A Carton of Orange Juice

As the video so clearly shows, this policeman had genuine reason to fear for his own safety when he was isolated from his fellow officers and threatened by a woman carrying a carton of orange juice as a weapon:


"Not one photograph or piece of footage comes close to reflecting the fear as I turned around to see this crowd and its proximity, both to myself and my officers," he told the court. "At the time I thought, this is it. She is deliberately coming from a blind spot. The reason she is coming from a blind spot is to hide her intention so she can approach and attack her target – me."

Guardian, 31 March 2010


Bookmark and Share

Wales Live

Earlier today it was announced that a UTV and NWN Media consortium has been chosen as the preferred bidder for the new Wales news service to occupy the current ITV local news slot. The aim is to finalize this and the other two contracts within the next month or so, just before the Westminster election in May. It's important that the Westminster government does this quickly, because the Tories are firmly against the idea and would scrap it if the contracts were not already finalized.

The service will be called Wales Live and this promotional video should give us an idea of what to expect if it lives up to its promise:


I have mixed feelings about it. The biggest plus seems to be UTV's track record of providing news in Northern Ireland. It is certainly impressive that it has a higher audience share than the BBC's news service in NI, and if they managed to do the same in Wales it would strengthen the plurality of our news sources ... something we badly need.

However UTV are currently providing their service in NI on the same basis as ITV are meant to be providing the service in Wales. It is ITV's inability (or failure, to put it more bluntly) to do so which has prompted this experiment. They claim that the economics of providing a regional news service no longer stack up in a multi-channel environment ... yet it obviously works very well in NI.

To my mind, this is more a failure of structure and regulatory process than one of economics. Over the years the ITV network has shifted from something with strong regional variations to an essentially uniform service. There is in fact one licence which covers England and Wales, held by ITV, with separate licences for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I believe the problem could be solved better by having a separate licence for Wales ... and for the terms of that licence to set out the obligations the holder must fulfil in terms of percentages of distinctively Welsh broadcasting, not just news and current affairs but other programming as well. ITV would claim that they were unable to afford to provide that service, but insisting upon it at a statutory level would give them no choice but to do so, and this might have positive implications for the content mix of programming to change the "diet" of what is available to watch on television, for despite the multiplicity of channels its overall quality seems to have gone down. But the UK Government hasn't chosen to do that. It has accepted ITV's plea that it can't afford to provide regional news for much longer, and these pilot schemes are the alternative.

Fair enough. In the absence of broadcasting being a devolved issue, it's Westminster's call. So let's see if this new model can deliver what we need in a different way. But the future of this service is, to say the least, shaky on a number of counts: the Tories want to scrap it, the future funding arrangements are uncertain, and to top it all ITV now appear to be changing their minds about whether they can afford the old service after all, as this story shows. It seems they were crying wolf and now regret it. But if it falls back into their hands, there's no guarantee that the service won't continue to deteriorate.


Anyway, what really matters is the news service that we get. Northern Ireland is unique because its politics is very different from the politics of the UK. The political parties are different, the issues are different; so there is no way the people of NI would put up with the sort of news that gets broadcast elsewhere in the UK. If that same way of thinking is transferred to Wales Live we will get news with a much stronger Welsh emphasis. That's not to say that the BBC do a bad job, but we need two eyes to see things in three dimensions. So now that Wales Live have been chosen, I wish them well. It will be a challenging task, and I'm sure they know that their best chance of seeing the service continue past 2012 is to make good on the promise of high quality, multi-input, multi-platform Welsh news.

Bookmark and Share

The wrong end of the stick

The Western Mail carried this story yesterday:

     True Wales’ complaint about official funding for pot plants
     but nothing for pamphlets

Several things about it seemed rather strange, so I contacted the Electoral Commission to clarify some points. First, the document in question is this, dated 11 March 2010:

     Key Principles for Referendums

It sets out key principles for all referendums, it is not specific to our referendum on primary lawmaking powers for the National Assembly.


The second thing that struck me as odd in the story was this:

Meanwhile the Electoral Commission is considering the wording of the question that will be put to voters in Wales when the referendum is called.

This isn't quite true. The EC will only advise on the wording of a referendum question when it has actually been put to them. As yet, the Secretary of State for Wales has not submitted the question to them ... and indeed he himself has said that he intends to do nothing before the Westminster election. I had half hoped that he might at least have got someone on the staff of the Wales Office working on it, and perhaps he has. But the EC have confirmed that no question has been put to them as yet. As I mentioned before in this post, the EC will require two weeks notice of an intended question and then eight weeks to consider it, a process that involves testing its understandability with focus groups.


Then things got even stranger with this statement by Rachel Banner of True Wales:

We understand that four individuals are to be appointed to act as commissioners specifically for the referendum.

We believe it would be wrong if all four were essentially people from the political parties who back a Yes vote. We think the right thing to do would be to appoint two commissioners from each side of the argument.

This is something that True Wales has got completely wrong. At present the EC has six commissioners, but as a result of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 four additional commissioners are shortly to be appointed, nominated by political parties. All ten are general commissioners with responsibilities for all aspects of the EC's work as outlined here, not this referendum in particular.

It's impossible for me to know for sure whether True Wales have simply misunderstood this or whether they are deliberately misrepresenting the facts. I was told that the EC had explained this to them, and I believe that if they were in any doubt they could easily have checked the facts for themselves. But they and their supporters have an unfortunate track record of getting things wrong, so I'm inclined to believe they just want to made a few headlines, and hope that the false impression created by them remains in people's minds even after the real facts are made clear.


As to the rest, John Dixon has made some good points on Borthlas. True Wales have every right to apply to be considered as the designated organization to lead the No campaign. The procedure is that once the referendum period begins, all groups that intend to spend money on campaigning one way or the other can apply to be "permitted participants" and will become subject to the rules, in particular the spending rules, set out in the PPERA. There will be many of these, including political parties and other groups.

Any of these groups can also apply to be the "designated organization" for either the Yes on No campaigns in the first 28 days of the referendum period. The EC will then have 14 days to consider their applications and may, if appropriate, designate one such organization on each side. They may also give these two organizations money, but it must be an equal amount. After those 14 days, there must be a minimum of 28 days before the actual referendum is held. Therefore the minimum referendum period will be 10 weeks, but this is only a minimum and the final period up to the vote itself may well be longer.

I'm in no position to know what the EC will decide but, as I said before, I think they'll almost certainly follow the precedent set by the referendum for an elected North East England Regional Assembly in 2004. In that campaign each side got £100,000. This time round, given inflation and the slightly larger size of Wales compared with NE England I think the figure will be between £120,000 and £150,000. Personally, I'd go for the higher figure in order to give the No campaign no grounds on which to complain.

However it is quite clear from the story in the Western Mail that True Wales want to jump the gun to become the designated No organization. It won't get them anywhere. The EC are scrupulously neutral and transparent, and won't even consider it until all applications have been submitted. They will then publish the reasons for their decision in an equally transparent way.

Bookmark and Share

Tories show themselves to be two-faced

Tory AM Darren Millar started an article on WalesHome today like this:

There can be no doubt that devolution has had a major impact on the Welsh economy. Statistical indicators will tell you that the wealth gap which exists between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom is fast becoming a gulf – with higher unemployment, lower levels of economic activity and a proportionately smaller private sector than any of the British nations.

He wants to create an impression of cause and effect. Unfortunately for him, that is a rather easily exposed lie, for his fellow Tory AM Alun Cairns knows full well that the real responsibility for the Welsh economy lies firmly with Westminster. So much so, that he's looking to switch jobs and become an MP instead, as he said on Sharp End only a couple of weeks ago:


Alun Cairns was asked whether he was sure he was doing the right thing in wanting to be an MP, especially in light of the fact that people in Wales held MPs in much lower esteem than elsewhere in the UK. His reply was:

Absolutely right. My greatest interest is the economy and business and that's where the powers lie for economy and business really, where I'd like to be able to make a contribution to the constituency.

