quarter of 2018-19 and to increase steadily thereafter. Annual inflation statistics fell 0.3% to 2.7% yesterday. There are more falls to come. 

Borrowing is now forecast to be £45.2 billion this year. That is £4.7 billion lower than forecast in November and £108 billion lower than in 2010.

Debt is being reduced not for some ideological reason, but to secure an economy strong enough to cope with future setbacks. Taxpayer’s money is needed to support our public services and defence, not to be wasted on debt interest. So not all will be used to reduce debt. Since the autumn 2016, £60 billion has been earmarked for new spending, shared between long-term investment in Britain’s future and support for public services. Almost £9 billion extra has been invested in our NHS and our social care system. There is £4 billion going into the NHS in 2018-19 alone.

Taxes have been cut for 31 million working people by raising the personal allowance. 4 million people have been taken out of tax altogether since 2010. Fuel duty has been frozen for an eighth successive year, taking the saving for a typical car driver to £850 when compared with Labour’s plans. The national living wage has been raised to £7.83 from next month, giving the lowest paid in our society a well-deserved pay rise of more than £2,000 for a full-time worker since 2015.

So to the doom mongerers I proffer the old saying “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Votes for Expats

Over the next few months, A View from Rural Wales will be commenting from time to time on the contentious issue of votes for British citizens living abroad. This is because I am sponsoring a Private Member’s Bill, and trying to put on the Statute Book the right for any British citizen living overseas to vote in a British General Election. On Feb 23rd, MPs agreed a Second Reading of my bill and it will go into Committee for detailed debate - probably after the summer recess. I’ve never had as much grateful support for something I’ve done as an MP.
Reason I’m commenting today is that as working my way through stacks of mail (always overwhelmed and usual Sunday/late night work) I came upon a copy of The Times Leading Article of 28th April 2016, giving 100% support to my case. At the time, The Times wanted ex-pats to be given the right to vote in the EU Referendum. I agreed with The Times and others who were calling for that. I think the Govt might have also liked that but it was said to be logistically not possible. The arguments are just as valid today. Here are a few extracts from The Times Leader;
“The 15-year cut-off is arbitrary. The Govt has admitted as much and has committed itself to repealing it.”
“There is a moral duty to repeal it too. The first law granting voting rights to non-resident Britons, passed in 1995, applied only to those who had been abroad for five years or fewer. Margaret increased it to 20 years in 1989. Tony Blair cut it back to 15 years in 2000. Parliament was never able to settle on a natural cut-off date because none existed......the appropriate basis for voting rights is citizenship.”
“Harry Shindler agrees. Now 95, he fought to liberate Italy from fascism. He has lived there since 1982, and has been fighting for the right to vote since 2011.”
“There is no suggestion that those in Mr Shindler’s position have ceased to be British citizens. Britain is their country and they clearly have a right to a say in its future.”
The Govt may fear a Commons vote that would split the Tory Party but that is no reason not to do the right thing.”
When we discussed my Overseas Voters Bill at Second Reading, a handful of Labour MPs tried to kill it off. I don’t really know why. Luckily for me, I think the entire Conservative and Liberal Democrat voice was supportive. We are all on Harry Shindler’s side. He came over from Italy to meet me before the debate. An irony is that Harry is probably the oldest longest serving Labour supporter in the world.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

What’s to be done with prisoners.

