Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Honours List

Always enjoy scanning the New Year's Honour's list for people I know. Good crop this year. Pleased to see Lord Carlile of Berriew being awarded a CBE. He was my MP and our next door neighbour for the 14 years he served as Montgomeryshire's MP. Its quite a coincidence that his former Cil Road neighbour has followed him into Parliament, and another coincidence that we find ourselves working together on issues that matter to both of us. We are both strongly opposed to the wind farm lunacy proposed for Mid Wales, and both equally strongly opposed to decriminalising the law on 'assisted suicide'. Over the last few years he's done some great work on national security, and though a leading Liberal Democrat, is much admired in the Conservative Party.

Another ex-politician with Montgomeryshire connections honoured this year is Dr Carl Clowes, who once stood as Plaid Cymru candidate. I recall attending one of his local meetings (we did that in those days) and thought he was OK. I was going through a phase of growing awareness of my own 'Welshness'. I've met him from time to time ever since, and we always get on well. He's done some wonderful work raising the profile of the importance of the Welsh Language. Yr Iaith Cymraeg features strongly this year, because as well as Carl (though his OBE was for services to Anglesey) there was an OBE for Prof Robert Owen Jones for his services to to the Language of Heaven in Patagonia.

Another recipient of an OBE with strong Montgomeryshire connections is Grenville Jackson, who was Marketing Director of the Development Board for Rural Wales when I was Chair in the early 90's. Gren was one of a really talented team of officers who made a great impact on Mid Wales, a time when the area surged forward economically. We did some terrific work, and Gren was a key player. Another OBE winner I got to know well during my Quango years was Jonathon Jones, who ran the marketing side if the Wales Tourist Board. After Rhodri Morgan's 'Bonfire of Welsh Quangoes, both Gren and Jonathon became civil servants and worked for the Welsh Government.

Also want to offer congrats on Malcolm Thomas' OBE. Throughout the 8 years I served as an Assembly Member, Malcolm was a constant source of support and advice in his role with the NFU in Wales. Met him a few weeks ago in his new role as Chair of RABI - which looks after farmers who fall on hard times. He was speaking at the now traditional Xmas Carol Concert at Welshpool Livestock Sales, which raises money for RABI. He was his usual ebullient self. and fully deserves his OBE for services to agriculture in Wales.

And finally, a word about Martyn Williams. He's brought huge pleasure to Welsh people for such a long time. I had expected the Welsh rugby player to be recognised this year would be Shane, but on reflection, Martyn's the man. Shane next year perhaps. I may blog again tomorrow on those names I didn't spot.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Public turned off by 'The Party Line'

Had coffee with a well-informed and politically aware lady this morning. She told me that some years ago she had decided that politicians were so disreputable that she had decided never to vote for one ever again. I have other friends who behave in the same way. Personally, I cannot understand why anyone should think all participants in any lawful activity are corrupt and dishonest. Or good and honest either. She added that anyone who wants to be a politician must be so egotistical and flawed that they don't deserve a vote. Someone famous once said something like that. Anyway, she wanted some assistance, and I agreed to help - with enthusiasm.

Reason I comment on the above is its relevance to a rather good article by Peter Oborne in today's Telegraph about 'modernism, rather than 'morality being the dirty word of politics. . He is a very thoughtful columnist. There is style of modern politics that leaves its practitioners looking shifty and untruthful. Its 'The Party Line'. Its the agreed form of words that each party's spin department prepares for constant repetition. For many people, when an answer looks to have been prepared before the question is asked, it does not convince. It becomes a language that only other politicians relate to.

Perhaps its aversion to the 'Party Line' that draws me to issues that have a genuinely ethical dimension and to the free vote - which ironically, as a PPS, convention dictates I take no part in. Anyway it leads me into debates where I oppose 'presumed consent' for organ donation, and decriminalising 'assisted suicide' - though the ethical dimension is so contemptuously cast aside today that I always try to frame arguments around practical aspects of the debate. This aversion to the 'Party Line' makes me a 'contrarian' as well. Whenever I've listened to half a dozen speeches saying much the same thing, just cannot resist the temptation to take a different line. Now, where is my blackberry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alternatives to Onshore Wind

For 7 years I have opposed the desecration of mid Wales by wind turbines, and the horrible infrastructure needed to support them. The appalling threat remains, though I do think some in Government are beginning to understand just what madness it is. But opposition, no matter how ferocious is not enough to win on its own. The Coalition Gov't is (rightly in my opinion) committed to reducing carbon emissions, and (wrongly in my opinion) see onshore wind turbines as the way to achieve it.. Opponents of onshore wind have a responsibility to encourage alternatives.

