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The controlling Labour Group on the North West Regional Assembly has changed the rules so that the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Atkins, MEP for the North West, has been banned from speaking or participating in the NWRA in any way, despite earlier pledges that his attendance and involvement would be encouraged.

"It is a sad day for democracy and free speech," commented Sir Robert, "when an MEP, elected under Labour's own regional system, is prevented from contributing to political discussions about the Region's domestic and European affairs just because the Labour Party does not like what I have to say. It proves my contention", he continued, "that this so-called Assembly is a Socialist front organisation, more akin to a one-party state than a multi-party debating chamber."

Sir Robert has been relegated to observer status, prevented from sitting with the Conservative Group and banished to the back of the hall. This all despite having spoken on previous occasions both at meetings in the North West and also in Brussels.

"This whole sorry saga is a disgrace to democracy," concluded the MEP, a former MP and Government Minister, "I wonder how long it will be before anyone who has the temerity to challenge , criticise, delay or oppose the half-baked, costly, bureaucratic policies of regional Labour Leaders has their right to free speech removed. This arrogance of power is typical of New Labour and it must be curbed, preferably by the Electorate."

Commenting on the North West Labour Party's decision, Cllr. Les Byrom, Conservative Group Leader on the North West Regional Assembly, said.

"Sir Robert has been the best attending MEP or MP, he has attended most quarterly meetings of the NWRA and has improved debate by adding the strength of the elected European dimension.

The Labour Party object to criticism and are resorting to trivial rules, requiring named seating places and not allowing properly elected MEP's such as Sir Robert to speak or contribute.

Will this also apply to Labour MPs and MEPs, or is this just an example of control freak mentality exported from Downing Street?

The NWRA is just a talking shop, people are voting with their feet and gagging any opposition will just speed up its demise."

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