Friday, November 23, 2018

CT draft

Have not been on my blog for a while. Technical problems. Actually it was me who was the problem. Anyway James has fixed it. This was the last column I wrote for the local newspaper. It’s about the centenary of the Armistice, which seems years go. All this Brexit uncertainty drives every other issue into the shadows. Anyway, here’s the article. 

As we approach the centenary of Armistice Day, I reflect that my generation has been blessed with good fortune. I write this from a personal perspective, but it applies to all of the generation into which I was born.  I was a war baby, conceived when Britain was at war with Germany, and born at Welshpool Hospital just before atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which effectively ended hostilities. Soon afterwards, the Second World War, which had wrought utter devastation and cruelty on an epic scale was declared over.  I was just a one year old when the tyrants, Mussolini and Hitler perished. I was just one when the world discovered the horrors visited on innocent Jews in the Holocaust. It’s hard to believe such crimes against humanity actually happened in my lifetime. 

But such appalling events did happen and we British have not been involved in such horrors since. Yes there have been wars and sadly they will continue. We must not forget the awfulness, because we do not want to see the like again. There’s been a Spanish Civil War, a war in Vietnam, the wars in Iraq. Today there’s the awfulness of Syria, Afghanistan and the Yemen. But there has been nothing like the devastation of the two World Wars centred on Europe. When millions of mothers and fathers saw their sons leaving for unknown battlefields. When they dreaded opening the door to a uniformed man bringing them the news that their son (usually but sometimes daughters too) had been killed in action. How did they all recover? Some didn’t of course. We have four children and five grandchildren. It’s just not possible to bring such scenarios to front of mind. 

Over the next few days, many of us will be joining in acts and services of remembrance. Last Saturday I joined the British Legion and cadets as they sold poppies in Newtown, raising money to help those injured in warfare. Today I visited the new statue of the First World War poet, Wilfred Owen at Oswestry. On Friday I look forward to the official opening of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Garden in Machynlleth and on Sunday I will join the Parade and Church Service in Welshpool. There will be many other commemorations and much remembrance across our County.  And there will be hundreds, maybe thousands of Montgomeryshire people turning out to acknowledge the commitment and sacrifice of our young people who have joined the armed forces.

Over recent years, I’ve joined the parade at Welshpool and Newtown on alternate years. This year, on Sunday I will be at Welshpool, and at the service at St Mary’s Church. Many old friends will be there. I do hope Ted Jones and Jack Ellis are well enough to be with us. Both are confined to a wheelchair and elderly. Ted is almost 99 years old now.

One old friend who will not be with us is John Gwilt, a long standing political opponent and one of the nicest men I ever met. The word, Welshpool was printed on his heart. John died recently. I hope I can attend his funeral. I will forever associate him reciting the Kohima Epitaph before the Last Post:
“When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrows, We gave our today” 

And the Exhortation after the Last Post
“They shall not grow old, As we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, Nor the years condemn, At the going down of the sun, And in the morning, We will remember them.”

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Public Letter from Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Consultants

Over recent weeks there has been a determined campaign by some Telford based politicians to undermine the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust. Driving this campaign has been an attempt to stop a proposed and desperately needed reform of the hospital services based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital at Telford, because it was not the reform they wanted. In my view, this campaign has been a disgrace, which has caused real damage (through delay) to the interests and welfare of patients. I also think the way in which the BBC has allowed itself to perform the role of ‘useful idiot’ in this campaign is a disgrace as well.
Today 37 consultants working at the two major hospitals have released the public statement below. I’ve not know anything like this to happen before. It’s clear the clinicians have had more than enough of political shenanigans. They have waited for NHS reform for many years and are asking that patient interests be given priority. I couldn’t agree more.


We would like to thank the local people of Telford, Wrekin, Shropshire and Mid Wales for the overwhelming support that they have given recently to our staff. Both our staff and the local public have been distressed and concerned by recent national headlines. We would like to reassure our patients that their safe care is our priority. We welcome the independent review of our maternity department which will help us to learn from past events. Our Accident and Emergency Depts are under enormous pressure, with doctors, nurses and all the staff doing their best despite overwhelming demand.
We now have a clear vision for the future of our hospitals. This year we have appointed many new consultants to the Trust who want to make their home here and help us realise this vision.
We will continue to work with and support our managers and members of the Board to bring this to fruition. Safe and effective care in Telford, Wrekin, Shropshire and Mid Wales requires stable leadership. Any major change in the leadership team would be a misguided and unnecessary distraction at this key time.
Thank you for continuing to support your local hospitals.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Second EU Referendum. NO.NO. NO

Having a few emails and letters from constituents asking me to back a second EU Referendum. Most of them describe this second EU Referendum as a ‘People’s Vote’ as if this renaming would make it more acceptable. Not to me it won’t. I’m not just a bit against it. I am totally 100% against it. And it’s not going to happen anyway. It’s a very very unwise idea.
I’m grateful to Lord (William) Hague for using his Telegraph column today to give order to the reasons that have underpinned my implacable opposition. I defy anyone to argue that this second EU Referendum is a ‘goer’ after reading my or Lord Hague’s laying out of the reasons why not.
Firstly, it would take getting on for a year to arrange. A special EU Referendum Act would have to be passed by both Houses of Parliament. There would be unlimited potential for dispute over its terms. There would then have to be time allowed for campaigns. It would not happen until the autumn of 2019. And the ghost of UKIP would burst out from its grave like a mighty colossus.
We have no idea what the question would be. Some want it be whether to accept whatever deal is agreed between the UK and the EU. Some want it only if we cannot agree a deal. And some want a straightforward re-run with a Remain option. And some even want a multiple choice. Unlimited potential for rows over this as well. Next autumn is ambitious!
Thirdly, a second vote would not settle the matter. What would happen next. I have no idea, without knowing the new referendum question.
Fourthly, the UK could well be torn asunder. The debates would be bitter. Far more bitter than last time. So bitter that Scotland and perhaps Northern Ireland would be estranged from England and Wales for ever. And London estranged from the rest of England and Wales.
Fifthly, I cannot see the Conservative Government surviving the bitter warfare which would be involved. There would be chaos, probably leading to a Corbyn led Gov’t which would be an outcome so damaging to the future of  Britain that I simply cannot find the words.
And sixthly, a decision to hold a referendum would lead to the EU doing all it could to avoid a deal. We already have some who want to Leave, and most who want to remain doing all they can to undermine the Prime Minister’s negotiating strength. A decision to hold a second referendum would make further negotiation pointless. The interests of the EU would be for the negotiations to fail.
At Saltzberg, a few days ago, the leaders of the EU27 set out to humiliate the Prime Minister and humiliate Britain. If we decided to hold a second referendum, we would be humiliating ourselves.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Brexit Delivery Group (inspired by Simon Hart MP)

I voted Leave in the EU Referendum on June 23rd 2016, when a majority of those who voted agreed with me. I strongly believe that we must respect that referendum decision. I also accept that the 48% who supported Remain must be given a voice. If we are to heal the deep divisions on this issue in British society, we should do everything possible to deliver agreement on how we leave the EU, benefitting both the UK and the EU as far as we possibly can. And I do think it’s possible. But I am increasingly concerned that due to internal wrangling, leadership ambitions and wilful misrepresentation of the realities of parliamentary arithmetic, the whole Brexit project is threatened. The pursuit by some MPs of what is loosely described as a ‘Hard Brexit’ is making an achievable, acceptable Brexit near unachievable.