The main argument has been about nuclear energy. This debate is over. There is widespread agreement that a new generation of nuclear power stations is inevitable. Government has given them the green light. It may be that there will be an energy gap as we approach 2020, but I suspect this is much exaggerated, particularly since the economy is unlikely to return to significant growth for a while yet. Whatever, the debate about nuclear is over. Its going to happen.

But what else. Not enough to look at solar, biomass, aerobic digestion or micro generation etc. They must all be supported, but they are not going to make a huge difference. The 'Green Deal' is a great idea, which I greatly support - but there's a bit to go until we can be confident it will be a game changer.

Which brings me to 'tidal' and 'shale gas'. There seems to be renewed interest in a Severn Barrage, which would produce about 5% of the UK's needs. Its early days, but we should be giving every support to Corlan Hafren which is 'rumoured' to be working on a scheme. Such a scheme will not be popular because of the inevitable disruption and dislocation it will cause. Many years ago I was opposed (as I was to nuclear power) but its not possible to support carbon reduction as a principle without accepting there are consequences. There has also been disappointing progress on the development of lagoons. Gov'ts have been content to stick up a few wind mills so that it looks as if they are doing something, while spinning us into an energy disaster.

And so little urgency is being invested in shale gas, which has so transformed the energy market in the US, that there is prospects of it being exported. Of course we have to establish that 'fracking' does not lead to damaging subsidence - but there is just no urgency. If as much effort had gone into developing energy alternatives, as has gone into forcing destruction on rural Britain with wind farms, we would not have a Secretary of State at DECC wanting to destroy the mid Wales that we know and love.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pantomime Season for Wind Farm Giants

Can there ever have been a better drafted, dafter scheme to transfer money from poor people to rich people than by subsidising wind farms to switch their turbines off. Today's Telegraph reports on just how utterly bonkers it all is. If it wasn't so unfair to the poorest, it would be quite funny.

The massively wealthy and powerful energy companies which have built wind farms in the UK will have been given about £10 million pounds in 2011 as compensation for not supplying electricity to the National Grid. This money will be paid by consumers, about 6 million of whom are in fuel poverty, having to choose whether they 'eat or heat'. Incredibly some of these 'constraint payments' amount to more than would have been paid for the electricity if it had been sold to the Grid.

I know. You think I'm joking again. You think that because I do not approve of Mid Wales, my home and the land I love being desecrated by hundreds of pylons and turbines, I am exaggerating. If only. This madness is for real - and as soon as I return to Westminster, I will be tabling Written Questions just to establish the facts in a way that everyone can see.

Monday, December 26, 2011


As one year draws to a close, our thoughts turn to the next. While its impossible to predict events, some we know are coming down the track. I'll list a few which are likely to feature in my life as a Welsh MP. I will update this as Dec 31st approaches. Any suggestions welcome.

1) We expect an announcement from the Boundary Commission in Jan. outlining the 30 new Welsh Parliamentary constituencies. (actually I know the exact date but am told not to make it public - despite hundreds knowing). That's when I'll know if there is anything remotely resembling Montgomeryshire left. There will inevitably follow a 'discussion' about what arrangements should be legislated for in respect of Assembly electoral boundaries and arrangements - which could produce a mighty row.

2)We also know there's going to be an ongoing 'discussion' about the UK's relationship with the EU. In 2011, we had a very silly debate in the House of Commons about a pointless EU 'preferendum' , and a UK veto that created a lot of (again pointless) angst, because in my opinion, the Prime Minister had no real choice. I predict next chapter will be in February - unless the Euro part-collapses in the meantime, and the EU row takes place elsewhere. David Cameron has made clear that no further power will be transferred to the EU. The EU will not like that.

