Monday, February 27, 2017

Political Turbulence

Quite a bit of turbulence in British politics as we move into another week in Westminster - even if my week in going to be dominated by things Welsh and Colombian. Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones has invited me his grand St Davids Day bash at Lancaster House tomorrow and we have a Dydd Dewi Sant do at No 10 on Wednesday. And no less than three meetings about Colombia on Wed, including meeting with the Ambassador.

But back to the political turbulence. Hard to judge how significant it is. Firstly, we have just seen the Conservatives win the Copeland by-election, following resignation of the excellent Labour MP, Jamie Reed - and it wasn't a shock result. It seems an absolute disaster for Labour. We have to go back many decades to have seen such a rejection of the main opposition party in Britain. So one question exercising many of us today is the future of the Labour Party. Does it has one?

And then there was the failure of UKIP to take Stoke in another by-election on Thursday. If UKIP can't take Stoke, where can they win. While Mr Farage MEP seems to be having a grand time mixing with Donald Trump, I cannot see where his old party is going to make any political gain. And UKIP members are fighting like ferrets. So another question exercising us is the future of UKIP. Does it have one?

And then there's Lord Heseltine, a man I greatly admire. Amongst other things, he is a wonderful gardener. He's been telling us today how he's going to force through amendments in the Lords to the Article 50 Bill. Seems there are two he's keen on. The first will not make much difference. The amendment would protect the status of non British migrants resident in Britain as part of the Bill. No amendment would mean a wait of a few weeks to achieve the same end. The other could be more problematic. Would have thought it helpful to Govt Ministers negotiating the UKs exit from the EU, if exit is certain. If there has to be an affirmative vote at the end of the negotiation, it encourages those who want to stop the UK leaving to agree a bad deal. Not sure this looks wise. Whatever, I sense Govt is not in the mood to compromise. Lord Heseltine has a big task before him.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Parable of the Little Green Tractors.

Once upon a time, there was a very big farmer, who was so rich that he lived in a big house at Portland Place, in Central London. Farmer Hall, for that was his name was very wealthy. He had lots of money to give away. He loved to lavish gifts upon his children. This week his little boy, Dafydd was thrilled to bits when Rhodri, Farmer Hall's man in Wales, delivered unto him a lovely green tractor as a surprise present from his daddy. He was beside himself with joy. Something he'd been pleading for since he was old enough to love little green tractors. "Diolch Daddy" he cried, with lots of hugs and besitos.

And then Rhodri burst into floods of tears. He started shouting and stamping his feet. What could possibly have happened? Well, Rhodri had noticed that Angus, his older, bigger brother had received a far bigger green tractor - nearly 4 times bigger. Suddenly Rhodri's tractor was proof that Farmer Hall did not love him, and was just throwing a few grudging crumbs his way from the great tractor table. Rhodri's lovely green tractor seemed lovely no more. In fact in was just another 'slap in the face'.

And then the English cousins of Rhodri and Angus, noticed the new green tractors, and that Farmer Hall had not given them one at all. They all felt upset as well. In fact, everyone except Angus was upset. And to make things worse, Angus wasn't even grateful. Angus was never grateful. Nothing it seems would stop Angus from demanding more. Turned out that poor old Farmer Hall satisfied no-one. The lesson to be drawn from this sad sad story is "When you share out the cake, don't hand over all the slices at the same time.".

Friday, February 24, 2017

Helping Refugees

Just wrote an article for a local newspaper which reflects on the problems faced by the movement of peoples from troubled parts of the world, and how I think British Govt should respond. As follows....

"The issue that currently causes me most concern as an MP is the humanitarian refugee crisis facing much of our world as a result of conflict. Some of these conflicts cause huge increases in the movement of people away from problem hotspots, attracted by promises (invariably false) of a better world elsewhere. These promises usually turn out to be empty and dangerous.

Even though the scale of warfare in our world continues to fall, modern means of communication, carried on comparatively inexpensive mobile technology, greatly worsens the refugee crisis. It's only going to get worse. It's inevitable that there will be hundreds of millions of people fleeing the brutality of terrorists and drought. 

