Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Honours List

Always enjoy scanning the New Year's Honour's list for people I know. Good crop this year. Pleased to see Lord Carlile of Berriew being awarded a CBE. He was my MP and our next door neighbour for the 14 years he served as Montgomeryshire's MP. Its quite a coincidence that his former Cil Road neighbour has followed him into Parliament, and another coincidence that we find ourselves working together on issues that matter to both of us. We are both strongly opposed to the wind farm lunacy proposed for Mid Wales, and both equally strongly opposed to decriminalising the law on 'assisted suicide'. Over the last few years he's done some great work on national security, and though a leading Liberal Democrat, is much admired in the Conservative Party.

Another ex-politician with Montgomeryshire connections honoured this year is Dr Carl Clowes, who once stood as Plaid Cymru candidate. I recall attending one of his local meetings (we did that in those days) and thought he was OK. I was going through a phase of growing awareness of my own 'Welshness'. I've met him from time to time ever since, and we always get on well. He's done some wonderful work raising the profile of the importance of the Welsh Language. Yr Iaith Cymraeg features strongly this year, because as well as Carl (though his OBE was for services to Anglesey) there was an OBE for Prof Robert Owen Jones for his services to to the Language of Heaven in Patagonia.

Another recipient of an OBE with strong Montgomeryshire connections is Grenville Jackson, who was Marketing Director of the Development Board for Rural Wales when I was Chair in the early 90's. Gren was one of a really talented team of officers who made a great impact on Mid Wales, a time when the area surged forward economically. We did some terrific work, and Gren was a key player. Another OBE winner I got to know well during my Quango years was Jonathon Jones, who ran the marketing side if the Wales Tourist Board. After Rhodri Morgan's 'Bonfire of Welsh Quangoes, both Gren and Jonathon became civil servants and worked for the Welsh Government.

Also want to offer congrats on Malcolm Thomas' OBE. Throughout the 8 years I served as an Assembly Member, Malcolm was a constant source of support and advice in his role with the NFU in Wales. Met him a few weeks ago in his new role as Chair of RABI - which looks after farmers who fall on hard times. He was speaking at the now traditional Xmas Carol Concert at Welshpool Livestock Sales, which raises money for RABI. He was his usual ebullient self. and fully deserves his OBE for services to agriculture in Wales.

And finally, a word about Martyn Williams. He's brought huge pleasure to Welsh people for such a long time. I had expected the Welsh rugby player to be recognised this year would be Shane, but on reflection, Martyn's the man. Shane next year perhaps. I may blog again tomorrow on those names I didn't spot.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Public turned off by 'The Party Line'

Had coffee with a well-informed and politically aware lady this morning. She told me that some years ago she had decided that politicians were so disreputable that she had decided never to vote for one ever again. I have other friends who behave in the same way. Personally, I cannot understand why anyone should think all participants in any lawful activity are corrupt and dishonest. Or good and honest either. She added that anyone who wants to be a politician must be so egotistical and flawed that they don't deserve a vote. Someone famous once said something like that. Anyway, she wanted some assistance, and I agreed to help - with enthusiasm.

Reason I comment on the above is its relevance to a rather good article by Peter Oborne in today's Telegraph about 'modernism, rather than 'morality being the dirty word of politics. . He is a very thoughtful columnist. There is style of modern politics that leaves its practitioners looking shifty and untruthful. Its 'The Party Line'. Its the agreed form of words that each party's spin department prepares for constant repetition. For many people, when an answer looks to have been prepared before the question is asked, it does not convince. It becomes a language that only other politicians relate to.

Perhaps its aversion to the 'Party Line' that draws me to issues that have a genuinely ethical dimension and to the free vote - which ironically, as a PPS, convention dictates I take no part in. Anyway it leads me into debates where I oppose 'presumed consent' for organ donation, and decriminalising 'assisted suicide' - though the ethical dimension is so contemptuously cast aside today that I always try to frame arguments around practical aspects of the debate. This aversion to the 'Party Line' makes me a 'contrarian' as well. Whenever I've listened to half a dozen speeches saying much the same thing, just cannot resist the temptation to take a different line. Now, where is my blackberry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alternatives to Onshore Wind

For 7 years I have opposed the desecration of mid Wales by wind turbines, and the horrible infrastructure needed to support them. The appalling threat remains, though I do think some in Government are beginning to understand just what madness it is. But opposition, no matter how ferocious is not enough to win on its own. The Coalition Gov't is (rightly in my opinion) committed to reducing carbon emissions, and (wrongly in my opinion) see onshore wind turbines as the way to achieve it.. Opponents of onshore wind have a responsibility to encourage alternatives.

The main argument has been about nuclear energy. This debate is over. There is widespread agreement that a new generation of nuclear power stations is inevitable. Government has given them the green light. It may be that there will be an energy gap as we approach 2020, but I suspect this is much exaggerated, particularly since the economy is unlikely to return to significant growth for a while yet. Whatever, the debate about nuclear is over. Its going to happen.

But what else. Not enough to look at solar, biomass, aerobic digestion or micro generation etc. They must all be supported, but they are not going to make a huge difference. The 'Green Deal' is a great idea, which I greatly support - but there's a bit to go until we can be confident it will be a game changer.

Which brings me to 'tidal' and 'shale gas'. There seems to be renewed interest in a Severn Barrage, which would produce about 5% of the UK's needs. Its early days, but we should be giving every support to Corlan Hafren which is 'rumoured' to be working on a scheme. Such a scheme will not be popular because of the inevitable disruption and dislocation it will cause. Many years ago I was opposed (as I was to nuclear power) but its not possible to support carbon reduction as a principle without accepting there are consequences. There has also been disappointing progress on the development of lagoons. Gov'ts have been content to stick up a few wind mills so that it looks as if they are doing something, while spinning us into an energy disaster.

And so little urgency is being invested in shale gas, which has so transformed the energy market in the US, that there is prospects of it being exported. Of course we have to establish that 'fracking' does not lead to damaging subsidence - but there is just no urgency. If as much effort had gone into developing energy alternatives, as has gone into forcing destruction on rural Britain with wind farms, we would not have a Secretary of State at DECC wanting to destroy the mid Wales that we know and love.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pantomime Season for Wind Farm Giants

Can there ever have been a better drafted, dafter scheme to transfer money from poor people to rich people than by subsidising wind farms to switch their turbines off. Today's Telegraph reports on just how utterly bonkers it all is. If it wasn't so unfair to the poorest, it would be quite funny.

The massively wealthy and powerful energy companies which have built wind farms in the UK will have been given about £10 million pounds in 2011 as compensation for not supplying electricity to the National Grid. This money will be paid by consumers, about 6 million of whom are in fuel poverty, having to choose whether they 'eat or heat'. Incredibly some of these 'constraint payments' amount to more than would have been paid for the electricity if it had been sold to the Grid.

I know. You think I'm joking again. You think that because I do not approve of Mid Wales, my home and the land I love being desecrated by hundreds of pylons and turbines, I am exaggerating. If only. This madness is for real - and as soon as I return to Westminster, I will be tabling Written Questions just to establish the facts in a way that everyone can see.

Monday, December 26, 2011


As one year draws to a close, our thoughts turn to the next. While its impossible to predict events, some we know are coming down the track. I'll list a few which are likely to feature in my life as a Welsh MP. I will update this as Dec 31st approaches. Any suggestions welcome.

1) We expect an announcement from the Boundary Commission in Jan. outlining the 30 new Welsh Parliamentary constituencies. (actually I know the exact date but am told not to make it public - despite hundreds knowing). That's when I'll know if there is anything remotely resembling Montgomeryshire left. There will inevitably follow a 'discussion' about what arrangements should be legislated for in respect of Assembly electoral boundaries and arrangements - which could produce a mighty row.

2)We also know there's going to be an ongoing 'discussion' about the UK's relationship with the EU. In 2011, we had a very silly debate in the House of Commons about a pointless EU 'preferendum' , and a UK veto that created a lot of (again pointless) angst, because in my opinion, the Prime Minister had no real choice. I predict next chapter will be in February - unless the Euro part-collapses in the meantime, and the EU row takes place elsewhere. David Cameron has made clear that no further power will be transferred to the EU. The EU will not like that.

3)I expect there to be an issue of personal importance to me in early January. Lord Faulkner is publishing a supposedly 'Independent' report calling for the legalisation of 'assisted suicide'. I believe this to be wrong and will want to do what I can to oppose any change in the law.

4)Perhaps the biggest issue will be the UK economy. Prediction is impossible. If the OBR cannot predict, how can anyone else. No point in pretending I feel anything other than gloomy. The only way to create the jobs we need is to set business free, and lower business taxation - but I just cannot see the Coalition agreeing on the sort of radicalism that would make a difference. If the Euro collapses, 2012 could well turn out to be a very bad place.

5)Inevitably, the issue of onshore wind will feature in my year. We are expecting National Grid to announce where it intends to inflict its monstrous scars on mid-Wales in Feb. Governments will continue to put pressure (in my opinion highly dubiously) on the Powys Planning Authority to approve planning applications, which should be refused. Any other applicant would be laughed out of court, but these are backed by huge energy companies which have some unfathomable grip on the gonads of Government.

6)I'll probably take more interest in the Powys County Council elections than I will in the Boris v Ken battle - which I expect Boris to win fairly comfortably. Will do what I can to increase the number of Conservatives on the Council - even if I will be limited by the whips at Westminster how much I can actually do. We had a phenomenal result in Montgomeryshire in 2008, and I hope we can advance further.

7)Expect to become quite engrossed in the Olympics. We have tickets for showjumping, which is of more interest to Mrs D, but will probably spend some time in London while they are on to feel the atmosphere.

