Monday, 14 December 2009

New Cabinet fails to offer Wales a fresh start

I have to say I am less than impressed with Carwyn Jones’ new Cabinet.

When Wales is in the middle of the worst recession it’s ever seen and with budgets stretched to breaking point I am stunned the new First Minister has appointed Jane Hutt who caused chaos in the health and education portfolios to handle business and budget.

This cabinet bears many of the hallmarks of the old one, when what Wales needs is a government that’s heading in a new direction.

A new start is needed now more than ever to promote enterprise, protect and create jobs, generate wealth, tackle climate change, and deliver first class public services.

What we don’t need is more of the same.

A week is a long time in politics

It was quite a week, last week.

I am delighted at Oscar joining the Welsh Conservative group in the National Assembly.
He has great business experience and detailed knowledge of the communities of South East Wales. I am also delighted that Natasha Asghar, Oscar's daughter who previously fought Blaenau Gwent and the European elections has joined us too.

Then Rhodri Morgan took the first important step in announcing an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the sad death of Robbie Powell some 19 years ago. Nothing can bring back Robbie who died of undiagnosed but treatable Addison's disease but now an inquiry can establish the truth and lessons can be learned. I am extremely pleased at this act, one of the last by Rhodri Morgan in office as First Minister and I know Will Powell and the family are pleased too.

I was also pleased at the response of the incoming First Minister, Carwyn Jones, when I raised the matter in the chamber. It is clear that he is committed to carrying this inquiry forward once the terms of reference are agreed.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Financing Wales

Yesterday, I held a very useful meeting with Gerry Holtham on financing for Wales.

The second part of the review is due out in late March or early April 2010.

An examination of the Barnett formula on a UK basis is needed. Gerry confirmed my belief that the SNP is not nearly so keen on a review as we are in Wales.

I can understand that and some transitional help may be needed for Scotland on a needs based approach but if an examination of the formula demonstrates that Wales is not receiving appropriate help then we in the Welsh Conservatives will not be slow to push our case.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Welcome Oscar and Natasha Asghar

I am absolutely delighted that Oscar and Natasha Asghar have decided to leave Plaid Cymru and join the Welsh Conservative Party.

It is great that Oscar is going to be part of our Assembly team in the run-up to the next Assembly elections. He is a man who commands respect within the Assembly and in the communities of South Wales East.

His daughter, Natasha, is an energetic campaigner and an experienced candidate. I look forward to them both playing an important role in the Conservative Party in the future.

Their decision is another sign that only the Conservative Party, under David Cameron’s leadership, can bring about the change Wales and Britain needs.

I hope others will follow Mohammad and Natasha’s example and join us to make that change happen.

Concern over Carmarthenshire Care Home Closure Plans

I have written to Carmarthenshire County Council to express my concern at plans to close four council run care homes in the county.

The homes are St Paul’s Home for the Elderly and Caemaen Residential Home in Llanelli, Argel Care Home in Johnstown and Cartref Tawelan in Ash Grove, Carmarthen.

I understand it is proposed to close the two Llanelli homes and to place the existing residents in sheltered accommodation. Concerns have been raised that this will diminish the care cover available and currently enjoyed by the residents.

With reference to Argel Home and Cartef Tawelan, it is proposed to close these homes before a new facility at the Argel site is available.

It is likely that these proposals will cause considerable distress and uncertainty to these elderly residents who will have to be relocated.

That is why I have raised this issue with the County Council and I await their reply.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Figures reveal lack of support for Businesses in Ceredigion

I am concerned at the lack of funding to support businesses in Ceredigion under the Assembly Government’s ProAct scheme.

ProAct aims to help businesses cope with the downturn and develop staff skills ready for the upturn. The scheme provides training for employees who are on short time working, and helps businesses to keep skilled staff who may otherwise be made redundant.

However, figures I have obtained reveal that only £31,680 of funding under the scheme has been committed to help businesses in Ceredigion out of a total of £19,776,365.

While I have welcomed schemes like ProAct it is clear from the fact that unemployment is now at a 16-year high that they are not working to anywhere near the level we were promised.

The fact that only one application for funding has been approved in the whole of Ceredigion indicates a lack of awareness and raises questions about how widely publicised this scheme has been in the county.

We were promised Assembly Government help for businesses in every part of Wales. The evidence suggests this is far from the truth.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Carwyn wins

I congratulate Carwyn Jones on his election as Welsh Labour Leader in Wales and soon to be our new First Minister.

I also wish to pay tribute to Rhodri Morgan for his decade of service and for his commitment to his party, to the Assembly and to Wales.

After two months of political uncertainty and drift the Assembly Government can get back to business and address the many problems facing Wales today.

Next week will be Rhodri’s last First Minister’s Question Time. I look forward to crossing swords with Carwyn in the New Year.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cut the Beer Tax

The British Beer and Pub Association and the Society of Independent Brewers have launched a campaign called “I’m Backing the pub” in an attempt to persuade the Government to cut the tax on beer.

As Co-Chairman of the Assembly’s All Party Beer Group I welcome this.
Recent research conducted by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has found that many local pubs are struggling and around 1,300 pubs nationwide are currently under threat of closure.

Some of these are in rural communities in Wales-communities that may already have lost their post office, their village shop or their small school.

When you bear in mind the important role that pubs play in our communities, rural and urban, I am amazed that the Assembly Government has not undertaken any study into the impact of pub closures in Wales.

Labour seems happy to use pubs as unofficial tax collectors and yet is reluctant to stop this vital sector of the economy being taxed out of existence.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Minister performs u-turn on A48

I very much welcome news that changes are to be made to a junction to improve safety on the A48 Trunk Road at Cwmgwili. I recently tabled questions to Ieuan Wyn Jones on this matter after being contacted by Carmarthenshire County Council who were concerned at the Minister’s initial inability to meet with them to discuss this issue.

Now it has been announced that changes will now be made to a junction at Cwmgwili, where there was an accident recently causing two fatalities, as part of a wider review of safety on the A48 in Carmarthenshire.

I am pleased that the Minister has recognised the seriousness of the situation and taken this action.”


It is undeniable that there are some truly excellent centres of learning in Wales, and Bangor Business School is certainly one of them. The banking area of operation is probably the best in Europe.

What, alas, is also undeniable is that our higher education sector is not getting the funds it needs. There is a marked absence of company headquarters in Wales which means that private sponsorship is difficult to come by, even compared to England. What is therefore very disturbing is that there is a considerable funding gap with England in terms of public expenditure on the higher education sector. The division is even greater when one makes the comparison with Scotland. This must be addressed.

I had a first class evening with the Advisory Council of the Bangor Business School, chaired by Dafydd Wigley, last week. Convivial company, useful discussions, and a reassurance that we have such a strong academic presence in this vital area of activity.

I am unashamedly pro-business. I have never understood the attitude of some that if you are pro-business you must be anti-workers. This is crazy. Without being pro-business and ensuring a strong economy we can’t hope to deal with some of the problems in Wales and develop the resources we need to tackle some of the deep seated problems in our nation.

Businesses in Brecon & Radnorshire

Today I spent a considerable amount of time visiting businesses in Brecon, in Llandrindod Wells, and in Knighton. Despite what Rhodri Morgan told me in First Minister’s questions a few weeks ago, I have yet to find a business that will be paying less in business rates next year as compared with this year. It is true to say that some have got smaller increases than others, but that is scarcely surprising.

Today I met a business that will be paying £30,000 more per year in business rates next year than this year. That is truly massive and horrific, especially given the state of the economy.

In England, where there are also increases, there is at least the prospect of some transitional relief. It seems the Minister privately has said that is not going to happen in Wales. One of the frustrations in Wales, of course, is that we still don’t know what the Minister’s thinking is on small business rate relief or on transitional relief. We are relying on what he has told some Labour MPs rather than any statement he has made to the Assembly. I raised this with the Presiding Officer as a Point of Order some weeks ago and he encouraged the Minister to come and make an oral statement to the Chamber on the issue. Still we wait.

It is late evening before I depart from Brecon and there is mist and driving rain. Driving through the constituency in this sort of weather one could almost be anywhere, except for the smell of garlic (a smell I love). This reminds me I must be near Beacon Foods in Brecon.

I will raise the issue of business rates in the Assembly this Tuesday, once more, to highlight the plight of businesses which affects, of course, the livelihoods of my constituents in Mid & West Wales.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


I hear that Brian Gibbons told BBC Radio Wales recently that he wants to see alcohol strength taken into account in pricing to tackle Wales’ drinking culture.

I am glad to hear this as it is Conservative policy.

Much of the disorder that blights our communities is fuelled by alcohol, which is why the Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, recently announced that we will introduce significant tax increases on the problem drinks, such as super strength beer and alcopops that are strongly associated with anti-social behaviour.