There has been much publicity and campaigning to allow refugees from fellow EU countries into Britain. Many constituents have written to me, supporting this course of action. I have resisted this, simply because I cannot accept it is the most effective way to help. I have always believed that the UK should take in more refugees than we have done, or have promised to do, but it should always be from where we can have the best humanitarian impact. We should be guided by the scale of disaster and our capacity to help rather by what our media covers. The BBC gives most coverage to where it can safely take its cameras.

This week, I met with former East Enders star Ross Kemp, who has created a very powerful film outlining the position in Libya. Libya is on the point of being a 'failed state' where there is no government. It's being run by war lords on a tribal structure. Human rights do not exist. The status of women is particularly awful. Into this environment step traffickers, promising transfer to Europe in return for all of their money. They are then put into unseaworthy boats and sent out to the Med. If they progress out of Libyan waters, they often sink. No-one knows about them. If caught in Libyan waters they are dumped on the border.

This lawlessness may well lead to Nigeria, where the population is over 100,000,000. About ten million Syrians have been displaced during the current conflict. Many have died, or been killed by Assad or Russian forces. After meetings with activists who know the area, I became convinced that every penny that Britain can contribute should go to where the need is greatest. That is the most humanitarian response."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Best EDM of the Year so far

Because I'm a PPS in the Wales Office I'm not supposed to sign up to Early Day Motions. Must admit this is one of the more sensible Parliamentary conventions. But I can see no reason why I cannot give publicity to the work of the wonderful Ann Clwyd MP. Not many MPs were able to attend the showing of the Ross Kemp film yesterday afternoon. Think I was the only Conservative there. It was shocking and moving, portraying the cruel brutal awful reality behind the refugee crisis in Libya. The position in Aleppo, and refugee camps on the Syrian border (Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan) will be much the same - though with better structure for support in part. Perhaps what should truly concern us in Europe in the consequences of spill over of 'failed state' reality to Nigeria and other states.

Treatment of Migrants and Refugees in Libya

That this House is shocked by the appalling treatment of migrants and refugees in Libya by state officials and illegal people trafficking networks, as depicted by the very powerful Ross Kemp documentary Libya’s Migrant Hell, shown at a Parliamentary screening organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group; notes with considerable concern that many making the journey to Libya in the hope of reaching Europe are fleeing violent conflict and famine in their home countries; calls on the UK Government and its partners within the international community to assist Libyan officials, and international and domestic humanitarian organisations, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that migrants and refugees within that country are treated with dignity, provided with adequate food and basic healthcare, and not subjected to ill-treatment; further calls on the UK Government and others to do much more to address the underlying causes resulting in increased flows of migrants and refugees, as well as to ensure that safe and legal channels into Europe are provided for those who qualify for international protection.    

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Article re Trump Visit for today's Guardian.

Wrote an article at an hour's notice for the Guardian yesterday. Don't know whether it reached print. It's not the daily paper I normally read. The article is a summery of my last post about the President of the United States. Anyway, this is what I wrote;

"I support the impending state visit of Donald Trump to the United Kingdom. He has been elected to the position of President by the voters of the United States in a free and fair election. President Trump now leads a country which has long been a dependable partner and ally of Britain. It's crucial for our security and economic interest that this 'special relationship' with the United States continues into the future.

I accept that President Trump has made comments both before and after his election that I, and many other British people, find unacceptable. I accept he has sought to implement policies I consider objectionable. I find his style, his language and his denigration of the media to not be what I'd expect of a world leader. But he is doing pretty much what he said he was going to do in his election campaign, and he won. He was elected. If we are to respect democracy as a principle, we accept it when we do not much care for the result.

During the reign of Her Majesty our Queen,  over 100 state visits have been granted to a wide variety of national leaders, many of whom have been strangers to the idea of democracy. Many have been controversial. I have always thought it good politics to try to promote better government across the world by engaging with leaders, who have traits we disagree with.

Britain's Prime Minister has a difficult and sensitive path to tread. Central to her thinking must always be the national interest. She may well express disapproval and disagreement to President Trump, but in public she will be constructive and welcoming. This is the right approach. The State Visit must go ahead as planned.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What to think about Donald.