8)Toward the end of 2012, the Silk Commission will tell us what form of 'financial accountability' should be granted to the National Assembly for Wales. We have reached the bizarre position where the party most favouring this seems to be the Conservatives, while Labour seem to be implacably opposed. This should be straightforward, but I find it difficult to predict how it will go.

9)There will probably be a reshuffle sometime during the year - unless a resignation or two force a lot of changes beforehand. "Events, dear boy. Events". Because we are in a Coalition, there will not be many opportunities for 2010 intake of MPs to move up the ladder - so there will be a lot of very hard working Conservative MPs in 2012. (Not that its anything unusual!) Several of us would like to get a feel of the despatch box.

10) Wales will win the Championship, but will just lose out on the Grand Slam. Elin Jones will win Plaid leadership contest. Man Utd will win premier league. Nadal will win Wimbledon. Luke Donald will win British Open. I will break 100 in a round somewhere in August.

Should list some of the things that won't happen. The Coalition will not fall apart. Vince Cable will not resign. There will not be a General Election. There will not be an EU referendum. There will not be a repetition of the summer riots. The UK will not become involved in another war. An unknown Ethiopian or Kenyan will push Mo Faragh into the silver medal position. Cardiff City will not be promoted.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tackling Poverty, Injustice and Oppression.

Since I found myself on the same side as the Archbishop of Wales in the debate about organ donation, I've been taking a bit of interest in what he says. Today it seems he thinks the Church should change society in order to overturn poverty, injustice and oppression. Certainly not short on ambition. And that it should 'get its hands dirty' in achieving this objective. Amen to that. Its what I think politicians should be doing as well. The problem we both have to face is that fewer and fewer people want to listen to what we're saying any more.

The questions facing the Archbishop are not about this objective, which most of us sign up to, but how to actually achieve them - how to manage the contradictions involved in multiple aims. The Rev Barry Morgan has spoken much about the 'Occupy' movement, as if it has some deep meaning for us - as Jesus laid into the moneychangers. Must admit I still have no handle on what the 'Occupy' movement is actually in favour of - except that it does not like 'bankers'. Well I too think the 'bonus' culture, and 'city' salaries measured in millions is based on unpleasant greed and irresponsibility. But I also know that the city has a trade surplus with the EU of £35billion, employs 2 million jobs and provides £54 billion to the Treasury each year. Bit of a balance twixt tackling both injustice and poverty there. That's just one small example.

And then there's oppression. Most of the free world welcomed the Arab Spring, and the removal of dictators such as Hussein, Mubarak and Gadaffi. They were not good men - all guilty of oppression. But there's always been that lingering nagging concern about what comes next. Anyone who read the powerful article by Fraser Nelson in yesterday's Telegraph, describing the persecution of Christians that is growing at a frightening rate in these countries will be thinking deeply at Xmas services tonight and tomorrow. I wonder how dirty the Archbishop things his hands should be.

Do have a lovely Xmas and think about how we can reduce poverty, injustice and oppression at the same time. 2012 promises to be a challenging year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solar PV. What Happens Now?

Hope someone can clarify what's now happening with Solar PV feed-in tariffs. A few weeks ago the Coalition Gov't announced that the tariff was to be cut from 43p per unit to 21p. Just as important important was the decision to only approve an installation on a property which had already been made energy efficient. The most controversial element was that the changes would apply to installations registered after Dec 12th - even though the consultation period on the changes would not end until Dec 23rd. Unsurprisingly there has been uproar - and a legal challenge.

I was much concerned when I first learned about what was proposed. The solar industry has been such a success. So I listened carefully to the Statement in the House of Commons by the DECC Minister. Admit I was left scratching my head about why the decision had not been taken months before, so avoiding the suddenness of the cut-off, and about the logic behind a consultation finishing two weeks after the matter being consulted on was implemented. But I felt able to support the Government's position (and did so in the chamber and in interviews) - simply because I could see no alternative. The solar PV element of the feed-in tariff scheme had been so incredibly successful, that almost the entire 4 year budget for all renewables had already been used up. The 43p rate was totally unsustainable. But it was not the easiest case to defend - especially in Welsh!

Anyway, the High Court has declared the changes to be "legally flawed" - and a DECC Minister has said it will be appealed. Has anyone got any idea what is going to happen now. Seems to me that if the changed tariff cannot be introduced as planned, there will very soon be no budget left, and all feed-in tariffs for new applications will come to an end fairly quickly. Really frustrating that I've been too busy to find out today what the position is. It could be that the judgement is still being absorbed. Would welcome comments from anyone who knows what's happening. I will try to update the position as I dig out information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wind Farms and Democracy in Mid Wales

More time to blog, now that we're in recess - until we return to Westminster on 9th Jan 2012. Though we're back to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Terrace (with hopefully a good view of the fireworks display and cost of tickets going to charity). May also be in London between 5th - 9th to discuss legalising assisted suicide if the much trumpeted Faulkener Report is published as expected. I've offered to speak publicly in opposition to a change in the law.

Another speech on wind farms in the House of Commons yesterday. Again cut short at the last minute. Had expected 10 minutes - only to be limited to six at short notice. Had wanted my speech to be titled 'Wind Farms and Democracy in Mid Wales' - but the Table Office refused to include the word 'democracy' deeming it to be too contentious. Promise I'm not making this up. Anyway, let me make the point here.

In response to a speech of mine on May 10th, Minister for Climate Change at DECC, made a serious of commitments about the importance of local support before going ahead with the Mid Wales Connection. At about the same time, First Minister of the Welsh Government also made commitments about opposing a 400 kV line, huge steel pylons and treating TAN8 guidance figures as the 'upper limit' of what should be allowed. This was all good news. We were being listened to. But that was then.

The big energy companies went to work - like the 'dark forces' in science fiction, issuing ever more hysterical threats to Governments and pouring money into 'community benefit' which most local people see as a form of bribery. These massive companies, fattened on public subsidy, just sunk their teeth into the hands of those that had fed them, demanding ever more of the public's money to feed their insatiable appetites. The result - two weeks ago I was shocked to read a BBC online report quoting the same Minister as stating there would have to be wind farms in Mid Wales, despite local people's opinion "in the national interest". And this from a Government committed to 'Localism. And lets see what the Welsh First Minister does in the New Year. Lets see if he has any spine to stand up to these bullies.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this is the pressure on the Powys Planning Authority - which has been given a deadline to approve the 6 applications that are large enough to be decided by DECC. I'm told that the applicants have not supplied sufficient ecological or environmental information. They have made no evidence available in respect of cumulative impact. There is no transport management plan. And there is no information about how the power is to be exported to the grid. Any other application would be dismissed. But not the terrifyingly powerful wind farm companies. They believe they are above normal planning rules. Like the banks, they think they are too big to fail.

And there's another point here. Powys Cllr. Bob Mills was banned from voting on any planning application for turbines because he had expressed his general antipathy in public. Yet the final judge in all the large wind farm applications will be Chris Huhne, who declares his messianic support for onshore wind whenever he's asked. Never was there an example of an individual with a more pre-determined opinion. The whole process is about as far from 'democracy' as can be imagined. But then "its in the national interest" - the rallying cry for the suspension of democracy throughout history. To adopt a Xmas theme, its total crackers - increasing fuel poverty, exporting jobs and destroying a beautiful part of the British Isles for miniscule purpose. Its so bad that the Welsh Government and DECC put the blame for what's happening on each other. Walk through the uplands of Mid Wales next summer. Enjoy its beauty, before its desecrated for ever.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"No". What it means.

What are we to make of the Prime Minister's 'NO'. Small word. Big impact.

Since the vote to remain in the EEC in 1975, (I voted to withdraw) I have accepted membership of what is now the EU - and wanted 'the club' to function as successfully as possible. However, I was implacably opposed to the UK adopting the Euro in place of Sterling. Always reckoned that the Euro was a huge mistake, which at some stage will collapse in acrimony - though hopefully not in a disorderly way. In the meantime, I have and will continue to support the Prime Minister's efforts to support the Eurozone - short of paying for the irresponsible and incompetent financial management of its members.

I had hoped there would have been a treaty which the Prime Minister could have signed in Brussels. There would have been a right rumpus, but I would have supported him. But there wasn't, and he didn't, and Coalition MPs accept that he was right. There was no way that David Cameron could sign up to what was on offer - a blatant attempt to blame the UK for the mess that the Eurozone has become. And a blatant attempt to force the City of London to pay for its mistakes. The Prime Minister said NO. He did what he had to do. He accepted the burden of responsibility dropped on his shoulders. He did what no other British PM has ever done before. David Cameron refused to be bullied by EU leaders, who were absolutely astonished to hear the word NO.

So where are we now. In some ways nothing much has changed, and yet everything has changed. The Eurozone countries will carry on Canute-like to keep the Eurozone intact. The de-democratisation of Europe will gather speed, as elected politicians are cast aside, and sovereign governments hand over control of economies to EU institutions. It may even be that EU countries will try to push through financial regulations which will undermine the wealth-creating, tax-paying City of London. But the EU now knows that for the first time ever, the UK has a Prime Minister who will say No in defence of British interests. As with all forms of human activity, the second time is a lot easier than the first. If our Prime Minister continues to show cool resolution, supporting the Eurozone efforts to manage their economies as they wish, backed up by a willingness to say NO, he will have the full support of most of his party and most of our Lib Dem colleagues as well.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Death Pathway.

Terrifying article on front page of today's Telegraph. It reports that tens of thousands of patients with terminal illnesses are being put on a 'death pathway' without their families being told. The Liverpool Care Pathway requires doctors who feel that a patient is reaching the final days of life, to withdraw food and drink after consultation with next of kin. This is an area of the greatest possible sensitivity, and it does not bear thinking about that this should ever happen without discussion with the patient's family. In my opinion, there should always be the added safeguard of a second opinion - completely disconnected with the patient's doctor. The Report claims that 2500 families were not informed when the 'death pathway' was activated. If true, this would be a shocking scandal - warranting a full scale inquiry.

