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.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Andrew R. T.

In Today's Wales on Sunday, Matt Withers asks some searching questions about the new leader of the Conservative group in the National Assembly for Wales. Matt seems to think that because Andrew had to face a competent opponent in order to win the position of leader, it automatically follows that there are "two distinct trains of thought" running through the group in the Assembly. Well, I did not see anything suggesting such division, (beyond what would be normally expected in a leadership contest), and seen nothing of note since. Truth is there has been, since the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales, differing opinions within the Conservative Party towards devolution. It seems to be less so today than its been since the referendum in 1997. Personally, I saw not much difference between what Andrew and Nick Ramsey were saying in the run up to the leadership vote. It seems that Nick is more in favour of 'Welshifying' the Party, whatever that means. I have heard this same proposition put forward by other commentators as well. If that's supposed to mean developing a strong and distinctive Welsh dimension to the Assembly Conservative group's policies, then I think Andrew will deliver just that. For what its worth I think Andrew R T Davies will lead a very united Assembly Conservative group into the next Assembly Election in 2016, will develop a good working relationship with his Westminster colleagues, and will also develop a good relationship with other opposition parties in Wales.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Beauty in the eye of the beholder!

Letter from Peter Fineman in today's telegraph. - Winston Churchill once sat next to an air marshal's wife, who wore an aeroplane brooch on her ample bosom. Noticing him looking at it she asked "Are you admiring my aeroplane?" to which Churchill responded "No Madam, the aerodrome." He would probably be hounded out of office by the Daily Mail today. I wouldn't dare say such a thing. It would without doubt be reported on the BBC in Wales.

Planning Gain for Community Benefit

Powys County Council copied me into a press release today concerning a proposed development at Hay-on-Wye. I so approve of the principle involved that its worth a blog post. The proposal involves a development company, Powys County Council itself and the local community. The public-private partnership principle is that enough profit should be generated by private sector delivery of profitable retail and social care space to finance a new 240 pupil school and community centre (at no cost to the Council). Don't know the details of the proposals, but I do like the underpinning principle. Lets have more of it. And lets look at the sorts of other things that might work.

Here's me thinking aloud. Yesterday, I visited the HQ of the Powys Local Health Board at Bronllys. It looks just as I imagine an east European prison block might have looked on being left derelict for 20 years. How on earth can staff morale survive entry through the door laughably marked 'RECEPTION'. OK inside, and Bronllys is a nice place. I wonder if there's any potential for housing development profit to finance investment in the LHB HQ?

Or this. Castle Caereinion is a small village near our home, where numbers in the school are just above OK. With enough new housing permission, the school's future could be assured (and the local shop) and a 200 yd bypass of the village centre could be built which would greatly enhance the village centre. Cannot advocate this though without the local council's support.

Or on a bigger scale. If £30 billion worth of permissions of varying sorts could be identified in S E Wales, a new Severn Barrage could be built by the private sector, saving the Welsh Uplands from crazy desecration by onshore wind farms.

Or even the Montgomery Canal. I always thought that it could have been fully restored to its former glory, if enough development opportunity had been identified alongside it. And on and on we could go.

Unfortunately the reality is different. For example a developer has been seeking permission to build a Marstons Pub in Welshpool for over 30 weeks now. I'm told that another application for a Marston's Pub submitted in London on the same day was approved in 7 weeks. I hear stacks of similar complaints about attitude towards development in Powys. Seems to me unforgivable that potential job creating work should be left sitting in planning department in trays at present. But let me not be churlish. This post is about my County Council actually showing initiative.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Protecting Our Countryside

I do not like the ongoing undignified row between Government and organisations concerned with protecting the countryside - suffering 'split loyalties'. Am a longstanding member of the National Trust and until elected MP for Montgomeryshire was President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. Was also Chair of a Local Planning Authority for 7 years in the 1980s. This row concerns disagreement over plans to redesign and simplify national planning policy (in England)- which is undoubtedly needed. But there should be constructive debate. Inevitably there will be disagreement, but there's no need for a shouting match.