... When you look at the economy and business and in terms of overcoming deprivation, child poverty and those sorts of issues, it is Westminster that has most of the levers and that's really what can make the biggest influence and difference to the Vale of Glamorgan and other constituencies.

Nice try Darren. But if you intend what you write about politics to be taken seriously, you need an attention span of more than a few weeks.


As it happens, I wrote that a few hours ago. One of the reasons for delay was that I wanted to see what sort of response the original article got, and indeed it doesn't seem as if anyone is taking it too seriously. So my conclusion is that he's just hoping to persuade the anti-devolution minority to vote for the Tories ... as opposed to more exteme alternatives such as UKIP, who are a threat to them because they will split the right wing vote.

His solution is motivated by the knowlege that the Tories themselves are a minority in Wales, and are likely to remain so. There is no way that they can hope to form a majority government in Wales with their present policies, nor hope to enter a coalition with non right wing parties without modifying them. But, rather than do the obvious and tailor their policies to suit what people in Wales would vote for, they prefer to short-circuit democracy and allow Westminster to dictate what our spending priorities should be instead: If we do what they want, we get more money. If we don't do what they want, we get less money. Of course, this wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that they are likely to be in power at Westminster in a few month's time—voted in by a majority in middle England, but only a minority in Wales—would it?

In fact Millar's message is quite the opposite to the way that the Conservatives are moving in Scotland. Tories in Scotland recognize that the only real solution to the problem of being responsible for spending tax money, but not responsible for where that money comes from, is to allow the devolved administrations to set tax rates ... or the rates of at least some taxes. So the only workable solution is to allow us in Wales to do the same.

Bookmark and Share

Quixotic Quisling

I wasn't aware of Carl Morris' blog until now. I noticed that people had come to Syniadau through his link in this post ... and then saw that he'd left a comment on this thread.

In three parts, Carl has posted a video of George Monbiot's lecture about Wales becoming the first carbon-negative country in the world at the recently inaugurated Pierhead Sessions. When you have a hour and a half to spare, why not watch it? A much better way of having a stimulating evening in than hiring the latest blockbuster on DVD ... and free.


I watched it last night. I wouldn't have expected anything else, but what he said about the Ffos-y-Frân open cast mine in Merthyr at the start of the second clip was very welcome. Not least because my friend Glyndwr Jones is standing for Plaid in Merthyr, and that this is one of the things that Plaid joined with the community to fight hard against ... but sadly lost.

George said that the scale of destruction was worse than anything he had seen in Europe. A truly disgusting piece of work, as he put it. A stitch up between the Labour Government in Westminster and Labour in the Assembly. Both Dai Basra Havard and Screwloose Lewis have a lot to answer for on that score. I'd ask the people of Merthyr to remember that and vote accordingly ... both this May and in May next year.


And while I agree with George that Jane Davidson shows signs of being a better minister than her predecessors, I'm still not entirely sure that the penny has dropped with regard to open cast mining. For example Glamorgan Power is currently looking to develop an open cast mine at Farteg, between Pontypool and Blaenafon. As Marcus Warner mentioned in his blog, it would be within a few hundred metres of not only housing, but also school. In addition to that, there is no obvious way of transporting the coal extracted, except by truck on minor roads that run through residential areas. If Jane Davidson wants to show that the Welsh Government has changed, what better place to start? This is one seam of coal that is best left in the ground.

Bookmark and Share

Dodgy Dossier ... Barefaced Lies

It was one of those stunning election announcements that only the Labour Party could make:

Labour dossier lifts the lid on Conservative MPs

Welsh Labour has today launched an all-out attack on the Tories, with a hard-hitting dossier highlighting major splits in the Conservative Party over devolution.

Western Mail, 22 March 2010

The shock news, apparently, is that the three Tory MPs in Wales are against devolution. Gosh, the Tories were obviously trying hard to keep that a secret, so we must be grateful to Labour for pointing this out. Hard-hitting revelations indeed.

We are then treated to these insights from Carwyn Jones:

If Labour wins the next election, Peter Hain will vote 'Yes' to win the referendum


When you take a long hard look at the Tories on devolution, it is clear they still don’t trust people in Wales to make their own decisions. The Tories will never be a party for Wales, because they never have and still don’t understand the people of Wales.

Does Mr Jones want us to assume that Peter Hain will only vote Yes if Labour wins the May election? Does he think that Peter Hain's one vote will be the decisive factor that wins the referendum? Or would he like us to believe he hadn't quite woken up when he said these things?

But when he goes on to say that the Tories still don’t trust people in Wales to make their own decisions he is lying through his teeth. Yes, David Cameron's first declaration that he would allow a referendum was rather vague, but at least he took notice of that criticism and later made an unequivocally clear statement that a Tory government in Westminster would make sure we got the referendum we have already asked for.

In contrast Peter Hain has made it clear by his actions that he does not want the people of Wales to make the decision in a referendum, because he refused to take any action on that request when he was able to do so. It is he that doesn't trust people in Wales.


If that wasn't damaging enough, in stepped Adam Higgitt to throw a blanket of confusion over something that had clearly backfired on Labour. He claimed that Labour should be split on the issue because the people of Wales are split on whether to vote Yes or No in a referendum. He missed the point completely.

What the Tories are consistent about is that they want us to have the referendum. They know full well that their politicians are split on the issue, but I think there is a realization on both sides of that party that the matter needs to be resolved by a referendum. Some people have all too readily interpreted the Tories' unanimous backing for a referendum in the Assembly in February as a signal that they will all support the Yes campaign. But it is entirely possible that some voted for the referendum because they want a No vote, and believe that the sooner the referendum is held, the more likely it will be that people vote No ... after all, that's what True Wales had been pressing for until the polls showed beyond any reasonable doubt that the vote would be won.

For Labour the situation is different. There are a few Labour politicians who have consistently voiced their opposition to Wales having primary lawmaking powers. Of course I disagree with the likes of Don Touhig and Paul Murphy, but at least they're consistent about it. Labour has a far bigger problem with the likes of Peter Hain and Wayne David, who are always very anxious to point out how much they support primary lawmaking powers ... but not yet ... in fact not anytime soon ... in fact please leave it for as many years as possible. Are they being sincere, or is "Yes, but not now"—especially when the polls consistently show that we are ready to vote Yes—really just another way of saying No?

We can each decide that for ourselves.

But one thing is clear: Peter Hain and Wayne David's opposition to setting a date for the referendum is proof positive that they do not trust the people in Wales to make a decision. They had their chance but, when asked to actually do it, they did nothing. How did Carwyn Jones put it? Ah, yes:

When you take a long hard look at the Tories Labour on devolution, it is clear they still don't trust people in Wales to make their own decisions.

Hypocrisy and double standards. A perfect illustration of why Labour are going to lose yet more votes to Plaid in May.

Bookmark and Share

Involving women in political discussion

There was nothing particularly new about the question Duncan Higgitt posed a fortnight ago on WalesHome about the different standards we apply to men and women in politics, but that hardly means anybody should stop reminding us about them. Yet what caught my eye yesterday was the huge gap between what Valleys Mam said on her blog and the Mail on Sunday's photospread of Samantha Cameron.

Valleys Mam asked some serious questions about why women tend to contribute less to political discussion, particularly online ... while at the same time the Mail on Sunday surely gave us the perfect example of how to trivialize politics and women at the same time.

