Thursday, March 19, 2015

Eddisbury shortlist

Today I received the great honour from Eddisbury Conservative Association to be shortlisted to fight the parliamentary seat of Eddisbury at the forthcoming General Election.

I will be fully focussed on gaining the support of the members of Eddisbury Conservatives over the forthcoming days and if fortunate enough to be selected will be a full time candidate in the constituency until May 7th.

If selected I have decided to donate the salary that I receive as an Assembly Member for North Wales for the parliamentary campaign period to charity, one of the recipients will the Moneypenny Foundation based in Wrexham. Moneypenny is a great local business that has helped a number of people back into work and the Foundation has had considerable success in the last year.  The remainder will go to Claire House who look after children from both sides of the border, but does not receive funding from the Welsh Assembly.   My constituency and Assembly office will continue to operate as normal, serving my North Wales constituents.

Strong economic and social links exist between North Wales and Cheshire. Although there is a border dividing the two regions, many residents live, farm and work on both sides of the border. A strong Cheshire can only benefit North Wales and vice versa. Eddisbury, Chester and Wrexham/Deeside have always been good neighbours and if selected to contest the Eddisbury seat next week I will be fully focussed on developing and strengthening these links as the prospective Member of Parliament.

I have gained a strong reputation for delivery for my constituents in North Wales and I pledge to be a similar strong voice for all the people of the Eddisbury constituency

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Smacking Ban amendments in the Assembly this week

Today on  BBC Wales Sunday Supplement I was interviewed about the  "smacking ban" amendment to the proposed Domestic Violence Bill in the Assembly.  You can hear the argument for and against here (you may need to cut and paste the link)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0536jqc#auto

scroll through to 30 minutes.  The arguments of campaigners for a ban say that a child should be given the same rights as an adult - no matter what age that child is.  To my mind this is simply wrong.  Any parent of a toddler will know that feeling of fright when one minute they are next to you and the next minute they are gone - running out into the road - or in my case that total silence of my 3 year old, when I went to see what she was up to, she had my bunch of keys and was about to put them into an electric socket which was halfway up the wall - having climbed onto the sofa to do so.

It is absolutely clear that if you give your child anything more than a short sharp tap it is already illegal, if there is a bruise or anything other than a temporary red mark, you risk being investigated and charged by the police.  The CPS charging standards say that where there is bruising a parent should be prosecuted.  What is being argued for in the Assembly is what is known as a strict liability offence, which means no matter what the circumstances, if you smack your child you are a criminal and you could have a criminal record.  I don't think this is right as it will criminalise many loving parents, who care deeply about their children.  The current law provides a defence of "reasonable" punishment - this means that a jury or magistrate can look behind the smack, and see why the parent did it.  If their child ran out into the road, or was about to give themselves a huge electric shock, they can decide that the parent acted reasonably.  The current amendment would mean that would no longer be possible.  I think that is totally wrong and will not be supporting it.  I would rather trust 12 citizens to judge me, so they can apply the standards of reasonableness that apply at the time than a blanket criminal offence that makes every parent a criminal as soon as they smack a child and relies upon a police officer not charging.

I in no way condone violence against children, and a beating is clearly illegal now.  However the argument that education doesn't work is wrong.  We don't have education on healthy relationships, or very little of it.  Welsh Government have resisted the idea of every school having to teach about respect and health relationships - but locking up mothers or fathers for a short sharp tap is absolutely not the answer.  Through education change will happen, that is the route that we should promote as children do not have the same rights as adults, as anyone who has been the parent of a toddler will know, and the parents that are most likely to be criminalised will be those less able to talk themselves out of prosecution.  It would quite simply be wrong to turn many loving and caring parents into criminals.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

When is a review not a review? When its a rubber stamping exercise

Recent press reports have indicated that Welsh Health Minister has called for an "independent" review.  How "independent" in reality is this review.  Lets look at the facts.  I  understand the Health Minister had a full briefing from the Health Board prior to the issue going to the full board and independent members.  Clearly if this is the case then the Minister did nothing to stop the downgrading proposals going ahead.  Which is surprising because there had been a complete lack of consultation with staff, patients and the Community Health Council who are there to protect our, the patients, interests.  The Minister must have known none of this had happened.

So - knowing what he did, and in the face of huge public opposition he has now appointed two Welsh Government appointees to look at the processes and decision making by the Board. Lets be clear - the decision that is being looked as is NOT the closure - but whether or not the plans to return services to the hospital are clear.  If the services leave - the review can happen and everything will be kicked into the long grass until 2017 (co-incidentally after the general election and after the Assembly elections) and Labour think they are safe again to say "temporarily" moved services will be permanently moved.  That is what has happened at all the other places where Professor Purt has been.  Withybush is a classic example of temporary services disappearing permanently.

