Friday, December 29, 2017

Where are we on Redrawning Constituency Boundaries.

Interesting analysis of where we are in reforming the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies are dominating the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph. It’s a long informative piece but completely glosses over one of the most important aspects of the debate. It focuses on the unacceptable position of differing constituency populations leading to unfairness in our electoral system. It is indeed ridiculous that the 2022 General Election will be fought on the same basis as in 2000, despite major movements in population, and constituency size. There is a very strong case for equalisation of constituencies. And I suspect there would be a comfortable majority in Parliament, at least in principle, for proposals to achieve this.
But what today’s Telegraph article ignores is the implication of a reduction in constituencies from 650 to 600. This proposal causes huge turbulence and has always been contentious. It has caused a great deal of concern amongst MPs. My view, which I’ve expressed whenever asked about the redrawing of constituency boundaries is that the Act passed should be changed in two respects. Firstly, the number of constituencies should remain at 650. I can see no case whatsoever for the proposed reduction. And secondly the margin of difference in constituency sizes should be set at a higher level than the currently proposed 5%.
Of course I’m influenced by the position in Wales, where at present there are 40 constituencies. I do accept that there should be a reduction. If a position of equality were to be adopted across the UK at 650 seats, there would be a reduction to somewhere around 33 constituencies in Wales. The reduction to 600 parliamentary seats means the number of Welsh MPs would fall to just 29. And a tolerance of just 5% difference in constituency size almost completely ties the hands of the Boundary Commission for Wales.
The new proposals are scheduled to be put before Parliament within the next 12 months. If they had been based on 650 seats, I have not the slightest doubt that they would have been implemented in time for the 2022 Election. Lots of my Parliamentary colleagues tell me they think the current proposals based on 600 is far more uncertain to win Parliamentary approval - and the gross unfairness of hugely different sized constituencies could will continue in the direction of the ‘rotten boroughs’ of old. Let’s wait and see.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hopes for 2018 in Montgomeryshire.

It’s that time of year again. Time to think about our hopes for the New Year. And I don’t mean heath, happiness for all, and world peace, which we all want.. I mean those things that might just fall within my sphere of influence - where I have an actual involvement.
Firstly there is Brexit. The UK is leaving the EU in March 2019. The current Government accepts the public vote, cast in the EU Referendum. And they mean it. Not as some politicians, saying they accept the referendum decision, and then doing everything possible to frustrate it. Brexit is the most complex and dramatic constitutional change of my 40 yrs in public life. Every MP has a part to play in ensuring the terms on which we leave are in the good interests of the UK and the EU. Fortunately we have a Prime Minister who shares that opinion. Mrs May will be able to count on my support, if not on other MPs who prefer to put political opportunism first.
Secondly, I hope for decisions on implementing reform of NHS secondary care available to the people of Shropshire and Mid Wales - based on separating Emergency Care (Shrewsbury) from Planned Care (Telford). The decision on reform have already been made and the two Clinical Commissioning Groups in Shropshire and the Powys Local Health Board are waiting to embark on a statutory 12 wk Public Consultation. I hope for spades to be in the ground during the 2018 summer.
Thirdly, I hope that National Grid will cancel the Mid Wales Connection Project, which it has held, suspended like a Sword of Damocles over the heads of the people of Montgomeryshire. While we can be grateful that the masssive 400Kw power line and landscape-wrecking monstrous steel pylons from North Shropshire to Cefn Coch has not gone ahead, we know it has not been cancelled. It could rise up like a plague from the ashes. It’s gone time it was cancelled. I am writing to Chairman, Sit Peter Gershon to ask him to do just that. The uncertainty has already lasted too long. The uncertainty is deeply unfair to my constituents and callous to the point of bullying.
Fourthly, the Chancellor has announced there is to be a Mid Wales ‘Growth Deal’. Excellent news. But it needs a transformative project to kick start it. How about a new road from Welshpool to the English Border to replace the hopelessly inadequate A458 that currently exists.
Fifthly, let us consider the farming industry in Mid Wales. We realise there is going to be significant change in the support regime, the industry depends on, whether the UK is in the EU or out. There must be a properly funded woodland scheme and a positive attitude towards diversification. All the signs are there will be.
And one other thing. I hope the new Parliamentary constituency boundaries planned for approval next year are not approved. I hope to see the proposal scrapped altogether. Montgomeryshire has been in existence for many centuries. Long let it continue.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Should the Fox Population be controlled.

