Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Debate - Westminster : Organ Donation

Glyn Davies:

Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak in this important debate on an issue that has long been a strong interest of mine. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) on securing the debate, and on the reasoned and comprehensive way in which he presented his case. I apologise to him and to you, Mr Hollobone; I did not notice that this debate was taking place until about five minutes before it started, so I must apologise if my comments are in any way disjointed.

Donating an organ is just about the greatest gift that anybody can make. It is wonderful to do so on death, but it is perhaps even more so in life, such as when people donate kidneys altruistically. I know several people who have done so, and it is one of the greatest things that anyone can do. Today is a particularly good day to discuss organ donation; the night before last, we watched Erik Compton, who has had two heart transplants, come second in the US Open golf championship. It demonstrates how a transplant can not only give life but can allow the recipient to live a life that is completely full and to do the most amazing things. Coming second in the US Open is a pretty amazing thing to have done.

My own interest started with a woman I knew, Trudy, who was a constituent, although I was not her MP at the time. She had one of the first heart and lung transplants at Papworth. She was a most amazing person. Together, we worked to deliver kidney dialysis in Montgomeryshire, where there was none. A dialysis unit has now been delivered by the Welsh a Government, and is delivering a terrific service. Trudy died a couple of years ago, but the dialysis unit stands as a monument to the fantastic woman that she was.

I am a trustee of the Kidney Wales Foundation. One of the disappointments in my public life is that I am in disagreement with the foundation about changing the organ donation system to one based on presumed consent. I am the only trustee who takes this view. I disagree completely with what the Welsh Government has done in changing the law to introduce presumed consent. I have always been a bit disappointed by this disagreement. The aim of every trustee—me and all the others, despite the disagreement-is to increase the number of organ donations and the number of organs available. I have always been driven by the evidence. I have never been influenced by the ethical aspects of this debatede. I am influenced only by where the evidence takes me in terms of how to deliver the most organs. I firmly believe that what the Welsh Government have done will absolutely not deliver more organs, despite what Welsh Ministers say, and which the media repeats, parrot fashion, without looking at the evidence.

The only time I ever feel resentful in this sensitive debate is when, as has so often happened on the numerous times I have been invited to speak about this issue in the media, somebody in desperate need of a new organ is interviewed and I am then asked why I want to prevent them from having an organ. I am utterly appalled by the media’s lack of objectivity and the lack of reference to evidence when dealing with the issue.

We need to move forward as best we can and I want to focus on policy for the future. I will make some specific points. We must look at what happened in Spain. Spain has been referred to in this debate on several occasions and it is a huge success story. However, it is often incorrectly referred to as a country that operates an opt-out system. That claim is absolutely false, even if the Welsh Government used it as part of the basis for their argument. Despite experts writing to them to tell them that their claim is false, it is still what they based their consultation on. It was a disgrace to conduct a consultation on those misleading terms.

What happened in Spain was that opt-out legislation was introduced in 1979. Twelve months later, it was pretty well abandoned. It remains on the statute book, but as sometimes happens to laws, it has never been implemented. Ten years later the Spanish Government realised that the legislation was not working and introduced a series of other changes. It was these changes that we should replicate and concentrate on if we are to make a difference.

We should also learn lessons from the organ donation taskforce, which my hon. Friend referred to several times. It did a terrific job under its great chair, Elizabeth Buggins, who is one of the most expert people on this issue. The taskforce considered the issue for two or three years. Everyone assumed that the taskforce would recommend a change to presumed consent. However, when it produced a report, all its members had changed their minds because they had looked at the evidence. The person who has taken over from me in Montgomeryshire as the driving force locally behind promoting renal dialysis believed that changing to presumed consent was a right way forward. I said, “Look at the evidence.” As soon as she studied that evidence, she changed her mind.

Andrew Griffiths: I thank my hon. Friend not only for attending the debate, but for making such an important and heartfelt contribution; I think that we all value that. I understand what he is saying about the opt-in system versus the opt-out system and the need to follow the evidence. However, does he agree that ultimately organ donation should be my choice? It should be the individual’s choice as to whether their organs are used for donation after they die, and nobody else’s choice.

Glyn Davies: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is a perfectly reasonable position to take. I do not know what the figures are—I do not know how often this situation happens. them. I am interested to know because it seems wrong.

