Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nothing To Report?

It is almost 8 weeks since the expenses scandal started to produce a massive upheaval in the politics of the UK. So you would think there would be widespread interest in arguing out what new arrangements can be put in place to see that the scandal is never repeated. But the debate just refuses to take off.

In Parliament : After coming to a rough and ready deal with the leaders of the other parliamentary parties, the Government is pushing through a Parliamentary Standards Bill to try to put the matter to rest. Its Commons' Stages are being rushed through in three days - yesterday, today and tomorrow. If yesterday's proceedings are anything to go by, then only a handful of MPs are themselves willing to contribute to the very matter that has dominated their lives in recent times. The silence is particularly deafening on the Labour side. Excluding the 7 speeches by Front Bench and minor party spokesmen (doing their duty slots) there were 16 speeches by bank-benchers. Only four of these came from the Labour side. The Government side of the House was almost empty. Not one Labour left-winger made as much as an intervention, let alone seeking to speak or even (as far as I could see) showing their presence.

The Committee On Standards in Public Life : Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee is in a peculiar position. They are conducting the inquiry into MPs' expenses and the main three parties leaders have in the past promised to act on whatever the Committee finally recommends. Yet by the Committee report in the autumn, the new Parliamentary Standards Bill is intended to be an Act. So Sir Christopher's recommendations will have to be stuck onto this measure. In the meantime, the media pays little or no attention to what parliament and Sir Christopher's Committee are doing. Nor do the medias' expert commentators seem to come up with any ideas of their own. (If anyone has come across exceptions to this rule, then I would pleased to be supplied with the links).

In the meantime, the Committee on Standards in Public Life has finally managed to publish 102 of the submissions which have been put to it. But that leaves more than 500 submissions still unpublished. Yet some of the material they are sitting on might just hold the efficient secret that will help them resolve this conundrum.

Update 8.15 pm : Two items of significance which have been highlighted during the Commons' debates on the Parliamentary Standards Bill to date appear here and here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Burying Good News

The saturation coverage of Michael Jackson's death has meant that the bulk of the media have been able to bury the good news about the total victory of the unofficial strike by the workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery.

Thanks to the Morning Star. however, we can discover that all the 647 sacked workers have been reinstated, offers of new jobs are being made to the 51 workers whose forced redundancies sparked the original walk out on 11 June and no one is to be victimised for taking solidarity action.

This boost is just what the wider Labour Movement needs. No wonder it only makes headlines in the Morning Star.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Told Them So - 14 Years Ago

In 1995 I appeared before the First Inquiry that was ever conducted by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It was then known as the Nolan Committee and was starting off life with a general enquiry into "Standards In Public Life". I concentrated upon matters such as the need for MPs to be full-time and to have no paid outside interests whatsoever and never to have long parliamentary recesses.

It is this Committee which is now chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly that is conducting the Inquiry Into MPs' Expenses. However back in 1995, I did briefly raise a matter that is central to its current investigations. I was responding to a point raised by a committee member, Anne Warburton who is now I believe a Dame. It went -


HARRY BARNES..... I do not like the current system in which there are allowances for Members of Parliament to determine, both in terms of their accommodation in London under a London allowance and in terms of other work they do, that they have control of those amounts and determine who they employ and generally how that money is to be used.

It also is taken very much on trust by the House authorities when people fill in forms to say they are using money in various ways without a great deal of checking taking place, on the grounds that everyone is an Honourable Member and therefore to be trusted in what they do. I think it would be much better if there were specific areas of facilities that were supplied by the Commons authorities, both in a Member's constituency and in the Commons itself. So that it should determine the size staff that a Member of Parliament should have. That staff should have to have suitable qualifications in order to do that job. But then the Member should be able to select, because he (sorry, should have added "or she" HB.) has got people who have political interests that he wishes to be associated with, as to who it is who does that work on their behalf. But I do not think that the business of filling in allowance forms and therefore having control of the finances oneself within a restricted area is something that is useful for MPs to be involved in. Some MPs make very good use of those arrangements and extend them very very considerably. But a system that you can use can also be rather abused and used very fully. I think it would be better if there were systems that were put into operation that would help to run MPs as well. It might be that some MPs actually emerge with rather limited experience in terms of running office facilities and organisations. If there are structures that are expected to operate, people who are appointed to them, then to some extent initially they may begin to run the MP but the MP then should come to be in control of that situation. The more they are in touch with their constituents' concerns or interests, then the better they are at knowing what to do.