The Telegraph rang me today. Asking what I thought of the ‘rumour’  that the Conservatives would drop their manifesto promise to hold a ‘free vote’ on reversing the ban on hunting with dogs. I said I did not know whether this was true, and it didn’t make much actual difference. As someone who would vote for repeal, I don’t think there is a majority in the House of Commons in favour of that. So it’s all a bit academic, and nothing to get excited about.

I have never been opposed to hunting with dogs, though never felt any inclination to join in myself. Bit surprising perhaps in that I cannot understand why anyone would want to kill a wild animal. (Feel same about fish.) But I disagree with those who would ban these activities. If I thought it’s impact on wildlife or animal welfare was negative overall, I would be not be a supporter. I just don’t think it is negative.

I have a bit of personal history on this. About 50yrs ago  I stopped killing any animals or birds or fish for ‘sport’. At that time I vociferously argued for a ban on otter hunting. I assumed, wrongly, that hunting was leading to a catastrophic collapse in the otter population. It wasn’t. Poisons were doing that. Same as it was leading to collapse in birds of prey numbers. Today the otter population is recovering. It’s the mink that needs controlling. And when I took over the farm after my father died young, I ended all shooting and hunting on any of the land I farmed. Mistakenly thinking it would benefit wildlife. Of course it didn’t. Just meant a loss of interest in maintaining pockets of ‘cover’ on the farm. As well as being blamed by neighbours for every attack by foxes on lambs for miles around. After a few years, I saw sense. The local hunt now has access to the land I own, though I only allow occasional shooting by one responsible man and his dog.

I can understand why someone would oppose culling foxes at all. They are stunningly beautiful creatures. I’m always thrilled when I see a fox or hear one bark, especially on a still winter’s night. But I am a sheep farmer, and accept numbers of foxes should be controlled. And hunting with dogs is as good a way of controlling as any other. I do not think it more cruel than any other form of control. Particularly shooting. The fox is a wily creature, and not easy to shoot. It would unlikely be more than a wounding shot, especially with a 12 bore, the usual countryman’s gun. The fox does not offer itself as an easy target. The  only fox I ever became friendly with was a cub which my late mother-in-law fed in her garden. One day, when this cute fox was a few months old, she mentioned to me that it was lame. Became gradually worse, and died a few days later. It had been shot, probably b a high powered rifle and would have suffered the most agonising death. I was required to bury the fox in her Little Fffridd garden!

Generally, there are two forms of fox control. Footpacks, which are traditional in the Welsh uplands. Here a local group, often including farmers enter a wood and flush out foxes to guns circulating it. My impression is that these footpacks kill a great number of foxes. The other method is hunting on horseback with a pack of hounds. This practice was in my view not particularly successful, and since 2004 has been banned. It was usual for those riding to hounds to wear hunting pink, and it was a great spectacle. It still is. Hunts still meet but the hounds now follow a trail laid out beforehand. Every Boxing Day many thousands of people turn out to show support for the campaign to reverse the ban. And many others fulminate about this, demanding that it should stop. Amazingly, increasing numbers of people are joining the hunt supporters. Today there were thousands of us in Welshpool to see the Tanatside Hunt ride off. I was one of them.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

What is Important News?