Supermarkets and other retailers will be banned from selling alcohol below cost price. We will also radically overhaul the licensing system to empower local councils and the police to clamp down on binge drinking hotspots and irresponsible retailers.

We must show law-abiding citizens that the criminal justice system really is on their side, and that troublemakers will not get away with making life a misery for others. I welcome Brian Gibbons’ support.

Friday, 20 November 2009


The National Lottery was fifteen years old yesterday.

In that time it has raised over £23 billion for good causes.

I mention this because, of the 28 villages in the UK shortlisted for funds from the Big Lottery under its "Village SOS" initiative aimed at breathing new life into our villages, no less than three are in my Mid & West Wales constituency.

They are Talgarth and Howey in Powys and Myddfai in Carmarthenshire.

The Talgarth Mill Green Energy Project would like to create a sustainable education and renewable technologies centre at an old flourmill.

The Ashfield Community Enterprise Ltd hopes to buy and re-develop a nursery.

The aim is for the community to sell locally-grown produce to be marketed under an Ashfield brand in Howey whilst"Made in Myddfai" wants to create a whole new range and brand of craft products from the village.

It is to John Major’s lasting credit that the National Lottery has benefited individuals and communities greatly and I wish all three villages every success in their bids.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech clearly demonstrates the need to get rid of this directionless, tired and failed Labour Government.

This was not a programme for Government. It was a series of sloganeering headlines with the intention of catching the Opposition off guard.

Very few of these Bills, if any, will make it to the Statute Book. Yet, on the issue of MPs pay and expenses, where there is cross Party agreement and a Bill could have been passed, Brown has chosen to remain silent.

This Country deserves better. We need a General Election to consign Brown and his clapped out Government to the dustbin of history.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


This morning the All Wales Convention published its long awaited report on Devolution in Wales.

I very much welcome the publication of this report and Sir Emyr Jones-Parry and his team deserve our thanks for all their hard work and dedication in bringing this report together.

The Convention has clearly identified the failings of the current system and seen advantages in moving to full powers.

It is also clear from the Convention’s research that there is strong support for devolution here in Wales and majority support for further steps to be taken.

David Cameron recently set out our position regarding the holding of a referendum on further powers by stating that if a request was received by a future Conservative Government he would not block it.

It only remains for politicians in all Parties to carefully consider their response to this report.


Last Saturday morning I met with representatives of TruckGas, a world-leader in alternative fuel.

TruckGas replaces conventional diesel engines with Duel Fuel engines, which substitute Liquefied Natural Gas for up to 80% of conventional diesel fuel. LNG is not only a clean and low-carbon replacement. In reducing the quantity of diesel required, and therefore the level of carbon emissions, it also leads to cost savings for the operator.

Between now and the next Assembly elections, Welsh Conservatives will explore in full the possibility of encouraging operators of Cardiff’s buses, taxis and other public vehicles to switch to this method of duel fuel with the intention of rolling out a fleet of environmentally-friendly vehicles in Cardiff and other Welsh cities.

By innovating now, we can help to secure improvements in the natural environment for all.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Research has revealed that 9 out of 10 car trips could be replaced by walking, cycling or public transport.

That’s why in September Welsh Conservatives announced that we would use money raised by the plastic bag levy to fund an expansion in the cycle and walkway networks across Wales.
By investing £4 million over a period of four years, we hope to encourage people out of their cars, to walk and cycle to work or school instead.

This would give each of us every encouragement to pursue a healthier, more active and environmentally-friendly way of life as well as helping us to cut down on transport emissions.
At the South Wales Conservative Policy Forum on Saturday I announced a further measure to encourage cycling.

We would support Cardiff’s flagship Smart Bikes scheme and extend that scheme in Cardiff and other parts of Wales.

The free-to-use bike scheme is an exciting carbon reduction measure, which Cardiff Council has partnered with the Assembly Government.

A similar scheme launched in three cities in England in 2005 found that car journeys went down by 12%. Walking increased by 17% and cycling was up by a third.

Cardiff has the potential to do the same, but at the moment the scheme is too small.
We will provide the financial backing for the programme to be extended from 70 bicycles to 500 in total.

This will help to generate lasting improvements in reducing emissions in our national capital.

Friday, 6 November 2009


On a visit to North Wales today, David Cameron said that if we win the next election and the Assembly asks for it, a Conservative Secretary of State for Wales will not block a request for a referendum on more powers.

This is good news.

This clearly demonstrates the Conservative Party’s commitment to devolution and to making it work for all the people of Wales.

We were the first party to suggest a referendum on the Assembly’s future powers following the Richard report and the present LCO system cannot last.

I very much welcome David Cameron’s statement.

There are many urgent challenges facing Wales today, not least the credit crunch, but still a lasting constitutional settlement is much needed.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


I am very concerned about the Auditor General’s report on Coastal Erosion and Tidal Flooding Risks in Wales in which he concludes that current flood defences cannot keep pace with environmental change.

He states there is an imminent need to bolster protection for Aberaeron, Borth and Aberystwyth whilst sea defences at Tywyn are dilapidated and at Pwllheli, existing coastal defences may not remain serviceable for more than a decade.

Both Gwynedd and Ceredigion Councils are aware of the issue and support the need to take action but are being hampered by the lack of a national policy which the Assembly Government has failed to produce.

Gwynedd and Ceredigion are engaging with the non-statutory bodies that operate to help deliver effective coast protection but, being non-statutory, they are not funded by the Assembly Government. At a time when both local authorities are struggling to meet a difficult budget settlement they simply do not have the funds available for additional sea defences.

Until the Assembly Government gets a grip on this issue and delivers a properly funded All-Wales flood defence agency, these communities in Mid & West Wales will continue to be at risk."


I wonder how many people in Wales know that they are entitled to a free Home Fire Safety Check from their local fire crew.

The crew will call by appointment to check a property for fire risks, to assist with an Escape Plan in case fire should break out and to fit or replace smoke alarms.

Appointments can be made by calling free on 0800 169 1234.

This is an excellent scheme to increase public safety by reducing the risk of fire in the home.


I welcome news that the Assembly Government has issued guidance to local authorities in Wales encouraging the setting up of more 20 mph speed limit zones around schools and built up areas.
Back in May I urged Ieuan Wyn Jones to consider introducing 20 mph speed limits near recreation grounds and other areas frequented by young people.

Although the setting of appropriate speed limits is the responsibility of the local highway authority, I suggested the Assembly Government issue guidelines on this issue. To his credit, Ieuan Wyn has taken action that should increase the safety of children and young people in these zones.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Fewer Polling Stations Closing Earlier

The latest crazy ideas from government in an action plan drafted by the Ministry of Justice for the Treasury (for the Treasury, of course, says it all) are proposals to reduce the number of polling stations and to cut voting hours. Quite how this squares with the oft expressed wish to increase democratic engagement and encourage more people to vote is a matter for conjecture.

What is obvious is that older people, and people in remote areas of the country, will find it more and more difficult to cast their votes in person.

In addition, of course, it is not exactly a green measure to encourage people who may, for understandable reasons, want to vote in person to undertake longer and longer car journeys to get to polling stations.

One more reason (as if such were needed) that this government should go and go quickly.

The Hain Settlement – Constitutional Barnett Formula

I am not alone, I know, in finding the Secretary of State’s stance on the LCO system astounding. The LCO construct, which was not recommended by the Richard Commission, was a Heath-Robinson (Hain-Morgan) construct to get the Labour Party out of a hole.

Reading the Secretary of State’s views now, and listening to his claims, one could be forgiven for believing that elements within the Labour Party see this as a sort of constitutional Barnett formula to be with us for many a year. Alas the Barnett formula without the rough justice and simplicity that that formula at least offers.

Originally we were sold this ‘pup’ as an interim arrangement. Now it seems that some arrangements are more interim than others.

Whilst Wales certainly faces key challenges, not least because of the economic mess that exists and the challenge to our country and our planet from climate change, it is clear that the Labour Party is changing its stance on the LCO system, or is it just a matter of parental pride on the part of the Secretary of State?


Many people in Ceredigion will be shocked to hear that plans for Wales’ largest wind farm will be considered by a Quango rather than by democratically elected politicians.

The Bristol based Infrastructure Planning Commission will decide on all major planning applications in England and Wales from 1 March 2010.

This includes large wind farms with a generating capacity of over 50 megawatts. The planned wind farm at Nant-y-Moch, near Aberystwyth, has up to 80 turbines generating between 140 and 170 megawatts.

This controversial proposal has already attracted opposition from local people who believe that Ceredigion already has more than its fair share of wind farms and who object to seeing even more of the county covered by these large industrial turbines.

And yet the final decision will be taken by unaccountable bureaucrats. This cannot be right.

