Sunday, November 28, 2010

Planning in Powys.

Housing is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, so the new approach that Grant Shapps, Coalition Government Housing Minister has announced today only applies to England. But the issue is very much alive in Montgomeryshire. Developers and agents are so totally p****d off with the Powys County Planning Department that they are too angry to speak to me without becoming incoherent and frothing at the mouth. I will need to reinforce the walls of nmy new office in Newtown. They tell me that the Council has as its mission a desire to frustrate and refuse as many applications to develop as possible, and to load massive costs on those applications it does approve. They also tell me that the Planning Authority has an 'affordable housing' policy that does not deliver any affordable housing - as in no affordable housing at all. This anger and frustration is not new. I've raised it with the Council's Chief Executive before - but I'm told that nothing has changed. Developers remain incandescent with anger, fuelled they tell me by delay and unreasonableness.

Anyway back to Grant Shapps. He has announced that he's intending to scrap all sorts of new proposals which would have put thousands on the cost of building a house, and an overhaul of complicated building standards. He reckons this will reduce the cost of each housing unit by £8,000. The Housing Minister believes that much of the information demanded of developers is unnecessary 'gold plating' which serves no real purpose - except to make the development unviable. This would have quite an impact in England.

I wonder what this will impact in Wales. Already I have developers contacting me to say that some higher standards in Wales are leading them to limit their work to England. In Powys we have some agents who charge a higher fee in Wales because of the extra difficulties they have with the Planning Dep't. Last week, one couple who had bought their dream house in Montgomeryshire came to see me in despair. They wish they had never moved in, and they are telling their friends to steer well clear of Montgomeryshire - because of the Council's Planning Department. I daresay the first reaction of the Planners will be to ahve a 'go' at me - 'shoot the messenger'. But I am just saying it as my constituents say it to me, not how it looks from the planner's desk. I fully expect this issue to flare up big-time over the next year or so - as people without houses and builders without work become increasingly angry.

The Opinions of Kim Howells

I was very surprised to read reports of comments made by Dr Kim Howells , former Labour Minister today. It seems that he thinks that to hold a referendum on whether law making powers in already devolved policy areas should be granted to the National Assembly is 'daft'. Now he tells us - after Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan has put such an effort into ensuring that the referendum is delivered in accordance with Assembly Member's wishes - on March 3rd. This referendum is being taken forward in accordance with the Government of Wales Act 2006, which Dr Howells was partly responsible for putting on the statute book when he was MP for Pontypridd. As another son of the town might have said, this opinion is unusual. Seems he's going to vote No. Don't know whether this announcement is a help or a hindrance to the Yes campaign.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Other Referendum

The most important referendum in Wales next year will be held on March 3rd - which will be about granting more power to the National Assembly for Wales. But another referendum will be held on May 5th, the same day as the Welsh General Election, (which is the proper way to describe the Assembly election). This will be about whether we replace our 'First Past The Post' system of election for the 'Alternative Vote' system at future General Elections. I thought it was wrong to have the two votes on the same day, and caused a bit of fuss be signing an EDM to that effect a few weeks ago. Too late now. Its fixed - unless something dramatic happens in their Lordship's house over the next three weeks.

Whatever, this post is about which way to vote in this referendum. I will be voting No. I remain a FPTP man. The AV system is not the fair system its supporters claim. It makes some voter's 4th or 5th vote of equal value to some voter's first vote. Lets look at what would have happened in Montgomeryshire last May. Around 41% voted for me, about 37% voted Lib Dem, and about 22% voted for the other 4 candidates. Its entirely possibly that the second preferences of all the other parties would not have given either Lembit or me the necessary 50% because they may well have voted for each other. Its possible that we would have reached 3rd, or even 4th preferences for either of us to reach the 50% mark. The winner would have been decided by some voter's 4th preference. Another disadvantage is that the count could take several days to complete. Australia is the only major country which uses this system, and it took 17 days to decide who had won earlier this summer. No wonder most Aussies want to switch back to FPTP. And of course all this counting would be another expense for taxpayers to meet.

I have accepted since the Coalition Government was formed that this referendum must be held. It was part of the deal struck between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when the Coalition Government was formed. And a deal is a deal. But I really do think that the UK electorate will not be daft enough to do anything other than stick with First Past The Post. I will try to persuade them of this. And if there were to be a change, the Alternative Vote is absolutely not the best way to go.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our important Deputy First Minister

Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones, Deputy First Minister at the National Assembly for Wales is a terribly busy man. He cannot find time to meet mere MPs such as me, even when its about an almighty cock-up which his department played a part in creating. Still, I'm not really complaining because its the response that I'd been expecting - but I felt that I had to ask. And its not the first time I've seen the great Sir Humphrey line - "Unfortunately, pressures on his diary are such that the Deputy First Minister is unable to meet with you". Oh Yeah.

