Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Budget.

Never thought I would ever hear a Conservative Chancellor announce a compulsory National Living Wage. Was sitting near Ian Duncan Smith, who celebrated like he'd won the lottery. Probably because a philosophical shift in strategy to tackle poverty through work rather rather than welfare matters more to him. It's been his dream for years. Labour MPs were stunned into silence. I was sitting on the step in front of an annoyingly shouty one, who had her voice cut from beneath her feet. They were all so stunned that George Osborne repeated the paragraph. He thought they had not quite grasped the enormity of what had just happened. It was one of the great moments of my Parliamentary life.
Lots of stuff in today's budget. But this philosophical shift was the biggie. We knew that the Chancellor was going to take £12bn out of the social security budget. He told us that during the election campaign. We didn't know the precise detail, but everyone expected a cut in working tax credits which have ballooned to an eye-watering £30bn. Won't pretend I wasn't worried about this. I represent a low wage area. I had hoped for an increase in the Minimum Wage. Well, out of his top hat, the Chancellor pulled the big fat rabbit of a compulsory National Living Wage. Lots more detail to understand and looking forward to reading the analysis, but the tone of this Parliament was set in one sentence.
This is one hell of a shift in policy. I still remember the Conservative Party opposing the introduction of the Minimum Wage. Seen as a threat to jobs. And of course today's announcement is. I've already had emails from local employers concerned about competition in the export market. But we are told the number of jobs which may be lost is around 60,000 - set alongside the anticipated extra million jobs predicted to be created over the next five years. 
Lots of other big stuff as well. Totemic was the commitment to 2% of GDP to be spent on defence. That's Conservative. Corporation Tax down to 18%. That's Conservative. Freeze on fuel duty. That's welcome in rural Montgomeryshire. End of non dom status scrapped for permanent residents. That's fair. Inheritance Tax changes. That's welcome but small beer, and why on earth is it limited to the house and not to 'the estate'. Plenty more not so welcome too. That's unavoidable in the circumstances. 
There will be losers in today's budget - inevitable when reducing the annual deficit from £80bn to balance. Most people in Britain will accept that today was necessary. It was what the Conservatives promised the people before they voted on May 7th. We do not want to end up like Greece, and after today, we very definitely will not.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Battle of the Strawberry Fields

Many a great battle has been fought throughout the history of man in the gardens of the world. Great men have died to defend their crops from marauding intruders. One such great battle is being played out in our garden at Cil Farm at present. It's not possible to know who is going to prevail, but it's a fight to the death.
On the one side is our eldest son, Edward (let's call him Edward 1st, another great warrior) who decided to turn our greenhouse bench into a strawberry patch. And very successfully. Big, red and juicy they were. Ffion was really appreciating the fruits of her proud dad's labours. It was all going so well - until 'The Grey Squirrel' decided he liked them too. And devouring them before they were red and juicy. Now my advice was to shoot it, or corner it and bludgeon it to death with a club of some sort. But our son is a gentle soul, and set about replacing all the broken panes the squirrel was using for entry and exit. Job done, without hurting the squirrel.
Next day, our conquering hero was luxuriating in victory amongst his strawberries. He and the squirrel saw each other at the same time - when the vermin poked his head above the foliage. It had entered through a window slit. Battle had truly been joined. A trap was set, outside the window slits, loaded with all manner of squirrel delicacies. The idea was to catch the squirrel and take it some distance away for release. My air gun and club ideas still not consider appropriate. 
Anyway Mrs D has reported to me that she was passing by the greenhouse today, when she noticed the squirrel back and busy amongst the strawberry foliage. Seems it had got in via a roof light this time, and couldn't get out again. Not sure where this is all going to end. I'll be home on Thursday, and am wondering if there's any movement on my gun and club plans. They are very nice strawberries.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

"Told you so" - Euro always destined to fail.

Usually, it's a bad situation when we can say "Told you so". So it is with the Euro crisis following today's vote by the Greeks in a referendum. Not sure I fully grasp the precise details of what the referendum was actually about. Not sure Greek voters did either. But the message was clear. They did not want their elected Govt to be bullied and humiliated by the Euro-elite. Forget how we got here. The No vote was two fingers up to the EU establishment. I would have voted No as well. Anything else and Greece would, in effect, no longer have been an independent country. I do think the current political leadership in Greece are not on this planet, but they have been elected to lead a sovereign country.