Voters in the EU referendum opted for Leave for a range of reasons and with different levels of enthusiasm. Some saw it as a ‘great release’ from external control, a massive financial saving, the freedom to control immigration, or the ability to trade with the world. Other Leave voters were unsure, hoping and believing that, on balance, they were doing the right thing. I was one of those. Every one of the 17.4 million had their own personal reasons to vote Leave.

At the same time we have the 48%, some of whom are committed to overturning the result of the referendum because they see it as damaging the economy and impacting negatively on jobs. But there are many others who accept that we are leaving. So there are pressures from both wings of the Brexit debate. Both sides battle to be heard on the airwaves and to be read in our newspapers. And through the cacophony, Theresa May continues to negotiate a deal with the European Union. She has a majority of just 11, assuming the DUP all stay onside. Changing the Brexit secretary, the foreign secretary or even the Prime Minister does not change that simple fact. The majority will still be 11.

The challenges would be still there, perhaps even more difficult as new personalities will have to renegotiate a position internally as a party, externally with the country, and in Brussels with the European Commission - and will have less than six weeks to do it

Some argue for “no deal” - a ‘false god’ in my opinion. Yes we must prepare for ‘no deal” but I judge this outcome would be a massive failure by both the EU and UK negotiating teams. And would Parliament vote for ‘no deal’ anyway. Is it really likely that Parliament  (exercising its sovereignty in a very Brexit-like manner) will permit that? Where do we go then? How about a general election? Turkeys and Christmas come to mind. We might as well have a second referendum as that is what it would become. The Conservatives would be punished for failure and Labour probably elected. What price Brexit then dear hard Brexiteers? 

The EU negotiators are watching these shenanigans. Quite a bit of head shaking going on. We cannot simply issue orders to the commission and expect them to be obeyed any more than we can to our own party. We need to ‘get real’. I believe we should do what we promised, leaving the EU next March. We should do what we have to do to get this project “over the line”. It certainly won’t be all I wanted. There will be years more ‘negotiation’ during a ‘transition period’. That’s what every business has to do every day of its existence. It’s what our relationship with the EU has been for more than 40 years, including fundamental changes such as expansion, Maastricht, the Euro and the Lisbon Treaty.

I am not given to joining ‘groups’ at Westminster, but I have joined the Brexit Delivery Group (BDG) established by Simon Hart  MP, with whom I share an office. This post is based on an article he wrote for the Times. The BRG includes MPs who voted Leave and who voted Remain. Numbers are already at nearly 60. That’s roughly 30 per cent of Conservative MPs and growing. There are no red lines other than a determination not to trigger another referendum or bring about a general election. There is no view on leadership contenders but a resolute belief in seeking a negotiated settlement and to provide the government with the space to achieve that.

We need an agreement that stands the best chance of getting through parliament. We cannot have the perfect deal for anyone. There are too many ideas of what a ‘perfect deal’ is. In politics “perfection” rarely exists. The lyrics of ‘The Perfect Deal’ is that of a siren calling  us on to the rocks.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Amazon’s Tax Bill

Coverage of politics at Westminster is obsessing about every minor detail of the Brexit discussions, while very little attention is being paid to the Budget, only a few weeks away. What taxation changes do we want to see from the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The challenge he faces will not be easy. Actually, the overall financial position of the Exchequer is rather better than we might have expected a year or two ago (despite the ubiquitous and ridiculous ‘fear’ predictions emanating from the Treasury before the EU Referendum in 2016). But the recently announced massive annual £20 billion increase in NHS investment will have to be paid for. There is also a real need to increase investment in social care and defence. 

So where is this extra money to come from? Over recent weeks I’ve received hundreds of emails calling for an ‘Amazon Tax’, based on the belief that this would make a significant difference. It will not. Because Amazon is such a massive worldwide business, with a market capitalisation of over £1 trillion, there’s a widespread assumption that paying just £4.6 million in Corporation Tax is in some way ‘cheating the system’. It so happens that I too hope that the Chancellor will find a way of extracting more tax out of the several worldwide companies who do not have a High Street presence, but, as always, these internet based campaigns are not what they seem.

Firstly, it’s not Amazon (the worldwide monolith) which is based in the UK - it’s a subsidiary (Amazon UK Services) and it’s run from about a dozen giant warehouses. Its profits in the UK are actually well below £100 million, a lot of money but not a base to make any significant boost to Treasury income. Even so, its tax bill still seems lower than it should be. But it’s important to understand why. In 2000 the then Labour Government introduced a scheme to encourage companies wanting to create schemes giving shares to employees. Any company which did this could set the cost against its Corporation Tax liabilities. I approved of this scheme. I still do. Do we really want to stop this scheme. Personally, I think it a great idea to give employees a real stake in the success of the business they work for.
Amazon (and several others) are also said to have an unfair advantage over other more traditional retailers by paying lower business rates. Now it’s true that Amazon has developed a business model which is not based on the High Street, but is located in properties where business rates are more affordable, enabling its prices to be more competitive. It is a very strange campaign, supposedly acting in the interests of the people of the UK, which calls for the cost of what we buy to be forced higher - deliberately hitting consumers pockets. 

And finally, I cannot let this issue pass without a comment on the bizarre position adopted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, publicly criticising Amazon for its business model - only for us to discover that the Church itself has several millions of pounds invested in Amazon. And then criticising the employment practices of Amazon, which are replicated by the Church itself. This is as blatant an example of hypocrisy as you’ll ever see! Yes, I hope the Chancellor can find a way to raise more tax from the Amazon’s of our world. But let’s not pretend it’s straightforward or would make any significant difference.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Saving Montgomeryshire.

This week, the 4 Boundary Commissions of the UK published their final proposals for the new UK map of Parliamentary constituencies. Montgomeryshire, as we know it disappears. My view is that the proposals are a total dog’s breakfast. And it’s not the fault of the Boundary Commissions. The blame lies squarely on the politicians who stitched up the commissioners so tightly that they had no real choice but deliver the dog’s breakfast.

Let’s look back at how we reached this week’s deeply unwelcome position. It all began with the publication of expenses claimed by MPs before 2008, which became known as the “Expenses Scandal”. The public were rightly outraged by what had been going on. They were so angry that the leaders of political parties felt they had to do something to curry favour with voters. They responded by making what I thought were unwise and illogical promises. All we needed were clear rules that prevented abuse of the expenses system.

In the run up to the 2010 General Election, both the Conservatives and the  Liberal Democrat’s said they would reduce substantially the number of MPs. They said this would “cut the cost of politics” (at the same time as increasing the size of the unelected House of Lords to 800!) It followed that after the election in 2010, the Coalition partners agreed to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. An Act of Parliament, the ‘Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act’ was passed in 2011, which included an instruction to the four Boundary Commissions to decide on the precise boundaries of the 600 new constituencies. In the event the Lib Dem’s later changed their minds, and no vote by MPs has ever been taken. But the plan has never gone away.

