Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where now with Renewables subsidies.

I've never enjoyed saying "I told you so". Actually, the thought usually annoys me. That's how I feel reading through DECC's newly published 'Consultation on Feed-in-Tariffs'. Arising out of my noisy opposition to National Grid's Mid Wales Connection Project, I've warned about cost of subsidies for renewables running out of control for years. So let's start with this aspect of the debate.

In 2010, the Coalition Govt decided to go big on promoting renewables. It put in place two major schemes to subsidise it - Renewables Obligations and Feed-in-Tariffs (for small scale dev'ts). A generous budget was granted, paid for by energy users. This budget (or Levy Control Framework) was to protect consumers - set at what was thought a very generous £7.6bn up to 2020/21. The OBR claim that £9.1bn is already committed. Amber Rudd, has an office with a big desk and an empty cupboard. Wasn't  difficult to see coming. Irresponsible is understatement.

Now we are faced with potential massive disruption of all the technologies dependent on Feed-in-Tariffs. Huge reduction in subsidy levels are proposed, until scheme is ended in 2018/19. A cap of £75m-£100m is being put on the FiTs total over those three yrs. Daresay that much has been spent on the idiotic proposals to cover mid Wales in wind farms. And if it looks as if this cap is too small, (which it will be) the scheme be completely ended in January. I was quite shocked to read the consultation document, even it was giving voice to the warnings of some of us over recent years. 

Its not good news in those areas where new businesses have developed to supply the renewables sector. Parts of my constituency, Montgomeryshire will inevitably see loss of business and jobs. I've always been a fan of PV solar in particular, which is now to suffer a major setback. Grieves me to think of all the money committed to wind farms. I'm bound to be criticised, despite all of my warnings of what would happen - the inevitable collision when DECC ran into the buffers of financial reality.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Jonah Lomu. True Great. Man and Player.

In all other aspects of life, I love the English. They are my friends, my colleagues, often my inspiration. But I am a passionate Welshman and rugby player (ex). Whenever I see the red rose on a white shirt in the vacinity of an oval ball, a mist envelops me with an overwhelming desire to see the English vanquished, crushed even. Oh the joy of recalling Scott Gibbs dancing through the defence, Henson's mighty winning kick, Jamie Roberts galloping through the demoralised English to win the Chamionship by 30-3. But nothing will ever top Jonah Lomu in the 1995 semi final. I stood stunned before our TV as Jonah ran through Underwood, Catt and Andrew as if they were mere cardboard cut outs.
I've always liked the idea of New Zealand. Where we have England, they have the brash Aussies. We have had Gareth Edwards, JPR and George North. They have had McCaw, Carter, the mighty Meads, and so many others. And then there's Lomu. Something else. Jim White wrote a lovely piece about him in yesterday's Telegraph. Lomu did those great things while suffering kidney disease. Just imagine what he could have done if 100% fit.
I met Jonah socially. Well sort of. When I recovered my feet after a lower bowel re-section, removing my bowel, other bits and cancerous tumour, in 2002, aged 58, I decided I wanted to play rugby again. Decided to start a Welsh Parliamentary XV to take on the world. Needed some publicity. Jonah, who was playing for Cardiff agreed to let the BBC film him coaching me in scrumaging tactics. He was huge, and gentle, and polite. Two men recovered and playing again. I was in awe. 
Our rugby was sort of similar (in style rather than standard). Big men who ran fast, and through opponents rather than around them. We both became wingers by accident - put there because no- one else was available, and proved difficult to stop. I was a big winger in the 1960s.
Jonah Lomu has always suffered renal disease. He's had a kidney transplant in 2004. Things went wrong in 2011, and he needs another transplant. He's on dialysis until a new kidney is found. During the World Cup he's touring the country speaking and visiting dialysis units. If he were to come to visit the Welshpool unit, a thousand wild buffalo would not keep me away. I really must write to him tomorrow. A truly great player. And great man.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