Palliative care is an increasingly important area, as our medical knowledge extends life. More and more people will be reaching a stage of frailty when they might already have died in the past. I perfectly accept that deciding not to force feed suffering terminally ill patients, and helping them cope with the final days with sedation is humane and proper. But safeguards are absolutely crucial. No patient, should ever be put on the Liverpool Care Pathway, without both an independent second opinion and consultation with next of kin. We really should get to a position where any doctor who does not act according the proper rules should be suspended.

I believe it is time that Parliament discussed the issue of the proper way to help people at the end of life. While 'assisted suicide' must remain illegal, there must be a 100% safe approach to proper palliative care. A civilised society requires nothing less.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Varied Job of a Politician.

Yesterday's Telegraph reported on the death of Mrs Margaret Herbert of Folkestone in Kent - or more precisely the burial of Mrs Herbert. She had loved her garden so much that her daughter has decided that her mother should be buried in it - nearer to the neighbours than they want. There is no law against being buried in your garden. I've expressed that wish myself, but Mrs D is not having it - and I'll not be in a position to argue, assuming I die first.

At least Mrs Herbert did own the garden concerned. Reason this story caught my eye is that I was once approached by a constituent, who had been involved in a dispute about ownership of part of a garden. The dispute had continued throughout their lives, and led to the neighbours and their families speaking only through solicitors for 30 years. Anyway when one of the protagonists died, his family buried him in the disputed plot - just 3 ft from the neighbour's sitting room window. The neighbour approached me, hoping I'd be able to do something about it. The local authority concerned would not become involved and I didn't fancy resorting to a spade myself - so I ended up not being able to do anything. As far as I know the body is still buried there. I should add that this was when I was representing Mid and West Wales as an Assembly Member. Being a politician is a varied job.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The West Lothian Question

The Government is to consider the 'West Lothian Question', or the English Question'. In the 19th century it was probably referred to as the 'Dublin Question'. It refers to MPs representing Welsh constituencies (or Scottish or N Irish constituencies) voting on legislation which applies to English constituencies, while they (together with 'English' MPs) may not vote on the same issue as it applies in Wales. A current example which demonstrates relevance today - I can vote on any legislation relating to organ donation in England, but will not have any say on the same issue in my own constituency. This is a constitutional anomaly. This blog post asks whether any constitutional change can be introduced which reduces the degree of anomaly. At present, I'm not convinced that it can.

The answers to the West Lothian Question, are many and varied, but fall under three general headings ;

1) A federal UK, involving an English Parliament;
2) Two categories of MP ensuring only English MPs are able to vote for English laws:
3) Fewer MPs in parts of the UK with devolved Parliaments, reflecting the lesser responsibilities.

Lets consider these options in turn.

1) Federal UK. There is a certain logic to this. There is much support for an English Parliament - in England. But it would not be like any other federal state that has ever been successful. 84% of the population would live in one of the four 'federal partners'. Inevitable England would so dominate that it would soon cease to be federal in any meaningful sense. And there has been no work done on the balance of power between the UK and English Parliaments, or how they would relate to each other. Constitutional lawyers tell me that such a one-sided federalism has never succeeded anywhere in the world in history.

2) English votes for English laws. To many, including me, this seems the best answer if change there must be. The problem is the complexity, and near-impossibility of deciding what policy areas Welsh MPs should be barred from voting on. For example, English health policy matters impact hugely on my constituency, because the DGHs that serve Montgomeryshire are in Shropshire. And increased specialist care means that perhaps only one or two hospitals in the UK will be able to provide certain treatments. The same cross-border difficulties would apply in every policy area. At least unemployment would fall as civil servants were recruited to manage the system!

3) Fewer MPs representing devolved nations. Much the easiest answer to deliver - but not favoured by me. The voice of Wales should not be lessened when dealing with those issues that remain with the UK Parliament - for example, the decision to go to war. Traditionally, the Welsh 'voice' at Westminster has been more reluctant to intervene militarily on the international plane. The same principle would apply across all policy areas. This is just not acceptable.

So where are we by now. The West Lothian Question is a constitutional anomaly - to which the only obvious answers are the creation of other constitutional anomalies. Its a case of which is the least bad option - not much of a basis for such a major constitutional change. Seems to me that we should think long and hard about whether the West Lothian Question should be asked.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Organ Donation Article in 'The Times'

The proposals by the Welsh Government to change the system of organ donation in Wales is interesting from a 'policy', an ethical, and a 'constitutional' perspective. During the discussions so far, I have steered clear of all except the policy issues, and whether a change to 'presumed consent' would be effective. Tomorrow I'm meeting a constitutional lawyer so that I can understand properly the dangers of legal challenge to the Welsh Government proposals. The debate about opt-out will inevitably feature on this blog from time to time over the next two years. In the meantime, I'll share with you the article I wrote for the Times last Friday. It's 500 words long.

This week the Welsh Government launched a consultation paper on proposals for legislation on organ donation. The effect of the legislation, if passed, would be to change fundamentally the system of organ donation in Wales. Rather than an opt-in system, Wales would have an opt-out system. An absence of objection would be taken as considered approval, an assumption that seems ethically improper to many of us. There seems to be compelling evidence that more organs would become available for transplant before moving forward with such a drastic step.

There is a desperate need for more organs to be donated. However, there is no firm evidence that a change to presumed consent would make any difference- and some evidence that it may do harm. There are several organisations that support the Welsh Government's proposals, which is surprising because of the weakness of supporting evidence.

During the past decade I have taken an interest in this issue, knowing of people needing transplants and through campaigning for renal dialysis provision. Throughout that period, supporters of presumed consent have championed Spain as an exemplar.

It is true that organ donation has improved significantly in Spain over the past 30 years, but closer examination tells a different story. Presumed consent legislation was enacted in 1979, on the assumption that it would increase organ donation. However, in 1980 a royal decree stated that objection could be stated in any way, without formal procedures. In practice, Spanish law is only theoretical presumed consent. There is no opt-out register. A donor's wishes are established by discussion with next of kin.

The level of organ donation in Spain did not change for ten years until, in 1989, the Government made several key policy changes that led to a gradual increase to the outstandingly good performance of today. Nothing to do with presumed consent. Now the favoured exemplar has changed to Belgium.

During the final year of the past Labour Government, Gordon Brown began advocating presumed consent, and he established an organ donation task force. I can do no better than quote from its conclusions: "The more the task force examined the evidence, the less obvious the benefit, and more multifaceted and multidimensional the issue of donor numbers was revealed to be.

"The task force reached a clear consensus in their recommendations that an opt-out system should not be introduced." A similar conclusion was arrived at by a cross-party Welsh Assembly committee.

There is a desperate need to increase the availability of organ donors. We need to learn from international experience where great success has been achieved, such as the United States and Spain. People are suffering and people are dying. The UK needs a comprehensive transplant coordination strategy. It does not need an ill-though-through change in the law that appears superficially attractive but remains unproven.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bale, Ramsey, and Team GB.

Two of Welsh Football's big-wigs live in Welshpool. So it was inevitable that the names, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey came up in our conversation after the Remembrance Service today. Phil Pritchard is the current Chairman of the FAW, and Tegwyn Evans has been involved for several decades. First thing to be said is that Gareth and Aaron are two of the most gifted young players in the world, and would walk into any team representing GB. And next year may be the only chance they ever have of playing at an Olympic Games. I agree with Wales manager, Gary Speed that its a matter for the two footballers whether they play for Team GB next summer. Phil and tegwyn are not convinced.

There's a real issue behind the row that's broken out after Gareth and Aaron appeared in our press wearing Team GB shirts - even though it was as part of their sponsorship agreement with Adidas. Its about the future participation of Wales in international tournaments. Some very large countries (Germany, France, Spain, Italy etc) compete as one country, and several FIFA members see no reason why GB should, in effect, enter 4 teams. Phil and Tegwyn tell me that there is pressure to change the position - and they fear that allowing one Team GB to compete in the Olympics will set a dangerous precedent. It seems that there is unlikely to be a problem while Sepp Blatter remains in post - but perhaps afterwards.

No time at all for the mindless so-called Wales fans who barracked the two Welsh stars after yesterdays fabulous 4-1 victory over Norway. They might have thought it clever to take the headlines away from the game and from the victory. All they will achieve is to drive away the two key players who delivered the win. Is it a typical Welsh thing to be happier losing gallantly, rather than winning gloriously - and attracting the best Welsh players to turn out for the national team. Ask yourself how often Giggs has played for Wales over his amazing career.

But there is an issue - and its no good just ignoring it. Its too late for the 2012 Olympics, but we should launch a campaign to have Wales included in future Olympics. Its an issue I will raise in Parliament. It will be the subject of my entry into the ballot for PMQs this week. Be a good chance to bring the names of two great Welshmen, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey to the attention of the non-footballing public of GB.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Welsh Labour Confusion over Constituency Boundaries.

Constitutional arrangements should, in general, be decided on what is right for the people - rather than on what carries electoral advantage for any particular party. Its against this background that the Welsh Labour Party's decisions, taken this morning, about Welsh constituency boundaries should be judged. To be fair, I think Labour is the first party to decide a clear position. But it does look more like political positioning than a genuine attempt to add constructive comment to the debate.

Let's consider the background to this. The Westminster Coalition Government has acted on the manifesto pledge by both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems to reduce the number of MPs (by rather less than promised). This inevitably means redrawing constituency boundaries, and reducing the number of MPs from Wales. For the 2015 General Election, there will be 30 Welsh constituencies rather than the current 40. Until today, we thought that all parties supported changing National Assembly electoral arrangements to being based on 30 coterminous constituencies as well. But this morning, Welsh Labour changed its position.