What are the important issues in the news? How is ‘importance’ assessed? Daresay all of us would not choose the same stories. Over recent days I’ve thought that some of the headline stories in our media have not warranted much attention at all. The top story this last week has been about about Blue Passports and is not significant at all. What difference does it make what colour our passports are going to be. It was treated as lead story for two days. Then there’s the story about a pair of red knickers, seized from a criminal and auctioned to raise money for charity. I suppose they had been stolen. In passing, I recall my local weekly, the County Times putting a photo of 6 pairs of quite racy knickers adorning a washing line on its front page, to highlight a local story where a thief admitted to stealing 800 pairs from washing lines under cover of darkness. I even knew who they belonged to. (I was told!)
For me, much the biggest story of the week was the visit to Moscow by our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson to meet Sergei Lavrov, the Russia. Foreign Minister. It’s 5 years since a British Foeign Secretary has met with his Russian counterpart. This is really not good enough. Russia is a key actor is dangerous trouble spots in the Middle/Far East, and we should be doing all we can to maintain dialogue. Jaw Jaw better than War War etc..
The UK should be trying to develop an ‘understanding’ with Russia about the future of Syria. What’s happening in Syria is probably the worst humanitarian disaster of my adult life. Russia, in support of Bashar al-Assad is closely involved. Both of our countries have an interest in deciding a way forward (even if we don’t much like it). Both of our countries have an interest is containing the nuclear ambitions of Iran. Both of our countries have an interest in preventing North Korea firing its nuclear weapons. And much else. It’s good that the UN (where Russia and the UK are permanent members of the Security Council) has acted on this last issue today.
Of course it’s not easy when Putin is the President of Russia. He still has imperialistic ambitions. And is almost certainly involved in unfriendly activity towards the West. The continuing huge investment in Russia’s armed forces mean Western countries have to do the same. But we should remember that Russia is a country in economic reverse, experiencing population decline, economic decline, and worse to come as the power of gas and oil declines. They will be looking for friends. Never a good idea to poke the Russian bear.
Despite there being many reasons to be wary of Russia, I do think we should applaud our Foreign Secretary of taking the bold step of going to Moscow. It may well be that the Boris brand of directness and humour will go down ok. It certainly seems to have gone ok, even if there was a fair bit of barely diplomatic language. It was certainly the most important story of the last few days.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas.

I’ve been so disorganised in the spreading of ‘good cheer’ this Christmas, that I feel driven to write a blog post wishing all who visit a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The workload at Westminster combined with Christmas Eve being Sunday has left so little time to prepare, send cards, buy presents etc.. And there were things  I just had to do - like funerals of old friends. So please forgive me if I’ve not finished my Christmas Card list.
At Christmas, we think of those less fortunate than ourselves more often than usual. My job brings me into contact with and knowledge of many across the world who suffer in appalling circumstances. The world may well be becoming a safer place overall, but the millions of refugees fleeing persecution in Syria, in North Africa, in Yemen and in Myanmar cannot be far from our minds as we celebrate the birth of Christ in relative peace in the UK.
And of course we have many less fortunate people at home in Britain as well - less fortunate for many varied reasons. Even though we will naturally focus our love and care on family and close friends, we cannot shut our eyes to those who do not have anyone to share their love with.
So let it be a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my family and friend. And a year of hope and recovery to come for those who are in a poor place.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Animal Welfare, Conservative Style.

Over recent years, Conservatives in Government have been actively working to improve animal welfare. We have also taken action to ban the plastic microbeads which do so much damage to marine wildlife. New laws come into force in January. We are going to make CCTV mandatory in abattoirs to ensure animals are not abused or mistreated at the point of slaughter. On the international level, we are banning the trade in ivory which puts the lives of African elephants in danger and we will legislate to increase the sentence for the worst acts of animal cruelty to five years imprisonment. That will ensure the sanctions for cruelty towards animals are as strong as anywhere else in the world.

As we leave the EU, new opportunities will arise to further improve animal welfare. We are reviewing the export of live animals for slaughter and will take action to restrict this trade. We will look to see how we can ensure food imports meet the highest welfare standards. And we will take action to deal with puppy farming and the cruel trade in pets reared in unacceptable conditions.

We will also legislate to ensure that the principle that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleasure, is embedded more clearly in UK law as we leave the EU. Some people have been arguing that we should amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to uphold the principle that animals are sentient beings. An amendment was tabled during the Withdrawal Bill debate which sought to amend the bill, allegedly to provide recognition of animal sentience.

The amendment, was flawed. Due to faulty drafting, Labour’s amendment would have meant animal sentience was only recognised in law for the next 2 years and would only apply to Ministerial decisions made in that period. Conservatives believe animals are sentient for life not just for the next two years, so we will do much better. Strengthened UK law will ensure that we have higher welfare standards than the EU.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

My First New Year’s Message to Constituents

Maybe that County Times, Oswestry and Borders Chronicle and Cambrian News may want a column to mark the end of 2017 and arrival of 2018. If I write 400 words as a blog post, James in my office will be able to chop it to fit what’s wanted.  May write another less political.

“2017 was politically turbulent at Westminster. The driver of this turbulence was the General Election in June which produced a ‘hung parliament’, something we have not seen in Britain for many decades. As with all such parliaments, this meant two or more parties seeking an agreement to form a Government. The Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, after much debate, came to what amounts to a ‘Confidence and Supply Plus’ agreement, which has proved to be very stable. This sort of arrangement is common in the rest of Europe.”