I believe the final say over such projects should lie with the National Assembly for Wales, with democratically elected Assembly Members being able to consider all the evidence, come to a balanced decision and be accountable to the people for their actions.

I also believe we need to look at other sources of green energy-solar, tidal and hydro, as well as nuclear (with proper safeguards).

This is the way forward.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Promotion of Retail Trade

Yesterday I met with the Retail Trade Consortium. It was a useful meeting covering a wide range of issues from the levy on single use carrier bags, which they are firmly opposed to and which I strongly support, and the revitalisation of High Streets and town centres – which we both strongly support.

Some interesting ideas on helping to revitalise our town centres include specialist festivals, improved public transport, cleaner footpaths, alcohol control, promotion of independent traders, graffiti hit squads, information officers (perhaps only appropriate in the larger towns) as well, of course, as business rate relief. The last item we have already announced a policy and been pushing the Welsh Government to a position where at least they have provided some measure of relief in relation to the revaluation that takes effect next April, though not nearly enough.
The other policies are likely to be central to our manifesto for the 2011 Assembly elections.

Urgent need for cliff safety review

A 14 year-old boy from Swansea has become the latest person to fall whilst walking on Constitution Hill in Aberystwyth. Thankfully he escaped unhurt after plunging 100 feet and landing on a ledge.

I first called for a review of safety on these cliffs in January 2005 after two separate incidents caused concern. I have renewed my call on a regular basis, the latest being in September this year following an open verdict being recorded by the coroner on the death of a student who fell from the cliffs in August 2008.

I wrote to Ceredigion County Council on 10 September on this issue but still await a full reply,
This latest incident confirms my belief that safety barriers and low level lighting need to be installed urgently to protect the public walking on Constitution Hill.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Poll predicts big Conservative gains in Wales

A YouGov poll published in the Western Mail today suggests the Welsh Conservatives are on track to win no fewer than twelve seats in Wales at the next General Election.

It also suggests that Labour would achieve its worst share of the vote in Wales since 1918.

The figures are Labour 34% Conservative 31% Plaid Cymru 15% and Liberal Democrats 12% with others on 7%.

Whilst these figures are encouraging, there is no room for complacency. The Conservatives still have to achieve a bigger swing and win more seats than any Party has done since 1945 to form a government.

We are going to have to work hard right up to polling day and that is exactly what we intend to do.

Tony Hawks

I am a great Tony Hawks fan. I enjoy his appearances on radio and television and his books, 'Touring -Ireland with a fridge' and 'Playing the Moldovan Football team at Tennis' .The. hitchhiking tour around Ireland as the result of a drunken bet is a great life affirming adventure. My copy of the book was worn and dog eared from much use and constant lendings when a friend from Ireland refused to believe that anybody could possibly tow a fridge around her native island. She now has custody of the tome which she enjoyed it enormously.

Imagine my great pleasure and surprise when a friend told me he had secured five tickets for the preview of the film and did I wish to see it. I did.

Tony Hawks playing himself and a script loyal to the original text made the film an excellent accompaniment to the film. I recommend it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


I welcome the news that charities and consumer groups in Wales have combined to fight fuel poverty.

It is estimated that one in four Welsh households, some 320,000 homes, experience fuel poverty, meaning they have to spend 10% or more of their income on heating.

One of the ways we can tackle this problem is by greater energy efficiency.

I recently unveiled our plans to cut carbon emissions, combat fuel poverty and create hundreds of “green” jobs by fitting loft and cavity wall insulation to homes across Wales.

It is estimated there are currently 250,000 homes in Wales with unfilled cavity walls and a further 3,000 with completely un-insulated lofts.

By acting locally we can make a difference globally when it comes to climate change.


Elin Jones has announced in a Ministerial Statement that she intends to totally ban the use of Electronic Training Devices in Wales.

In her original consultation she announced that she was minded to allow exceptions to the ban on the use of such devices in certain circumstances.

I have always believed in an unconditional ban and the Minister has listened to the submissions made on this issue, not least from the Kennel Club, and changed her mind.

This is great news and I hope the European Commission will signal its approval of this measure at the earliest opportunity so we can introduce a ban on these unnecessary and cruel devices as soon as possible.”

Monday, 19 October 2009

Decisive and set to surprise us all!!!

The BBC are reporting that Sir Emyr Jones Parry is set to “surprise” us all with the recommendations from the All Wales Convention. I for one will be at the front of the queue on the 18th November.

The Labour-Plaid Government in Cardiff Bay promised us a referendum; I wonder if this report is positive enough, will we get it? Sir Emyr Jones Parry promises to be decisive I doubt this will be followed by a divisive Government.

With over 3,000 views and public meetings across the country there should be a fair cross-section of society. At the beginning of this process I was concerned that it would be too bubble centric, by that I mean it would not leave CF99 (Cardiff Bay).

Sir Emyr Jones Parry to be fair though has done a tidy job. It has been hard to tune into a Welsh Radio station without catching an advert from the All Wales Convention and how to participate!

Admittedly there are massive issues confronting Wales like the credit crunch and climate change but clearly the question of powers affects the way that we do things in Wales. The report will, I am sure, make for interesting reading.


Businesses in Wales are going through a hard time at the moment trying to cope with the effects of the recession, so any help provided is welcome.

I heard recently that RBS and Natwest have launched a new telephone and email service to help businesses through the recession.

Called “Business Hotline” the new service is available to customers of ANY bank from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm, Monday to Friday, to offer advice guidance and support.

The service will be provided by a team of senior bankers who have experienced previous recessions and can work with existing or potential customers to ensure viable propositions have access to the finance they need.

This fantastic initiative will provide valuable guidance and support for businesses in Wales trying to cope with the economic downturn and could make the difference between many enterprises surviving or failing.

I wish it every success.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


I have received confirmation from the Heritage Minister that the Labour/Plaid Assembly Government has caved in to Westminster about taxation changes which could have a devastating effect on thousands of self-catering operators in Wales.

Massive concern was expressed to me earlier this year by the Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators (WASCO) and many other small business owners regarding the repeal of the Furnished Holiday Letting Rules.

The proposal, introduced to comply with European Law, disallows capital allowances and will be incredibly damaging to self-catering operators who make up a huge part of Wales’ tourism industry.

Now Alun Ffred Jones has confirmed that Labour Treasury Ministers failed to advise him of plans to repeal the rules and that they have no plans to review the decision.
This is a deplorable situation as there has been a total lack of consultation with self-catering operators regarding these proposals and the impact they would have on their businesses.

The tourism sector in Wales is vital to our economy and it deserves better than a Labour Government that treats both it and the Assembly Government with contempt and a Minister in Cardiff Bay who has singularly failed to defend its interests.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Local Government Settlement

Every year we go through the same points with this Welsh Assembly Government, they simply do not get it - I thought Plaid Cymru joining Labour in Government might have helped bridge the gap between the M4 and rural Wales, clearly not. I found myself emphasising again that councils in rural areas have particular difficulty in delivering effective local services!

Powys is a prime example, Powys has again received the worst settlement, tied with several other authorities, from the Labour - Plaid Welsh Assembly Government. This is all despite its rurality and covering the largest area in Wales. There are inherent difficulties in delivering services such as waste collection over a huge geographical area, never mind maintaining all those roads. One thing is certain all our Local Authorities will face the impossible task of deciding whether to cut services or hike up council tax bills in order to balance the books. I suspect they will end up doing both.

Let me get this point straight though; this is all because Labour and now Plaid failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining. Now we are all going to get cold and wet while they try and do a patch job!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Happy Birthday Maggie!!

Today is the 84th Birthday of the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher.

I mention this because yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party Conference.

No-one who was present at that Conference or watching on television will forget the terrible events of that night.

The fact that the Prime Minister insisted that the conference continue as normal and was there on time the following morning remains a testament to the courage of this remarkable lady.

Monday, 12 October 2009


I am a fan of the BBC. I abhor the BNP and everything that they stand for.

I cannot understand how the BBC feels it is right to give a platform to the BNP via two prominent members one of whom was actually their publicity director and to introduce tham as two young guys who are members of the BNP as if they had just dropped in to the studio from the local.

This misrepresented the ' professional ' nature of their appearance on the programme, quite apart from their unsettling contributions on the subject of Ashley Cole coming to this country when he is London born.

The BBC has some answering to do and should set up an inquiry into this affair.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Rhodri Morgan

I have just heard that Rhodri Morgan has announced he is standing down from the post of First Minister.

Although I have had many disagreements with Rhodri, these have always been about policies and not about personality. In private we have always enjoyed a good working relationship.

Rhodri will be fondly remembered for his quick wittedness in the Chamber. I remember him saying to me during one exchange that “Denial is more than a river in Egypt”.