ANNE WARBURTON. Mr Barnes, I think that I must leave it to colleagues who know that life in Parliament to ask further about you ideas of the organisation of work. But you have in your letter, used the word "abuse", that you think the allowance system - I think you said - "is" rather than just "can be" abused. I think that, it seems to me to come within the heading of - I don't like the word - "sleaze". So I feel I ought to ask you a little bit more on that front. Are you saying that you actually are aware of abuse which does take place. (Note : I had not in fact used the claim about abuse in the letter I had sent to the Committee, but I had used the following term in my above comment - "can also be abused" HB.)

HARRY BARNES. No. Maybe I have worded it rather strongly. It is just that the system is such that the forms are filled in and claims are made. Some areas require specific backing because money has been spent on a copying machine or something of that nature and the information has to be put forward. On other occasions it is claims for allowances for accommodation etc. and I know of no arrangements by which that is checked as to whether it operates, or any receipts begin to be required. That seems to me to be problematic and puts some temptation in people's way. Given that we are talking about a random sample of human beings, it is likely to be succumbed to in various cases." (We now know that although I never had any evidence to back me up that my speculation has since been shown to be correct in a number of high profile cases HB.)

CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS

In the above I indicate that it would be better if a system of expenses was replaced by a controlled system which provided needed services to allow MPs' to do their job. This is the basis of my current submission to the Committee. Unfortunately, my viewpoint has not yet been placed on its web-site.

My immediate step is to see if I can get anyone to raise my concerns during the discussions on the new Parliamentary Standards Bill in the Commons on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. But don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Still Ducking The Answer


The handling of the expenses' scandal gets stranger and stranger. Just look at the position of the three main sets of actors.

1.THE GOVERNMENT.

Yesterday the Government published its Parliamentary Standards Bill. According to Harriett Harman in a statement to the Commons, this Bill is directed at establishing "a new, wholly independent authority to take over the role of the Fees Office in authorising Members' claims, overseeing a new allowances system, following from proposals from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and maintaining the Register of Members Interests". The Bill is presumably intended to be passed into law quickly to seek to respond to public anger over MPs' expenses. So the aim seems to be to have it passed into law before the Commons goes into recess on 21 July.

Yet the Committee on Standards in Public Life is not expected to issue its report and recommendations until the autumn, so the Commons will then be unable to act on these until after it returns from the lengthy recess on 12 October. If the Committee recommends something entirely different to the road the Government is now going down, what then ? For the leadership of the three main parties are all signatories to a blank cheque agreeing to act on the Committee's recommendations come what may.

Or has it already been established that the Committee will act in conformity with what the Government is now doing? If so, that makes the current enquiry rather restricted as to what it can recommend. My own proposals, therefore, don't stand even a theoretical chance of being adopted as they would need the new Parliamentary Standards Bill to be mainly scrapped and for a fresh bit of legislation to be introduced. For I don't want a new expenses' regime. I want the present set-up to be replaced by a new system entirely which provides services instead of the filling in of allowance forms. Perhaps the Government never realised that such an alternative was possible. Which is understandable as Gordon's staff haven't even acknowledged the letter I sent him on all of this at the end of last month.

2. SIR CHRISTOPHER KELLY'S COMMITTEE.

His Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently ploughing through the submissions it has received and also has a set of evidence sessions to complete by 16 July. It also has to keep an eye on what the Government, Parliament, the Daily Telegraph and the rest of the media (who keep trying to play catch-up) are up to. The Committee did manage to publish a further single submission today, making the current total 74. The trouble being that they hold over more than 500 other submissions which have been in their possession since the final date for these on 5th July. At this rate my submission could emerge early in 2011.

3. THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.

They have produced acres of details on MPs expenses and call for more and more openness - that is, until we start to read the small print. In their lead editorial today when the Government's new Bill calls for more information to be provided about MPs' outside connections and earnings they state - "Yes, voters have the right to know what their MPs do outside of Parliament, but if the level of detail that must be declared proves intrusive as is planned, it will drive out high-quality people, or inhibit them from standing in the first place." It sees the move to publish such information as, shock-horror, being directed almost exclusively at Conservative MPs. It sounds like redacting to me.

They could, of course, put this argument and their other thoughts to Sir Christopher's Committee. But I don't think they have. If they had been amongst the backlog of the 500 plus unpublished submissions, then they do have a newspaper in which they can push their ideas. After all it has been full with nothing else but expenses details for some seven weeks now. If anyone has a duty, therefore, to tell us how to solve the problem over MPs' expenses then it is them.

After all even I have made this submission. If it ever takes off there is an interesting position which would be available under the Government's new Bill which is to set up an "Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority". One of its five members has to be someone "who has been (but is no longer) a member of the House of Commons". I wonder if they will pay expenses!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Standards And When?


I am becoming increasingly worried about the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in relation to its current inquiry into MPs' expenses. It is the key body which can recommend a new watertight system to replace the current and much abused arrangements. All three major political parties in parliament are committed to accepting its findings. Yet is it up to the job?

First of all it called for evidence to be submitted to it for its enquiry and gave the closing date as 5 June, which is 18 days ago. By that time it had published 71 submissions on its web-site. As it was holding its first hearing on 16 June and was questioning Harriet Harman the Leader of the House and her opposite numbers Alan Duncan and David Heath from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, it rushed out evidence from the Government and the Lib-Dems that morning. Evidence from the Conservative Party Leadership having been published earlier. But up to now no more of the outstanding evidence has been published.

I complained about the fact that my own evidence had not emerged and received this following reply from the Committee's Business Manager -

Thank you for your email of 13 June. We have received over 600 submissions to date and therefore there is a backlog of submissions that need to be uploaded onto the website.
Please accept our apologies for this delay but we are working our way through this.


When will the 500 plus outstanding submissions be published? Who do they come from? Of the mere 73 published to date 33 are from MPs, one from an ex-MP and one from the Parliamentary Labour Party (to add to the three submissions considered at the Committee's first hearing). But of those published none come from the Daily Telegraph or the media who have given the expenses' scandal such detailed coverage. I would like to know if they have submitted evidence which is still in the pipe-line. If not, I would like them to explain why not?

A second matter which concerns me is that I have asked the Committee that when it gets round to publishing my submission, if it will add the evidence I gave to it when it held its very first enquiry. For the volume they published this in is not available on the Internet. I gave this evidence no-less than 14 years ago, on 15 January 1995. I raised the point that the expenses system "could be rather abused" and, off the top of my head made some suggestion as to how this could be tackled - although this wasn't particularly the subject matter of their first enquiry. My current submission which I placed on my blog here is in line with the case I put to them then. If they don't publish my submission soon nor add the 1995 evidence, then I will need to type this key extract from the past up and place it on this blog. But this is no substitute for the real thing.

Note 1 : the photo is an old one and I am in the thick of it. But its not 14 years old, because I am sat on the Government side.

Note 2 : two more MPs' submissions have just been placed on the web-site as they are appearing in front of today's hearing. There are still over 500 outstanding submissions awaiting publication.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Michael Martin And Me


I owe a considerable debt to Michael Martin. He played a major role in helping to save the few brain cells I have left when I had a stroke in the Commons in 1998.

He was Deputy Speaker at the time and when he saw the condition I was in he immediately helped me into his car and rushed me to the Accident and Emergency provision at St. Thomas's Hospital.

He brought Dennis Skinner with him. It was late in the day as the Commons' was moving towards its adjournment, yet Martin and Dennis kept a watch over me in the hospital for two hours until my son had been contacted and travelled to St Thomas's to take over the vigil.

I have others that I am greatly indebted to at that time. These include Dennis who also contacted my wife by phone and an attendant at the Commons' Chamber who looked after me and helped me down difficult flights of stairs. Then there was, of course, the magnificent staff at the hospital and the attention of my son and of my wife. Ann quickly made it from our home to London, not just to help me with my physio exercises but to take over as my Constituents' de-facto MP for several weeks.