 Now to the "Told you so" bit. Actually, mine was a little echo of William Hague, then Conservative Party Leader who campaigned with great fervour to "Keep the Pound". Lots of us wore little £ badges. I even took an egg in the Middle of my back for William at a rally in Monmouth. Spoilt a nice suit. And I still recall being on a public panel at the Tanhouse Inn before an audience of farmers, discussing merits of the UK joining the Euro. I was alone in opposing the idea. And vehemently opposed at that. Dismissed as an 'Extremist' I was. Me an 'Extremist'! But the debate was very hot.

William had the best line of all. Being in the Euro was like being stuck in a house with no doors -ok until there was a fire. It's on fire now. Anyway Gordon saved us from the furnace that Blair and so many others would have taken us into. Britain will always be grateful to Gordon for that. 

But where are we now in Greece following an overwhelming No vote. Syriza, led by Tripras will survive as the Government. Now I know the EU always pay up in the end, but I just can't see it this time. It would open the floodgates to similar uprisings in other EU states. It's a lot easier defaulting on debts than repaying them if you can get away with it. It does look that after all the 'huffing and puffing' as if it's for real. We could be headed back to the Drachma.

Whatever, it's going to a real Greek tragedy - hyperinflation, mass unemployment, people starving on the streets and sick people dying untreated. And yet some of us sense it may be for the best in the long term. I hope EU Gov't's will help Greece adjust, and everyone who can will help the Greek economy by booking this year's and next year's holidays there. And take some spending money. It's in no-ones interests to see Greece become a failed state. 

And I daresay it will look a whole different tomorrow! 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Another Mid Wales Connection Project 'Update'.

I had promised myself I would not allow the flicker of a wind turbine blade or the shadow of a pylon to intrude on this blog ever again. The whole Mid Wales Connection Project (MWCP) stuff has caused me so much angst, I want to escape it's turbulence. But I'm being pressed to update the position, as best I can. So ok. Just this once. And not offering opinion but a perspective on where we are at. And I speak only of my constituency, Montgomeryshire. There is much more to be said if taking a UK perspective.
Firstly, It seems to me that the conjoined public inquiry into 5 local wind farms, which so many people are anxious about is largely irrelevant. There is no reason to think anything other than that those which want to connect to the MWCP are dead as dodos. The Prime Minister no less has made clear that no subsidy will be available for any of them under the Gov't's new subsidy scheme, Contracts for Difference (CfD). And none of them, or any other which might want to use the MWCP can  even think about the old subsidy scheme, based on Renewable Obligation Certificates. They would have to actually be exporting power to the Grid by April next year. And at best the connection line could not be operating until 2020.
There are two wind farm proposals in Montgomeryshire which could go ahead - one I think very likely and one not likely at all (but possible). Tir Gwynt nr Carno is very likely. It meets the conditions which allow an extra year to reach production stage - April 2017. It has planning permission, a grid connection agreement and ownership of the land. Nothing to stop it. In truth I'm very surprised it has not already been built. The much less likely one is the Llandinam re-powering. Technically, it does not qualify for the 'grace period'. It does not have planning permission, but I suppose the developer could well argue there is already a permission on the site (for the current wind farm which would be removed). And it would not produce electrics by the relevant date to qualify for RO in time - but again the developer could try to argue the site is producing electricity already. Not sure these arguments will stand up though - which is why I think it very unlikely. 
Many people want to know when we can draw a line under this whole saga. Well, this I don't know. National Grid, who have I'm told largely, though not totally suspended work on the line still maintain it is contracted by developers to continue building. "Nothing to do with us mate"!  It's Scottish Power Energy Networks (representing developers) which holds the contracts with National Grid. I plan an early discussion with SPEN to try establish what the position is. Expecting obfuscation though.
There are other tangential issues which make things confusing. One issue is the decision by the UK Govt to 'devolve' decision making across England and Wales to local communities. In Wales it applies only to wind farms over 50 MW, since below that figure it's already devolved. And It seems likely that the Welsh Govt will very quickly make a power grab for everything over 25mw (up to 350mw). UK Conservative Govt is localising while Welsh Labour Govt is centralising! But none of this makes much difference in Montgomeryshire, if there is no subsidy available for the wind farms.
And then there's the public inquiry. We know the Planning Inspector gave his report to DECC on Dec 8th 2014. Since then nothing. Personally I hope it stays that was. Sorry - opinion creeping in!! Anyway, if they are approved it makes no difference because no subsidy.
Now to the main concern I continue to have. Some of these developers may decide to go to war with the Govt, and secure permissions, even with no prospect of actually building. If they do a minimal amount to establish a 'start on site' and just sit on them in the hope of a future Government restarting the subsidy train again. This would leave a long term legacy of uncertainty.
Dare say there will be lots of questions. Fire away. I still have a few myself. I'm not getting involved in opinion of what's right and wrong here. Just what I think it the actual position - and surely missed a few things.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Count