The issue I wrote to Ieuan about was the traffic chaos at Newtown that is wreaking such havoc on the economy of Central Wales. The installation of multiple traffic lights in the town when the Tesco store was built looked like sheer madness to people with common sense when it was put in - and sheer madness its turned out to be. When I drove home from Newtown this afternoon, the queue was half way back to Abermule. Dozens more people vowing never to travel into Mid Wales again. Its no surprise that the DFM doesn't want to talk about it.

Actually, a meeting with senior officials is likely to be just as productive. I don't suppose the DFM would have met us without them backing him up anyway. I'm looking forward to hearing from the 'relevant officials' whom he's asked to meet with me on his behalf. On the other hand I might just raise the issue when I next bump into Mr and Mrs IWJ in the Newtown Morrison's when they stop for a break on their way home to Ynys Mon!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Radio Maldwyn



Notice has been given that an Extraordinary General Meeting of Radio Maldwyn Ltd will be held at the Regent Centre, Broad St., Newtown, Powys, SY16 2NA at 11.00 on 13th December 2010, for the purposes of considering, and if deemed expedient, passing as a Special Resolution and as an Ordinary Resolution the following Resolutions:

Special Resolution
"That is has been proved to the satisfaction of this meeting that the Company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business and that it is advisable to Wind Up the same"

Ordinary Resolution
"That Gerald Irwin of Irwin &Company, Station House, Midland Drive, Sutton Coalfield be, and is appointed Liquidator for the purpose of such Winding Up"

This letter, which awaited me when I returned home tonight was signed by Austin John Powell, Director.

Now I'm not at all clear about what's going on here, but I can see that its a deeply disappointing situation. Radio Maldwyn has a strong following in Montgomeryshire. I've supported this local radio station since it was set up in the 1980s, and at one stage (1995) almost became its Chairman. At the time, I knew very little about local radio, but was approached by a group of people involved. The role would have been to sort out problems that were then thought to threaten Radio Maldwyn's survival. Even though I was not keen, I did agree to give it a go, and turned up at the AGM where I anticipated an audience of the 10 or so who had contacted me. But there were 100 there, mostly made up of people brought in to vote against me. It was rather embarrassing, and thoroughly daft, because I would not have put my name forward if I'd known anyone else was interested. The name of the man who gave me my biggest ever electoral trouncing was Jim Wagstaffe, who lived in Telford. I'll not go into the ins and out s of what happened afterwards. Life is too short!

Whatever, I remain a great supporter of Radio Maldwyn, and I hope that whatever arrangement arises from these ashes, retains some local content, and continues to retain a local presence. I hope I can go to this meeting, because it could turn out to be a bit lively. There is one shareholder who holds 49% of the shares, and there are many small shareholders, (like myself) who own one or two shares. It could be that together these shares represent a majority, who care about local content. On the other hand, it could be that the whole thing is bust and it could make no difference how we vote. I suppose it could finish up as a fist fight. (And that's a joke before anyone quotes me). I'm afraid it looks a bit of a mess. We will have to wait and see what happens.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Crazy News day in Montgomeryshire.

Just time to blog haphazardly on an unusually active day in Welsh politics. Yet again the main issue of the day/week/month is the direction (or should I say directions) being taken by S4C, the Welsh Language TV channel. Frankly, its difficult to know exactly what's happening. I can but imagine what sort of a post I could write if I was not mindful of the 'Ministerial Code' to which I'm subject. But I can say that these shenanigans have the potential to do harm to the Welsh Language. Whatever, there is nothing that I can safely commit to print - but it does not stop visitors commenting. So please do.

Then there are the orders which we approved today, which will allow the referendum on granting law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales to go ahead next March 3rd. All went smoothly - as anticipated. Cheryl Gillan, the Secretary of State for Wales has shown a strong determination to deliver this referendum, and she deserves real congratulation for what she's achieved. But I was surprised by one issue that cropped up at the end of the session - concerning something that I'd been aware of for weeks, but which seemed to be news to Owen Smith (Labour) and Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru). If no credible No campaign emerges, which is deemed by the Electoral Commission to be a suitable recipient of public money, there can be no public money for a Yes campaign. We could well reach the utterly bizarre position where a publicly-funded Yes campaign is dependent on True Wales putting together a credible No campaign. What an odd situation. Surely it will not work out like this.

And then we have some big issues in Mid Wales as well today. The announcement by Siemens Energy Service that its pulling out of Newtown is a real shock. It must be a huge worry to the 40 employees who, it seems, will have to relocate to Newcastle or Scotland if they are to retain employment with the company. Ever since one of ours was made redundant, I've reliased what a massive worry it is to people. Its also a blow to the economy of Newtown, which is suffering so much as a result of the appalling cock-up that's been visited upon the town by the installation of the traffic light's associated with the new Tesco development. But the national aspect (which the Cardiff based media does not seem to have grasped) is what it says about the National Assembly's TAN 8 renewable energy policy. Siemens moved in because the Assembly Government decided that the uplands of Mid Wales were to be covered with wind turbines - despite me and others warning them of the difficulties involved in transporting the power out to the National Grid. Well Siemens look to have waited for as long as they are going to - and they're off. I'm told that WAG have not been returning the media's calls on this. Surely this cannot be true either.