When it comes to criminal justice, I’ve often been dismissed by friends as a bit of a ‘leftie’ or even a ‘pinko’. I don’t accept this as fair. I simply want a criminal justice system that works best and reduces the overall level of crime. My usual approach Is not to adopt a ‘kneejerk’ instinctive response to any problem or challenge, but to try to study the available evidence first. As a general rule, this seems a good course to follow before settling on an opinion. This may seem obvious, but my experience is that it’s most certainly not.
First time I encountered my supposed ‘leftiness’’ was when considering the death penalty when I was a teenager. I was fundamentally opposed - barbaric and ineffective. The state doing what it condemned in its citizens. Today it may be the majority view. Certainly wasn’t then.
Anyway, on to today. The Welsh Affairs Committee is looking at aspects of incarceration in Wales, including implications access for prisoners to use the Welsh Language. Today we spent most of the day at Berwyn, the new prison being built at Wrexham. Not spent much time in prisons but I’d visited the old victorian prison at Shrewsbury a couple of times when Gerry Hendry was the Governor a few years back. Always remember the trap door through which the condemned prisoner was ‘dropped’ after being condemned to death. The prison is closed now. The reason I was interested was because Governor Hendry was committed to rehabilitation. I agreed with him that the route to reducing crime was reducing reoffending. He explained how it worked successfully. I thought he was a very good man.
Today, at Berwyn, I learned about how the new prison is being built around the concept of rehabilitation. The staff, from the Governor down, treat the prisoners as equals (in the sense of all being human beings). There’s a big effort to make it seem unlike a prison, with interaction across the entire estate based on normality - as near to live outside as possible within a prison. (You might say the opposite of the shameful behaviour of MPs at PMQs!) And there’s a successful strategy of not making it seem as if there are 2100 prisoners there. The prison is split into 3 blocks of 700, and each of those blocks split up into 11 of what are termed ‘communities’.
Sadly, there remains antipathy towards the prison by some in the Wrexham area, I’m told local media coverage is negative. Despite the massive boost to economic activity in the area. Very strangely, the N Wales Police and Crime Commissioner is anti. No idea why.
I was seriously impressed by most aspects of Berwyn. The one aspect I’m not convinced about is shared cells. The Governor told us this presents no problems at all. In fact he said he thought it was a positive. I’m just not convinced about that. But then I’ve always been a ‘loner’. Personally, I would hate it. Berwyn is a major benefit to North Wales, and to the British prison estate. Have to fix the shortage of space to park cars though.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Tough Negotiations Ahead

I sense that the Prime Minister has moved debate about the UK’s future relationship with the EU on today, following the interventions over recent days by former prime ministers, who would have been better engaged playing golf or something else useful. They just devalue their own currency. Be different perhaps if either had left in high esteem.
Anyway, the Blair/Major influence, linked as it was with the EU negotiating positions, seems to be yesterday’s news already. If it ever was news (with the people that is, as opposed to remain commentators).
Our Prime Minister was clear today. The UK is leaving the EU, leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. There will be no ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. And no border of any sort between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK - even if there will be some form of technology checks at the border, (as Boris suggested last week to much contrived hilarity). I don’t think any of this is open to discussion. The alternative is ‘No Deal’ and no-one wants that. It looks to me like those who don’t accept the referendum result just trying it on.
Now to the stuff up for negotiation. And there’s plenty of scope for debate - room for ‘give and take’.
Firstly, our Prime Minister is right to  acknowledge that the UK cannot have all she wants. We know there will be reduced market access. We need to keep it to a manageable minimum. We know there will be a cost in retaining close alignment in various regulatory bodies, where it suits both sides. We know it makes sense to stay aligned to EU standards and regulations unless there is a very good reason not to. We know it makes sense to avoid introducing any new barriers to trade unless it’s vital to do so. We anticipate that on the day after Brexit, terms of trade will not change much.
Many people I meet want to talk Brexit - and usually to say something about the “mess we are in”. Well I do not buy that - at all. I was not keen on the holding of an In/Out EU Referendum. Too big of a question to answer In or Out. But its what happened. In the end (and it was near the end) I voted Leave. I thought the plague of catastrophes promised by the Remain side was total self defeating drivel, which it was. I did not believe it. But I did think we would be engaged in years of uncertainty. Leaving the EU is a big deal. Actually, the uncertainty and “mess” is rather less than I thought it would be. What I hadn’t expected was the refusal of so many to accept the decision of the people. And the way so many seek to give succour to the other side of the negotiation table when the future of our country is at stake. But the Prime Minister has played a canny hand, refusing to be driven by the media’s thirst for something/anything to feed its pursuit of headlines. She is doing all she can to protect the British interest. She is playing a blinder.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

My reading at St David’s Day Service in Chapel of St Mary Undercroft

Y Darllediad Cyntaf.  Effesiaid 4: 1-7; 11-13.

