Monday, February 27, 2017

Political Turbulence

Quite a bit of turbulence in British politics as we move into another week in Westminster - even if my week in going to be dominated by things Welsh and Colombian. Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones has invited me his grand St Davids Day bash at Lancaster House tomorrow and we have a Dydd Dewi Sant do at No 10 on Wednesday. And no less than three meetings about Colombia on Wed, including meeting with the Ambassador.

But back to the political turbulence. Hard to judge how significant it is. Firstly, we have just seen the Conservatives win the Copeland by-election, following resignation of the excellent Labour MP, Jamie Reed - and it wasn't a shock result. It seems an absolute disaster for Labour. We have to go back many decades to have seen such a rejection of the main opposition party in Britain. So one question exercising many of us today is the future of the Labour Party. Does it has one?

And then there was the failure of UKIP to take Stoke in another by-election on Thursday. If UKIP can't take Stoke, where can they win. While Mr Farage MEP seems to be having a grand time mixing with Donald Trump, I cannot see where his old party is going to make any political gain. And UKIP members are fighting like ferrets. So another question exercising us is the future of UKIP. Does it have one?

And then there's Lord Heseltine, a man I greatly admire. Amongst other things, he is a wonderful gardener. He's been telling us today how he's going to force through amendments in the Lords to the Article 50 Bill. Seems there are two he's keen on. The first will not make much difference. The amendment would protect the status of non British migrants resident in Britain as part of the Bill. No amendment would mean a wait of a few weeks to achieve the same end. The other could be more problematic. Would have thought it helpful to Govt Ministers negotiating the UKs exit from the EU, if exit is certain. If there has to be an affirmative vote at the end of the negotiation, it encourages those who want to stop the UK leaving to agree a bad deal. Not sure this looks wise. Whatever, I sense Govt is not in the mood to compromise. Lord Heseltine has a big task before him.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Parable of the Little Green Tractors.

Once upon a time, there was a very big farmer, who was so rich that he lived in a big house at Portland Place, in Central London. Farmer Hall, for that was his name was very wealthy. He had lots of money to give away. He loved to lavish gifts upon his children. This week his little boy, Dafydd was thrilled to bits when Rhodri, Farmer Hall's man in Wales, delivered unto him a lovely green tractor as a surprise present from his daddy. He was beside himself with joy. Something he'd been pleading for since he was old enough to love little green tractors. "Diolch Daddy" he cried, with lots of hugs and besitos.

And then Rhodri burst into floods of tears. He started shouting and stamping his feet. What could possibly have happened? Well, Rhodri had noticed that Angus, his older, bigger brother had received a far bigger green tractor - nearly 4 times bigger. Suddenly Rhodri's tractor was proof that Farmer Hall did not love him, and was just throwing a few grudging crumbs his way from the great tractor table. Rhodri's lovely green tractor seemed lovely no more. In fact in was just another 'slap in the face'.

And then the English cousins of Rhodri and Angus, noticed the new green tractors, and that Farmer Hall had not given them one at all. They all felt upset as well. In fact, everyone except Angus was upset. And to make things worse, Angus wasn't even grateful. Angus was never grateful. Nothing it seems would stop Angus from demanding more. Turned out that poor old Farmer Hall satisfied no-one. The lesson to be drawn from this sad sad story is "When you share out the cake, don't hand over all the slices at the same time.".

Friday, February 24, 2017

Helping Refugees

Just wrote an article for a local newspaper which reflects on the problems faced by the movement of peoples from troubled parts of the world, and how I think British Govt should respond. As follows....

"The issue that currently causes me most concern as an MP is the humanitarian refugee crisis facing much of our world as a result of conflict. Some of these conflicts cause huge increases in the movement of people away from problem hotspots, attracted by promises (invariably false) of a better world elsewhere. These promises usually turn out to be empty and dangerous.

Even though the scale of warfare in our world continues to fall, modern means of communication, carried on comparatively inexpensive mobile technology, greatly worsens the refugee crisis. It's only going to get worse. It's inevitable that there will be hundreds of millions of people fleeing the brutality of terrorists and drought. 

There has been much publicity and campaigning to allow refugees from fellow EU countries into Britain. Many constituents have written to me, supporting this course of action. I have resisted this, simply because I cannot accept it is the most effective way to help. I have always believed that the UK should take in more refugees than we have done, or have promised to do, but it should always be from where we can have the best humanitarian impact. We should be guided by the scale of disaster and our capacity to help rather by what our media covers. The BBC gives most coverage to where it can safely take its cameras.