And then there's the demise of Radio Maldwyn - or at least its liquidation. I'm a shareholder (shares cost me £2 I think) so I must declare an interest. Its another blow for Newtown.. I daresay some arrangement will rise from the ashes. I just hope that it has a presence in the town and provides local content. That's enough for one day in the life of a Montgomeryshire MP, who loves the Welsh Language, and wants devolution to be a success..

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Unusual Visitors

They did visit us for a few days last winter. We thought they might nest. We had mixed feelings about this because ever since we built the pond, the same family of Canada Geese have joined us every spring, hatching a family in the shadow of the giant stone. I do not think swans would allow anyone else to nest closeby. Anyway, its rather nice to have two of Her Majesty's property visiting to celebrate the royal engagement with us. I hope they will be very happy and breed enthusiastically - the swans that is.
And I couldn't believe my eyes when these visitors turned up this morning. At the moment, I've no idea where they came from, but they must belong to someone local. I don't think we have turkey's living wild in the Berriew area. It could be a bit tempting if they pay us another visit just before Xmas. Perhaps we should cancel our order with Alan or Ricky now(not sure whose turn it is this year).

UPDATE - It seems we do have wild turkeys living in the area. They were escapees which have been roaming free for a year or so.

The Case for Dr Cable.

Dr Vince Cable is facing a really tough 'sell' persuading the people (or at least those who are prepared to even give him a hearing) that our coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats have not reneged on a pre-election promise over student fees. But I've listened to our great 'twinkletoes' business secretary make his case, and I reckon he makes a fair point. As my witness, I need to look at some of the things I said during the General Election campaign.

The only actual 'pledge' I signed related to Equitable Life, and I reckon that promise is just about being delivered. I accept that not everyone would agree. But I also said that no universal social benefits would be cut, and that I did not think there was any reason to raise taxes to deal with the deficit. Well, since then we've had changes to child benefit and VAT - though I did not rule our any tax increase, something a candidate shouldn't do. Whatever, I do not think I broke any promises, for much the same reason as Vince Cable didn't.

The Conservatives lost the General Election, as did the Liberal Democrats, and Labour. None of us won from the voters sufficient support to form a Government charged with implementing a manifesto. There was an imperative to negotiate a cross-party agreement of some sort - and the numbers meant that this responsibility fell to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The two parties had to discuss every policy area to agree a 'Programme for Government' - rather than the usual process of implementing a 'manifesto' as the 'programme for government'. The proposal to raise inheritance tax thresholds was dropped, CGT rules have been changed, a referendum on the voting system is taking place, etc. etc.. I didn't promise any of these things, and would have been deeply embarrassed if we had implemented them had we actually won the election.

That's the thing about PR, and why I'm not in favour of it. It's much more likely to lead to coalition government, which can only be formed when the parties to it compromise on what they told the voters before the election, and agree a programme for government which has not been put before the voters at all. Anyway, over the last few months, I've taken to Dr Vince Cable. Like Danny Alexander, and David Laws, he's a tough nut, who's prepared to stand his ground - just the sort of partner you need when the going gets tough. But he's still got a major persuasion battle on his hands.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Assembly Government Budget.

There's been a fair bit of public discussion about the Welsh Assembly Government budget which was presented this last week. Must admit that when I was an Assembly Member myself, I never saw the budget debate as being that significant - even when I was opposition spokesman on finance. Nothing like as significant as budget day in the House of Commons. And that's because it was no more than a debate about spending plans. Always thought that while the National Assembly has no power to raise money, the disagreements between parties could only be at the margin. But this year, there does seem to be a disagreement of rather more significance.

There are two 'background' issues. Firstly, because the Chancellor protected NHS and schools spending in England in his Comprehensive Spending Review, the block grant being made available to the Assembly Government is probably a bit more generous than was anticipated. (The 'block' is calculated as about 5% of whatever is spent by the Treasury on devolved policy areas - and both health and schools are devolved). And secondly, we're told that the % reduction is higher for Wales than for Scotland or N.Ireland - though I'm unsure how accurate this is. In any case, the differences are so marginal as to be almost irrelevant. And I suppose there is the third long standing background issue of the formula by which the annual block grant is calculated supposedly shortchanging Wales by up to about around £300million - which can only be 'corrected' if the Scottish block grant is significantly cut back. Maybe Ieuan Wyn Jones is discussing this with Alex Salmond as we speak - or not! This third issue is a 'red herring' as far as this post is concerned though.