These new constituency boundaries are being sold as being needed to equalise the size of constituencies. As populations move from poorer  quality housing in cities to more desirable leafy suburbs, the size of constituencies do need to be adjusted accordingly. No-one will disagree with that. Everyone, including me accepts that. But there is absolutely no reason to cut the number of MPs by 50 to do it. The cut just makes the whole equalisation process much more disruptive and traumatic, hitting rural areas in particular.

And then we are also told that every constituency must be of almost exactly the same size. Why on earth must every constituency population be within a 5% range of the average. Why not 10%, or 8%. Just a figure plucked out of thin air. What is the point of having Boundary Commissioner costing vast sums of money to come up with a sensible structure, and then to tie their hands so they cannot take into account geography, or history, or culture because of this 5% rule. My view has been that a tolerance of 8% would make the review much more acceptable.

The new proposed constituency boundaries are particularly damaging to Wales. I accept that there must be some reduction because Wales currently sends 40 MPs to Westminster. The Wales population indicates there should be 34/35 Welsh MPs. But the reduction to 600 seats takes the 40down to 29, a sudden dramatic disruptive cut. And the second reason this is so damaging to Wales and that the Wales Boundary Commission has so little flexibility is that most constituencies have the immovable borders the sea and Offa’s Dyke. It makes reform of constituencies an impossible task.

I am opposed to the reduction in Parliamentary constituencies and have been urging (and will continue to urge) the Government not to go ahead with this plan. I hope the anticipated vote on the new boundaries will not take place in October, as planned.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Choosing the Leader of the Conservative Party

I am an enthusiastic supporter of Theresa May. I hope she remains as Conservative Leader and Prime Minister for the foreseeable future. Though I do accept that “foreseeable” could have a variety of interpretations! Delivering a referendum result when many on the losing side refuse to accept the result is a near impossible task. It needs a high level resilience and bloodymindedness to lead in such circumstances, especially when the noises off are high volume. Our current Prime Minister is the best person to lead us through this challenge. Even though I might think it self defeating idiocy, I accept that there are others thinking about how to engineer a leadership contest, and thinking about how it should be organised.

I’ve also read reports suggesting that Leave supporters are being encouraged to join the Conservative Party in preparation for such a leadership vote. Supposedly they are going to “flood” the party with new members. Some MPs are concerned about this - mainly because of what happened to the Labour Party, bringing Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership. Personally, I’m keen to welcome anyone who wants to join our party - unless we know their main intention is to enter to spread poison. Let’s welcome them in. 

I just don’t see a problem. The Conservative Party has rules to make it difficult for a Trojan horse to succeed. Since the process was changed while William Hague was the leader, Party members choose between two MPs put forward by MPs themselves.  Previously just MPs had chosen the Leader. I agreed with this process then, and do so now. There is some noise about changing the rules to make it easier for certain candidates. I do not agree with this. Changes should be considered only after very careful research and for a good reason - not just to help any individual.
The Conservative Party does not have the mass membership that has been the case in the past. The official figures are said to be not that much over 100,000. It’s important that those members, without whom we would have no party at all, should  have a say in choosing the Leader. But I believe it’s also important that those who know the candidates well, having worked with them and watched them operate under pressure should also have a say. Leaving the choice of Leader to a comparatively small membership would indeed open up the risk of being swamped by a sudden influx of new recruits – the very thing that happened in the Labour Party which brought Jeremy Corbyn to the Leadership. 
There is therefore a strong case to create the right balance between representative and direct decision-making. MPs are elected to make decisions on our behalf. Party members also have an important role, one of the most important of which is to have a major say in choosing an individual who might be best placed to govern the nation, based on long and personal acquaintance with the candidates as well as knowing their views. As William Hague has said, “if you remove the gatekeepers from a political system, you have no idea what is going to come through the gate”.
But the worst of all arguments is to change the system by which we elect our leader in order to favour a particular candidate or particular outcome in the short term. This will never turn out as expected. 
The more people who take part in choosing their representatives, the better across all tiers of government. But those elected Leader will be stronger and more effective if they have strong support from those who know them best.7

Friday, August 24, 2018

Report from Rural Colombia

Now it’s on to the third leg of my three week Colombia visit. First leg was the capital, Bogata where I had arranged lots of meetings to get a feel for the politics and trade potential. Second leg was the city of Medellin, learning about how city planning and people power has transformed the most murderous city in the world into a modern, well connected economic powerhouse.

The third leg of my Colombia ‘familiarisation visit’ is to rural Colombia.

This leg began in Boyaca, where I visited the magnificent monuments marking two of the key battles in Colombia’s struggle to cast off the imperial yoke of Spain - at Vargas Swamp near Paipa and at the battle of Boyaca itself which prevented the Spanish forces reaching Santafe Bogata (at it was then known). These two battles signalled the end of Spanish rule in South America.
Was were very relaxed until reaching Tunja (pronounced toon-hah), when our brilliant driver Tatiana jumped out at her house and handed me the keys for the onward drive to Tuta. As darkness fell. Not sure I’ll ever completely forgive her. Panicked when a police car appeared in my mirror with blue lights flashing. What on earth had I done wrong now? Actually nothing. Hadn’t realised they always have their blue lights flashing.

A lovely evening with my daughter-in-law, Zulma’s extended family and their pet animals. Commitment to family is very strong in rural Colombia.  The landscape of Boyaca is not dissimilar to Wales, except more mountainous and extensive with the Andes providing backdrop in the distance.

And then today we drove via Bogota to a small town called Anapoima. What a drive. Seemed like it was over top of the Andes. The road was being widened (well actually rebuilt). Maybe 30 miles of it. It’s the sort of dramatic infrastructure development Colombians specialise in. In Medellin they are building a tunnel through a mountain to create better access to the airport. In Bogata, they are going to build an underground system - from scratch. They would sort out the Third Runway at Heathrow in short order.  Today I travelled along a motorway being built over the Andes, which makes M5 improvements seem a mini job. Anapoima is nearer to the Pacific coast than where I’ve been so far. Hotter and more muggy. First encounter with a mosquito.

I’ve learned so much about Colombia while during my visit. So much more to learn. It’s a country of great contrasts and massive physical differences. And I’ve not even mentioned the Amazon or the Pacific Coast. The whole country is utterly breathtaking. And for someone who loves flowers, it’s a dreamworld. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Report from Medellin

Report from Medellin.

Medellin is the most stunning place I’ve ever been to. In the early 1990s, it was the most murderous city in the world (over 27,000 murders in 1992 alone). Today Medellin is mainly peaceful. This transformation has involved a truly astonishing level of forgiveness. Equally astonishing is the speed at which the population of Medellin has grown. In 1950 there were around 350,000 residents. By 1970, the population had increased by a factor of 6, and today Medellin has 2.64 million residents - a truly dramatic urbanisation. It’s also become connected to other adjacent settlements taking the total population to over 4 million. 