3)I expect there to be an issue of personal importance to me in early January. Lord Faulkner is publishing a supposedly 'Independent' report calling for the legalisation of 'assisted suicide'. I believe this to be wrong and will want to do what I can to oppose any change in the law.

4)Perhaps the biggest issue will be the UK economy. Prediction is impossible. If the OBR cannot predict, how can anyone else. No point in pretending I feel anything other than gloomy. The only way to create the jobs we need is to set business free, and lower business taxation - but I just cannot see the Coalition agreeing on the sort of radicalism that would make a difference. If the Euro collapses, 2012 could well turn out to be a very bad place.

5)Inevitably, the issue of onshore wind will feature in my year. We are expecting National Grid to announce where it intends to inflict its monstrous scars on mid-Wales in Feb. Governments will continue to put pressure (in my opinion highly dubiously) on the Powys Planning Authority to approve planning applications, which should be refused. Any other applicant would be laughed out of court, but these are backed by huge energy companies which have some unfathomable grip on the gonads of Government.

6)I'll probably take more interest in the Powys County Council elections than I will in the Boris v Ken battle - which I expect Boris to win fairly comfortably. Will do what I can to increase the number of Conservatives on the Council - even if I will be limited by the whips at Westminster how much I can actually do. We had a phenomenal result in Montgomeryshire in 2008, and I hope we can advance further.

7)Expect to become quite engrossed in the Olympics. We have tickets for showjumping, which is of more interest to Mrs D, but will probably spend some time in London while they are on to feel the atmosphere.

8)Toward the end of 2012, the Silk Commission will tell us what form of 'financial accountability' should be granted to the National Assembly for Wales. We have reached the bizarre position where the party most favouring this seems to be the Conservatives, while Labour seem to be implacably opposed. This should be straightforward, but I find it difficult to predict how it will go.

9)There will probably be a reshuffle sometime during the year - unless a resignation or two force a lot of changes beforehand. "Events, dear boy. Events". Because we are in a Coalition, there will not be many opportunities for 2010 intake of MPs to move up the ladder - so there will be a lot of very hard working Conservative MPs in 2012. (Not that its anything unusual!) Several of us would like to get a feel of the despatch box.

10) Wales will win the Championship, but will just lose out on the Grand Slam. Elin Jones will win Plaid leadership contest. Man Utd will win premier league. Nadal will win Wimbledon. Luke Donald will win British Open. I will break 100 in a round somewhere in August.

Should list some of the things that won't happen. The Coalition will not fall apart. Vince Cable will not resign. There will not be a General Election. There will not be an EU referendum. There will not be a repetition of the summer riots. The UK will not become involved in another war. An unknown Ethiopian or Kenyan will push Mo Faragh into the silver medal position. Cardiff City will not be promoted.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tackling Poverty, Injustice and Oppression.

Since I found myself on the same side as the Archbishop of Wales in the debate about organ donation, I've been taking a bit of interest in what he says. Today it seems he thinks the Church should change society in order to overturn poverty, injustice and oppression. Certainly not short on ambition. And that it should 'get its hands dirty' in achieving this objective. Amen to that. Its what I think politicians should be doing as well. The problem we both have to face is that fewer and fewer people want to listen to what we're saying any more.

The questions facing the Archbishop are not about this objective, which most of us sign up to, but how to actually achieve them - how to manage the contradictions involved in multiple aims. The Rev Barry Morgan has spoken much about the 'Occupy' movement, as if it has some deep meaning for us - as Jesus laid into the moneychangers. Must admit I still have no handle on what the 'Occupy' movement is actually in favour of - except that it does not like 'bankers'. Well I too think the 'bonus' culture, and 'city' salaries measured in millions is based on unpleasant greed and irresponsibility. But I also know that the city has a trade surplus with the EU of £35billion, employs 2 million jobs and provides £54 billion to the Treasury each year. Bit of a balance twixt tackling both injustice and poverty there. That's just one small example.