“Personally, the General Election was very much a ‘mixed bag’. It was disappointing that the Conservative Party lost its overall majority, but in Montgomeryshire, it was a  success beyond our wildest dreams. After more than a century of almost always coming second, Montgomeryshire is now the safest Conservative parliamentary seat in Wales, with a majority nearing ten thousand. No-one could have predicted that. It was my personal political highlight of the year”

“The Conservatives also enjoyed great success in the elections to Powys County Council in May. Not many years ago, there had not been any Conservative Councillors - ever. Since May, there have been 14, and the party has joined with an Independent Group to run Powys County Council. The Council Cabinet have an incredibly difficult job ahead of them, restricted by a dreadful financial settlement from the Welsh Government. I will do all I can to work constuctively with our Council.”

“2017 has been a very good year for our local economy. Unemployment has fallen to levels lower that I’ve ever known. The hugely important Newtown Bypass will probably be ready for traffic in 2018, opening up  the towns of Machynlleth and Llanidloes to benefit from any Mid Wales Growth Deal. The next major transport developments must be a new Dyfi Bridge and a new A458 road from Welshpool to beyond Middletown.”

“Personally, I do need a few days break. The contentious Brexit debate, and my work in the Wales Office with the Secretary of State, Alun Cairns and Minister, Guto Bebb has been relentless. But I know it’s important for Montgomeryshire, which is why I’m so committed to doing my best. I’m also hugely supportive of the Prime Minister, who has ignored the appalling way she has been treated over recent months, but has won great respect for her sense of duty and dedication. And she has delivered, despite so many talking down our great nation and willing her to fail. 2018 will be another very challenging year, but I really do think we can be optimistic about the future for Montgomeryshire, Wales and the United Kingdom.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Meaningful Vote - or Meaningless?

Here’s my fortnightly column for the Oswestry and Borders Chronicle;

“Sorry but my column this week is again about Brexit. The debate in Parliament descended into a particularly bad tempered pit this last week. The major bone of contention was about what’s described as “a meaningful vote”for Parliament before the UK leaves the EU on March 29th 2019. To be frank, I’m not sure what the fuss was about - even if it did seem to raise the hopes of those who are opposed to the UK ‘leaving’ of reversing the EU Referendum decision of June 2016. That particular boat has already left the harbour. Brexit is going to happen. Parliament has already given  its full permission for the Government to ‘Leave’. And thanks to Ms Gina Miller, Article 50 was signed in March with full backing of Parliament. That vote left absolutely no wriggle room. No room for doubt. The UK will leave the EU whether there is a deal in March 2019 or not. Ironically, it was Ms Millar who ensured full moral and legal legitimacy and certainty to the UK ‘Leaving’.
And last week’s vote about “a meaningful vote” also carried irony in that it actually increased the likelihood of ‘No deal’. The very last outcome those Conservative MPs who ‘rebelled’ would have wanted.

Must admit I was not unduly bothered at all by the Govt defeat on the “meaningful vote” amendment, which caused so much excitement. Don’t think the Prime Minister was that bothered either. She seemed quite cheered as she went over to Brussels the next day to agree with all 27 Member states that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made to move on to discussions about trade. There have been about 40 amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, and the Government won them all except the ‘ Meaningful Vote’ one, which was a fairly meaningless amendment anyway. And the EU leaders seemed pretty relaxed as well, as they applauded the Prime Minister after her speech over dinner. It was another coup for Mrs May when they all agreed to move on to talk ‘trade’. While the media seem to think the success of an amendment is a big blow to the Prime Minister, most normal observers see her as doing rather well. Or “playing a blinder”as I put it.
Let’s consider where we are. Seems to me we have reached a stage where both sides accept the reality of Brexit, and want to negotiate the best deal possible for the UK and for the EU. For most sensible people, that is the preferred outcome. Like the PM, I was a bit disappointed that the ‘Meaningful Vote’ amendment was passed, simply because it makes that desirable objective a bit more difficult to achieve.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How many Assembly Members?