Yet the person who took determined action at a crucial stage was Michael.

I hope that it is not just from a sense of gratitude that I resent the fact that lesser parliamentarians helped to hound him out of office when they foolishly thought that this would help save their own embarrassment. They did not know that when you try to feed someone to the wolves, that it only makes the animals more bold.

Michael handled the Commons' far differently than seen from the edited TV snippets which were used against him recently. He mixed with MPs at Westminster in a way that no Speaker in history has ever done, for he broke down the barrier that had hidden his predecessors within the Speaker's quarters. When he held receptions and meetings in his own rooms he acted with dignity, intelligence and kindness and always brought the best out of others.

He has my eternal gratitude. This might not matter for most people, but I hope that in a small way it matters to Michael - as it does for me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

MPs' Expenses : What Is The Answer?

Nothing can seriously move and develop in parliamentary politics in the United Kingdom until the current utterly discredited expenses system is replaced by an open and clear alternative. Yet I see little detailed discussion taking place as to what that alternative should be. Perhaps I have missed out on this and have instead just been carried away by the deluge of negative criticism about MPs which has appeared in the media. I am not for banning this outcry. But I do feel that when the media shouts and yells, it also has a responsibility to analyse, debate and recommend.

Everything in the meantime is being left in the hands of the Inquiry into MPs' Expenses which is being run by Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee on Standards in Public Life (see above photo). Perhaps the media and those who see themselves as "opinion leaders" are just following the leaders of our existing three main parliamentary parties in saying that they will accept whatever Sir Christopher's Committee comes up with.

This does, however, mean that we should be focusing our attention on the Committee's investigations and seeking to influence its outcome. The three main parliamentary parties have, of course, put in their own submissions and their spokespersons have given evidence at the Committee's opening hearing. I don't know whether the Daily Telegraph, the rest of the outspoken media, Esther Rantzen and our network of noisy opinion leaders have done the same.

One problem has arisen since the Committee made 5th June the closing date for submission about MPs' expenses. Up to then it had published 71 such submissions on its web-site. Two more appeared on the morning of 8th June - as these were from the Government and the Lib Dems who were appearing before the Committee that day. But although the Committee holds more than 500 more submissions none of these have emerged although they were all received at least 2 weeks ago. Perhaps Esther's and the rest are in the backlog.

My own submission is certainly held up in the back-log, so I posted it here. Essentially, I propose getting rid of the expenses system altogether and replacing it with the provision of essential services for MPs to be run (or supervised) by an independent outside body. We are now in an age of key-board technology and such a system is by no means beyond us.

To get the debate at the level it needs to be, we need to concentrate on Sir Christopher's enquiry and get him to update his web-site. If you are desperate, there is always my comment box to turn to.

Note 25 June : The first eight comments on this thread have nothing to do with the above subject matter and can fruitfully be ignored.

Note 28 June : There is now a ninth comment which fits the above pattern and given the obsessions of the "Coventrian" (whoever he or she is) there could in time be more.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Submission On MPs' Expenses

The closing date for submissions to the "Inquiry Into MPs' Expenses" which is being run by the Committee on Standards in Public Life was 5 June. I have been informed by the Business Manager of the Committee that over 600 submissions have been received. Yet since the Committee opened a web-site for the publication of these on 14 May, only 73 submissions have so far been posted. And tomorrow sees the Committee's first evidence session!

I had felt that I should not publish my own submission on this blog until it had first been posted on the Committee's web-site. But that could take some time given the current rate of progress. The Committee's Report could be out before then. So it appears below, less my home address and signature.


2 June, 2009.

Dear Committee Members,

This is a submission for your inquiry into MPs’ expenses.

I was the Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire from 1987 to 2005. I gave evidence to your Committee in 1995, which appears on pages 66 to 70 in Volume 2 of your Committee’s First Report (Cm 2850-II). *

Throughout my parliamentary career I was obliged to operate under an expenses system which I always felt was fundamentally flawed. Yet I had to make use of it if I was to be in a position to undertake both my parliamentary and constituency work. Although the remit of your Committee’s initial enquiry in 1995 differs from that of your current enquiry, you will see that some of my concerns were expressed in my earlier evidence.