This week, I met with former East Enders star Ross Kemp, who has created a very powerful film outlining the position in Libya. Libya is on the point of being a 'failed state' where there is no government. It's being run by war lords on a tribal structure. Human rights do not exist. The status of women is particularly awful. Into this environment step traffickers, promising transfer to Europe in return for all of their money. They are then put into unseaworthy boats and sent out to the Med. If they progress out of Libyan waters, they often sink. No-one knows about them. If caught in Libyan waters they are dumped on the border.

This lawlessness may well lead to Nigeria, where the population is over 100,000,000. About ten million Syrians have been displaced during the current conflict. Many have died, or been killed by Assad or Russian forces. After meetings with activists who know the area, I became convinced that every penny that Britain can contribute should go to where the need is greatest. That is the most humanitarian response."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Best EDM of the Year so far

Because I'm a PPS in the Wales Office I'm not supposed to sign up to Early Day Motions. Must admit this is one of the more sensible Parliamentary conventions. But I can see no reason why I cannot give publicity to the work of the wonderful Ann Clwyd MP. Not many MPs were able to attend the showing of the Ross Kemp film yesterday afternoon. Think I was the only Conservative there. It was shocking and moving, portraying the cruel brutal awful reality behind the refugee crisis in Libya. The position in Aleppo, and refugee camps on the Syrian border (Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan) will be much the same - though with better structure for support in part. Perhaps what should truly concern us in Europe in the consequences of spill over of 'failed state' reality to Nigeria and other states.

Treatment of Migrants and Refugees in Libya

That this House is shocked by the appalling treatment of migrants and refugees in Libya by state officials and illegal people trafficking networks, as depicted by the very powerful Ross Kemp documentary Libya’s Migrant Hell, shown at a Parliamentary screening organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group; notes with considerable concern that many making the journey to Libya in the hope of reaching Europe are fleeing violent conflict and famine in their home countries; calls on the UK Government and its partners within the international community to assist Libyan officials, and international and domestic humanitarian organisations, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that migrants and refugees within that country are treated with dignity, provided with adequate food and basic healthcare, and not subjected to ill-treatment; further calls on the UK Government and others to do much more to address the underlying causes resulting in increased flows of migrants and refugees, as well as to ensure that safe and legal channels into Europe are provided for those who qualify for international protection.    

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Article re Trump Visit for today's Guardian.

Wrote an article at an hour's notice for the Guardian yesterday. Don't know whether it reached print. It's not the daily paper I normally read. The article is a summery of my last post about the President of the United States. Anyway, this is what I wrote;

"I support the impending state visit of Donald Trump to the United Kingdom. He has been elected to the position of President by the voters of the United States in a free and fair election. President Trump now leads a country which has long been a dependable partner and ally of Britain. It's crucial for our security and economic interest that this 'special relationship' with the United States continues into the future.

I accept that President Trump has made comments both before and after his election that I, and many other British people, find unacceptable. I accept he has sought to implement policies I consider objectionable. I find his style, his language and his denigration of the media to not be what I'd expect of a world leader. But he is doing pretty much what he said he was going to do in his election campaign, and he won. He was elected. If we are to respect democracy as a principle, we accept it when we do not much care for the result.

During the reign of Her Majesty our Queen,  over 100 state visits have been granted to a wide variety of national leaders, many of whom have been strangers to the idea of democracy. Many have been controversial. I have always thought it good politics to try to promote better government across the world by engaging with leaders, who have traits we disagree with.

Britain's Prime Minister has a difficult and sensitive path to tread. Central to her thinking must always be the national interest. She may well express disapproval and disagreement to President Trump, but in public she will be constructive and welcoming. This is the right approach. The State Visit must go ahead as planned.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What to think about Donald.

Big fuss at Westminster today. 3hrs debating the impending State Visit to the UK by the President of the United States. It's been scheduled because two petitions relating to the visit have reached the 100,000 needed to trigger consideration of a debate. The largest petition condemns the invitation - which in turn instigated the petition welcoming the visit. Had a good chat about this with Rachel Garside on Good Morning Wales this morning. And an interview for Newyddion tonight. And there were a fair few protestors in Parliament Square generating a bit of a rumpus.

