Week commencing 3/9/12
A month has flown by since my last set of ramblings was circulated so it is no bad thing that I at least attempt to tell you what has been happening during September. September is an odd month for an MP. Whilst we return to Parliament for two weeks and a few days we are then back on recess in order to facilitate the conference season. I’m not sure whether this is a good use of time. As you might be aware there is a huge backlog of work to be undertaken at the Houses of Parliament with some estimating the costs at in excess of £1billion. One of the problems has been the recent decision (since the MP expenses scandal) to have a two week September sitting. Whilst the aim is to make us appear to be working hard it has resulted in major planned for works being postponed since the new six week summer recess is not enough time to get the work done.
Whilst the old system of breaking-up in mid July and returning in mid October was impossible to justify I do feel that a better option which will fit well with the need to plan repairs and maintenance work would be for the conferences to be held during the first three weeks of September and for Parliament to return during the last week and then sit until Christmas. This would mean that we sat for the same number of weeks as we do currently whilst also allowing nine weeks rather than six weeks to be available for contractors to repair what is in many ways a dilapidated and failing infrastructure. We shall see whether the authorities agree with me.
My first week back in Westminster was odd. Despite all the excitement surrounding the re-shuffle I was away on a Welsh Select Committee duty meeting a variety of officials in Brussels. I was half-way to France when the message came through that David Jones had been promoted and whilst I am adamant that Cheryl Gillan performed her role with diligence and commitment it is undoubtedly a good thing that we have a Secretary of State for Wale who represents a Welsh constituency. The fact that he represents a North Wales constituency is simply a bonus!
The Brussels visit is a regular once a year event that David Davies MP, the chair of the Welsh Select Committee has instigated and it is very valuable. We met the British Ambassador to the EU and had a most interesting discussion about the future of the euro whilst meetings with the Director General for Agriculture and members of the EU teams responsible for regional policy and funding were very relevant to Aberconwy and many other parts of North Wales. I was also delighted to meet and discuss policy in Welsh with the new EU Director General for Fisheries, one Lowri Evans from the Lleyn Penninsula. An EU official since 1983 she now has the incredible challenge of dealing with what is, to many, the embodiment of the failure of the EU with fishing stocks collapsing due to the failure of the EU to work to maintain stocks with policy directives resulting in perfectly edible fish being thrown back into the seas. She will need all her ability and Welsh charm to resolve this mess of a policy area.
Other meetings that we had included an useful meeting with the British Tourist Authority representative in Brussels and the deputy Director General of the EU educational directorate. His views of the comparative performance of the Welsh educational system was enough to make any parent despair. Finally, those of you who listened to Radio Cymru and Radio Wales during the week in question might have heard me commenting on the re-shuffle on various news programmes. It is incredible really what a mobile phone can allow you to do from a Brussels street cafe!
Returning from Brussels on Thursday I was able to make a meeting with Virgin Trains at Euston station to discuss their concerns about the tendering process for the West Coast mainline before returning to the constituency for a meeting at Plas Y Brenin. Friday saw me undertaking a surgery at the Conwy office so all in all a busy start to the new session.
Week commencing 10/9/12
As is typical of the September sitting this was not a very busy week. There was plenty to do in terms of meetings and Select Committee work and constituency correspondence invariably fills a gap but the number of votes that we engaged in on Government policy was limited.
I did, however, speak in an Opposition Day debate on the Universal Credit. It was the usual ploy from Labour. Whilst they always agree with the principle of the Universal Credit, it is always too soon, too difficult or possibly in need of some further tinkering thus they state we should not move forward for the time being. This approach annoys me. For thirteen years, eleven of them where the UK economy was on paper growing dramatically, Labour refused to engage with the need for Welfare reform despite the warnings of people such as Frank Field MP. Now that this government, with a much more difficult set of circumstances as a backdrop, are taking forward some real and innovative changes they seem unable to do anything other than criticise and complain. If they really do believe in a reform of the Welfare State, if they really do believe in a simplified system and making work pay then why not work with us rather than attempting to score opportunistic points from the sidelines.
I was pleased with my contribution to the debate but as usual found it very annoying to have prepared a speech only to have it curtailed to a mere six minutes due to the time taken by both front benches to present their arguments. Oh well – such is the life of a backbencher!
I also had a very good meeting during the week with the British American Parliamentary Group in order to present our joint report on the basis of our trip to the US. It was a great meeting and the first time all six of us have met since we split at Boston Airport back in August. However, the cross party consensus has survived to allow us to agree on all aspects of the report and to further agree to a dinner in November to mark the US Presidential Elections and strengthen the relationships that we developed with each other in the States.
I left London early on the Thursday since I had agreed to be the Guest of Honour at my former schools awards ceremony. It is now twenty three years since I left Ysgol Syr Huw Owen and it was good to be back although the hall was much smaller than that which I recall. It was a very positive event and I was very pleased at the inclusive nature of the ceremony and the good humour that was apparent between parents, teachers and the pupils. My message was probably the low point of the event. I know that the aim at such a ceremony is to be upbeat and positive but in truth I feel for our young people. They will be growing up in a world which is far more competitive than anything their parents or their grandparents faced and yet we have burdened them with a level of debt and financial liabilities that will make their task of competing with the rest of the world so much more difficult. In simple terms they really do have to perform academically as a group if this country is to have any chance of a future.
Friday saw me back in Conwy doing office work and meeting a number of constituents with a variety of different issues. It is quite gratifying to see the office and the surgeries being increasingly used by constituents and long may it continue.