There is no issue more controversial at present than immigration. It's been so for many years, but today's net immigration into the UK over the last year has poured petrol on the fire. It's an issue distorting British politics and is set to continue.
During the six weeks before the General Election, a team of my supporters knocked on thousands of Montgomeryshire doors. Our avowed aim was to coax voters into telling us what they thought were the important issues. I wanted to know their concerns, and understand. It would be good in the event of my being re-elected.
was surprised indeed by the response. Very few were concerned about our NHS and schools. As I had expected, and had focused on in my campaign literature. In second place was concern about an over-generous benefit system. But in first place, by a long way, was concern about immigration. I admit to being quite taken aback.  Even in Montgomeryshire, where immigration is comparatively low, there was a widespread concern that too many migrants are coming into the UK.
Since May the scale of immigration has increased further. Today we learn that in the year up to March, net migration has reached the astonishing highest ever level of 330,000 - up 94,000. It's become a serious concern right across the EU. And it's increasing. Thousands of people are being picked up in the Med every day off the coast of Italy. Thousands are arriving in Greece every day. Germany expects 800,000 refugees this year. It's the same all over Europe. And the reality is that once all these migrants become established, EU rules based on the fundamental principle of the free movement of people across EU borders mean they can settle anywhere in Europe, including Britain.
Some people campaign to have all, or at least a significant number of these migrants/refugees to be allowed into the UK. There are two million Syrian refugees - displaced by an evil regime that Parliament decided last September should be allowed to continue its brutal attacks on its own people. If we were to open our borders, where on earth would they all go? What would happen to our schools and health services? What would happen to wage levels, which have only recently started to rise again? 
There are no easy answers. Next year or in 2017 there will be a referendum on whether we should remain members of the EU. Unless the huge numbers of migrants into the EU is brought under control. Voters may well link immigration with being in the European Union. I really can see the British people voting to leave the EU altogether. It's not just in Montgomeryshire this issue is a major concern. I suspect it's of far greater concern in many other parts of the UK.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Assisted Suicide - putting less value on life of the vulnerable

In general, I take but little notice of letters to newspapers. But I was pleased to read a good letter signed by 89 doctors is today's Telegraph warning about the dangers involved in legalising assisted suicide. It goes some way to balance the determined campaign by a lobbying group known as Dignity in Dying, which has been running a massive campaign for many years to change the law to make helping someone kill themselves legal. I fiercely disagree with this campaign.
On September 11th, there will be a debate in the House of Commons on a Private Member's Bill introduced by Labour MP, Rob Marris. MPs will be deciding whether to approve it at Second Reading, allowing it to go into Committee. I hope to speak in this debate and try to persuade my colleagues to throw this dangerous, misguided bill out.
The Marris Bill, like other attempts to change the law to make assisted suicide legal promoted by Lord Falconer and others puts a lesser value on the lives of the most vulnerable - the seriously disabled, the frail elderly, the severely mentally ill and the terminally ill. Society rightly disapproves of suicide, but according to the Bill's promoters it should disapprove less in respect of these vulnerable groups. Inevitably, legalisation will lead to  the normalisation of suicide, and self-imposed pressure to end life. Over the last few weeks we have seen much publicised reports of individuals ending their lives simply because they do not want to be old.
It is true that as a society, we have not given enough attention to managing death - not remotely enough attention to palliative care. We invest too much in prolonging life, and not enough in making the passage from life to death more comfortable. The most vulnerable do not have a loud voice.
Legalising assisted suicide would change the relationship between doctor and patient. It would conflict with the doctor's 'duty of care' and responsibility to discourage suicide. It's no surprise to me that most doctors oppose this Bill.
 I have always opposed proposals to help people kill themselves being made legal. It can be dressed up in emotive language about an individual's 'right to die', focussing on tragic 'hard cases'. Individuals already have the 'right to die'. What they don't have is the right to involve someone else in helping them.
I really do hope that MPs will kick the Marris Bill into touch on Sept 11th. I believe they will. It will be one of the most important debates of this Parliament.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Labour Pains