Friends, who share my love for the countryside are telling me (as Clive Aslet is doing in today's Telegraph) that the Government's proposal is to "let development rip through those parts of Britain that aren't formally protected as National Parks or part of the Green Belt". They tell me that "we are throwing out of the window the directing of development towards brown field sites". This is unjustified over-the-top language. But Government Ministers have responded by dismissing these concerns as 'selfish nihilism' and my friends as 'left-wingers within the national HQs of pressure groups'. They are no such thing. They are people who care about the countryside, and do not want to see it sacrificed to accommodate rapidly expanding population levels, driven by immigration and family breakdown. Their concerns should be taken seriously.

At root, the problem is too many people. If the population of Britain is allowed to continue to grow as it has been doing, and is doing, some of our cherished countryside is going to disappear under concrete. And its no good forcing our rapidly expanding population into ever more densely populated urban pockets. Recent rioting on the streets has shown us where that leads. Today, we learn that in the last year, net immigration was around a quarter of a million people. This is unsustainable, and will destroy the Britain we know. There is something depressingly pathetic about reducing such an important issue to an exchange of insults. I'm going to have to take more interest in the proposals to change planning regulations, even if they do not apply in Wales.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Power of the 'Blue Foxes'.

The 'Blue Foxes' have put the issue of 'hunting with dogs' back on the political agenda. They are a group of Conservative lady MPs who do not believe the Hunting with Dogs Act should be repealed. In today's Western Mail, and reported on the BBC in Wales, much is made of an intervention in the debate by Andrew R T Davies, leader of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly for Wales. Andrew takes the view that the Coalition Government should hold a vote in Parliament on the issue, and comes out firmly on the 'repeal' side.

This is interesting from several perspectives, the first being whether the Assembly group leader should be telling the Coalition Government what it should and shouldn't be doing. Must declare that I'm entirely comfortable with this myself. No reason why he shouldn't tell us what he thinks, as long as he realises that its not going to make any difference. So happens, I agree with much that he has said, though not in any hurry to hold the vote. There's too much else in the Government's in-tray at the moment.

The Hunting with Dogs Act is a very bad law, which has already become discredited. Much hunting is continuing, within the law, simply by changing certain practises, making a a mockery of the Act. It really ought to be repealed. But its not so simple. Firstly we do not know that there is a majority in the House of Commons in favour of Appeal. Not enough 'repealers' were elected, and a few have turned out not to be 'repealers' after all. There may not be a very big coven (or is it pack) of 'Blue Foxes' but they do make a difference. And there's absolutely no point in holding a vote that is going to be lost!

Personally, I would vote for repeal if there were to be a vote - just as I was ferociously opposed to the legislation as it was being passed in the first place. For someone who has never hunted, or taken pleasure in any form of country sport, including fishing, for over 40 years, my outrage was and remains intense. Libertarian instincts flow strongly through this rural breast. In fact I was so outraged that I've allowed the Tanatside Hunt to meet on my farm ever since the ban was introduced, and they will be free to do so for evermore.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Our Court System working well.

See that my good friend, Lord Carlile of Berriew has been telling the BBC that he thinks the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are going to 'fall-out' over the sentencing of rioters. I do not think this will be the case - at least not to any meaningful extent. I do agree there may be differences in rhetoric, but I would expect the MPs of both parties to accept that politicians should not interfere with the courts.

