Sunday, May 29, 2005

Vive La France

Three cheers for the French who have rejected the constitution. A majority do not support plans to supplant the sovereign nations of Europe and replace them with a highly centralised federal state run by an unaccountable bureaucratic elite.

Perhaps those running the European Union will take note.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ministers Questions

As mentioned in a previous blog I exercised my right to table a question to Gordon Brown following the maiden speech. As luck would have it the question was selected and I duly stood up, looked Mr Brown in the eye from a distance of a few feet, and called on him to rule out an increase in National Insurance. Disdaining to answer a junior Minister sitting next to him arose and made a non-committal reply refusing to rule out a tax hike.

Firing questions at the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the floor of the House of Commons is certainly more challenging than quizzing his opposite number in the Welsh Assembly. The atmosphere is tense and confrontational. There is also the knowledge that if either the questioner or the Minister fouls up then it will be endlessly replayed the next day on various radio stations.

Is this good for democracy? Some say not but my gut feeling is that it is. Ministers and their opposite numbers on the Conservative and Liberal front benches go to the dispatch box knowing that they if they have not done their homework, it will quickly become apparent to all.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Commons protest

Messer’s Ferry, Tomlinson and others have today been found guilty of public order offences following their “invasion” of the House of Commons.

Whilst I sympathise with their viewpoint their actions cannot be justified. However their arrest, trial and fine in marked contrast to the treatment handed out to anti-war protesters who did the same thing in the Welsh Assembly.

They were merely detained by the police for an hour or so then quietly released. Rumour has it they even got a cup of tea….

Why are hunt protesters and peace protesters treated differently when they commit the same offence?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Two weeks gone

Two weeks an MP and I have survived the "maiden speech" ordeal.

MPs are not allowed to take part in debates, ask questions, intervene, raise points of order and probably much else besides until this has been done.

By tradition the maiden speech contains little of relevance to the subject being debated. (Although this could be said of many speeches) Instead praise is heaped on previous MPs, a description of the constituency follows with perhaps a few moderate comments in support/criticism of government policy. In return those sitting on the benches opposite refrain from heckling or intervening.

As one MP said: "Enjoy it because it's the easiest speech you will ever make."

I was fairly relaxed about the whole thing until, with about a minute to go, a whip came up to me. "Brace yourself" he said grabbing my arm excitedly, in the manner of a parachute jump master, "because you are next!" At this point I will confess to a mild bout of nerves.

Fortunately things seemed to go reasonably well.

I celebrated by seeking out the Table Office and exercising my right to table, or register, a question for Gordon Brown. Which, if I am lucky I will get to ask him in the Chamber next week.

There followed a long explanation of the types of questions which may be asked of Ministers, along with a timetable showing the daily deadlines for allowable questions to the specific Ministers, and the day they will be answered. I came out in need of coffee.

Shortly afterwards my phone went: "Whips office. Get into the Chamber immediately. You must be there for the wind up speeches if you have spoken in a debate."

The fact that this was happening an hours earlier than expected was no excuse. It is going to take quite some time to understand Parliament.

I took my place on the backbenches which was just behind Ian Paisley. "I remember my maiden speech." he said cheerfully. "It was a bit controversial. In fact it was so controversial that the Speaker ruled me out of order."

Now that would have been a maiden speech worth seeing.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Life for a new MP

If ever I thought that MPs spent their time drinking champagne, going for long lunches and rising to make the odd speech then this week has completely disabused me of the notion.

From the moment we arrived on Monday morning until leaving after taking the oath on Thursday it was a non stop marathon of induction courses, lectures on how to behave, and one to one chats with various people including the police who gave me an implement for opening mail and graphic description on what might lie therein.

The old timers told us that we are lucky. In their day there was no induction course and members were left to drift aimlessly around finding out for themselves where everything was and what they were supposed to be doing. Sometimes it would take months!

One thing I find very frustrating is the lack of an office - one will be allocated to me in "a few weeks." I have never shirked from criticising the Welsh Assembly but in fairness within minutes of arriving we were given an office with phones and a computer so that we could start dealing with the mail.

Fortunately Nigel Evans MP has taken pity and allowed me the use a corner in his office so replies are starting to go out to those who have written - as many have.

Priority will go to letters from constituents - even the one who believes that Monmouthshire is English and that those of us who live here have been the victims of a wicked conspiracy which has seen us annexed into Wales against our wishes! If he is reading this he might find the following link informative )

Saturday, May 07, 2005

the election

The blog has been a little neglected over the past few weeks as I competed with four very able candidates for the privilege of representing Monmouth in Parliament. I was delighted with the result and sincere in wanting to pay tribute in my acceptance speech to the others, particularly Huw Edwards the former MP and Phil Hobson the current Mayor of Chepstow.

Many times I was asked what I would do about my position as the Assembly Member if elected, and my answer was that I would be standing down by the time of the next Assembly election. Contrary to comments from some Labour MPs this does not mean that I continue to collect an Assembly Members salary although I receive an extra allowance for the workload this entails.

This therefore means that I am currently saving the taxpayers quite a lot of money. (Although I suspect it will be wasted on something else anyway!)

The other comment was that I would be “doing two jobs”. In fact most of an AMs time is not spent in the chamber of the Assembly at all – this amounts to only 7 hours per week. The rest is spent dealing with constituency casework, problems raised in surgeries, fighting local campaigns and much else besides. All of this work is identical for an MP representing the same area.

The Labour MPs who have criticised should consider the fact that their Ministers have to take on a full time extra job which has nothing to do with their work as an MP, and for which they are paid an enormous salary on top of their MPs wage. Does Peter Hain neglect his duties as the MP for Neath because of his Ministerial posts? Perhaps he could tell us.

I suspect that we will hear more calls for my immediate resignation from the Assembly, but unless I am being a little cynical those making them will be more interested in the opportunity that an expensive by-election might present for themselves or their political party rather than considering the interests of those who live here.

Meanwhile I look forward to beginning work in Westminster first thing Monday morning, and perhaps to enlightening bloggers as to what it is like to be a newly elected MP.