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Saturday, May 19, 2007

An Act of folly

A number of bloggers, failed Tory candidates (sorry Iain, couldn't resist it), and media outlets have commented on the fact that Lembit Őpik spent Thursday night recording an edition of 'Have I Got News For You' instead of attending the crucial joint meeting of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Group and the National Executive on Thursday.

In fact, Lembit stayed in London to carry out important Parliamentary duties on the Friday morning. He took part in a vote to try and preserve the right of the public to scrutinise how their elected representatives spend their money.

The vote in the House of Commons, which he and other MPs opposed, effectively ended the compulsory legal requirement for MPs to disclose their expenses and introduced further curbs on the release of already protected MPs' correspondence.

The bill will take parliament outside the scope of the information commissioner or tribunals over the detailed release of MPs' expenses, spending on parliament and MPs' correspondence. It will halt a number of appeals for the more detailed release of information on MPs' expenses. It will also mean parliament will be treated differently from the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies, the Scottish parliament and local councils.

That the Welsh Assembly may be exempt from this bill is welcome but that does not compensate us for the retrograde step it represents. The principle here is one of accountability. What elected politicians do in terms of their correspondence and expenses should be a matter of public record unless there is an overriding principle such as the privacy of a constituent at stake. Even then, that constituent should have access to their file if they wish.

Lembit and those Liberal Democrat MPs who stayed behind on Friday were quite right to do so. Their determination to stand up for the rights of ordinary people in this way may well prove decisive when this awful bill reaches the House of Lords.
wouldn't it be wonderful if the assembly could vote to make Welsh MPs subject to the freedom of information act? After all Welsh MPs work for the Welsh people, and should therefore be subject to the will of the Welsh Assembly! ho ho...
I agree with the last comment.

I also recommend that the bloggers etc. should listen regularly to Patrick Hannan's "Called to Order". On last Friday's edition, they would have learned that not only was Lembit doing his bit in the House, but also pursuing the case of Cheryl James, whose parents are constituents.

As to Freedom of Information, those who claim that "all parties are the same" should note that it was an unholy alliance of Conservatives and Labour which seeks to put their expenses etc. under wraps, and Liberal Democrats who tried to keep them in the open.

- Frank Little
How much exactly did Mr. Opik earn for his BBC Comedy stint? Is it true that 'celebs' on that show get paid 10K a show?

How much does Mr. Opik earn from his comedy act appearing on TV and, more importantly, what damage, if any, does this do to the wider party? Is it possible, perhaps, that a large section of the public consider liberal democrats as nothing more than comic buffoons who appear on comedy programmes but who have no serious political agenda?

Does this cause greater harm to the party and stops us from getting more votes, more seats and actual, real power?
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