Despite this non-interference approach, there is absolutely no reason why politicians should not have an opinion. It would be very odd if politicians did not have an opinion on a matter of such importance. I also believe that all MPs accept, as Lord Carlile seems to that "There is absolutely no doubt that the riot situation calls for severer sentences". There is a difference between stealing something, and 'looting' as part of a riot, even when the act, in isolation, is the same. Our magistrates and judges know this, and will sentence accordingly - which is why we've been seeing some harsh punishments handed down. No doubt some of these will be reduced on appeal. Nothing wrong with that, because the appeal system is part of the judicial process. Must add that I have been hugely impressed by how the court system has risen to the challenge of dealing with so many criminals at the same time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Children's Hospital Services in Shropshire (and Mid wales)

Met with Adam Cairns and John Davies, Chief Executive and Chair of the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust today. Subject under discussion was the reconfiguration of hospital services in Shropshire. Matters to Montgomeryshire because we don't have a DGH, and most people see the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals as their 'local' hospital for emergency and elective treatment. And Telford is another 20/30 minutes further away from us.

Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the proposals is the bringing together of paediatric services (currently on both sites) into a £28 million spanking new purpose-built children's unit at Telford. Not surprisingly this move has angered the people of Montgomeryshire (including me). About 800 of us turned out at 3 public meetings earlier this year to tell the Trust that we were strongly opposed to their plan. The Trust took not one blind bit of notice and went ahead with their proposal anyway. It currently awaits formal approval. At the public meetings, Adam Cairns said that he would consider a 24 hour Paediatric Assessment Unit (PAU) at Shrewsbury (as a sort of concession) but it has now been made clear that this is not to be. The PAU will be closing at 10.00pm. Most of our meeting today was about this issue. Let me tell you what was said.

The Chief Exec conceded that he had said he would look at the 24 hour proposal at the public meetings in Montgomeryshire. However, the idea was roundly condemned by all his advisors - the official Assessment Panel, the Trust's paediatricians, and even those who were opposed to the principle of the move to Telford. It seems that there would be very little practical point. In most cases, children will be taken direct to Telford by ambulance (if its obviously serious) or to the nearest A & E Dep't - where they would either be assessed as able to go home or again taken direct to the new unit in Telford. In any case, on average there are only a total of 3 cases per night after 10.00 in both hospitals. All a PAU would achieve is to tie up paediatric consultants in a unit without patients. Don't blame the messenger. This is what I was told today.

So that's the official line. However, the trust has agreed to hold another round of meetings to update the public about what stage their proposals have reached - in Llanidloes, Newtown and Welshpool this autumn. I hope these meetings are on days when I am not tied to Westminster. More importantly I hope those who attend these meetings will challenge the Trust on their proposals and the reasons they give to justify them. Montgomeryshire parents are going to take some convincing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No sex please we're All Blacks.

When I played rugby around the North of England and Midlands, we took preparation seriously. No drinking for at least 12 hours before the match. At least 10 minutes heavy bonding in the changing room, with much noisy foot stamping and shouting. And another five minutes hate-generation on the field before kick off (I was always excused this part, because by this stage my fuse was already alight). Must admit I was never convinced about this stuff, and was greatly relieved when I returned home to play in mid Wales, where all we had to do was be on the field by kick-off. Occasionally the odd player was still having a pee behind the big tree at Feggy Leasowe when the whistle went - bad form but nothing like as unacceptable as that French actor who took a pee in the aisle on a Cityjet aircraft yesterday.

Anyway back to rugby preparation - and the fearsome All Blacks. They have always been a bit unusual with the bulgy-eyed, Michael Jackson routine they call the Haka. But in today's press I read of an amazing new development which demands that the entire New Zealand population gives up sex until after next month's Rugby world Cup. All the nation's passion should be directed into supporting the national team. Now I might not have taken much notice of this, except that the media 'messenger' is Sean Fitzpatrick, one of the most inspirational captains ever in world rugby. If I was a New Zealander, that would be it until the world cup was safely in the cupboard. Sean's message is asking all New Zealanders to "selflessly step into the bedchambers of this fine country, throw aside your natural instincts, and your lacy underwear (especially the men), stand proudly in your flannelette's and whisper "I love you New Zealand".

