This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.

Barrett’s Blog

From 1st January 2010 this site will no longer be updated, in accordance with Parliamentary rules.

The site will be kept online and can still be used to find information and to contact John, but the latest news will be posted on the West Edinburgh Liberal Democrats website.

This blog aims to give an insight into the day to day life of an MP, rather than being a political soapbox.

March 2009

MP's expenses form

31 March 2009

Expenses

Today saw the publication of the 2007-2008 "expenses" for all MPs and as usual it caused an outcry in the media, as many details, lists and comparisons of spending were published. I did three interviews and explained in each one why most of the costs claimed would not be termed expenses in any other job. The cost of the school office and secretarial support are not published as the expenses of the head-teacher and anyone who suggested this would be told it was a mad idea, but exactly the same costs are published as the expenses of MPs. I am now firmly of the belief that the current system can not be reformed and should be swept away entirely. All necessary support required to do the job should be supplied by Parliament and the only thing that would then need to be claimed would be a simple overnight subsistence amount, such as that provided to councillors who spend a night away from home. Staff support, travel, offices, IT, payment for utilities, stationery etc. could all be provided as they are in most other jobs. This would let MPs get on with the job they were elected to do and reduce the amount of time spent form filling.

29 March 2009

The Sunday Papers

Today's Sunday papers were full of more bad news about MPs, mostly relating to expenses, although there were other issues which again showed MPs in a poor light. Everyone from Government Ministers to their families has received bad press and media coverage and in the week ahead I have no doubt the issue will continue to rumble on. Many members of the public believe that too many MPs are in politics to line their own pockets and out for what they can get. From my experience, most MPs, from all parties, are honest, decent and hard working people who agree that those who are "at it" should be severely dealt with. In the week ahead a new regime relating to "expenses" will be introduced and I suspect that rather than it dealing with the problem as hoped, it will in fact get worse. At a time of financial crisis when the general public are tightening their belts, MPs should be doing the same and ensuring that full transparency in relation to all expenses is put in place. Those who are then guilty of gross misconduct should be removed from office. At present there is no procedure to do this either in the Commons or the Lords and this must be put right - sooner rather than later.

27 March 2009

Panda Diplomacy

Between a meeting in the morning at the City Chambers, with the Lord Provost, Council Leader and a number of key councillors and lunch with a number of people from the Foreign Office and those with an interest in China including leaders from the Chinese community, I visited the mock up tram on Princes Street, to see what a full scale replica of a new tram would look like. Edinburgh needs an improved public transport system and hopefully the trams will be a key part of it. In every other city I have visited with a tram system, it has been a success and I am confident we will see the same in Edinburgh. The Foreign Office representatives were meeting up at Edinburgh Zoo the following day to inch forwards progress on discussions about pandas possibly coming to Edinburgh and I offered them my support. If Edinburgh can provide world class facilities for the animals, I believe the Chinese Government will let them come, but this will have a significant price-tag on it. I have many serious concerns with China over human rights, the high number of executions, the treatment of protestors, problems in Tibet, relations with Taiwan and many other issues. When pandas bring people to the table to talk it shows that we can also work together to sort out more serious differences.

26 March 2009

Scottish Rugby

One of the famous landmarks in my constituency, alongside the Forth Bridges and Edinburgh Zoo, is Murrayfield, the national rugby stadium in Scotland. During national tourism week it was good to visit the stadium to meet up with a number of people to discuss the importance of rugby, not only as a sport, but also as an important driver for tourism in Edinburgh and Scotland. Many visitors come from far afield to see the rugby and to enjoy the city for a few days, as part of the total experience. Throughout the year millions of pounds of income are spent as part of the tourism industry and in the years ahead, in the build up to the Commonwealth Games in 2014, this will hopefully increase. Hopefully in the months ahead I will be able to find some time to go along and support the Edinburgh and Scottish teams at this excellent stadium.