This is (I think) the first time since becoming a representative of the Conservative Party that I have ever openly expressed disagreement with the leadership choices of another party. Even though I thought Labour should have gone with David Miliband and the Lib Dems with Norman Lamb, I thought it was a matter for them. But as it becomes ever more likely that Labour will choose Jeremy Corbyn, I am departing from this approach. This post expresses my astonishment if this comes to pass, and deep concern about the future of the United Kingdom.
I don't know Jeremy Corbyn. I see him in the Commons of course. He seems genial, unassuming and polite. Bit disconnected from his own party, which he rarely seems to support. Think of him alongside Diane Abbott, Dennis Skinner and a few others - but lacking the charisma. Never seen anything that can be described as a leadership quality.  I suspect he would agree with and approve of this assessment.
But he's not seeking to lead some campaigning organisation, or think tank, or collection of self-regarding academics writing a letter to the Times, or the Monster Raving Loony Party. He wants to lead the Official Opposition in the British Parliament, where he would become a major figure on the world stage. He would have access to confidential information, and help shape the world's view of Britain.
No significant country will take Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition in the UK Parliament seriously. He will oppose any military action by Britain, no matter what the cause. He even opposed saving the Kosovans from genocide. He would advocate withdrawal from NATO. He would campaign to nationalise much of British industry, and return power and influence to the trades unions.   He would let our National Debt rocket. He would not respect our Parliamentary traditions, particularly those related to The Monarchy.
Even at this late stage, I hope the Labour Party, will draw back from stepping over the edge into an abyss of uncertainty. It may seem a jolly good jape to kick the 'establishment' up the backside. But there in possible way a Jeremy Corbyn victory can end well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

UKIP and Welsh Assembly

If UKIP did not publish a single leaflet, or issue a single press release, I'd expect the party to do quite well in next year's Welsh Assembly elections. They won't win any 'constituency seats', but the additional member PR system is likely to deliver a few 'regional member' seats. As watching the party's election guru in Wales, Mark Reckless, on TV today, I conclude that the biggest threat to a decent UKIP result is the party itself. I just cannot see how a man of Kent, about as unWelsh as you can imagine, crossing Offa's Dyke to tell us how we should vote will help at all.

But two aspects of the Reckless comments this morning caught my ear, both about devolution of income tax powers. Firstly, he spoke about an emerging consensus that a significant part of income tax will be devolved without a referendum. Well, I didn't know there was an emerging consensus. I've been in favour of this step for years, and have seen my position on this as being a lonely place. But the right place. Such a step would be transformative, making the Welsh Govt financially accountable, and would end the democracy destroying 'one party state' we suffer so much from in Wales. I realise that UKIP want there to be a consensus to 'legitimise' the anti establishment vote they desperately need. It just that I do not think there is one - yet.

The second aspect of the UKIP approach is to interpret the granting of income tax powers as the same  thing as raising income tax. It is not. Very definitely not. I would argue the only change to benefit Wales would be to reduce the top rate, bringing higher earning people into Wales (to pay more tax!). But the reality doesn't matter. It's perception that counts. Only reason there's support for a referendum (yet another) is that it can be interpreted as 'the Welsh Govt putting up your taxes'. Cobblers of course.  This morning we saw how it will be used. It's no more than a 'blocking mechanism' by those who are still fighting the 1997 referendum. I think it was rather helpful to see the strategy exposed so early in the run up to the Wales Bill. Feeling confident I could be on the winning side on this come the debate next year.

Monday, August 17, 2015

British Politics - three pronged madness.

Was relaxing with a glass of wine tonight, contemplating British politics. How mad and sad is that? Well, it's  not as mad as the politics I'm mad to be thinking about. I got to be thinking about  what are the most mad happenings of recent years. Here's my top three contenders.