I accept the point that has been made, but one counterpoint is that sometimes people can change their minds even though they are carrying an organ donor card. However, if people have joined a campaign, we should assume that that is their view. I would be surprised if there are many instances where a family would overrule an individual’s decision; it would be interesting if the Minister could give us the figures to show how often that happens. If it is a major issue, we should address it.

The first issue that we need to address is the number of specialist nurses for organ donation. That is what made a huge difference in Spain, and it is the area where we really need to concentrate. That is what has made a big difference here already Since the organ donation taskforce reported in 2007, the number of donations has increased by 50%, which was the target. That is good news. It is the specialist nurses who have made the difference.

I spent some time talking to a SNOD (specialist nurse) in Shropshire. He has agreed to visit local schools and to organise discussions and debates. We can use specialist nurses to help people to understand this debate, which for most people only becomes an issue when they are faced with what is often a personal tragedy and is such a difficult time to talk to people. Talking to people when the person who perhaps they love most looks as if they are alive, because their bodies are still breathing, even though they are brain-dead, and saying that that person’s support system should be switched off and their organs taken is a hugely traumatic experience. We need trained nurses who have the skills to communicate with people in those difficult circumstances. It is the specialist nurses for organ donation who can do that.

Andrew Griffiths: Four out of 10 families refuse consent when they are asked to give it.

Glyn Davies: I think that that is a repetition of the previous intervention. However, the point is interesting and I would like the Minister to give us the figures to show to what extent that situation actually happens, and whether a specialist nurse in organ donation was involved in individual cases.

The second thing that is crucial, particularly in Wales, is the number of intensive care beds. A lot of people assume that an organ can be donated when there is a road accident or when somebody is suddenly killed in another way, but there can only be a donation when the person is in an intensive care bed and there is the facility to carry out the donation. We have a shortage of intensive care beds. The number of such beds in Spain is higher than in the UK, and much higher than the number in Wales, where it is particularly low. That is the area where the investment needs to go to ensure that there are intensive care beds. I know that in the last year there have been cases in Wales of organs that were available for donation but they were simply not used because there was not an intensive care bed to allow the donation to happen.

The final point I want to make is, I think, the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Burton secured this debate today. It is about the issue of awareness. We should put every effort we can into campaigns to have everybody tell their next of kin their view on donation. That is what I say to people in schools when I talk to them; I say to people, “Tell your family what your view is, so that they know clearly.” Carrying an organ donation card is helpful in that respect, because it very much gives an indication of someone’s view. That is why I was interested in the point that my hon. Friend has made in his interventions on me.

What we really need, and the Government really must invest in it, is a big advertising campaign based on the message, “Tell the family. Make sure your next of kin know your wishes.” If we had such a campaign, we would raise the number of consenting next of kin. If we can increase the number of people in Britain who consent to organ donation to the level it is in Spain, we will not have the thousands of people dying on a waiting list as happens in the UK at present.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Queen's Speech Debate.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. This is the first time that I have been called in a debate on the Gracious Speech since being elected as an MP in 2010, and since we are debating the final Queen’s Speech in this Parliament before the next general election perhaps it is the last occasion that I will have a chance to be called! Whether I have a further opportunity is a matter for the voters in Montgomeryshire next May. Anyway, thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me today.

The Prime Minister began his speech at the beginning of this debate last Wednesday by telling the House that the most important task facing the coalition Government during the next year is continuing the work of restoring our economy. That is absolutely the right approach. There are 11 interesting and important Bills in the Queen’s Speech, but underpinning everything that the coalition Government should focus on in the next year is economic recovery.

While I emphasise the important aim in the Gracious Speech of continuing in a determined way with the task of economic recovery, we should acknowledge what has already been achieved. It is far more than many of us would have expected and it has certainly defied the consistently dire predictions that have been made by the Opposition during the past four years. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor today listed some of those predictions, which have all been shown to be completely false. In particular, the falling levels of unemployment and the rising levels of employment have been nothing short of miraculous. Only yesterday, the employment figures for May were published. Unemployment fell by 161,000 in May. Since 2010, more than 2 million jobs have been created.

In May the number of unemployed people in my constituency fell to 647—just 2.1% of the economically active—which is 270 fewer than a year ago, and 33 fewer than in April. Those are astonishingly good figures, and they are reflected in constituencies right across the UK.