I should, for context, admit that I am no fan of the new President's style or use of language or some of his declared policy. He does seem to have a variably firm grip on facts, admittedly not a characteristic exclusive to the Donald. But he has been elected President by the US people. In passing, not enough research is being done on why they did this. I suppose it's too easy (and sloppy) just to condemn the stuff that would do for him in the UK - and leave it at that.

The Trump state visit will happen- no matter how much noise there is. No way can the Prime Minister withdraw an invite. Nor should she. State visits are about promoting the British interest. Or should be. Theresa May has had to walk on eggshells in her dealings with the US President.  There may be Trump traits that she may not like. Perhaps she referred to them in private conversations. I hope she did. But publicly, as our Prime Minister, she will be be focussed on the British interest, from both the security and economic standpoint. Not for her the freedom to play to the gallery. She has a hard headed job to do and she is doing it well very well.

And let us for one moment consider some of the other great icons of morality and democracy that have been granted state visits during the reign of Her Majesty The Queen - well over 100 of them. Mugabe perhaps. Or Hirohito. Or Putin. Or Ceaucescu. Or our last visitor, President Xi Jinping. I was there when our current Mr Speaker fawned all over this icon of democracy.

And then we have the entertaining sideshows. Like me writing 300 words for tomorrow's Guardian. Actually, now I mention it, I remember writing a few pieces for the Guardian a few years ago. And there's the sheer pleasure President Trump will take from the way he has dominated British politics this week. How he will have enjoyed the three hour debate in the Palace of Westminster, where he was the subject of not one, but two contradicting petitions running simultaneously.  I do hope we can move on from Trumpmania tomorrow.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Best way to help Syrian refugees.

I've blogged before about the best way to help Syrian refugees, challenging the idea that the proposal put forward by Lord Alf Dubs to take refugee 'children' in from France was neither the most effective nor the most humanitarian. I have much respect for Lord Dubs' opinion, bearing in mind his personal back story, but thought he was mistaken. It was too important an issue just to 'go with the flow' for an easy life. Because of Lord Dubs background, I felt there was not a proper evaluation of the options open to the UK to help. I also disagreed with Govt when it legislated to accept the amendment. I made my views known to my whips office.  The Minister telephoned me at home on a Sunday morning, hoping I would not rebel on the issue. I didn't because the Dubs amendment would clearly bring humanitarian relief to refugees, even if not the most effective and most humanitarian way to do it. The Dubs amendment has worked in practice very much as I expected. The Home Secretary has now published a 'statement' outlining the Govt position - as follows....

"Britain has a proud record of helping the most vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger, and this Government is committed to upholding this fine tradition.

Our response to the migrant crisis has been to establish resettlement schemes from the region, where we can best target our support to help the most vulnerable. That is why we will resettle 20,000 Syrians over the course of this parliament and we will also resettle 3,000 children and their families from the wider region. In the last year we have granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children and of the over 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children.

This week the Government announced that in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act (the so-called Dubs amendment) we will transfer 350 children.  to meet the intention and spirit behind the amendment.  This number includes over 200 children already transferred under section 67 from France, and will include a further 150 over the coming months.

The scheme has not closed, as reported by some. We were obliged by the Immigration Act to put a specific number on how many children we would take based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity. This is the number that we have published and we will now be working in Greece, Italy and France to transfer further children under the amendment. We’re clear that behind these numbers are children and it’s vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host them and provide them with the support and care they will need.

We consulted extensively with local authorities over several months to reach this number, but if your local authority is contacting you suggesting they have extra capacity to take children then please encourage them to participate in the National Transfer Scheme. Each year we have around 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children arrive in Britain and currently a small number of councils are taking a disproportionate share of the burden in caring for these children.

The Government has also always been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children.  That is why children must have arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 to be eligible under section 67 of the Immigration Act.

I’m proud of the action this Government has taken, and will continue to take, to support and care for the most vulnerable children caught up in the crisis in Syria."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Speaker error - not that important.

Speaker Bercow was (in my opinion) 'out of order' to effectively ban the President of the United States of America from speaking in Westminster Hall and the Royal Gallery when he visits Britain later this year. But I think "So what". Everyone does and says things I disagree with. What matters is the overall judgement and effectiveness of Speaker Bercow. And I've always thought and said that he has done an excellent job, reforming how the House of Commons works, and holding the Govt to account. But this post is about why I think he was wrong to lay into Donald Trump as he did. And I am not going to speculate on why he did it - but I do think he will be entirely happy that I should. It helps his standing with other political parties.