Welsh Labour will oppose any change in the way AMs are elected - if proposed by the UK Government, which does seem a bit childish. Welsh Labour will fight coterminocity if proposed by the UK Government. This means that its highly likely that there will not be a majority in the National Assembly to agree with any proposal to introduce coterminocity - which is a very significant development. For anyone who wants there to be a good working relationship between the Governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay, this is deeply disappointing - especially as it just looks like Welsh Labour playing political games.

There is also the rather silly agreement, which had been much trumpeted beforehand by Peter Hain, that there should be no Proportional Representation element. Bearing in mind what Peter has been saying over decades about electoral systems, this is just about as shameless a U-turn as can be imagined. Not much point in taking it seriously really - and I'm not going to.

I note from the BBC's report that the UK Government's position has been put forward by a 'spokesman'. If I'd been invited to comment this is what I'd have said;

"In the interests of clarity and good governance, the same boundaries should be used for Westminster and Welsh Assembly elections. I hope that Welsh Labour will support this principle, which will be helpful to Welsh voters at future elections. It was very surprising to learn that Welsh Labour intends to 'fight' what I've heard Welsh Labour MPs publicly describe as sensible over recent weeks. Welsh Labour does seem to be very confused about what it does actually think. I do understand that there will be different opinions about the balance between 'constituency' AMs and 'regional' AMs - but not about the boundaries being the same. I remain hopeful though, that cross-party agreement can be reached despite today's confused decisions. We owe it to the future voters of Wales to put their interests before narrow party advantage, as Welsh Labour seems to have done today."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Two 'Incredible' Excuses

Sorry but I cannot resist it. Two completely mad stories in today's Telegraph. Firstly we have Mr Graham Gibbons who secretly filmed himself having sex with his girlfriend. When this covert filming was discovered by his partner, he claimed that it was in order to help him improve his performance. He told the judge that his only purpose was to evaluate his technique, from a 'time and motion' perspective. He wanted to strike the most effective balance between the various parts of their activities. He wanted to maximise the satisfaction that he provided. He was only thinking of her. Since the Court case continues in Cardiff Crown Court, it suggests that Mr Gibbons could well be a Welshman. We don't know whether the judge accepted his version of events.

And then we have the story of a couple who were seen throwing a dog into the ocean - 4 times. Now this is not funny at all, but their excuse is almost as incredible as that of Mr Gibbons. They insisted to the magistrates that they were cooling the dog down because it was hot. Unfortunately one of the couple was named Jones - so could again have Welsh connections. This excuse, while being admirably inventive, did not impress and they were found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering. Perhaps they should have thrown Mr Gibbons into the sea to cool him down.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Its not the Lib Dem's fault.

I have had a basinful of people blaming the Lib Dems for the failure of government policy. Don't they understand that we didn't win the election, and that we are in a Coalition Government. Cannot they see that the Lib Dems have had to make more and bigger compromises, and sacrifices than we have. Both parties have members and activists which have to allowed for. Its how coalitions work. Today we had William Langley in the Telegraph blaming the Lib Dems for there being no vote on repeal of the ban on hunting with dogs. Its got nothing whatsoever to do with the Lib Dems. The only MPs who have surprised me by their opposition to repeal are Conservative MPs. Its just that its not the right time to use parliamentary time on this issue.

This blog has touched on this before. It was the ban, (as illiberal and grotesque a piece of legislation as can be imagined), which the Prime Minister responsible for bringing it in is ashamed of which fired my public support for hunting. It led me to become an enthusiastic supporter of local hunts, and the Tanatside now meets every season on my farm. I fully understand the frustrations of Alice Barnard, Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance who is widely quoted in the article. It is badly drafted, has probably increased cruelty in the dispatch of foxes, and has led to no more than 6 prosecutions which would not have been illegal before the ban was introduced. This Act should be repealed, but there is no point whatsoever having a vote on the issue while MPs are so engrossed in other matters that it will probably not be approved. And this has got nothing to do with my coalition colleagues, the Lib Dems. Rant over.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Presumtive Approach to Organ Donation

Seems that not many people are prepared to publicly oppose the introduction of 'presumed consent' for organ donation. I am. The Archbishop of Wales did too, and he was roundly condemned for it - by people who had held him up as the great oracle on other issues. I was appalled by the tone of those who criticised the Rev Barry Morgan - so much so that I am seeking a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament for MPs to consider his words. In the event that I'm drawn in the ballot, I need to begin preparing my case. This is my first brief stab at it. Feel free to challenge.

Lets get one thing clear. The great majority of us want to see more organs being made available for transplant. It will not be possible to ever reach 'enough' but the UK's performance is abysmal. To this end the Welsh Government has decided that rather than donors declaring that they want to opt-in by joining a register, it should be assumed that all of us want to donate unless we join a register to say we want to opt-out. And most people I know believe this would greatly increase the availability of donated organs. I do not - and can find no evidence to contradict.

The main reason I object to a change in the law is ethical. Seems to me ridiculous to equate absence of specific objection with considered approval. The Archbishop's objections were also based on ethics. However, we live in a world where ethical considerations are given little value, so I intend to argue my case on efficacy grounds. Changing the laqw would make no diference. It just would not work. It might even make the position worse.

We're talking about a 'soft' opt out (much is made of this) - which means that next of kin have to be asked. Actually, there is no other practical form of opt-out in civilised coutries. I think it was Brazil that tried an opt-out without next of kin approval a few decades ago, and number of organs available for donation crashed. Trust in doctors also crashed. The law was soon abandoned. So next of kin need to approve donation whichever the system. Since the donor needs to be in an ITU for donation to take place, the only difference between the systems is knowledge of the donor's intention - assuming the register is up to date. All we actually need is an accepted custom that we all tell our next of kin what we want in the event of our death. In Spain, where the levels of donation are more than twice as high as the UK, very few carry a donor card, and there is no national register. Its just that the potential donor will have discussed the issue with next of kin.

So let's look at Spain, which until recently was being held up as the the exemplar by those who want to change the law. In 1979, the law was changed to 'presumed consent'. In 1980, protections for donors had to be approved by Parliament. The levels of donation hardly changed until 1989, when a comprehensive transplant coordination system was introduced. From then on the levels of donation began to improve to today's impressive levels. The law of 'presumed consent' remains on the statute book, but is in effect defunct. We need to learn from Spain's example.

But UK Governments have a tendency to impose its will on the people. In 2008, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, decided to go down the opt-out road. He established a Dep't of Health Commission to consider the issue. Shock horror, the Commission recommended against. It also recommended that a comprehensive transplant coordination system be introduced. Now this costs a bit of money, but there would be no need for the bureaucracy involved in retaining registers. It would just involve everyone making sure their next of kin knew their wishes. Actually, its as simple as that.

And there's more. In the US, a 'presumptive approach' has been adopted - and again great success has been achieved. It would need checks to ensure a 'presumptive approach' does not become any sort of coercion - but its an approach worth looking at in the UK. There is a whole lot more to this debate. Too much for a blog post. But its a start. Any comment, including challenge will be welcome. I've given my debate, if I secure it, the title of "A Presumptive Approach to Organ Donation."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Leftover impact of EU Referendum Debate

Its being claimed by some that the 81 Conservatives who voted for the motion to hold a three way preferendum on the UKs relationship with the EU have succeeded in changing Government policy - and that a more Euro sceptic Government will result. This is an ruse to justify last Monday's bungled attempt to pressurise the Government into an In/Out referendum. What a lot more than 81 Conservatives agree about is that we want priority on changing Government's approach to the EU. I voted against the motion because it was so badly drafted that it divided Euro sceptic opinion, and prevented the House of Commons approving a motion demanding the return of powers to the UK Parliament. I much approved of the holding of a debate, the very holding of which did make a difference. But it should not have included a commitment to a withdrawal option. This ensured that party managers could not, and very properly did not, allow a 'free vote'. Withdrawal from the EU is not the policy of any mainstream party. I decided to vote against immediately I saw the motion, and would have voted against if it had been a 'free vote'. Its not the 81 Conservatives that 'rebelled', but them and the rest of us together who have made it clear we need to see a genuine drive to repatriate powers from the EU back to British parliaments.

But Monday's debate has done less harm than I thought it would. Despite the motion being overwhelmingly defeated, its clear to Government that a majority on MPs want a change of approach to our relationship with the EU. Next time there's a motion on the issue, the wording will be thought through more carefully, and we will probably end up with a majority calling for a cultural shift in the relationship. We want the EU to stop taking responsibility for matters that do not need to be taken at a European level,

Of course, the matter could be taken out of the hands of the current Government by the financial crisis that still faces the Eurozone. There may well be a proposal of significance in how the EU is governed which inevitably triggers a referendum in the UK. And if its on any question which does not involve actual withdrawal, I believe the voters will vote No. Whatever, I certainly do not think that we have seen the last of parliamentary debate involving the EU in this Parliament.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fantastic S4C/BBC deal announced.

So frustrated not to be able to speak in today's chamber discussions on the Public Bodies Bill. I wanted to speak about S4C. I wanted to welcome today's announcement that a deal had been struck between the BBC, S4C and DCMS which answered the concerns which I have had since it was announced that the statutory funding link by which S4C had been previously funded was to be broken, and most of future funds were to come from the BBC licence fee. I had asked for assurances from the Minister during the Committee stage of the Bill - which have been delivered in spades. Here's the highlights.

1) - The current level of S4C funding (around £100 million if programme production is counted) is to continue until the end of the current BBC Charter period in 2017. Not possible to be longer.