As I see it, there can be little doubt that the Mail published these photographs in order to try and gain some political advantage for the Conservative Party in the critical run up to the Westminster election. So it's worth thinking about how this was meant to achieve the desired political effect. It was a strange game of bluff and double bluff. Not for the Mail the male, "Cor, get an eyeful of her!" but a rather convoluted story by female Amanda Platell about how men could be supposed to have no other reaction than that. There was also the rather too obvious idea that "Tory High Command" would disapprove of them, followed by the very prominent statement in later editions that their publication was a complete surprise to the Camerons themselves. I think it would be even more of a surprise if this "risqué fashion shoot" had what David Cameron has now called a "connection with her business" as her business was then, and is still now, in stationery.


The end result is that a woman is being used to promote the Conservatives not on the basis of anything she has to say or think, nor even of the basis of what she now looks like ... but on how she looked some thirteen or fourteen years ago. And although it's easy to say the Mail is the Mail, doesn't someone like Lembit Öpik use the press in exactly the same way?

It makes it all the harder for women who do have something to say in politics—whether as observers and commentators, or as politicians or potential politicians themselves—to say it. I must admit I was a little surprised by what Valleys Mam said about being able to comment anonymously making a difference, but I've always had the policy of letting people leave anonymous comments here on Syniadau, and of not pre-moderating them in the hope of getting contributors to discuss issues with each other, rather than always through me ...

... but I probably have some way to go on diatribe and boredom!

Bookmark and Share

Britain. A breath of foul air

Today the Independent on Sunday ran one of the campaigning articles it does best on its front page:

Britain. A breath of foul air

The UK faces £300m in fines after failing to meet EU pollution targets, but Britons also pay the price with heart disease, asthma and cancer

More than 50,000 people are dying prematurely in the UK every year, and thousands more suffer serious illness because of man-made air pollution, according to a parliamentary report published tomorrow. The UK now faces the threat of £300m in fines after it failed to meet legally binding EU targets to reduce pollution to safe levels.

Air pollution is cutting life expectancy by as many as nine years in the worst-affected city areas. On average, Britons die eight months too soon because of dirty air. Pollutants from cars, factories, houses and agriculture cause childhood health problems such as premature births, asthma and poor lung development. They play a major role in the development of chronic and life-shortening adult diseases affecting the heart and lungs, which can lead to repeated hospital admissions. Treating victims of Britain's poor air quality costs the country up to £20bn each year.

Nearly 5.5 million people receive NHS treatment for asthma, and more than 90,000 people were admitted to hospital as a result of the disease in England in 2008/09. US research has found that the lungs of children who live in highly polluted areas fail to develop fully.

Poor air quality is caused by three key pollutants – nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and ozone – where Britain fails to meet European safety targets.

Britain is Europe's worst emitter of nitrogen oxides and exposed 1.5 million people to unsafe levels in 2007, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Long-term exposure can cause breathing problems, worsen asthma and bronchitis in children and aggravate allergies. They are by-products of burning fuel, and contribute to acid rain and make plants more susceptible to disease. Despite almost halving emissions since 1990, Britain is widely expected to fall short of the 2010 EU target for nitrogen oxides, which are a precursor to particulate matter (PM), the most dangerous of all pollutants. They play a major role in the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adults which will affect more people than heart disease by 2020.

Particulate matter is airborne and comes from materials ranging from sulphates, ammonia, carbon and water to mineral dust. Sources include coal burning, exhaust emissions, tyre wear, quarrying and construction. There is no safe level of PM; some people are affected by very low concentrations over a long period. It is also linked to heart disease and cancer ...

Independent on Sunday, 21 March 2010

Obviously this is a headline grabbing story, and that makes it hard to break things down into any detail to look at specific solutions to the problem. The report tomorrow will have the detail. But the big picture is clear: we are part of a UK that takes an extraordinarily blasé, cavalier approach to air pollution and health. The UK simply does not take it as seriously as it should.

The cause of the vast majority of this pollution is burning things: to produce energy and for transport in the main ... though another thing that is set to increase markedly in the next few years, with the potential for yet more harmful effects, is burning waste.

So how does this relate specifically to Wales?

Earlier in the week, the Welsh Government published its policy statement on energy, A Low Carbon Revolution. I was going to write something about it, but John Dixon beat me to it in this post and said much of what I would have said anyway. He does that a lot. He said the policy aims are all well and good, but the document said very little about how those aims are going to be achieved. What I would add is that a prime reason for this is that the Welsh Government is simply not able to do much more than talk about energy; the decision making power generally lies with the Department of Energy and Climate Change in Westminster ... although implementation of policy for large scale schemes has now passed to the Infrastructure Planning Commission, something I commented on here.

However one thing is stands out very clearly from the Welsh Government's document:

Based on Wales’ natural advantages in areas such as wind and marine renewable resources, our aim will be to renewably generate up to twice as much electricity annually by 2025 as we use today and by 2050, at the latest, be in a position where almost all of our local energy needs, whether for heat, electrical power or vehicle transport, can be met by low carbon electricity production.

We can easily generate all the electricity we need in Wales from renewable sources, though I'm not entirely sure that I'd put the figure as high as twice what we need. I reckon it's possible, but I'd rather concentrate on some firm plans for generating what we need first. (It's also worth noting the semantic shift in the quote. The first part is energy from renewables, the second is for "low carbon" electricity ... which would include nuclear. But we definitely do not need nuclear energy to generate the electricity we consume. They seem to envisage a scenario where we have electricity coming out of our ears, so that we'll have to use the surplus for cars and heating ... but that's an aside.)

The big problem for Wales is that we're attached to the rest of the UK. On our own, we already produce more electricity than we need, and we're set to produce a whole lot more with two new gas-fired power stations at Newport and Pembrokeshire. Energy policy in Scotland is devolved, and in Northern Ireland is considered on an all-Ireland basis, but we are lumped in with an England that has very different needs ... consequently we are forced to live with an energy policy that suits England rather than Wales. England has much more limited choices than we have: it has less favourable renewable energy resources anyway, but this is exacerbated by it being a much more densely populated country. It therefore needs fuel-burning electricity production in a way that Wales doesn't, and I think that it is because of this need that the government is so cavalier about the amount of pollution burning such fuels produces.

But what is so unfair about the way Wales is treated is that we're still tied to polluting ways of producing energy. Not only is a coal burning power station like Aberthaw one of the dirtiest ways of burning fuel for electricity, but we actively pursue even more dirty ways of extracting the coal to feed into it. Where else but in Wales would we develop open cast mines within a stone's throw of houses and schools? Why would we even think of then opening new ones such as at Varteg and Rhyd-y-car? The dust produced from such operations directly adds to health problems.

Then on top of that we are actively proposing waste incineration plants which will throw even more pollutants into the air than any power station, because there is no way of controlling the quality of waste when burnt as a fuel. For more on that, please read this.


So what are the solutions? First and foremost we must be free in Wales to decide our own energy policy for ourselves. What the UK stubbornly refuses to do, we can easily do. Our priority in Wales must be to achieve the goal of generating all our electricity from renewables. That means putting an emphasis on investing in technologies that suit our most prevalent natural resource, the tides. Instead of one "all or nothing" mega-project of the sort so loved by outgoing governments as a legacy which others will have to pick up the bill for, we need to have started developing lots of smaller projects to harness both tidal range and tidal flow. I am convinced that we could get all party consensus on this issue, particularly since it was part of the All Wales Accord (or Rainbow Alliance) between Plaid, the Tories and the LibDems to generate all our electricity from renewables.

The second is that we must stop generating electricity from coal, and must wind down open cast mining in Wales. Irrespective of climate change, we cannot justify either mining or burning it on health grounds. But to get that policy changed will mean not returning a Labour Government at the next Assembly elections, for they are the ones who forced things like Ffos y Frân onto Merthyr ... with willing assistance from local Labour Councillors. We'd do better to save it for the time we'll need it ... because when there's no oil left for burning as fuel, it will be needed for the plastics and chemicals industry.


It might also be worth noting that on the same day as the Welsh Policy was announced, DECC also published its Marine Energy Action Plan 2010 which paid more attention about how to move forward, rather than just state targets. I feel another post coming.

