Monday, 31 March 2008
Lembit Opik has been rather busy recently correcting newspapers on the chronology of his private life so it's perhaps understandable he appears to have forgotten to declare some extra income.
PR Week has highlighted the Montgomeryshire MP's failure to register cheques totalling £2,400 he received from a lobbying firm for presentational work.
Hacks were put on the scent by an encounter between MPs on the public administration committee at Westminster and Mike Grannatt of Luther Pendragon, the lobbying and PR firm who represented the Commons Speaker in recent troubled times.
The extract from the committee minutes is an entertaining read:
Chairman (Gordon Prentice):Do you pay any MPs or Peers or offer them retainers?
Mr Bingle: No.
Mr Granatt: No, we pay no-one in that respect. We do actually engage one MP, who was a professional presenter in a previous life, to do professional presentation training for some of our staff.
Chairman: Who is that? It will be in the public record.
Mr Granatt: Mr Opik.
Chairman: Lembit Opik.
Mr Walker: My God! That's damaging. Forget the speaker that's your problem.
Mr Granatt: I'll tell him you said so.
Chairman: I really did not want to give Lembit any more publicity but there you go."
The problem for Mr Opik is that he didn't declare income from Luther Pendragon for three years, he says because he didn't consider the work he did for them had any bearing on his work as an MP.
This is despite his declaring work for Luther Pendragon in earlier Register of Members' Interests in 2001 and 2002.
He has now decided to register the income and is "grateful" to PR Week for drawing his attention to it.
It's not exactly a major scandal but if Lembit feels embarrassed he could always donate the cash to a good cause - and simultaneously refute scotch inaccurate reports of his tight-fistedness in a recent book - by logging on to www.justgiving.com/davidcornock.
Thursday, 27 March 2008
There is no problem so grave that cannot be solved either by legislation, or by setting up a committee aka working group, review, task and finish group, convention etc.
New Labour has been keen on passing laws since it came to power at Westminster, creating hundreds if not thousands of new offences. Under Gordon Brown, it has also been pilloried for setting up review after review.
The Assembly Government is so fond of committees it recently set up a committee with the task of setting up another committee.
The contrast in styles has emerged on a serious issue. The UK Government is tightening the law to protect NHS staff from violence and abuse at the hands of patients and their relatives. (I thought this was already illegal, but apparently a new specific offence of creating a disturbance or nuisance on NHS premises is needed).
Most criminal law applies across England and Wales but in something of a departure the Ministry of Justice decided that as this law affects the NHS it would give the Welsh Assembly Government the right to veto its application to Wales (which it promptly did).
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Health is a devolved matter in Wales. Although the provisions create a criminal offence, the offence is aimed solely at creating protection for and benefits for the health service (in response to a problem in the health service) . We consulted the Welsh Assembly Government last year and they confirmed that they did not want the provisions to extend to Wales. We are discussing the issue of the extension of this provision to NHS premises in Wales with the Department of Health, Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly Government."
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said, several hours later: "The Welsh Assembly Government, working with the relevant Trade Unions and professional associations have developed its own set of policies for protecting staff who work in the Welsh NHS. These have recently been worked on further in a group led by a secondee from the Royal College of Nursing in Wales.
The report of that working group is expected imminently and will further inform the development of actions designed to meet Welsh needs and circumstances."
The problem WAG has it that it can't change criminal law so any changes its committee comes up with will stop short of that. If you're a nurse in A and E on Friday night trying to get rid of a drunk you might wonder how different Welsh needs and circumstances are from those over the border, but I digress.
Amid the general confusion, a former First Secretary of the Assembly Government, as it then wasn't, Alun Michael, has been trying to persuade UK Ministers to extend the law to Wales.
He thinks it's absurd that Welsh workers won't get the same legal protection and blamed Whitehall officials who didn't understand devolution for the loophole.
Only when the BBC started making calls did it emerge that this part of the new law was actually vetoed by Assembly Government Ministers.
The redoutable cross-bencher Baroness Finlay of Llandaff has now tabled amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to extend its remit to Welsh hospitals.
It will be an interesting test of devolution. Whitehall departments have been widely criticised for failing to understand devolution and being insensitive to it. It appears that this is a case of the Ministry of Justice being extremely sensitive to the Assembly Government on a non-devolved issue and ultimately annoying more than a few MPs on the way.