25 March 2009

The Iraq Inquiry

It's hard to believe that the war in Iraq has been going on for longer than the Second World War. Six years on; with 179 UK soldiers dead, 4,260 US troops killed and tens of thousands of civilians killed - even using the lower estimates. The decision to send in troops was probably one of the worst foreign policy errors of modern British history and the reasons behind this move must be fully examined in the near future, through a full and detailed inquiry. As one MP who voted against the war, I have always believed that what happened in Parliament during late 2002 and early 2003 should be exposed. There was an enthusiasm for war, driven by the government, the Conservative party and the media and at the time it was not a universally popular move to stand up against it. The reason behind going to war changed from the search for Weapons of Mass destruction to ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein. With the last of the troops set to end their combat role this summer, hopefully the truth will be revealed at last as the Government have agreed that after that an inquiry can now start. In today's debate demanding an early inquiry, not one speaker spoke against it, yet there was no willingness to unite Parliament and work towards the long overdue inquiry. Another bad day for democracy.

24 March 2009

Second Homes and Second Jobs

London MPs with second homes in London and claiming large sums to finance them has once again brought all MPs into the media spotlight while angering the public. The newspapers and media have gone into the details of every London MPs claims and even I am surprised at how many London MPs are being paid to keep up two homes. Most of them live within commuting distance of Westminster and some have Ministerial cars to pick them up and drop them off each day. As well as second homes, second jobs are also being looked at, with many MPs having a second job outside Parliament. I am a firm believer that outside experience is a good thing to bring into parliament and many MPs, from all parties, previous work experience brings an invaluable expertise into Westminster. However, once elected, being an MP should be a full time job. Since being elected to Westminster in 2001, I have not accepted any paid work or consultancies from any outside organisations. All interests or groups I have been involved with, support, or am a member of, such as the SSPCA, Amnesty International, the EIFF and Greenpeace, do not pay me a penny.  

Craigroyston Primary Photo

20 March 2009

RNLI

Visiting schools and meeting up with the teachers and pupils is always a good way to hear at first hand what has been happening. Craigroyston Primary School has an environmental garden and today I was at the school, presenting the children with tools, seeds, gardening equipment and a wheelbarrow. I was also asked to address the school assembly and was able to explain what the Comic Relief money they had raised the previous week could be used for in Africa and how the bed nets would help prevent the spread of malaria. After an afternoon of advice surgeries, in the evening we went to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution event in Queensferry, to help raise funds for the busiest lifeboat crew in Scotland. Many people are surprised when they discover that I have a lifeboat crew based in the constituency and even more surprised when they discover how many rescues it does each year.

19 March 2009

Iraq inquiry moves closer

While many things at Westminster move very slowly and take years to make progress, sometimes you can be taken by surprise. Having laid down a motion on Monday to increase the pressure on the Government to hold an inquiry into the war on Iraq, I was planning to ask Harriet Harman, the leader of the House, a question on this today, when she announced that next week there would be a debate on the subject of the need for an inquiry into the war. This took me completely by surprise as it is an official opposition day debate; this let me move on to raise the issue of electoral reform. I pointed out that the Government elected in the UK always polls fewer votes than the opposition parties combined and this will no doubt happen again at the next election.  On an issue like going to war, or on controversial legislation, the Government of the day cannot say it has got the support of the majority of the people. It was no surprise to hear in her answer that there are no plans to change this. Looks like another campaign that has years to run.

17 March 2009

A good day for the RNIB

Sometimes, after years of work everything just slides into place. Today was one of those days. After campaigning for years for a fairer deal for the blind and to increase the mobility component of the DLA (Disability Living Allowance), at last it was delivered tonight. I have met up with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in Westminster, in Brighton, in Aviemore and addressed their massive lobby of Parliament at Central Hall in London. The campaign focussed on the fact that the blind do not get enough help to be mobile. Today the Welfare Reform Bill went through Parliament and although much of it is far from perfect, at last the Government accepted this change, which will help blind people throughout the UK. Time for a celebration.