Bookmark and Share

Question Time ... the BBC's initial response

Earlier this month, I posted this letter by Madoc Batcup about Question Time, complaining that the BBC was not fairly representing either Welsh affairs, or a representative cross-section of Welsh viewpoints on wider affairs, in the programme broadcast from Cardiff on 25 February.

Madoc has just received this reply:

Dear Mr Batcup

Thank you for your e-mail and further comments regarding 'Question Time' on 25 February. Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and are sorry you've had to wait on this occasion.

I understand you were unhappy with the choice of panellists for this edition and that you felt there was a lack of questions related to fundamentally Welsh issues.

'Question Time' aims to generate lively weekly debate on various topical issues and to represent a broad range of views within each programme. However, it cannot do this and ensure strict political balance within the five-person panel each week. Given that it's working within a limited timeframe there will always be more question the audience would like to hear asked, and more panellists featured, than the programme can provide within individual broadcasts.

However the programme does seek to achieve balance over a reasonable period and has a firm commitment to political balance over the series as a whole.

This provides some scope for different balance from one week to another, and also for introducing variety in the guests and issues featured.

If you would like to take part in the audience and put forward a question you can find more information on how to do this on the programme's website here:


Viewers can also share their views on each edition on the 'Question Time' section of the 'Have Your Say' blog here:


I'd also like to assure you that we've registered your comments on our audience log for the benefit of the programme makers and senior management within the BBC. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for contacting us.


Stuart Webb
BBC Complaints

I think every one of us can see that this is nothing more than the standard template letter that the BBC keep on file to answer any complaint they receive ... though with one or two blanks filled in. And of course that doesn't make the BBC particularly different from any other large organization.


Before looking at Madoc's response, there are a few points that I'd like to make. The first is that the BBC seem to place considerable importance on what they call their "audience log". This seems to imply that they take rather more notice of the quantity of complaints they receive than their quality. So I would urge anybody reading this who agrees with what Madoc has said to write or email the BBC even if that involves making exactly the same points. This is the link:


I believe that the BBC are trapped in a particular way of looking at politics and current affairs that leaves their central organization largely unaware of the extent of the concerns of people in Wales in particular.

To illustrate this, the edition from Belfast on 11 February this year is still available on iPlayer. As we can see, the programme took particular care to represent all sides of the political spectrum on Northern Ireland, as well as having a UK perspective through Shaun Woodward, the SoSNI. And although some questions were specifically about Northern Ireland, a good number of them were about other issues such as UK involvement in torture, expenses corruption in Westminster, the Greek economy, and the pay of celebrities employed by the BBC.

To my mind this shows that the BBC took considerably more care to fulfill their obligations with respect to Northern Ireland than they do with respect to Wales.

•  On one hand, we should expect at least some matters of concern to Wales to be discussed on a programme aired throughout the UK. People elsewhere in the UK need and would surely want to be informed of what's happening in Wales. So if it's right that, say, the devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland was discussed on that programme, surely we should expect some aspects of what is or might be devolved to Wales to be discussed when the programme is broadcast from Wales.

•  On the other hand, it is of course right that UK and world issues are discussed in addition to matters that concern Wales. But even so, the majority of the panel should be composed of people who can contribute different shades of specifically Welsh opinion on these issues when the programme is broadcast from Wales. And this should be true whichever nation or region the programme is broadcast from.

As for Scotland, all we have to do is wait until Thursday, since the next edition of Question Time will come from Glasgow. I'm willing to bet that the BBC will take care that the composition of that panel and the questions asked will show more regard for Scotland than the programme from Cardiff did for Wales.


As might be expected, Madoc is not one to be fobbed off by such a cursory answer. None of us would be. This is his response to the BBC's letter:

Dear Mr. Webb

Your reply is wholly unacceptable, and I intend to take the matter further. You have answered none of my questions, but only given a bland reply which deals with none of the issues. The cursory nature of the reply and its general vagueness clearly indicate to me that you have not considered the matter in any detail. You do not deal with the particular issue of Wales, nor with the fact that none of the questions on the programme related to Wales, while two were wholly or largely to do with England. This programme could have been broadcast twenty years ago – there was no-one from the Welsh Assembly and indeed no mention of it, or of any decisions made in Wales. This approach gives the BBC no credibility whatsoever in terms of appropriate treatment of Welsh matters, and informing a wider UK audience about the situation in Wales. If your response is any indication of the way in which the BBC intends to cover the Westminster elections then it gives rise to great disquiet.

I believe that the programme represented a flagrant breach of the concerns laid out by the BBC well over ten years ago. I refer in particular to the BBC’s programme response to Devolution published in December 1998, and the BBC Trust impartiality report: BBC network news and current affairs coverage of the four UK nations authored by Professor Anthony King and published in June 2008. The Question Time programme and your response typify the concern expressed by the BBC at the time in its response of 1998:

"... the BBC has sometimes appeared insensitive to political, administrative, cultural and linguistic differences across the UK, giving the impression of a London-based organisation dismissive of the more geographically distant parts of the UK. There have been errors of judgement, and, on occasions, of accuracy."

In the King Report it was pointed out that:

"... the review highlights concern that BBC network news and current affairs programmes taken as a whole are not reporting the changing UK with the range and precision that might reasonably be expected given the high standards the BBC itself aspires to. There are specific concerns as to accuracy and clarity of reporting, the balance of coverage, and missed opportunities of drawing on the rich variety of the UK and communicating it to multiple audiences. As examples, political coverage is seen as unduly focused on Westminster in volume and style; there is seen to be a general bias in favour of stories about England or telling stories from an England perspective; and there is evidence that several stories in the nations which may have been significant to the UK were not taken up by the network."

The BBC Trust's comment was:

"However, we are concerned at Professor King's assessment that the BBC is not reporting the changing UK with the range that might be expected, given the fact that audiences have expressed a desire to learn more about other parts of the UK in the BBC's coverage. This echoes a wider concern expressed to the Trust that audiences see the BBC as too preoccupied with the interests and experiences of London, and that those who live elsewhere in the UK do not see their lives adequately reflected on the BBC. It is not acceptable that a BBC funded by licence fee payers across the whole country should not address the interests of them all in fair measure."

In its document of 1998, the BBC, said that it would introduce certain measures to 'enable the BBC to provide accurate and well judged news for its audiences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but also to allow it to offer all viewers and listeners a true sense of the diversity within the UK'.

I would be grateful if you could send me any more recently published BBC guidelines which might show whether or not BBC's position in respect of diversity has changed in any respect. I assume that they will not differ greatly from what has been previously published. In your response you suggested that you were committed to political balance over the series of Question Time as a whole. This missed the point of my concern; it is not the narrow balance between the UK political parties that is of concern, but the reflection of e.g. the 'administrative and cultural differences' and the fact that there is a different government in Wales. Your reply talked about introducing 'variety in the guests and issues featured', but when are issues relevant to Wales to be dealt with if not in a programme broadcast from Wales?

It is my opinion that if the people responsible for making a programme such as Question Time cannot comply with the plainly stated priorities of the BBC Trust after more than 10 years of devolution then it is high time that they were replaced by people who will comply. By way of a request under the Freedom of Information Act I would therefore be grateful if you could confirm the following:

1.   What are the current guidelines that the BBC has to follow in order to ensure it meets the ‘political, administrative, cultural and linguistic differences across the UK’?

2.   Is Question Time considered to be covered by these BBC guidelines. If not, why not?

3.   Which person or group of persons are responsible for making this decision?

4.   If Question Time is covered by the guidelines, are there specific management, co-ordinating and editorial measures that have been put in place by the BBC management to ensure that these guidelines are adhered to?