Another idea the newspapers are reporting today which was considered by the All Blacks was to have near naked models on Harley Davidsons driving 1000 sheep through the streets of Auckland. Don't ask me why. But the Head of New Zealand's RSPCA was outraged that the rest of the world would see images of these sheep panting, scared and possibly injured as they clattered down the streets of Auckland. Now if he'd said this about the male pedestrians I could have understood what he was trying to say. Nice idea, but I can think of several reasons why I don't think this tactic would have worked - making sheep pant would not be one of them.

Now you may laugh at these ideas, but Clive Woodward taught us 8 years ago that attention to the most minor detail made the difference. With the support of panting sheep, naked female bikers, and an entire sex starved nation behind them, my money is on the All Blacks.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oh No. Not more 'phone hacking' moral outrage.

Oh how our media must have been spitting when rioting, looting and other forms of criminal activity forced them to lift up their eyes from their navels, and the phone hacking infection that nestles there. Anyway, enough of this coverage of civil disorder and criminality - enough of this distraction of jobs, economy and deficits. So what if the Home Secretary made an important speech today. Its time to get back to 'Hackgate', and some serious navel inspection.

It seems that MPs on the 'culture' committee have today released a letter written by Clive Goodman, a former NoW journalist who was jailed for 4 months in 2007 for phone hacking. The supposed 'smoking gun' in this letter is Mr Goodman's assertion that he was promised his job back after serving his sentence if he didn't implicate the NoW in court. Now I think this is interesting, and there will have to be some effort to discover whether Mr Goodman was telling the truth or just trying to get his job back. And we need to know why the NoW made such an offer - if it actually did. Now I can understand why the BBC are going big on this, because its a wonderful opportunity to discredit their main rival. And the Guardian because its 'their' story. But I really do hope that tomorrow's newspapers (that I buy) are not going to give us more wall-to-wall of it. I know its an important issue, but I'm bored. And I also know that not a single Montgomeryshire constituent has raised the issue with me for weeks. I used to have lots of letters, emails and cards, almost all of which had been prepared by lobbying groups which had it in for the Murdochs - but hardly a single unprompted approach from a constituent ever. Almost every constituent has a view on the riots, even in Montgomeryshire. My worst nightmare is that we have another six hours of moral outrage in the Commons when we go back in early September.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Siren Voice of Inaction.

Sometimes I find politics a bit depressing. Today was such a day. The response to the Prime Minister's speech about how to respond to the riots of last week was as unconstuctive as it was dispiriting. David Cameron had no option but to discuss various steps that the Government could take. Just imagine what the reaction would be if all he said was that we are going to do is hold an 'inquiry' that will report in 3 years time. Don't suppose every proposal mentioned will go forward, certainly without amendment, but I believe bringing a moral dimension into the debate is essential. Criminal behavior is not neutral. It is wrong, and criminals should not be allowed to get away with it. As I've listened to the media over the last few days, I've realised that there is a bigger gap between the media and the people than between politicians and the people. The one thing our Prime Minister should not do is listen to the media, who use bloodhound-like skills to track down people who will rubbish every word he speaks. Its the sterile game that they play.

"Lets consider some conditions on benefits, in that those who riot should suffer some loss". Can't possibly do that because with less money, those on benefit will have more incentive to rob. "Lets consider a 'war on gangs'". Oh dear, can't possibly use a word like 'war'. "Lets make both parents take responsibility for their children". Can't possibly do that because it may stigmatise single parents, even though it does no such thing. Almost every comment on the Prime Minister's speech demanded the spending of more public money which we do not have. "Lets reform the police force so that its more responsive to the public and more than 12% of police are out on the street at any one time". How dare politicians do or say anything that has not been approved of by every Chief Constable in the land. And on and on it goes. What David Cameron has to do is follow his instincts, and not be diverted from taking on those who will always find reasons for doing nothing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The respective roles of the Police and Politicians.