I am sure Rhodri will continue to play an important role in Welsh public life and I send him my best wishes for the future.

Barrie Harding OBE

I had known Barrie Harding for many years as a friend and colleague.Barrie had held about every post that existed in the Welsh Conservative party and was very supportive of the changes that had been made to the party in Wales.

Yesterday along with Alun Cairns I went to Barrie's funeral in Llanelli. It was a white knuckle ride down the M4 to get there on time. I won't say who was driving but it wasn't me!

There is to be a later memorial service where I am sure there will be masses of friends and colleagues from within and without the party.

There were a lot of family and friends at the service yesterday. It was a humanist celebration of his life but to cater for us all there was the great John Bunyan hymn 'He who would valiant be'. We hammered it out with great gusto. I smiled to myself because that thinking of others was Barrie's greatest characteristic. I suspect that he liked the hymn too - who says the Devil has all the best tunes?
The address captured Barrie to a tee.

Rest in Peace good friend and condolences to all your loved ones especially Lyndy and Beryl.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

General Election Night.

I have followed with some interest the debate surrounding “General Election Night”. As you can imagine I have followed many “election nights” on T.V as well as attending many counts themselves.

I found myself launched into the debate following a letter from The Electoral Commission which outlined their position. First of all I can understand entirely the most important issue is ensuring an accurate result.

Overall though, I cannot see any benefit from these proposed changes. I have found over many years most counts to be extremely well organised, the returning officers more than comfortable with the mission and no questions surrounding the result.

The rush and excitement of an election night, despite falling turnouts is still, I feel, engrained into our political culture. We also find ourselves in a 24/7 digital age, love it or loathe it - news is pretty much instant and to delay the result seems very much a backward step!

In fact the more I consider my response, the more I find my decision on this issue clear. We cannot allow delayed counts to ruin one of the great facets of British Democracy, Election night. It’s a very British event to overturn a Government in one night.

In short – Keep Calm and Carry on – lets keep Election Night.

Monday, 14 September 2009

New Plaid No Difference

So Plaid are clearly focused on taking the country forward into the past or should that be backwards into the future?.

The usual whinge about Unionist parties indicating that for all the talk of difference they haven't changed. Same old obsession, same old Plaid.

Plaids are in government after all... What have they achieved? For example what have they done in terms of protection of the language?-- no help for a Welsh language daily newspaper and as yet no response from their leader to my letter suggesting concerted action to protect the retention of the Welsh language in plenary proceedings.

No progress on constitutional reform.
No laptops even!

Meanwhile we are developing policies on help for small businesses, more power for schools, help for hospices, help for pensioners and promotion of walking and cycling ( both green and healthy ) .

Other policies on social justice and education and culture will follow shortly.

We could spend valuable time raking over the distant past, barely discernible on the horizon (including Plaid Cymru's) or we can focus on the future - far more challenging, far more relevant and far more necessary.

That's what we are going to do.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

What a day!

Started off by crossing London to leave my luggage at Euston Station so I could both go to the One Day International against Australia at Lords and catch the train that evening to Aberystwyth.

Great day ahead so I thought….. Got to Lords, entered the ground and found that our group was two down. Where were Keith and Judith? No panic, empty seats indicated they hadn’t arrived yet. Time goes on and, after much frantic texting, two strangers take the seats. First thought, they have obviously mugged Keith and Judith for their tickets! Should I work up the courage to confront them?

No this is Lords, obvious Keith and Judith are somewhere else in the ground and we hadn’t noticed that the tickets weren’t consecutive. Causing a scene just wouldn’t be cricket!

The cricket goes well and Australia’s run rate is pretty poor by the time they are all out at lunchtime. Alarmingly no reply texts or calls from Keith and Judith. Could ‘the muggers’ have their phone too?

Spend lunchtime touring the ground regretting carrying Judith’s heavyish birthday present to the ground which was opened by Lords security staff and knocked around!

Back to the cricket, after all the search of the ground was always going to be a ‘needle in a haystack’ job - destined to fail. Continue to glare at ‘the muggers’.

Mid afternoon and England still on top when I leave to get the train to Aberystwyth. A long queue at left luggage just as there was this morning when I left the suitcase. Never mind I thought, still plenty of time to catch the train.

Horrors, lightening strikes and the train is delayed.. The quick change at Birmingham International becomes simply impossible. The only logical thing to do is to change the ticket to Monday. Annoyed that I could have stayed to see England triumph…..

This feeling was short lived as seeing a chap in an MCC tie I ask him how the game ended and he tells me of the England batting collapse!

Later that evening I look at my mobile to find a message from Keith and Judith that they had left their mobile at home and were in the next stand throughout the game.

Much relived I didn’t make, or more likely attempt to make, a citizens arrest of those innocent muggers. Will suggest that we have fall back arrangements for the next match like taking our mobiles with us!

A dubious Westminster Rainbow?

So Adam Price has woken up to the likelihood of a Conservative victory in the General Election and is setting out Plaid's stall for a Westminster rainbow coalition. Not sure if this involves the Lib Dems too! Has he checked if they've altered their position on tied votes? Also his hand has been weakened by many Plaid AMs saying they would never do a deal with the Tories.

Needless to say the Conservative party is campaigning to win outright at the General and that must remain a very real nay likely outcome but the change of tone of the approach is an interesting one.

Adam is right about Labour's decline though that hasn't suddenly happened. It has suddenly become apparent but has been a long remorseless process.

In these circumstances and given the very staid nature of the Assembly coalition which has in two plus years failed to deliver any constitutional change demanded by Plaid and little or nothing on the language too it is surprising that he should still favour a deal with the so called left.. A coalition that has failed to provide assistance for a Welsh language daily newspaper, for example, and has cancelled the policy of no top up fees for Welsh students is scarcely what Plaid said it wanted in a dancing partner.

I do agree that the treatment of Dafydd Wigley has been reprehensible. Plaid's willingness, though belated, to take a part in the second chamber at Westminster should have been welcomed. It is widely recognised that Dafydd Wigley could have made indeed could still make a significant contribution in the House of Lords, a point often made by John Major, who was, of course, famously paired with Dafydd.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Recycling Policy

I see some councils are rewarding residents for recycling. This is being trialled in Windsor and Maidenhead, Runcorn and Widnes and some London boroughs.

The aim is to weigh recyclable waste and to reward residents with redeemable points that can be used at shops.

Sounds like a good idea. Incentives are better than punishments in trying to win hearts and minds.

Be good to see Welsh councils following suit.

BBC and Climate Change

Now I am a fan of the Beeb. Not unqualified, like most of humanity except his immediate relations I believe that Jonathan Ross is paid too much. Yet all in all I can't help feeling thet the BBC is, in general, rather a good thing.

I am mysified, however, as to why the BBC with its public service responsibilities should drop a day of programmes about climate change because it did not believe it should take sides in the debate on climate change.

What debate? There may well be a debate about what we should do to counter the effect of climate change and perhaps a disagreement about the timescale of the threat. In just the same way there may well be a debate about how to tackle global poverty but there is surely no serious debate about whether we face a serious threat.

I do hope the BBC is willing to front up on a serious campaign on climate change and urge people to take individual action to contribute to seeing off this serious threat. I will even allow Jonathan Ross to host it-- if absolutely necessary.

This extraordinary ordinary man

Sir Nicholas Winton is a good advertisement for old age and a particularly powerful promotion for humanity.

There he was at Liverpool Street station at age 100 bright eyed and alert welcoming some of the 669 refugee Jewish children and their descendants whom he had helped to save from the clutches of Hitler and Nazism 70 years ago.

In the midst of all the horror and despair of that awful episode in world history there he was a young British Shindler making a massive difference as an individual.

Remarkably he even kept this all quiet from his wife and family for 40 years until his wife discovered some papers in an old briefcase in 1999.

The man is a towering hero.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Active Citizens

Today I have been reading about 'guilty greens' -- apparently that is most of us. We are doing what we can to live environmentally friendly lives but feel we should be doing more. I must say I find that rather encouraging . How bleak the future would look if either people were unconcerned about climate change or thought that we were all doing enough. How right it is too that we do not leave it all to governments. Certainly they have their part to play and we are right to lobby them to do so but that is not the totality of what needs to be done.

More journeys on foot and by bike and by train, fuel efficient car, energy efficiency, turning down the heating, no use of the standyby button -these are to be my watchword as I sign up to this campaign which was launched yesterday at the Tate Modern in London.

I hope others do similarly. Individuals and organisations can sign up. Good to see Tottenham Hotspur FC in the vanguard as well as museums and culural centres like the Sage Gateshead and Hospitals and councils too. I hope many Welsh institutions as well as individuals sign up as well.
The campaign which was launched yesterday to persuade us all to cut our emissions by 10 per cent in 2010.