For those at the sharp end this must all appear very confusing. If you're a nurse in A and E on Friday night trying to get rid of an aggressive drunk you could be forgiven for wondering exactly how "Welsh needs and circumstances" differ from those over the border.
Perhaps Ministers could set up a committee to find out.
A slightly strange pronoun for a national newspaper that often devotes a fair bit of attention to alleged threats to the United Kingdom?
"Pupil’s (sic) results reflect ethnic and social inequalities" screams the headline.
Call me a dinosaur, but is it really asking too much to expect political parties to get the punctuation right when writing about these things?
That's the view of Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, who shares his thoughts on the Welsh Grand Committee's future - or lack of it - his blog.
The Welsh Grand may be something of a talking shop, although its question time yesterday was rather more illuminating than the equivalent in the main Commons chamber.
That said, it's rather hard to see protesters marching in their thousands on Westminster to "Save the Welsh Grand".
Yesterday's committee meeting did generate the odd spark of media coverage, and not just because AMs are on holiday.
And were it not for the Welsh Grand, we may not have been privy to Paul Murphy's views on devolution, shared at a time when he believed his prospects of a return to Government were rather remote.
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
Barnett formula anoraks will have found plenty to whet their appetite. Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy warned that a review of the way Wales is funded from Westminster could leave the country worse off.
Public spending is relatively higher in Wales than England. With English Labour MPs agitating for change, Mr Murphy warned: "We have to be very careful on Barnett because it could mean we end up worse off than we are at the moment."
Anyone hoping that the Assembly will acquire the power to vary taxes is also likely to be disappointed - "There isn't a case for tax raising powers in Wales. I don't think anybody wants it."
Mr Murphy said the "resource base" would be lower than in Scotland and said it would be very difficult to give the Assembly tax-raising powers without the approval of voters in a referendum.
Tuesday, 25 March 2008
Is Paul Murphy about to follow Peter Hain in falling on his Cabinet sword?
Er, no. Mr Murphy has let it be known that he is happy with the compromise on embryo research announced by the Prime Minister today.
Mr Murphy, a Papal Knight, shares the views of other Catholic MPs on issues such as the creation of hybrid embros in the name of medical research.
Government Whips floated the idea of allowing unhappy Ministers to abstain on the controversial parts of the Bill. Privately, Mr Murphy argued that abstention was not an option for him, although reports that he threatened to resign were more than a little overblown.
This afternoon, he's signalled that he will vote in favour of the Bill as a whole, but with his conscience on the key areas where Gordon Brown will allow Labour MPs to have a free vote.
The nature of the compromise may mean that he ends up voting for a law that expands embryo research in a way that is abhorrent to many Catholics but he will only do that having voted with his conscience during earlier stages of the Bill.
Thursday, 20 March 2008
Today's Mirror recalls that old law that apparently bans Welshmen are banned from entering the city of Chester before sunrise and from staying after sunset.
It does not appear to be one of the laws Justice Secretary Jack Straw is intent on repealing in a general tidy-up of the statute book. Given his previous scepticism about Welsh devolution, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised if he lets that law survive.
The Lords debated the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill earlier this week. The contribution of the Lib Dems "Shadow Attorney General" Lord Thomas of Gresford caught my eye:
"My Lords, I regret to see in the schedule the repeal of the Chester Castle Gaol and other Buildings Act 1807. I know that jail well.
What I do not see in the Bill is the repeal of a provision that is widely believed to appertain to Chester, that any Welshman caught within the walls in the hours of darkness will be summarily executed. Perhaps that has gone in an earlier statute law repeals Bill. I assure the Minister that I shall look into it to ensure that it is not still relevant."
I hope to bring you the result of his investigation here. The impact of some laws tends to be embellished as time goes by.
The Mirror includes another similar law: "In Hereford, you may not shoot a Welsh person on Sunday with a longbow in the Cathedral Close."
A handy tip should you ever be tempted to visit on another day of the week.
Heather Mills threw a jug of water over Fiona Shackleton in court. This is the would-be MP's view:
"From the 'before and after photographs' in today's newspapers, I have to say that the wet bedraggled look bestowed upon Ms Shackleton a wanton and rather fetching appearance. If she wants my advice, I'd recommend she considers adoping the wet look on a regular basis. She might even try wearing a T-shirt as well."
David Cameron has suggested that a third of the Ministers in a future Conservative Government will be women, although he will presumably not select them for their "wanton and rather fetching appearance"
Perhaps there's something in the water in Montgomeryshire that makes their politicians do and say risky, if not risque, things.