This population is crammed into a city with more defined dividing lines than anywhere else I’ve known  - leading to huge physical and social challenges that ‘city planning’ has sought to counter. With outstanding success it seems to me. 

Firstly, there is the ‘Rio’ area. The Medellin River runs through the length of the city. The rapid urbanisations had destroyed its natural and ecological value to the city. Today the river valley floor has been, and continues to be transformed. There is more to do. There are impressive buildings, a striking civic centre, and a brilliant botanical garden. All very impressive but it’s not what’s most striking. That’s the connection of this job-creating river central zone to the much poorer population which lives on the steep hillsides rising up from the river. Probably over a million of mostly poor people live in what are shanty developments. Very small self-built houses, with tin rooms, often weighed down by rocks and pieces of wood. No way could this population walk to where the jobs are. The most astonishing aspect of Medellin planning has been the transportation system to connect these people with the more prosperous parts of the city. A Metro, connected to a Metro cable car system, which brings the houses on the hillside into contact with the work in the valley. It’s the equivalent of the tube system in London. The end of the Metro line is at Santa Domingo Cable Car Station high up the side of the Andes. Santa Domingo is also the start Point for another cable car which travels miles through forest treetops across the Andes heights. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of wildness. A journey not to be missed.

The basis of the city planning is transportation up the hillsides by several cable car systems and escalators. And there are parks, offering education and other services around every stop. Planning aimed to serve the poorest people. Farsighted. Inspirational. There are parks all over, promoting environmental awareness and connections across the city. The Parques del Rio Medellin involves recreating the river environment that had been lost. So much I could write about. 

Much of the rest of the world think of Medellin as the home base of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drugs baron ever. It was in Medellin he based his evil empire. He died in 1993, whether shot by the police or by his own hand we do not know. Since his death Medellin has undergone a revolution - in a good way. Led by the people of the city who turned away from violence. The world should know about this remarkable turnaround. 

How has all this been paid for? It’s another remarkable story. Much of it funded by a publicly owned public services company, providing the water, energy, gas and telecoms. The EPM (Empressas Publicas de Medellin) is a dream come reality for Jeremy Corbyn, providing a huge annual payment to the city. 

Of course there are still problems. So many people to be rehoused. I hope they are not simply being piled high in tower blocks, creating ghettos of the future! Hopefully the parks will help prevent this. And every Colombian city will have to manage an influx of desperate Venezuelans escaping the economic disaster in their country. The border is hundreds of miles away but they are to be seen walking the roads or perched on the back of Lorries - mostly heading to Bogata. And while Colombia is a country I could love, its cities are noisy, and over dominated by the motor car, full of wannabe Lewis Hamilton’s in yellow taxis. 

And then there’s the flowers. Incredible flowers, and wonderful wildlife. Every August there is the Medellin flower festival, the best flower carnival in the world. Regrettably I missed it, having to move on to other parts of this fascinating country. Next few days, before returning to Montgomeryshire, I will be in what I’m promised is quieter countryside surrounded by exotic birds and flowers. Next stop Boyaca. But be back home for Berriew Show.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Colombia - Report from Bogota.

I am spending the first weeks of August in Bogotá, capital city of Colombia in South America. It’s a country not as well known within the UK as its size and importance warrants. Colombia has a population of 50 million. It is bigger than France and Germany combined. Bogotá itself has a similar population to Greater London. It’s a safe developing city, transformed from the danger of attacks and kidnapping that has been a feature of its past. Bogota is built on a high plateau, surrounded by the mighty Andes mountain range providing a spectacular backdrop to the city.  Colombia is a fascinating and diverse modern country with an equally fascinating, sometimes dark history. More British people should visit.

There are two reasons for my being in South America for three weeks this August. Firstly, I have a family interest in that two of our grandchildren are half Welsh - half Colombian. Although they live in the UK and spend much of their time in Berriew, they will always have close family ties with Boyaca, a region of Colombia north east of Bogotá. Family links are very strong throughout Latin America. And secondly, as the UK leaves the EU, I think every politician has some responsibility to use their own capabilities and contacts to help develop diplomatic and trade links with nations of the world beyond Europe.

Colombia, like all of Latin America has a bloody and violent history, particularly as independence was being won through brute force from the Spanish imperialists. Internationally acclaimed author, Robert Harvey, who lives near Meifod has written a book, the Romantic Revolutionary, based on the life of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of much of Latin America. If you want a flavour of the sheer violence and brutality which has shaped modern South America, it’s a must read.

It’s been a historically important week to be in Bogotá. On Tuesday, Ivan Duque was inaugurated as Colombia’s 60th President following a closely fought election, when three men were involved in a bitterly fought contest. There was no violence or corruption reported. Duque is a typically modern politician - charming, engaging, can sing and play football, but with little political experience. He is also closely linked to controversial and influential former President, Alvaro Uribe. So he is an unknown quantity, and faces two huge challenges. Plus several lesser challenges.

Firstly he has to consolidate and take forward the ‘peace process’ which ended a 50 year terrorist campaign by the FARC, (amongst other groups) following an election campaign which has led to concerns about his commitment to it. Hopefully, questioning of the peace accord and implementing adjustments to it does not lead to a resumption of violence. And secondly, President Duque has to take on the drug cartels, and the wanton murder of human rights defenders who challenge the drug cartel’s activities. President Duque will have no choice but take a stronger role in challenging these ‘sons of Escobar’ if his 4 year presidency is to be a success. And on Monday, there was a ‘supposed’ assassination attempt on the life of President Maduro next door in Venezuela, whose history is so intertwined with Colombia. Venezuela is a political and economic disaster, brought to its knees by the policies of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Huge numbers of desperate Venezuelans are crossing the border into Colombia, bringing yet more challenge to Duque. 

Over the last few days I’ve met with politicians of the ‘left’ and ‘right’, the British Embassy in Bogotá, and the important Bogotá Chamber of Commerce. Later this week I will meet with Mayor of Medellin, Colombia’s second city, which is bigger than any other city in the UK, and which this week hosts the week long biggest flower festival in the world. Colombia is a truly amazing country, with a history steeped in tragedy and a future steeped in promise. I believe the UK is well placed to help it achieve its potential.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Latest from Cil Farm and Royal Welsh on Brexit.

Two days at the Royal Welsh Show at Llanelwedd this week - the best agricultural show in the UK. This year, Montgomeryshire is the host County, and lots us have helped raise money to make it a memorable year. And thanks to wonderful weather it has been memorable. Our own Tom Tudor of Llysun Farm, Llanerfyl is the President, just reward for a lifetime given to farming and his local community. The Royal Welsh is a great place to meet old friends and discuss matters of concern to all of Wales - the Politics of Powys, Wales, the United Kingdom, Europe and the world. At the heart of all this discussion are those issues that relate to the future of our countryside. Was hoping to talk about something other than Brexit! My hopes were disappointed.

First event was a seminar in the NFU Cymru marquee. Strong panel including Carwyn Jones, Welsh First Minister and presidents of NFU Cymru and UK. And the issue was (you’ve guessed it) Brexit. There was widespread concern about the future. Almost nil reference to the opportunities. After an hour of relentless pessimism, even my natural optimism began to wane. It was obvious to me that the leaders of the farming unions remain deeply opposed to Brexit, as they were when the people of Britain voted Leave in 2016. 