Yr wyf fi, felly, sy’n garcharor er mwyn yr Arglwydd, yn eich annog i fyw yn deilwng o’r always a gawsoch. Byddwch yn ostyngedig ac addfwyn ym mhob peth, ac yn amyneddgar, gan oddef eich gilydd mewn cariad. Ymrowch i gadw, a rhymyn tangnefedd, yr undod y mae’r Ysbryd yn ei roi. Un corff syth, ac un Ysbryd, un union fel mai un yw’r gobaith sy’n ymhlyg yn eich galwad; un Arglwydd, un ffydd, un bedydd, un Duw a Thad i bawb, yr hwn sydd goruwch pawb, a thrwy bawb, ac ym mhawb. Ond i bob un ohonom rhoddwyd gras, ei ran o rodd Crist. A dyma’i roddion: rhai I fod yn apostolion, rhai yn broffwydi, rhai yn efengylwyr, rhai yn fugeiliaid ac yn athrawon, i gymhwyso’r saint i waith gweinidogaeth, i adeiladu corff Crist. Felly y cyrhaeddwn oll hyd at yr undod a berthyn i’r ffydd ac i adnabyddiaeth o Fab Duw. Y nod yw dynoliaeth lawn dwf, a’r mesur yw’r aeddfedryydd sy’n perthyn I gyflawnder Crist.

Monday, February 26, 2018

My Speech to launch Overseas Electors Bill.

On Friday I secured a Second Reading for my Overseas Electors Bill. Later this year it will be considered ‘in committee’ when it will be possible to amend it, but only to a limited extent. My job this week is to recommend 18 MPs who will serve on the Committee, probably meeting after the summer recess.
Here is my speech, with most of the interventions not included.

“I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.
I wish to say at the start, as an organ donation ‘activist’ for more than 25 years how excellent I thought the earlier debate today was. Although I did not agree with much that was said, I thought the quality of the debate showed the UK Parliament at its best.
My Bill is about extending the ability of British citizens to participate in British democracy, of which we have seen such an excellent example earlier today.
Let me set the scene by outlining the most relevant statistics. Firstly, according to the Office for National Statistics, there are 4.9 million British citizens of voting age, who have lived in the UK at some point in their lives, but are now living overseas. Secondly, only an estimated 1.4 million of these 4.9 million British citizens of voting age are eligible to vote in UK elections, because a British citizen who has lived overseas for more than 15 years is not allowed to vote in a UK election. And thirdly, as at June 2017, only 285,000 of those 1.4 million British citizens actually registered to vote. The difficulty in registering is an issue in need of addressing, but outside the scope of my bill.
I thank colleagues from both sides of the House, who have contacted me in support of the Bill. I have received good advice from the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and my hon Friend, the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). Several other hon Members have also written to offer their support.
This debate has so many aspects to it, that I could speak for a very long time, but I want to give as many Members as possible the chance to contribute, and I hope that the debate will reach a conclusion so I will not make a long speech.
The three aspects of the debate I want to concentrate on are firstly, fairness to British citizens who live overseas for a variety of reasons, but want to remain part of our democratic process, and are much offended when their vote is removed after 15 years, as it is currently. Secondly, great benefit flows to the UK through the ‘soft power’ exercised by British citizens across the world, retaining a close involvement in the affairs of this country, and the promotion of British interests in the country to which they have moved. The last thing we should do is reduce their involvement in British democracy. And the third aspect centres around why it is appropriate to revisit an issue - the restriction of overseas UK citizens ability to vote - that Parliament has considered previously. What has changed.
Firstly, fairness. Many British citizens who have moved overseas have a legitimate ongoing interest in the UK’s public affairs and politics. Many spent all of their working lives in the UK, paying their taxes and National Insurance, and continue to have a direct interest in their pension rights, and many other matters - particularly in the future of their families in the UK. Many moved overseas to work. Many of those would not have had much choice. And many will return home to the UK on their retirement. Our ambition should be to extend the franchise to every British citizen who has a legitimate interest in, and an enthusiasm for being part of our democracy.
At this point, I would like to mention a British gentleman named Harry Shindler, who came over from his home in Italy to talk to me about this Bill. Harry Shindler is an incredible man. He is 97 yrs old, and is the longest serving member of the Labour Party. He remains an activist. He came to the UK to discuss my bill with me because the one act he wants to undertake before he dies is to vote again in a British General Election. That is typical of how important it is to some British people who live overseas.
Before I move on I’d like to make one point I think relevant here. I need to emphasise how many people - unknown to me - have written to me from overseas just to thank me for bringing forward this  Bill. Their level of appreciation is great, as is the importance they attach to being able to vote in a British election. Because they are British citizens. Other Members will surely have received similar communications.
My second general point is the importance of the Bill in promoting British ‘soft power’ across the world. We live in an increasingly interdependent world. The success and influence of Britishcitizens overseas become ever more important, particularly as we leave the European Union. British citizens who are actively involved in civic society, in business and diplomatic activity in the countries in which they now live

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill.