The Shadow Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan did not return calls. Glyn seems to have taken personal offence at our decision to report his remarks. He even turned down a request to discuss them on Radio Wales - a first.
Judging by comments elsewhere in the blogosphere his comments will at least earn him a brief role as a martyr in Tory politics. He might almost become a pin-up on the right, if that's not too inappropriate a term to use.....
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
MPs have debated, for the first time, a Legislative Competence Order - effectively a request from the Welsh Assembly Government to legislate in a particular area.
The National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Education and Training) Order 2008 cleared the Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee with little fuss after 46 minutes of debate. You can read it here.
The Wales Office Minister Huw Irranca-Davies noted "this is an historic day and an historic moment". He was, as ever on message - so much so that a Tory MP pointed out that he was reading verbatim a speech made in the House of Lords by Baroness Morgan of Drefelin last week.
The LCO will now, in all probability, be nodded through the Commons chamber itself tonight before being rubber-stamped by the Queen via the Privy Council.
The Assembly should be able to use its new powers in this area from May.
Monday, 17 March 2008
"Throughout the media furore, Sian kept her head and has bounced back stronger than ever - winning Rear of the Year 2007......"
Sunday, 16 March 2008
Lembit Opik may want to look away now, although I guess he won't be surprised by the tone of the book, whose title I forget although Why I Hate Lembit - A Character Assassination captures the flavour of the tome so far.
I won't bore you with too many details - Mail on Sunday readers may already feel their privacy has been invaded enough.
Sian does make various allegations about the character of her former fiance, who will doubtless dispute this portrayal of their relationship rather vehemently.
Lembit, fresh from his role on TV's The Apprentice, will doubtless be distressed to discover that she believes he is rather tight-fisted.
It's an outrageous slur and one the MP for Montgomeryshire will be anxious to disprove rapidly with generous sponsorship of my London Marathon run for NCH, the children's charity.
He'll find it easy to donate at www.justgiving.com/davidcornock - just follow the trail left by the three other Welsh Liberal Democrat MPs.
Friday, 14 March 2008
The freebie culture/public health agenda* (*delete as appropriate) continues in Welsh politics.
Here's the Welsh Health Minister Edwina Hart launching a new dental scheme for children today: "We intend to work towards every child being provided with free toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste."This Edwina Hart may or may not be related to the Edwina Hart who told AMs on November 13 2007: "You made a point about providing free toothbrushes and toothpaste. I happen to believe that there are issues around this, as some children do not know what toothbrushes and toothpastes are, given that they have never been purchased for them. If they were purchased, who would teach the children to use them, if there was no history of brushing your teeth in the family? There are a lot of issues around this."
The programme's called Designed to Smile. The U-turn did make me grin slightly.
Thursday, 13 March 2008
Their lordships also devoted 54 minutes to their first debate on a Legislative Competence Order, or LCO as they're referred to in casual conversation among the chattering classes.
The National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Education and Training) Order 2008 cleared the Lords after a well-mannered debate. You can read it here.
The LCO now goes to the Commons next Tuesday, its final hurdle during its parliamentary passage.
AMs in Cardiff will then be able to start legislating in the area of additional learning needs. Stand by for the word "historic" to feature almost as often as "stability" in an Alistair Darling Budget.
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Well, it worked for me. The ice cream was provided by Mr Creemy of the Rhondda, whose MP, Chris Bryant, was at the hub of a reception in aid of the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation.
Chris is running the London Marathon for Prostate Research. It's a very unwise thing for men in their forties to do, but you can find out more about his efforts here.
His sponsorship has attracted cross-party support, although Lord Kinnock apparently found it difficult to remember panacotta and rhubarb ice cream in the valleys of his youth.
Chris is infuriatingly fit for his age and appears to be devoting far too much attention to beating me to the finish line on April 13.
I wouldn't say he's competitive but last year a text of his time arrived on my mobile within seconds of him finishing. One of his Labour colleagues has offered me an extra fiver in sponsorship to beat him.
Sadly, my efforts to persuade him to eat more Mr Creemy products at the reception fell on deaf ears.
You can sponsor him here. Or better still, buy him a bag of chips and a doughnut and sponsor me too.
Thanks to the generosity of friends, colleagues and politicians of all parties I've reached my self-imposed target of £2,000 for NCH, the children's charity one month before the race.
In the style of politicians everywhere, I feel duty bound to move the goalposts and raise the target, but a big, big thank you to all those who've coughed up so generously.