In third place I put the demise of the Liberal Democrats. If I had been in discussion with David Dimbleby  at 10.00pm on election night, I too would have offered to eat my hat if the exit poll, just published, were to be correct. The prediction that the Lib Dems would drop to 10 seats was idiotic. Turned out to be  an over-estimate! They won just 8 seats. Truly astonishing.

In second place I put the transformation of Scottish politics. How on earth did the SNP win 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in the General Election. Such things do not happen. But it did happen. My old Labour mate on the Gardening APPG, Brian Donahoe went into the election with a massive majority, and lost with a massive deficit. Not seen anything like it before. Surely nothing could top this.

But the election of a Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party would top everything. Labour are electing the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, the person who will debate with David Cameron at the Despatch Box, their leader at the 2020 election. And it very much looks as if the Labour membership are going to elect Jeremy Corbyn. I'm tempted to say I'll eat my (marzipan) hat if he wins. But he is the favorite. It looks to me as if the Labour Party has completely lost it's marbles.

None of these will last of course. The Lib Dems will recover, the SNP will fall back and Jeremy Corbyn would crash and burn well before 2020. I could be lining up marzipan hats to eat.
And who would have thought that the emergence of Ukip would not make my top three. I do think UKIP will perform quite well in the Welsh Assembly elections, but will wither like an unwatered tomato plant after the EU referendum. If they win more than one seat in 2020 that's another hat to eat!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Church of St Mary's at Llanllugan

Wanted to write a totally innocuous post, devoid of any possible opportunity to cause offence or controversy - a post where readers will think nicely of me!  I'm a tough old character, but I've had enough of being abused for a day or two. Simply for having an opinion. Decided to pick on the Church of St Mary's at Llanllugan. It's one of those hidden away little gems buried deep in the Montgomeryshire countryside. I had not appreciated it's historical interest myself until tonight. What's prompted this is the honour and pleasure I took from opening a fete tonight in nearby Cefn Coch to held to raise funds to maintain what is a modest structure but with a great back story.

I've been checking up on the internet. First record of a place of worship on this site involved Llorcan Wyddel in the 6th century. The next recorded significant development was a Cisterian nunnery founded about 1188 by Maredydd ap Robert, Lord of Cedewain - linked to Strata Marcella. It was recorded as the Abbey of Llanllugan in 1239. The current church was built a bit later. This is a very long time ago. It's much older than the Palace of Westminster, even the version that was burnt down. Not many places have this sort of recorded history.

And it's also recorded that Glynne visited the Church in 1867. Don't know exactly what Glynne did there. Well, another Glyn opened the fete tonight, which I should think raised a fair sum of money to help with upkeep. Really good turn-out. Mixture of locals and visitors. Events like tonight's make this MP's political life a real pleasure. And I reached this last line without mentioning any controversial intrusive modern structures alien to this lovely area around Cefn Coch!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Shropshire NHS Reform -An Update

Knew it was coming of course. But still a major disappointment. The Shropshire Future Fit Board has today decided to abandon any idea of a new 'Emergency Care' hospital on a green field site between Shrewsbury and Telford. Just too expensive. The option I've been dreaming of has fallen off the edge.

The reality now is that, basically, there are two proposals left on the table - changing the Royal Shrewsbury into an 'emergency centre' and the Princess Royal at Telford into a 'Diagnostic and Treatment Centre' Or the other way around. There will also be an Urgent Care Centre and some local planned care at both hospitals. Either way, it's inevitable there will be a lesser range of services available at both hospitals. Not necessarily an overall poorer service in my view. But deeply concerning just the same. I have no option but support this reform. There is no alternative if we are to retain a sustainable hospital service available to Shropshire and Mid Wales into the future.

The Future Fit Board's 'preferred final option' will be announced in 7 weeks time. The formal consultation will begin end of December. Importantly, a full business case will be prepared for each option before the formal consultation. This will conclude before Assembly election purdah, and the final decision announced next May.