I always felt that rather than the responsibility being placed upon MPs to operate expenses’ claims, matters should have been transferred instead to a body equivalent to that which provides facilities for MPs on the Commons’ Estate. I have come to see that this body should be controlled by an independent outside body, or even run by that outside organisation. This new body should be responsible for providing a list of services which MPs could draw from. This approach forms the basis of the points I make below.

(1) Initially I will draw from my own experiences, although I am aware that MPs undertake their duties in a wide variety of differing ways. Changes may also have been made in some of these types of arrangements since 2005.

A great deal of my time as an MP was taken up with desk work. At Westminster, I was provided with a range of facilities on the Commons’ Estate for this purpose. These provisions did not come out of my expenses, apart from the peculiar arrangements under which the use of House of Commons paper and pre-stamped envelopes and cards are debited against an MP.

Eventually I was provided with a suitable room off the Upper Committee Corridor. It contained two desks, two typists’ chairs, two lamps, a telephone, a computer with a printer, a notice board, four filing cabinets, a book case, a storage unit, a waste paper bin and an easy chair which could be used also as a bed (for at one time the Commons’ had numbers of all night sittings). Initially, I shared the room with Ken Livingstone who was then an MP. But he eventually moved out into an office elsewhere on the Commons’ Estate. The second desk which he left behind proved useful, as it provided a base for members of my staff from my Constituency if they visited the Commons. There were also copying machines available for use on matters related to my work. These were at the end of the corridor where my room was situated.

An Assistant of mine who was based elsewhere in the Commons worked for me on Parliamentary rather than Constituency matters. He had a room of his own with its own separate set of facilities. Yet he also needed to visit my office and undertook desk work there on occasions.

When I ceased to be an MP, the rooms of my Assistant and myself and the contents as described above were all taken back for the Commons’ Estate. For they had owned them all along. I merely removed the considerable number of private files, parliamentary papers and books which I owned.

I feel that similar facilities should be provided for an MP in his or her own Constituency on the same pattern which operates on the Commons’ Estate. This would replace the need for an MP to be provided with an Office Costs Allowance. When an MP retires, the facilities he or she had used would remain in the hands of the body which had provided them in the first place.

To ensure that an MP’s demands for office facilities have limits placed upon them, he or she would draw them down from lists showing the range of provisions available and these would need to contain details of the maximum combinations of provisions which could be obtained. In some cases perhaps in rural constituencies, an MP and their Constituency Staff might prefer to work from their own homes. Suitable arrangements could be made for this.

In other cases, the MP might wish to set up a separate Constituency office. They could make recommendations for the hire of such accommodation to those running the scheme. This body would need to ensure that the MP’s request met their own requirements in terms of both costs and accessibility for local constituents. The relevant body would then be responsible for the payment of the rent, rates and office running costs.

(2). All other expenses provisions for MPs would also be ended and further regimes of service provisions would be put in their place.

a. An MP’s Staff appointments could be restricted to cover, say, no more than 100 hours total work a week. Whilst the MP could recommend who he or she wished to appoint, the body running the scheme would be responsible for checking that nominees were suitably qualified for their posts. This body would also be responsible for determining such Staffs’ contractual arrangements, salary scales and eventual redundancy arrangements. It would itself handle the finances involved. It would also instigate occasional checks to ensure that such Staff were performing their contracted duties.

b. Rented furnished or hotel accommodation in London would be available for MPs from Constituencies outside of the Capital. Initially MPs would themselves need to make provisional arrangements for such accommodation, within a set price limit. The contractual arrangements and payments would, however, be operated by the new body. When an MP retired or sort to move into fresh accommodation, that body would decide whether it would itself purchase the facility for potential use by another or a future MP.

c. An MPs travel costs in pursuit of their constituency and parliamentary duties would also be met by the new body. Rail warrants, air travel cards, bus passes, and electronic cards for the purchase of petrol and the use of taxis and phones would be issued on request. These would all be issued and controlled by the newly established body. It would be possible to monitor the use of such documents and cards and to place limits on their use.