Anyway, let's get to the significant difference I referred to. The Assembly Government has announced a reduction in the Health and Social Services spending, to the tune of around 7.6% over 3 years. This differs from the Coalition Government at Westminster which is committed to increasing health care spending by the rate of inflation for each of the next four years. The Conservatives in the Assembly have decided to match the UK Government's commitment - and to publish a fully costed budget before Christmas. I like the sound of this, but I can see that it's going to be difficult. Health and social services spending is a far higher proportion of total spending in Cardiff than it is at Westminster. Looking forwards to seeing how the figures work out for other services. I do think its rather a positive thing to have this genuine difference of approach. Good for debate. Probably the most significant difference in spending plans between 'government' and 'opposition' since the Assembly was created in 1999.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reassuring words from the Director General.

Would like to have heard Mark Thompson's speech today. Over recent days, I've spoken with different BBC people, and all are committed to a strong 'Independent' Welsh Language channel. While there remain points to be resolved, the BBC Online report here gives us the flavour of what the Director General said about S4C. I very much approve. Of course its not going to be enough for some people, who seem to be rather keen on 'bashing' the Conservatives. The reference to a 'BBC - Tory pact' will cause some incredulity amongst both the Conservative Party and the BBC - I suppose there was an agreement between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in the end. Anyway, I never take offence about this sort of thing. The objective is too important. I just keep on doing my best for the creation of a vibrant, successful, independent S4C.

Watching my Words.

This post might be a tad controversial. Hope not, but I must admit to a smidgen of sympathy for Lord Young. OK, he said something pretty insensitive to those people who are likely to suffer financial pain over the next few years. And inaccurate in that many people will not have "never had it so good". No doubt that its best that he went - just to close down the media frenzy. But the massive hoohah is yet another blow to the gaiety of the English Language in today's politics. In the interests of political balance, I think far too much has been made of the note left behind by Labour's outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne after the General election when he said that there was "no money left". That was a daft thing to write, deeply insensitive, but it was meant as a joke. What both were guilty of was 'insensitivity'.

But it does make you think. A leading Labour blogger packed up last week. And my blog has been cleansed of anything resembling humour - or assertions designed to provoke reaction. Comments now are generally from trolls, intent on inflicting embarrassment, often by misinterpreting what I write. Or just stupidly abusive. I've taken to just deleting them. My blog used to be a way of engaging visitors in debate. Today, I write it because I quite enjoy doing so, and would not be in the least bit distressed if no-one visited at all. I've no doubt that one day soon, something will happen that knocks it on the head. When I heard Lord Young described as 'a non-paid advisor to the Government' I shivered a bit, because that sounds a bit like a description of a PPS! I really cannot understand why those who commentate on the everyday happenings of political folk in the village of Westminster are so intent on promoting anaesthetised correctness.

New Welsh Backsides on the Red Benches.

Wales can be proud of the three persons elevated to the ermine by Her Majesty today. Two of them, Jenny Randerson and Dafydd Wigley were colleagues during my period as an Assembly Member, and both were seriously impressive politicians - invariably worth listening to. I always thought that they were the two most able politicians to lead their respective National Assembly groups. All it needed was for the great Sue Essex to have been elevated as a Labour peer for my opposition 'gallery of stars' to be complete (not that I have anything but a high regard for Eluned Morgan as well.) Its just that I haven't worked with her, so cannot comment from close observation. In the past, we have seen individuals elevated for whom we have little respect, but this time the right people have been chosen (in my opinion of course.)

Over the next few months the red benches are going to be intruding into our consciousness rather more than of late - and for two reasons. Firstly, the forensic examination and sheer bloody-mindedness associated with their Lordships will almost certainly come to the fore as they consider constitutional bills. And secondly, there's likely to be much debate about change to the constitution of the House of Lords itself - not a straight forward issue by any means. I've grown to accept the democratisation of their Lordship's House as inevitable (reluctantly) - but I don't believe that enough thought has yet been given to how the relative legitimacies of the two Houses are going to mesh. Jenny, Eluned and Dafydd have arrived next door at almost as interesting a time as when I pulled in at my new House last May.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Missing the vote.

House of Commons is a brutal place, where things run to the second. When the division bell rings, MPs have 8 minutes to make it into the voting lobbies from wherever they are, on or off the estate. If an MP arrives at the door one second late, it is slammed in his face, or hers. And that's just what happened to the fast-rising Welsh Labour MP, Owen Smith tonight. At 7 minutes 57 seconds he scorched into the chamber, espied the open door, and headed for it, beaming with with relief. He'd made it. But he needed four seconds to get through it. Wham. Almost took his nose off.

Reminded me of the bus driver who sees you coming and waits until you are touching distance away before moving off. Or the cricket umpire who shakes his head thoughtfully for several seconds - just long enough to inspire hope in the praying batsman, before lifting up his finger and delivering the 'sentence' as stifling a vicious smirk. My enormous pleasure at Owen's discomfort tonight was only tempered by the fear that it could be me next week. And my Chief Whip and his deputy are not men to tangle with.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Care and Repair

Spend a lot of time thinking about how we are going to look after the ever increasing number of elderly people. For sure there isn't, nor will there be enough public money to carry on as we are. We've known this for years, and nothing of any value was done during the last Parliament. And it will be a while before anything really significant happens under this one. Some more money has been earmarked for social care, but we'll have to await delivery of the Commission Report next July until new ideas are put on the table. But whatever, any future strategy must involve helping more people to stay in their own home for longer. Which brings me to an organisation called 'Care and Repair in Powys'.