Over the last week, the regard in which the police are held by the British people has increased significantly. So has public understanding about the main role of the police - retaining public order, and by whatever force is needed. We all hope the police can defend us and our property without using excessive force, but if needs be force must be used. Because we have not felt for many years that our way of life has been threatened by the sort of thuggish criminal behaviour we saw last week, we have become complacent. We are not complacent now, and have a much clearer idea of what the police are for. They are what stands between us and Hobbsian anarchy.

But none of this means that the police are beyond questioning. And while operational matters are entirely for the police, there is a role for politicians in questioning, in taking an opinion on performance, and in developing overall strategic direction. After all, we pass the laws. The police cannot be a law unto themselves. Its the politicians responsible for the police that have to stand before public scrutiny. Not sure that every senior policeman gets this. Reading today's press has strengthened my support for the introduction of elected police commissioners. Accountability matters.

Two other issues bother me as well. Firstly all this conjecture about Bill Bratton - and I've no idea whether he would want to run the Met or whether anyone would want him to. But it seems illogical to me to limit the application list to just British police personnel. I cannot think of a single reason why this should be. We want the best person available to take on what is one of the most difficult jobs in the country. And in my opinion, it doesn't matter where they come from.

And finally, there's the matter of police funding. I do not like reducing police funding, just as I do not like reducing defence spending, or education funding, or charity support, or S4C spending etc., etc.. (Maybe I'd support transferring the massive subsidies for onshore wind farms though) We have a huge deficit and threatening debts, and we have a credible deficit reduction plan, which has made the UK a 'safe haven' and kept our borrowing costs very low. Any backsliding under pressure will cause huge damage to our credibility with the international markets. Its just not going to happen. The price would be too high. I know that this is not a popular view at the moment, but as it was last week, and it is for everyone else, it comes down to a question of operational priorities for the police. And they must have the support of politicians to deliver on their priorities. Which is why I think MPs should be making a point of emphasising how much they value the police at the moment. Its a tough time for them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Voice of an Angry Woman.

Spoke at length to a constituent today who left me speechless - in the sense that I had no answers - at least none that I felt it appropriate to offer. She just brought home to me the scale of punishment that is being handed out to people who have worked hard to raise a family without relying on the state.

My constituent is a successful schoolteacher earning just about enough to take her into the higher rate tax band. Her husband has taken on the role of caring for their three children. So they are going to lose all of their child allowance, knowing that other couples earning almost twice as much will be keeping theirs. She also pointed out that she will have to pay a lot more of her wages to fund her pension, and that she will have to work for longer before she receives it.

Now to that which, entirely reasonably, made her so angry that she decided for the first time in her life to raise her feelings with her MP. She knows people that live ever so comfortably on the state, spending the money she pays in taxes, and never giving a thought to working to earn their own money. And she's had to watch while bankers, with shameless greed, have pocketed billions in bonuses, after her taxes were used to bail them out following their spectacular incompetence. Like her and many before me, I do find these millionaire bankers to be like sewers - nauseating but necessary.

As I listened, I felt rather helpless. The issues she raised are way 'beyond my pay grade' to change. I could have pointed out that the previous Government so screwed up the economy that we have little choice but to take tough decisions to repair the mess - but I didn't. I do not think it would have helped. But when I listen to really hard working and responsible people telling me how it is, I feel sickened by the likes of Gordon Brown and Ed Balls and their economic 'clever dick' illiteracy refusing to accept any shard of blame for the appalling damage they inflicted on the British economy. Pray they never get the chance to do it again.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Extracts - Prime Minister's Speech today

"Keeping people safe is the first duty of Government"

"It is criminality pure and simple".

"We will do whatever it takes to restore law and order and rebuild our communities".

"People stealing flat screen televisions was not about politics or protest, it was about theft">

"No phony human rights concerns about publishing photographs will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice".

"The Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said he would be the last man in Scotland Yard, with all of his management team out on the streets before he asked for the army".

"Whenever the Police face a new threat - they must have the freedom and the confidence to change tactics. This Government will make sure they always have that".