Montgomeryshire is blessed with many dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises across the range of sectors. Over the past few weeks I have visited several of them, accompanied by Ministers from the Wales Office team. We visited Sidoli, Invertec and T. Alun Jones in Welshpool, Makefast, Stagecraft, Quartix and Trax in Newtown, and last Thursday I joined a celebration at Stadco in Llanfyllin as that outstanding company received the Jaguar Land Rover quality standard award. Those businesses, which are mainly in manufacturing, are growing solidly, providing new jobs, creating apprentices, and demonstrating their confidence in Britain and in the Government’s long-term economic plan. The last thing they need is a national insurance jobs tax, which the shadow Chancellor so studiously refused to rule out earlier today.

Over recent months the Opposition have made a lot of noise about the cost of living—they have done so again today—as if Labour’s management of the economy while they were in Government had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Experience teaches us that the only way to create sustainable increases in wages is through the marketplace, through the pressure created by competition for good, well-trained employees who are willing to work. Therefore, it is absolutely right that the coalition Government continue with their brilliantly successful economic plans all the way up to the general election.

In the 20 seconds of my 4 minutes remaining I want to make a brief comment about the livestock industry. My constituency is rural and depends largely on livestock farming. Currently, the economy of my constituency is being seriously affected by what is happening to the beef industry. Beef prices have crashed following inflow of large amounts of imported beef. I have no problem with imported beef from Eastern Europe being on supermarket shelves, but I do think shoppers should know it is imported beef from Eastern Europe. The Government need to act to ensure that supermarkets accurately label imported beef with country of origin so that shoppers can make an informed choice.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

My Tribute to Mid-Wales Pylons/Turbines Protestors

As I reactivate 'A View From Rural Wales', it's seems right that I should begin by revisiting the issues that have taken my attention over recent years - a sort of issues update. And over the last 9 yrs no issue has intruded on my thoughts more than the proposed development of onshore wind farms in Mid-Wales. Now I'm not expecting to say much more about this issue. I feel that, in general, I have done what I can. It's now in the hands of a planning inspector named Adrian Poulter, the UK Government and the voters in 2015. I want to use this blogpost for two purposes. Firstly to give a general picture of where we are on the Welsh Govt desire to industrialise the uplands of Mid-Wales, and why I now believe the project is now unlikely to go ahead. Secondly I will pay tribute to the amazing volunteers who have given up months/years of their lives to defend Mid Wales from such a fate.

I) The Conjoined Public Inquiry into 6 planning applications for wind farms/132kv line has just ended. The Inquiry took a year. We expect the Inspector to write up his report, including decision recommendations and send it to the Dept of Climate Change before the end of 2014. We have no idea when the Secretary of State will announce his decision. And we do not know whether judicial review of that decision will be sought or secured. At the same time, National Grid are ploughing on with preparations to seek consent to build a 400kv line from North Shropshire to Cefn Coch (around 40 miles) to serve these and many other wind farms just sitting in the planning system. At some stage, National Grid will announce it's proposals for statutory public consultation. We do not know when this will happen.

2) We expect the subsidy arrangements for onshore wind to change in April 2017. At present, any wind farm which secures planning permission, is built and starts producing electricity will receive a guaranteed level of subsidy. Any wind farm not producing by April 2017 will have no guarantee of receiving any subsidy at all, which would make them totally unviable. The new system of Govt subsidy will be based on 'Contracts for Difference'. This involves a whole range of renewable energy projects applying to a 'pot' of subsidy on a competitive basis. At that time the Govt will decide which projects to support. And when the 'pot' is used up, there will not be more subsidy available. Wind farm permissions will no longer be a licence to print money.

3) The Conservatives have stated unambiguously that if they form the Govt after May 2015, steps will be taken to end onshore wind subsidies, except in special cases. The target that was set for onshore wind by Govt in support of carbon reduction policy will have been met - several years early. It's expected that the moratorium will be in place by Nov 2015 (17 months time). The Conservatives have also stated unambiguously that local opinion, as expressed through the planning process will not be over-ruled on appeal. No will mean No as far as refusal of planning permission is concerned. We do not know what the stance of any coalition or alternative government would be post 2015.

It's after taking all the above into account that I have recently taken the view that I do not think the Mid Wales Connection Project, which National Grid are reported to have already spent £10million on, will go ahead. Until a few weeks ago, I've never said more that that I thought there was a chance of stopping this project. I also think that the case against agreeing all the proposals before the Public Inquiry is so strong, that there is a very strong probability that the decision will be subject to judicial review. So now we await developments.