Two other important issues yet to be decided. Firstly, will the amazing new Women's and Children's Hospital remain in Telford or be moved to Shrewsbury. And secondly, what network of Urgent Care Centres will be developed across Shropshire.

Major interest for me, and everyone else in Montgomeryshire is what is going to happen our side of Offa's Dyke. The retention of an Urgent Care Centre at Bishops Castle is especially significant. It's most odd. Big decision been taken today in Shropshire, about future health care in Montgomeryshire, and almost no- one seems to be engaged with the debate.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

S4C lobbying campaign

Had a stack of identical emails over the last week or so, demanding changes to the way S4C is funded. They have clearly all been written by the same hand, before being circulated and forwarded to me. And I don't know quite how to respond either. I sympathise with the underlying objective, which is a viable Welsh Language TV channel. But because the 'demand' is totally undeliverable, the campaign is devalued, and will have a much reduced impact.
I agree with most of the email content. I know that S4C is hugely important to Welsh culture and our Welsh Language. I know the channel was set up by the first Thatcher Govt after much campaigning. I also know that many seek to suggest Mrs T was forced into it - like she was easily forced into anything!! I know the key decision by Mrs T's Govt was to put in place funding arrangements that guaranteed success. She has never been given due credit.
And of course I remember the painful changes implemented by the Coalition Govt in 2010, when confronted by a bare cupboard. Reducing the S4C budget. That was inevitable. Breaking the inflation link. That was inevitable too. Transfer of  funding most of the S4C budget to the licence fee. Accepted that as better than the alternative. No reason to think independence has been compromised, as was feared by some at the time.
But now we face another challenge, as the Government considers BBC Charter Review, against background of continued public spending cutbacks. Personally I do not think the S4C budget should be further reduced. Personally I do not think the Government should transfer it's remaining financial commitment to the licence fee. And personally, I do not think broadcasting (and associated funding) should be devolved to the Welsh Government. Though this view could change if the broadcasters supported it.
This should put me on the same side as my correspondents. But the emails end up demanding a return to 2010 levels of funding, and re-establishment of the inflation link. This is fantasy. So it's an unrealistic campaign which undermines the best efforts of those of us who actually support the argument for a well funded Welsh Language TV channel. Disappointing.

Monday, August 10, 2015

NHS future in Montgomeryshire.

Traditionally, most secondary care accessed by Montgomeryshire patients has been from hospitals located in Shropshire. It follows that Montgomeryshire's MP still retains a significant role in NHS provision for constituents, even though healthcare in Wales has been devolved to the Welsh Government. In fact, I have taken a close interest in the Shropshire NHS for decades. I recall a regular squash partner, who also happened to be a brilliant 'guts' specialist in Shropshire berating me about the crazy decision to build the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford over 30 yrs ago. Dr Paul Brown, who died very young, used to tell me "If you build a new DGH at Telford, in the long term you will be closing The Royal Shrewsbury". There is a plaque on the wall at the Princess Royal remembering Paul. He was a lovely man and I felt sad as gazing upon the plaque commemorating his work a few months ago.

Be done with this nostalgia. Let us consider the position today. As Dr Paul Brown predicted 30 yrs ago, Shropshire cannot support two major hospitals. The current structure is completely unsustainable, will go bankrupt in the near future, and must be reformed as soon as possible. I had long hoped for a brand new replacement hospital, somewhere between Telford and Shrewsbury, on a green field site. The first stage of this would have been a new 'Emergency Centre' taking all the 'blue light' emergencies in Shropshire and Mid Wales, leaving the two existing hospital sites to deal with all 'non time critical' patients. It's an option which has been carefully studies over last year. But sadly, and disappointingly, I fear this optimum option will be kicked into oblivion later this week. I anticipate us being told it is unaffordable. I do despair.