"I can confirm that any individual, homeowner or business that has suffered damage to or loss oftheir buildings or property as a result of rioting, can seek compensation under the Riot Damages Act, even if uninsured".

"Normally claims must be received within 14 days. We will extend the period to 42 days".

"We will weed out unnecessary planning regulations to ensure that businesses can get back on their feet and feel secure as quickly as possible".

"The Government will also meet the immediate costs of emergency accommodation for families made homeless".

"There is a moral problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong".

"And to the lawless minority, the criminals who have taken what they can get, I say; We will track you down, we will find, we will charge you, and we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done".

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Reclaiming our streets

Biggest question for our Government for a long time is how to deal with the current criminal activity that is disfiguring our society. I'm hugely pleased that Parliament has been recalled. There is no option but to reclaim the streets, and we must do whatever it takes. It seems that there are huge numbers rioting, but in truth its probably a minority, with massively more young people hiding behind their doors frightened of the thugs who have taken over their street.

Lots of people are advocating putting the military on the street, and using water cannon, plastic bullets etc. This would be a seriously big deal. Don't think we have ever used plastic bullets to control riots in the UK. Far better that if its going to happen, it should be done with the approval of Parliament. I've taken a fair bit of stick on my Facebook site for this opinion. Most commenters want to go in with the army now.

I do find the justification that some commentators are giving for the violence to be unacceptaable. What we have seen is the actions of criminals and theives. The police must throw the kitchen sink at this and everyone found guilty of contributing to what's happened should be shown little sympathy by the courts. This has been a bad day for the image of the UK across the world, but I do think its a time for cool heads, not rash actions. Whenever the country faces a situation in which there may be a need to take some dramatic steps to take control, its as well for a Prime Minister to keep options open. There may be a variety of complex reasons behind where we are, but at present there is one dominating objective - and that is to reclaim control of the street. I desperately hope that our unarmed (generally) police can recover control the situation.

And finally, I've just watched Harriet Harmon on Newsnight delivering a very disappointing performance, about which I do not think it wise to comment. I do hope Ed Miliband takes a more responsible and statesmanlike approach on Thursday. Michael Gove really let fly - and she deserved it (in my opinion).

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

One-way to Hell in Welshpool

Things of which I approve are happening at Powys County Council. The cosy consensus which has stultified debate and ostracised the voice of the people for 20 years has been smashed. A ruling coalition has been formed (currently Powys Independents and Lib Dems) something which I always approved of, though preferring the Conservatives to be involved. Next year perhaps. As a consequence of this, an 'opposition' has also emerged - to 'oppose'. Initially, it seemed to me that the new governing coalition successfully smothered any potential for genuine opposition by taking control of the 'scrutiny' committees - a dastardly plan. But the Chief executive has stepped in. It seems that we are now to have 'committees' established to conduct reviews of issues, taking evidence, making recommendations - in effect holding the ruling coalition to account. Well done, Mr Paterson. Democracy is not dead in Powys after all.

Now to the interesting first issue under discussion, the new traffic gyratory system at Welshpool - otherwise known as the one-way system. A committee, under the Chairmanship of Cllr. David Jones has been established to look at how it's working, or not! Perhaps they might even ask why it was introduced in the first place. I can see this putting one or two noses out of joint. Good. Great stuff. At long last we will have Councillors asking the questions that the people they represent want asked.

Personally, I hate one way systems. They usually cause more problems than they solve. They work fine when traffic is light, but cannot cope with heavy traffic - especially when delivery vehicles are allowed to completely stuff up the system by parking on Berriew St. and Severn St. during the daytime. Dozens of people have approached me with their concerns. Firstly by town centre businesses suffering a loss of trade, and secondly by people concerned about the greater danger in crossing Broad St., especially for the elderly and less mobile. Only thing positive you can say is that it's nothing like as bad as Newtown. So don't hold back Councillor Jones. Lets have a hard-hitting report. And when you've done with this issue, I've a few other ideas for your committee to look into.