Care and Repair operates across the UK, and is a fantastic organisation. This afternoon, I officially opened Care and Repair in Powys Community Information Day at the Monty Club in Newtown. I hadn't realised there are so many organisations committed to helping elderly people, and an event like today helps develop links between them. Care and Repair is a non-profit organisation, set up to help elderly on disabled people, home owners and private tenants, to repair or adapt their homes to make life easier.

Small improvements can make a real difference. Removing a step, or putting in a strategically placed hand rail can prevent that fall that puts the frail person in hospital, destroying confidence and independence. And preventing elderly people ending up in hospital means there are more beds for those who are waiting for treatment. And it costs the public purse a lot less if people say out of hospital, or out of residential or nursing homes for as long as possible. I can see a growing role for Care and Repair (and other similar bodies) over future years.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rememering the fallen.

Normal practice for me over the last few years on Remembrance Sunday has been to march with the parade from Welshpool Town Hall to St Mary's Church. I've always tended to tag along near the back. This year, I decided that it was right to join the parade and service at a different Montgomeryshire town and accepted an invitation from the Royal British Legion at Newtown. Not sure where I'll go next year. The difference was that as Montgomeryshire's MP, I was expected to take a more prominent role - and hadn't briefed myself on the proper protocol. I did know that it was unacceptable to be chatting as marching, learning from the experiences of my predeccessor last year. Anyway I thought that there would be no problem. All I'd need to do was copy the Mayor, who was something of an 'old hand'. Worked well until we reached the Cenotaph, where she and I were directed to lay the first wreaths together. Problem was that we were one each side of the monument, and I couldn't see her. Decided to show respect as we do in the chamber of the House of Commons, and I'm told that I got it about right. Laying a wreath before so many people who have lost friends and family, or who have been at the front line is an emotion-charged action to carry out. You really want to do it right.

Also unexpected was an invitation to speak to the crowd outside the Monty Club when the return parade was over. But that was easy. Each Wed., at noon, I hear the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition pay tribute to the young men and women who have died in service to our country since the previous Wed. And words of appreciation to the asembled crowd in the Welsh Language were also appropriate. At Newtown today, the entire ceremony was bilingual, whcih made it all the more special for me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Big Society in Llanfechain.

Really nice day. Was invited to cut the tape which officially opened the new Community Shop in Llanfechain, a lovely Montgomeryshire village near to the town of Llanfyllin. The Chairman asked me to perform the 'Big Snip'. Told him that the last time I accepted an invitation to a 'Big Snip' it was from Mrs D, after she had become pregnant for the 4th time, and we had finally found out what was causing it. Today, was much less painful.

For two years, extensive work has been carried out on Llanfechain's Village Hall, the most recent phase of which involved creating a 'community shop' in a redundant space at the end of the hall. The shop includes the existing Post Office, and is run entirely by volunteers. I'm told the whole venture has been a great success.

The new project is a wonderful example of community enterprise. I always ensure that I remain totally 'unpolitical' at events like today's, but I did say that such enterprise is going to become more important over the next few years if we are going to retain rural services - because the Government simply does not have enough money to do the job itself. I didn't say that I thought it was a great example of what constitutes part of the Big Society (even though I thought it) because these two words might be deemed by some to be 'Cameronian' - and thus political.

I have a special affection for Lanfechain, which none of today's attendees would have realised. Just over two years ago, No 3 son Tim and his Irish Catholic wife, Adrienne were married in the village church. Catholic services are allowed to be held there (or at least were allowed). I was told today that this may not be allowed in future. All in all, today was another great bonus of being elected MP for Montgomeryshire.

Another blow for S4C.

I watched the Wales - South Africa match from the comfort of our sitting room. Its what I usually do. But what a fantastic atmosphere there must have been as Wales pounded the line for the last few minutes demanding the submission that was so disobligingly withheld by the springboks. Its all about belief, and we're just not there yet. Defeat - yes, but an occasion that will be remembered by everyone there.

Just imagine how awful it would have been to have gone to the match and turned up without your ticket. I really cannot imagine how devastating such a blow would be. And yet, I'm told that's what happened to the 'acting' Chief Executive of S4C, Arwel Elis Owen today. I wonder what Arwel did. Perhaps he rang the BBC to see if they could help him out!! Auntie sometimes has a few spare tickets.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Meeting old friends at European Care

Caught up with a few of my old friends at European Care today. This is an expanding care services company which owns well over 100 care homes and delivers care services to all age groups. There was a meeting of the Wales Advisory Board that I used to chair at the Royal Oak in Welshpool. I was invited along to join them for lunch. The beef was roasted and I was grilled. First time I've been quizzed as if a representative of the Coalition Government. Some direct personal questions as well - and several about the shenanigans at S4C. I'll return to this issue after my next meeting with Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaisey, when maybe there will be something new.