5.   Who is responsible at the BBC for deciding and implementing such measures?

6.   Is it the view of BBC management that such measures are adequate to implement these diversity guidelines?

7.   Is it the view of BBC management that the guidelines and the measures to implement them have been appropriately and adequately communicated to them staff responsible for making the Question Time programmes?

8.   Is it the view of BBC management that:

   a. The diversity guidelines were complied with in the Question Time
   broadcast on the 25th February 2010?

   b. The measures put in place by BBC management to implement the diversity
   guidelines were implemented and complied with by all relevant staff responsible
   for the Question Time programme broadcast on the 25th February 2010?

9.   Which particular individuals are responsible for deciding on the composition of the panel on Question Time?

10.  What criteria do those individuals use for deciding which panellists to invite?

11.  How are the particular requirements of Wales, given devolution, taken into account to ensure that that such criteria in respect of panellists take into account the diversity guidelines?

12.  Which particular individuals are responsible for deciding which questions are asked on Question Time?

13.  What are the criteria used by those individuals to decide which questions are asked?

14.  How are the particular requirements of Wales, given devolution, taken into account to ensure that that such criteria in respect of questions take into account the diversity guidelines?

15.  Does the BBC management consider that the diversity guidelines were in fact complied with in Question Time on the 25th February 2010?

16.  Does BBC management consider that the measures (if any) introduced to implement the diversity guidelines were complied with in Question Time on the 25th February 2010?

17.  If the guidelines and/or measures were not complied with, who is responsible for the lack of compliance?

18.  What steps (including any disciplinary action) does the BBC management intend to take to remedy any failure to comply with the guidelines/measures in respect of the Question Time programme?

19.  What steps does the BBC management intend to take in the future to ensure that the diversity guidelines are met?

20.  How many times is Question Time broadcast per year?

21.  What is the proportion of Question Time broadcasts that are broadcast from Wales?

22.  What input does BBC Wales have into such broadcasts to ensure that the diversity guidelines are met?

I look forward to receiving your reply as soon as possible and at latest within the 20 working days provided for by the Freedom of Information Act.

Yours sincerely

M R Batcup

I trust the BBC will take the trouble to give a more considered response this time. If Madoc gives permission, I'll post the answers he gets.

Bookmark and Share

Peter Hain's Swansong

All political careers have to come to an end, and I have to say that I even felt a touch of sympathy for Peter Hain as he was taunted in his final performance as Secretary of State for Wales in the Commons yesterday.

     Hain refuses to name the date for a referendum

Poor man. He put himself in an impossible position by being two-faced about devolution. He so wanted to be seen as a strong advocate of devolution in Wales. He claimed that it wasn't him who was holding back the move to primary lawmaking powers of the same sort (though still not to the same extent) as the Scottish Parliament has had for the past decade ... no, for him it was always the people of Wales who were holding things back because we wouldn't vote Yes in the referendum.

But poll after poll has shown that the people of Wales will vote Yes in the referendum.

Peter Hain couldn't live with that. I believe his support for further devolution was just posturing. He realized he couldn't stop it happening, so the only course left was to put obstacles in the way in order to slow it down. He then convinced himself that the convoluted dog's breakfast that he had devised would last for a generation. Some politicians can adapt to change, but he simply couldn't bring himself to admit that he'd misread the situation so badly.


But Labour took pity on him and allowed him to save face. The rest of the party eventually came to realize that it was in their own best interests to have the referendum; but by delaying the vote by a couple of weeks, and then forgetting to actually send him the letter, Cobweb Jones made sure that Peter Hain wouldn't be put in the awkward position of having to do anything about it at all. He could just let it gather dust in his intray ... which is where it will now stay until a new Tory Secretary of State for Wales sits behind his old desk at Tŷ Gwydyr. Not that I think she (or he, for the Tories might just get enough seats in Wales to be able to have a Secretary of State who has been elected by people in Wales, I suspect Jonathan Evans will be in line for it) will act very quickly ... but it would be too embarrassing for the Tories to break all their election promises. In fact, they will delight in being able to say that they delivered something for Wales, for I don't think Wales will get much else from them.

And that, of course, will be Peter Hain's final humiliation. By his logic, Labour should take all the credit for delivering devolution – but by that same logic, it will be the Tories that now give Wales a Senedd that can make laws without having to ask for Westminster's permission. How ironic. Peter Hain is the one that keeps saying "it's either Labour or the Tories" ... and he's now scored a spectacular own goal for the Tories!


Never mind, Peter. I hate to have to tell you this, but devolution was never about either Labour or the Tories. It's been about people in Wales, from all parties and none, believing that we in Wales should make most of the decisions that affect our lives in Wales through our own National Assembly.

Bookmark and Share

Welsh doesn't need friends like this

It was strange, to say the least, for last night's Week In Week Out on BBC Wales to feature Professor Christie Davies so prominently. His totally bizarre solution of Welsh enclaves in which people would have to speak Welsh not just fluently, but "excellently" – and forced to leave if they didn't, even if they'd lived there all their lives – would have been sinister if it wasn't so obvious that he was taking the piss.

OK, he might have fooled some BBC researchers into thinking he cared about the future of Welsh ... but that says more about what passes for research nowadays. If anybody needs reminding about what Professor Davies really thinks of Welsh, these two articles should help:

The last gasps of a dead tongue

Christie Davies argues that as the Welsh language will and must die out, encouraging people to learn it is a pointless exercise

The study of Welsh is compulsory in all schools in Wales. In Gwynedd all teaching is exclusively through the medium of Welsh. Yet, in my opinion, learning Welsh is of no use to anyone, since even in Wales itself the language is spoken by less than a fifth of the population and the vast majority of Welsh speakers are bilingual, often with English as their stronger language.

Whereas there is a strong case for ensuring that all school children in the United Kingdom should acquire a thorough mastery of all aspects of the English language, no such argument can be applied to the teaching and learning of Welsh. Rather, two libertarian principles should prevail throughout the Principality. First, all pupils should have an inalienable right to be educated through the medium of English. Second, every pupil should have the right not to study Welsh and to have access to a choice of modern languages in school.

While the Welsh language will, should and must die out, it does not follow that the study of dead Welsh should be abandoned. On the contrary the Welsh of the past should be made available alongside Latin and Greek for the more gifted pupils.

Times Higher Education, 4 July 1997

Why I ... believe the Welsh Assembly should not compel students to be taught in Welsh

For centuries, the Welsh were trapped by their obscure Celtic language in which little of importance was written. When they switched to English they entered the mainstream of European science and culture.

Next Thursday the Welsh will vote for candidates to the principality's new assembly. There will be a strong coalition composed of Welsh Nationalists, some Liberal Democrats and some Labour Party members. This coalition is likely to push for the spread of the Welsh language.

In my view this will be a disaster ...

Times Higher Education, 30 April 1999

I'm sure the word "libertarian" would have pricked up some ears, too. Yes, he's also part of the Social Affairs Unit, a right-wing think-tank. Who'd have guessed?

If the Welsh language had friends like this, it would hardly need any enemies.

Bookmark and Share

An Independent Catalunya in the EU

As some of you will have noticed from the blog list on the right, an important research paper on what will happen to countries such as Catalunya, Euskadi, Flanders, Scotland and of course Wales with regard to the EU when they become independent has just been published by Dr Antoni Abat i Ninet, visiting professor of law at Stanford University, California.


One slight problem is that it's only been published in Catalan so far, though I would expect an English version to be available before very long. We can get a flavour of what it says through Google Translate ... but for a paper that deals with legal and technical issues, it probably won't be enough. However this post from Oriol Junqueras seems to shed most light on what's been happening:

The president of the European Free Alliance (EFA), the Flemish Nelly Maes, and the President of the parliamentary subgroup in the European Parliament, the Welsh (and increasingly popular in Catalonia) Jill Evans, met some days ago with the President of the European Council, Van Rompuy, to explain the priorities of the EFA for this term. One of the topics that was addressed at the request of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (the left of centre pro-independence party) was the consultation process of self-determination in Catalonia. In December Jill Evans, along with other members of the Alliance, came to Catalonia to see the first wave of referendums at first hand.