All I'm going to do is repeat parts of an article by Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Govt at King's College. Brilliant authority on constitutional issues. The best, and I share his opinion.

"The Speaker of the House of Commons is expected, like the Queen, to preserve strict political neutrality. Yet, John Bercow...has declared that President Trump should not be invited to make an address to Parliament."
"The Speaker, however is a servant of the House of Commons. He is not empowered to express his own views in public, but only the views of the Commons. But the Commons has not yet come to a view. The Speaker's intervention, therefore, constitutionally improper."
"It is also politically unhelpful. For it is by no means clear whether an invitation to address Parliament is one that the US President actually seeks. In that case, the Speaker will have initiated an unnecessary diplomatic spat by pronouncing on an issue that may not arise and in any case did not need to be addressed in public."

"Theresa May has been treading on eggshells. She believes, probably rightly, that there is more to be gained from private remonstrance than from publicly snubbing the notoriously thin skinned President. She is engaged in a delicate diplomatic balancing act, avoiding confrontation while making it clear she does not share some of the President's views and in particular his policy on immigration."

"The Prime Minister will likely be not grateful to the Speaker who, in parading his virtue, may have undermined her diplomacy."

"Until the Commons comes to a definite view on the state visit and the possibility of anaddress to Parliament, the Speaker should stay silent, even if he believes his view is backed by many. It is not his job to counterpose his own opinion against that of the elected Government. In any case, megaphone diplomacy rarely succeeds."

Friday, February 03, 2017

Colostomy Irrigation Speech.

