Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sense from my colleague, Maria Miller

Anniversaries are a useful way of celebrating how far we have travelled, but also of remembering how far we have yet to go. In 2018, we as a nation celebrate the 100th anniversary of British women being given the right to vote. But extending the political franchise to women in 1918 was merely the first step in the process of empowering half of Britain’s mainland population. For example, many of the key news stories of 2017 underscored how far we have yet to go in the process of correcting the inequality and injustices women continue to face. A similar injustice still persists regarding Britain’s expatriate population. However, a Private Member’s Bill being introduced on Friday 23rd February may prove to be the first step in re-enfranchising and empowering the millions of Britons working, studying or living abroad. 
Millions of British citizens stripped of the right to vote
Currently, Britons who have been overseas for 15 years automatically lose their right to vote in General Elections and referendums. The right to vote, hard-fought to be secured by and for our citizens from Magna Carta to the Suffragettes, thus automatically expires as a result of the 15-year limit imposed by section 141(a) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000.
Just under nine per cent of UK citizens live abroad, which amounts to around five and a half million of our fellow countrymen and women. We do not know precisely how many have been living abroad for longer than 15 years – and have therefore been stripped of their right to vote – because the UK keeps no records of its citizens living abroad. But we can estimate with some confidence that at least a couple of million UK citizens remain deprived of that basic democratic right.
Flying the flag for Britain overseas, but without a voice
Most UK citizens living abroad are there to work. Some are retired, some are students. Many work for a British company overseas, send children to British schools, pay for nursing care for elderly parents in Britain, and in many cases fully intend to return to Britain. But their ability to have a say on issues affecting their future – by voting – is arbitrarily withdrawn at the stroke of 15 years.
Many of our citizens overseas may be active in promoting British business and ‘soft power’ interests, through energetic and informed participation in business groups, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, or through engaging with their host governments and civil society, and using their in-depth knowledge and experience to support the in-country work of British diplomats and our government representatives. As our nation gears up for its post-Brexit future, engaging and empowering our citizens overseas to help with this endeavour is more important than ever.
A cross-party obligation to right this wrong
There are thus moral and common-sense, practical reasons for engaging all our citizens in our electoral processes. The UK, of all countries, home of the Mother of Parliaments, need hardly have to make a case for democracy itself – we simply need to apply the principles of democracy to all our citizens. In the main, UK citizens living abroad maintain strong links with the UK. Modern technology makes it easier than ever before for UK citizens abroad to keep in touch with what is happening back home. UK citizens abroad should be able to have their say in elections, since they continue to be affected by many decisions of Parliament in much the same way as citizens resident within the UK.
The logic behind these reasons transcends political boundaries. Politically, the Conservative Party has long led the way in extending the franchise, but the Whig, Liberal and Labour Parties have also contributed to the process of parliamentary reform and political enfranchisement.
This support continues today, with one of the key voices for the repeal of the so-called ’15-year rule’ coming in the shape of Harry Shindler. The 96-year-old South Londoner has been an ardent Labour Party member since 1934, and is highly decorated for his efforts in the Allied liberation of Italy. As a long-term resident in Italy, Harry’s current battle is to help liberate the millions of his fellow British expatriates who have been denied their voices in our electoral processes.
The Conservative Party promised in its manifesto for the 2015 General Election to introduce votes for life, scrapping the 15-year rule. That promise was confirmed in the 2017 manifesto, in the name of “a flourishing and secure democracy”. It featured in the Queen’s Speech in 2016 but not in 2017. There has not yet been a Votes For Life Bill debate in Parliament.
British citizens living abroad are now pinning their hopes on the Private Member’s Bill being introduced by my colleague Glyn Davies this coming Friday, which is sponsored by Labour’s Mike Gapes, and has support from MPs across the parties. But to get anywhere, it needs support in the House on that day.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of achieving votes for women, let us remember those overseas citizens who are currently denied that right: let us ensure that our nation’s MPs use this Private Member’s Bill as the first step towards correcting this injustice, and let us empower our citizens who are flying the flag for Britain overseas.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Remainer’s Anger.

