Nick’s second speech

nick.jpg (400×400)I now receive personal notification of all speeches by and all questions asked by our new MP – from “They Work for You“.

You can do likewise, by clicking on the link. I recommend that readers of my blog do so – as I don’t propose to provide this service indefinitely !

However, as a taster, here are excerpts from Nick’s second speech in Parliament – during the debate on the new Scotland bill.  He makes interesting points about how the new arrangements for Scotland may affect Wales.

…. James Keir Hardie said, when asked about his socialist beliefs, that he saw them as arising from a rooted local culture. His belief in localism and the de-centralisation of power led him to a firm belief in devolution. In the career and beliefs of Keir Hardie, a Scot who represented a Welsh constituency, there are lessons for us in this debate.

Most of all, if we recognise the qualities and strengths of our family of nations here in these islands, we can strengthen our whole United Kingdom. I welcome a number of aspects of the Bill, which takes devolution to the next stage. … 

I also welcome devolution … in several areas of tax, including income tax, VAT, the aggregates levy and air passenger duty … however, there are ways in which the Government can go further, and I look forward to that in the course of the debates on the Bill.

Prior to entering the House, I lectured in politics. The first thing I taught at the start of every academic year was the UK constitution, and the one thing I always said to my students was never to see any single measure of devolution in isolation; they have to be seen in the context of the overall settlement and argument for the whole of the UK.

Lord Kilbrandon took over the royal commission on the constitution between 1969 and 1973, and it became known by his name. He said that any decisions and debates on public funding that we have here in Westminster affected “the whole of the United Kingdom”.

That quotation comes from a period before our modern devolution journey began, but I suggest that it is as relevant in 2015 as it was back in 1973. As we debate finance and funding, it is critical to bear in mind how those issues affect the different constituent parts of our United Kingdom.

My point as a Welsh Member — it is important that the voice of Wales is heard during the passage of the Scotland Bill — is that there is a long-standing public debate on the underfunding of Wales in the United Kingdom. It goes back to the Holtham commission of 2010, which identified £300 million of underfunding for Wales, and the same issue runs through part 1 of the Silk commission.

Even at this moment, the finance committee of the National Assembly for Wales is debating future funding for Wales. This is a crucial issue for Wales and my Torfaen constituents. I remind the Secretary of State that the Prime Minister promised earlier this year that Wales would not be left behind.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer originally promised a Wales Bill within the first 100 days of this Parliament. Unfortunately, all he has done so far for Wales is to promise a further £3 billion of cuts across the UK, about £84 million of which we expect to fall on Wales. That is hardly a great start when it comes to addressing fair funding for Wales.

The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has made it clear that this issue of fair funding has to be dealt with, so I say that a great devolution debate must go ahead in this Parliament and the Secretary of State must bear in mind all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

History tells us that if particular issues are left untouched in devolution debates, they usually come back and need to be dealt with at a later stage.

I urge the Secretary of State to think again about ruling out, from the Dispatch Box, the idea of a constitutional convention, which would not only give all politicians a chance to contribute to the debate, but would involve the wider public in all parts of the United Kingdom. It is important that we end this Parliament with strong devolution within a strong United Kingdom.


Demonstration at the Senedd – “No to Opencast at Varteg”

Campaigners from Torfaen took part today in a demonstration on the steps of the National Assembly Senedd buildingOpen castThe demonstration was in support of a CROSS PARTY MOTION in the National Assembly, opened by our AM Lynne Neagle and was previewed by sympathetic articles and letters in the Western Mail and The Guardian. I read out a message from Lynne Neagle to the demonstration.

The motion was co-sponsored by Bethan Jenkins Plaid Cymru, Lynne Neagle Labour, William Graham Con. William Powell Lib Dem and carried by 30 votes to zero votes against but with 16 abstensions. You can read the full transcript of the debate or watch the video here (from about 2.20 pm that day) – see of Proceedings#211742

The motion read: The National Assembly for Wales calls upon the Welsh Government to:

a. Instigate a moratorium on opencast mining across Wales, in order to ascertain whether planning law and current guidance provides sufficient protection for communities affected by opencast mining;

b. Respond to the Research into the Failure to Restore Opencast Coal Sites in South Wales, stating specifically how it might address concerns about the workability of MTAN2 and the 500m buffer zone;

c. Support affected Local Authorities to make legal challenges where required, when pursing restoration.

