By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament, Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher, tried to introduce a Bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. One of Mr Bacon's lines of argument was that the legal requirement for Ministers to amend legislation - without a vote in Parliament - in order to comply with European human rights legislation - is "fundamentally undemocratic":
"Under section 10, a Minister of the Crown may make such amendments to primary legislation as are considered necessary to enable the incompatibility to be removed by the simple expedient of making an order. In effect, because the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations, a supranational court can impose its will against ours. In my view this is fundamentally undemocratic."
Mr Bacon also compellingly argued that the controversial social issues that judges often like to get involved in should be decided by "elected representatives and not by unelected judges":
"[T]here is no point in belonging to a club if one is not prepared to obey its rules. The solution is therefore not to defy judgments of the Court, but rather to remove the power of the Court over us. ... Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us which enables them to discern what our people need better than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives. There is no set of values that are so universally agreed that we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific. Questions of major social policy, whether on abortion, capital punishment, the right to bear firearms or workers rights, should ultimately be decided by elected representatives and not by unelected judges."
By Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
By Matthew Barrett
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David Davies is an unusual MP. The Member for Monmouth and Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee is an amateur boxer (nickname: "The Tory Tornado)", former tobacco-picker, lorry driver and runner of a hostel in Australia. Not the stereotypical Tory MP's background. Davies is also, rare for an MP, currently serving as a Special Constable. Indeed, on his third patrol he arrested a man carrying a loaded gun.
Davies has written for the BBC today, describing his experiences helping out during the Olympics:
"All the special constables in London received a text asking them to come in and do the Olympics. I would have volunteered to do it even if I hadn't been asked. I do think it's important that MPs have a handle on things. To be honest, there was a lot of standing around but... helping people is very important. It was like the whole of London came out for the Olympics and they were happy just to experience this. There were a few pickpockets around and you can spend a lot of time dealing with that. Somebody threatened to kill someone but he was drunk. ... I cannot praise the organisers and volunteers enough. I like that I was playing a small part in the Olympics."
David Davies is perhaps less well-known than he might be amongst Tory activists, which is a shame, because Davies is a Tory MP we can all be proud of.
Read the whole article here.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Tory MP for Monmouth, David T C Davies has written to the Chancellor asking for him to deliver a new way of reminding people of Britain's debt burden. Mr Davies wants every organisation in receipt of taxpayers' money to put some sort of debt clock on to their websites.
This is what he writes:
"The EU insists any project to which it sends money has to put an EU logo on its website. (I have always found this somewhat irritating as it is really only British taxpayers’ money from which various EU bureaucrats have taken a large slice, but that is by the by.)
My suggestion is that every single organisation which is in receipt of public funds should put a small box onto its website stating the level of public debt.
This might make officials demanding more public money think a little more carefully about the impact their spending has on the British economy. It might also make members of the public reading their websites take note of the enormous debts we are running up which we will one day have to pay back.
I am sure you will agree we all need to be reminded at every opportunity that Britain simply cannot go on borrowing hundreds of billions of pounds every year. This would be a small step to jogging people’s memories that there is no magical money tree and any spending above current levels will have to be borrowed and repaid with interest."
The TaxPayers' Alliance's debt clock is still tick tocking away here.
By Tim Montgomerie
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His mother has voted for UKIP and the Tories have lost control of his local council. Tory MP for Monmouth David Davies has warned Cameron that he may not be in position for very long if he doesn't raise his game.
Mr Davies has written this letter to the South Wales Argus:
"May I sincerely congratulate councillors of all parties, and none, who were elected to Monmouthshire County Council last week. I shall be very happy to work with you all on improving local services.
May I also offer my apologies to those who feel the Conservative-led coalition has let them down. I must acknowledge there has been incompetence at the highest levels of government over the last few months in a number of departments.
Meanwhile, there has been an emphasis on issues such as gay marriage and reform of the House of Lords, at the expense of explaining the financial situation; a failure to deport dangerous terrorists because of concerns about human rights; and an apparent unwillingness to listen to the concerns of electors and the backbench MPs who represent them.