Haven’t written about Brexit for a while. Been hoping the tempest might have abated by now. Had been hoping the  sheer offensiveness of some of those refusing to accept the public vote in the June 23rd 2016 EU Referendum would have eased off. But I don’t think that is the case. I thought Janet Daley’s column in today’s Sunday Telegraph was largely justified  - “Remainers’ vile abuse and rage is unprecedented in modern politics”. It has certainly surprised me.
I too remember some nasty stuff of the past. The anti-Thatcher ‘snobbery’ was bad, because she was but a “Greengrocer’s daughter”. Lady T challenged the elites, and the elites, armed with their sense of entitlement didn’t like being challenged. They never forgave her for being successful. I heard just today from a schoolteacher I know that her pupils were celebrating her death with chants of “The Witch is Dead” when she died. Shocking it was. Of course, the students had no idea who Lady Thatcher was. Very unpleasant - but short lived. And I well recall the headlines about “Blair is a War Criminal”. This lasted longer and was also very unpleasant. It’s what happens when Prime Ministers are successful.
But what we are seeing now is in a different league. Last week Boris Johnson made a typically Boris speech - colourful (as is his style) but essentially loyal to the Cabinet of which he’s a member. The response of ‘the elites’ has been utterly ridiculous. Luckily Boris is made of stern stuff. There is of course an irony here. The more ridiculous the personal attacks, the less believable they are and the more they damage the Remainer’s cause. During the run-up to the referendum it was the same. I thought the Project Fear was genuinely ridiculous, and totally unbelievable, and severely damaged the ‘Remainers’ cause. Far more untruthful than the supposed ‘lie’ on the side of a red campaign bus supporting the Leave side in the referendum referring to an extra £350 million per week for the NHS. In passing, I have argued before that the Govt should consider budgeting for this, in order to reduce division in our society.
I do think Theresa May is playing her rather weak hand quite well. Let the major corporates, the EU mandarins and unelected peers make as much noise as it likes. All they are doing is making it more difficult to secure as smooth a Brexit as possible - very frustrating for those of us who want as positive a relationship with our European neighbours as we can possible agree. The Prime Minister is the voice of reason, while all around her is ill considered noise.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Crisis at Oxfam

A lot of people seem to have been shocked by the unacceptable sexual misconduct of Oxfam officials in Haiti. This has been followed by reports of a cover up of what’s happened, and allegations of sexual misconduct involving other charities. Must admit I’m not so shocked myself. Wherever there are large numbers of desperate vulnerable homeless people, living in absolute poverty, there will inevitably be sexual predators attracted to take advantage. It may well involve a very small number of individuals, but the damage it can do to the reputation of charities like Oxfam is very serious indeed. And despite whatever rules are in place, and I’m sure there are many, it’s impossible to legislate against a charity worker and a desperate refugee falling in love. The whole system depends on senior personal taking a close regulatory, transparent, pastoral approach.
Whatever, we are where we are. The Government, in the form of International Debelopment Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, taking a tough line and cutting off Govt support until certain that Oxfam (and other charities) satisfy her that regulatory processes are in place. It’s the minimum response from Government that will protect the generous willingness of British people to donate.
I sense that the level of public support for my total commitment to the UK spending the UN target of 0.7% of GDP on International Aid will be even less popular. I also think it’s a betrayal of responsibility to the rest of our world that other rich countries renege on. France is an example. Macron strides around the world wearing worthy humanitarian clothes but fails to deliver on International Aid.
It’s not any generosity of spirit that drives my view. It’s self interest. Or at least the interest of our nation. Over recent years we have seen some refugees reaching our shores, many illegally. This has caused division in society. In my view “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. The levels of population growth in Africa and the Middle East is ‘off the scale’. The numbers are terrifying. We are already seeing anti migrant politics growing in Europe. Germany is the best example, where extremists of the right have made great advances. Over recent years a million refugees were allowed in, destabilising the Merkel government. At a conservative estimate there will be another two thousand million increase in the populations of these countries - on Europe’s borders! We (and every other European country) must invest in quality of life in Africa and the Middle East, and in family planning, disease control, sanitation and water. I’ve always thought this is a right policy, in the national interest. I also realise that unless International Aid is delivered by systems and charities that are trusted to act to a high moral standard, the British people will lose confidence in our commitment to aid. That’s why the Govt has a responsibility to be tough on those involved in delivering international aid, including every charity, irrespective of good work being done or having been done in the past.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Cymraeg yn San Steffan.