All I need to do is run the actual 26 miles and 385 yards thing.....
One of my colleagues, who possibly needs to get out more, has already calculated this as "roughly equivalent to 0.01% of the Assembly Government's total budget (of circa £47 billion) over the same three year period."
Don't spend it all at once......
We're told not to expect rabbits out of the hat, to use a cliche of the day, and to expect few surprises.
There may be some extra money for schools, as The Guardian reported yesterday. But this, I'm advised, is a re-allocation from an underspend in the English schools budget.
As the money isn't new - except to the schools - that means Wales and Scotland won't get much by way of a share of the spending, but that probably won't stop the "snub to Wales"press releases that drop into my inbox later today.
I'm not sure if bookmakers still take bets on the length of the speech but we're told to expect Mr Darling to speak for around 50 minutes.
Tuesday, 11 March 2008
The former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, once said: "It is easy to identify a former minister. He is the chap who always gets in the back of the car, which never goes anywhere."
Peter Hain has not been spotted getting over-optimistically into the back of any cars recently, but, liberated from government, he has been struggling with the demands of public transport.
A former government adviser was slightly surprised to get a call the other day from a Neath MP struggling with the high-tech ticket system on the London Underground.
(Top tip - you touch in and touch out, rather than insert your ticket into the barrier).
HOUSE OF COMMONS
PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION FOR ANSWER ON
MONDAY 10 MARCH 2008
MR MARK HOBAN (FAREHAM): To ask the Secretary of State for Wales, how much his Department spent on pot plants in each of the last five years. 192066
MR PAUL MURPHY: Nil.
He could have bought quite a few pot plants for the cost (around £150) of answering that parliamentary question.
Saturday, 8 March 2008
For those who feel a tad embarrassed by an 8.3 per cent pay rise while other public sector workers get by on a quarter of that, there is a solution.
Here's a good home for that pay rise - NCH, the children's charity. Several AMs have already generously sponsored me for next month's London marathon.
To those feeling guilty about their extra cash (recommended by an independent panel), it's not too late to divert your pay rise in that direction.
Thursday, 6 March 2008
Some things have changed under Gordon Brown's "government of all the talents" but Labour backbenchers appear to have stuck to the habit.
Here's Betty Williams MP (left with International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander) on Fairtrade Fortnight:
“Fairtrade helps support seven million people in the developing world.
"Our shopping habits can make a real difference to the world’s poorest people. By buying food and presents from developing countries we will help grow their economies and reduce poverty.
And here's Colin Burgon, Labour MP for Elmet, on the same subject: "Fairtrade helps support seven million people in the developing world.
"Our shopping habits can make a real difference to the world’s poorest people. By buying food and presents from developing countries we will help grow their economies and reduce poverty."
Mrs Williams added: “Already the UK’s demand for African fruit and vegetables benefits a million farmers and their families. By consumers and retailers acting together to promote and buy goods from developing countries we can make a real difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.”
Mr Burgon added: "Already the UK’s demand for African fruit and vegetables benefits a million farmers and their families. By consumers and retailers acting together to promote and buy goods from developing countries we can make a real difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.”
It's not the first time Betty Williams has fallen victim to the "great minds think alike" syndrome that affects Labour backbenchers but I prefer not to believe the idea that charities just knock out quotes for MPs to publish in their own name.
Plaid Cymru held their bash in the Commons last night, complete with harpist and nibbles.
There were more ambassadors in the room than at an old Austin showroom, checking out progress on "nation-building" as spelled out by parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd in a speech interrupted by the division bell.
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivered a witty speech, gently teasing Plaid over their inability to celebrate St David on his actual day.
Labour faces were thin on the ground - it appears that coalition with Plaid really does end at the Severn Bridge.
Wednesday, 5 March 2008
Tomorrow's headlines may yet be about the Liberal Democrats and the party's new leader, Nick Clegg, who endured a bruising question time today.
His decision to order MPs to abstain tonight has upset some of those described as Lib Dem frontbenchers (a relative term, as they only occupy two and a half benches).
We're told to expect three resignations from members of Mr Clegg's top team, the sort of gesture guaranteed to get those leaving jobs the sort of publicity they can't get from actually doing the jobs.
I have now submitted my entry - the prize of a tour of Cardiff Bus Station was too great to resist.
1. "Y Gwir Erbyn Y Byd" (the truth against the world) - as used by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright in his buildings.