For 3 hours yesterday I sat in on a Private Members Bill, the aim of which is to give the state the power to utilise parts of our dead bodies, without our express permission or that of our next of kin. While I am not in support of this at all, it was a good enjoyable debate. I did not participate in this debate because I wanted to conclude it as quickly as possible, to allow enough time for my Overseas Electors Bill which followed it. And I don’t think its a change which will do much actual harm. It’s just that it will not do what the proponents of Presumed Consent claim it will. There is simply no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it will.
For 25 yrs I have been a champion of Organ Donation. No greater gift can we as human beings give. I have advocated changes that will increase the number of organs available, and there are several. And I have always said I would support presumed consent, despite concerns about the principle of the state greatly expanding its power, if there was evidence that it would work. It won’t.
Now let consider what we should do. Firstly we should increase the availability of IC beds (Intensive Care). The bodies from which organs are taken are usually ‘brain dead’ and being kept alive artificially while preparations are made for donation. Spain offers us the best international example. I’m told there are three times as many IC beds available in Spanish hospitals (pro rata) No-one mentioned that in yesterday’s three hour debate.
Secondly we should greatly increase the number of SNODS (Specialist Nurses in Organ Donation). We know the refusal rate of next of kin to consent to donation means a great many organs are ‘wasted’. And we know the refusal rates drop dramatically when SNODS are involved. Again, I’m told that Spain has vastly more SNODS than the UK has (pro rata). What should happen in that the next of kin of every potential donor should be asked by a Specialist Nurse, trained to work in what is always a very traumatic circumstance. In Spain, people do not carry donor cards. The Spanish Government has a policy where everyone is asked. Everyone is considered to be a potential donor, not just a card carrier.
 In yesterday’s debate there were references to Spain being an ‘Opt out’ country. This was irritating. It’s not. It is true that Presumed Consent was legislated for in 1979, but it did not increase donation at all. Other changes which made the difference were made in 1989, ten years later. Presumed Consent mat remain on the statute book but it’s not acted on, and hasn’t been since 1989.
Another concern I have is the impact that the state taking over the right to decide on donation of our body parts will have on live donation. Until there was public debate, generated by the Welsh Government moving to a system of presumed consent, there was an exponential increase in number of live donors, particularly important to those in need of a new kidney. Over the last three years that number has started to fall significantly. Impossible to know if there is a connection, but it’s always been part of my opposition to presumed consent that “When the state takes over responsibility, the people tend to leave it to the state” - as has happened over recent decades in respect of social care.
The final step Govt should take is to finance campaigns promoting “Tell your next of kin your wishes”. This is the one area where the debate about presumed consent could be useful. The publicity surrounding it, despite being hugely misleading, generates discussion. It may be that it will lead to greater awareness amongst families. In the end, this is why I don’t think this Bill if it becomes an act will do harm. And why I may be very opposed to it, but will maybe abstain. No way could I ever vote for it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

How Private Member’s Bills work.