I want to end this post, and probably comments on onshore wind for a good while, by paying tribute to the amazing commitment by the protestors. Many of these volunteers have given up months, sometimes years, of their lives to organise a brilliantly professional campaign of opposition. I can never forget the astonishing public meeting at Welshpool Livestock Mart, and the 38 bus loads of people who travelled to protest on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. A picture which will remain in my mind forever was the scene when I gave my evidence to the Inquiry when there were just volunteers on one side and perhaps 15 barristers, etc., all paid for at electricity consumers expense on the other. We must be heartened that David did defeat Goliath. The protest movement has been brilliant. Without it I would have been able to achieve nothing at the Westminster level. They love Mid-Wales, and have shown a commitment and sacrifice which will ensure I, and others who really love this wonderful place, will forever be grateful.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Decriminalisation of Assisted Suicide.

Have decided to re-activate my blog, and run it up to the General Election. I wanted my first post to be about a current serious issue. There is none more serious that the Bill introduced into the House of Lords this week by Lord Falconer to legalise assisted suicide. I will be opposing this Bill, even though I accept that there may well be a majority of the public who take the opposing view. I can think of no better way of expressing my view that to share with you a speech I made on the issue in 2012. My view remains exactly the same today as it was then.
Thank you, Mr Speaker for calling me to speak in this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow Alun Michael in this debate. He and I do not always agree, but on this occasion I agreed with every word that he said. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway on the tone that he adopted in opening the debate.  I thought it just right for the introduction of such an important debate.
I should declare an interest. I am a member of the board of Living and Dying Well, an organisation that commissions evidence-based research into end-of-life care. I have regular conversations with Lord Carlile who chairs it, and with Baroness Finlay, who has already been mentioned in this debate by other honourable members today.
I too have received several letters from members of the campaigning group, Dignity in Dying. I invariably write back disagreeing with them. However I always do so with a great deal of respect, because—like other Members who have spoken—I think that opinions on both sides of this debate are motivated by compassion. I do not think it right to be critical of those who take a different view from me when it is compassion that motivates them.
I have been concerned about some of the media coverage that has appeared before today’s debate. Much of it has seemed to suggest that we are contemplating, and perhaps moving towards, a change in the law. That is not the case. All that we are discussing today is a reaffirmation of the current position in law, which is why I am happy to support the motion before us.
I am probably unusual in the chamber today in having had an interest in assisted suicide for as long as it has been an offence. I was 17 in 1961, and an active member of my local young farmers club. As young farmers clubs do, we discussed the issues of the day in debating competitions. In one such debate I supported the decriminalisation of suicide, which was being considered at the time. Suicide was decriminalised. A key factor however, without which the law change would not have been passed was that an offence of assisting suicide was included in section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, it would simply not have been agreed without this clause introducing the offence of assisting a suicide. This clause was seen as an absolute protection, allowing the offence of suicide itself to be abolished.
My view remains exactly the same today. Over the last few days I have received many representations and briefings, as have many other Members. And over the months during which I have been a member of Living and Dying Well, we have commissioned several research papers. There so much information that it is almost impossible to engage one’s mind clearly with all of it. Because of the time limit on speeches today is so tight, I shall make just one fundamental point.
In 1961, I just knew that assisted suicide was wrong. I thought that it was extremely dangerous, and I still think that. If the Director of Public Prosecution's guidance became statutory we would, in effect, be legalising assisted suicide, and I believe that that would have a very negative impact on the frail elderly, the terminally ill, the incapacitated and the seriously depressed.
I have never believed that the malicious assister is the biggest problem, although that may well be a concern for many honourable members. What has always concerned me is the likelihood that the normalisation of assisted suicide would lead to uncertainty about their own worth among the groups whom I have listed. It would cause them to ask questions about their own value. They would see themselves as becoming a burden on society. When we talk to elderly people who are nearing the end of their lives, we often find that they are concerned about not being able to leave assets to their grandchildren. I believe that that concern would be much greater if assisted suicide were legalised and thus normalised. My view is that it was and is wrong, and that only in very special circumstances, decided as it now by the Director of Public Prosecution, should those guilty of assisted suicide not be prosecuted.