I shall have no hesitation in expressing my concerns in Parliament."
I don't think that text was approved by Conservative HQ.
The Press Association has an additional quote from Mr Davies, Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee:
"David Cameron needs to change his tack very rapidly otherwise he's not going to be in position for very long. I am sure he realises his supporters are not happy with what's going on. If I sound like I'm being critical I am. I have been loyal for the last couple of years - although I have voted against the Government on certain things like the EU referendum question - but there comes a point when it is becoming more difficult to remain so loyal."
As I blogged last night, party discipline is in danger of breaking down.
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.
Origins of the group
Cornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.
Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.
When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:
"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."
The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.
By Paul Goodman
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Last year, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels amidst rumour of a leadership challenge if he didn't achieve at least a token repatriation of power.
Today, he faced the Commons not only with no such repatriation realised but with his veto - so rapturously greeted at the time by Conservative MPs - arguably valueless, since it's now clear that he won't challenge the principle of the EU institutions being used to enforce the F.U agreement.
Yet there was no mass revolt from his backbenches, and no revival to date of the leadership challenge rumours. What explains this change in the Tory atmosphere? I hope to explore the question in detail soon, but will for the moment rest with an answer I've cited before.
By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday saw two Opposition debates relating to law and order, which included speeches highly critical of the Government from two (unrelated) Conservative backbenchers by the name of Davies.
The first debate was on a simple Labour motion stating "that this House opposes changing the maximum discount for custodial sentences to up to 50% for those who plead guilty."
"As a Government Member I do not particularly enjoy voting in favour of Opposition day motions. However, the Justice Secretary’s recent proposals are simply unacceptable to the majority of my constituents and the British public as a whole... It is astonishing that some of our hon. Friends, who were happy to enter the election promising to send more criminals to prison, and to put in place longer sentences and honesty in sentences, are now advocating sending fewer people to prison for a shorter time. I did not tell that to my constituents when I stood in the election."
"The Secretary of State made it clear that as a result of the proposal fewer people would be in prison. That is the whole purpose of the measure. My hon. Friend ought to reflect on the fact that this is an arbitrary proposal, because there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that more people will plead guilty as a result. If that does not happen, will the Secretary of State return to the House in a few months suggesting a three-quarters discount for pleading guilty in order to get a few more convictions? Where will it end? Why not scrap prison sentences altogether? This is a slippery slope. It is ludicrous and not based in evidence."
"People keep telling me that Scandinavian countries are marvellous when it comes to these things, so I went to Denmark to see at first hand what they did. One thing that never seems to come out is that in Denmark, people are not automatically released halfway through their sentences. They are released only if they behave well; and in fact, 30% of prisoners in Danish prisons serve their full sentences because they are not deemed safe to release from prison early. Those are the things that the Secretary of State should be looking at, not trying to have people serve lower sentences in the first place. Indeed, it is his proposals that are causing the British public to lose confidence in the British criminal justice system and in this place."
"These proposals have to go. I very much fear that if the Secretary of State does not listen to the widespread opposition to these plans, then for us to restore our reputation as a party of law and order, he will have to go as well."
By Jonathan Isaby
"Many of us look forward not only to the royal wedding, but to finding out what title will be bestowed on Prince William. Will the Leader of the House remind the Privy Council that the dukedom of Monmouth has been vacant since 1685, for reasons best glossed over? I am sure that the residents of that county would be delighted to be associated with the royal wedding in any way possible."
Leader of the House, Sir George Young, was not willing to involve himself in such speculation:
"My hon. Friend risks opening a bidding war in the Chamber among other hon. Members who wish their constituencies to be recognised in the same manner. Let me simply say that, although I note his remarks, the issue is way, way above my pay grade."
The last Duke of Monmouth was of course executed after trying to overthrown his uncle, James II, in the so-named Monmouth Rebellion.
Some press speculation suggests that the Prince does not want a dukedom and would rather remain Prince William, whilst others suggest he is in line for the dukedom of Clarence or Cambridge. Time will tell...