You can sign up to 10:10 at


So one of the guests feted to celebrate the 40 years of Colonel Gaddafi in Tripoli was Robert Mugabe.

It seems a fitting recognition of the event.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Investment in Super Trains

Whilst welcoming the investment that Network Rail is making in infrastructure to link London to Glasgow and Edinburgh via the Midlands and the North West of England, I am extremely disappointed that there is not a similar commitment to Wales.

I have previously lobbied Westminster, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on the importance of a fast link from Swansea and Cardiff to Paddington. This would be an extremely ‘green’ investment and would help promote the economy of Wales whilst encouraging people to use the train service rather than cars.

I am seeking to find out what the Assembly Government has been doing (if anything) on this and have written to Lord Adonis as well as to the First Minister and Deputy First Minster.

The deafening silence from the Assembly Government on this issue is worrying to say the least.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Burry Port Brass Band and Gaddafi

The Burry Port Brass Band is one of the best in the world. My personal view is that the band should not be playing at Colonel Gaddafi's celebrations for his 40 years in power. It is ultimately, of course, a matter for them but given the comments of the Prime Minister, though tardy and perhaps dragged out of him, he is right in saying that the reception given to Abdul Baset Ali al-Magrahi upon his return to Libya was repulsive. Due to those scenes the Duke of York will not be attending the celebrations and Britain is clearly, at official level, boycotting them.

I would hope that the brass band, given its standing and skill, will be called on to play at significant celebrations in our own country – perhaps for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, now fast approaching. My view is that they should not be playing in Tripoli.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Chartermark Cwmni Cymru

We are currently looking at the attractive possibility of providing business rate relief to those businesses that satisfy some or all of a range of requirements that contribute to well being and economic performance.

These include:--

Green credentials such as using or producing renewable energy
Providing creche facilities or access to them for staff,
Providing flexi-time working which would, for example, help carers seeking employment,
Helping those who wish to use the Welsh language, and the
Provision of time off for staff who wish to engage in voluntary activity
There may well be further desiderata that can be added to the list The reduction in the level of business rates would clearly depend on how many of the criteria were satisfied, recognising that some may not be feasible for all businesses.
We are obviously studying ways of empolying these same criteria in the public sector.

Where possible a nudge is better than a bludgeon!

Welsh University Funding

I feared that financial cuts from the Labour/Plaid Welsh Assembly Government would lead to cuts in higher education in Wales. We can ill afford these.

At present we have excellent Universities in Wales. There is a serious danger that this position will not be maintained. There is already a massive funding gap in comparison with both England and Scotland. The higher education market is a competitive one and feeds through into skills and therefore economic performance.

This is not an area for cutbacks, the government is wrong.

Lockerbie Bomber

The Scottish Nationalist Government at Holyrood has got the release of Ali al-Megrahi seriously wrong. If he were to be released it should certainly have been to a hospital in Scotland. I cannot think what possessed the Scottish Justice Minister in reaching this dreadful decision. It sends out all the wrong messages and was predictably used by Libya in a farcical public relations exercise in Tripoli.

Great Weekend

What a brilliant weekend staying with friends and managing some long country walks punctuated by pub meals and a great cricket victory in the final test at the Oval.

The cricket victory was wonderfully set up after an extremely volatile series of matches, but the outstanding features of this final test for me were Stuart Broad’s emergence (deservedly Man of the Match) and Andrew Strauss’ superb captaincy. One of our group was actually an Australian. He took the result remarkably well but has threatened revenge in the next series!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Pembrokeshire Show

Congratulations to Malcolm and Jean Lewis on a very successful Pembrokeshire Show. It was good to catch up too with Angela and Paul, as well as Stephen Crabb.

The Pembrokeshire Show is a vital part of Pembrokeshire life, and it is good to see the Show was such a success, and to have the opportunity to tour the showground.

Congratulations to all concerned.

Aberystwyth Seafront

Aberystwyth Seafront Good to hear from Council officials that plans are afoot to seek funding from a variety of bodies, including National Heritage Fund funding, and possibly convergence funding for work on Aberystwyth seafront. The view of Cardigan Bay in Aberystwyth is iconic and when people think of Aberystwyth they inevitably think of the marvellous sweep of the bay. Some refurbishment work is needed to ensure that we make the most of this, both for local residents (of whom I am one) and realise the tourist potential – good news!

Newbridge on Wye Show

Great that after being rained off last year the weather for Newbridge on Wye Show was fine throughout the day, despite meteorological predictions to the contrary.

Congratulations to the President of the Show, Gwilym Williams.

The show was attended by Councillors, and Suzy Davies and I took the opportunity to meet with farmers and visitors to the show during a busy programme of constituency activity during the day.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Royal British Legion - A moral obligation

I am extremely disappointed by the Royal British Legion again today. I have tried for some weeks to get a meeting together to discuss the future or the lack thereof for Crosfield House in Rhayader, the only RBL care home in Wales!

The background is that over the past couple of years the Royal British Legion has thought about shutting the care home but there has always been a last minute reprieve. After what seemed a settlement for the future of the home – they issued this statement out of the blue: 'reluctantly informed staff and residents of Crosfield House that its Board of Trustees has decided that options are explored to sell the home'.

No one was more shocked by this than I, I have had several meetings which ended in a promise to retain the home to the delight of residents, the local community and politicians.

The onus is now on The Royal British Legion to find a suitable buyer for Crosfield House; someone who will ensure the future of care provision at this facility. The residents and staff at Crosfield need some assurance and The Royal British Legion must see it as their moral obligation to provide this.

It seems strange that I consider it necessary to remind an organisation like the Royal British Legion of their moral obligation… but meeting after meeting has been refused. I even cleared a day in the diary and offered to meet them at their HQ in London. Frustrated beyond belief! I wonder why the reluctance?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi

Predictably the Burmese Junta has fixed the trial against Aung San Suu Kyi placing her under further house arrest and ensuring that she won’t be able to participate in next year’s elections. Clearly these elections will be a total sham. The world knows that if she were permitted to campaign and participate in these elections she would achieve the sort of endorsement that ‘tin pot’ dictators can only organise by fixing the system.

Ultimately, of course, democracy will win through in Burma and it will be in no small part because of this brave, dignified, gracious woman leader.

Karen Robson

Well done to Karen Robson. She was a first class Assembly candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth and will now be fighting Cardiff Central in the general election.

Cardiff Central is a seat where we have been improving our performance recently, and historically a constituency where we have done extremely well.

We now have our complement of candidates for the general for the Cardiff seats, and a strong field it is too:-

Jonathan Evans in Cardiff North, my friend and colleague who has, of course, previously served in Brecon & Radnorshire, and has led our MEPs in Europe;
Simon Hoare in Cardiff South and Penarth
Angela Jones-Evans in Cardiff West

Our capital city could not be better served than a clean sweep of Conservative victories in the general.

The Bala Eisteddfod

I can’t remember a better Eisteddfod than this one. It has been very well organised and it is very welcoming.

The Welsh Conservative Party had a very good position on the Maes too. Well done to Mair and Jack Reeves and the Dwyfor Meirionnydd Association for their help, and to Lisa Francis who was there throughout. Paul Davies AM also did a very good job co-ordinating the presence of Assembly Members for the Eisteddfod, and there was a very good buzz about the Maes.

It was good to see Wyn Roberts here too looking very youthful and clearly enjoying himself.

The Welsh language and Welsh culture are central to Welsh nationhood.

Increasingly I become convinced that the appropriate place for deciding matters relating to the Welsh language should be the National Assembly for Wales. It is hard to see any other logical position regarding this. There may well be (and are) disagreements about what language rights should exist and how the Welsh language is promoted and cherished but the case for placing the decision on this in the National Assembly in Cardiff seems to me to be irrefutable.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Art of Referring

I called into Aberystwyth Library today to pick up a book on "The Art of Refereeing". A friend of mine in the Assembly insists it is in order for the referee to try and kick the ball in the winning side's net.

I cannot believe it. Sure enough book concludes that this is not in order.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi

The Burmese regime states that it is committed to fair and free elections. Yet the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi continues and a verdict is now expected on August I1th.

Sadly there is no chance that she will be allowed to stand in these elections, that is how free and fair they are.

Crosfield House

I am very saddened that the Royal British Legion is putting its care home in Rhayader on the market.

I am seeking a meeting with the Royal British Legion about the future of the home. I have to say though that I have had meetings before and had reassurances about the long term future of the home.

The Royal British Legion must act speedily to reassure the residents in the home and their relatives. This is a prime concern. The home is also the largest employer in Rhayader and this is a huge concern too therefore.

I have written to the minister asking her to place pressure on the British Legion.

Very bad news.