2) - Only the BBC's National Trustee for Wales, currently Elan Clos Stephens, is to serve on the S4C Authority. She has been instrumental in delivering this better deal than any of us could have reasonably expected. Wonderful woman.

3) - No BBC representatives are to be included in the Management Board of S4C - giving S4C a level of independence that I had hoped for, but not expected.

4) - The Wales Government is given an involvement in the appointment of members of the S4C Authority, which I had not expected, and which I welcome.

5) - The deal has been welcomed by the Chairs of S4C and the BBC.

I hope we can put the huge problems of the S4C Authority over recent years behind us, and move forward to a successful future for the channel which has done so much since it was set up in 1981.

For months I've defended the Government position over this issue, and taken some serious stick. Comes the day for knocking this stick back, and lavishing praise on those those who have delivered this fantastic result, the chance evaporated as long speeches and interventions squeezed it out. Is it any wonder I was frustrated.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The In/Out EU Referendum.

When stomping around the rugby fields of the North and Midlands, I developed a reputation for diving in front of the feet of a forwards rush to secure the ball. Led to my nickname, the 'Mad Welshman'. Could easily have stood back from the flailing boots, but couldn't resist the point of dangerous conflict. Which is why I'm keen to get involved in Monday's debate in the House of Commons about our relationship with the EU.taking a clear position on the motion before the House of Commons on Monday to put the option of the UK withdrawing from the EU to a referendum of the British people. Much the safest bet would be stand off and not be noticed, but I'm going in and making my position absolutely clear - and I'm hoping to be called to speak in the debate.

I have been a Euro-sceptic ever since Ted Heath took us in to the EEC in 1974. Became involved in the No campaign in the Wilson referendum in 1975 - first venture into public debate. I was also in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and much frustrated when Gordon Brown signed that opportunity away in early 2010. Also believe there will be a referendum at some stage - perhaps as a consequence of the problems in the Euro-zone. But not now - absolutely not now.

Its right to have the debate. I would have expected it to reflect MP's concerns about the excessive interference in matters that should be for a British Government. Such a debate would have been useful. But we have to vote on a motion which offers the people an option to withdraw from the EU altogether, which I do not believe the Coalition Gov't would or should consider at present. The debate will now be about the wisdom of this proposal to hold an In/Out referendum, which will not come to pass. Opening discussions with the EU about withdrawal would be the most enormous distraction from the Government's work to reduce the deficit, and retain international credibility in financial markets, and cause even more problems within the Euro-zone, any collapse of which would have a massive impact on the UK. Holding an In/Out referendum is far more dangerous than diving into the feet of rushing rugby forwards.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Silk Commission is Important for Wales.

Have been very surprised by the 'unenthusiastic' welcome for the 'Silk Commission' by some. That's the commission set up by the Secretary of State for Wales, with cross party support, to consider 1) How financial accountability can be vested in the Welsh Assembly, and 2) to consider the range of devolved powers. Matt Withers takes a very dismissive approach in today's Wales on Sunday. Wonder whether this reflects the editorial view of the Western Mail. Matt seems to treat it as just another commission to follow the Richard Commission, the Holtham Commission (and you can throw in the Jones-Parry Commission) - none of which achieved very much. Personally I never thought these commissions would deliver much, mainly because they were rooted into places where the power to deliver did not lie. Richard was set up by Rhodri Morgan, while Holtham and Jones-Parry by a Plaid/Labour Assembly Government. The commissioners of these reports did not have the power to implement their recommendations.

The Silk Commission is completely different. It has been set up by the Westminster Coalition Government, with the support of the main political parties in Wales. It is due to report to the Secretary of State for Wales on 'financial accountability' in 2012, and on the constitutional settlement by 2013 - all in time for action before the next General Election in 2015. Again personally, I think this is a far more significant commission than any of the others, because of its direct link to the ability to implement. This time it's not an exercise in constitutional theory - not if I can have anything to do with it anyway

Of course, there is always a chance that one of the parties could walk out - perhaps more so because it's for real. It would be a great shame if this were to be the case. Again personally, I would support driving on whatever. We established a National Assembly for Wales in 1999, against the wishes of almost half of those who voted in a referendum. I oppose it as not worthwhile because it was 'neither fish nor fowl'. It should be transformed into a grown-up law making body which is financially accountable to the people. There will be some who do not want this change - but its what the Silk Commission has been established to deliver. Its very comfortable just spending public money without any responsibility for raising it, and just complaining incessantly that there is not enough. Problem is that when the media do not take it seriously, the people do not become engaged. Selling job needed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Pylons - ok but won't stop Mid-Wales uprising.

I think the new pylons design that has won the RIBA competition is an improvement. Its been designed by Bystrop, a Danish company and takes the form of a T. The T-Pylon was judged the winner against criteria which included design, functionality and technical viability. The prise is £5000.

But it will make no difference to the uprising of local opinion against the Mid Wales Connection, which plans to build a 4OOKv cable on 150' high pylons from Mid Shropshire to mid-Wales, together with a 20 acre substation and 600 more wind turbines. The scheme is an abomination, and the people of mid-Wales are determined to stop it. A UK Government would have to simply disregard an entire region for it to happen, forcing through the desecration of mid Wales against the will of the resident population.

And the BBC are at it again - just churning out National Grid propaganda, without checking the truth. The online report of T-Pylon's win includes a line about undergrounding costing 10 times as much as overhead cables. We know, because National Grid gave us the actual costings fot the Mid Wales Connection, that the figure is 3 times. But then why let the facts get in the way of a good story which backs up your already prejudiced opinion. Perhaps the only way to stop it is for the licence fee to be reduced every time a deliberate untruth is reported.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 'Silk' Commission.

Biggest event of the week for me was on Tuesday when it was announced that Paul Silk is to chair the commission that takes forward the Calman-like process in Wales. Bit disappointed that I didn't have any invites to do interviews on the issue on Tuesday, especially in Welsh, but there you go. You win some and you lose some. Put a lot of effort into preparation - actually not that much because the devolution process is a bit of an obsession.

Paul Silk is a good man, with great experience of the Welsh Assembly and the UK Parliament. Luckily I know him quite well - and almost all of the other Commission members as well. Seen some silly comments from commentators who really should know better - trying to 'leak' things early, and appear informed without getting their facts right. Lets summarise what the Commission has been set up to do, briefly,

First task will be to consider how the Welsh Assembly could become 'financially accountable'. At present its just a spending body, with no responsibility for raising any of its own money. Seems to me that we must be talking some form of tax raising powers - which would involve part of what is currently a UK tax product becoming the responsibility of the Assembly. Again, seems to me that there would be commensurate reduction in the 'block grant' to balance it. Its not a way of just increasing the Assembly's budget - as some would perhaps like. It may be that changes to the formula which decides the size of the block grant will also be considered, but not by the Silk Commission. Every effort will be made to report on this part of its work by next year.

Once this 'first stage' work has been completed, the Commission will move on to consideration of Assembly powers. The people of Wales decided on the current powers in a referendum in March, but devolution is a process, and it seems right to me that there should be an independent assessment of how its going by 2013 - which is the Silk Commission's target date.

There is quite a bit of other constitutional stuff going on as well - outside the Commission. There's the discussion on the Barnett Formula. There will need to be some discussion on Assembly constituencies and method of election, following changes for Westminster elections.. There is talk of doing something about the West Lothian Question as well. Its a damn good job I'm interested in these constitutional issues. Life as a Welsh MP would be quite dull if I wasn't.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Checkers in Montgomery - Michelin Star.

Mrs D and I like eating at good restaurants. Over the years we've been around most of the noted ones in and near to Wales. So its a real bonus that we have a new Michelin star retaurant just 3 miles from our home - the Checkers in Montgomery. Its only been open a few months, and is the only Welsh addition to the Michelin Guide for 2012 - and there are but 4 Welsh restaurants so honoured.

Until less than two years ago the Checkers was a good place for a pint and a sandwich, That was about it. But when Eric Whittingham died it closed and 'The Frenchman and the Farmer's Daughters' who had been running the excellent Herbert Arms in nearby Chirbury (in England though) bought it, revamped it, and opened it as top quality restaurant. Have been there three times and it really is top class. Not sure what Eric would think of it though.

The other three Michelin star restaurants in Wales are the Walnut Tree near Abergavenny, Tyddyn Llan near Denbigh and the Crown at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire. Over the years we have eaten at all of them, and they are good. I reckon the Checkers is as good as any of them. The chef (the Frenchman) at the Checkers is Stephane Borie, who learned his trade with Michel Roux at the Wateside Inn at Bray. We ate and stayed there a few weeks ago, but could only have afforded it because our issue ganged up to pay, as a birthday present for Mrs D. My part was paying for the room! The waterside really is seriously expensive. Anyway Stephane moved to Les Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, which we have never felt able to afford. Then it was the Herbert Arms - and now its the Checkers. Our good fortune in mid Wales.

Having a Michelin star restaurant in Montgomery is wonderful news for the town, and for Montgomeryshire. The area will now be featuring in promotional literature across the world. Mrs D and I have always been into good restaurants, and appreciate the value they add. Of course, we will have no chance of booking supper at the last minute now - and I'd be surprised if the price didn't sneak up over time - but you can't have everything. Congratulations to the Checkers.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Goodbye Dragon's Eye

Must admit I felt a bit sad appearing on Dragon's Eye tonight. The BBC had just announced that the 'Eye' is to be closed for good. Bit like a few years ago when my vet announced there was nothing to be done with my much loved Charolais bull after some illness befell him but to 'put him out of his misery'. Never managed to find another one as handsome.