Van Rompuy was interested in the concept of internal enlargement that we have developed in the EFA, and about which Professor Antoni Abat i Ninet has written a report (pdf) ... very interesting, by the way, I recommend reading it. The report is published by Sobiranistes Studies Center (ESC) and advocates the feasibility and ease-of-entry to the EU once Catalonia declares independence, with solid political and legal arguments.

The President of the European Council, Van Rompuy, said he loved the concept of internal expansion as it was defined by the EU. On the one hand, you'd expect me to say that as a matter of courtesy, but on the other it is also true that the EU is very interested in any political project has a pro-European vision. One of the biggest problems in the EU is Euroscepticism, and the EFA advocates a policy of independence 'within the EU' clearly and unequivocally.

Incidentally, Van Rompuy's brother is a fervent supporter of Flemish independence. So we might suppose he would see and understand the benefits of internal enlargement ... or in any case would not have a distorted picture.

Anyway, these are small details that I think we should take on board to build trust and credibility into the Catalan independence project.

Oriol Junqueras, 15 March 2010

This meeting with Van Rompuy seems to be quite an advance, since previous attempts to raise questions in the EU about what would happen when our countries become independent have been met with less clear answers. And this of course has led to scaremongering by Unionist politicians that we would be thrown into outer darkness if we dared to become independent ... and that what was left of the UK would veto our application to join anyway. The paper by Dr Antoni Abat i Ninet will add yet more weight to counter that argument.

For the EFA report on Jill Evans' and Nelly Maes' meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, click the picture:


And I have been meaning to write an update on the situation in Catalunya for the past few weeks. I'll try and make time.

Bookmark and Share

The Welsh NHS and its English counterpart

Last week Betsan Powys posted something that gave me, and I guess everyone in Wales, cause for a small smile of satisfaction; namely that the much trumpeted difference in NHS waiting list times between Wales and England was not so clear cut as people had been led to believe.

While it's not possible to directly compare figures between Wales and England, as the data is not collected in exactly the same way, it is possible to get a rough indication of performance between the two, helpfully provided at a briefing on today's waiting list figures.

So with those health warnings in mind, at the end of December 2009:

In Wales, 89.9 per cent of patients waiting were waiting less than 18 weeks.
In England, 90 per cent of patients waiting were waiting less than 18 weeks.

Winner? Wales – by a whisker.

In Wales, 0.7 per cent of patients waiting were waiting over 26 weeks.
In England, 4.5 per cent of patients waiting were waiting over 26 weeks.

Winner? Wales

In Wales, no patients were waiting over 36 weeks.
In England, 47,459 patients were still waiting over 36 weeks.

Winner? No contest.

In England, the tolerance level for their 18 week maximum wait target is set at 90 per cent. So – or so at least the argument goes in Cardiff Bay – what you gain on the time you lose on the tolerance.

Betsan Powys, The Long Wait – 11 March 2010

As others—notably Welsh Ramblings in this post—have said, a small difference in waiting times probably doesn't matter very much. If Wales is slightly ahead now, we might well find ourselves behind in a few months time. And all of us will be aware that whenever an arbitrary target is set there will be a temptation to organize resources in a way that helps meet that target (like SATs in schools) at the expense of making more sensible and practical decisions about patients as patients, rather than as statistics. Even yesterday we have a reminder in this article that figures might say one thing, but that the actual experience might be different.

If we want to look at differences between our NHS and that in England we need to stand back and look at the bigger picture.


One part of the Politics Show yesterday stood out for me as a perfect example of something that I've said on more occasions than I can count. The biggest change in the NHS came about by restructuring the NHS as an internal market in which clinicians caring for people in need of treatment would buy that treatment from one of a number of competing providers. The stated aim of that reorganization was to drive down cost and provide choice. It was brought in by the Labour Party as a way of responding to the more right-leaning inclinations of middle England (Tony Blair got elected by being as right wing as, if not more right wing than, the Tories) ... but the reorganization in England was duly replicated by the Labour Party in Wales. The most obvious sign of this was to break up the existing Health Boards into 22 smaller units, precisely so that they could compete with each other over the provision of services. Yes, it meant a lot of duplication, but ideology dictated that the benefits of competition would outweigh the duplication.


I've perhaps shown more of the clip than is necessary to make the point, and the point is of course overlaid by a number of other points, but I wanted to put things into context. Gordon Brown firmly believes that he saved the NHS by introducing the internal market (much as he saved the world economy, I guess) and it is something that we can see he remains proud of. And we all know that so much money has been poured into the NHS over the past decade (in England by the UK government, with a proportionate amount to the devolved administrations) that things were bound to improve, despite the wastefulness and unnecessary duplication of the internal market. But what Labour did has fundamentally changed the ethos of the way that the NHS works, because it imposes a competitive business model on a service in which most of the staff are motivated primarily by compassion and the desire to help others rather than money and profit. The NHS works better when the people in it collaborate with each other rather than compete with each other.

I think Sally Austen expressed that perfectly in the clip, especially when she talked about the demoralizing effect it had on clinical staff, wearing them down and draining energy that should be directed towards patient care rather than squeezing the last penny on a funding deal with that part of the NHS that would provide the best care for the patient. And, as Mike Weston said afterwards, when staff are put under that sort of pressure what develops is a culture of blame and fear rather than cooperation. He was looking for a fundamental reappraisal of the way the NHS in England works ... Mr Brown seemed blind to the big picture and only tried to offer solutions that addressed the symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem.

In short, I fear for the NHS in England because I think the direction they have chosen is in danger of destroying the nature of the service. Apart from the most outspoken free-marketeers, nobody wants this. But, in the same way as with the Royal Mail/Post Office, politicians cherry-pick the things that will make an easy "efficiency saving". So, for example, if the profitable bits are farmed out to private companies who can do the same thing slightly more cheaply, the rest of the service will find it harder. And so, step by step, the NHS will keep getting cut back to the point where it only provides a basic safety net to those who can't afford better.


In Wales it is different. Yes, we did follow the Labour model in the early years of devolution, but we then decided to dismantle the internal market ... and yes, that did mean another change of structure. It was awkward and embarrassing, and change for the sake of change is useless, but once you realize you're heading in the wrong direction there's no real choice.

The reversal came about as the result of the 2007 election. Although there was a commitment in Labour's manifesto not to use PFI/PPP for capital NHS projects (a very welcome U-turn) there was nothing in the Labour manifesto about dismantling the internal market. The closest they got to it was a mention of ending competitive tendering for hospital cleaning contracts!

So the change clearly came because of Plaid Cymru. But that isn't to say that Labour AMs weren't willing collaborators. I like to imagine the conversation between Tony Blair and Rhodri Morgan, with the latter saying, "Well of course we don't want to get rid of the internal market, Tony. It's one of your greatest achievements. But the Plaidis are insisting on it, and it's either working with them or us being in opposition." At that stage Blair was on the point of retiring anyway and so didn't kick up a fuss. Why not leave Gordon to handle the mess that would be bound to result from abandoning sane, right-wing policies? "Bloody Welsh, they never know what's good for them", shouts Blair as Rhodri leaves. Rhodri walks out of the office with a spring in his step, then allows himself to punch the air once he thinks he's out of range of the security cameras. Labour in Wales got the sort of NHS they wanted (well, I'm not sure that applies to their MPs) but until then had been afraid to stand up for.


So there are now three big differences between our NHS and that in England: dismantling the internal market, the refusal to use PFI/PPP for capital projects, and an emphasis on dealing with longer term issues to improve the nation's general health and fitness. In the long term, doing it this way will make us healthier and save us money. Compared with these, the rest is less important.