Sarah Millington

Well done Sarah on topping the poll for the by-election for Llandrindod town council last night. This follows her great success in winning Llandrindod South in last year's county council elections

Great news

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Whose side are the Government on?

I am sure many others share my bemusement, my horror and my vicarious shame that the British government is challenging awards of compensation made to British service men.
Corporal Anthony Duncan of the Light Dragoons had been awarded compensation for being shot in Iraq and is now back on the frontline in Afghanistan.

The Defence Secretary is seeking a reduction in the amount of compensation and in another award to another serviceman.

In fact claims from injured service personnel can take ages to process and cause angst and stress to the injured and their families.

The government should hang its head in shame.

I find it extraordinary that he Defence Secretary and the governemnt should be fighting to reduce the compensation paid to injured personnel. Nothing should be too good for those injured in the service of their country.

Our excellent armed forces

The United Kingdom is very well served by our totally professional armed forces. Regardless of political decisions that are made with which individuals may disagree we owe it to our armed forces (who are independent of politics) who serve in our name to supply them with the very best equipment to do their job regardless of cost. It is that simple. That has not been happening and it is a stain on our government that that is so.

Importantly we also owe it to our armed forces to support them to the hilt. I was dismayed at a Plaid Cymru AM's attack on the army alleging that it was targeting recruitment at deprived areas of Wales This is extremely patronising to the superb recruits who may enlist from such communities . It is also undermining of the finest armed forces in he world who do not of course practise press gang tactics which are still used in other parts of the world. If any Plaid Cymru politician or anybody else for that matter has any evidence of improper process in recruitment then they should supply the evidence of this. They should support our armed forces otherwise they should shut up. They should not indulge in this constant sniping and undermining of everything that our armed forces do.

Sadly Plaid Cymru is at best ambivalent about defence of Britain. Some Plaid Cymru members question the proposed development of a Defence Academy in St Athan for example. They should be slapped down by their party leader. It is time also for their coalition allies who, like the Conservative Party, are committed to the defence of Britain and to the St Athan development and who like us believe in the Union of our nations and the need to defend the United Kingdom to have a quiet word with Plaid Cymru about the subversive effect that this all has on our defence and those who serve in our armed forces.

For too long Plaid Cymru has been running with the nationalist unilateralist anti defence hares and hunting with the pro defence jobs hounds. Where do they stand on this?

Of course this two faced Janus approach is not unique Similarly they are anti the union of our countries but seeking more money from Westminster, against nuclear power in Wales except in the Assembly leader's Ynys Mon seat.
Time for a quite word in their ear by their coalition colleagues methinks

Monday, 27 July 2009

Lee Kuan Yew at 85

One of my political heroes, up there with Mikhail Gorbachev and President Obama has just had a landmark birthday.

In that difficult assessment between authority and personal freedom I suspect he draws the line closer to authority than I do but one cannot deny his and Singapore's success. The fact that the two in that context are virtually synonymous says it all.

A Cambridge trained barrister he returned to Singapore after qualification. He defeated the Communists in Singapore with Malay and British help. He won with others freedom from the colonial power, Britain and then from Malaysia. Singapore then proceeded to outpace and outperform Malaysia.

He was Prime Minister of the country through a period of remarkable growth, stability and personal prosperity. He was succeeded by Goh Chok Tong. who was in his turn succeeded by Lee Tsien Loong, the great man's son. Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister Mentor still has his hand on the tiller and Singapore remains prosperous secure and strong. Singapore also has four languages though only Mandarin and English are used regularly. It also has a relatively young and multi-racial population. Weren't we warned of that? That was a potentially explosive mix, not a bad record and no sign that the light is dimming or that retirement is calling.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Review of the week… death threats, the BNP and the Royal Welsh Show

I write this review hearing the news that we have taken Norwich North in the most recent by-election success, 16% swing… well done Chloe and her team!

This week however has seen some high and low points; I started off in the Royal Welsh Show, the most significant agricultural show in the UK bar none. Another year another success – congrats to all involved. Monday started with a veiled death threat which I duly notified to the police. With typical efficiency they were there to meet me at the Royal Welsh. No clues as to who sent the threat but the police are on the trail.

Monday however soon improved with great meetings with the FUW and NFU Cymru, First Milk and tasting the fantastic Pembrokeshire cheese. One thing became obvious very quickly, we need a food champion in Wales and we must have honest labelling, food produced not processed in Wales must be labelled Welsh.

The week then moved on to more domestic assembly issues, interviewing for the post of researcher for the Conservative Group. What a field, any one could have been easily appointed and done a fantastic job. Yet another sign that the Welsh Assembly is becoming engrained in the political world and maturing as an institution, the quality and quantity of applicants for the post was a tribute.

Following a day of interviewing, I headed back home to Aberystwyth to meet constituents and visit organisations on the way. Yesterday saw a day out and about in Ceredigion with Lisa Francis. I met with the Chief Executive and Leader of Ceredigion County Council, very productive and clear they have a vision of the way forward for our county.

I arrived at home in Aber to find a complaint which will see me before standards again, apparently comments which I have made on this blog have upset supporters / members of the BNP… I’ve been here before and cannot say I mind.

This all leads me to here… typing this blog on my blackberry on the Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury line…

I have just passed Carno on the train and phoned the office to chase up the state of play on the campaign to re-open that station. We really need investment in Mid Wales, it was at the core of what would have been the rainbow coalition and it is one of the greatest let downs so far from the Lab/Plaid Coalition. It seems business in the Welsh Assembly Government means more neglect of Mid Wales!

Equipping our armed forces!

“We must support our troops”. That statement almost goes without saying, something nobody can argue with! However I fear this noble aim is becoming politicised. It seems Gordon Brown is unable to admit that inadequacies exist in terms of helicopters and other necessary equipment. We have seen the argument first hand this week and I feel sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch Brown has rowed back on comments made in a Daily Telegraph interview that the UK did not have enough helicopters. I am sure he was right the first time, we need greater resources. We have a right and duty to question the motives of a war before we engage our enemies but when our troops are in the field we must resource them, support them and welcome them home with open arms.

I pay tribute to all our Armed Forces, be they in the field or not – thank you and I feel ashamed that our Government is letting them down.

Friday, 17 July 2009


To truly represent the country we seek to serve, the Conservative Party needs to elect men and women from all backgrounds which reflect it.

David Cameron recognised that when he became leader. That’s why he took steps to promote the brightest and best from all sections of British society as Conservative candidates for the next General Election.

As party leader in the Assembly I am acutely aware that in Wales we have failed to match those bold ambitions.

It is a matter of great regret to me that over three Assembly terms only three out of the 19 Welsh Conservative AMs have been women. Had it not been for Angela Burns’ magnificent win in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in 2007 this poor record would be even worse.

That’s why I’ve felt for a long time that the way in which we choose candidates for the 2011 Assembly elections must be different from previous campaigns. The imbalance in our representation in the Senedd cannot go on, otherwise as a party we will rightly be open to criticism of a boys-only club, a white, male preserve which can only reflect a certain section of society no matter how good the policies and no matter how well-intentioned.

In the coming weeks I plan to take these concerns to the Conservative Party’s Welsh management board for their consideration.

I will be proposing:

The establishment of a priority list of candidates for target seats, with specific emphasis on getting more women and people from ethnic minorities into winnable positions. This list will be drawn up from approved candidates by the Welsh Conservatives’ board of management

Local associations in target seats to ensure at least half of those candidates put forward for final selection to be women or from an ethnic minority background

Mentoring and training for candidates, and also for local associations

For regional lists the first available vacancy should be a woman or ethnic minority candidate. Where there is no incumbent the top spot on the regional list should go to a woman or ethnic minority candidate

We need to get serious about who we choose to represent us in the Assembly. We have had some excellent candidates – men and women – at the last three Assembly elections but I believe we can go further and do more. The 2011 elections will be a key test for the Welsh Conservatives and we must rise to that challenge in what we say, what we do, and how we look.

The experience of our selection for the European Parliament is a salutary one. We have an excellent new MEP in Kay Swinburne, who started her role representing Wales and Britain just a few days ago.

In Westminster terms we have selected several women in winnable Welsh seats for the next General Election. It has not gone un-noticed, however, that there has never been a woman Welsh Conservative MP. We aim to change that whenever Gordon Brown has the courage to call the election.

That said, in terms of Parliamentary selections in Wales the balance is still predominantly towards men, and we have so far failed to select any candidate from an ethnic minority background this time, male or female.

I understand some members of the party may be uncomfortable with my proposals. But let me reassure them that I do not support the introduction of all women shortlists as Labour has done to their cost.

Local associations must still be allowed to choose the candidate they think will best serve their interests. What I am proposing is giving local associations a helping hand in making the Welsh Conservative Party more representative and more diverse.