Big fuss at Westminster today. 3hrs debating the impending State Visit to the UK by the President of the United States. It's been scheduled because two petitions relating to the visit have reached the 100,000 needed to trigger consideration of a debate. The largest petition condemns the invitation - which in turn instigated the petition welcoming the visit. Had a good chat about this with Rachel Garside on Good Morning Wales this morning. And an interview for Newyddion tonight. And there were a fair few protestors in Parliament Square generating a bit of a rumpus.

I should, for context, admit that I am no fan of the new President's style or use of language or some of his declared policy. He does seem to have a variably firm grip on facts, admittedly not a characteristic exclusive to the Donald. But he has been elected President by the US people. In passing, not enough research is being done on why they did this. I suppose it's too easy (and sloppy) just to condemn the stuff that would do for him in the UK - and leave it at that.

The Trump state visit will happen- no matter how much noise there is. No way can the Prime Minister withdraw an invite. Nor should she. State visits are about promoting the British interest. Or should be. Theresa May has had to walk on eggshells in her dealings with the US President.  There may be Trump traits that she may not like. Perhaps she referred to them in private conversations. I hope she did. But publicly, as our Prime Minister, she will be be focussed on the British interest, from both the security and economic standpoint. Not for her the freedom to play to the gallery. She has a hard headed job to do and she is doing it well very well.

And let us for one moment consider some of the other great icons of morality and democracy that have been granted state visits during the reign of Her Majesty The Queen - well over 100 of them. Mugabe perhaps. Or Hirohito. Or Putin. Or Ceaucescu. Or our last visitor, President Xi Jinping. I was there when our current Mr Speaker fawned all over this icon of democracy.

And then we have the entertaining sideshows. Like me writing 300 words for tomorrow's Guardian. Actually, now I mention it, I remember writing a few pieces for the Guardian a few years ago. And there's the sheer pleasure President Trump will take from the way he has dominated British politics this week. How he will have enjoyed the three hour debate in the Palace of Westminster, where he was the subject of not one, but two contradicting petitions running simultaneously.  I do hope we can move on from Trumpmania tomorrow.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Best way to help Syrian refugees.

I've blogged before about the best way to help Syrian refugees, challenging the idea that the proposal put forward by Lord Alf Dubs to take refugee 'children' in from France was neither the most effective nor the most humanitarian. I have much respect for Lord Dubs' opinion, bearing in mind his personal back story, but thought he was mistaken. It was too important an issue just to 'go with the flow' for an easy life. Because of Lord Dubs background, I felt there was not a proper evaluation of the options open to the UK to help. I also disagreed with Govt when it legislated to accept the amendment. I made my views known to my whips office.  The Minister telephoned me at home on a Sunday morning, hoping I would not rebel on the issue. I didn't because the Dubs amendment would clearly bring humanitarian relief to refugees, even if not the most effective and most humanitarian way to do it. The Dubs amendment has worked in practice very much as I expected. The Home Secretary has now published a 'statement' outlining the Govt position - as follows....

"Britain has a proud record of helping the most vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger, and this Government is committed to upholding this fine tradition.

Our response to the migrant crisis has been to establish resettlement schemes from the region, where we can best target our support to help the most vulnerable. That is why we will resettle 20,000 Syrians over the course of this parliament and we will also resettle 3,000 children and their families from the wider region. In the last year we have granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children and of the over 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children.

This week the Government announced that in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act (the so-called Dubs amendment) we will transfer 350 children.  to meet the intention and spirit behind the amendment.  This number includes over 200 children already transferred under section 67 from France, and will include a further 150 over the coming months.

The scheme has not closed, as reported by some. We were obliged by the Immigration Act to put a specific number on how many children we would take based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity. This is the number that we have published and we will now be working in Greece, Italy and France to transfer further children under the amendment. We’re clear that behind these numbers are children and it’s vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host them and provide them with the support and care they will need.

We consulted extensively with local authorities over several months to reach this number, but if your local authority is contacting you suggesting they have extra capacity to take children then please encourage them to participate in the National Transfer Scheme. Each year we have around 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children arrive in Britain and currently a small number of councils are taking a disproportionate share of the burden in caring for these children.

The Government has also always been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children.  That is why children must have arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 to be eligible under section 67 of the Immigration Act.

I’m proud of the action this Government has taken, and will continue to take, to support and care for the most vulnerable children caught up in the crisis in Syria."