Nothing in the Minister's letter acknowledges the knock on effects of removing the maternity service.  If the maternity services go from Glan Clwyd - so will the Special Care Baby Unit.  Where is that going to go?  If it goes to the Maelor babies from Ysbty Gwynedd are going to have to travel over 66 miles to access special care, meaning a greater risk to mothers and their babies.  A&E risks being downgraded without obstetrics as there will be no emergency care/expertise available on the site.  Most midwife led maternity units in England are within 10 miles of a consultant led service - that will not happen here where it is 33 miles.  Therefore the English statistics on safety are irrelevant, as the circumstances are totally different.

Finally the Ministers letter says nothing about the 1 in 11 rota which apparently has created so called "clinical risks".  Everywhere else in the UK is a 1 in 8 rota, so why now has the Deanery imposed a 1 in 11 rota in Wales.  The board were given the option of continuing with a 1 in 8 rota - provided the board would guarantee the training element for Doctors - they refused.  It is that refusal that has led the management to be able to argue that services are "unsustainable" and a clinical risk.  The letter from the Minister published in the Daily Post today says nothing about this - why not.  It is not looking at whether or not services should be moved.  A truly independent inquiry would be looking into why BCUHB refused to provide the training guarantee, and would be looking into what attempts were made by the board to organise rotas across all three sites.  Which so far are none or almost none.

Without looking at those issues, then the review is not a review, but a rubber stamping exercise by Welsh Government.  The deadline for submission of the business case for the Sub Regional Neonatal Unit is the end of March - the Minister knows that - where is the business case.  Surely BCUHB should be championing publicly the creation of this new unit which will help with the recruitment issues - but no deafening silence.  If the March deadline is missed - that will tell you all you need to know about the Health Board's intentions.  The words "kick into the long grass" come to mind.

The Deanery rotation decision is apparently being looked at by the Welsh Government Health Minister - but his letter says nothing about the Review looking into workplace rotation, and rota issues - why not?  I questioned him on this last week, and he said that he would get his civil servants to "look into the matter".  What has happened since is a deafening silence.  I and the other AMs are waiting for his response, but deafening silence is not enough, and I would have expected the Minister to have an immediate answer as to why this is being imposed here in Wales, when a 1 in 8 rota could provide safe and sustainable services in the long term.

I urge you all to attend the protest meeting at the Events Arena in Rhyl on Saturday 21st February 2pm.  I along with many other Welsh AMs will be there, because this review is not a review.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Gagging orders and bullying at Glan Clwyd

In a deeply cynical move it appears that BCUHB have drawn attention to a Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists report prepared back in 2013 and reporting in 2014.  The report looks back at behaviour in the unit taken place as long ago as 2004.

The fact that this has been highlighted now, is no coincidence.  Staff have been told that they can not comment publicly, so are not in a position to rebut claims by the health board.  The real question to be asked is why the recommendations in the report were not acted on quickly and seen through.  There are serious questions about the "update" report which was with the board papers.  It was dated December 2014 and yet it shows that several of the recommendations were not acted upon, and gives no dates as to when procedures were put in place following the RCOG report.

The reason this has been highlighted now, is to try and cause doubt in the minds of the public - well I believe that those protesting against the closure will see through this attempt at smear tactics.  If issues were not dealt with - that was the fault of management rather than staff.

Recruitment issues were exacerbated for example by a Matron in the maternity unit being moved against her wishes, and against the wishes of the department.  By all accounts she had them all ticking like a well oiled clock with moral improving, and the team working well together.  What did the Health Board do?  Angela Hopkins and other senior staff ignored pleas not to move her.  Forcibly moved to Ysbty Gwynedd, despite having a seriously ill family member, against her will, she resigned and left the BCUHB to work in a new area.  The BCUHB then complain that they have recruitment and staff moral issues - is it any wonder why?

I hope the public will not fall for this attempt by senior management to smear their staff.  I for one am not taken in.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The voice of the victim in the Ched Evans case

The numerous newspaper articles and the constant press coverage of the Ched Evans case have finally prompted me to write, including BBC Question Time last night.  We are used to politicians taking up the cases of those who they believe to be innocent.   In this blog I am purely relying on the transcript of the Court of Appeal Judgement in the application for leave to appeal.  The victim's family have not approached me, and I am blogging because it matters.  Rape is an offence that is degrading, it dehumanises women or men who are the victims of rape.  It views the person being raped as a thing - an object, there for sex and nothing else, it treats the woman (or man or child) as a thing, there for the gratification of the rapist not a human being.    The psychological effects are devastating, often not only for the victim but for their family, and, if they have one, their partner.

