Thursday, 22 November 2007

The hardest word

Westminster is a slightly calmer place today - not even an Alistair Darling emergency statement to keep us busy.

On Thursday, as Commons leader Harriet Harman sets out future business, MPs can seize precious parliamentary time to raise the issues that matter most to their constituents.

Poverty, climate change, world peace, missing child benefit records? MPs can also use it to score a few party political points. Conwy Labour MP Betty Williams raised the misuse by Plaid Cymru MPs of the communications allowance.

Ms Harman told her: "The committee on standards and privileges takes abuse of the communications allowance very seriously and rightly so as it brings our honest use of the communication allowance and the reputation of the House into disrepute."

Plaid aren't the only ones to fall foul of the new allowance - Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly has also had to write a cheque after using the allowance to publish leaflets viewed by some as propaganda.

Labour's desire to score points against their coalition partners is understandable in several ways. On April 26, Plaid Cymru's Caernarfon MP Hywel Williams wrote to Labour candidate Martin Eaglestone threatening him with legal action if he didn't retract, and apologise for, a suggestion the MPs had misused public funds.

Mr Williams gave a deadline of May 1. Mr Eaglestone didn't retract or apologise. He's still waiting for the Plaid legal squad to knock on his door.

Labour, too, will be waiting a long time for the apology demanded by Plaid for misuse of the funds.

Plaid parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd told BBC Wales he'd resist the invitation to say sorry: "Well, the committee don't so I think I'd rather listen to the committee than a few strange backbenchers with little axes to grind.

"If the committee had said apologise, clearly we would have done. The committee don't go anywhere near the word apology, so why should we?"

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