Unsatisfactory discussion though - but pretty much what I expected. No criticism intended, but the attempt to link two important issues did not work (in my opinion). The first issue was the Welsh Government's recently announced draft 'spending plans' (I prefer not to refer to it as the draft budget). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is what happens to the £40 million 'windfall' that arrives in Cardiff Bay as a result of the Chancellors announcement that Council Tax is to be frozen for the second year running in England. Carwyn Jones made very clear that its not going to ease the pain for Council Tax payers in Wales. I wasn't interested in contributing to this issue (though I do have an opinion). I was carrying the burden of PPS on my shoulders - its a matter for the Welsh Government.

I was interested in the second issue the programme sought to cover - constitutional changes that are on the horizon in Wales. And dramatic changes they are. Truth is we didn't get even the smallest grip on this. It justifies a programme on its own. To summarise, we are expecting the Secretary of State for Wales to announce to the House of Commons soon after MPs return on Monday, who will be taking forward the 'Calman-like process'. This involves a Commission to consider how to grant 'fiscal accountability' to the Welsh Assembly (by 2012) and a new constitutional settlement for the Assembly (by 2013). This is hugely important and complex transformational stuff. It doesn't lend itself to partisan knockabout. Its serious.

Reason I drove 230 miles to do it was that I want to one of the go-to MPs when the announcements are made. I know I'm in danger of being dismissed as a 'geek' but I'm interested. Two general points I picked up tonight. Firstly, Betsan and Felicity have been genuinely taken aback by the Conservative Party's commitment to make the Welsh Assembly into a meaningful governing body. And secondly, it seems that Welsh Labour's idea of 'financial accountability' it simply to grant the right to levy additional taxes in Wales - not a 'constitutional' issue at all. Just a way of increasing the Welsh Government's budget - without accountability. Well, we'll see what the Commission has to say about that. Anyway, it was much nicer to be there tonight than it was to watch my dear old bull being shot.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Coming of age of Cabinet Government in Powys.

Really interesting session in the Council Chamber of Powys County Council today. Question under debate was who takes the decisions about reorganisation of secondary education in Powys, which includes the six secondary schools in Montgomeryshire, and the Newtown base of Coleg Powys. The proposition was that this decision was of such importance that it should be taken by all of the councillors, rather than just the Cabinet. It was proposed by the Conservatives, and supported by others, principally the Montgomeryshire Independents and Labour - plus a few others. The proposal lost 31-28. Several councillors did not attend - there being 73 of them.

From my constituency's perspective this is very interesting - in that the great majority of Montgomeryshire-based councillors voted for the proposal, while the great majority of Brecon and Radnorshire based councillors (with honourable exceptions) voted against - a real split in the county. This is going to cause much resentment if there is a public backlash against the decisions, (expected in November) which will now be taken by just the Cabinet members. I anticipate that the names of those who voted which way will be well featured in the media. Already I have heard two people tell me that they are so angry about what has happened that they are going to stand against cllrs who voted with the Cabinet in elections next May. It will be particularly difficult for cllrs with threatened schools in or adjacent to their wards who effectively voted to extinguish their right to involvement in the decision-making process.

Today's debate will have brought home to many cllrs what a Cabinet system means. They are realising that the power to decide now lies with the few who make up the Cabinet, and that the role of those who are not signed up to the 'administration' is to 'oppose' and 'scrutinise'. Since the Cabinet system was forced through by the Liberal Democrats and Powys Independents last year, I've not thought the 'opposition' to be remotely aggressive enough. Its only opposition councillors who are in a position to challenge the Cabinet, and if that's ineffective, we would have a dictatorship. Today was an important day - the coming of age of Cabinet government in Powys. Some will not like what they voted for last year.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Cheryl Gillan speaks to Conference

Welsh Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan spoke at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester today. Good speech. Even made a reference to her "popular PPS". Popular with some I thought. Anyway I think its appropriate to share the messages.

Opening line was important - a commitment to the union and our work in Wales, Scotland and N Ireland.

Rightly, since it was her annual speech to what are often referred to as the party faithful, she outlined some of the Coalition Government's commitments to Wales since last year - £1 billion investment in rail electrification, £60 million in superfast broadband, 52,000 lower-paid out of income tax altogether already, and lower Corporation Tax as part of a package of help for business. She also spoke of her delivery of a referendum on law making powers last March, something for which I believe Cheryl deserves the highest praise. I just do not think that Peter Hain would have delivered it - or even wanted to deliver it.

Inevitably there was a bit of mild opposition-baiting - but very limited. Essentially she was telling Labour in Wales that now they have the powers, they should get on with it, not drag their feet, blaming others, complaining about what they have not got.

There was quite a bit about the Welsh economy, which is not in great shape. The Welsh Government are too timid in this area, upon which so much else depends. We would like to see a more dynamic approach to Enterprise Zones. A focus on job creation must underpin all we do, both as MPs and AMs.

The Sec. of State said she will soon be announcing a commission to look at how the Welsh Government gets its money, and how to make Welsh ministers more accountable for the money they spend - an end to power without accountability. This was perhaps the most significant part of her speech. Again, there is no way Labour would deliver on anything like this.

Another important line (in my opinion) was "We will make every effort to work with Ministers in Cardiff to achieve what is best for Wales". Her PPS takes exactly the same view, and thinks this a good line to finish on.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tax cuts ?

Andrew Tyrie is a well respected Conservative MP. He is also Chair of the Treasury Select Committee. From what I have heard him say in the past I was not surprised by some of the comments attributed to him in today's media. Seems he thinks there should be tax cuts for business to promote growth - and reductions in international aid (despite the manifesto promises) - and less spending on promoting voluntary involvement in society (despite manifesto commitments) - and questions our recent involvement in Libya (or at least the cost of it). Now, I'm sure there are other Conservative MPs who share some of these opinions. Most will have some sympathy with the desire to see lower taxes as part of a growth package. But there are a couple of problems with all this.

Firstly its the timing of Andrew's intervention - on the eve of our conference. At the very least it looks unhelpful to his own team, as they kick off in their most important game of the season. And secondly there's the issue of the deficit. We would all like to see tax cuts, but they have to be paid for. And our absolute priority is to maintain international financial market credibility in the Chancellor's deficit reduction strategy. Coincidentally, the Chancellor has written a powerful article for today's Telegraph emphasising leadership and sticking to his much respected strategy. There could well be a few discussions about this intervention at Manchester next week.

More on S4C - unfortunately

Would be great if there were to be no reason to comment on what's happening at S4C - but its not to be. But the future of the channel is an important issue for me, and a constant source of concern. Don't want to be unkind but the management of S4C over the last couple of years has been chaotic. Any private business which performed in the same way would probably have gone under. I had hoped we were turning the corner with a new Chair, a newly appointed Chief Executive, and a comprehensive review of S4C by the responsible department over the next year or two.

But No. we read in today's Western Mail that Ian Jones has still not been confirmed in the job as Chief Exec. What the hell is going on. It seems that there are discussions about the terms on which he can leave his current employment. Well excuse me, but even a football club usually sorts this sort on thing out before a decision is taken. We have to face up to the possibility that Ian Jones will not be able to take the job. Its not so much that there are not other candidates, as that we have an ongoing impression of chaos.

In passing, I see that in the same article, Cymdeithas yr Iaith have taken some encouragement from my BLOG comment (a personal opinion) that I would like to see a return to a statutory link between inflation and funding sometime in the future - perhaps when prospects for the UK economy are more stable. I'm pleased that they are encouraged. In general, I rather approve of their activities. But the comment made by the Chair of Cymdeithas as a response is plain daft. She reckons that "Welsh Language broadcasting is on its last legs and even the Tories now recognise that if nothing changes, our unique national language will suffer". Welsh Language broadcasting is not on its last legs. And the Welsh Language is going strong, as a consequence of Conservative-inspired legislation - principally the 1993 Education Act. I also note her almost contemptuous reference to 'Tories'. Does she not realise that all the changes that have reversed the fortunes of the language have been by Conservative Governments. And even in respect of the Public Bodies Bill, which has generated such angst, the Minister responding on S4C issues is a Liberal Democrat - and a very good one, David Heath. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Anyway, lets hope the S4C management can sort out the latest chaos as soon as.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Charging for plastic bags.

Retailers in Wales will be obliged to charge customers 5p for single use plastic bags in many circumstances as from midnight tonight. Must admit that I'm rather in favour of this, though personally I feel it would have been more effective if they had been banned altogether. Don't suppose many agree with this view.

Wales has taken this decision before England, Scotland and N. Ireland (I think) - though I anticipate that these other home nations will travel down the same route in due course. Ireland introduced a charge for single use plastic bags 9 years ago and the average annual use by individuals is 26 rather than the 328 before the charge was introduced. As one might expect, the FSB and CBI are expressing concerns - which may well be justified. The main charge against the Welsh Government is that the introduction process has been poorly handled. Local retailers are telling me that they have no idea what's happening. Still, there are not likely to be any prosecutions over the first 3 months. There are bound to be a few teething problems, but that's inevitable with a radical change - which this is.

Returning to my personal opinion, I really cannot see why single use plastic bags are not banned altogether. Everyone would know where they were. Be a bit awkward for a week or two, but everyone would soon learn, and always remember a container of some sort when going out buying. Even if there's an emergency and a last minute shop is needed, supermarkets could sell multi-use plastic bags that would serve as long term shopping bags. Admittedly they would cost a bit, but this sort of emergency shouldn't happen often. So there we are. A provisional tick in the approve box for the Wales Government.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Agreeing with The Archbishop

Good article in today's Western Mail by the Most Rev. Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales about organ donation. He's got it spot on. I am at one with the Archbishop on this.