By Jonathan Isaby
This afternoon in the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper was summoned to the Dispatch Box to answer an Urgent Question on the decision to grant the right to vote to prisoners. Quite why Nick Clegg could not have done so, given that his is the only of the main parties to have actually promoted this policy, I don't know.
Mr Harper explained:
"The UK’s blanket ban on sentenced prisoners voting was declared unlawful by the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in October 2005, as a result of a successful challenge by a prisoner, John Hirst. The Government accept, as did the previous Government, that as a result of the judgment of the Strasbourg Court in the Hirst case, there is a need to change the law. This is not a choice; it is a legal obligation. Ministers are currently considering how to implement the judgment, and when the Government have made a decision the House will be the first to know."
Labour shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan then responded with a flurry of questions:
"When the previous Government consulted on this matter, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who was then the shadow Secretary of State for Justice and is now the Attorney-General, described the prospect of giving prisoners the vote as “ludicrous”. Does the Minister share that view? One of the most troubling aspects of the European Court ruling is that it opens the door to the possibility of serious offenders being given the vote. Will he explain how the Government would ensure that serious offenders are not given the vote? Press reports suggest that sentence length will be the key determinant in deciding which prisoners can vote. If that is the case, what length of sentence do the Government have in mind? How will they ensure that prisoners who are guilty of serious offences but serving short sentences are not given the vote? Will the Minister provide details of the precise mechanics that prisoner voting will entail? Can he also tell us whether prisoners will be allowed to vote in referendums as well as elections?
"The Prime Minister is reportedly “exasperated” and “furious” at having to agree to votes for prisoners. Does the Minister share that view? There is a strong sense that the decision is being forced on this country against the will both of the Government and of the people’s representatives in this Parliament. For the sake of public trust in British democracy, will the Minister who is standing in for the Deputy Prime Minister therefore agree that any legislation put before the House on this vital issue should be the subject of a free vote?"
The minister responded:
"No one would have realised, listening to that, that the right hon. Gentleman was ever a member of the previous Government, who also accepted that the law needed to be changed, and accepted the judgment. I have looked carefully at the media reports, and all I can see is an expression by the Government, relating to what they are going to say in a pending legal case, that they must comply with the law. I would not have thought that explaining that the Government had to comply with the law was particularly revelatory. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman shared our view when he was in government. He was quite right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Prime Minister is exasperated. I suspect that every Member of the House is exasperated about this, but we have no choice about complying with the law.
"The fact that the previous Government failed for five years to do what they knew was necessary has left our country in a much worse position, both because of the possibility of having to pay damages and because case law has moved on. The only thing that would be worse than giving prisoners the vote would be giving them the vote and having to pay them damages as well. That is the position that the previous Government left us in.
"I shall now turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. I made it clear in my statement that Ministers were considering how to implement the judgment, and when decisions have been taken they will be announced to the House at the Dispatch Box in the usual way. No decisions have been taken, and I am therefore unable to answer any of his questions at this time. The previous Government took five years to do nothing when they knew that something had to be done—in exactly the same way as they behaved in not dealing with the deficit. This Government have been in office for only a matter of months, but yet again our two parties are having to deal with the mess left behind by Labour."
There then followed questions from a wide variety of MPs, including many angry Tories from across the whole spectrum of the party. Here is a selection of their points:
Earlier I posted some extracts from the speech made by shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, during the Second Reading debate of the Crime and Security Bill in the Commons yesterday.
Later in the debate came a contribution from Monmouth's Conservative MP, David Davies, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a special constable, who is occasionally confused with his near-namesake, the former shadow home secretary.
But from reading the opening paragraphs of his speech, it seems fair to conclude that the Welshman does not share the civil libertarian instincts of David Davis. Here's what he told the House:
"Most of the Bill's provisions ultimately come down to a simple argument about the price of civil liberties as against the price of security. While travelling into London on the tube this morning, I was reading the dreadful stories of what is going on in Haiti. I suppose that at present the people in that country have the ultimate in civil liberties, in that they can go out and do and say what they want and steal what they want, but is anyone more secure for it? No, they are not. Would anyone want to live in Haiti at present, or in any of the other failed states of the world? No, they would not.