I am clearly not one of the 12 jurors in the case, I am not a QC, I am not a Judge,  I am not a High Court Judge I am clearly not the Lord Chief Justice.  All these people know the case better than me.  They have all seen the evidence.  I have not.   All of these people have either convicted Ched Evans, or have upheld the rape conviction.

My name is in the public domain because I have chosen to take that course and I put myself up for election, Ched Evans's victim didn't make that choice.  I have not been named by nasty people on twitter, by misogynists or those that think it is ok to threaten women, be violent, to rape and to violate women. The victim in the Ched Evans case has been hounded by social media, by people who have not given her the time and space to recover.  She is young, and for her it may well take her many years to up the strength to be able to make choices, and choose how she feels, how she reacts to being in a public space not knowing which men she can trust and which she can't, and to finally realise that taking control is what prevents the perpetrator having control over your life.  That victim has had to move away from her family and friends and her father has described the impact on his daughter in an article which can be widely access on the internet.  His account of the impact it has had on her is quite simply awful.  Every time the media report on Ched Evans it brings her in to the public arena through no fault of her own.

Mr Evans' carefully crafted recent statement could have been made the day he was released from prison.   Whatever his view was of what happened that night, and whether or not he believed that his victim consented it was clear, and always has been clear, that his actions that night had a devastating effect on the women that he had sexual intercourse with.  Mr Evans actions have led to her having to move, change her name, live under a  form of a prison sentence longer than his because of his actions, and others that support him...whether or not he agrees with their actions.  Her prison sentence is worse because there is no end to it - there is no walking through the gates into freedom.  She has had to move away from family and friends, because repeatedly and publicly his supporters are trashing her reputation.  Attacking a victims reputation is now governed by strict legal rules in court. so supporters of Mr Evans are now doing this on Facebook, on twitter this campaign is now being undertaken in the court of public opinion, and the victim can not speak out and defend herself as it will just feed the media frenzy, and risk her anonymity being blown again.

Every time Mr Evans goes for a new job - his fight to overturn his conviction implies that she is a liar, despite the fact that 12 independent people believed her, and the other witnesses who described the condition she was in.  The High Court Judge said there were no grounds of appeal, so did one of the most senior experienced criminal law judges, the Lord Chief Justice, and two other Court of Appeal Judges.  They made it clear as a matter of law the Judge in the case acted properly, he directed the Jury properly and there was no lurking doubt about the conviction.  The so called apology is too little and certainly too late.

Mr Evans didn't speak out against the "mob justice" he now feels he is a victim of, but it was ok for the women Mr Evans had sex with to be hounded, to have to move not once, not twice but a number of times, being forced to change her name and identity over three times.  Mr Evans was willing to take a risk. I don't know how much he had to drink - but Mr Evans and other men like him need to know that is not ok not to care, that if you don't know or care whether or not the women you are in bed with is so drunk, or "off her head" whether through drink, drugs or having a drink spiked that in todays society is not acceptable for a man to abuse that situation, and the law makes it clear that this is rape.

You can't pick a "bird" who is drunk and think it is ok to not to care whether or not she is consenting.    If I was a sponsor of a football club I wouldn't want Mr Evans to play for the club I support and I wouldn't want my company logo to be in the shirt that Mr Evans may or might wear.

Of course Mr Evans has served his time, but I am amazed that the Football Association would allow a professional footballer to be able to waltz back into the professional game.  The recent developments from the Football Association are welcome and it is about time they look at the rules they have and change them to prevent this situation ever happening again in the future.  It would be inconceivable that a Doctor would be allowed to practice, a teacher wouldn't be able to go back to teaching, no MP would be able to be elected, no lawyer could practice.

Perhaps the past few months have made Mr Evans realise what it is like to have to walk away from your home, your friends, your job.  He hasn't had to  change his name, he still wants to be treated like a footballer, rather than a convicted rapist - which is he - until and if, and its a big IF his conviction is ever overturned.  Any person who is convicted and applies for a job, in most job applications will have to disclose that conviction, and many will find that employers will not want to employ them.  That is what happens day in day out to those coming out of prison.