Wednesday 7th February was a special and historic day in the House of Commons. It was the occasion on which MPs could make speeches in the Welsh Language for the first time. It was nothing to do with allowing a witness to speak Welsh where it was thought the witness would be more comfortable. I think that’s happened before. There was no reason beyond MPs being permitted to speak in the Language of Heaven if they so wanted. A recognition of the importance of the Language to Wales. It was a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, which meets infrequently and irregularly. The ‘Welsh Grand’ consists of all 40 Welsh MPs and a few others - sort of adopted as Welsh for the day! It’s a four and a half hour debate, and there’s a fair bit of freedom to speak about whatever, though the formal position is consideration of the impact on Wales of the Budget.
It was a big day for me personally. I emanate from Welsh speaking ancestors. In fact, I don’t have any ancestors who were other than first Language Welsh. I don’t have any who weren’t born in Montgomeryshire either. My parents were first Language Welsh. But when they married, they moved to Castle Caereinion, an English speaking part of Montgomeryshire. And importantly, at that time the Welsh Language was considered to be a language of failure (Iaith o Feddiant). I never heard my parents speak in Welsh. So my 5 sisters and I grew up without any knowledge of Welsh. For most of my life I cared not about this. Things are so different today.
In my late 50s, after being elected to the National Assembly for Wales, and being surrounded by Welsh being widely spoken, and having to use translation earphones, I felt quite ashamed. I decided to learn. Over the last 15 years, I have become what I think of as an adaquate Welsh speaker.
But yesterday’s debate was special, historic and I wanted to make it memorably challenging. So I decided to write notes for a speech in English only, but speak in Welsh only. It was quite challenging but I did feel rather pleased with myself. It’s not an occasion I’ll forget. Other MPs also spoke in Welsh, some highly proficient, some at varying levels of adaquacy, and some using just a few words. I thought it was a very good day for Wales in Westminster.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Trying to make sense of Brexit.

Late Sunday, and writing 400words for Oswestry and Borders Chronicle. Am off to London early so hoping any Facebook friends will correct any grammatical howlers.!

“There is so much written and debated about the UK leaving the European Union that even I’ve had enough. I can well understand why so many of us are confused about what’s actually happening. So let’s recap. At the Referendum  on 23rd June 2016, the voters of the United Kingdom voted 52% to 48% to Leave the European Union. Over 17 million of us voted Leave, the biggest popular vote for anything in British history. We are leaving the EU. We are leaving the Single Market. We are leaving the Customs Union. We are taking back control of our borders. We are taking back the power to make our own laws. There will not be a second referendum. All this is settled. But there are many secondary issues that are not settled. And there is uncertainty about how much difference there will be!

Leading up to the Referendum, many voters told me they were unsure about which way to vote. I sympathised. Although I eventually decided to vote Leave, it was after much soul searching and with much uncertainty. On one hand I did not want the UK to be governed by an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, while on the other hand, I knew there would inevitably be uncertainty about the future. I found it a difficult call, not helped by the appalling standard of the both campaigns, but particularly that of the Remain side. Despite the remain case being put by the Government, backed up by the entire Civil Service, the Bank of England, the CBI, the EU, world leaders including the US President and the entire UK establishment, I found myself not believing a word that was being said. At the time, I found this quite shocking. I’d never felt like that before.
We were told a Leave vote would deliver “an immediate and profound economic shock” with a sudden GDP contraction. The GDP actually went up. The Treasury told us there would be “4 quarters of negative growth”. Growth has been positive ever since. We were told unemployment would rise 820,000 after a Leave vote. Last week unemployment reached a 42 yr low!
The reason this is interesting this week is that last week, a report was ‘leaked’, which we’re told had been written by Treasury and Cabinet Office officials again warning of massive negative economic consequences. I’m sure they have been written with their usual honourable dedication and integrity. As they were last time. We will all have to make up our own minds about whether we agree or not.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Checking out my local cremation site.