And then there's oppression. Most of the free world welcomed the Arab Spring, and the removal of dictators such as Hussein, Mubarak and Gadaffi. They were not good men - all guilty of oppression. But there's always been that lingering nagging concern about what comes next. Anyone who read the powerful article by Fraser Nelson in yesterday's Telegraph, describing the persecution of Christians that is growing at a frightening rate in these countries will be thinking deeply at Xmas services tonight and tomorrow. I wonder how dirty the Archbishop things his hands should be.

Do have a lovely Xmas and think about how we can reduce poverty, injustice and oppression at the same time. 2012 promises to be a challenging year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solar PV. What Happens Now?

Hope someone can clarify what's now happening with Solar PV feed-in tariffs. A few weeks ago the Coalition Gov't announced that the tariff was to be cut from 43p per unit to 21p. Just as important important was the decision to only approve an installation on a property which had already been made energy efficient. The most controversial element was that the changes would apply to installations registered after Dec 12th - even though the consultation period on the changes would not end until Dec 23rd. Unsurprisingly there has been uproar - and a legal challenge.

I was much concerned when I first learned about what was proposed. The solar industry has been such a success. So I listened carefully to the Statement in the House of Commons by the DECC Minister. Admit I was left scratching my head about why the decision had not been taken months before, so avoiding the suddenness of the cut-off, and about the logic behind a consultation finishing two weeks after the matter being consulted on was implemented. But I felt able to support the Government's position (and did so in the chamber and in interviews) - simply because I could see no alternative. The solar PV element of the feed-in tariff scheme had been so incredibly successful, that almost the entire 4 year budget for all renewables had already been used up. The 43p rate was totally unsustainable. But it was not the easiest case to defend - especially in Welsh!

Anyway, the High Court has declared the changes to be "legally flawed" - and a DECC Minister has said it will be appealed. Has anyone got any idea what is going to happen now. Seems to me that if the changed tariff cannot be introduced as planned, there will very soon be no budget left, and all feed-in tariffs for new applications will come to an end fairly quickly. Really frustrating that I've been too busy to find out today what the position is. It could be that the judgement is still being absorbed. Would welcome comments from anyone who knows what's happening. I will try to update the position as I dig out information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wind Farms and Democracy in Mid Wales

More time to blog, now that we're in recess - until we return to Westminster on 9th Jan 2012. Though we're back to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Terrace (with hopefully a good view of the fireworks display and cost of tickets going to charity). May also be in London between 5th - 9th to discuss legalising assisted suicide if the much trumpeted Faulkener Report is published as expected. I've offered to speak publicly in opposition to a change in the law.

Another speech on wind farms in the House of Commons yesterday. Again cut short at the last minute. Had expected 10 minutes - only to be limited to six at short notice. Had wanted my speech to be titled 'Wind Farms and Democracy in Mid Wales' - but the Table Office refused to include the word 'democracy' deeming it to be too contentious. Promise I'm not making this up. Anyway, let me make the point here.

In response to a speech of mine on May 10th, Minister for Climate Change at DECC, made a serious of commitments about the importance of local support before going ahead with the Mid Wales Connection. At about the same time, First Minister of the Welsh Government also made commitments about opposing a 400 kV line, huge steel pylons and treating TAN8 guidance figures as the 'upper limit' of what should be allowed. This was all good news. We were being listened to. But that was then.

The big energy companies went to work - like the 'dark forces' in science fiction, issuing ever more hysterical threats to Governments and pouring money into 'community benefit' which most local people see as a form of bribery. These massive companies, fattened on public subsidy, just sunk their teeth into the hands of those that had fed them, demanding ever more of the public's money to feed their insatiable appetites. The result - two weeks ago I was shocked to read a BBC online report quoting the same Minister as stating there would have to be wind farms in Mid Wales, despite local people's opinion "in the national interest". And this from a Government committed to 'Localism. And lets see what the Welsh First Minister does in the New Year. Lets see if he has any spine to stand up to these bullies.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this is the pressure on the Powys Planning Authority - which has been given a deadline to approve the 6 applications that are large enough to be decided by DECC. I'm told that the applicants have not supplied sufficient ecological or environmental information. They have made no evidence available in respect of cumulative impact. There is no transport management plan. And there is no information about how the power is to be exported to the grid. Any other application would be dismissed. But not the terrifyingly powerful wind farm companies. They believe they are above normal planning rules. Like the banks, they think they are too big to fail.