As I listened to the platform presentations (and most of the contributions from the floor), my mind drifted back to the rancorous debate before th e EU Referendum. After listening to the leaders of the farming unions the, I discussed the issue with farmers selling their lambs in the local livestock market. Surprisingly, they were mostly in favour of Leave, despite the uncertainty. I suspect it’s the same now.

I voted Leave myself, despite being consumed by uncertainty. I simply did not want my country to be subsumed in an “ever closer union”. I still don’t. My hesitation in 2016 was because I thought disengaging from the EU would be a very long and difficult process. Nothing since has lessened my uncertainty. But we did hold a referendum, we did vote Leave, and we are going to Leave. Anything else would be a constitutional outrage. 

There are many voices who are calling for a second referendum. There are some in all political parties. I am not one of them. In my view it would be the worst option of all and could well lead to civil unrest. I would prefer to be honest with the people and tell them that Parliament is not prepared to accept their judgement as expressed in the referendum, as hold another one. In my view, the calls for another referendum come from those who do not accept the result of the 2016 referendum. This ‘campaign’ must not be allowed to succeed. 

I was very supportive of the agreement about a UK negotiating position agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers two weeks ago. It wasn’t exactly what I would have wanted personally. I was disappointed that MPs amended the agreement, mainly because it made it less likely to be accepted. We have reached the stage where the intransigence of the EU mean ‘No Deal’ is become a likely option. No-one wants this, but I’ve always thought it a better option than being bullied into submission by the EU. 

Despite the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the EU/UK negotiations, I still feel optimistic and would still vote Leave. The behaviour of the EU negotiating team over the last two years has strengthened my resolve. It may be my bloody-minded streak, or my continued belief in the can-do spirit of the British people. And I think the silent majority feel the same.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

So it’s a No to Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon from Secretary of State at BEIS, Greg Clark. Lots of opposition to this decision in Westminster and around Wales today. You really would think it’s a massively unpopular decision. I’m not so sure. The reason the project was refused was to protect consumer’s electricity bills. I suspect the hard working people of Wales, not linked to politics or the media might just take a different view.
I’ve always supported the Government encouraging the private sector seeking new ways of generating renewable energy. But not at any cost - either financial or impact on our landscape. I’ve been really taken aback by the calls for the UK Govt to back the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, no matter what it’s cost. I just cannot think like that. I do not think it’s the way a Conservative does think. Not this Conservative anyway.
Personally, I’ve been hoping we could find a way of delivering this scheme, but a few months ago it became obvious to me that it wasn’t a goer. Despite being a supporter of searching for a way to harness the energy potential of the tide, and marine renewables in general, I’ve thought we should have withdrawn support months ago.
Here’s a quote from today’s statement - “The inescapable conclusion of an extensive analysis is that however novel and appealing the proposal that has been made is, even with these factors taken into account, the costs which would be incurred by consumers and taxpayers would be so much higher than alternative sources of low carbon power that it would be irresponsible to enter into a contract with the promoter.
Securing our energy needs into the future has to be done seriously and, when much cheaper alternatives exist, no individual project, and no particular technology can proceed at any price. That is true for all technologies.”
Just do not understand how any Conservative can be in favour of it.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Legalising Cannabis

There was much publicity about legalisation of Cannabis this last week. Two reasons. The Home Secretary signalled a changed approach from Government, introducing some flexibility into Cannabis use for medicinal purposes. And former Conservative Leader and recent Home Secretary, Lord (William) Hague called for Cannabis to be legalised for both medicinal and recreational use. That’s further than I’ve ever gone. William is always logical and worth listening to. On this he may be too far ahead of social change, and public opinion won’t be ready accept it. Personally, I’m open to a review of evidence, including from jurisdictions where marijuana use is already legal. And looking forwards to a discussion with William about this next week. Anyway, here is the column he wrote for the Telegraph last Tuesday, which I’ve just read again. It’s worth reading.

“The case of Billy Caldwell, the 12 year old with epilepsy whose vital cannabis oil medication was confiscated by Border Force officials to comply with UK drugs laws, provides one of those illuminating moments when a longstanding policy is revealed to be inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date.
That our border officials, with so much to deal with to prevent the smuggling of arms, people, wildlife and much else, should be expected to make off with a medicine that contains a tiny quantity of the psychoactive element in marijuana but had clear benefits for a boy with severe seizures, is beyond ridiculous. It suggests that official intransigence is now at odds with common sense.
Over the weekend, the Home Office sensibly backed down and returned Billy’s medicine. By doing so, it implicitly conceded that the law has become indefensible. It must now be asked whether Britain should join the many other countries that permit medical-grade marijuana, or indeed join Canada in preparing for a lawful, regulated market in cannabis for recreational use as well.
Under successive governments it has been assumed that there has been little alternative to trying to win a war on drugs, cannabis included. Medical advice to ministers has always stressed that limited use of soft drugs can lead to harder drugs and addiction. It has also been one of the taboo subjects of British politics at a senior level, on which taking an alternative view has been regarded as indicating a tendency to weird, irresponsible or crazily liberal opinions.
It’s time to acknowledge facts, and to embrace a decisive change that would be economically and socially beneficial, as well as rather liberating for Conservatives in showing sensible new opinions are welcome.
First of all, as far as marijuana, or cannabis, is concerned, any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost. The idea that the drug can be driven off the streets and out of people’s lives by the state is nothing short of deluded. Surveys of young people attest that they find it easier to purchase cannabis than virtually anything else, including fast food, cigarettes and alcohol. Everyone sitting in a Whitehall conference room needs to recognise that, out there, cannabis is ubiquitous, and issuing orders to the police to defeat its use is about as up to date and relevant as asking the army to recover the Empire. This battle is effectively over.
Some police forces, recognising this and focusing their resources on more serious crimes, have stopped worrying about it. When a law has ceased to be credible and worth enforcing to many police as well as the public, respect for the law in general is damaged. We should have laws we believe in and enforce or we should get rid of them.
Just as bad is the next unavoidable fact, that where prosecutions still take place they create burdens on the criminal justice system for no appreciable gain. Tens of millions of pounds are still spent each year in forensics, legal aid, courts, prisons and probation services. Estimates of the savings involved from ending the prohibition on cannabis vary, but can easily add up to about £300 million a year.
In the meantime, something of decisive importance has happened, which for me has tipped the balance of argument. The grey zone of something being illegal but not effectively prevented has permitted the worst of all worlds to arise. The potency of drugs available on the streets has risen sharply in recent years. This has led to an increase in dependency and health problems, but of course people are reluctant to seek help for using drugs that are still illegal. The overall result is the rise of a multi-billion pound black market for an unregulated and increasingly potent product, creating more addiction and mental health problems but without any enforceable policy to do something about it. The only beneficiaries are organised crime gangs. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow this situation to continue.
A major change in policy is therefore necessary. The licensing of medical products, such as Billy Caldwell’s oil, is already allowed in Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands and most of the US. Adopting the same approach would be a step forward. But the Canadian parliament is now on the verge of agreeing something much more radical: a legal, regulated market for cannabis for recreational use.
The proponents of this in Canada have been clear from the outset that a legal market will involve licensed stores selling cannabis of regulated strength, with a strict prohibition on sales to teenagers and no relaxation of laws against other and more powerful drugs. The expected benefits include reduced harm and addiction for users, a major reduction in the black market, less pressure on police and courts and tax revenues running into billions of dollars. If this works, it sounds more sensible than the current position.
Can British Conservatives be as bold as Canadian Liberals? We ought to be. After all, we believe in market forces and the responsible exercise of freedom, regulated as necessary. We should prefer to provide for lawful taxes than preside over increased profits from crime. And we are pragmatists, who change with society and revise our opinions when the facts change. On this issue, the facts have changed very seriously and clearly.
For Tories who cannot quite bring themselves to admit that this is all necessary, I leave you with the story of one of our great heroes, William Wilberforce. One of the fascinating aspects of writing a biography of him was the realisation that he was, for his whole life from his late twenties onwards, a daily user of opium. He lived when the dangers of addiction were only just becoming recognised, but finding that opium brought reliable relief from debilitating digestive problems, he recommended it widely while going on to achieve the abolition of the slave trade and become one of the most universally admired figures in British history.
I feel that Wilberforce would have spoken up very quickly for the Billy Caldwells of today. And while not advocating the recreational use of any drugs at all, I think it is right that people of all persuasions should now focus on sorting out a failed policy and an unsustainable law, and replacing both with new ideas that might just command respect and success.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tribute to Jane Harvey