In the meantime lets hope that this case does make sure that the FA takes robust action, that it adopts clear rules which ensure that this position isn't repeated in the future, and that no other victim is going to have to watch as the perpetrator of the offence touts around club after club putting the victim back into the press time and time again, with all the distress that must cause to her, her family and her friends.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Call on "devolved nations" to have a say

I read with interest Leanne Wood's speech to the SNP conference, stating that devolved nations should have a say - on matters such as welfare.  The fact is that we do.  The "people power" that she referred to is the vote that each an every one of us has in Westminster elections.  The speech of the Plaid leader is in effect a call for independence by another name.

The fact that Plaid does not get the representation at a UK level that it gets for the Assembly is a democratic choice by the electors here in Wales.  What is being suggested by Plaid is to go behind the  verdict of voters at the ballot box.  Plaid want the position where Wales is subsidised, by a UK Government Treasury and tax take, but doesn't want to accept that a UK Government, when taking into account all the constituent parts of the UK, may have a different political guise to the one voted for at an Assembly level.

The same intellectual bankruptcy is shown by her demand that each constituent part of the UK should be required to vote by a majority to leave or stay in the EU.   I can not see why Plaid would suggest that the principle of one person one vote should be undermined.  The fact is that every voter in the UK should have an equal vote, to any other voter living in the UK, and that the "weight" of that vote shouldn't depend on where you live.  Plaid's position undermines democracy and takes away the power from people seeking to put it in the hands of a distrusted "political class".

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Lidl Welsh Language "Ban"

Media reports are suggesting that Lidl in Wales has imposed a Welsh Language ban on its staff.  This appears to have arisen from a case in Scotland, rather than Wales, where two polish employees were asked to speak to Lidl customers in English.

Following reports of that case the BBC Welsh Language Website appears to have done an interview with a "spokesman" from Lidl who seems to have been singularly unprepared for the interview, and know little about Wales and their stores in Wales.

I am aware of a number of Lidl stores in Wales, presumably successful, as they have expanded rapidly across North Wales.  Clearly staff there have been interacting with their customers in both English and Welsh.  Welsh Language has official status, and I am certain that Lidl will not be seeking to go behind that status.  If they do they risk being investigated by the Welsh Language Commissioner and they will rightly be censured.   Public Services in Wales have to be offered both in English and in Welsh, allowing people the choice of which language they want to speak.  The same is not true of private companies, but a measure of common sense has to be applied.  One tweet suggested that no business should operate in Wales if they did not speak or offer Welsh.

Perhaps depressingly for me is the rise of the Lidl stores in the first place.  Take Denbigh for example two really great butchers on the High Street - but recently the greengrocers and a bakery have closed for business.  I hope that those outraged by the "ban", if there is one, take the chance to really support local businesses, whose £ goes back into the economy, and choose to buy local rather than supporting a foreign company where margins are squeezed to offer customers produce as cheaply as possible.

Living as I do in an area where 50% of the population speaks Welsh, I am perhaps aware of some wider issues, including the fact in the first three Assembly terms the records of committee meetings where AMs receive evidence and scrutinise policy decisions, were not available bi-lingually, due primarily to cost and practicality.  Fortunately technology advances have changed the position but that has only happened in this Assembly, and I am delighted that they are now bi-lingual.

Many of the Community Councils here conduct their business in Welsh, that is their right and their choice the meetings are held in Welsh, the minutes are produced in Welsh all pre and post discussions are in Welsh.  At the same time, unless there is accurate translation the remaining 50% of the population are effectively disbarred from taking part in matters which are directly relevant to their community.  Whilst there is a Welsh Language Commissioner who can ensure that the democratic process is accessible for Welsh speakers, there is no corresponding recourse where the position is reversed, presumably Simon Thomas and others would equally condemn that position.   When I  receive letters, as I did last week, saying that I am "English" and  a "Tory" I should "go back over the border" I regard that as racist.  This kind of racism would be completely unacceptable if I was say Afro Carribean, or Irish, or Indian  - but apparently because I am "English" it is acceptable both to put that  in writing - and to say it publicly. Similarly for the tweet that was favorited a number of times calling for "extermination" of people like me.  I didn't see any of the outraged language tweeters condemning those sort of comments, quite the reverse.

That is why it was so sad to see Lord Elis Thomas being sacked for speaking out against Plaid  calling people "un Welsh". We lost a good committee chair, who was highly effective and passionate about all things Welsh, but who dared to be open and inclusive about the concept of "Welshness".

In the meantime I have no doubt that Lidl stores will operate as they have done over many years, speaking to their customers in both English and in Welsh.