'A View from Rural Wales' is springing back to life. Like those amazing plants which emerge from an arid landscape following the first rain after a ten year drought. Rather like the plant, which will normally never be seen, it may be that no-one will be drawn to read my blog. They used to. I'm returning to this strange activity to indulge my pleasure of writing for its own sake. It will be a periodic commentary on Westminster activities and reflection on issues that catch my attention. So read or not read as you wish. I will not be adulated or offended, whatever your response.

I feel an appropriate point to restart this is from 'The Count'. Approaching midnight on 7th May, the Davies family, including candidate, spouse and four children set forth from Cil Farm to the desperately non-atmospheric Flash Leisure Centre in Welshpool to discover what the voters of Montgomeryshire had decided that day. I'd warned the family this could be a humiliating night. We had seen the Exit Poll, which I had dismissed as ludicrous. Lord Paddy Ashdown was entirely justified in promising to eat a marzipan hat! To lose my seat to a Lib Dem when they were being obliterated across the UK could not be spun as anything but humiliation. But I also said, I thought "I would be elected, though not shocked to lose". In fact first time I'd ever gone to a count in Montgomeryshire with any optimism. The once I'd won came as a total shock!

Arrived to mixed reactions from my team. Some headshaking from the office pessimist (he knows who he is) but thumbs up from the remainder. There was a huddle of Lib Dems sitting to one side looking rather downcast which told the story. Rather sympathised. I've been there!! Anyway it was soon clear to all that I was heading to Westminster for another 5 yrs. Did the formalities and some good photos for the family album on stage. Then a few interviews - before heading up to the office uptown Welshoool for a quiet celebratory glass.

Then there was the penis. No commentary on the 'The Count' in Montgomeryshire can be complete without its inclusion. One voter had drawn an anatomically correct representation of a penis in the box next to my name. On the basis that it was completely confined within the box, and more importantly had a 'smiley face' the Returning Officer adjudged that it should a valid vote cast in my favour. Just imagine the hoo-hah if I'd won by one vote - which I did when first elected to Montgomeryshire District Council a long time ago.

I'm not sure this is a very dignified end to the resurrection of A View from Rural Wales. But it does establish a style.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wales Bill

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the occasion of the Bill’s return from the House of Lords in much improved form, if I may say so. In general, I welcome the Bill although I am concerned about some elements. Perhaps it is a Welsh trait that we can never completely agree on things, and I want to touch on one issue where I am not in agreement.

What I welcome in particular is the new reality of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition shaping the process and future of devolution and driving forward, leaving—if I may say so to the shadow Secretary of State—Labour languishing in its wake. He may describe that as a U-turn, but that is the reality today. I want to make just one important point, which is very much a personal view. I disagree with one specific aspect of the Bill, but I would like to emphasise my overall support: it is a very good and welcome Bill.

I would like to put my point in context by painting some background to my personal journey in the devolution debate. I was not in favour of the form of devolution on offer in the referendum on 18 September 1997. It seemed to me to be creating a permanently unstable constitutional settlement. A settlement is the last thing it was. I attended the count in Llandrindod Wells leisure centre, watching the TV coverage as the decision of the voters of Wales came through and they decided in favour of establishing a national assembly for Wales. I drove home knowing that there was no going back. The people had spoken, albeit by a tiny margin of 0.6%. We were now facing an entirely new question: how would devolution work in practice? I concluded immediately that the new Welsh Assembly would eventually become a law-making, tax-raising Parliament based in Wales. That has influenced my thinking on the issue ever since. I did not want to be dragged, kicking and screaming, and trying to refight the 1997 devolution referendum. I preferred to get ahead of the curve and identify where we were going to get to, and move towards that in a positive and smooth way. That was not a change of mind, but a recognition of a new reality.

Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North)

My hon. Friend, through his service in the Assembly, has been one of the individuals who has encapsulated the position adopted by the Conservative party. Although the party battled against establishing the Assembly in the first place, and although the margin was only 4,000 in a million, nobody could claim other than that my hon. Friend and the party in Wales have since not been dragged back to the previous debate, but have moved forward and sought to make a success of the devolution settlement.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire)

Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the contribution from those on the Front Bench when we started today’s debate.

The Government of Wales Act 2006, introduced by the Labour party, moved things forward quite a lot, as did the 2011 referendum in relation to tax-raising powers. The Wales Bill takes us further down the road to what I consider to be the inevitable conclusion, but not far enough for me on tax levying responsibility. I will be blunt about my view: it is a mistake that the Bill requires a referendum before devolving responsibility for levying part of income tax collection to the Welsh Government. That is properly an issue for a general election. The Welsh Government are not financially accountable to the people of Wales until they are responsible for levying a degree of income tax. It is also my personal view that financial accountability through responsibility for income tax is so fundamental to a proper, grown-up National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Government that we should not devolve extra responsibility until this principle is accepted—no financial accountability, no new powers.

The First Minister, and perhaps Labour Members here on the Opposition Benches, do not want financial accountability. How convenient it is to bask in the credit of every spend that the people of Wales approve of and blame the UK Government for every difficult decision needed to bring order to the United Kingdom’s finances. We see the First Minister in Wales scrabbling around for any reason he can come up with to avoid committing to a referendum. First, it was lockstep, which is removed by the Bill. Then it was the Barnett deficit, until it became clear that it is a rather smaller Barnett deficit than we thought. I hear now that air passenger duty might be another reason, and if that is resolved, there will be another one. The reality is that Welsh Labour in Cardiff is desperate to avoid financial accountability. It does not want to be properly financially accountable to the Welsh people.

Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd)

I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument and thinking about what the Labour spokesman said. When the Silk proposals were being discussed, the First Minister of Wales was adamant he did not want air passenger duty devolved, but suddenly he has woken up and is desperately keen on it. It depends what day of the week we are in.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire)

I would be more encouraged if I thought the day of the week was the reason. I think it is a desperate attempt to find one more hurdle to prevent us from moving towards financial accountability.

During the passage of the Bill, I accepted it would include a commitment to a referendum on devolution of income tax levying powers. It was a recommendation of the all-party Silk commission, and in 1997 there was a referendum on this issue in Scotland. In my view, however, the Silk commission was wrong, and weak in its recommendation on this point. Devolving income tax powers is not as big a change as is being made out, and it is entirely appropriate that it be decided at a general election; it does not need a referendum. If a Welsh Labour Government acted irresponsibility, which they might well do, they would quickly be turfed out of office. It is much easier to sit in blissful impotence, complaining.

I would like to see manifesto commitments by my party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to revisit this issue, perhaps in a Wales Bill early next Parliament

and before the Assembly elections in 2016, and to devolve income tax. We should put an end to Labour’s easy ride in Wales and make the Welsh Government properly fiscally accountable to the Welsh people. Only then will devolution grow up and reach its inevitable, logical conclusion.

 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Motion before MPs tomorrow about action to confront ISIL

Tomorrow, Parliament is recalled to debate a motion tabled by Her Majesty's Government supported limited action against the brutal terrorist organisation, ISIL. It reads as follows;

That this House;

Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq, including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christian and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis it is causing;

Recognises the clear threat that ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq, and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support;

Further recognises the threat ISIL pose to wider international security, and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and it's murder of a British hostage;

Acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle East;

Further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat that ISIL poses to Iraq and it's citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq;

Notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign, and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament;

Accordingly supports Her Majesty's Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including use of UK air strikes to support Iraq, including Kurdish security force's efforts against ISIL in Iraq;

Notes that Her Majesty's Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations;

Offers it's wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty's Armed Forces.