I'll always be grateful to European Care and the charity the group sponsored, RESEC (Research into Specialist Care) which stimulated my growing interest in social care (particularly for the elderly). I'm toying with the idea of seeking permission to bring forwards a full debate on the floor of the House of Commons about the provision of care for elderly. Its not straightforward because the Coalition Government has established a Commission to look at the issue. Its expected to report next July, and its a question of whether there's any point in a debate before we have the Government's response to the Commission report - probably towards the end of 2011. At the moment, this seems too far into the future to allow this subject to lie undebated. Discussion of this issue has not been very structured or dignified over the last two years. In the last Parliament, the then Labour Government took The Personal Care at Home Act 2010 through Parliament, ostensibly to deliver free care at home for the elderly in most need. In my opinion this was a shockingly opportunistic, irresponsible Act, for which the statutory instruments will never be laid - rightly. And the less said about the debate that took place on this during the election campaign, the better.

Paying for the care of the elderly is one of the biggest challenges facing the Coalition Government. Extra funding was earmarked during the Comprehensive Spending Review, but its nothing like enough to tackle the scale of the problem. I hope the commission comes up with some innovative thinking. Anyway it was a most enjoyable lunch for me. My replacement, Eurig Wyn turfed me out when lunch was over, and got back down to business with an efficiency I'd have been proud of. I was impressed.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More Praise for St Thomas'

Just a quick blog in praise of St Thomas' Hospital. My London flat is near the Lambeth end of Westminster Bridge, opposite St Thomas'. I call in on my way to the House of Commons - and I'm becoming a regular visitor. Usually its to provide a blood sample to check coagulation levels - every Wed morning. I walk, tell the wonderful Enid, who runs the department that I'm there, and I'm out and on my way in 5 minutes. Just brilliant. Today I needed some colostomy equipment, as one of the consequences of the food poisoning that's laid me low over the last two days. Rang the Stoma Dep't, arranged to be in at 5.50, which I was - and I was on my way home at 5.55. When we moved into the flat, we feared that the Hospital, being so near would be a nuisance, with sirens blaring constantly. I was wrong. Its a very big plus. St. Thomas' is a brilliant hospital - in my experience of course.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Things Welsh

Been trying to get a handle on the rally organised in Cardiff last Saturday about S4C. Still not quite sure what it was about. As a statement of support for the continuation of S4C as a Welsh Language channel, it was fine, but as far as I know, no-one with influence has anything but committed support for the channel. Seems there were two secondary issues - a call for an assurance about the future 'independence' of S4C, and its long term funding. Again, all those with influence agree that these two issues have to be addressed, and its part of a continuing debate. It's what Welsh Coalition MPs are engaged in. Its a pity so much publicity was given to the non-payment of the licence fee though. This sort of talk makes the lives of political friends of S4C more challenging.

Watched the Politics Show today, when Alun Cairns, my fellow MP, was in excellent form. Alun has been terrific on this issue, along with other Welsh Coalition MPs. Ieuan Wyn Jones, in the studio, and a speaker at the rally, was reduced to criticising Alun for something he didn't actually say. One thing that occurred to me as Ieuan was speaking was why doesn't the Assembly Government put in some money, if it believes the current agreement is not a sustainable budget. All party leaders in the Assembly seem to agree that S4C should be devolved. I suppose they might not be allowed to! And in passing, I was interested in David Williamson's Q & A piece in today's Wales on Sunday. When he was informing viewers about how Welsh politicians have responded to the new funding arrangements for S4C, he referred to the four party leaders in the Assembly (who do not have any direct responsibility for S4C) and completely ignored the Welsh MPs who have. I can inform readers of this site that without the determination and guile of Welsh Coalition MPs, the future would have looked rather more bleak. But this will have to await the memoirs.

Intending to visit the Assembly on Tuesday, just as a visitor to the public gallery, for the 'powers' referendum debates. This is one of the final pieces to be put in place to allow the referendum to go ahead on March 3rd. Hoping to hear some inspirational stuff to 'fire up' the Welsh nation. Hard to believe its only 4 months away - including Xmas and New Year. As time goes on, I increasingly fear a low turn-out.

Boys will be Boys.

I have something in common with Bjorn Hurrell, the newspaper vendor who delivers newspapers to MPs, and takes a pint in the Sports and Social Club in the House of Commons. We have both been attacked (allegedly) by Labour MP, Paul Farrelly. But in my case, I readily admit that I'd asked for it, and that Paul had shown admirable restraint before resorting to what he'd likely claim as self-defence.