Last week I went to the funeral of Jane Harvey in Meifod. For many years she suffered from the condition, Schizophrenia. I didn’t know Jane well, but her husband Robert has been a source of good political advice and support to me for many years. I was so moved by the tribute, written by Jane’s family that I asked if I could post it on my blog. Schizophrenia is a condition not much understood. Posting the tribute on A View for Rural Wales may extend knowledge and understanding of this cruel disease. With permission of the Harvey family, here is the Tribute. 

“Jane was an exceptionally beautiful woman,within and without.  She was famous for her smile, which could light up a room or anyone she met, precisely because it reflected her inner warmth. In her later years, on hospital admissions, every nurse that met her would call her ‘a lovely lady’ and one even thought she could remember which film she starred in.

Her beauty also reflected her happiness, joy, gaiety, free spirit, sweetness and untameable personality, also her exceptional gentleness and humility. She was completely unpretentious, uninterested in the superficial things of life; there are innumerable stories of her kindness to children and vulnerable people, even when she herself was highly vulnerable.

When well, she never had a cross word to say to anyone. She was, in Winston Churchill’s phrase about his own wife Clementine, ‘a being without an ignoble thought’. Her interests were simple: children, cats, other animals, birds, flowers and trees, which meant that her quarter of a century in the Meifod countryside were a paradise to her; she was utterly happy here. Her nature was pure, innocent and without guile.

The fact that she had a very serious chronic condition, ultimately bringing on three more, did not make her house a place of sadness. The exuberance of her nature and her determination to conquer her disabilities meant she would still walk when she could barely do so and feed her cats when she could hardly bend down. She loved being taken for drives around the Meifod hills, when she would exclaim, ‘who couldn’t believe in God on a lovely day like this?’ as she did on the day before she passed away. She was quietly and devoutly religious. She was also still active in the anti-pylon campaign a couple of years ago. She was irrepressible.

Jane came from Devon, another very beautiful part of the country and was educated at the Sherborne school in Dorset before she met Robert at Oxford where they both studied. Jane was also a talented pianist and singer, performing in a choir in the Albert Hall in London. She was a highly intelligent person with a high IQ but was uninterested in academic work and joined the Foreign Office - in fact the security service, MI6 - as a secretary (a Miss Moneypenny!). She went on to a job as PA to the head of an oil company based in London and then as PA to a famous, but hard-driving industrialist, the then chairman of BOC. She had a wonderful, full young life going to parties, plays, concerts and holidaying all over the world.  She then devoted herself to campaigning and the often difficult and exhausting role of being an MP’s wife, where her natural warmth and approachability made her many friends, both among the constituents and her husband’s political supporters.

But soon afterwards she began to suffer from the symptoms of Schizophrenia - one of the most devastating and life-changing of all mental illnesses. We now know it is not caused by some lurid experience in life, it is simply a malfunction of one of the transmitters in the brain. The illness was diagnosed at one of the most advanced psychiatric hospitals in the world - the Bethlem and its sister hospital, the Maudsley, in London. The illness involved periods of huge fluctuations in her emotions, from over happy to very angry, to crying miserably, plus sometimes paranoia and delusions, but, as was to be the pattern for the rest of her life, after a few months, she recovered to being exactly the same rational, happy, person she was before. The joyous event that most fulfilled her soon afterwards was the birth of her son, Oliver.

Shortly afterwards Jane, Robert and Oliver moved to Montgomeryshire, where Robert hailed from, on his grandmother’s side, and the stresses of life in a big city were lifted from Jane’s shoulders, while Robert continued to commute weekly, then monthly to London. Meifod in history was famous as a place of healing. It is also, as is Montgomeryshire and indeed of Wales, a place of great welcome. Jane was as happy as a lark, although her condition could not be cured and recurred with regularity. The people of Meifod and its surroundings were always understanding and embraced her as one of their own. The family extends its heartfelt thanks to them all.

Even more unexpected was the small army of helpers that emerged from the hills here and the plains of Shropshire. When Jane was first hospitalised in Wales, she entered the then Shelton Hospital in Shrewsbury, then the famous Housman Ward in the grounds and recently the modern Redwoods Centre. The patience, love and care of all the doctors and nurses involved in her care was overwhelming.

Jane’s happiness derived from the happiness of other people and nowhere was this truer than on special occasions like birthdays and Christmases. 

On one occasion, Jane was in hospital at the Redwoods Centre on her son's birthday. It was a Friday, and Oliver had travelled up from London to Shrewsbury, and had said he would try to stop by and see her.

Although it was very late at night and well past visiting hours, the wonderful staff at the Redwoods Centre allowed him to come onto the ward. He had hoped to spend just a few minutes with her and was quite tired from his journey.

When he arrived on the ward, mum appeared from behind a corner with a cake and candles, which somehow herself and her fellow patients on the ward had managed, perhaps illicitly, to procure, a signed card from the nurses and all patients, and some party hats.

In spite of her and her fellow patients’ difficult illnesses, they had evidently spent much time and planning preparing this late-night party on the ward and carried it off with aplomb. It was also the most enjoyable Oliver had ever had, with much cake and laughter had by all.

When Jane returned home, she was not left to her own devices: a pioneering and wonderful outreach and support centre, called Bryntirion, in Welshpool, carefully monitored her condition and supported her for some 20 years under a succession of dedicated, conscientious and hugely competent community psychiatric nurses who became firm friends and should be a model for the rest of the country. We are very touched to see some of them here today.  More recently this was added to by the Crisis Team from Newtown. There were also many dedicated social workers.