And there's another point here. Powys Cllr. Bob Mills was banned from voting on any planning application for turbines because he had expressed his general antipathy in public. Yet the final judge in all the large wind farm applications will be Chris Huhne, who declares his messianic support for onshore wind whenever he's asked. Never was there an example of an individual with a more pre-determined opinion. The whole process is about as far from 'democracy' as can be imagined. But then "its in the national interest" - the rallying cry for the suspension of democracy throughout history. To adopt a Xmas theme, its total crackers - increasing fuel poverty, exporting jobs and destroying a beautiful part of the British Isles for miniscule purpose. Its so bad that the Welsh Government and DECC put the blame for what's happening on each other. Walk through the uplands of Mid Wales next summer. Enjoy its beauty, before its desecrated for ever.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"No". What it means.

What are we to make of the Prime Minister's 'NO'. Small word. Big impact.

Since the vote to remain in the EEC in 1975, (I voted to withdraw) I have accepted membership of what is now the EU - and wanted 'the club' to function as successfully as possible. However, I was implacably opposed to the UK adopting the Euro in place of Sterling. Always reckoned that the Euro was a huge mistake, which at some stage will collapse in acrimony - though hopefully not in a disorderly way. In the meantime, I have and will continue to support the Prime Minister's efforts to support the Eurozone - short of paying for the irresponsible and incompetent financial management of its members.

I had hoped there would have been a treaty which the Prime Minister could have signed in Brussels. There would have been a right rumpus, but I would have supported him. But there wasn't, and he didn't, and Coalition MPs accept that he was right. There was no way that David Cameron could sign up to what was on offer - a blatant attempt to blame the UK for the mess that the Eurozone has become. And a blatant attempt to force the City of London to pay for its mistakes. The Prime Minister said NO. He did what he had to do. He accepted the burden of responsibility dropped on his shoulders. He did what no other British PM has ever done before. David Cameron refused to be bullied by EU leaders, who were absolutely astonished to hear the word NO.

So where are we now. In some ways nothing much has changed, and yet everything has changed. The Eurozone countries will carry on Canute-like to keep the Eurozone intact. The de-democratisation of Europe will gather speed, as elected politicians are cast aside, and sovereign governments hand over control of economies to EU institutions. It may even be that EU countries will try to push through financial regulations which will undermine the wealth-creating, tax-paying City of London. But the EU now knows that for the first time ever, the UK has a Prime Minister who will say No in defence of British interests. As with all forms of human activity, the second time is a lot easier than the first. If our Prime Minister continues to show cool resolution, supporting the Eurozone efforts to manage their economies as they wish, backed up by a willingness to say NO, he will have the full support of most of his party and most of our Lib Dem colleagues as well.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Death Pathway.

Terrifying article on front page of today's Telegraph. It reports that tens of thousands of patients with terminal illnesses are being put on a 'death pathway' without their families being told. The Liverpool Care Pathway requires doctors who feel that a patient is reaching the final days of life, to withdraw food and drink after consultation with next of kin. This is an area of the greatest possible sensitivity, and it does not bear thinking about that this should ever happen without discussion with the patient's family. In my opinion, there should always be the added safeguard of a second opinion - completely disconnected with the patient's doctor. The Report claims that 2500 families were not informed when the 'death pathway' was activated. If true, this would be a shocking scandal - warranting a full scale inquiry.

Palliative care is an increasingly important area, as our medical knowledge extends life. More and more people will be reaching a stage of frailty when they might already have died in the past. I perfectly accept that deciding not to force feed suffering terminally ill patients, and helping them cope with the final days with sedation is humane and proper. But safeguards are absolutely crucial. No patient, should ever be put on the Liverpool Care Pathway, without both an independent second opinion and consultation with next of kin. We really should get to a position where any doctor who does not act according the proper rules should be suspended.

I believe it is time that Parliament discussed the issue of the proper way to help people at the end of life. While 'assisted suicide' must remain illegal, there must be a 100% safe approach to proper palliative care. A civilised society requires nothing less.