2. "News is something somebody doesn't want printed; all else is advertising."
I think they're pretty good quotes for a news organisation although I could understand why Media Wales might not go for the latter.
If they need a third, there's Alexander Pope's " To wake the soul by tender strokes of art, To raise the genius and to mend the heart", the first half of which is displayed above the stage at Richmond Theatre.
I e-mailed my suggestions to the company but have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply, which probably means it's going to opt for some ghastly management speak culled from the wisdom of David Brent. What a shame.
The Telegraph say No 10 told them that the review - denied by Downing Street - would "inform the debate".
It would certainly offer a chance for people in Wales to influence the debate, although the greatest pressure to review the formula comes not from Scotland or Wales.
There are a couple of clues in the Telegraph headline - "Questions over £1,500 tax subsidy for Scots" and this sentence: "The Prime Minister wants the policy re-examined in an attempt to head off mounting English resentment over the millions of pounds of public money sent to Scotland every year."
Be careful what you wish for?
Downing Street's official response may dampen down the excitement throbbing throughout the land when the formula is discussed: "It is not the case that the Prime Minister has ordered a review of the Barnett Formula. The Scottish Parliament has recently approved a review process aimed at strengthening devolution. As the Government announced to Parliament in January the Chancellor will lay before Parliament a factual paper on the funding mechanisms for the devolved administrations. There are no current plans to change the Barnett Formula."
Tuesday, 4 March 2008
But Ministers of the Crown are one thing, Ministers of Religion are another.
The Bishop of Monmouth told MPs this morning that WAG puts ideology before the welfare of patients.
Donimic Walker, criticised plans, currently under review, to develop neurological services in south Wales. He said this could mean patients from the north being sent to Swansea for treatment, rather than Liverpool.
He told a parliamentary inquiry into cross-border issues: "That appears to be putting the philosophy and ideology before the care of the patient when presumably the care of the patient is what matters.
The Bishop told MPs on the Welsh affairs committee that "the ideologies seem to get in the way of practicalities" in treating patients. He questioned the impact of a policy of providing all services within Wales.
He said: "It ought not to be beyond us to regig the system to follow patient needs rather than the other way around but that's not happening.
"While they are saying we put the welfare of the patient first, the practical reality is often that the patient doesn't feel that or that that doesn't appear to be the case."
A Church of England Bishop told the MPs that it's "entirely unreasonable" that some patients on either side of the Wales/England border face longer waiting times for treatment.
Anthony Priddis, the Bishop of Hereford, said people should be treated equally wherever they live. "I think from where we are, it is entirely unreasonable that there should be that difference of treatment according to where people live and waiting lists, and we would want to see a much greater equality for people whichever side of the border they live."
Those who occasionally assume Wales is an island have been told otherwise. I wonder if the Welsh Health Minister will accuse the Bishops of sour grapes.
BRITISH PIG FARMING AND THE PIGS ARE WORTH IT! CAMPAIGN
Mr Richard Bacon
Mr Ian Cawsey
Mr James Gray
Mr David Heath
Mr Kevan Jones
Mr Martyn Jones
That this House congratulates the British pig industry on its high production standards, its continued commitment to animal welfare and on the provision of the best in pork, bacon and ham to consumers; notes with concern that high animal feed prices mean that pig farmers are losing more than £20 on every animal raised, posing a serious threat to the future of British pig production; further notes that shoppers have said they are willing to pay more for high welfare British pork, and that 70 per cent. of imported pork has been produced under conditions that would be illegal in the UK; welcomes the National Pig Association and British Pig Executive's campaign - Pigsareworthit.com; and calls on the Government to help ensure that increases in retail prices flow down the supply chain to Britain's pig farmers.
Monday, 3 March 2008
It's funny the things that pass through your mind half-way through a half-marathon, but the route through Reading (yesterday) does pass a city centre M & S that proudly advertises its car-friendliness.
Forget public transport, drive your Hummer to the back door, throw your (bagless) groceries in the back and sleep with a clean conscience.
You may have the carbon footprint of a small country, but at least you haven't added to the world's supply of plastic bags.
Lord Thomas of Gresford is busy explaining the party's position of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill - it's the fifth day of the committee stage and he's on Amendment 120.
Sadly, this excitment has proved too much for one Lib Dem peeress sitting directly behind him. I won't name and shame her, but she does give every appearance of having been asleep for the last five minutes of Lord Thomas's speech.