When I secured this debate, I had not realised that it would be so close to World Cancer Day - on Saturday. Given the close connection between my subject and cancer, I could not have chosen a more appropriate date.
I begin by paying tribute to the colostomy nurses at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, particularly Tracy Lunt, my personal stoma nurse, who helped me through a difficult time in my life and who encouraged me, and introduced me to colostomy irrigation 14 years ago. I also thank colostomy nurse, Julie Powell, who telephoned me late one evening this week to help me to prepare, after hearing that I had secured the debate. Colostomy nurses are special people, drawn to an unglamorous job that involves helping and encouraging people at the most difficult time in their lives.
 I imagine the subject of this debate is not often the subject of debate in Parliament. Madam Deputy Speaker, you have been an MP for longer than I have and may remember another occasion, but I do not. As far as I know, this may be the first time that this subject has appeared on the Order Paper.
I had best begin with some explanation of why the subject is of such importance to me and to many other people—we do not know how many people because the subject is not talked about much. It is difficult to know how many people are irrigators, how many could be irrigators or how many would be if encouraged and helped by a sympathetic introduction process. At this point, I should introduce the background to my interest, which derives from bowel cancer. Colostomy irrigation has given me the freedom to live a full and active life. I will mention bowel cancer quite a lot because of its close connection with colostomy irrigation.
I am an ostomate—a person with a colostomy. I have owned my colostomy for almost 15 years, since undergoing an abdominoperineal resection to remove a cancerous tumour in 2002. I did not want a colostomy, but the alternative at the time was a far less attractive prospect. It was perhaps the most traumatic event in my life. I was uncertain about the future or, indeed, whether I even had a future at all. It certainly gave me a good understanding of how others feel in the same situation. I consider myself to have been extraordinarily lucky in that I made a full recovery.
One of the key reasons for my good luck and full recovery was that my cancerous colorectal tumour was diagnosed early in its development, before the disease had spread to my liver and elsewhere, when full recovery would be much less certain. Unsurprisingly, I have been a champion of early diagnosis ever since, and played a role in promoting bowel cancer screening programmes in Wales, when they were introduced a few years ago. The campaigning charity, Beating Bowel Cancer, is currently leading a campaign to reduce the age at which screening is offered from 60 to 50, as it is in Scotland. Instinctively, I support early screening, but I realise that it serves no real purpose unless accompanied by the availability of sufficient endoscopy capacity.​
Colorectal cancer, or bowel cancer, as it is commonly known, is one of the most common forms of cancer, with 110 new cases diagnosed every day. It is a traumatic shock for many when the tumour is first diagnosed, but the cancer is completely curable if caught early enough. It is possible to recover and do some fairly crazy things. For example, after recovery, I initiated the establishment of the Welsh parliamentary rugby team. In passing, I should say that, rather shamefully, our first game versus the Lords and Commons parliamentary team degenerated into a full-scale brawl, which received much coverage in the national media, and that is when I first met the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), a Labour MP. I went training with the late, great All Black Jonah Lomu, who had also suffered life-threatening illnesses, in preparation for that game. My friends, of course, think it was even crazier to seek election as a Member of Parliament.
The final introductory point I want to make concerns the title I have chosen for this debate. Until recently, I used the term “colonic irrigation”, like most people, but it is too often associated in the public mind with a lifestyle choice available in health and massage centres—a practice I have never really taken much interest in—so I now use the term “colostomy irrigation”, which has no such associations, and which accurately describes the process.
My speech has three main purposes. First, I want to explain what colostomy irrigation actually involves—what it is. Secondly, I want to explain why I decided to become an irrigator. Thirdly, I want to explain why I am seeking to raise the profile and awareness of colostomy irrigation, which is something I have been doing for 14 years. This Adjournment debate is the best platform to raise awareness that I have ever secured.
First, on the actual process, I am constantly surprised by how little is known about it. Even people suffering illnesses such as colitis or bowel cancer, who face the prospect of a permanent colostomy, seem to know little about the procedure. A colleague MP with a background in the clinical profession approached me today and said that not even all colostomy nurses know about it or encourage it. It seems not to be thought suitable for polite conversation; the human mind seems to go into “block” mode if the subject crops up.
However, the process is very simple. All it involves is hanging what is in effect a polythene bag, containing 1,000 to 1,500 ml of warm water, on some convenient hook—I usually use the bathroom curtain rail. One of the problems with smart modern hotels is that there are often no convenient hooks. Luckily, I am a farmer by background, so I am quite practical and naturally given to improvisation, and a coat hanger can be quite a handy hook. The water is then allowed to run by gravity, via a polythene tube, into that part of the lower bowel that my brilliant consultant surgeon left me with after surgery in 2002. Then, the water is allowed to just run out naturally; there really is not much more to it than that. The biggest downside is that the irrigator has to remain in the same location for about 45 minutes, but with complete freedom to read, write, telephone, prepare speeches for Adjournment debates, do sudoku, watch TV and a whole host of other things.
I want to emphasise that the process is not suitable for all ostomates. There can be insurmountable physical and, indeed, mental barriers that mean irrigation is just not possible. There are additional bits of equipment, such as commercially available water pumps, that replace simple gravity, but my experience is that they are not usually needed.
There is another point of interest here—certainly to me and, I think, to the Minister. I am told that while a very small percentage of ostomates in the UK irrigate—less than 5%—a very high percentage do so in the US. That is thought to be because all the equipment associated with wearing a colostomy bag is free in the UK but has to be paid for in the US—1,000 ml of water comes free.
Secondly, why do I irrigate myself? When I am asked, I give the same answer as when I am asked why I voted to leave in the EU referendum on 23 June—it could one day become a pub quiz question: what is the connection between the EU referendum and colostomy irrigation?—and that answer is to take back control. I wanted to take back control of my own body and not allow my colostomy to rule my life, which it could well have done. I did not want to have to wear a colostomy bag. I wanted to continue my public life without being concerned about an “active” colostomy at inconvenient times. I can irrigate when and where it is convenient for me to do so. I take the decisions, not my colostomy. I have—as, indeed, have all the other ostomates who irrigate—genuinely taken back control.
Thirdly, I turn to the main reason why I am raising the issue in this debate. Having experienced the extra freedom, self-confidence and control that colostomy irrigation gives me, I want to encourage other ostomates to think about doing the same. I must emphasise that it does not work for every ostomate, and, in any case, it is a matter of choice. It is not a question of what one should do; it depends on what one can do and what one wants to do. All I want to do is to suggest to ostomates who have never thought about irrigation to consider it. There will be a few uncertain days to begin with while the body familiarises itself with the process, but, with the guidance and encouragement of their stoma nurses, they too may find the freedom and control that colostomy irrigation brings.

The background to every colostomy is some form of clinical need, involving fear, trauma, great uncertainty, great need for relief from pain or even simply a desire to stay alive. World Cancer Day is on Saturday, and I am really grateful that I have had the chance to play a small part in making life better for at least some of those who are suffering from the implications of bowel cancer.