d. All the above services (and any similar requirements such as the booking of rooms to hold MPs surgeries) would be provided by the new body who should be run from the Commons and would itself be subject to inspection by an outside and independent organisation, who would audit the new bodies accounts, issue an annual report and make recommendations on the development of the above system.

e. There would be no communication allowances for MPs . Local media outlets covering an MP’s Constituency would be encouraged to carry news items about their MPs’ activities and work load. There would also be available a free supply of Commons’ paper and pre-stamped envelopes and cards, sufficient to cover an MP’s needs for Constituents’ cases and for wider parliamentary issues; but restricted to such usages only.

(3). No provisions for “second homes” would be in operation other than those mentioned in 2(b) above. This arises from the following proposal. It is, however, a proposal which is made for reasons which extend beyond those of your Committee’s remit on the expenses of MPs . It involves the only constitutional change which I propose. I do, however, suggest an alternative to this at the close of this section, which falls within your remit.

No-one would be permitted to register to vote other than where they held their sole or main place of residence. When they change their sole or main place of residence, their electoral registration should automatically be transferred to the appropriate electoral register. A requirement for standing for Parliament in a specific Constituency would then be that the person concerned appears on that Constituency’s Electoral Register. If an elected MP then moved their sole or main place of residence outside of the Constituency they had been elected for, they would lose their parliamentary seat. Exceptions to this would, however, be in operation for the Prime Minister and Members of his Cabinet whilst they held their posts.

The main reason behind this proposal is to facilitate the election of MPs who will tend to have roots in the community they represent. Whilst the proposal will not exclude newcomers in a community from standing for parliament, it will aid local representation. As a spin off, it will end the need to cover the costs of any MPs accommodation other than for direct parliamentary purposes as in 2b above.

Whilst this proposal is my “ideal” solution, for the purposes of ending the expenses regime on “second homes” outside of London these entitlements could merely be withdrawn. Successful parliamentary candidates in these areas would then (in most practical circumstances) be required to find their own means of living within or near the Constituencies they represented.

(4). MPs should be expected to work full-time covering their parliamentary and constituency duties and to be motivated by a sense of public duty. Whilst these objectives can’t be legislated for, they can be facilitated in the following ways.

a. An MP’s job should be a full-time one. The taking up of further employment or outside paid interests should be banned. It is hard to see how an MP can effectively undertake his or her constituency and parliamentary duties on a part-time basis. If a ban on the holding of paid outside interests is not put in place, then at least MP’s annual tax returns should be published so that their constituents can judge their actions and priorities. An MP’s tax returns would, of course, no longer include a parliamentary expenses section if my earlier proposals were acted upon.

b. Except when an MP is ill, on short annual holidays or is dealing with a personal emergency such as the death of a close relative, no-one from their staff should act on their behalf as if they were a “substitute MP”. Normally the MP’s staff should assist the MP in their work and not act as a replacement for them. This is a matter for the body I wish to see established to check upon when investigating whether an MP’s staff are fulfilling (but not exceeding) their contractual commitments.

c. The time-table for the Commons should no longer allow for lengthy summer breaks of 12 to 13 weeks. Normally, the Commons should not sit during August. For the rest of the year (outside of emergency sessions) it should sit for a total of at least 30 weeks, but never be in recess for more than a fortnight. This time-table is designed to ensure that an MP will always have a reasonable access to parliament to pursue their constituent’s concerns and for what they see as other emergency needs. This adds to the need for full-time MPs .

5. Whilst my proposal in (3) above would end the practice of MPs spending public funds on second homes outside of London, the sweep of my proposals are not directed at finding means to reduce the overall costs of providing the nation with parliamentary representation. They are directed instead at ensuring that public funds are directed at providing needed services and that the schemes in operation will no longer be open to abuse by (or be burdensome to) MPs . For instance, under my proposals no MP would be in a position to ever acquire any Commons’ financed property nor facilities which they would then own.

6. A breakdown of the costs of supplying services for each MP will need to be published annually.

7. With the end of an expenses regime, the myth that MPs are self-employed for tax purposes will end and they can than be classified as being employee’s of the House of Commons.

8. Some of the principles I have raised were included in my evidence to your Committee in 1995. The major change in my stance since then is that in 1995 I was opposed to any outside supervision of parliament on these matters. This is because I am a strong believer in the need for an MP to enjoy full parliamentary privileges in order to be able to pursue his or her constituents’ interests and for wider political concerns. Recent revelations (which I knew nothing about earlier) have, however, convinced me that such privileges are inappropriate when it comes to the regulation of an MP’s individual financial operations.

Under my proposals MPs’ expenses would be zero, yet they would be provided with the services they need under a system which none of them could abuse. MPs’ costs beyond their salaries would be covered in a similar way to those in operation for Government Ministers, although they would remain much less costly. There would be no need to increase MPs’ salaries as a means round the current expenses’ scandal.


Yours sincerely,





Harry Barnes.

c.c. Gordon Brown MP.(I have made some minor amendments to a copy of the above which I posted to 10 Downing Street on 31 May, 2009.) **


* I have asked the Committee to attach my former evidence to the above.

** I sent a covering letter with this, but there has been no reply.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Only Inquiring

71 submissions made to the "Inquiry Into MPs' Expenses" have been published on the web-site of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. These include submissions dated 5 June, which was their closing date. Unfortunately, my own signed submission posted on 2 June and then reinforced via an email copy sent on 3 June has not yet been published. Why not? After 10 days, perhaps we need an Inquiry into the Inquiry.

See here for the other submissions.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Standards In Public Life

Today is the closing date for written submissions to the Inquiry into MPs' Expenses which is being undertaken by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

I posted my own submission to them on 2nd June, having posted a pre-copy to 10 Downing Street on 31 May. My submission is comprehensive and totals 2,222 words. It should eventually be placed by the Standards Committee on their web-site here.

In a separate email I have asked for evidence I gave to their Committee back in 1995 to be appended to my current submission for it contains certain points which are relevant to their current inquiry. This earlier evidence appears on pages 66 to 70 in Volume 2 of the Committee's very first report (Cm 2850-II). Unfortunately, there seems to be no access to my earlier evidence on the internet and I had myself to copy it from a volume held in the library at Sheffield University. This is an extra reason for my asking the Standards Committee to append it to my current submission.

It seemed to me to be clear that what has been needed ever since the expenses crisis broke, is that a system has to be put in place which provides essential services which are needed for MPs to act fully and properly on behalf of their constituents (and for the nation) yet is under strict control so that it can never again be abused.

Instead we have had a whole host of moves which have been entirely irrelevant to what is the essential and prior need. These nonsenses have included the removal of the Speaker, attempts to remove the Prime Minister, calls for a General Election, proposals for changes in our constitutional arrangements, a persistent and irresponsible media hype and (worst of all) a likely boost for political extremism.

Let us first get on with what is the immediate need, which the Standard's Committee will hopefully help us to apply our (and our MPs) minds to. (Update 7.30 pm - it needs, however, to be recognised that by 19 May or so, 20 MPs' had made their own submissions to the Inquiry.)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Remember



Hat Tip : The NUM

IRAN AND IRAQ

Eric Lee of "Labour Start" is circulating an email which contains the following important items about an area of my special interest - the Trade Union Movements of Iran and Iraq.

IRAN: ALL OUT FOR 26 JUNE GLOBAL SOLIDARITY ACTION DAY

Four global union organizations representing over 170 million workers have called a worldwide action day on June 26 to demand justice for Iranian workers. Demonstrations will take place outside Iranian embassies and consulates to protest the ongoing denial of rights and arrests of trade unionists within the country. Please visit the campaign's new website at http://www.justiceforiranianworkers.org/ and make sure to click on the 'Get Active' link.

IRAQ: VICTORY FOR THE TEACHERS' UNION

Thanks very much to the 4,856 of you who signed up to support the campaign we launched on LabourStart in April in support of the Iraqi teachers' union. According to reports we've received, "the union won a legal battle against the government on 7 May. The landmark ruling against the government decision ... to take control of the ITU was a symbolic victory and stopped the government move to dismiss the ITU's democratically elected leadership." The struggle continues.