MPs get to all the best places! Spent this morning at the Emstree Crematorium in Shrewsbury, which is main crem serving Shropshire and most of Montgomeryshire. In reality, Emstree serves all of Shropshire since the Telford crem recently ceased to be operational.
In Shropshire cremation was ‘privatised’ about 7 yrs ago, when the local authorities transferred the services to the Coop. Then about 18 months ago, the Coop transferred a group of crematoriums, including those at Shrewsbury and Telford to an experienced private operator, Dignity. Dignity took over the crematoria with a major programme for re-investment. But unfortunately, the cremators at Shrewsbury and Telford ceased to be operational before the scheduled re-investment. I was told that it was possible to make one cremator out of the two at Emstree which have collapsed. But are having to wait an unacceptable long time. And while services continue at Emstree, the actual cremation often has to take place elsewhere, which again is distressing to families.
Next week Dignity will begin installing a new ‘temporary’ cremator. It’s planned to go to Basingstoke eventually but is being located at Shrewsbury on a temporary basis. It’s expected to become operational in two weeks time. I was told it’s the best designed cremator in the world.
Must admit I had no idea of the complexity of what is involved in delivering a cremation service. The work at Shrewsbury will cost £millions. I was amazed by the sheer scale and complexity of the Mercury Abatement equipment. I am invited to go back to the opening event of the new cremator in a few weeks time. I will if I can. This is a very important issue for my constituents.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Privatising the NHS - in Wales!

On Monday of this week, I wrote to the Chief Executive of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board about possible changes to its renal dialysis service. Not critical. Just seeking information. Seems it’s become a public issue (not as a result of anything I’ve said). In the interests of accuracy, this is what I wrote

29 January 2018

Gary Doherty
Chief Executive
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board

Dear Mr Doherty,

I have been approached by a number of constituents regarding possible changes to the Renal Unit at the Victoria Memorial Hospital, Welshpool. This is a matter in which I am also very much personally interested, in my capacity as Treasurer of the North Powys Kidney Patients Association (NPKPA).

I am aware that the Renal Unit in Wrexham requires upgrading and that, as part of the procurement process, other Units under the umbrella of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) are currently under review. This may result in privatisation of the haemodialysis service at Welshpool, and has understandably led to concerns amongst kidney patients, their family and friends, staff and supporters of the unit.

I would be grateful if you could therefore please address the following queries which have been raised with me, in order that I am able to respond to my constituents:

Will the service currently provided at the Renal Unit be the same or will it be enhanced in some way by a private company?

How will shared care be affected between local GPs, BCUHB’s unit in Wrexham and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (eg for other medical problems, scans, blood samples, transplant etc)?

How will the sharing of data between the NHS and the private sector work?

Will patients from Powys be given priority to dialyse in Welshpool above patients from outside the area?

How will patient transport be provided to and from the Unit and who would provide this service?

How will nursing staff be affected if and when the Unit is privatised?

Currently staff also provide support to Peritoneal patients and transplant patients but these services would remain under NHS control, and so the level of service to those patients will potentially be affected by privatisation.

NPKPA purchased and paid for the installation of all the televisions for the Welshpool Renal Unit but the annual licenses are covered by BCUHB. I am told that patients in some private clinics are charged to use televisions on a per session basis but we are hoping that this will not be the case in Welshpool.

I look forward to hearing your comments on the above at your earliest convenience.


Glyn Davies