Bookmark and Share

So biased, the BBC aren't even aware of it

Because of the way the human eye is designed, we each have a blind spot. The problem is that we're all so used to it that we're not usually aware that we have one. Such is the case with the BBC.

Any reasonable person might have thought that the row over the upcoming party leader's debates on the BBC, ITV and Sky would have made the BBC look hard at how they approached other programmes in the run up to May's election—not least the ones that they alone are responsible for—but the Politics Show yesterday proved that they haven't taken a blind bit of notice.

It was an extended hour-long question and answer session with Gordon Brown (followed by the usual 15 minute regional opt out). Next week Nick Clegg will be given the same place in the media spotlight, and it will be David Cameron's turn the week after.

So what should the BBC do?

Simple. Having devoted three hour-long sessions to three of the elected parties who stand in the next election, the BBC have a duty to give the same opportunity to both Plaid Cymru and the SNP in Wales and Scotland. Because the Politics Show already has a UK/regional split, it would be very simple to change that split for one week to have 15 minutes of UK content, followed by the remainder of the show being devoted entirely to a similar question and answer session with Ieuan Wyn Jones in Wales and Alex Salmond in Scotland. I would even be prepared to see the compromise of this being a 45 minute session, so that the Politics show would fit into its usual 60 minute slot. Viewers in England would have a mix of regional or England-only content during this time.

It is a practical and easily implemented solution that will give Plaid Cymru and the SNP the same exposure in Wales and Scotland as the other three parties get. No special favours, just simple equality of treatment. And it would of course not be confined to Welsh and Scottish issues, since both parties have policies for the UK as a whole. In Plaid's case pensions and the treatment of our service personnel after they leave the forces; for the SNP immigration and nuclear arms; and for both parties issues such as Britain's transport infrastructure ... though of course the actual questions would be posed by those invited to participate.

No, this doesn't solve the problem of the BBC/ITV/Sky debates between the three other party leaders. But why should the BBC—who after all have a special duty of balance—repeat the same mistake again?

Bookmark and Share

Not quite on the right track

The Government's White Paper on a high speed rail network is very welcome in this sense: it is a reflexion of the fact that Labour has grasped the need to develop a high speed rail network in Britain. It is hard to believe just how much their policy in this area has changed in the short time since Andrew Adonis became transport secretary. There might be plenty to argue about over the details of the route—particularly with regard to Heathrow—and the eventual extent of the network, but both Labour and the Tories are now in agreement on the principle of a high speed rail network in Britain, and this means that it should go ahead. Gwell hwyr na hwyrach.


However, as I read the stories the day after, it seems that politics has got the better of facts. We have the Tories claiming that "their" plan always included Heathrow, which it didn't, and Peter Hain claiming that the HS2 plan will benefit Wales, which it won't. But what else would we expect at election time? I'd prefer to look at things as objectively as I can ... so find a comfy chair.


There is a wealth of detail about the Government's proposal (and it should be noted that High Speed Two Ltd is a company that was set up by the government, rather than a disinterested body) on this page. So on the basis that a picture paints a thousand words, this map shows the essence of the proposal.


In some ways it is similar to the Bow Group (a Tory think-tank) proposal that Penddu highlighted in this post a few weeks ago (please take time to read it). But the most obvious difference is where the line splits to go to either north west England and Glasgow, or to north east England and Edinburgh. In this respect I think the HS2 proposal is better than that of the Bow Group. As I mentioned at the time, I think the more convoluted route to Leeds was a legacy from the original Tory proposal that they can't quite bring themselves to ditch. Certainly it is important that Leeds is on the network, but branching just north of Birmingham brings the east Midlands and Sheffield directly onto the main route.

However what matters much more is the way that the HS2 proposal treats Heathrow. The crucial difference between the two is that the Bow Group have taken on board the idea of creating a Heathrow Hub. This is an idea first put forward by Arup, and it makes Heathrow a key part of an integrated transport network. The HS2 proposal leaves Heathrow as a spur off the high speed rail network, rather than part of the network itself.



As we can see, the HS2 proposal centres on a Crossrail Interchange (I'll call it the CRI) which serves a number of useful purposes. But in functional terms it is really doing what the Heathrow Hub itself would do ... but in the wrong place.

The crucial difference is that the CRI is in London, so if people use that interchange, they then have to travel into London and then back out of London to get to Heathrow. They reckon the journey time will be 11 minutes, but the fact is that the current journey from Paddington to Heathrow via the Heathrow Express only takes 15 minutes. That's hardly any saving. On top of that Heathrow itself comprises a number of isolated terminals (Central, Terminal 4, Terminal 5 ... and maybe a Terminal 6 if a third runway is built) and no train station can ever serve all of those. Therefore what is needed is a local terminal interchange service which can take in all of those ... and in so doing also include the major rail lines, as well as a bus station and car parking. This is exactly what Arup are proposing.

By including the Great Western Line, it means that people coming to the airport from south Wales, Bristol and Bath, Cheltenham and Gloucester, south west England and Cornwall can get directly to the airport hub, rather than first having to go into London. This is a good thing, and in theory this could be done whether or not the high speed line went through it.

But the advantage of routing the high speed rail link through the Heathrow Hub is that people from the midlands and north of England can also get to Heathrow without first going into London, and can equally use it as an interchange to get to south Wales and south West England without first going into London. It is also very doubtful whether the cost of the Heathrow Hub could be justified unless the high speed line went through it. This is why routing it through the Heathrow Hub is so important to Wales.


The Bow Group see this clearly. As they themselves say, this holistic way of thinking is of the same sort displayed by Michael Heseltine in deciding the route of HS1 – the link from the Channel Tunnel to London. Coming into London from the east rather than the south (as had been proposed by the rail industry) regenerated a whole swathe of what we now call the Thames Gateway ... and the fact that the route was a few kilometres longer didn't matter. It is the same with this proposal by HS2: they are looking at it predominantly from a rail point of view rather than as an integrated transport solution.

Ironically, the HS2 proposal does work around Birmingham, because it makes Birmingham Airport the interchange hub between the new HS line, normal rail services, the airport and the motorway network. All that is necessary is for them to apply the same logic to London's main airport, the normal rails service on the GWR, and the M4.


And I think that HS2 probably realize this. Why else would we see the rather pathetic "loop" to Heathrow on the map above? And what else could explain this statement:

The question is whether there is a case for an additional station at the site of Heathrow itself. HS2 Ltd, after thorough analysis, advise that the business case for such an additional station appears weak, given the estimated cost of at least £2 billion for the additional tunnelling required to serve the site. Furthermore, Heathrow is not a single place; it is an airport with three widely dispersed terminal centres.

However, I am conscious that, as foreshadowed in the Government’s January 2009 decision on adding capacity at Heathrow, there may be a strategic case for a high speed station at Heathrow, particularly in the light of that planned expansion. I have therefore appointed Lord Mawhinney, a former Transport Secretary, to advise on the best way forward, having fully engaged with all interested parties. A complex decision of this nature should not be taken in a knee-jerk fashion, but after a full analysis of the facts and options.

Andrew Adonis - HSR Summary, 11 March 2010

Andrew Adonis at least recognizes where the HS2 scheme is weakest. But I would suggest that if he thinks more clearly, the problem becomes much easier to solve. If the route is taken through Heathrow, as the Bow Group proposes, it will not involve having to build an additional station. If there were a Heathrow Hub, there would be no need for the CRI. It would do everything that the CRI is intended to do, but better. Secondly, Lord Adonis is wrong to suggest that it requires an additional £2bn for tunnelling ... that would only be required if the station were under Heathrow.

The most critical aspect is that of "dispersion", namely that rather than discharge all passengers at the terminal station (Euston) from which they would then have to flood onto the underground to get to various parts of London, an across-the-platform interchange to Crossrail will allow people to go directly to half a dozen points in London. But Crossrail is already set to go through the Heathrow Hub anyway, so it will provide exactly the same "dispersion" that the CRI will provide.

The CRI is intended to be at Old Oak Common in west London, just three miles from Paddington, which is currently the depot for the Eurostar fleet. There is a consensus that the terminal should be at Euston, and this will involve tunnelling between them, and to connect to the HS1 line into St Pancras. The tunnelling is a major cost, but it is common to both schemes. So it is then a question of which route the line follows from there. The HS2 proposal uses the Central Line corridor, the Heathrow Hub proposal uses the Great Western corridor ... both are equally feasible and neither involves major works. The difference in the length of the two routes would be less than a kilometre.


But the biggest difference is that the CRI at Old Oak Common could only ever be a rail solution. There is no way that it could be an integrated transport hub, because there's no way for it interface with road transport. The Heathrow Hub would be right next to the M4/M25 junction, making it very easy to drive and park there, and for a bus station ... as well as the airport, of course. As an integrated solution it wins hands down. The HS2 proposal is a solution that only looks at things from a rail point of view, it lacks breadth of vision.


Finally, everybody knows that no decisions are going to be made on this until after the May election, and the Tories have said they will not accept the proposal without looking again at the route. But I don't want to make this into a party political issue.

My point is simply that building a Heathrow Hub is better in almost every respect than siting it at Old Oak Common. But, in particular, it is better for Wales. Because of this, I urge politicians in Wales, especially Labour politicians, not to look at this as a Labour vs Tory issue. Fight for the solution that is best for Wales (as well as for south west England) ... and if party politics gets in the way, remember that the Heathrow Hub wasn't the Tories' idea, it was Arup's idea.

Bookmark and Share

A Good Night Out in the Valleys

Back in November I posted about the launch of National Theatre Wales, but tonight the curtain rose on its first ever production:


     Curtains up as National Theatre Wales' first play opens

It's good to see it up and running at last, not least because it means we now have something to stand alongside and complement the Welsh language Theatr Genedlathol Cymru, set up back in 2004. If we are serious about becoming a truly bilingual nation it is important that we promote and celebrate the many strands that contribute to our rich cultural diversity in both our languages.

I'm particularly proud that establishing an English language National Theatre for Wales was one of Plaid Cymru's manifesto pledges in the 2007 Assembly election, and that this was something that we managed to negotiate into the One Wales Agreement with Labour, who were opposed to the idea and had done nothing to set up an equivalent to Theatr Genedlathol Cymru in all the time they were in power before ... either when in coalition with the LibDems or in power on their own.


But that's enough politics. This is a taste of what to expect:


And there's more information about this and future productions here.

Bookmark and Share

Swansea to Cork ... again

It's been a while coming, but it looks like the new Swansea-Cork ferry is now operational.


Yes, it will probably do more for the economy of south west Ireland than it will do for that of Wales ... but even so it will still bring benefits to Wales. And every car or truck it takes off the roads west of Swansea will reduce pollution, make those roads that much safer to use, and reduce the need for those roads to be widened. Those are very welcome benefits.

Congratulations to those who have fought so hard to get the service reinstated. I wish the Fastnet Line every success and hope it will be a permanent part of our transport infrastructure.

Bookmark and Share

An unjust way to do justice

There's breaking news about the decision by the Labour Government in Westminster to refuse to allow bilingual juries in Wales. So far the story is only available in Welsh, here:

     'Na' i reithgorau dwyieithog

This matter has been on the agenda for some years, and the Ministry of Justice has been continually putting off the decision, as mentioned here. Yet despite previous positive indications the last statement by Jack Straw did appear to signal something more negative. So perhaps it shouldn't be such a surprise.


But that doesn't make it any less unjust. At present many lawyers specifically advise clients not to choose to testify in Welsh for this very reason. This, for example, is from a lecture by Justice Roderick Evans, the Senior Presiding Judge for Wales.

In every jury case in which I was involved as counsel and in which a witness on the side which I was instructed to represent indicated a preference to give evidence in Welsh, I advised that that witness would be at a substantial disadvantage in giving evidence in Welsh because of the disadvantages of presenting evidence to a jury via a translator. I know that I was not alone in giving such advice, and now as a judge I am aware of cases in which witnesses who would prefer to give evidence in Welsh give their evidence to a jury in English because of the need for translation.

Lecture to the Centre for Welsh Legal Affairs, 2006

The injustice is even more pronounced because of the unequality of the way Welsh is being treated in comparison with English. If any juror is summoned who does not understand sufficient English to be able to follow the case, s/he will be discharged. So why should that same principle not apply to Welsh?

It is simply not sufficient to say, as the MoJ maintains, that translation facilities are provided. The crucial issue is that a jury makes decisons about any case based on the credibility of the witnesses who give evidence.

In most cases, a witness's credibility is primarily determined by the way they answer questions ... especially when put under pressure in cross examination. Their tone of voice, frankness, confidence, hesitation, evasion or defensiveness are important ways in which any jury decides if a person is telling the truth or not. How can this be done if the jury doesn't understand Welsh?

Any translation will be several seconds late, in a voice different from that of the witness. How would a jury member who relies on such a translation decide whether a witness's body language matched what they said?


So there should be no issue of principle at stake. However that does not mean there won't be practical matters to address in arranging pools of Welsh speaking jurors. In Wales as a whole, only about 12% of the population were fluent in Welsh at the time of the last census, so there needs to be a practical and workable way of determining who they are beforehand, rather than filtering them out when they arrive for jury service.

The simplest way would be to ask that question as part of the annual electoral registration process, not least because the form already includes a question about age for jury purposes. Putting another tick box on the form is not going to lead to any inconvenience or cost any money.

And of course the jury would still be random. Although the size of the pool of Welsh speakers will vary from area to area, the likelihood of a trial involving significant use of Welsh is going to be correspondingly higher in areas with higher proportions of Welsh speakers. In areas where there are fewer Welsh speakers the answer would be to hold trials with significant use of Welsh in a batch every couple of months or so, or to move the trial to a place where there is a higher concentration of Welsh speakers.


So today's decision by the Ministry of Justice is not only fundamentally wrong in principle, but willfully ignores the very simple and practical steps that could be taken to make it possible to summons the necessary pools of bilingual jurors.

The use of Welsh in Courts is a matter that has not been devolved to the Assembly. This outrageous decision shows why it should be. But even without that it is a decision that I hope—and indeed expect—will be reversed by the next UK government. Despite their other faults, the Tories do have a relatively good track record on language issues. The way they react to this decision will show how committed they are to a system of justice that can be fair and just to everybody in Wales, irrespective of whether they choose to use English or Welsh.

Bookmark and Share

Pulling levers

Just for those who like to blame devolution for Wales' undoubtedly poor economic indicators, this clip from last week's Sharp End should be a timely reminder of where the real responsibility for this situation lies.


Alun Cairns was asked whether he was sure he was doing the right thing in wanting to be an MP, especially in light of the fact that people in Wales held MPs in much lower esteem than elsewhere in the UK. His reply was:

Absolutely right. My greatest interest is the economy and business and that's where the powers lie for economy and business really, where I'd like to be able to make a contribution to the constituency.

... When you look at the economy and business and in terms of overcoming deprivation, child poverty and those sorts of issues, it is Westminster that has most of the levers and that's really what can make the biggest influence and difference to the Vale of Glamorgan and other constituencies.

So just remember this next time you hear Alun Cairns or any other Tory criticizing the Welsh Government for Wales' poor economic performance, or why levels of deprivation and child poverty are so bad.

If you're a Tory, the obvious answer is to aim to get elected to Westminster in the hope of being able to hold one of those levers ... although that's something which is just as true for Labour politicians as well. But isn't the much more sensible idea to move the levers to Wales, so that we can take responsibility for these things for ourselves?

Bookmark and Share