A number of MPs and MSPs taking to the stage in Perth

16 March 2009

Party Conference Weekend

Party conferences are regular events for MPs and many others. This month we have had a Federal, or UK, conference in Harrogate and this weekend our Scottish conference was in Perth. Nick Clegg had been criticised by the SNP for not attending the Scottish conference, following the birth of his new son. In Tavish Scott's keynote speech, which concentrated on the economy and a wide range of other issues, he commented, that when this recession is over, it will not be good enough to fix the broken financial system, there are many social problems to be dealt with as well. He pointed out that while politics is important, the family is equally important and that Nick had made the right decision to spend this weekend with his family, something other politicians and some members of the public could also learn from. Tavish also announced that he and his wife Kirsten are expecting a new baby and my colleague at Westminster, Mike Moore and his wife Ali, also announced they are looking forward to the birth of their first child. Sleepless nights ahead for them all.

The Teletubbies - victims of DVD piracy

10 March 2009

Teletubbies

After an early start at 6.30am to get to the BBC studios at Milbank for Good Morning Scotland, which was doing a piece on copyright theft, I went in to Parliament. Late last night I had watched a programme about the state of television in the UK and there was information about piracy and fake DVDs and the scale of production in the UK. There was time to change my speech to introduce the new fact I discovered, that in one criminal operation 300,000 fake DVDs were made of the Teletubbies. What better example to give about DVDs for children being produced by criminals, with the risk that the profit could be used to fund more serious crimes, such as drug imports. How many parents who purchased one of those DVDs, thinking, "What harm could one copied DVD do?" would consider that it could be the first step in a chain that would bring hard drugs on to the streets of the UK.

Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire, with one of his Oscars

9 March 2009

Oscars and BAFTAs

Some issues just capture the interest of the press, while others, which can be far more important, struggle to get a column inch. This week I have been given time for a short debate on the impact of copyright theft on the UK film industry. Following the success at the Oscars and BAFTAS of British actors, technicians and films, the British film industry is riding high. At a time when other industries are struggling, we should do what we can to protect the creative industries from criminals and ensure those who do the work are rewarded for their efforts. Unfortunately, another title held by the UK is that it is now the number one source in Europe for fake film DVDs. Some becoming available as quickly as 48 hours after the premiere of the film. I have been calling for a change in the law to make camcording in cinemas a criminal act and I hope that the Government will respond positively to this.  This has caught the media's attention and I have had a constant flow of enquiries about the issue, hopefully the Minister responsible has been put in the same position and if so, I might get a result.

Westminster - the mother of all parliaments

3 March 2009

The CPA

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (or CPA) exists to help improve Parliamentary Democracy throughout the Commonwealth. This often involves MPs, and sometimes parliamentary staff, exchanging experiences or visiting other Parliaments. Today there were around 60 MPs from all over the Commonwealth, from Canada to New Zealand and many countries in between, visiting Westminster. I was asked to address them on the roll of the opposition in Parliament, explaining what we do to hold the Government to account and detailing how opposition MPs work, both at Westminster and in the constituency. I particularly enjoyed speaking to the Australian MPs. One problem which blights many countries is the lack of good governance and sessions like this show that although we have, what is often described as the "mother" of Parliaments, we are well behind in terms of delivering the best in Parliamentary Democracy. When I pointed out that the opposition at Westminster regularly represents the majority of those who actually voted at the General Election, there were many confused looks. Since the war, UK governments are usually formed with around 40% of the vote. Today the huge Labour majority is based on 35% of the popular vote. Not really that popular at all.

John in his international development role on a delegation to Rwanda

2 March 2009

Back on the team

During the last year I have been assisting our International Development spokesman, Michael Moore and have stepped in where required to cover debates. This week I was asked if I would officially become the Shadow Minister for International Development again, while continuing with my role on disability issues. I was delighted to accept, as this is an aspect of the work at Westminster that has always interested me and my 5 years experience on the International Development Select Committee, along with other experience in developing countries, can also be put to good use. At my first team meeting I met up again with Shirley Williams, who is without doubt one of the most able and articulate members of the House of Lords and a real asset to the team. She was describing her current work and, although older, has lost none of her spark. At a time when we are experiencing recession at home, as we tighten our belts, it is essential that we never forget the real hunger and poverty elsewhere in the world and that this world recession will literally be a matter of life and death for some.

This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.