On Tuesday we are expecting a report to emerge from somewhere in the National Assembly for Wales - from the office of the Presiding Officer, Elin Jones I think. We expect this report to put forward proposals to increase the number of Assembly Members, plus options outlining how they are to be elected. I was in the Interview Chair with Arwyn on Wales Politics today (discussing Brexit) but since it followed an interview with Elin About this report, I was invited to comment. So I did. And I’m not expecting total support for my opinion. Though I think Elin herself might be pleased!!
Firstly, I need to tackle the desire by public opinion to reduce the ‘cost of democracy’. The public (or at least the most vociferous) neither care for or have any respect for politicians in general. The public wants to cut 5he cost - let’s do it. We are eliminating the 73 MEPs, which will be a huge reduction. I also believe there is an unanswerable case to reduce the size of the House of Lords. At present there are around 800 appointed to sit on the red benches. It’s too many. There are two reduction scenarios. Firstly to halve the number, or secondly reduce to the same size as the House of Commons (650). This would make things much more democratic, even with an increase in number of AMs from 60 to 80ish.
Not sure I should be taking a public view on this, except that I was asked. Its not going to be popular I sense. It’s up to the AMs themselves to justify. The case has to be made by Assembly Members, led by the Presiding Officer, and the political parties in the National Assembly.
When I was elected an Assembly Member in 1999, we were not overworked, in the sense that we had time to become involved in various related activity. I particularly enjoyed involvement in developing a political instruction that can be looked on a proper Welsh Parliament. So much so that I was mega-disappointed to lose my ‘seat’ in 2007. Later on, the National Assembly was given limited law-making powers, which were manageable in my view. But the recent Wales Act has invested the responsibility of raising half of our Income Tax in Wales. There will also be significantly more power vested in the Assembly as a result of Brexit. In my view, the National Assembly for Wales has grown into ‘The Welsh Parliament’.  I really don’t think 60 AMs are enough to do that job properly.
The case for more AMs is so strong that I consider it unanswerable. Of course, those who have never accepted the reality of devolution, will oppose this. Many would still like to put devolution into reverse. But in the end there will be agreement on around 80 AMs.
But there may not be Agreement on how they are to be elected. Labour will not want any possibility of losing its role as leading the Welsh Government. There could be a monster row over this. Best of luck Elin! Anyway, I just thought I’d outline how it seems to me.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Sufficient Progress to talk Future Trade Deal

In the early hours of this morning, the Prime Minister reached an agreement with the EU that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on the three policy areas deemed crucial by the EU to be settled before discussions on any future relationship can take place. It is now being recommended that the talks move on to Phase 2 of the preparation for the UK’s departure from the EU.
It’s not actually a cast iron ‘deal’. There is the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. But the general principles are accepted by both sides, even if the detail has to be filled in when the final Withdrawal Agreement comes to be drawn up.
Firstly, there is agreement that the rights of three million EU citizens living in the UK, and of the one million UK citizens living in the EU are secured. Secondly, the common travel area within Ireland will be maintained, averting a hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland. And thirdly, there is agreement on the principles on how a ‘fair settlement’ or ‘divorce payment’ will be calculated. There is much detail behind these three headline statements.
I do think the Prime Minister has played a ‘blinder’. For 18 months she has been attacked from all sides, particularly by those who have never accepted the referendum result. And attacked by media commentators who have seemed ready to swallow any daft comment from The Prime Minister’s opponents. I’ve wondered at Theresa May’s astonishing resilience, as so many brickbats have been thrown her way. This morning she demonstrated her toughness and determination. Those who have sought to be as hurtful and rude as possible are shown up as rather lesser persons than she is.
There will be more difficult moments as we proceed to Phase two of the negotiations. There will be more posturing, more Internet based garbage, more opposition opportunism and discussions as the wire is approached. But today, I think we are going to secure a deal by 2019. The UK and her Prime Minister won’t win every argument, and may well have to compromise, but we will have a deal. And it will be a balance between what is good for the UK and what is good for the EU. And this morning’s agreement will, in my view, be a turning point in Theresa May’s fortunes.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Panorama Allegations

Rarely do I respond to internet inspired stories, particularly if it’s some media/lobbyist campaign. There are simply not enough hours in a day. So it’s rare that I am stirred to respond. I am using today’s blog post to reflect on the  recent Panorama allegations concerning Adam Smith International and the Government’s Access to Justice and Community Security Programme in Syria. This sort of media coverage seriously undermines the Government’s commitment to International Aid - a budget investment to which I am totally committed. I would like to have had time to write it sooner.
I fully understand why constituents will be concerned about these allegations. The Gov’t is also concerned. And because the BBC decided to run this in the way it did, the Govt has decided to suspend the programme while a full investigation takes place. The outcome of these investigations will be known shortly.

