A Conservative AM has come under fire after it emerged that he will take a week off from his duties at the National Assembly to attend a prayer meeting in the United States. Darren Millar, who represents Clwyd West, will travel to Washington DC on Monday February 4 in advance of the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday February 7. The day after he flies – February 5 – a meeting will be held in his absence of the Public Accounts committee, which he chairs. For chairing the committee, Mr Millar is paid £12,420 on top of his basic AM salary of £53,852. Last night a spokesman for the Welsh Conservative group at the Assembly said Mr Millar had been granted permission to be absent for the final week before half term.
“He received an invitation to attend in his capacity as chair of the all-party Assembly faith group. It is a very prestigious event that will be attended by visitors from around 160 countries. He will be paying for the trip himself. “Darren will not be commenting further,” said the spokesman.
The National Prayer Breakfast is a yearly event held in Washington DC on the first Thursday of February each year.
The event – which is actually a series of meetings, luncheons, and dinners – has taken place since 1953 and has been held at least since the 1980s at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
The breakfast, held in the Hilton's International Ballroom, is attended by some 3,500 guests. The National Prayer Breakfast is hosted by members of the United States Congress and is organised on their behalf by The Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian organisation more widely known as The Family.
Every US President since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in the annual event, including President Obama. A spokesman for the Assembly Commission said:
“This is not a matter we are aware of or would comment on.”
However, an Assembly insider who tipped us off about Mr Millar’s trip said:
“This Tory AM’s constituents in Clwyd West will rightly be questioning how exactly their interests will be represented in the Assembly while he is in Washington for this meeting that has nothing to do with his work as an AM. Perhaps he is going there to discuss how families in Clwyd West will make ends meet following the massive cuts that his party in Westminster is imposing on them – but I doubt it.
“Darren Millar is often the first to criticise other politicians in the Bay – perhaps it is time he learned to practise what he preaches.”
Another Assembly source said:
“It is completely unacceptable that at a time when families are struggling financially in Wales, Darren Millar is off on a religious junket to the United States during term time. “AMs have ample opportunity to take trips during generous recess periods throughout the year.
If Darren was promoting Wales at a political event or making some kind of advancement that might help his constituents in Clwyd West then perhaps it could be accepted, but fleeing abroad on some mission to find one’s inner spirit is just taking the biscuit.”
A Tory source pointed out that Labour AM Vaughan Gething was away from the Assembly earlier this week to attend President Obama’s inauguration.
Mr Millar is an Evangelical Christian who before his election to the Assembly in 2007 worked for a charity that smuggles Bibles into countries where Christianity is suppressed. Weeks before Mr Millar became an AM, the then Welsh Secretary Peter Hain called on David Cameron to sack him as a candidate after he allegedly told a hustings meeting that homosexuality was a sin and that creationism should be taught in science lessons..
At the time a Conservative spokesman said Mr Millar had been asked if he thought homosexuality was a sin, to which he said,
“he was against all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality”, however, “there are certain religious texts which think homosexuality is a sin.
But they say that many other things are a sin, such as gossiping.” I
n relation to creationism, the party spokesman said, “Darren said that teachers in faith schools should be given flexibility to include the teaching of creationism in science lessons alongside Darwinism.” In 2011 Mr Millar was criticised when it emerged that £1,100 of taxpayers’ money had been spent on a “fact finding” trip he made to South Africa to meet faith groups and politicians.
The visit was inadvertently extended when he tripped and broke an ankle during a boat trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.
Read more: Wales Online http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2013/01/25/tory-am-to-miss-a-week-of-assembly-duties-for-us-prayer-meeting-91466-32674498/#ixzz2J6kvayFg