Let me outline the current legal position, and why I object to changing it. At present, if any individual wants their organs to be made available to others in need after a pronouncement of death, he or she carries a donor card which makes this clear. I carry such a card, have done for decades, as does the Archbishop. The Welsh Government want to change the law so that it will be deemed by the state that all wish to donate organs unless they specify that they do not - that they have to 'opt-out' rather than have to 'opt-in'. In passing I must note that this issue was used in the run-up to the 'powers referendum' last March in what I thought was a deeply immoral way. And there is uncertainty (in my mind if no-one else's) about whether the Welsh Government has the power to do this. Nevertheless we are told to expect a 'white paper' before Xmas.

The reason I have long carried a card in my wallet at all times is that I believe it would be a Christian and noble gesture to allow my organs to be used if they would be of help. I often suggest to others that they might do the same. After careful consideration I have accepted that the state should in some circumstances force individuals to consider this issue by decaring whether they wish to donate or not - driving licence, census etc. But I do not accept that the state should be allowed to make assumptions about the will of individual citizens in respect of their own body parts.

The Archbishop makes the point that 'presumed consent' means in effect that our body parts belong to the state, unless we specify otherwise. Neither he nor I believe this is 'right' in any moral sense. Even worse it means that the state will be able to take body parts from people who did not wish it to do so - simply because they had not got around to registering their objection, as currently many do not register their approval (unless it is assumed that everyone would wish to donate). Further, at present the state has an interest in encouraging people to think about this matter. Under 'presumed consent' the state's interest will be for there to be no publicity and no knowledge of the system. And I simple do not accept that the undoubted good intentions of those proposing the change of law will last even a generation. Its wise always to 'follow the money' - follow the interest. And for me its also that I know its wrong - like euthanasia, assisted suicide, casual abortion etc. Its just wrong - and the convenience of the state will never make it right.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Our Law Making Assembly

My parents bought me my first bicycle for doing well at school. I was not able to ride a bike at the time, and I contented myself with cleaning it and lavishing love and pride upon it. It was a long, long time until I stopped being afraid to ride it. You may ask why this random thought has flitted across my mind today. I think I know why. Its because of Sir Emyr Jones Parry and Sir George Reid.

In a recent most undiplomatic speech, Sir Emyr, the usually urbane ex-diplomat spoke most uncharacteristic about how Wales is governed. You could see written between the lines, in huge bold lettering, the words "WAS IT WORTH IT". He was reflecting on how the Assembly Government is using the law making powers that the voters of Wales decided should be granted to it last March. He asks whether the needs of Wales, which he sees as about skills, the economy and education "are going to be strengthened by an obligation to have cycle lanes in a joined up network across Wales". He also points out that when seeking suggestions from all four parties in the Assembly about how law making powers would be used as taking evidence for the report which carries his name, he says at the time of the referendum, "I asked all 4 parties (what they wanted to do with the new powers) and got half an answer from one". I've always regarded Sir Emyr as a wise and patient man. He must be very frustrated to offer an opinion so undiplomatic. As an aside, what bothers me is that one significant law that the current Assembly Government does want to pass (introducing presumed consent for organ donation) is in my opinion deeply flawed, and unlikely to reach the statute book.

And now we have Sir George Reid (Second Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament) questioning whether the current Assembly Members are up to the job of exercising law making powers. I'm not with him on this. Individuals who have been elected deserve a bit more respect than that. But his point should not be ignored. Being an AM is a changed job. Its no longer just being a good constituency AM. Sir George is suggesting that staff allowancs shouls only be available non-constituency work. Just as I've found it difficult to adjust to accepting that my main role must be as a legislator in the House of Commons, AMs will have to accept the same. These outside voices (of great wisdom) are only pointing out what they think the people of Wales deserve

Sunday, September 18, 2011

S4C issues for Welsh MPs to ponder.

Been involved in much discussion about S4C, the Welsh Language TV channel lately. Its going to carry on. This post reflects on some of the issues, and outlines some of my thinking - which seems not to be universally popular. The more I've had to confront the issues, the more comfortable I've been with my opinions. Just don't think my critics are realistic - and I don't live in the world of make believe.

A recurring question is whether broadcasting in Wales should be devolved to the National Assembly. Have to concede that personally, I have no real objection to this, but its not going to happen - any time soon anyway. A referendum of Welsh voters was held in March which delivered a new devolutionary settlement, and its not going to be revisited while the signatures are still not dry. The reality is that S4C is accountable to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport at Westminster - and that's how its going to stay. The long-term future is another matter.

A second issue is the level of funding for S4C. Roughly speaking, the budget has been reduced from around £120 million to around £100 million - totals derived from the BBC licence fee, the Treasury and BBC programming costs. This budget figure has steadily grown over the decades by guaranteed annual inflation-proofed increases(written in legislation). In my opinion, it is totally unsustainable that while the budgets of defence, policing, education, welfare, and every other part of the DCMS budget is being cut by large percentages, S4C alone should not be. The link in legislation which guaranteed annual increases has to be broken - which is why its included in the Public Bodies Bill.

A third issue of contention is 'accountability' - and here I share some of the concerns of my critics. Since most of S4C's future budget is to come from the BBC licence fee, I accept that the BBC must be involved in governance arrangements - but it must not be in a position of dominance. We have not yet seen the agreement between DCMS, S4C and BBC. But to listen to the critics, the idea of being 'accountable' at all is unacceptable. While public money is funding S4C, it must be accountable. It cannot be allowed to do just what it wants. No body receiving public money can be. The issue revolves around the right balance between 'accountability' and 'independence'. And there is still work to be done on this before concerns, including mine are met.

Another issue that has not received much public attention is the intention of DCMS to undertake a review of S4C over the next year or so. It seems that Jeremy Hunt intends to take his responsibilities seriously. Important that this establishes the role and objectives of S4C, beyond the reach of BBC. Its also interesting that funding for S4C (currently settled until 2015) will from 2015 to 2017 be decided on by the BBC. Its crucial that there are effective levers over the BBC to deliver budgets acceptable to the DCMS. I need to be reassured that the 'review' process for S4C and licence fee negotiations running up to charter renewal in 2017 are strong enough.

There remain uncertainties, and potential for disagreement and debate - which is why I anticipate an important role for Welsh MPs in ensuring a strong Welsh Language TV channel continues into the future.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The welsh Voice being heard.

I think non-Welsh members of the Public Bodies Bill Committee were beginning to look slightly bemused this afternoon. We Welsh MPs on the Committee took over as we considered the future funding and governance of S4C. Began with one of the Government side (Mark Williams) decided to vote with the opposition, and ended when a protester in the public seats began shouting when the vote was announced, and was carted off by officials to spend some time in the nearest thing we have to a cell. I hope she wasn't kept there long, because all she was guilty of was livening things up a bit.

Its a complex issue, and I'd spent a fair bit of time thinking it through and rationalising my position. Still have lots of concerns but in my opinion it would have been very damaging in the longer run to S4C if it had been removed from the Public Bodies Bill. How can it be sustainable that when the Police, the Armed Forces, education, social security etc. are all taking big funding hits that S4C should be exempt (and guarenteed an annual inflation increase). And I just do not accept that its sustainable that any public body receiving taxpayers money should not be accountable to MP (or AMs if broadcasting were to be devolved). Discussion on this issue is not over yet, and there will be ongoing discussion over the funding of S4C - which I happen to think is as it should be. There remain concerns though. The 'governance' deal between S4C and BBC and the Dep't of Culture, Media, and Sport has not been signed off yet. This is key to the 'independence' of S4C.

Have to admit that when I was asked to serve on the Public Bodies Bill Committee, I thought twice about it. Knew I'd be criticised because of my view that public bodies that spend public money should be accountable. I've always thought that, even when I was a 'Quango king' myself - a view reinforced when I watched the embarrassing chaotic goings-on at S4C over the last year or so. Decided I would because (rather arrogantly perhaps) I thought I could present the case as well as any other Coalition MP. Sure enough I'm getting some stick. Blog comments are calling me a 'bradwr' (Welsh for traitor) though only by anonymous persons - and told by some that they will never vote for me again (again anonymous). Painful and inevitable. This debate is going to run. If nothing else it forces Wales into the conscienceless of the UK Parliament.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I don't do 'Wobbling'.

I was horrified tonight when it was suggested to me that I might be 'wobbling' about the way I intend to vote on an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill next Thursday morning. I've been considering carefully, but I do not do 'wobbling'. I'm still having serious trouble with my spine, but I've always prided myself on 'backbone'. I was offended to hear it suggested. If I ever decide to vote against my Government, the first to know will be the whips and the relevant ministers.

At issue is whether S4C should remain a part of Schedule 3 of the Public Bodies Bill. To some of you this will be double dutch - but what it amounts to is whether the UK Government (while S4C remains non devolved) should have any overall influence over the governance arrangements of the Welsh Language TV channel, S4C. Since I do believe that as far as possible, S4C should be operationally and editorially 'independent', I have had to think carefully about this issue - particularly since one of the Government MPs on the Committee examining the Bill has made clear that he is voting with the opposition. This means that the Government majority is reduced from 3 to just 1 - and because its known that the Welsh Language is hugely important to me, I have become something of a campaigner's target. In general, I believe in politicians being accountable, and in the end, I really cannot accept that even S4C should be totally without democratic accountability. I also think (and this is a touch provocative perhaps) that some of the poor governance we've seen over the last few years has been because there was so little external 'governance'.

I have received a huge amount of correspondence over this issue. Its been a good well organised campaign. Forced me to think through my position on it very thoroughly. But having decided where I stand on the issue, I'm feeling relaxed and certain in my stance - which is not to say that I will not be asking Ministers for some firm assurances on Thursday morning. Quite looking forwards to standing up without a 'wobble' in sight.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lib Dem 'Huffing and Puffing'.