The Foreign Office has already issued a formal response to the allegations, as follows; 

“We take any allegations of co-operation with terrorist groups and of human rights abuses extremely seriously and the Foreign Office has suspended this programme while we investigate these allegations. These programmes, also supported by international partners, are intended to make communities in Syria safer by providing basic civilian policing services. We believe that such work in Syria is important to protect our national security interest but of course we reach this judgment carefully given that in such a challenging environment no activity is without risk. That’s why all our programmes are designed carefully and subject to robust monitoring.”

It may be worth explaining what the AJACS programme actually does. AJACS is a long-term programme that supports the unarmed Free Syria Police (FSP) to deliver basic community policing services (patrols, checkpoints, traffic management etc) in non-regime held areas of Syria. Since 2014, AJACS has helped train 3,500 FSP officers, across 60 police stations, providing much-valued community policing services to around 1.6 million people in Syria. The FSP help to protect some of the most vulnerable in Syria. They offer a visible, unarmed policing presence and help to make communities safer and more resilient to terrorist threats. The project is jointly funded by the US, Danes, Dutch, Canadians and Germans.
This work in Syria is important to protect our national security interests. But operating in this challenging environment, particularly in close proximity to extremist elements and in such contested space, means no activity is without risk. That is why all our programmes are designed carefully and our contracts include a requirement for robust monitoring of supplier performance and regular reporting. In many cases (as with AJACS), implementation is also reviewed by an independent third party organisation.

Its not possible for me to attempt a detailed rebuttal of the main allegations, but I am confident that the Govts investigation will comprehensively address the allegations and the report will be made public. I hope the BBC will give the response to its allegations the same prominence. Personally, I am very proud that the United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Syrians’ efforts to build pluralistic and inclusive institutions through targeted interventions like the AJACS programme. We are joined in that effort by likeminded international partners who share our commitment to stand with the people of Syria and support their aspirations of living in dignity, free from all forms of tyranny. And we will continue to support independent Syrian entities which adhere to inclusive and pluralistic values, in order to provide crucial services and life-saving assistance to communities in Syria.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Organ Donation and Presumed Consent.

It’s now two years since the Welsh Government passed the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act. At the time, the Welsh Health Minister was informing us of the many lives that would saved by this ‘progressive’ legislation. The First Minster was telling the world that the new Act was Welsh law-making at its best. I was the only Wales based voice on the Welsh airwaves telling listeners and viewers of my opposition to this legislation - because it would not increase the number of organs available for donation, and could have the opposite effect. There were other prominent individuals opposed to the new legislation on ethical grounds, which was an entirely different argument.
Eventually I gave up ‘appearing’ on media programmes because of the invariable tone of the interviewing - usually beginning with a very ill patient in need of a new life saving organ, followed by me being asked why I wanted to prevent it. No matter how often or how patiently I pointed out that I wanted to do no such thing and on the contrary, that what I wanted was for there to be more donated organs. The next question (completely ignoring what I’d just said) was how could I put ‘faith’ or ‘ethics’ before saving lives. When I pointed out that reference to faith and ethics was the interviewer, and had no part of my thinking, I might as well have been speaking to a brick wall. I just tried to keep on repeating that ‘presumed consent’ would not increase the availability of organs for donation and could well reduce them. No-one so deaf as those who will not hear! No-one listened.

There are ways we can increase organ donation - increase number of Specialist Nurses (SNODS), increase number of Intensive Care Beds, and invest in “Tell Your Family Your Wishes” campaigns. But it was so much easier to look as if something is being done by passing a new law, when there was no evidence that it would work.

Today we’re told that the level of organ donation has not increased over the two years that the new law has been operating. I know it’s too soon to make definitive judgements. And the publicity generated by the Welsh Government may well have raised awareness, which is positive. And may have a longer term impact. It’s just that I don’t think so.
The most worrying aspect of this new law, is impact on the number of ‘live’ donors, which has fallen significantly over the last three years. Another argument I put forward at the time the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act was being discussed was that if organ donation, through legislation becomes a responsibility of the state, rather than a gift by donors based on love and generosity, it would become a matter for the state in the people’s mind. Well, maybe it has already done so. The fall in ‘live’ donors is an utter tragedy, and has led to less lives being saved. I don’t suppose I’ll be invited to do many interviews now!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Migration into the U.K.