The workings of our Parliament, with her roots buried deep in history, are incomprehensively mysterious and must seem utterly bizarre to most sane people. And nothing is more mysterious than the process by which MPs can take forward a Private Member’s Bill. Let me outline how I ended up sponsoring a Bill to give UK citizens overseas a ‘Vote for Life’ through the PMB process - and where I’ve reached with it -  making yesterday a very special day for me
It began as a sort of raffle prize, as so much in life does. At the beginning of every new Parliamentary session, MPs put their names into a hat (well sort of) and they are drawn out. My name came out at No 8. It is the only the first 20 names drawn that have any realistic chance of progress. It meant that I quickly needed to decide on what new law I wanted to try to introduce to the statute book. Not as easy as it seems. The Government (and other parties) make suggestions to the ‘lucky’ MPs. Unfortunately none of the early ideas appealed, so I eventually decided on an bill I had supported previously but which failed - to give ‘Votes for Life’ to British citizens living abroad. Not everyone agrees with me about this. And to begin with, the Government weren’t that keen either, which was disappointing, since it had been a manifesto commitment.  I knew that without Gov’t support the chances of success are almost non-existent, leaving me to put in a huge amount of work for nothing.
There are 7 Fridays in this Parliamentary session when PMBs are considered. Those drawn 1-7 in the ballot are debated first on these days and those drawn 8-14 are considered second. I was second on yesterday, Feb 23rd. following a bill to introduce ‘presumed consent’ to the Organ Donation System in England. The debating sessions begin at 9.30am and end at 2.30pm. Any debate that is not concluded by 2.30 means the bill being debated falls. End of story. Dustbin of history.
The first debate yesterday concluded without division at 12.30, at which time I introduced my Overseas Electors Bill. I limited my opening speech to around ten minutes, and suggested to others they truncate their speeches in order that a division would be reached. Some of my colleagues withdrew their requests to speak for same reason. It was all going reasonably OK, until a small group of Labour MPs made clear they intended to ‘talk out’ the debate. Unlike most other debates, there is no time limit on speeches in PMBs. We were treated to a nonsensical rambling speech from a Labour MP, lasting getting on for an hour, with multiple spurious interventions. Very disappointing, after all the work I, and others had put in.
But there is also an obscure mechanism by which this opposition behaviour can be countered. At 2.26, a colleague of mine, with my agreement, raised a Point of Order that “The Question be now put” in order to try to force a division. There then followed a shouting contest of “Ayes” and “No’s” which we Ayes won had the better of, and after some hesitation the Speaker called DIVISION. We then began preparing for the vote. The rule is that the side seeking the ‘Closure Motion’ has to secure 100 votes in favour of ‘the question being put’. And if we achieved that threshold we would have to vote on the issue itself. We had done much work beforehand in preparation for this circumstance and  there were well over 100 MPs in agreement, present on this Friday.  This is not usual!! This came as such a surprise to the Labour MPs, who were causing the problem that their tactics fell apart quite spectacularly. For the first time in my 8 year Westminster career, the opposers failed to appoint any tellers and the division was cancelled. Which meant that I was able to claim a Second Reading for my Bill. Like needing a six off the last ball of a 20/20 game, and watching the boundary fielder catch it but then drop it over the rope.
It now moves forward into Committee, which will go through the Bill line-by-line. Probably in the autumn. Next week I will have to put together a committee. It will have to be cross party. I hope Mike Gapes (Labour) will agree to serve, and the impressive Layla Moran (Lib Dem). I’ll need maybe 11 or 13. After that my Bill will return to the floor of the House for Report and Third Reading - before moving down the corridor to the House of Lords. You can see there are a few more hurdles to clear, but yesterday, we cleared the most dangerous hurdle of all. I really do think it will now happen. Dreamworld.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sense from my colleague, Maria Miller

Anniversaries are a useful way of celebrating how far we have travelled, but also of remembering how far we have yet to go. In 2018, we as a nation celebrate the 100th anniversary of British women being given the right to vote. But extending the political franchise to women in 1918 was merely the first step in the process of empowering half of Britain’s mainland population. For example, many of the key news stories of 2017 underscored how far we have yet to go in the process of correcting the inequality and injustices women continue to face. A similar injustice still persists regarding Britain’s expatriate population. However, a Private Member’s Bill being introduced on Friday 23rd February may prove to be the first step in re-enfranchising and empowering the millions of Britons working, studying or living abroad. 
Millions of British citizens stripped of the right to vote
Currently, Britons who have been overseas for 15 years automatically lose their right to vote in General Elections and referendums. The right to vote, hard-fought to be secured by and for our citizens from Magna Carta to the Suffragettes, thus automatically expires as a result of the 15-year limit imposed by section 141(a) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000.
Just under nine per cent of UK citizens live abroad, which amounts to around five and a half million of our fellow countrymen and women. We do not know precisely how many have been living abroad for longer than 15 years – and have therefore been stripped of their right to vote – because the UK keeps no records of its citizens living abroad. But we can estimate with some confidence that at least a couple of million UK citizens remain deprived of that basic democratic right.
Flying the flag for Britain overseas, but without a voice
Most UK citizens living abroad are there to work. Some are retired, some are students. Many work for a British company overseas, send children to British schools, pay for nursing care for elderly parents in Britain, and in many cases fully intend to return to Britain. But their ability to have a say on issues affecting their future – by voting – is arbitrarily withdrawn at the stroke of 15 years.
Many of our citizens overseas may be active in promoting British business and ‘soft power’ interests, through energetic and informed participation in business groups, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, or through engaging with their host governments and civil society, and using their in-depth knowledge and experience to support the in-country work of British diplomats and our government representatives. As our nation gears up for its post-Brexit future, engaging and empowering our citizens overseas to help with this endeavour is more important than ever.
A cross-party obligation to right this wrong
There are thus moral and common-sense, practical reasons for engaging all our citizens in our electoral processes. The UK, of all countries, home of the Mother of Parliaments, need hardly have to make a case for democracy itself – we simply need to apply the principles of democracy to all our citizens. In the main, UK citizens living abroad maintain strong links with the UK. Modern technology makes it easier than ever before for UK citizens abroad to keep in touch with what is happening back home. UK citizens abroad should be able to have their say in elections, since they continue to be affected by many decisions of Parliament in much the same way as citizens resident within the UK.
The logic behind these reasons transcends political boundaries. Politically, the Conservative Party has long led the way in extending the franchise, but the Whig, Liberal and Labour Parties have also contributed to the process of parliamentary reform and political enfranchisement.
This support continues today, with one of the key voices for the repeal of the so-called ’15-year rule’ coming in the shape of Harry Shindler. The 96-year-old South Londoner has been an ardent Labour Party member since 1934, and is highly decorated for his efforts in the Allied liberation of Italy. As a long-term resident in Italy, Harry’s current battle is to help liberate the millions of his fellow British expatriates who have been denied their voices in our electoral processes.
The Conservative Party promised in its manifesto for the 2015 General Election to introduce votes for life, scrapping the 15-year rule. That promise was confirmed in the 2017 manifesto, in the name of “a flourishing and secure democracy”. It featured in the Queen’s Speech in 2016 but not in 2017. There has not yet been a Votes For Life Bill debate in Parliament.
British citizens living abroad are now pinning their hopes on the Private Member’s Bill being introduced by my colleague Glyn Davies this coming Friday, which is sponsored by Labour’s Mike Gapes, and has support from MPs across the parties. But to get anywhere, it needs support in the House on that day.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of achieving votes for women, let us remember those overseas citizens who are currently denied that right: let us ensure that our nation’s MPs use this Private Member’s Bill as the first step towards correcting this injustice, and let us empower our citizens who are flying the flag for Britain overseas.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Remainer’s Anger.