There seems to be a lot of threatening noises coming from my Liberal Democrat colleagues at the moment. We're told that Vince Cable may resign unless some sort of Glass-Seagall regulating arrangemnet put in place following the Vickers Report on banking reform to be published tomorrow. And then we hear that Chris Huhne might resign if the 50% income tax rate is abolished. This is not good for team spirit. Perhaps it will all calm down again after the party conferences are over.

I'm no economist and take an entirely pragmatic approach to these issues. Like most people, I've been nauseated by the greed and selfishness of our leading bankers, but would not want to introduce changes which damaged the UK just to spite them. I sense that there should be a division between 'normal' banking activity and the more risky 'investment' banking - but also worry that the UK will lose business if we introduce these changes without international agreement. No point in cutting off our noses for a favourable headline.

And the 50% tax rate is the same. If it transpires that it raises very little for the Treasury, and damages our economy, I'd want to scrap it. But if it does raise a decent slug of tax, it should not be scrapped until we can afford it and at the same time as a tax cut for the less well off. Its difficult to hold a rational discussion with any of my friends about bankers and the 50% tax rate - but I suspect that there are not that many investment bankers or 50% taxpayers in Montgomeryshire.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Next round of battle over onshore wind on Monday.

Its odd to read about what I've always thought of as 'conservative' institutions (Telegraph, National Trust, CPRE and CPRW etc.) laying into the Coalition Government over its policy towards rural England (and to some extent rural Wales). In fact it seems more to be laying into the Conservative Party. There are two bones of contention, one of which I gnaw with relish, and one of which I need to know more about. The first is the horror of onshore wind farms and associated infrastructure, and the second is the proposed planning reforms.

There is a meeting in the Commons on Monday, between 2.30 and 4.00 for a discussion amongst concerned parliamentarians. The Telegraph reckons there will be over 80 of us. Lets see. I'll tell you how many on Mon. night. I'm a bit concerned that the meeting is being trailed as 'a first shot across the Government's bows'. I fired my first shot years ago, and several more shots since. Its the people of rural Britain that has been firing the shots, and its only now that parliamentarians are catching up.

I'm not so sure about the planning reforms - though I've commented on this blog about the intemperate language that seems to have infected this important and needed debate. My views remain unsettled, and are influenced by past experiences - Chair of a planning authority for 7 years, Chair of a development agency for 5 years, president of CPRW for 3 years prior to being elected, and a critic of the slowness of deciding planning applications where I live all my life. In particular, I don't understand the outrage about 'a presumption in favour of sustainable development'. I thought that was the current position. Certainly was throughout my 7 years, leading a planning authority. The underlying principle should be that a planning application should be approved - unless there is a proper planning reason to refuse it.

Anyway roll on Monday. I hope the war against the horrid onshore wind sector gathers strength over the next few months.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Scottish Conservatives no more?

Lot of publicity for the suggestion by Murdo Fraser that the Scottish Conservative Party should be 'disbanded' and replaced by a new centre/right party in Scotland. This suggestion must be taken seriously because Murdo is in with a good chance of becoming the leader of the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament. The idea (and attendant publicity) is great for Murdo, whom I know, and who has always been a great enthusiast for developing a distinctive 'Scottish' Conservative presence North of the border, in the same way Nick Bourne did in Wales during his period as leader. In passing, I should opine that I believe Andrew Davies will follow the same furrow as Nick. Murdo's suggestion is also good in that it will lead to debate amongst Scots about the Conservative Party, which hasn't happened in any positive way for a while.

I do remember there being some discussion about a change of name for the Conservative Party in Wales amongst Assembly Members a few years ago. I think it was my colleague, David Melding, who is now Deputy Presiding Officer who made the suggestion. I never knew how serious David was about the idea, but he certainly wanted us to consider ways of connecting better with the Welsh electorate. The name change was never taken seriously as I recall - but a change of image and attitude was. Even though I was not in favour of setting up the National Assembly, I've always felt that the referendum result of 1997 was a moment of great change for Welsh governance. Since the result was announced on that fateful Sept 19th morning, I've been supportive of a distinctive 'Conservative' part in Wales committed to a successful Assembly, growing in power and stature - but remaining part of the United Kingdom. It underpinned my politics during my 8 years as an AM, and it has not changed since I became an MP. But in the end, a change of name is not enough. What really matters are positive attitudes and policies towards Scotland and Wales.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


Trudy Baynes Hill had become a good friend over the last few years. She died on Thursday morning. Don't know how old she was, but a lot younger than I am. Trudy was a special person, who overcame huge setbacks to her health, and carried on with a incredible mixture of determination and cheerfulness. I first knew her when we were both working for the Development Board for Rural Wales in the late 80s, but got to know her well through working together campaigning for a renal dialysis unit in Montgomeryshire (Welshpool Hospital). When we established the Powys Branch of Kidney Foundation Wales, Trudy became chair and I became secretary.

Trudy suffered much ill health. She was one of the early heart and lung transplants carried out at Papworth Hospital. She also suffered from breast cancer, and renal failure meant that she was a three times a week' dialyser. I recall her telling how she once 'died' for several minutes, and had several ribs broken as she was resuscitated. Despite all of this, she was always chatty and cheerful, no matter how ill she must have felt.

Sympathies go to her family, who I'm sure will be feeling a great sense of loss. I too will miss the morning coffees we had at the Exchange in Newtown (where she worked part-time as much as she could) and the Old Station in Welshpool (on her way through to Shrewsbury for dialysis). We used to discuss 'renal' matters, and put the world to rights (Trudy was not short of opinions). Montgomeryshire has lost an inspirational woman, and those who knew her have lost a good friend.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Lembit loses out on Mayoral bid.

Inevitably, the activities of my predecessor as Montgomeryshire MP, are reported to me by friends. Today was another big day for him in that the result of the contest to be the Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London was being announced. I could see it didn't look good when Lembit was quoted this morning as saying "I have been in politics long enough to be able to read writing when its on the wall". And tonight the anticipated bad news was confirmed. The Lib Dems have chosen Brian Paddick to take on Boris and Ken Livingstone - with that household name, Mike Tuffrey in second place.

Must admit I would quite like Lembit to have won the nomination. I always got along quite well with him, and he would certainly have put Montgomeryshire on the map. Even tonight's BBC announcement of the result is all about Lembit, with Brian Paddick's victory a mere afterthought. It was a bit like that when I won Montgomeryshire at the last General Election. It was a very big deal for me, and a stunning win for my local Conservative activists, but the media coverage was mostly about Lembit losing! I fully expect Boris to win next May, but I would have preferred Lembit to Livingstone!

But even by Lembit's standards, his comments in response to defeat were a bit breath-taking. He compared his predicament as akin to that of Nelson Mandela (seriously I think) - in that both of them have been forced to spend time in 'the wilderness'. Must admit that comment did made me laugh. I hear his next aim is to become the Lib Dem candidate to be Police Commissioner for Dyfed Powys. I wonder how that will go.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why 'Assisted Suicide' is wrong.

Dominating article on front page of today's Telegraph reading "Call to legalise assisted suicide". Interesting in the sense of why was it there today. Nothing significant has happened. The Telegraph has allowed today's edition to be used as a part of a 'softening up' exercise - preparing the ground for a carefully planned 'offensive' later in the year to change the law which criminalises assisted suicide. I look on it as the opening salvo of a battle to come, lurking just over the horizon.

The issue is very sensitive and complex. The Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised suicide. The same act created the offence of assisting suicide. This is a bit odd in that since 1961 it has been a criminal offence to help someone do something which is not an offence! Its also unusual in that any prosecution requires the specific consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The purpose of the Suicide Act was to prevent legal action against extremely vulnerable people, who had attempted suicide, without undermining the sanctity of human life. Its a typically British approach to the law - based on common sense, compromise and precedent. The law has not been invoked since 1961 where reasonableness suggests it shouldn't have been. There have been few, if any, cases where the DPP's consent has been given to a prosecution which was obviously undesirable.

Yet, despite the above, there has been an ongoing campaign to change the law, and make assisting suicide legal. The campaign is usually conducted with reference to the sort of cases which precedent indicates that prosecution would not take place. The argument for change is based on a human right (within the EU Convention) to end one's life at a time, and in a place, and in circumstances of one's own choosing. Article 8 reads 'Everyone has a right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence' - but it is qualified by what follows. There have been some slight non-fundamental changes as a consequence of legal cases involving Dianne Pretty and Debbie Purdy.

Now to today's Telegraph article. Lord Falconer, former Labour lord chancellor and long term advocate of changing the law is heading an inquiry by the think tank, Demos, entitled 'Commission on Assisted Dying'. Its a title that makes it seem in some way 'independent' which it is very definitely not. Lord Falconer's intention is to publish a report that looks 'weighty' as a base for a change in the law that he has long wanted to see. A social care 'expert' named Martin Green has been giving evidence to Lord Falconer's Committee, and the Telegraph has been persuaded to give great prominence to what he's had to say. His arguments are those that have been used, and rejected, in the past.

Now to why I oppose a change in the law. A secondary reason is that, as Martin Green concedes, it is not possible to eliminate the risk that people will change their minds, particularly people with dementia who go through major personality changes as the disease progresses. Another secondary reason is that the unscrupulous will use the law to remove inconvenient elderly and disabled through pressure on vulnerable people. But for me much the strongest argument is the pressure which will be generated by self-generated pressure and society norms on the elderly and disabled to remove the burden that they represent by suicide. I am a Board Member of 'Living and Dying Well' a public policy research organisation committed to evidence-based consideration of the facts surrounding the issue of the assisted dying debate in the UK. Our Chairman is Lord Carlile of Berriew - two former next door neighbours uniting in the UK Parliament on a social issue of great importance to both of us. Without strong evidence to demonstrate that my concerns will be assuaged, I will do what I can to resist a change in the law to legalise assisted suicide.