In addition, the doctors’ surgery at Llanfyllin was unbelievably sympathetic and professional and again we are delighted to see them represented here. Finally, there were the emergency services. The police were considerate, gentle and utterly professional on the very many times she would call them with her concerns. The Fire Service, on the fewer times they were called, were sympathetic and very cheerful. And finally, the Ambulance Service was beyond praise on every occasion in rushing her to Shrewsbury as her condition deteriorated in recent years.

It did so because of a breathing condition, now known as COPD, but many recognise it as Emphysema, as result of her chain smoking during periods of acute mental illness, despite all the attempts of her family and the nurses to control it. This also weakened her and finally her valiant heart, which had fought and survived four critical hospital admissions in recent years, gave out. But she consciously died at home, not in hospital, as she had always wished, went out like a light, with no pain and was brave, active and happy to the very end.

There are some 600,000 people, one in 100 of the British population who suffer from Schizophrenia. Most are sweet, mild, gentle and intelligent and are only a problem, often a difficult one, for their own families and, as in Jane’s case, can live full, if restricted lives and can enormously enhance those of their families. Too often Schizophrenics are ignored, treated as lepers or regarded as dangerous, although the incidence of violence among them is less than that of the general population.

Jane’s life was cut short before her time but was certainly not in vain either for her family or if it helps to serve to raise the profile of her fellow sufferers and destroy the stigma of Schizophrenia.

Robert and Oliver and all her many dedicated carers were privileged to know her; to love and be loved by her and to care for her, for chronic illness and disability brings out the best in people in the fullest expression of the real love described in St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, read earlier. The more limited life Jane had to live in the past 10 years simply increased the intensity of love she gave out to the small circle fortunate to receive it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

David Davis writes to MPs.

Dear Colleagues,


On Tuesday the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will return to the Commons to take its final steps through our Parliament. It is worth reflecting on the fundamental purpose of this Bill. The Withdrawal Bill is not about influencing the policy choices we make as we leave the EU. It is, instead, simply about ensuring the entire United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on the day we leave. That is an aim on which I am sure we can all agree. Our constituents – whether they voted leave or remain – will rightly expect the Government to provide continuity, certainty and clarity as we leave the EU. And that is exactly what this Bill will deliver.

We have already had over 250 hours of debate in both Houses and reviewed over 1,000 non-Government amendments, and hundreds of Government amendments.

Throughout, we have listened carefully to those who have sought to test, scrutinise and improve this vital piece of legislation. We have already made a significant number of amendments to address the fair concerns which have been raised. And I firmly believe that the Bill is better for it. So, while the fundamental goal of the Bill has remained unchanged, it now rightly reflects the knowledge and expertise of both Houses in that respect.

As the Bill returns to the Commons, it is worth having at the forefront of our minds the state in which it was sent to the Lords. A clean and correctly focused Bill, aimed solely at ensuring that our laws continue to function seamlessly on the day we leave the EU. The Bill that has been returned to us has, in some aspects, been strengthened. But in others, it has become less focused and, therefore, less clear in the goals which it is trying to achieve.

The amendments from the Lords fall into four broad categories. First, there are those which are constructive and genuinely seek to address concerns about certain aspects of the legislation. Second, there are some which seek to address issues which the Commons has already considered. Third, there are certain amendments, while possibly well intentioned, which may hamper our attempts to provide continuity, certainty and clarity via the Bill. And

fourth, there are some changes which simply risk undermining our approach in our negotiations with the EU altogether.

Let me start with this fourth category. The amendments which seek to force the UK to re-join the European Economic Area (EEA) after we leave would involve continuing the free movement of people with the EU and would mean accepting a huge swathe of EU rules without a say on them. That amounts to less control, not more. We have been clear since day one that such an approach is not the right path for the UK to take after we leave the EU. Pursuing it would fail the fundamental tests we have set for our future relationship with the EU – to return control to the UK over our money, our borders and our laws.

Similarly, amendments which seek to encourage us to stay in a customs union are not compatible with our desire to take the opportunity to build deeper links with old friends and new allies across the globe. Nor are they compatible with the manifesto on which the Government was elected last year. We want to ensure that our new customs arrangements with the EU can allow for trade which is as frictionless as possible, while ensuring we can tap into fast growing markets elsewhere and that there is no hard border around Northern Ireland, either between it and the rest of the United Kingdom or North-South. We recognise however that Parliament will want to be kept updated and as such will give our support to the amendment tabled by Oliver Letwin and supported by colleagues from across the Party including Nicky Morgan and Theresa Villiers.

Of course, in any case, this Bill is not the right vehicle for debating these policy choices. Such discussions can and will be had during the passage of other bills. This Bill is simply about making sure that our statute book continues to function after we leave.

One of the most important issues raised by the Lords is the process by which the outcome of the negotiations will be considered by Parliament. While we agree with the spirit of parts of the Lords amendment – much of it mirrors commitments we have already given – there are other parts which risk fundamentally undermining our negotiations with the EU. It would be impossible for negotiators to demonstrate the flexibility necessary for an effective negotiation if they are stripped of their authority to make decisions. That will do nothing but guarantee a bad deal for our country. In its current form the amendment would set a range of arbitrary deadlines and milestones after which Parliament may give binding directions to the Government - up to and including an attempt to overturn the referendum result.

Fundamentally, the British people voted to leave the EU and the Government is delivering on that. Since the referendum, there has been a general election in which both of the major parties committed to deliver the result of the referendum. It is simply not right that Parliament could overturn this. That is why we have tabled our own version of the amendment, which respects the commitments we have made, ensures Parliament can have its say on the final deal, but that we also that we respect the result of the referendum.

On the second category - most notably on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and General

Principles of EU law -  the House of Lords has amended the Bill on issues that the Commons has already considered in detail. We have been clear throughout this process that the removal of the Charter from UK law will not substantially affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the UK, as the Charter was never the source of those rights. And on General Principles, we have now tabled a further amendment to protect the rights of challenge accrued before we have left the EU for 3 years after exit.

There are also amendments which seem purely technical but which risk significantly constraining the Government's ability to deliver a functioning statute. For example, the amendment on 'enhanced protection' will mean the Government is prevented from acting quickly to update environmental regulations. Throughout this process we have listened to concerns regarding the delegated powers in this Bill, not least on the scrutiny of their use, and we tabled further amendments in the Lords to this end. But we cannot allow for the fundamental aim of this Bill to be put at risk.

The final category of amendments are those that the Government can agree or at least agree in principle. For example, the Lords have flagged important issues regarding family reunification. While we agree with the spirit of these amendments, they required further clarification. Therefore, the Government has brought forward its own amendments to make the amendments more accurate and to enable the Government to deliver the intended outcome in a far more effective manner.

The process around this Bill has been thorough, and inclusive. I have always said that I will listen to members of all sides of our House to ensure we get it right. As it re-enters the Commons we must work together to consider the various amendments constructively but we must also work together to ensure its fundamental purpose is not undermined. I look forward to working closely with you all over the coming days to ensure the UK has a functioning legal order on the day we deliver what people voted for in the referendum and leave the European Union.


Monday, June 11, 2018

The Brexit Week to Come, and the Brexit week that was.