Them and Torfaen

George Osbourne proposes to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million (for couples) – clearly believing this to be a big vote-winner. So I thought I should check how many people in Torfaen might benefit.

A quick search of estate agent websites revealed that our average house price is around £150,000 and barely any sell above £800,000. So, in reality, fewer than a dozen Torfaen electors might benefit.

In trumpeting this as great news, George Osbourne seems genuinely unaware of the huge divide between the haves and have-nots in Britain. Raising the inheritance tax threshhold to £1 million may buy votes in London and the shires – but this will not benefit anyone in Torfaen.

There’s a similar divide with respect to incomes. Average income in Torfaen is half that of London and the South East and an even smaller proportion of the highest earners in London. So the Green Party pledge to raise the top rate of income tax to 60p (from 45p) will ‘hurt’ some in London but hardly affect us.

George Osbourne’s policies are to keep the rich rich (100 FTSE 100 chief executives receive ~£4.3 million/year and they won’t be happy with a 60p/£ higher rate tax – this would ‘lose’ them over £600,00/year). But I doubt that anyone in Torfaen is paying the higher rate of tax bracket (OK, there may be – but very few).

Tax avoidance costs the UK £120 billion a year – by collecting all this we could transform our public services. So I am (and the SLP is) committed to closing 100% of tax avoidance loopholes and instituting a simpler tax band structure:.

  • Income under £15,000 per year                      No tax payable
  • Income between £15,000 – £30,000                20 per cent
  • Income between £30,000 – £55,000                30 per cent
  • Income between £55,000 – £80,000                40 per cent
  • 5 Income between £80,000 – £100,000          50 percent
  • 6 Income between £100,000 – £200,000        60 percent
  • Income between £200,000 – £300,000           70 per cent
  • Income over £300,000                                          90 percent

In 2014 Britain’s banks recorded over £20 billion of profit – having been bailed out a few years earlier with public money when their incompetance caused them to make huge losses. By taking these banks into public ownership we could invest that money for the good of society.

There really is no problem ‘balancing the books’ – unless (like George Osbourne) you rule out all measures that take money from the rich.

Opencasting and Land Reclamation

Living by The British, as I have done for 36 years, I am very aware that Torfaen has not achieved the government target to clear all derelict land by the Year 2000.

The primary fault for this lies with those Councillors who, in the 1970s, effectively gave away the then Council-owned land to private speculators who, ever since, have bought and sold the land for ever-increasing prices but done nothing to prevent the historic artefacts and buildings deteriorating.

We are now faced with the situation that HSBC, having foolishly advanced £5 million to the last bunch of speculators, are demanding that they receive something close to this sum as compensation. But just because HSBC were conned into paying such a sum (its true value is, if anything, negative as it will require public money for anything worthwhile to be done), that is no reason why public money should be wasted to help them out.

Meanwhile, another bunch of get-rich-quick entrepreneurs have resubmitted their proposals to extract 350,000 tonnes of coal from Varteg Hill whilst providing us with nothing of long-term benefit to the community.

I chair the residents committee for The British and have been active in the “No Opencast” campaign for Varteg. With the support of our excellent Assembly Member, Lynne Neagle, we have succeeded so far in preventing the despoliation and disruption that would be caused by opencasting here. [Note my commendation of our Labour AM – if elected as your MP I hope this cooperation will continue.]

A Greenprint for Torfaen

“Greenprint for the valleys” is the title of a Plaid Cymru discussion document initiated by Leanne Wood before she became its Leader.  It advocates a community-based bottom-up approach to developing and greening the valleys that, in my opinion, is well ahead of anything I have seen from any other political party. You can obtain a hard copy directly from Plaid Cymru but here is a web link to it.

The key feature of this approach is to assist by bringing sustainable jobs to people where they live now – rather than, as successive governments have done, allowed jobs to be lost in the valleys and forcing people to commute to Cardiff, Newport and even Bristol for work. Rather than spend £millions on roads to and through these already crowded urban areas, we need investment in the valleys to make our communities more viable and to reduce commuting.

Torfaen is a microcosm of these problems – with planners forced to support building on green fields in the south rather than regenerate rundown existing communities in the north. So long as government takes its cue from big business, intent on maximising their profits, this situation will continue.