We have allowed the other parties in the Assembly to steal a march on us in terms of the representation of women and people from ethnic minorities. I believe it’s high time we played catch-up.

Monday, 6 July 2009


There appears to be some co-ordinated campaign targeted against David Cameron accusing him of being a closet communist because of his support for Unite Against Fascism!!

It is vital we all do Unite Against Fascism. The qualified success of the BNP in winning two seats in the European Parliament was a wake up call.

I have received a number of e mails purporting to be a spontaneous outpouring of horror at David Cameron's leftwing links but all written in virtually identical terms. I have also received a number directed specifically at me.

While the BNP may not have made the breakthrough that the National Front has made in France they are more than a ghastly end of pier show that we can shrug off. They need to be seen off. Their creed of hatred should have no part in British politics. When the likes of Bernie Ecclestone come up with their mantra - Hitler wasn't all bad, they legitimise the horrific doctrine of the BNP. Hitler was all bad incidentally not to say totally evil.

Those who vote for the BNP vote, of course, for the legacy of Hitler. It really is that simple.

Assembly Reform

We should have a Standing Committee on Assembly Reform. There has been a step change in Assembly business in the third Assembly compared with the first two. The Assembly Commission has a long list of other tasks to accomplish. The Committee should be made up of the PO/DPO, backbenchers and some committee chairs and should be able to call witnesses and experts.

It may want to look at :-

1. How we can ensure Assembly questions are crisper - answers too very often;

2. Ways of requiring the attendance of ministers at committees when called;

3. Sanctions to be applied where a minister makes an Assembly announcement outside of the Chamber during Assembly terms;

4. More flexible and extended sitting times in the chamber when this is needed;

5. Improving institutional links with Westminster and Holyrood and Stormont too;

6. And no doubt many other matters as well.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

BNP Vile Message

Like many others, I have read the offensive comments of Nick Griffin of the British National Party claiming there is no such thing as a black Welsh man.

Thousands and thousands of black Welshmen and women up and down our country will, I am sure, quite rightly view these comments as bizarre, offensive and outrageous. We must not lose sight of the fact that many of them will also be worried and concerned that these comments, and what lies behind them, could even become mainstream political thinking in Wales and more widely in Britain. We must ensure that never happens.

Whilst I was thankful and relieved the BNP did not make a breakthrough in Wales, sadly they did in England. We must all seek to ensure they never get the sort of foothold in our country that the National Front has in France.

Thankfully the heartbeat of Wales, England, Scotland and Britain is represented much more accurately by decent people like Joanna Lumley who campaigned for the rights of settlement for Ghurkhas in our country, and the decent majority in our country.

That said, we must not leave the field clear for the BNP to get away with the outrageous and offensive claims of which this is surely the latest.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Labour dancing in the Titanic ballroom

This week in the Senedd a deep difference of opinion manifested itself. It concerned the topic of free prescriptions and health policy. The division, I suspect, will end up being played out across other areas of policy too.

Welsh Conservatives this week announced our commitment to investing extra resources in hospices and stroke services. To pay for this, and to invest money in what I believe are two areas in desperate need of resources (even the Health Minister has described the stroke service in Wales as “patchy”) we would ask those people who could afford it, to pay a modest contribution towards their prescriptions.

Prior to the Assembly Government’s scrapping of charges, 93% of prescriptions issued in Wales were already free.

The same people as before would still get free prescriptions under our policy, with this also being extended to cancer patients. We are currently consulting on what the contribution would be.
Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour completely oppose this policy. So too does Peter Black for the Liberal Democrats, or at least I think he did. It is a reversal of the line his party has previously taken and espoused recently by Jenny Randerson.

The Lib Dem position is a veritable dog's dinner not to say a pig's breakfast. Their revolving door manifesto on this issue caused amazement across the chamber on Wednesday. Only recently Jenny Randerson referred to free prescriptions as 'a time bomb for the NHS', 'disastrous', as something that should only be given to 'those who could not afford them'.

Well, voters will be able to vote for the Lib Dems whether they believe in free prescriptions or are resolutely against the policy as the Lib Dems seem to be fighting both sides of the argument!
Wales budget will be cut by £416mn over the next two years, so tough but necessary decisions on spending have to be made.

Labour’s free prescriptions cost the Welsh health budget £30mn last year, with that figure continuing to rise.

This policy is unsustainable and with the reintroduction of charging for some, we are prioritising the health budget.

The important policy and attitude difference of the Labour Plaid parties and the Welsh Conservatives as the Official Opposition is now manifest and lies at the heart of our approaches.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Harlech pool

A lot of my time seems to be spent trying to keep things open, whether Post Offices, Primary Schools, Pubs or Harlech Pool. It often strikes me as odd that as we advance more as a society and, in general, become more prosperous over the years (admittedly that is not a universal pattern for everybody nor is it a relentless, remorseless process, is often punctuated by the odd hiccup or, as now, a massive spasm) institutions and facilities are closed down.

I visited Harlech this weekend and met the magnificent campaigners who have been fighting to retain the swimming pool in Harlech. Without this pool school children, pensioners and many people in between who use the pool on a frequent basis in the community, will have to travel to Porthmadog to use the pool there. Many, of course, will simply not do so. Doing so is also, of course, contrary to the government’s agenda, which I certainly support, of encouraging people to use their car less frequently and to make use of local facilities.

The campaigners for Harlech Pool, extremely well led by Richard Holland, have put together a business case, a very good business case for taking over the pool. They have presented this case to Gwynedd County Council but the County Council is prevaricating. There is a feeling in the community that perhaps the business case was far better than Gwynedd anticipated and they are now looking around for reasons not to trust local people to run the pool and reasons for not transferring the assets to them. The date at which the County Council is due to look at the business plan is only three days before the pool is due to close. This is preposterous. What is now needed is a stay of execution for the pool until the autumn while the business plan is considered, if necessary adapted, and then adopted. The summer is after all, in any event, a busy period for the pool.

Let’s see a degree of common sense from Gwynedd County Council and a trust of local people to get on with managing something for their own community.

European Elections

Now that some water has flowed under the bridge since the European elections a week ago, and after those heady celebrations at topping the poll in Wales, perhaps a calmer reflection is advisable.

First, even at the time, I think all Conservatives recognised that despite the winning in 17 constituencies in Wales in those European votes, and despite defeating Labour in another 7 constituencies, there is a massive challenge to replicate those results in a general election.

That said, in every election since 1999, the Party has always done better than even its own predictions during the campaign and this one is no exception. We did not expect to top the poll in Alyn & Deeside or Wrexham in these elections, and doing so encourages us to put in much more effort in those seats, for example.

The election campaign itself was teamwork involving Cheryl and the Westminster team, the hardworking team of Assembly Members, valiant efforts by the voluntary party, and a professional machine superbly led and driven by Matt Lane our Director. It involved a lot of hard work. The gospel according to Rhodri Morgan that this was all about massive resources being pumped into the Conservative campaign with no troops on the ground is extremely wide of the mark. Would that we had the same sort of resources as Labour in Wales. Labour out spends us in Wales and I am sure that this election will be no different.

I was also amazed at Rhodri Morgan’s remarks about the Conservatives relying on new campaigning techniques and then citing telephone canvassing as one of them. Yes we did do quite a degree of telephone canvassing, and yes we sent out letters to a lot of voters. These are not new techniques Rhodri, and it says much for your political longevity if you believe they are.

Huw Lewis’ comment on his blog is a stark true reminder for Labour that however you juggle these figures the Welsh Conservatives defeated Labour in these elections. This is a graphic illustration of a trend that is manifest over many years. Labour did not do well in votes or a percentage share of the vote in the Assembly elections in 2007. The final result massively flattered the Labour Party and seemingly deluded a large part of it into believing that Labour remained dominant and invincible. The 2008 local election results were not good for Labour. It now controls outright only two councils in Wales.

What the 2009 European elections demonstrate is that Labour can be beaten in Wales and life, I believe, will never be the same in Wales. The old tribal loyalties have broken down and I believe that people in Wales are looking for a Party that believes in harnessing the private sector and operating a regulated market system, a Party that believes in strong public services and a progressive social agenda, and a Party that believes in Welsh culture, the Welsh language and Welsh aspirations.

I believe that as they survey the Welsh political landscape, it is the Welsh Conservative Party that will tick those boxes.

That said, no room for complacency and we must go out and harness what Rhodri regards as new fangled techniques for the forthcoming general election.