I write this column on Monday morning, before driving down to the House of Commons for a very important week, which could have major implications for our Government and our country. Yet again this week the dominating issue will be Brexit, and in particular, the EU Withdrawal Bill. When this article appears, MPs will have voted anything up to 20 times on amendments to this Bill by the House of Lords. At the risk of leaving myself looking silly, I believe the Government will win every vote, sending the EU Withdrawal Bill back to their Lordships to reconsider their position. I’m deeply disappointed that some of my colleagues are telling the media they are considering voting against the Gov’t. I know loyalty is becoming a devalued commodity in today’s politics, but I find it hard to understand what might drive a Conservative MP to so undermine our Prime Minister, and give succour to those sitting opposite her at the negotiating table. 

What has driven and guided me as I’ve considered the future status of the United Kingdom in Europe has been the aim of making a success of Brexit. I realise there are UK citizens who have differing views on our future in Europe. But in the EU Referendum in 2016, 48% of voters favoured remaining in the EU while 52% of voters backed Leave. So the UK will be leaving in March 2019. Sometimes, I think this stark reality is being overlooked. There are some who have not accepted the public vote in the referendum, either wanting it to be ignored by the Government, or another referendum held in an attempt to reverse it. This is not going to happen. The UK is leaving the EU. We must try to arrange our leaving on the best possible terms, which suit the UK and the EU as far as possible. 

But of course, the UK is not ‘leaving Europe’. All that is happening is that the UK is recovering our ability to control who moves to our country to study, work and to live; to control our own laws, and to stop handing over billions of pounds for the European Commission to spend as it chooses. The UK will remain a part of Europe - we will want to work as closely and positively as possible with our neighbouring countries. We will need migrants from across the world including from Europe to work in our NHS and Social Care services. We will want to trade with the EU.

Even though I hope that this week MPs will have reversed all of the House of Lords amendments, there will be more important debates and votes to come over the next 2/3 years. This week has been about giving some legal certainty to the ‘Leaving’ process. It is, in most part a technical bill, which the House of Lords has used as an attempt to overturn the EU Referendum result. Personally, I think their Lordships were out of order. Their job is to put forward reasoned amendments to improve Government legislation, without challenging the primacy of the elected House of Commons. It cannot be otherwise. For that reason alone, I hope all the Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill will have been defeated by the time this column is published.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Disgraceful behaviour at Shropshire Hospitals reform meetings.

Not time to blog for a while. But was so utterly disgusted that two public consultation meeting about hospital reconfiguration in Shropshire had to be abandoned to protect the staff manning the exhibitions that I’m forced from my hibernation. The joint Chief Executives on the Clinical Commissioning Groups have written a public response. I can only imagine how angry they were. The culprits should be ashamed of themselves. I decided to reprint the letter here.

“We write in relation to your letter concerning the proposed Future Fit programme and the current public consultation which commenced on 30 May 2018.
The Future Fit Programme has been developed by over 300 clinicians, endorsed by a wide range of stakeholder organisations through the Future Fit Programme Board, subject to an independent process review by KMPG and endorsed and agreed by the West Midlands Clinical Senate.
It was also agreed unanimously through the two CCG Boards and assured as fit for consultation by NHS England demonstrably offering a sustainable future for health services for Shropshire Telford, Wrekin & Powys providing a long term vision for hospital based services.
Your contention that the capital funding for the scheme will require cuts in services is demonstrably not true.
The £312m of capital to be provided to the health community will be funded in part by de-duplication of services, the ability to better recruit and retain clinical staff and so reduce significant over reliance on costly interim staffing at our two hospitals.
The business case available on the Future Fit website clearly demonstrates that the hospital will not require income over existing tariff to fund the development.
What is more, both options provide for better outcomes for both planned and emergency care over the current configuration of services. Put simply the plan, and this is true for both options being consulted on, provides for a future that is BETTER for patients, BETTER for outcomes, provides BETTER facilities for staff to work and BETTER facilities for patients to be treated in.
If the proposals did not provide those better outcomes it would not be supported by clinicians, who in their day to day work know what better could look like.
As regards the Princess Royal Hospital site in Telford it is true, should the preferred option be selected, that some emergency patients treated formerly at Telford will now be treated at Shrewsbury, but a significant majority of patients under either model will continue to be treated at the site at which they currently attend.
Obviously if option 2 is selected then the reverse will be true with some emergency patients having to travel from Shrewsbury to Telford.
As regards the Women & Children’s centre at Princess Royal Hospital, the majority of services currently undertaken there will remain there under the preferred option, only consultant-led obstetrics and in-patient paediatrics will be undertaken at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital site.
Obviously if option 2 is selected then the Women & Children’s centre at Telford would be unchanged.
The rural maternity units are not part of this consultation, but any recommendation to amend the maternity delivery model will be subject to public consultation in due course.
This is not expected to commence prior to the closure of the Future Fit consultation on 5 September.
You say that you are ‘open to any set of proposals which will improve the level and quality of care for our patients and communities’.
The Future Fit programme evidentially provides just that.
If you believe otherwise then this should form part of a formal consultation response.
There is absolutely no evidence that these procedures place either patients, or staff, at risk and we are concerned that this may be communicated to the public without any clinical or other evidence to support that statement.
As regards capital funding and viability we would comment as follows.
The pre-consultation Business Case was subject to rigorous assurance through NHS England as to affordability.
This is important as CCGs cannot legally consult on options, or service changes, that are not demonstrably affordable.
As with any major capital scheme, the precise funding nature of the £312m will not be finalised until the Final Business Case.
What we are aware of at this time is that up to £200m will come from Public Dividend Capital, the remainder will come from the Trust’s own capital resources, or land sales, and at least one tranche will come from private finance.
Such mixed capital funding solutions are stated NHS and Department of Health policy.
Lastly we have developed these plans over a number of years precisely as the current state of play of split services across the Princess Royal Hospital and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital site are neither financially, or clinically sustainable.
Put simply we cannot afford them within allocations, and we cannot staff them.
That is why the Future Fit plan provides for a strategic plan that is funded to meet the needs of all the communities of Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and mid-Wales for now and the future.
We appreciate how much you care for and support the NHS. Its continued existence depends on the backing of people who are passionate about its future.
This is never more so than in the year in which it celebrates its 70th birthday.
Please, though, acknowledge that the NHS clinicians, health experts, managers and staff that have worked so hard on these models for change, care just as passionately as you do.
We do not embark on this difficult case for change because it is easy - it is not - we do so because it is essential.
We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform health care for the people of Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin.
There is a fantastic prize in the hands of the communities we all want the best for.
To run it down now and not seize it, will not just be a matter of an opportunity lost, it will be to condemn local people to a struggling service, in decaying buildings making the recruitment and retention of essential staff all the more difficult.
Objecting to the Future Fit programme thinking something better will turn up is to live more in hope than the reality of what we have before us.
We ask you to re-consider your opposition for the sake of everyone in our county and beyond.
Kind regards.
Yours sincerely
Dr Simon Freeman, Accountable Officer, Shropshire CCG
David Evans, Chief Officer, Telford and Wrekin CCG