UK politics continues to be dominated by Brexit. While the British people may be thoroughly bored with this situation, I’m afraid it’s going to carry on for several years yet. Certainly, there will be no escape for those of us involved in politics. Or for those who write occasional newspaper columns or blog posts! Today, my writing reflects on last week’s immigration figures.

During the lead-up to the EU Referendum in June 2016, one of the biggest issues of debate was migration into the UK.  I have always thought it likely (though unprovable) that this was a major influence on how the UK voted in the referendum. At the time, net immigration was about 336,000 per annum. I was often asked about this. My response was that while over the short term, this would not be disadvantageous to the UK, it was not sustainable over the long term. This remains my view. I also thought that a vote to Leave would not have much impact on net immigration figures. I was wrong, though not for the reasons I thought.

Net annual immigration into the UK began rapid growth in 1993, and reached its peak of 336,00 in 2015. The first full year figures since the EU referendum shows net immigration falling by 32% to 230,000, the sharpest decrease on record. Less than a half of is from the EU. Well over half of it is non EU. At same time there has been a significant net outward migration of UK citizens.

Of course we don’t know why net immigration has fallen so significantly.  In part it may be because the economies of the countries from which has been the source of immigration has created and is providing more jobs at home. Undoubtedly, the fall in value of sterling will have made a big difference, as the spending power of what immigrants earn has fallen significantly. There may even be some truth in the suggestions that EU based immigration has felt less welcome since the referendum.

While net immigration figures were undoubtedly too high, putting strain on our public serices, too sudden a reduction will cause serious problems. Our social care and hospitality sectors have been very dependent on immigrant workers for many years. In the agriculture, horticulture and tourism related sectors, too sudden reduction in migrant labour will have serious consequences. As the UK takes back control of immigration, we must remember the benefits, both economic and cultural that immigration brings.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The ‘Not So daft’ President.

I’m inspired to write this post by the Fraser Nelson column in today’s Telegraph, in which he suggests (correctly in my view) that all this condemnation of President Trump is playing into his hands.
When Donald Trump first appeared on my radar, I thought him to be nothing more than a disagreeable loud mouth. The idea that he might be elected President of the US, and leader of the free world didn’t cross my mind. I’d met, and been seriously impressed by Jeb Bush, and thought him to be the ideal candidate. There were others as well. I continued to be astonished when Donald Trump was chosen by the Republican Party to be its candidate for President. “What possessed them” I thought. Must admit I assumed Hilary Clinton would be a shoe-in.
The first time I really thought the ‘impossible’ could happen was when I asked a few Americans working in the UK what they thought. They were all voting Trump. They were sensible business people. When I asked what could possible explain their totally irrational (to me) intentions they said something like “Trump will shake it up a bit. We have to kick out the self servers based in Washington.”. And when I tried to point out that a President Trump could cause mayhem across the world, they disagreed. “The US Constitution won’t let him’. He will not be able to deliver on his claims”. Must admit I wasn’t at all convinced at the time. I feel a bit more reassured now - except for the damage ‘protectionism’ may cause to the world economy.
But what to think about his tweets, often offensive and outrageous. Reality is that the President is using Twitter, and using all the ‘helpful’ journalists across the world doing just what he wants to set the agenda for debate. One man’s tweets are ensuring political debate is on the issues that help his cause. It was the same with UKIP before the 2015 General Election in the UK. Dominant coverage was of internal party strife, normally thought to be politically damaging. UKIP set the agenda through its outrageous behaviour. The BBC had Farage leading the news or as a Question Time guest every other week. The reality that most of it was ‘cobblers’ made no difference. Reasonable debate was relegated to the second division. Now what is definition of that much used term, ‘useful idiots’.
The reality is that the more outrage against the Trump tweets (understandable though it is), the more it suits President Trump’s agenda.  If we could all manage to just ignore him, he would be gone in a year. If we carry on ensuring political discourse is driven by Trump tweets, he will be re-elected for a second term. The reason Donald Trump is “not so daft”is that he can see that. Welcome to the hell that is Twitter World.