I suppose it is characteristic of Rhodri to believe that these are new fangled techniques. However, as I look at the Labour Party and the number of members of the House of Lords now in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, the Party begins to look like something tripping off the pages of Trollope (and I mean Anthony and not Joanna). Far gone are those heady days of new Labour and cool Britannia. What we see now is a rather old fashioned political fix.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Cross Party Group on Beer and the Pub

I was delighted yesterday, along with my co-Chair Jeff Cuthbert, to launch the Cross Party Group on Beer and the Pub. The aim of the Group is to promote the wholesomeness and enjoyment of beer and the unique role of the pub in Welsh society to increase understanding of the social, cultural and historic role of brewing and pubs in Wales and their value to tourism, to broaden recognition of the contribution of brewing and pubs to employment and to Wales’ economy, to promote understanding of the social responsibility exercised by the brewing and pub industries to support Wales’ brewing industry world wide, and to promote a positive future for beer and the pub.

I spend a lot of time convincing friends and colleagues that this is not just a lot of fun. It is a lot of fun of course, but there is a serious purpose to the Group, a very serious purpose. Pubs across Wales act as the hearts of our communities, some acting as Post Offices as well as social centres. They are essential to our tourism sector, our social services and our community cohesion.
Over the last year or so I have been touring pubs in my area of Mid and West Wales and, with every visit, become more and more convinced of how important they are to our society. They are disappearing at an alarming rate, currently three a week on average in Wales alone.

Some of the issues that have arisen when I have visited pubs are as follows:

(i) the high level of business rates;
(ii) the fact that many publicans pay business rates, council tax for living above the pub as well as extra for collection of rubbish and extra again for collection of recyclables;
(iii) the lack of a level playing field with the supermarket where liquor is sold very often as a loss leader and where they have benefited from the Chancellor’s reduction in VAT, the pub industry had an excise duty increase similar to the reduction slapped on at the same time – the increase in excise duty, of course, will be permanent, though the reduction in VAT is only temporary;
(iv) suffering because of the current credit crunch;
(v) the cost of Sky television is assessed on rateable value and is massively high for many pubs which offer this to attract custom;
(vi) payments for the Performing Rights Society whenever music is played;
(vii) masses of visits from different public authorities rather than a cohesive approach by a single visit to assess food standards, health and safety etc.

These are some of the issues that Jeff and I will be wanting to discuss in the Group and we will no doubt want to look at the Scottish experience as it builds up in relation to charging a minimum amount for a unit of alcohol and whether this is effective.

Some of these decisions can be affected by Assembly action, others would need action at Westminster level. What is clear is that this Group will be having a focus on seeing what can be done positively to protect this marvellous asset that we have in Wales and, indeed, more widely.
At the launch Justin Grant, or Buster as he is known, spoke very effectively. He heads up the Association of Welsh Independent Brewers and also Breconshire Brewery. He told us that there are 40 breweries currently in Wales. When he started in 2002, they were then the 13th, so this is a great growth area. He laid down a challenge for me and Jeff, which is very reasonable, to see how we can ensure that Welsh independent brewing is represented in receptions and meals that are put on by public bodies in Wales, and we will be trying to rise to that challenge.
Various Welsh breweries were represented at the launch:-

The Artisan Brewery
The Bull Mastiff Brewery
The Vale of Glamorgan Brewery
The Otley Brewery
The Rhymney Brewery
The Celtic Experience
Breconshire Brewery

I also had a very interesting discussion with Iain Loe of the Campaign for Real Ale to get his advice on how we tackle some of these issues.

An enjoyable evening but certainly one with a serious purpose.

I followed this up with a visit to the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival in the CIA on Thursday. I pulled a pint of Mountain Rescue and had a tour of the stands – thanks Arthur.

Monday, 8 June 2009

‘The Perfect Hostage’

I am currently reading Justin Wintle’s biography of Aung San Suu Kyi entitled ‘The Perfect Hostage’.

Aung San Suu Kyi has, of course, become an iconic figure in the struggle for democracy in Burma. She is currently in her thirteenth year of detention spanning several house arrests. The latest house arrest commenced in 2003 after the Burma regime’s militia attacked her convoy and killed up to 100 of her supporters.

Her poise and dignity is reminiscent of that of Nelson Mandela. She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1991 and has been opposing Burma’s brutal military regime since 1988. Her steadfast opposition to the military regime and her promotion of democracy has, of course, landed her in desperate hot water.

In the 1960s she studied at Oxford University (nobody’s perfect I suppose!). Her British parents are Lord and Lady Gore-Booth. Lord Gore-Booth was, of course, former British Ambassador to Burma as well as High Commissioner in India. It was at their home that she met Michael Arris, an Oxford student of Tibetan civilisation, whom she married.

Their separation while he was in Oxford and she was in Burma, and the Burmese regimes callous and ruthless refusal to allow him an entry permit to Burma during his fatal illness, amply demonstrated the lack of humanity of the Burmese regime on an individual issue which has been amply demonstrated elsewhere across the board.

She has repeatedly rejected offers to free her if she will leave Burma and withdraw from politics – a measure of her commitment and integrity.

She has discouraged tourists from visiting the country and entrepreneurs from investing in Burma until it is free.

Ultimately, no doubt, Burma will be free and in no small measure due to the quite emphatic dignity of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Kennel club

The Kennel club works hard to protect dogs and to serve the interests of members of the public too.

Along with many other Assembly Members-- most if not all-- I am firmly against the use of electric shock collars on dogs. Quite simply they are cruel. I am not happy that the Welsh legislation to ban them ( a ban I obviously welcome) contains an exemption where a vet approves the use of such a collar. This is quite clearly capable of abuse.

June is National Microchipping Month and I have raised a Statement of 0opinion to endorse this. It will help trace pets and is an eminently sensible measure and we need to encourage owners to take this up.

I am also aghast at the puppy farms in Wales and elsewhere which breed irresponsibly and prey on gullible customers. We need to move to a system of accredited breeders who meet appropriate standards.

In the meantime Laura Vallance and Caroline Kisko and others at the Kennel Club are doing a great job in campaigning for change and in educating us all.

Aberystwyth Mayor

A busy constituency weekend which includes the inauguration of Aberyswyth's new Mayor, the youthful Trevor Shaftoe .

Aberystwth does these things well and all political parties join together to support the town.

Jim Griffiths the clerk conducts the ceremony with ruthless efficiency and a bewildering array of hand signals which would have had me running for the Highway Code but which the councillors seem totally familiar with.

Party politics does rear its head in town council but there is more than a whiff of 'Aberystwyth First' , before any political dogfights with 'vehicular access' and 'municipal highways' outdistancing political ideology by some considerable length.

Elin Jones and Lisa Francis are there too (both former councillors) as is Mark Williams.

I can't help feeling that the Town Council should be the forum for deciding plans for the future of the (own centre. A deadly combination of the Welsh Assembly Government and County Council seeking to improve the 'retail offer' ( whatever that is ) of the town which seems to involve the extermination of some wonderful independent traders and destruction of Aber's unique and indefinable character. The Town Council would have more sense.

Have a good year Trevor!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Self-Catering Operators

Like all Labour budgets, bad economic news and damaging proposals are often in the loan shark small print. Although to be fair to Alistair Darling, there was much bad news in the glaring headlines of this budget too.

Buried away in this budget were proposals which Andrew Davies, our Finance Minister, confessed not to know about, when I questioned him, the alteration of the tax treatment of self-catering accommodation operators in the United Kingdom. These proposals will have a devastating effect in Wales.

When I raised it with the Finance Minister he promised to discuss it with the Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, within whose portfolio Tourism lies.

I have just received a reply from the Minister. The relevant part of the reply indicates that we had to make alterations to our tax treatment because of European law. This is a complex area, which is also non-devolved. The Rules as they currently exist are likely to contravene European Law and therefore the Government has taken action to amend this situation. I am sure you will agree that we have to be fully apprised of the financial implications of this Treasury decision before considering any approach to the Treasury. Once we receive the industry’s assessment of the impact on tourism businesses, Welsh Ministers will be in a position to consider the situation and scope for challenging this decision.

This is quite true, but what the letter does not go on to say is that we could quite easily have altered the tax treatment of self-catering operators living within the United Kingdom who have property overseas to ease their tax position to bring it in line with the tax position on self-catering accommodation operators within the United Kingdom.

In short, all property let out on a self-catering basis, whether within the United Kingdom or overseas, could have been treated on a more lenient basis rather than a harsher basis.
I have written back to the Minister in these terms demanding that he stands up for Wales against this very damaging proposal. You are right to say that there was an issue of European Law involving these regulations, but what you do not say is that the rules could have been changed in such a way as to maintain the status quo and alter the rule in relation to overseas property held by people in Britain. The issue was one of inconsistency and it did not require the detrimental treatment that we are now seeing in relation to Welsh holiday self-catering businesses.

I would hope that you are going to take an extremely robust approach in relation to this because it is severely detrimental to self-catering businesses throughout Wales as well as the rest of the United Kingdom.

Let’s see!