It was the occasion of the first ever rugby match between the National Assembly for Wales XV and the Lords and Commons team. I was captain of our team, playing at blind side flanker, while Paul was scrum half for the Westminster team. The game was played near Twickenham, and was an h'orderve before the England - Wales game later in the day. Paul very quickly realised that my legendary pace was just that - legendary - and that he could run around the blind side with impunity. So I tripped him a few times, and then by way of variation, body checked him - in an 'accidental' sort of way, looking completely innocent. Fooled the ref, but Paul had had enough, and launched a ferocious attack on my person. Rest of his team joined in, as did ours. Full on battle, which scattered the crowd on the touchline. Mrs D had slipped behind a tree - because she'd seen me play before and knew what to expect. Fabulous photographs with my face covered in blood - which was nothing to do with Paul, whom I don't recall landed anything of substance. A major subject of debate in the House of Commons at the time was the use of ASBOs!

I know its as well to await final details of any incident before jumping to any conclusion, but there is a 'mutual support network' amongst Rugby players - and I reckon that Paul Farrelly is 'a good bloke'. When he sought to 'correct' my dubious tackling style, I'll concede it just about qualified as self-defence - which is what he claims after this latest altercation. When Paul was asked if he'd thumped Bjorn, he said "I made sure he was not in a position to attack me any more". Sounds sensible to me.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Evidence Needed

I need help here in gathering evidence. I'm told that my predecessor, Lembit Opik appeared on Sky News this morning (at around 10.25) and suggested that he had been subjected to the same sort of false allegations that were perpetrated by Phil Woolas. I do not know against whom his alleged comments were directed, and I am totally dependent on hearsay. Such allegations (if made at all, and if directed at his Conservative opponent) would not be true, and outrageously untruthful at that. If anyone heard this interview, I would be grateful if you can tell me what he said. You can email me on Our election campaign made almost no reference at all to my predecessor. In fact, I was much criticised by some of my supporters for refusing to engage with him. I wanted to focus on running a campaign on our terms, rather than being drawn into his approach to politics. I also conduct myself as an MP in a very different way to my predecessor. He did the job his way, and I do it my way - and the people choose. That's how democracy works.

Going Back to School

Spent a happy hour at Castle Caereinion Primary School this afternoon. Not quite on a par with Michael Portillo's trek back through the mysteries of inland Spain to discover his roots, but a trip in my own little time machine nonetheless.

First visit to Castle School (as we then called it) was in 1949, when I faced my 'first day', along with my little sister, Joan. I'd stopped off at Roger's the Shop to buy a Mars bar to give me courage, but I still needed my little sister to look after me - because I was such a painfully shy little boy. Mrs Roger's was a wonderful woman who was twice my size in 1949, and half my size when I last saw her before she died. Her son Michael, an 'Open all Hours' character, who still runs the shop asked me to pay tribute to her at the funeral. Mr Emberton, who ran the Red Lion, doubled up as the school transport, and Walter Pryce, the blacksmith was known for many miles around. He used to allow us all to keep warm by his bellows when we were waiting for the bus to Llanfair High School (now known as Caereinion High School. ElfandSafety would have had a fit.

I was struck by how confident and polite the pupils are at Ysgol Gynradd Castell Caereinion. A 'Question Time' had been arranged, when I was put in the hot seat. They asked me if I'd ever had the cane in school. They were amused when I said I'd 'had the slipper' a few times. This involved being hit on the back of the hand by some item of footwear - bl*****y painful as I remember. I still deeply resent once 'having the slipper' for breaking a window, which was nothing to do with me. Don't think I forgave Mr Richards for that. Admitted that I once put a drawing pin on his chair. Deserved that encounter with 'the slipper'. For 30 minutes I was bombarded with questions, challenging and polite - a credit to the teaching and an example to the BBC's version which is so 'shouty' and unenlightening that I no longer watch it.

I came home with a copy of the school photograph taken in 1953, when I was 9. I was struck by how cute a little boy I was. Looked a bit like Darragh, our only grandson. Being an MP is hard work, but exciting work, and brings lovely experiences. Today was one of them

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Road to Rhyl

Today's Telegraph brings us the extraordinary story of John Marsden, aged 86, who recently set off on the 70 mile journey from Bolton to Rhyl. After a while he realised he had taken a wrong turn and found himself lost. How often this has happened to all of us. Last time for me was at the Conservative Conference in Birmingham last month. If a taxi driver had not led me out, I'd still be there now. Anyway, John did the only sensible thing and stopped to ask the way to Rhyl - and was told "You go up the road 200 yds and then turn right", which is exactly what he did. Unfortunately, this was an Exit turn off the A55. For at least six and a half miles, he drove along merrily, not in the least bit concerned that all the traffic was going the other way. I remember doing something similar near Miami, when unused to driving in the States, and under pressure, I turned the hire car into a three lane highway - where I was faced by three of those giant American trucks, side by side, bearing down on our people-carrier. My ashen faced family discovered at that moment that their dad was cool in a crisis, because I just drove off the road, up quite a steep bank, around a tree, and back onto the highway in the right direction without a single word - just quietly peeled myself a toffee.

