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!

Community Health Council Mergers

The recent statement by the Minister is as close to a U-turn as Edwina ever gets. The proposals for CHC mergers received a pretty universal raspberry from the consultation. Certainly in my own area of Powys, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and southern Gwynedd, you would scrabble pretty hard to find double figures in favour of the proposed changes.

I hope these proposals do not go through. There is to be a six month delay while CHCs are encouraged to collaborate together. This respite should not cause us to lower our guard.
Working together already exists where there are issues of shared significance, but CHCs must now, I would think, exchange information, agendas and venture into discussions on issues of wider significance to ensure the half-baked, unwelcome merger idea doesn’t merely gather dust but is consigned to the litter bin of unhelpful Labour ideas.

European Launch

Once more to the SWALEC Stadium, this time for the launch of the European campaign, along with Cheryl Gillan and three of our four candidates – Kay Swinburne, Evan Price and Emma Greenow. Our fourth candidate, Dave Chipp, was attending the David Cameron launch in the North West on behalf of Wales.

These elections are important in their own right. Europe is vastly important to Wales and the United Kingdom. I have always believed we should be in Europe. I campaigned hard in Cambridge in 1975 to keep us in when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. There was then a cross-Party alliance of pro-common market Labour MPs led by Roy Jenkins, and Conservatives and Liberals (as they then were). There was a fierce anti-campaign supported by Enoch Powell, Tony Benn, Peter Shore and others. In those days the Labour Party was pretty ambivalent about the Common Market, although there was a recommendation from the Prime Minister to vote ‘Yes’. Nevertheless some members of the Cabinet were campaigning on the ‘No’ side of the argument.

We need to be in Europe campaigning from the inside to shout for Welsh and British interests on issues like electronic identification, testing of water supplies, the working time directive, and other matters that have a direct impact on us. Quite apart from the wider strategic interests.
My view of Europe is not a federal Europe but a Europe of states working together. The best example of this is surely the Single Market which has provided massive economic opportunities, jobs and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The government, in my belief, has a weak case in these elections. It has denied a vote on the Lisbon Treaty (European Constitution under the ‘rose by any other name’ principle) and has not fought hard enough for British interests in my view.

These elections will no doubt also been seen as a mini referendum on Gordon Brown’s government, and a snapshot of how Labour is seen by the electorate at large. It is important for that reason too.

We are fortunate to have excellent candidates. Kay Swinburne spoke fluently in English and, indeed, in Welsh on her vision of Europe, and Evan Price, whose family lives just outside Crickhowell, gave his vision of Europe too. These two, along with Emma and Dave are campaigning hard throughout Wales and I will be joining them at times throughout the campaign.
Good luck to them!

Cardigan Credit Union

Recently I visited Credcer in Aberystwyth with Lisa Francis.

I am a great fan of Credit Unions, I think they provide a fantastic service, and a visit to the Credit Union offices in Bridge Street confirmed this view.

Carole Morgan runs a very tight ship, and while we were there we saw customers welcomed practically as family friends. Surely this is how banking should be! A succession of customers came in and greeted by their names, discussion of family and local news followed as transactions were undertaken.

Carole told me that often people, in particular youngsters, would not have a passport and possibly not a driving licence and this would make opening a bank account in the traditional way practically impossible. Credit Unions are flexible and have managed to cut through this nonsense and open accounts for people.

They also visit local schools to encourage saving and this has proved extremely successful.

In addition, of course, they provide local employment. Obviously, without any thumbscrews or pressure at all, the staff there said how happy they were in their work.

Well done to Credcer and Carole Morgan, Tim Reece, Dafydd Thomas and Lorien Furbear!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Ab Fab Power

There is a restaurant in Hampshire, I am told, that boasts a notice in the window ‘All meals half price to Gurkhas and free to Joanna Lumley.'

I suppose that more or less sums up the mood of the nation at present.

To be in favour of easier immigration is rarely a popular clarion call so it is rather typical of this government to be willing to fight in the last ditch (something the Gurkhas have done actually for this country rather than metaphorically) on one of those rare occasions where both public opinion and fairness are united in favour of clemency and leniency in our immigration stance.

Unfortunately for the hapless minister (Philip Woolas) despatched to defend this harsh policy and tour the media studios to sell it, along came Joanna Lumley. The government policy which flew so magnificently in the face of British fair play was something the wonderful Joanna was not prepared to tolerate.. With a combination of bulldozing charm and looks that would have frozen rampaging bulls at a hundred paces she reduced Mr. Philip Woolas to putty in her hands.

There was only going to be one winner-- Joanna. Well actually sixty million plus winners -- the Gurkhas and everyone in the country too. We are fortunate she was there to save the reputation of the country for decency and equity.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Ten years on -- Gaudeamus Igitur

I am prompted by a nostalgic and generous e mail from Alison Halford on the subject of the Tenth Anniversary to do a brief retrospective on the time in between.

Ten years on the Assembly has gained in confidence and in powers.

The Welsh Conservatives have changed. In fact ten years ago we were not Welsh Conservatives. We are now a genuinely Welsh party with distinctive Welsh policies and. Welsh organisation. On a routine basis we call the Welsh Assembly government to account in our role as Official Opposition. I believe the party has grown in stature and confidence and certainly in votes and seats too. The Assembly has become established too.

Exchanging e mails with Alison I recalled how early on at the service in Llandaff Cathedral marking the Royal Opening by Her Majesty she was placed to sit near our group. She had obviously been marked out as a free spirit early on!

At that same Royal Opening Alun Cairns, Glyn Davies and I caught up in the patriotic emotion of the day had been on the kerbside cheering all arrivals in Llandaff to the echo. Large limo after large limo arrived and out got royalty, ambassadors, judiciary and Heads of State.

A breathily hush descended over the throng as a particularly large and grand limo hoved into view and the three of us and the rest of the throng gave voice to an extremely long and vocal cheer Out stepped Elizabeth and William Graham!

....Now that's class!


Welcome to my new blog, I will be based here will my website undergoes reconstruction.

I will continue to share my thoughts on issues facing Wales with you from here and hope to encourage an open debate. As Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly for Wales I hope to bring many of the key issues out of the chamber and here onto my blog.

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