So what can we expect to hear on Thurs. In my view there cannot much doubt about where we are going - one Shropshire hospital dealing with 'emergency care', and one Shropshire hospital dealing with diagnostic and elective care. No matter how this is cut, it means a significantly lesser range of services available at both hospitals - in the interests of a better sustainable service as a whole across Shropshire and Mid Wales. The big question for Montgomeryshire is which arrangement best suits us. I've agonised over this. Believe me, it's not an easy question to answer.

There are other (in my view secondary) questions as well. What is going to happen to the spanking new Women's and Children's Hospital in Telford, and where are those currently going to A&Es who are not deemed emergencies going to be treated in future. We do know there will be a network of what are called Urgent Care Centres, strategically located around Shropshire to deal with this. But we have not a clue what will happen to my constituents in Montgomeryshire. I do find this policy vacuum hard to comprehend.

I anticipate we will all know a bit more detail later in the week. The one thing that is not going to happen is nothing. Structural reform of the NHS in Shropshire is going to happen. And soon. And if Wales does not engage with this reform, it's going to happen anyway. Not surprisingly I've been worried about this for months. I fear we are already in the position of commenting on decisions made by others, rather than contributing to the making of the decisions that impact on us.

And while I'm commenting on cross-border health issues, let me tell you about a constituent who wrote to me today. She is due two replacement knees. She is in great pain, and has been told that if she lived in England she would wait 2 months for her operations. But since she lives in Wales she will have to wait 9 months. It's enough to make you cry.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Feed-in Tariffs - The Future

The intention of this post is to inform rather than advocate. Its about information rather than opinion. It's about future of Feed-in tariffs, the renewable energy subsidy system for smaller developments. And it's stimulated by the large number of complaints I am receiving about planning applications for individual wind turbines, of which there seems to be a glut at present. 

We need to begin by looking back to provide context for the current position. In order to meet it's legal decarbonisation targets, Parliament passed into law the Energy Act in 2008, which amongst much else, introduced the feed-in tariffs scheme. Govt has also adopted other different subsidy regimes to encourage investment for larger developments.

 Currently, the three main subsidy  schemes are the 'Renewable obligation' (ROCs), 'Contracts for Difference (CfD) and Feed-in Tariffs (Fits).  ROCs and Fits are demand led, meaning that the costs are not controllable by Govt. If anyone secures permission and builds a qualifying structure, it automatically gets the subsidy. The inevitable result has been that the overall budget for renewable developments went through the roof! The financial cap, or Levy Control Framework (LCF) as it's known was put in place to control costs up to 2020/21 (paid for through a levy on customers bills). This was blown before May's General Election. When Amber Rudd took over as Secretary of State in May, LCF funding was all gone. There was no money left. The cupboard was bare.

Let's look at the already committed costs under the LCF, up to 2020/21, of the various subsidy schemes. It is already £9.1 billion (at 2011/2012 prices) - over £12 bn in anticipated 2020/21 prices. This is way over budget. The three main scheme contributing to this are ROCs - £6.3bn; CfDs - £3.1bn, Fits - £2.1bn. In order to bring the overall LCF budget under control, the Govt has already announced that the ROCs scheme is being closed in April 2016 for new projects (except for some schemes qualifying for a grace period until April 2017). The Govt has complete control of CfDs already so there is no need to change this. If the money is not there, no schemes will be approved. Which brings us to Feed-in Tariffs. 

As an interim step, the Govt is seeking to discourage too much demand by proposing that the existing pre-accreditation/pre-registration is to end. This system enables developers to know the price they will receive before beginning construction, in effect giving an early price guarantee, inspiring confidence in a period when subsidy levels are falling. In future the price will be that which applies when power is actually first produced. The consultation ends a week on Wednesday. Clearly, the aim is to make Fits less attractive. In addition, the Secretary of State will be reviewing the entire Fits scheme in the autumn. The ending of pre-accreditation is but an interim measure.

 The aspect which most concerns me is the impact on 'community schemes'. It seems the ending of pre-registration applies to these as well. But I hope and will campaign for this to be reversed. And I think it will. No doubt there will be amendments to this post as commenters tell me where I'm wrong.