Can you believe that the Police took John Marsden on. He had to appear at the Llandudno Court, which is twice as far as Rhyl from Bolton - and that journey had taken him 14 hours. We can sleep safely in our beds knowing that dangerous men like John Marsden are being brought to justice. John has bought himself a lovely electric scooter now. My message to him is "Remember Andy Powell". If you can find trouble in a golf buggy, you can find trouble on a scooter.

Breakout of S4C agreement on Dragon's Eye.

Watched the S4C discussion on Dragon's Eye tonight. Still struggling to find any real disagreement. Lot of hot air and outrage about nothing much at all. We all seem to want the same thing. Except the bit of nagginess at the Assembly end because those MPs down the M4 have dared to sort things out.

There does not seem to be much opposition to where we are - except amongst a very small group. There is the issue of editorial independence that has yet to be confirmed - but I do feel quite confident about things now. I thought Alun Ffred Jones, the Assembly Heritage Minister showed himself to be the most sensible political voice on this issue in Wales. He has rediscovered his pragmatism and balance. He had no time for discussion about devolving S4C, and thinks this issue could be discussed sometime in the future, and in a wider context. I'm sure he didn't mean to but showed up his party boss, Ieuan Wyn Jones - who has been daft enough to agree to speak at a lobby group rally organised to call for withholding the TV licence fee. Alun Ffred dismissed this idea with that witheringly casual wave of the hand he reserves for daft ideas. The Deputy First Minister should withdraw in an effort to retain his dignity.

I've been greatly encouraged by the way the S4C discussions have gone over recent weeks. We have moved from a position where I, and others, were deeply worried to a position where we can be confident about its successful future. I fully expect a bit more turbulence over the next few weeks, but only what might be described as typically Welsh. Its the way we Celts do things.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The 'worst week ever' ! That's utter 'tosh' Nick.

Nick Robinson seems to think that this week has been David Cameron's 'worst week ever'. I've always thought Nick to be a decent journalist, but this is utter tosh. Perhaps he was just trying to be noticed. But lets look at the supposed catalogue of catastrophes that instigated this hyperbole.

Firstly, there have been aspects surrounding how the discovery of a bomb plot was handled which have attracted some comment. Just don't see this as damaging. It can reasonably be argued that the bomb plot has actually been valuable to the UK's security. Firstly it's reminded us all that the guard against 'terror' cannot be relegated down the Coalition's priorities. And secondly it's identified faults in the system, which can be corrected, without costing lives. OK, it might owe something to good fortune, but the whole issue has actually made us 'safer'.

Secondly, there was the EU budget deal. The fact that the Eurosceptic press, some of his backbenchers and Lord Tebbit have not been supportive of the deal was no surprise at all. Personally, I'd have been shocked if anything else had happened - unless our Prime Minister came home and announced that he intended to withdraw from the EU altogether. I sat through the entire statement in the HoC, and thought David Cameron did very well. Nick Robinson's words give me the impression that he hadn't watched, and that he'd written his words before the statement.

Thirdly, there's allowing prisoners the right to vote. OK no-one likes this. Prime Minister said in PMQ'a today that the thought makes him physically sick. But all that happened this week was that the Government decided to act on what has been an inevitability for the last six years. And the fourth issue that is supposed to have contributed to this 'worst week ever' is the putting of a photographer on to the Government's payroll. Despite the media's best efforts, there is no credibility behind either of these issues, which will give neither any traction.

What we have is a media desperate to create an image of 'the worst week ever'. The issue is never the problems that confront a Prime Minister, but the way he or she manages them. And if Nick had beenwatching, David Cameron managed all of these issues with a comfortable confidence. I for one would be absolutely amazed if this week (so far anyway) is remembered as a bad week by the weekend.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Interesting S4C development - and a touch unexpected.

Interesting development about the future of S4C today. The BBC are reporting that all four main party leaders in the National Assembly for Wales have written to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport calling for a comprehensive independent review of S4C (not sure what's exactly is to be reviewed), and for the term of office of the S4C Board to be ended. Interesting that Nick Bourne and Kirsty Williams have signed up to this. Personally I see nothing wrong with DCMS conducting a review, as long as we are all clear about its purpose.

It does seem from the BBC report that the four party leaders have been very critical of the S4C Board in their letter. The line talking about "the political stewardship of S4C has been insufficiently vigilant" suggests that the letter will make interesting reading. I'm looking forwards to reading my copy, which is surely in the post to all coalition MPs from Wales, many of whom have been working very hard to ensure that a vibrant independent Welsh Language TV channel continues into the long term. Not sure how DCMS will respond to this letter, but I do hope the voice of Welsh MPs, which in my opinion have done a terrific job on this issue so far continues to heard.