"Mention was made earlier of one of the Gulf states, where apparently there is a universal database. I forget the name of the country, but I remember thinking that it is a country where many British people and other westerners have gone to work. They are perfectly happy in that environment. It may not be the paradise of a Liberal Democrat-run council in the desert, but people feel very safe regardless of the level of civil liberties they apparently enjoy.
"What I am trying to say is that, in many ways, security is more important to us than civil liberties. Security has to come first. We all remember that in the '70s we used to say, "Better dead than red", but the reality is that I would prefer just about anything to being dead or to living in a failed state, even if it meant giving up some of my civil liberties."
Yesterday the House of Commons staged Welsh questions.
Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons Shailesh Vara and Wellingborough both asked about the treatment of Welsh and English residents in the other country's hospitals:
"The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues and the Welsh Assembly Government on such matters. The discussions include the new cross-border protocol for health care services of Wales, which, I am pleased to say, has been agreed between the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK Government.
Mr. Vara: I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. He will be aware of the recent Welsh Affairs Committee report on cross-border health policy, to which he referred in his preliminary comments. He will also be aware that there should be clinical excellence for all those who wish to have medical treatment, as close as possible to their homes. Does he acknowledge that that would mean Welsh patients ending up having medical treatment in English hospitals? Will he do all that he can to urge the Welsh Health Minister to abandon her so-called in-country policy, which is causing so much distress to neurosurgery patients in Wales?
Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman is correct in referring to the Welsh Affairs Committee interim report on the provision of cross-border health services in Wales. We have considered that important report, and the Department of Health will respond to all its points in due course. It is important to recognise, however, that devolution is about addressing particular needs. The Welsh Assembly Government have clearly defined and articulated their policy, and we are seeing consistent and radical improvements in the health care of the people of Wales. Obviously, given the unique situation with regard to the Welsh-English border, a close working relationship is needed. I am absolutely confident that the protocol that is now in place and is being implemented will ensure effective co-operation and cross-border flow to the benefit of English and Welsh patients.
One for the localists amongst you: there were oral questions on communities and local government yesterday.
Monmouth MP and pugilist David Davies asked about the Government's programme to tackle violent extremism, a topic which Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government Paul Goodman has also been pursuing.
"David T.C. Davies: When I last raised this issue, I asked the Secretary of State for an assurance that not one penny of Government money was being given to extremists or to violent extremists. She was unable to give me that assurance at the time, but the Department has now had a year to look into the issue. Can we possibly be given an assurance today that not one penny of Government money is being given to extremists, and if not, why not?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that he has raised the issue before. I am delighted to be able to tell him about the range of work that has been done in the last 12 months. First, extensive guidance was published for all local authorities in June last year, setting out exactly the criteria on which groups should be funded. We fund groups that stand up to tackle violent extremism and uphold our shared values. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that following a point of order raised by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), I undertook to place in the Library of the House, by the end of April, full details—they are held in our Government offices—of the projects being funded."
That answer does not inspire confidence.
"Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): As the Secretary of State has answered this question herself, may I first say to her that we believe she had no alternative to the course that she took in suspending relations with the Muslim Council of Britain?
Let me now return to the question. The House will have noted that, for the second time, the Secretary of State was unable to give my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) the guarantee that he seeks that extremists have not got their hands on taxpayers’ money. As I know from correspondence with her, the reason is simple: no system exists to check who receives the cash before it is given. That is frankly scandalous. Can the Secretary of State at least guarantee that when she publishes information on where last year’s Preventing Violent Extremism money went—she has promised to do so—she will publish the details of who received the money, down to the very last penny?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that there is no system for checking the allocation of those funds to community groups. There is a system, for local authorities, the police and a range of other organisations, to ensure that the funds are allocated to groups that uphold our shared values and are committed to standing up to tackle extremism.