Haven’t written about Brexit for a while. Been hoping the tempest might have abated by now. Had been hoping the  sheer offensiveness of some of those refusing to accept the public vote in the June 23rd 2016 EU Referendum would have eased off. But I don’t think that is the case. I thought Janet Daley’s column in today’s Sunday Telegraph was largely justified  - “Remainers’ vile abuse and rage is unprecedented in modern politics”. It has certainly surprised me.
I too remember some nasty stuff of the past. The anti-Thatcher ‘snobbery’ was bad, because she was but a “Greengrocer’s daughter”. Lady T challenged the elites, and the elites, armed with their sense of entitlement didn’t like being challenged. They never forgave her for being successful. I heard just today from a schoolteacher I know that her pupils were celebrating her death with chants of “The Witch is Dead” when she died. Shocking it was. Of course, the students had no idea who Lady Thatcher was. Very unpleasant - but short lived. And I well recall the headlines about “Blair is a War Criminal”. This lasted longer and was also very unpleasant. It’s what happens when Prime Ministers are successful.
But what we are seeing now is in a different league. Last week Boris Johnson made a typically Boris speech - colourful (as is his style) but essentially loyal to the Cabinet of which he’s a member. The response of ‘the elites’ has been utterly ridiculous. Luckily Boris is made of stern stuff. There is of course an irony here. The more ridiculous the personal attacks, the less believable they are and the more they damage the Remainer’s cause. During the run-up to the referendum it was the same. I thought the Project Fear was genuinely ridiculous, and totally unbelievable, and severely damaged the ‘Remainers’ cause. Far more untruthful than the supposed ‘lie’ on the side of a red campaign bus supporting the Leave side in the referendum referring to an extra £350 million per week for the NHS. In passing, I have argued before that the Govt should consider budgeting for this, in order to reduce division in our society.
I do think Theresa May is playing her rather weak hand quite well. Let the major corporates, the EU mandarins and unelected peers make as much noise as it likes. All they are doing is making it more difficult to secure as smooth a Brexit as possible - very frustrating for those of us who want as positive a relationship with our European neighbours as we can possible agree. The Prime Minister is the voice of reason, while all around her is ill considered noise.

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 renege on. France is an example. Macron strides around the world wearing worthy humanitarian clothes but fails to 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. This has caused division in society. 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, where extremists of the right have made great advances. Over recent years a million refugees were allowed in, destabilising the Merkel government. At a conservative estimate there will be another two thousand million 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 delivered 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.