I have told the hon. Gentleman that this is not a ring-fenced grant, for the very reason that we want the work to be embedded as mainstream work for local authorities, and to draw in funding from other sources to ensure that it can be done in a proper, comprehensive fashion. I have also told him that we will place the information in the Library. We have told local authorities that the grant is not ring-fenced, but because of its exceptionally sensitive nature, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), has written to local authorities saying that we will continue to monitor it extremely carefully. The hon. Gentleman must accept, however, that if we want this work to be embedded as mainstream activity, we must be prepared to make sure we are working in proper, effective partnership with our local authorities."
Something has gone wrong here, and MPs are right to keep pressing until we find out what it is.
It was Welsh questions yesterday.
Congleton's Ann Winterton asked about manufacturing:
"Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the state of the manufacturing sector in Wales. 
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): The manufacturing industry is, of course, very important to Wales. According to the latest available figures, the sector employs about 13.5 per cent. of the Welsh work force.
Ann Winterton: The manufacturing industry in the UK has taken a very hard hit in the recession, and that is perhaps even more true of Wales. Is the Secretary of State aware of the concerns of many in the manufacturing work force in Wales who work for foreign companies that there may be plans to offshore employment? Examples of such companies include Toyota in north Wales and Corus in south Wales; Corus has a plant in the Netherlands. What discussion has he had with other Ministers, and with the Welsh Assembly, to ensure that that does not happen?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Lady makes a valid point. I have of course had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, and with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Wales. I have also discussed the issue of Corus with the chief executive of Corus. The point that the hon. Lady makes about foreign-owned companies in Wales is well taken, but I have no reason to believe that that will be a disadvantage to us in Wales in the months to come. In my constituency, for example, thousands of people work for car component manufacturers that are American-owned, and so far, so good. Obviously, they are feeling the pinch, like all manufacturing companies, and particularly those in the automotive industry, but I very much take her point on board."
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones had a follow-up question:
"The Secretary of State will know that Toyota announced today that it is putting its factory on Deeside on short-time working and its staff on reduced pay. He has already mentioned the importance of the automotive industry to the Welsh economy. Given that importance, does he know precisely when the automotive assistance programme, which was announced with so much fanfare in January, will be implemented? Is it another case not of real help now, but of jam tomorrow?
Mr. Murphy: No; the hon. Gentleman is aware that some of the schemes are to operate at different times. For example, in April at least six schemes are due to go live, including help for the automotive industry. There are other schemes that have already started. I cited to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) the excellent ProAct scheme that works in Wales. The schemes are staggered in time scale, but they are about real help for people. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) is right that the delivery of such schemes must be a main priority of Government, whether here in London or in Cardiff. Help is available, and it is up to the industry to apply for that help."
It was time for Welsh questions in the Commons yesterday.
Monmouth MP David Davies was concerned about onerous rules on the use of Welsh:
"Does the Minister agree that enacting legislation that will require all companies, or at least private companies, to use the Welsh language in all forms of business could prove very detrimental not just to the rural economy but to the rest of the economy in Wales, at a time when, tragically, we are seeing hundreds of jobs lost?
Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman should choose his words carefully. I am sure that the last thing any Member would want to do is be seen to be against the Welsh language. It has developed over the past few years, and we want to ensure that it continues to develop with the consent of all the people of Wales.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the draft Welsh language legislative competence order is due to be published next week. I hope that, as a result, there will be full discussion among all the people of Wales about what is the best way forward."
Mr Davies might appreciate people knowing that he is himself a Welsh speaker.
Preseli Pembrokeshire MP (and Opposition MP) Stephen Crabb is eager to see a new power station in Wales:
"Does the Minister agree that one significant boost to the rural economy of west Wales at this time would come from the construction of the new gas-fired power station at Pembroke, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger)? The project has taken four years to reach this point. It has passed its environmental consents, and merely awaits a decision from the Minister’s colleague the Energy Minister. Will he speak to the Energy Minister and unlock this important project? The United Kingdom needs the generating capacity, and my constituents need the jobs.
Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right: this is an important project. We are mindful of that; discussions have taken place with my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), who represents the constituency where the new installation will be based, and I am sure that, across all Departments, we are absolutely committed to ensuring matters are expedited as quickly as possible, but also in a proper manner."
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan asked about job losses: